Friday, August 26, 2011

Interview - Levi Kreis

Appearing at The Ford Amphitheatre as part of Chris Isaacson Presents New York's Finest - The Leading Men of Broadway concert September 16, Tony Award winner singing sensation Levi Kreis is on his way to becoming one of our nation's top hit vocalists. He talks about the concert, his appearance in Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway and other musical endeavors.

What's life been like since winning the Tony for Million Dollar Quartet?  

Busy.  Thanks for asking.  I moved back to the West Coast in March to begin my 4th studio album and plan the next tour.  No down time yet: I'm looking forward to holiday season for that very reason.  LOL.  

Might you be doing the show out here in LA at some point in the near future?  

I won't be, but I believe the touring cast has been decided and I know there are some remarkable triple threats coming to this coast.  Personally, I would entertain a limited engagement with the Chicago cast.  The Apollo Theatre has been running MDQ for nearly 3 years now.  My fondest memories of the show are there.

Was Jerry Lee Lewis a real challenge for you to play? How did you prepare for him? 

 I had the opportunity of playing a 20-year-old Jerry Lee which allowed me to discover an entirely different angle from what we are used to seeing.  Framing his brazen qualities with an not-yet-tarnished innocence was interesting for me.  It allows the audience to see the purity of his soul, and really root for him.  It was also lovely to finally have an outlet for the southern humor that has been a staple in my real life, and I loved working with Hunter.  He is a great actor to learn from and grown with. 

Tell me about Leading Men at the Ford - and the recent concert at the Rubicon. What did you sing and what will you be singing on the 16th?  

I'm a big lover of New Works Programs.  The Rubicon Theatre and the Village Theatre really have a commitment to that.  I was grateful to have a sold out fundraiser this week.  As far as the Leading Men of Broadway show, I kind of feel like it's play time. LOL.  These guys are all so fun to perform with.  I haven't met Brandon Victor Dixon yet.  I'm excited for that: I know he's a really talented man.  Truly, this is going to be a one-of-a-kind evening.  Personally, my most anticipated moment is singing "For Good" with David Burnham.  I've always adored that man's heart.

I understand the new CD is different from your previous ones. How so?  

Perhaps playing the role of Jerry Lee brought a wild abandon out of me.  I have finally managed to stop taking career so damn seriously.  We are put on this earth to absolutely love what we do and do it uniquely.  My only concern anymore (thank you Mr. Quincy Jones) is vibrating at the highest level of excellence that I possibly can.  Nothing else matters. When this becomes tarnished by an obsessive need for approval, you forfeit your greatness.  A Tony Award will never be "that thing" you need to "believe in yourself" if you don't believe in yourself right where you are!  Self-love is the theme of this new album.  The entire execution of the writing, recording, and marketing not only invites a higher vision of excellence, but an individuality that is me and me alone.  I've been recording since I was 15 years old, and I'm having more fun right now than I have ever had in my life.  I also find that my heart for our LGBTQ youth is expanding to a call for action.  I'm not sure what that looks like for me yet, but I know they are the inspiration behind the new songs.

Tell me about your association with Del Shores. Didn't you compose music for Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife?  

The amazing Joe Pat Ward composed music for ...Housewives.  I composed music for a play prior to ...Housewives called Southern Baptist Sissies.  It was about 4 boys in the Baptist church, each dealing with the religion vs homosexuality conflict in four very different ways.  I had just moved to Los Angeles, and friends of mine drug me into the Zephyr Theatre to see it.  By intermission I was nearly on the floor in a fetal position, balling my eyes out.  After 6 years of "reparative therapy" to become 'straight", and living with the angst of a young man with a passion for God, yet being an "abomination" to God at the same time, it was very healing to see this piece.  I met Del that night.  He invited me to see it as many times as I needed to help process the pain. I must have come back 36 times.  Eventually, I wrote the theme song for the piece,  "Stained Glass Window", which won me an Outmusic Award and is featured on my last CD "Where I Belong".  

If I'm not mistaken, your music from the past has been of a very spiritual nature? Tell me about your background and how music affected you growing up?  

The first record I ever remember hearing was Mahalia Jackson.  My grandaddy played it for me, along with Andrae Crouch.  Gospel is nothing more than putting your deepest convictions to song.  No pretense, no show, no polish.  It's raw emotion and complete connection.  That's how I cut my teeth, so baring my soul in song will always be the way I have to do it. It's all I know.  I know it's also helped me find an authenticity as an actor.

What's up next? Another show? More concerts?  

Taking the time to pour my best efforts into a new album followed by touring domestically and overseas.  I also plan to spend more time discovering where I can be of service to our LGBTQ youth.  

Anything else you care to share with us?  
Yes I do have something to add as a matter of fact.    Just a couple of quick love letters.  I send my sincerest thank you to Ms. Whoopi Goldberg for being gracious, supportive, and kind during my time on Broadway.  You will never know the inspiration you've been to me.  To all my B'way friends, I miss you.  Keep doing you!  You're the best one for the job.

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New York’s Finest: The Leading Men of Broadway  will  play  one  performance  only, on Friday, September 16, at  the  John Anson Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Boulevard East, in Los Angeles, 90068. Showtime is 8:30pm, and tickets are on sale now.  Admission is $40 for reserved seating, and a $75 VIP package includes premium seating, post-performance artist meet and greet, and much  more.  Student   and   senior  discounts  are   also  available.  To  purchase  tickets, call (323) 461-3673. Tickets for reserved seating purchased prior to September 9 receive a $5 discount. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Interview with Bryce Ryness

Bryce Ryness appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning revival of  Hair (Woof, Drama Desk nom) and Legally Blonde(Aaron, Emmett u/s). Other credits include the NY premiere of Drama Desk-award winning See Rock City... (Jess/Cutter), Crossing Brooklyn (AJ, Transport Group) and the national tour of Rent (Roger). Los Angeles musical theatre credits include the world premieres of Dangerous Beauty at the Pasadena Playhouse and Leap of Faith at the Ahmanson Theatre, as well as the Los Angeles premiere of Floyd Collins. Bryce fronts a rock band called Ryness and has sung backup for Roger Daltrey, Sarah Brightman, Frankie Valli, Marin Mazzie, and Josh Groban.He will star as the MC in Reprise Theatre Co's Cabaret opening their new season September 14 at The Freud, UCLA.

Tell me about the MC in Cabaret and what is challenging about playing him. 
And give away all my secrets!? What kind of magician would I be? Kidding.
First and foremost, he's human. He has thoughts, feelings, and opinions. And, in this particular production, I think audiences will be delighted and/or outraged by my/our take on him- I gladly take either reaction. I think he's a cautionary figure. And, hopefully, if I do my job right, he'll make you quite unsettled... all the while giving you that funny feeling in your tummy. So that, ultimately, is the challenge: to make this guy human, subtly terrifying, and irresistible. 

Is this perhaps the most challenging/difficult role for you to date? Why? or Why not?

in Hair
Well, it's certainly daunting… but then again I wouldn't have auditioned for the show if I wasn't terrified of the role. I've always been attracted to roles (and shows) that force me to confront an overwhelming fear; about myself, my abilities, my stamina, my resolve, my moral paradigms, etc. Roles are like children- each is challenging in its own unique way!  Iconic roles (like 'The Emcee' or 'Pippin' or 'Roger' or 'Reno Sweeney') present a unique challenge to the actor that lesser known roles avoid: preconception. Ironically, this has nothing to do with the actor. Iconic roles carry with them a built-in bias, generally chained to another actor's work. So, realistically, the notes aren't any higher or the choreography any more difficult than the guy before you- the challenge becomes undoing the preconceived notions the audience member brings into the theater before the show even starts! Can my characterization disarm the audience member and allow them to live in this moment anew? Or will it merely be a further academic exercise for him/her in "compare-and-contrast"? In addition to learning this entire show in 13 days, that's maybe the largest challenge I face.

Do you feel he is the key to Cabaret's message?
Subjectively (read: selfishly) speaking; of course! With the way we're telling this story- and we're telling it as historically accurate as we can- he's the guy you gotta watch out for, the one who's expertly trading on people's hopes and fears devoid of empathy.

You have done quite a few ground-breaking shows. Talk a bit about doing Hair and then Rent.
They were fantastic! Both experiences were fully three-dimensional. I spent enough time doing both- at a certain zenith of their exposure- to be fully immersed in all the joy and pain that a massive, hit show can bring. Shows are kind of like lovers. You spend somuch time getting to know them, learn their ins-and-outs, know how to please them, that each show feels like falling in love. Both HAIR 
and RENT were like being in relationships with a well-known celebrity: really attractive and popular but demand A LOT of time and attention because everyone knows them and (oftentimes) thinks they can do it better than you… but if you love them with truth and sincerity (and don't listen to the haters) they give back an ocean in return. 

Legally Blonde must have been a real switch. Did you enjoy it? In what ways?
Oh man, I loved it! I afforded my wife and I the chance to stay in New York City! We were on the verge of running out of money and were praying- literally, on our knees on the cracked parquet wood floor of our Woodside apartment- in November of 2007, asking Jesus to provide us a way to stay in New York. Exactly one month (to the day) after that pleading I got a call from my agent saying that I'd be making my Broadway debut on January 2nd, 2008. The divine comedy is that when I first got the call to go in for the audition, my response was, "Legally Blonde? What am I going to do in that?"

What is your favorite role so far in musical theatre?
Floyd Collins.

Do you have a favorite composer? A favorite show, whether you've done it or not?
I love Once On This Island. I'll never be able to do it (for obvious reasons) but I love every note of that score and all the lessons it imparts. I also love Jesus Christ Superstar. Not so much for its take on the gospel but the music is epic.

Favorite Composer: John Foreman.

Tell me about your band. Do you play gigs regularly? How does that fit in to your schedule as a musical comedy actor?

in Dangerous Beauty (right)
RYNESS is Robin Lai (drums), Jae Ko (bass), Jeff Washburn (guitar), and me. It's the best group of musicians I've ever worked withspanning both my onstage and offstage life. True friends. I write the majority of the songs but I'd be nowhere without them. They're all based in New York so playing gigs when I'm doing out-of-town productions is a bit tough. I think we've played out, as a band, once in the last year. But, when everyone is in the same quadrant of the U.S., we generally play out once every month or so. It started as an opportunity for me to be creative while in the midst of bartending, cater-waitering, and banging my head against brick walls (read: starting out in New York as an auditioning actor). It matured into this wonderful group of friends who love to create music together. We've got two albums out: Live @ Joe's Pub was recorded in September of 2008 and is available at our shows and A Fire In The Night came out in May of 2009 and is available on iTunes and Amazon. We're in the process of writing a third...

You were wonderful in 
Dangerous Beauty. Tell me your feelings about playing that role and the show overall.
Thank you! It was a wonderful confluence of events: being back in Pasadena (where my wife and I lived after we were first married), at the Playhouse (where I'd always wanted to work), working with my college roommate (James Snyder), on a new piece (yay, creativity!), directed by Sheryl Kaller (who I love). Every single person- from the lead producers to the 'Friends of the Playhouse' volunteer ushers- were sincerely loving, supportive, and ready to make something cool and new. It was a golden episode in our life. We were also walking distance from Vroman's Bookstore and their story-time in the kids section was the jam. (our daughter) Mercy. loved. it.

backstage with James Snyder before a performance of Dangerous Beauty at Pasadena Playhouse

Anything more to say about Cabaret before signing off?

I hope people are getting excited about our production of CABARET. I think it's going to blow your mind/heart. Whatever happens, you won't leave unaffected!
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:       The Freud Playhouse at UCLA, conveniently located in Macgowan Hall

Dates:          September 13-September 25
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00pm & 8:00pm,
Sundays at 2:00 pm & 7:00 pm
Tickets:        UCLA Central Ticket Office:  310/825-2101

Prices:         September 13 preview $63.00; September 14 opening night - $78.00;
Tuesday through Thursday Evenings - $73.00;
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, (all performances) - $78.00.
Student/Senior rush $20, 15 minutes before showtime
(subject to availability).

More Info:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Interview with Lee Lessack

Singer Lee Lessack was my choice for Best Cabaret Artist - Male for 2010 for his Chanteur merveilleux. Now he is releasing the CD Chanteur on August 9. He discusses the show and CD in depth in our chat.
Tell me briefly how and why you wanted to put Chanteur together. What was particularly engaging about the music involved?
My dear friend and colleague, Brian Lane Green, actually came up with the concept and wrote and directed a concert for me which then became the basis for the new album. I had mentioned to Brian that I felt I was ready to create a new concert and since Brian and I have shared the stage with "3 Men and a Baby…Grand!" for many years, he knows where I live vocally and as an actor and he thought of this idea and I loved everything about it.

Talk about your experiences mounting the show in London and Paris.
It was truly a magical experience. I've performed in London several times but it's been about 5 or 6 years I believe. The shows were completely sold-out which is always exciting - and the crowds were crazy for the material so it was just a London-Lovefest. Heading to France I was a bit intimidated. Our first stop was Lille and the audience was not fluent in English so I had to streamline my patter and stories. It was a matinee and they were very reserved and quiet during most of the songs so I was worried that they didn't enjoy my performance. But, alas, it was just that they didn't understand much of what I was singing. When the show ended, this very docile audience bounded to their feet and demanded 3 encores (and I had none prepared).   Paris was a dream come true. I've always wanted to perform there and a friend of mine who lives in Paris came on board to produce the event. It was at a lovely theatre called Le Sentier des Halles. Every moment of the night was just perfect and the audience was phenomenal. Can't wait to go back!

 Does the CD contain the whole show?
The CD is selections from the show plus some additional songs that will be added to the concert as we have now expanded it to a full 2 Act show for performing arts centers.  Some of the arrangements have also been modified as I wanted to create a listening experience and a mood that was slightly different from the "tour-de-force" concert presentation.

Is this the best work you've done so far, do you think? Why?
I never like to comment on my own work as that just feels awkward.  But I will tell you that I am really enjoying this recording.  I don't normally listen to my albums once they are mastered, but I've spent a bit of time with Chanteur and I'm quite pleased. I think it's probably some of my best work. It's very simple and sparse, which leaves room for me to really touch the listener's heart, which I hope I have achieved.

 Are there more concerts of the show planned for the immediate future?
Yes!  I'm most excited about our upcoming concert in Los Angeles at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre on October 7th. I'll be sharing the stage with the magnificent Amanda McBroom in an evening titled Chansons d'amour.

Talk a little about your record label and your investment in it. Does it bring you as much joy as performing yourself?
Well first of all, I am thrilled that LML Music has sustained in the ever-changing marketplace for over 17 years. I never dreamed it would become what it is today, or that we would be distributing for such wonderful names like Lucie Arnaz, Kathie Lee Gifford, Lea Salonga, Tom Wopat and Stephen Schwartz. It's been a very exciting journey and one that has allowed me to offer a vehicle of distribution to lesser known talents.   Voices that I truly believe should be heard, but artists that don't necessarily have the name recognition to get them a record deal with a major label. So that brings me great joy.

Who is your favorite composer?
Johnny Mercer

Who are your favorite singers? Of the old school and contemporary!
Old School Male:  Mel Torme
Old School Female:  Rosemary Clooney

Contemporary Male:  Jason Mraz
Contemporary Female:  k.d. lang
What's up next in your career?
Well in addition to the record label (LML Music) I am partners in a concert production agency called Spot-On Entertainment. We book and produce concerts all over the country which feature mostly Broadway vocalists "in concert".  We've got a busy year ahead which I'm excited about.
How precarious a state is the music business  in right now, in your opinion?
It's interesting to watch the music industry change so rapidly. When LML started in 1995 we were still manufacturing cassette tapes and I wonder what will happen when CDs become old school. The digital world has brought wider spread recognition and accessibility to artists, and social media has provided a venue for the independent artist to create quite a loud voice in the marketplace. Every day brings a new adventure and something new to tweet as they say.
to order Chanteur: