Sunday, May 29, 2011

Interview with Jennifer Leigh Warren

Triple threat Jennifer Leigh Warren will sing the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey in Diamonds Are Forever: the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey at the Renberg Theatre of the Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood beginning June 16. Known for her incredible performances on stage including most recently in NoHo the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella Panto and the extraordinary new ensemble musical Having It All, this lady is going places. In our chat she defines the Bassey show, emphasizing quite clearly that she is NOT impersonating Shirley Bassey. 

How daunting is it to do Shirley Bassey?

 I'm not playing her. It's not a life story, a bio or an imitation. It is to quote Richard Jay -(Alexander) "a gentle nod to the brilliance of the material and unique delivery of some of the greatest songs ever written." This was an idea of mine that I had for a very long time, and I started singing some of the songs @ Upright Cabaret. I went to Chris Isaacson with the idea, and he thought it would be great. Then I thought of Richard Jay-Alexander to direct, because he is the perfect person for something like this. He came into town; we had a meeting; it went very well. We did a rehearsal with just a pianist and me singing some of the songs and him going over them with me. It just clicked. So, we're off and running. The Gay and Lesbian Center is the perfect setting for it; it's a beautiful theater, and some of the proceeds will go to help the Center with their LGBT homeless Youth programs. What is daunting is that it's a new thing. It's sort of like a hybrid with all these talented people. Besides Chris and Richard, Kenneth Crouch is going to be music director, and the gowns...are going to be by Ali Rahimi of  Mon Atelier. He's amazing. He's designed for Madonna and most recently for Jane Lynch on Glee. (she pauses) The singer out there, with the band around her, and the beautiful lighting, those beautiful gowns, and these beautiful songs... and just having fun.

Why Shirley Bassey? Have you always loved her?

Oh come on, there are very few African American women like her. She has this strange accent. Her style is dramatic. No one can imitate her. I'm not even going to try. I have this love for her choice of songs. As publicist David Elzer said, "It's a diva's dream come true!" It's celebrating that era, that talent. I've always been known for having a big loud voice and I remind people of Shirley Bassey. The women with the big voices.

Are you going to do "This Is My Life"?

I can't tell you. I can say there will be songs in there that you love. Her catalogue is immense. Whittling them down has been daunting. I just think it's going to be interesting and different and fun.

With you singing, it will be wonderful. Let's switch gears and talk about Having It All. What's that been like?

That's a labor of love too. Especially to do the show with the four other wonderful women. What's great about it is everyone is rooting and cheering each other on. And how often do you get five women as leads in a show? Serious story lines. It's comedic and it's fun and to be able to play that character  I play - Hey! Potty mouth - telling it like it is, no holds barred. That's so exciting! Wouldn't we all like to be able to
 do that?

Sure! What are the future plans for it?

Lots of Broadway producers are coming. It's like the third extension right now. I'm with it until the 10th until I leave to do this.

What about Cinderella Panto? Did you enjoy that?

That was fabulous, and I hear that it's coming back. Maybe another Panto from the same people, the Lythgoes. That's in the works. It's so weird; it's all of a sudden things exploding all at the same time.

That's great! You keep working! Do you have a favorite role? 

They've all been so different. Doing Crystal and seeing the beginnings of Little Shop (of Horrors) was amazing. And to have Roger Miller write me a song for Big River. C'mon, Hey! (she laughs) Talk about a dream. I just love 'em all. I love my character in Having It All. She's strong, she's funny, she's fun. She's the woman you love to hate, but you also love her because she's telling you the truth. 

So would Shirley Bassey!
 Diamonds Are Forever. I feel seriously blessed and excited! People like Chris Isaacson have pushed to try to make it classy and stylish and as beautiful as it can be.

Had you worked with Richard Jay-Alexander before?

The only thing I did with Richard...a few years ago, he brought the original girls from Little Shop of Horrors back together for a benefit at Joe's Pub. They flew us in. That's how he knew of me. Our styles kind of mesh together, he felt. In my heart, I now it's the perfect blend, because he has the classy and stylish eye for this kind of show.

Let's switch back to other aspects of your career. If you get offered a nonmusical role, do you get disappointed?

Look, I love acting, but I started in musical theatre, so of course musicals are my favorite. It will always be my heart. And everybody wants to be in a musical now. That's fine, because it shows just how important they are to society. And kids, when they get involved in this, there's something wonderful...I can't say what it is... just like laughs) ...remember when the Supreme Court said "We don't know what it is, but you know it when you see it." Musicals that grab your heart, that connect with you...I'm just a musical theatre person.

You seem so different from the characters I've seen you play. I like to see an actor/actress go on stage and be something different. I don't like to see the actor be exactly the same as in life.

Thank you so much. That's such a compliment to Rod Alexander who was my professor at Dartmouth. That was the whole thing, no matter what you're being or doing, you try to be that character. Some people make a living off of being themselves. That's cool. It's a living. That ties in to the whole thing with Diamonds Are Forever. Those songs are acted. Shirley Bassey acted those songs and exuded each character...

I can't wait to see this tremendously talented gal - Jennifer Leigh Warren singing - and acting - these great Shirley Bassey songs. Those chosen, since I chatted with Miss Warren, include, according to producer Isaacson: "Diamonds Are Forever", "Goldfinger", "Big Spender", "This Is My Life" (yeah!), "Let Me Sing, I'm Happy", the early "Please Mr. Brown", and stuff recorded by Barbra Streisand and some other early gay rights songs. Remember June 16 at the Gay and Lesbian Center!

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 
Chris Isaacson and the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner 
Cultural Arts Center
the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey
Starring Jennifer Leigh Warren
Music Director Kenneth Crouch
Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 p.m. • Sunday at 7 p.m.

Tickets: $30

Call now for Tix! 323.860.7300 or purchase online at

In The Heart of Hollywood’s Theatre District 
(One Block East of Highland, just north of Santa Monica Blvd) 
1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, CA

In addition to directing and co-creating "Diamonds Are Forever: the songs of Dame Shirley Bassey" for its Los Angeles debut in June 2011, Director Richard Jay-Alexander is currently re-vamping Pop Music icons Donny & Marie's Las Vegas show AND directing their individual solo national tours which kick-off this summer. 

FYI -both Warren and Sam Harris will be singing for Upright Cabaret during Gay Pride Weekend on the 11th of this month at 5: 30 pm in West Hollywood Park. Warren will be premiering songs from the show.

Interview with Harold Sanditen

Former UK producer/singer Harold Sanditen brings his celebrated cabaret act 'Round Midnight to the M Bar on Friday June 17 for one night only. In our talk, he tells of his amazing journey from behind the scenes to spotlight center stage.

How did you come up with the title of your show Thoughts 'Round Midnight?

It was 4 am on a Wednesday morning. I couldn’t sleep.  I’m not an insomniac, but I’m not the soundest of sleepers either. Rather than complain, I try to make effective use of my time during such late hours, and interestingly enough, some of my best and most creative work is done late at night.

Mine too. Tell me about your exiting change in career and how it began.

Several years ago I realized that after 20 years of producing theatre, it had begun to lose its luster. I think that all began when I was producing one particularly difficult diva.  Then some more difficult divas came along, and I decided that life really IS too short to put up with that kind of nonsense.  It was time for a change.  But what? … I always knew that one of the reasons I produced theatre was because I was a frustrated performer. I didn’t have the confidence to get on stage. In fact, I had stage fright, so the next best thing was being next to or behind the stage. It wasn’t really acting I wanted to do, it was singing. I’d always loved to sing. I always had a melody going through my head. I sang in the shower, around the house, to our dog! It’s amazing how you can fit a dog’s name into the lyrics of almost any song…..

That's an amazing leap of faith. Had you always been that courageous?

Looking back, I’d already made one major career change. In the mid 80s I received my MBA and went to work in New York City as an investment banker. That was a fairly short-lived career. From there I moved to London, set up shop as a theatre producer, and I’ve lived here ever since. It was in 2006 when I was producing Celia Imrie (and she’s NOT a diva!!!) in New York, that one of my fellow MBA students told me she had decided to become a cabaret performer and was doing a show. I went to see her. Seed planted.

When did it actually start to happen?

The seed began to germinate in 2007 when I attended my first “cabaret boot camp” in….Tuscany.  Wow! So, one can sing, as well as tell a story?!!!  It’s acting to music. Each song an individual monologue, with some personal relevance. 

Tell me more about the current show.

Last spring, during another late night, I came up with the idea of a new show, exploring those late night thoughts that can keep us up.  It had the potential to be a wrist-slitting experience, but I mapped out all the emotions I thought were important to cover, and then found comedy songs for the most serious thoughts – even suicide!  It’s difficult for me to keep from laughing when I’m performing some of the comedic songs.
Has your experience as a producer helped shape you as a performer?

I have to admit I was perhaps a bit na├»ve when I made the switch, thinking it would be all artistic, but it’s not called show BUSINESS for nothing!  Basically, becoming a singer and cabaret performer has meant that I still have to do all the things I did as a producer, and on top of that, be artistic, keep in shape, etc…..  plus, you have to become a ruthless self-promoter, which is very different than promoting a show. My background as a producer has been a major benefit, so in the end, it’s all fallen into place quite nicely.
 Whether or not anyone realizes this, it really is hard work being a diva or divo, an “artiste”, and that’s without the diva behavior. In the end, it’s the diva you know, whether that diva wears Prada or nada!

THOUGHTS ‘ROUND MIDNIGHT “mini world tour” (Toronto, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palm Springs!) commences on 14th June 2011.  Los Angeles performance at M Bar, 1253 Vine Street, Los Angeles, 90038.  Doors open at 7.00 pm, shows begin at 8.00 pm and 10.15 pm.  Book online on , or by phone on (323) 856-0036.  Tickets $15

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Interview with Gary Cole

An actor's actor Gary Cole, who made a big splash as Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald in TV's Fatal Vision in 1984 and has never stopped working since, will soon open at the Geffen in Tracy Letts' Superior Donuts. Whether it be drama like In the Line of Fire on screen, the TV series Midnight Caller (1988-91) or Letts' August Osage County on stage or comedy as in the theatrical film The Brady Bunch, Cole is comfortable in every medium and makes the work look easy. Usually cast as a psycho or abusive husband, in Donuts he plays the aging Chicago shop owner, a role which brings him closer to his roots in Chicago. He was an original member of the Steppenwolf Theatre, along with John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf and Gary Sinise. In our chat, Cole talks about the play, his favorite roles and the process of acting. 

Tell me about Superior Donuts and the character you are playing.

It takes place in Chicago in a neighborhood called Uptown, that's been up and down in transition. Superior Donuts is the name of the shop that it takes place in. I play the store owner. He's kind of a dinosaur. Arthur's this aging hippie and the donut shop is from another era. It's getting pushed out by the Starbuck's culture that's creeping into the neighborhood. There's 8 characters total, a couple of cops; there's a homeless woman who frequents the donut shop, and then there's a young man by the name of Franco from the neighborhood who's working there. The center of the story is his relationship to Arthur and what we start to find out about both of them as the story moves on.

Is your character a shady man or one with devious intentions?

No...Arthur's a draft dodger and really hasn't changed much since 1968, except he's an old man. Well not old, but he's pushing 60. There are shady characters who are involved with the numbers racket in Chicago and that's part of the plot. I won't reveal that. If there's a darker element in the play it's basically those two characters.

You do so well playing the bad guy. Is Arthur a stretch for you?

It's a good fit for me. It's a complex part; there's a lot to it. It's very textured, so, yes, it's a challenge for me, for sure, but it's not something that isn't identifiable for me. I'm from Chicago as well, and I spent time in that neighborhood Uptown. I'm slightly younger than Arthur is scripted, but not by much. I mean a lot of the stuff that he's dealing with I saw it through the eyes of a younger, almost adolescent. But it's still pretty vivid to me. And after looking at it, studying it...that period of time still interests me. I've read a lot about it. It's a great part...and like most of Tracy's (Letts) plays, it's really solid but very different from anything else he's done. I think the trademark of Tracy is that all of his plays don't seem to be coming from the same person. They're very different from one another. The last time I was onstage, I did August Osage County... in London, and then last fall in Australia, which was good. That was very different from this.

Talk about Steppenwolf, from which you and these plays have emerged so successfully. Do you still go back and perform there?

Well, sure. Basically, even though the August production was on tour, it was a Steppenwolf production.
It was all Steppenwolf people that I've known forever, for 30 years. I haven't done a play at the theatre in a while. It's been a decade. But that's just logistics and schedules and finances and all that other stuff. I still maintain a relationship with the theatre; I still see people. I actually just did a project co-produced by Steppenwolf films. Now they have a little bit of a film division; they've produced a few things. This last one stars Dennis Farina and it's called The Last Rites of Joe May; it was just at the Tribeca Film Festival. So, even though I haven't done a play in the building, my relationship is still close with the company.

Do you have a favorite play that you've done?

August Osage County was pretty special for me. And I'd have to say, and that may be because it was so recent, but being in that play, touring it in a couple of other countries, but particularly sitting around that dinner table and looking around the table and realizing  that most of the people at that table I've known over 30 years...being able to share that and being onstage doing that and having audiences react to the play like they did...also the fact that it's a brilliant play. I have to call that a highlight. If you talk about ensemble...and that's what Steppenwolf is noted for...there's nothing more ensemble than a scene like that. That's a group in chaos, but it's directed so well (Anna D. Shapiro) and put together so well by Tracy, I always enjoyed the audience could just feel the crowd leaning forward in their seats, and as the lights went down, there was a pretty universal "Oh my God, I can't wait to get back for the third act."

Do you have a favorite playwright like Williams or Mamet?

I did a lot of Williams in college and I've done Mamet's American Buffalo and Speed the Plow at Remains Theatre in Chicago. During my college years Sam Shepard was even more established than David Mamet. We were kind of weaned on Sam Shepard. He was the playwright at the time for college students to study. I also did many of his plays at Remains.

You did True West, correct?

I did it in New York. I played Austin and Jim Belushi played Lee.

True West in New York in 1983 with Jim Belushi

Interesting combo! I wish I had seen that! Do you have any acting mentors? Someone above anyone else that you look up to?

When I look back to when I first started coming up in Chicago, in terms of learning a lot and experiences, I always think of Gary Sinise. True West had been open for a while, and it was the first time I had done a play longer than 8 weeks. I did it almost five months. Working with Gary (the director), he was the one who really came up with the structure, which made it into the success that it was. He brought the best out of that play; he brought more comedy out of it than I think most people had before. Another play I did that I think he elevated was Orphans. I also did that in New York for several months, and you learn a lot when you have to do a play that long and try to keep it fresh for the audience, fresh for yourself. I was able to do that because of the way Gary directed both plays...moments and characters and the logic between them...I've always felt that he was a really great teacher of theatre and acting and the way to attack things.

Do you feel comedy is harder to do than drama?

I don't know that it's harder to do. What is harder is to disguise it (laughs), if it doesn't work. If it's supposed to be funny and it's not, it's deathly. If it's supposed to be dramatic, and we're not sure if it is or not, you can kind of hide behind the fact that it's a murky play or something. I've never felt that the job is different. You're playing a character, and whatever the material is supposed to result in...if it's supposed to result in people laughing, then the last thing you want to do is try and be funny. That's another curse. I've never looked at it as doing it differently. If there's something in a comedy that's not funny, people are trapped in their seats and want to kill themselves.

Anything changing, evolving in theatre today?

The people sitting in the seats,  whole culture is changing. Technology and instant information and attention spans...all of that stuff, the content of what's being written, it changes a lot of things. I think playwrights, and actors and everybody else adapt with that. I don't think it's anything new, but the culture changes greater than it used to...I think it's pretty healthy. I think if you put a good product out there, that engages people, then they come see it. If it's lame, or stale, and people have seen it before, they may not make their way there. They want to know what's out there and if it's something thats got buzz, they'll go see it. If it's not, theatres and marketing have got to adapt to all that.

What's up for you in TV and film?

with Christine Baranski in The Good Wife

I did a few episodes of The Good Wife. I have no idea if I'm coming back. Based on the last scene I did, it seems like a bit of a swan song. I'm in the opening of True Blood and also Curb Your Enthusiasm
a couple of weeks later on July 10.

I loved American Gothic. That was a favorite of mine.

In terms of playing a character every week, if not my favorite character, that was certainly at the top of the list. American Gothic was ahead of its time. Audiences were asked to root for the devil, a dark and sinister hero. Now there's nothing but anti-social, bad lead characters. Back then in the mid-90s we were always getting notes from the network about its being "interesting, but how do we root for this character?" 

as Lucas Buck in American Gothic

What is your mission as an actor?

Whatever I'm doing at the moment to make it work, so that when people see it, whether they're moved or not I don't know, but hopefully they're compelled to see it through to the end. That's my mission... to engage whatever the material is so that people will get something out of it. To make stuff work!

Any role that you haven't played that peaks your interest for the future? Any of the classics?

I'm not a big classics guy. I never had a big talent for it, but I'm not one of those actors that goes "Oh, Shakespeare is the best." I don't really feel that way. I feel there's about 12 people in the world who do it well, and everybody else is just spinning their wheels. At this point, I don't have any ambition for it.

What about contemporary classic plays?

 Sure. If those opportunities came up. We'll see. You just have to kind of go with life. I've got to look at reality, at what's going to be available. There's only so much shelf life you have on TV. If theatre becomes bigger later in my career, and I kind of imagine that it will, maybe I'll look at it. I don't really think about it that much. I just react to what happens.

You always make the work look easy. I never see the work.

Thank you. You want people to pay attention to the story, and not what you happen to be doing as an actor.

A fine actor who really loves the craft! See Gary Cole in Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts. Previews begin Tuesday, May 31, with opening weekend set for June 8-12.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Interview with Dennis McNeil

Award winning tenor, Dennis McNeil was the 1993 National Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. As a leading tenor at the New York City Opera he was awarded the Richard F. Gold Career Award for his portrayal as ‘Mark’ in their New York Stage Premiere of Michael Tippet’s A Midsummer Marriage. He also holds first place awards from the Southern California Opera Guild and the Victor Fuchs Memorial Competition and was a recipient of the Emily Baratelli Memorial Award from the New York Opera Index. He is a Sullivan Grant Recipient as well as a recipient of a Rex Foundation Grant from the Grateful Dead. On Sunday May 22 he will completely switch gears and perform a cabaret act @ Sterling's Upstairs @ Vitello's.

Will this cabaret be a challenging change for you?

Absolutely! I have never performed in this kind of venue with this kind of audience. Well sort of… I sang at a restaurant called Verdi in Santa Monica back in the 80s and we would do 2 or 3 shows in an evening, usually starting with the more serious Opera stuff and then a Broadway set and finishing with a variety set of lighter material. It was a blast, but it wasn’t Cabaret. The fact is that I have this full career of experience singing all over the world in all kinds of venues huge and small, and I have had many special (private) audiences in very intimate settings like cabaret, but this will be my very first ever performance in a Cabaret Club, and I am thrilled! Even though I am singing material, much of which I have sung for years, and some I am preparing for the first time for this performance, this marks a very big moment in my career. I have great respect for the legendary cabaret performers, some of whom I have been lucky enough to see at the Algonquin, Feinstein’s, or the Carlisle and I used to hang out at some of the places in the village like Don’t Tell Mama’s, 88’s, and the Duplex watching other acts. It just seems like a fun, intimate, and warm setting to share my heart and soul with a group of people that are there to be moved and touched. I hope this is the first of many future performances like this! I like the challenge and the stretch; this is a moment for growth and expansion for me!

Tell me in detail about your background in singing.

I made my New York City Opera Debut as Don Jose in Carmen on a night when the tenor was sick and I was ready to walk on and sing the role with only a few hours notice. That led to many other performances there in Carmen as well as Madama Butterfly and Michael Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage, for which I won an award. I also won the Met competition around that same time so I practically lived at Lincoln Center. I did a lot of Opera and Music Theater across the country from New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles to National Tours so I can now say I have sung in every state in the US. I moved away from singing Opera about 15 years ago in order to spend more time building a new career performing at special events and concerts in order to start a family. My kids are now 14, 12 and 7 and those special performances have brought me opportunities to sing for 5 United States Presidents, The President of Mexico, and other heads of state and officials along with countless fortune 500 companies, CEOs, Charities, and Private events. I gave a concert last year accompanied by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. I have performed with Michael Feinstein, Bruce Hornsby, Lionel Ritchie, David Foster, Steve Miller, Merv Griffin, The Grateful Dead, and so many others; I sometimes feel like Forest Gump! I have even been able to take my family to the White House to meet both the President and the Vice President in their offices in the west wing.

    What exactly will you be singing on the 22nd?

NO OPERA!!  We have a great show planned for the 22nd. I have had great guidance from my Musical Director, Ed Martel, as well as from both Michael Sterling and Joe Giamalva, who introduced me to Michael. I will have a trio (Piano, Bass and Drums) on stage with me and they are top LA players. My drummer, Bob Marino, cut his eye teeth playing gigs in his Grandfather’s society Band when he was just a kid – they played all of Marvin Davis’ parties!  His grandfather was a legend at Paramount Studios and wrote the song "That’s Amore".

The song selection for the show is fun and eclectic from Harold Arlen and Lerner and Loewe, to Hal David/Burt Bacharach, Kenny Loggins, Van Morrison, and Andrew Lloyd Weber. Since I spent 6 months touring with the legendary lyricist, Sammy Cahn, I am putting together a medley of his songs interspersed with “Sammy” memories. I recently worked with Hal David and just have to sing Alfie again too. He also wrote "A House is Not a Home", which I’ll also be singing. I’ll even work a little Harry Connick and Lalo Schifrin into the set. The bottom line is that I can’t wait to have fun with this band and this audience. I love singing and want to be singing all the time. Simply put, I am looking to create a better world by enhancing my life and the lives of all those around me through impactful extraordinary live music performances, and on Sunday May 22nd at Sterling’s Upstairs at Vitello’s,  that is exactly what I hope to do.

Remember Sunday, May 22. Call for reservations: 818-754-8700 or visit:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Interview with Comic Dan Frischman

Comic actor Dan Frischman, best known to audiences for TV’s Head of the Class, is about to open a night club act @ Sterling’s Upstairs @ Vitello’s on Sunday May 15. In our conversation, Frischman talks about what he’s accomplished since the TV sitcom and describes in great comic detail, as only Dan Frischman can, what to expect in the cabaret gig.

What happened after Head of the Class?

When Head of the Class ended in '91, I immediately went into a mad gotta-stay-out-there panic and hit the clubs doing stand-up, which I had done since my late teens. Once I'd calmed down a bit and realized that regular TV work comes in waves (unless you're one of about three TV actor/gods!), I went back to acting class and continued exploring the craft. I ended up writing, producing, and directing theater, which remain, to this day, the most fulfilling artistic endeavors of my career.  

Didn’t you star locally in one of your plays?

Yes, in About Faith. I played a Jewish stockbroker who falls for a devout Catholic art dealer whose father is a church deacon. It was produced at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and received nice reviews and two extensions.

You also went back into TV sitcoms, correct?

In the mid-90s, I snagged a stint as a series regular on Kenan & Kel, which ran for four years on Nickelodeon. This time, I got to play the boss, though I was still a bit of a goofball!  I seem to be pegged in this realm, and that’s just fine with me since I have a lot of fun with it. Afterwards, I turned back to writing, and penned a comedic adventure novel for the pre-teen market called Jackson & Jenks, Master Magicians.  Since I'd been a pro magician for two decades -- "The Great Houdanny," no less -- I made a tour of Barnes & Noble stores around the country, performing magic and selling the book. I also write screenplays, coach actors, and play poker way too often.  

What brought about the cabaret act?

Earlier this year, I decided it was time to hit the stage again, which led to my upcoming cabaret debut! I’m having a blast rehearing it. 

 Are you singing or is it purely standup?

I’ll be singing, dancing, and playing trombone with a live seven-piece big band.  I’ll also be integrating magic and stand-up into the evening, just to add to the fun. No plate spinning, but otherwise, I think I’ve got it all covered.  I'll be performing an eclectic set, with swing music from The Cherry Poppin' Daddies and The Red Elvises to “Rumania, Rumania”, a funny Yiddish folk song from 1925!  Also, a big band number I co-wrote, to be sung by Lani Shipman, a real up and comer in the biz. The band was put together by my musical director, Ben Armentano, who wrote the charts. The musicians are all top studio pros, so I’m working hard to get myself up to snuff on my slide trombone, which I took out of mothballs just for the gig! 

Has it been difficult getting back to the performing arts stuff?

It’s like riding a bicycle – or should I say a unicycle – but I know I’ll be ready on May 15th.  I wouldn’t have it any other away.

There you have it, straight from the man himself. It should be a stimulating evening, with lots of laughs!
Remember Sunday, May 15. Call for reservations: 818-754-8700 or visit:

Friday, May 6, 2011

Interview with Vicki Lawrence

Emmy winning actress/singer Vicki Lawrence hardly needs an introduction. Having co-starred on The Carol Burnett Show for 11 years (1967-1978) and then star of Mama's Family in 83 and then 86-90, she has established herself as one of TV's most endearing comediennes. Lawrence will appear at the Welk Resort in Escondido from May 19-22 in her one-woman - oops! I mean two character - show as herself and of course, Mama. In our chat she talks about her show, Mama, Harvey Korman and lots of other fun legendary memories.

What's in the show?

The show is actually half me and half Mama. When I put it together, I knew that I had to do Mama, because everybody loves her so much. I often feel that they love her so much more than they love me that...I get a little jealous of her. So I decided that I needed to be me before I'm not anymore. So the first half of the show is me. It's largely autobiographical and it's all the stories that I know everybody would ask if I were to bump up the lights like Carol (Burnett) used to and take questions and answers. It's everything over the years that I have learned that everybody wants to know about me. Plus, you know, a little comedy and some observations on life...

You sing, don't you?

Well, when you've had one giant monster hit ("The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"), you must sing it. (she chuckles)

Why do you think Mama is so hot and popular?

Because everybody knows her. I always thought of Mama, even almost from the beginning when it first took off...I sort of thought of her like Archie Bunker. She could say the most horrible things and nobody was ever offended because everybody knows that person, everybody has that person in their family. Nobody ever 'fesses up to being that person, so nobody's ever offended by it. People come up to me all the time and say "OMG, you're my aunt, my sister, my grandma"...but they never say "Oh my God, you're me!" Nobody wants to take her personally (laughs), but we all know her; she's at everybody Thanksgiving table that old lady, isn't she?

How much of Vicki Lawrence is in Mama?

Well, Harvey (Korman) taught me everything that I know about comedy...and it's so funny to me, I'll do interviews now, people will go "Harvey who?" And I'll say "OMG, you are so young! Harvey Korman." He taught me most everything I think I know about comedy on Carol's show. (laughs) He's the one that took me aside and said, "You know, forget stage right, stage left, you couldn't even find the toilets." He took me under his wing. He decided to train me and I feel like I got to go to the Harvard School of Comedy in front of America...and with a private tutor. One week, we were discussing characters, and how you kind of almost turn into that character. At the time I was playing this bimbo, this really stupid bimbo I used to play on Carol's show and Harvey said "Any character you play really well is a part of you." And I remember saying to him "How come you're so good in drag?" (we laugh) I never did get a very good answer to that, but the thing of it is...some of the sketches were borderline tearjerker, they were really sad and gut-wrenching. And when we went to sitcom (Mama's Family), all of a sudden that didn't seem funny to me. My husband (Al) and I shut the show down after two episodes. I said, "This isn't working. This is not funny." I brought Harvey in and said, "Harvey, you've got to help me!" He said, "Well, you can't expect people now to come home very week, pop open a beer and sit down and watch while you scream at people for a half an hour. She's got to be silly now; she's got to be fun. She's got to laugh." But I said, "She doesn't laugh; she's never even smiled." But he said, "She is you. You are her. And anything you can do, she can do." It was a very freeing moment for me to realize I could take that character anywhere that I could go, she could go. This is my husband's (Al Schultz, make-up artist to the stars) nightmare. He's scared to death that every time I get into drag, that someday he's going to roll over in the morning and she'll be next to him in bed. He says, "Get it all out of your system now, sweetie!" But, yeah, she is me. She is a deep, dark little hidden part of me. Although I have to say the older I get, the more I agree with the old bat.
There's some truth to a lot of the stuff she says.

Any chance you'll bring her back to TV?

Oh, I wish, but you know I'm not sure any of the young people that are running television now understand that. We've tried several times to reincarnate her and reformat that...not yet, but who knows maybe somebody will get it at some point! I wish they'd never stopped doing Mama's Family. By the time we finished that show, we had it down to a four-day work week, and we were just literally laughing our asses off and getting paid for playing dress-up. We really were. We were having a ball, and the show popped out of there like a little energizer bunny.

Do you have favorite memories from The Carol Burnett Show?

I remember all the flubs and messing up and the laughter...and laughing until... I remember one time we were doing a movie takeoff and Carol said "We have to stop." I peed in my pants. Oh Lord. We were actually doing a takeoff on The Blue Angel and Harvey was supposed to change from his tux into a chicken suit or some damn thing, and he didn't make the change in time, and the stage manager was standing back in the wings yelling "Cue, cue!". Finally, Harvey walked out in his underwear and Carol just, she totally lost it. We used to have so much fun. And the costumes. I couldn't wait from week to week to see what Bob Mackie would put you in, because it was always incredible. He was just a genius and had a great comedy mind, I think. Another I've gotten older...and especially when I get out on the road, I look around at people out in middle America, I realize that Bob was pretty darn realistic. I see something on the street and go "Bob Mackie could not have done it better!" (she cracks up) You see people in the airport and what they're wearing and you go "For crying out loud, Bob Mackie must have done it".

Who are your favorite comedians?

I remember being totally enamored with Sid Caesar. Over the years...I've always thought George Carlin was brilliant. A lot of his pieces, if you read them now, they are still brilliant, and thoughtful and thought-provoking. We still quote him, Almost every time we're flying we'll go "How come they call it a terminal?"
"Why do they say we're on our final descent?" I loved Chevy Chase back in the day. We've kind of lost him over the years. Now...I do like Conan (O'Brien) of all the late night guys. I love Tina Fey. Adorable, and she's like "Go, girl!" I'm so proud of her as a woman.

Why do you think comedy is so hard to do?

Because comedy is drama, but taken one step further to where you laugh at it. And for a lot of actors, that's a difficult place to go to realistically. So if it's a gift that you have, it's a great button that you can push and find the place that's funny to people. It's much easier to do drama.

Is there anything you haven't done that you really want to do?

I never got to Broadway. I would love to do that. (On stage) I've really enjoyed doing Annie Get Your Gun
and loved Neil Simon stuff like Chapter Two. I'd love to do Broadway. It would be fun. It's hard work. It's a grueling schedule. I would love to take my show there, but I don't know that that would ever happen. I have such grandiose dreams for this show. I can see the whole finale with a bunch of Mamas.

Would you do another talk show? 

That was fun, but now it sure would have to be the right people. I worked for the wrong company and it was like fighting to get upstream. It was just a constant battle. As fun as the show was - like, how much fun is it to sing with Reba McIntyre, or how much fun is it to cook with Dinah Shore or to interview Betty White or Bob Hope or Doris Day or sing with the Pointer Sisters or be the white woman in between Dionne Warwick and Chaka was totally a blast, but offstage it was so dysfunctional. They were constantly...I mean they hired me to be me and then they wanted to change me. I felt I had learned from the very best lady in the world that ...  it's supposed to be fun...

Has Carol seen your stage show?

She hasn't. I wish she would. I keep thinking maybe we'll land in her neighborhood and then she'll come.

Don't miss the incomparable Vicki Lawrence at the Welk Resort in Escondido May 19-22. Matinees at 1 pm daily.
For reservations and tickets, go to: