Friday, December 13, 2013

2013 news for Piper Laurie

Three-time Academy Award nominee actress Piper Laurie is currently onstage in etc's A Little Night Music in Santa Barbara through December 22. She's still luminescent at 81!

Monday, December 9, 2013

2013 Interview with Rebecca Ann Johnson

Actress Rebecca Ann Johnson recently played Elizabeth in MTW's Young Frankenstein and will play in Little Miss Scrooge at the Rubicon in Ventura for one week only beginning December 18.

Tell me about Little Miss Scrooge - its plot in relation to A Christmas Carol and how the character is similar and different from Scrooge.

Little Miss Scrooge is an updated telling of A Christmas Carol mashed together with the love story from Great Expectations.  I play Estella Scrooge, the great great great granddaughter of Ebenezer and I've taken over the family business, cheating people out of their life savings through sub-prime loans, cancelled insurance policies, etc.  I'm a real "baddie" who decides to visit her childhood home on Christmas Eve to personally foreclose on the local halfway house.  Obviously Estella is in serious need of some holiday spirit and she gets it three times that night, visiting her past, present and future, all the while finding love and a place to call home.  What's fun about this incarnation of the story is that the situations are topical with respect to what's going on today in  society and, as an added treat, every Dickens book is referenced in some way through a character name or place.  

What are your challenges as an actress?

To build a career that has integrity and is fulfilling, but also to be a decent human being while doing it.  

You are assuredly much more than decent. What is the music in the show  like? Tell me a little about the creators of the show and its director.

John and Sam Caird and Paul Gordon created this show; Paul wrote the music and the three of them wrote the script.  The music is very rock/pop and filled to the brim with soul.  Performing a show about finding your joy in life and discovering what family really means during the holiday season is one amazing thing, but to be directed by this fantastic group of men is another.  They've created such a family with all of us, coming back again to do this show was a no-brainer.  

What is your favorite role so far?

I've been so lucky to have played some really incredible roles thus far.  I have two favorites and the first would have to be Vivian Ross, a role I played this past summer in Falling for Make Believe at The Colony Theatre.  Vivian was snazzy, fierce and sang some of the most beloved Rodgers and Hart tunes, which was a joy words cannot describe.  My other favorite is Estella because of where she starts her story, what she goes through to find her happiness, and Paul Gordon's beautiful music she gets to sing.  Being bad is so much fun to play.  Who wouldn't love to yell "Bah Humbug" at a Cratchit now and then?  

Do you have a mentor? Who are your favorite actors - stage or film? Those that have inspired you the most!

I've been very fortunate to have worked with some brilliant actors that shared some of their wisdom along the way.  I worked with Harriet Harris in Pippin at CTG, but first I had seen her during her last preview of Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway and I told a friend that she was going to win the Tony for her performance.  She was electric on stage, and I remember thinking, "this is what artistry and mastery of your skill looks like".  When we did Pippin, just listening to her stories and seeing how she prepared for a role (not to mention watching her up close performing) was a master class in itself.  And in Scrooge I get to work with the unbelievably talented Amanda McBroom.  She, as you can imagine, is amazing in this show, and just getting to spend time with her and play with her in scenes is truly a gift.  She is the definition of beauty and strength on stage and off.  I have learned so much over the years from watching, listening and absorbing every last drop of experiences with the actors I've been lucky to work with.  I would not be who or where I am without them.From TV and Film it would have to be Gilda Radner and Madelaine Kahn.  Those two ladies defined what "funny" is to me.  They were fearless and hysterical without worrying about what they looked like or trying to be sexy, while being two of the most beautiful ladies in the business.  They had class.  That's what I strive to find in everything I do, every joke I tell and funny face I make.

What role would you like to play?

I would LOVE to play the Baker's Wife in Into the Woods, and Audrey in Little Shop...someday soon hopefully!

Talk a little about your nightclub act The Ruby and Coco Hour. Are you still working with that?

Coco & Ruby are a delightful duo from 1940s Newark, New Jersey.  They're two gals trying to make it big in Hollywoodland 2013, and learning the ropes of the business as well as modern life through laughter and song. We had to take a little break this fall for other projects she and I were working on but Coco & Ruby will be dusting off their saddle shoes and getting back to LaLaLand very soon!  

Don't miss Rebecca Johnson as Miss Scrooge December 18-23 only at the Rubicon in Ventura! She promises to be very special!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

2013 Interview with Brian Childers

I first reeled with joy in 2007 when Brian Childers starred at the El Portal Theatre in NoHo in a full-length musical about the life of Danny Kaye. Now he's back and presenting his one-man show An Evening with Danny Kaye again at the El Portal for two performances only on December 31.

How many incarnations of the Danny Kaye show have you done? 

Well, since 2000 when Danny and Sylvia started I guess 4 total. There was the original Danny and Sylvia in Washington D.C., The Kid from Brooklyn which toured for over 2 years, Danny and Sylvia 2.0 Off Broadway for 3 years, which I like to call it, and now An Evening with Danny Kaye. Totaling 13 years on and off playing Danny Kaye.

Talk about the trimmed down version at St. Luke's in New York. I know you had a lot of success with it, because it ran for a long time. 

After The Kid from Brooklyn closed in Chicago and there were no further plans for the show, I was approached to bring Danny and Sylvia off Broadway. Feedback over the years for Danny and Sylvia was that there weren't enough of Danny'signature songs. So we did just that, we went back and added songs like “The Malajusted Jester”, “Ballin the Jack”, “Melody in 4 F”, and “Dinah”. We still kept the integrity of Bob Mcelwaine's book and Bob Bain's score, but just inserting these moments is what I believe kept the show running for three years at St. Luke's Theatre in NYC. 

Is the concert you are doing on the 31st based on that show or is it different? If yes, how so?

The show on the 31st is basically just as the title says An Evening with Danny Kaye. The idea behind this show is based on Danny's one man concerts that he toured with for years. It is as if the audience is going to see Danny perform at the Palace, or at the Palladium. It is a bit more updated with some modern projections and video. The evening at its core is Danny performing all of his greatest hits. Of course the classics will be there: “Tchaikovsky”, “Minnie the Moocher”, “Ballin the Jack” but I get to tackle songs I have always wanted to sing. Songs such as "The Gypsy Drinking Song" from The Inspector General, "The Lobby Number" from Up in Arms, and of course songs from White Christmas

 What has attracted you to Danny and his material through the years?

I love the material. The material is just brilliant and a sheer pleasure for any actor to perform. Also, it's very rare when an actor can connect to a performer and his work so deeply. I am privileged to have had Danny come into my life. He has certainly changed it for the better. 

Any future plans for the concert or the Danny show in 2014?

I have performed the show in Washington D.C., South Carolina, and now Los Angeles. My hope is that this show goes all over the country. The show is basically myself and a piano and can be performed in any venue. I also have this not so secret desire to take the show to London where Danny was a hit at the Palladium. It would be a dream.come.true. 

What else have you been up to since we last spoke? You did a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. How was that? What else? What other shows have kept you busy?

Since I last saw you I have been so fortunate. Of course Danny and Sylvia ran for three years and that kept me busy. I did perform at the Hollywood Bowl for three nights with the L.A. Philharmonic as part of the 50 year anniversary of the Dodgers Baseball Team. I performed two numbers and did Danny Kaye's "The Dodger's Song". It was beyond thrilling. I actually sang at Dodger's Stadium for a game. In New York I have been lucky enough to have been a part of some new work and world premieres, concerts and cabarets. I have been blessed to have been so busy. 

Anything else you care to add?

I am so excited to be returning after 5 years to the EL Portal Theatre. I love Peggy (Forrest) and Jay (Irwin) and in a way feel like I am coming back home. 
The new show is directed by Stephen Nachamie with music direction by Jeff Biering. I am thrilled to be working with both as they are very respected in the New York community. Stephen brings fresh eyes to something that I have been doing for so long. He makes me look at Danny's performance with a renewed excitement. 

At the link below, check out our interview from 2008:

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

2013 Interview with Tracy Lore

Just having completed her stint as Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein at MTW in Long Beach at the Carpenter Center, versatile actress/singer/dancer Tracy Lore is in rehearsal to assume a strong featured role in the new musical based on Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory at Laguna Playhouse, Laguna opening December 7. In our chat, Lore talks about the role and others she has played.

Tell me about the character you are playing in A Christmas Memory.

I play Jennie Faulk who is the most educated of the 3 siblings, domineering spinster sister to Sook. Convinced she knows what is best for the whole family having been placed in a position to be mother and father to them since the death of their mother resulting in never having a life of her own.

How does the musical role compare to others you have played? More challenging? If so, in what ways?

I've played characters like this before, but the challenge in this one is to convince the audience that I am not really evil or a bad guy! What's great about this show is that both the piece and the venue are intimate, which is nice at this time of year.

What is your favorite musical role so far?  Non musical role?

There have been so many roles that I have loved doing lately and so diverse from each other, it's hard to say. They all seem to be a favorite when I'm doing them. Favorite non musical would have to be Berthe in Boeing Boeing

What role are you yearning to play?

I always say a role that I am yearning to play is the one I get to create. However, this summer I came very close! Wayne Bryan at the Music Theatre of Wichita gave me the honor of being able to play the role of Joyce Chilvers in the American premiere of Betty Blue Eyes opposite Larry Raben. Even though the show was originated in London, it was a thrill to be the first person to do it here.  Wonderful script and score, everybody thought so, hope it will be done again somewhere soon!

with Damon Kirsche in MTW's 42nd Street

Who are your mentors? Favorite actors/actresses in the business that have inspired you?

I don't really have an exact mentor, but my favorite actor might have to be Tom Hanks. There is nothing he can't do, and I think that is what any actor strives for in this business.  However, the people that most inspire me are the people the I get to work with every day. I learn so much from them.

Can you remember any particularly funny/ embarrassing moment that happened to you during a performance?

Embarrassing moment would have to be when I was doing a show at Disneyland as a certain "Disney Gal", ran in for my final entrance in the beautiful "yellow ball gown" slipped on some condensation for a fog machine, fell flat on my behind, hoop skirt open toward the audience, legs in the air, you get the picture!  The Prince still kissed me!

Funny...You seem to be so good at playing character, especially comedic parts. I know they are fun. Do you have any specific technique or do you approach everything from basics?

No real technique involved. I never really thought of myself as a character woman until recently, although I completely welcome it!  That transition really came out of the necessity to work. And with the faith and support of some directors that I had worked for before (including my husband) they allowed me the chance to prove myself in roles that I had never been considered for before. So I have been able to bounce back and forth from leading lady to character and back again.

And lucky for us! Tracy Lore is an immense talent. See her in Laguna in the new musical A Christmas Memory beginning December 3 through December 29!
as Frau Blucher in MTW's recent Young Frankenstein

Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 Interview with Spider Saloff

Actress/singer Spider Saloff will appear at Rockwell in Hollywood December 3 with her award-winning Cool Yule Christmas show. A big hit artist on the jazz/cabaret scene in Chicago, Saloff is considered one of the greatest song interpreters of Ella Fitzgerald. In our talk, she discusses her roots and her love of music.

Tell me about your background. Where were you born?

I was born outside of Philadelphia. My father's first jewelry business was in South Phillie, but eventually we moved to New Jersey where I grew up. I lived in New York City most of my adult life, then I moved to Chicago and fell in love with it and have been here ever since.

You are the talk of the town there. Chicago has the reputation as being the 'it' town for the music business. What special meaning does it hold for you?

Well, I'll tell you what happened. Living and working in New York I really worked as a musical theatre actress, and it was such a struggle just to live there. Then when I started to work in the night club many people and so few gigs that developing as an artist was a real challenge. When I was offered a long-term engagement... to come to a club that was partly owned by Bobby Short, the Gold Star Sardine Bar, I took it, and I really worked like a crazy person. The bar is no more, but it was an incredible opportunity, one that I never would have had in New York City. Bobby (Short) was wonderful to me; we actually did a big benefit together one time. I just adore this city. There are so many creative opportunities for not only musicians but actors and comedians especially. It's just a very active entertainment town.

Let's talk about The Roar of the Butterfly, the one-woman play you performed here at the old Celebration Theatre a couple of years back. You were just sensational in that. The way you incorporated all of the characters into the story and backed it up with your original musical score. I was disappointed that you didn't have a bigger audience.

I was too... you know, but any place you're unknown...

Is that the reason you stayed away from LA when you've toured your acts elsewhere?

Absolutely, yeah. We couldn't get a venue that was appropriate. And the play (Roar) did get produced here in Chicago the following year, but I haven't done it for a year now. I'm not sure what I will do with it later, but I don't want to have to produce it again. If I found an outside producer that wanted to do it, I would certainly do it again.

How did Roar originate?

It was a long process. I started writing it years ago. It had another title; it didn't have original music; I wasn't even writing songs at that point. And it was sort of autobiographical. Then I put it away and 2008 was when I started to revamp it. I decided to write a whole original score. I added more characters, and it developed that it wasn't my story, that it was the story of Butterfly. One thing led to another. And there you go...

Did you grow up in a musical environment?

Not really, no. (she laughs) There are no artists in my family. They were retailers that were mystified; they didn't know what to make of me...

But did you listen to Broadway and pop albums growing up?

Oh, yes. They used to take me to musicals and they really loved big band music. My dad had Billie Holiday albums that I used to sneak away to listen to and pretend that I was listening to pop music, but I never thought the music of my generation did anything for me. I have always loved musical theatre and classic jazz. That's been my great love.

Who are your mentors? Your favorite artists?

My influences really were: Ella Fitzgerald, of course, was a huge influence; Sarah Vaughn, Johnny Hartman...Art Murphy...and Rosemary Clooney...and of course, Frank Sinatra. It's a whole mish mosh of influences. Also, there are instrumentalists that I love to listen to as well.

Do you credit your love of jazz to your parents' love of the big band era?

It had a lot to do with it, yeah. It just moved me. I remember seeing Ella Fitzgerald on television when I was a little kid, and she was scat singing... I remember thinking "I don't know what that lady is doing but it's amazing!" I was just blown away by her. I absolutely adored her.

Before I get to "When You See Me", which I think is a fantastic new song...

Oh, thank you. By the way I will be performing that at Rockwell. A holiday show with a song about loving each other is perfect.

Great... we'll come back to the song. How would you compare today's music to that of yesteryear? 

It's such a wide range of popular music now. The super, super Top 10 popular stuff, it has the same effect on me as the stuff that was out when I was a kid. I really don't feel connected to it, or like sounds like a lot of yelling. I think there's a lot of vocal technique that is loud and louder. No dynamic's just all people screaming. It's one dimensional...I think it's formulated. Then, there are some independent artists that are writing beautiful things that you don't get to hear enough of. Thank God for the internet to be exposed to some really beautiful sensitive stuff. As far as my taste is concerned, jazz in particular is very, very emoting... of what is part of our humanity. It's a style of music that is so expressive. It has dynamic range, but most of all, it's spirit driven. That are poems in that; there's storytelling. You know what they're saying. In a lot of pop rock, I have a problem with the diction. I can't understand what they're saying. It doesn't mean anything to me. So much musical theatre stuff that has become popular music, that became standards, had such a long shelf life...I mean new artists are still doing these songs. Pop artists are doing old standards. They were written 70 years ago and sound as fresh as the day they were written. You're refreshing the style, which is what I love to do in performance. To put a fresh turn on something! It needs to have a life now. I don't think it needs to be necessarily performed in the way it was originally done. That's what really is great about timeless music.
Let's get back to your new song "When You See Me". Tell us about its roots. It has quite a mix of music, with a rap singer introducing it.

This has a really crazy story. I broke my leg this summer. I was laid up for 10 weeks. It's totally healed now; I'm very happy I can wear high heels again. (we laugh) That was the part that was really breaking my heart. I was in bed and was talking to David Bloom, who owns the Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago. I've taught there for many years. He's a colleague of mine and a champion of what I do. He was talking about Trayvon Martin. He said, "What if you wrote a song about that?" I thought "You're crazy!" I hung up, I started to think about it, and then I started writing and I couldn't stop. It just kept coming. It's part of the process I go through when I write something. Before you knew it, it was finished and David wanted to produce it. We talked about how it was going to be performed. We were definitely going to record it. It started with just piano and then we had all sorts of other ideas. Then another singer/friend Jewel Tancy got involved, and David suggested the whole hip hop style. We hired all those fantastic hip hop guys and recorded the whole thing in two hours.

When I listened to the song, I thought the elements of the Trayvon Martin case kind of blended well with that hip kind of style.

Yeah. And Max Hornung, who was a student of mine, is 19 years old, just starting college and wrote a really short rap to open it. It all turned out to be one of those crazy miracles.

Do you teach voice?

Yeah, but not traditionally. I actually teach jazz style and performance, but it's not a typical technique class with people doing scales. It's about using the voice you have. I work with people that have incredible instruments, some of them are classically trained, and they want to learn how to sing jazz or to sing in a more popular tone. I work with them on style. And then I have some that want to do it for their own head. I work with the instrument that they have. I teach them how to embrace what your own style is. I'm a style coach. We learn by imitation, but are afraid to break the imitating. Find your own voice!

What can you add about December 3 at the Rockwell? You're doing your Cool Yule songs for Christmas and the new to say anything else?

Come to this celebration at Rockwell! You'll have a blast! I promise you a good time. Meow!

Spider Saloff is phenomenal. You do not want to miss her on the 3rd of December! In the meantime, check out Spider's American Songbook Preservation Network, a small non-profit organization based in Chicago which funds recording projects for artists... and her website:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 Interview with Albie Selznick

Actor/magician Albie Selznick's autobiographical play Smoke and Mirrors has been a phenomenal success first in Santa Monica and now at the Road in NoHo where it has extended and extended. Selznick tells us what he thinks is special about the show.

Tell me briefly how Smoke and Mirrors originated.

The kernel of Smoke and Mirrors actually started in Larry Moss’s acting class 15 years ago. One night Larry said, “Turn to the person next to you and tell them a story-- something profound that happened to you.” I told my neighbor about an event that happened to me when my juggling and magic act The Mums toured New Zealand. Then Larry Said, “Okay, next week, I want you to bring it on stage in some way and physicalize it.”  That story “Nigel” changed my life and it is now the final act of Smoke and Mirrors.

Also I was a magician as a kid and later became an actor, but I’ve always thought it would be interesting to combine the two disciplines, specifically by exploring why someone would get into magic as a child. I think it usually develops from a psychological reason. For me it was the death of my dad when I was 9. He had given me a magic set a year earlier and I toyed with it but really threw myself into it after he died. I guess I used magic to escape the sadness of my life. I think for me, magic symbolized hope and fantasy in an era that felt like my life was covered in a cloud, or more accurately a shroud.

Are the audiences different at the Road from those who attended in Santa Monica a year ago? I am referring to numbers, yes, but also to the type of people attending.... Has the move helped?

The North Hollywood theatre-going crowd isn’t so much different people-wise, but the theatre is– The Road is such a beautiful space, and fits our show perfectly. It’s also such a comfortable space for the audience-- which for me is very important.  And since I was a member of the Road’s theater company, it was a natural fit to move the show there. Also we had originally started by performing parts of it on the off-night series at the Road a couple of years ago, so it was a homecoming of sorts. Taylor, Sam, Bettina, and everyone else could not have been more welcoming. We did a special show for just Road company members for Cinco de Mayo and the love and encouragement I felt from the company was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. It still moves me to think about that night and how embraced I felt while performing. (Of course it could have been because we got everyone drunk on “cervezas” … mmmmmm maybe I’m on to something here.) 

Changing venues can be difficult if people start associating the show with a certain space. When we moved to the Road, we’d already been reviewed by the LA Times at the previous theatre, but apparently Philip Brandes (the reviewer) came into the Times Building and suggested they do a profile piece on me… right around the time we moved… so that helped us tremendously.

It appeals to all ages - kids of all ages. Do you think that is why so many people like it - apart from the fact that you are so damn good in it...?

There is something for everyone in our show I guess. Kids… and the kid at heart. It’s funny, wacky, emotional, serious and magical enough that it seems almost everyone can find some point to suspend their disbelief . Everyone “wants to believe” somewhere in the back of their minds and our show hopefully lets them, if only for a moment. Even Houdini, the foremost medium buster and debunker of his time-- he ruined many a career by exposing and humiliating fake “spiritualists” every night in his show-- still made a pact with his wife that if there was any way possible he would return from the dead. We all want to believe.

Without giving too much away, tell me how you have reshaped the show over the last year. You have reduced it from two acts to one act, correct? What about changes in content?

We didn’t condense the show… it’s always meant to be 90 minutes…. but it gives or takes depending on the audience since there is a lot of improvisation with them during the show. And I’m always constantly working on it… adding new tricks (we just added our own unique take on Houdini’s famous Metamorphosis: The Trunk Escape) as well as trying to find new ways of connecting all the dots. There are a lot of strands that concurrently run through the show: my semi-autobiographical life story; Houdini’s search for an after-life; mine and the audience’s fears-- how we can face and overcome them; my journey of finding peace with my father’s death, and what really matters in life…. And these themes are all linked through magic and illusion. I’m always working on how to connect everything but also keep it somewhat abstract and open to everyone’s individual interpretation. I want to make this show a wild rollercoaster ride… something that has never been done before.

What plans do you have for the show?

We are planning to take this version down Dec 31 (my birthday is New Year’s Day… so it’ll be a big party night for us). And I’m also currently in the process of rewriting and developing a “Smoke and Mirrors Version 2.0” with Robert Egan (Mark Taper Forum, Ojai Playwrights conference) in hopes of taking it to other theatres, across the country... my end game, of course, being New York.

Anything else you care to add?

I also want to say how lucky I have been to work with such amazing partners in this show… all first-rate performers and people,  who help me on and off stage… and we have a lot of fun in the process. This is and has continued to be a great journey for me. One of my favorite shows is Sunday in the Park with George. And After George does this painting of a hat; he sings that he made a hat where there wasn’t a hat. I think I’m trying to make a hat where there wasn’t a hat… and then pull a rather large rabbit out of it.

Friday, November 8, 2013

2013 Interview with Sam Anderson

Popular stage and TV actor Sam Anderson, co-artistic director of The Road Theatre Company, will direct the next play at the Road entitled The Different Shades of Hugh, to open in January 2014.

Tell me about the next play you are directing. Wasn't it part of the Summer Playwrights Festival a year or two ago?
I am directing "The Different Shades of Hugh" by Clete Keith. The play was brought to me by my old friend and colleague Craig Berenson, a film producer who has worked with the writer. It's a fascinating piece about the artistic process and within 2 pages, I was completely hooked. We included it in our Summer Playwrights Festival two years ago and I directed it. It produced a wonderful and lively discussion about art and artists and I couldn't get it out of my head.

What is special about it? 
What's special about "Hugh" is its voice, which runs the gamut from very very funny to very beautiful and moving, all the while asking some important questions about the creation of art and the toll it takes on some personalities. The idea of an audience living what the artist lives in his process is wonderfully challenging to me, as well as creating the world of art around him. 

How does it fit into the Road's mission of producing edgy new works?

The Road's mission introduces new works and new voices to the American stage and "The Different Shades of Hugh" fits that mission perfectly. Clete Keith is a local writer, a wonderful screenwriter and this is his first play. I am honored that he has trusted me and the Road with it. It will create all kinds of discussion after, while the trip itself will be wonderfully entertaining.

What's challenging for a director doing a play about a visual artist is we need to create his paintings, quite a number of them, as well as some incredible visual imagery that will take us inside his process. I had such an incredible time a few years ago directing Stacy Sims' "As White As O," which was set in an art gallery, and I'm drawn to material which explores where art comes from. I am reuniting with a big part of my design team from that show -- Adam Flemming, the brilliant scenic/video designer, our resident sound designer Wiz Dave Marling, and the amazing Jeremy Pivnik, lighting designer, along with Jocelyn Hublau who I've worked with a lot now as costume designer.
I have my talented Assistant Director/Co-Producer Bettina Zacar back, and co-producers Suzanne Hunt and my friend Craig Berenson, in his first producing stint with the Road to take on these challenges and like the play, the process is profoundly enriching.

          Can you tell us the cast yet?

The cast includes: Coronado Romero, Whitney Dylan, Stephan Smith Collins, Ellie Jameson, Tom Musgrave and Zachary Mooren. Many of these company members are making their debuts on the Road stage in the new Road on Magnolia and it is my first time directing there. The auditions were so inspiring I could have chosen three complete casts from our talented members, and it was a very difficult decision making process.

You have done extensive work onstage as an actor and director ...  as well as on television. What is the greatest plus you get from each medium?

 In this phase of my life and career, what I'm enjoying so much is changing hats all the time.  I spent a month in New Orleans this year filming a very unique horror film which opens in January called Devil's Due with four young directors who work under the name Radio Silence and it was one of the most enjoyable, freeing experiences I've had in a long time, tons of fun.... and a very scary product, I might add.  I have simultaneously been recurring on FX's JUSTIFIED, playing one of the nastiest characters I've ever played and loving that ride as well -- wonderful cast, writing and very caring producers. Teaching my ongoing scene study class for professional actors is my way of giving back what I've learned and continue to learn about both the business of Hollywood and the art of the character actor, and nothing has energized me more than that. Helping my compadre, Taylor Gilbert (founder of the Road) make this company grow and do the kind of dangerous work we do in choosing and presenting new work takes up another part of my brain and when I direct, which I've tried to do at least once every other year if not once a year, I get engulfed in that process of creating the world in which a great new playwright's voice can best be heard. I deal with a lot of playwrights the Road chooses to produce and work through rewrites with them and the goal is always that they walk away, like the actors, designers and patrons do,I hope, feeling like they've been well taken care of at the Road. You put all that together, and it's one plus after another: the chance to work, to lead, to serve. It keeps me humble and happy.
Be sure to catch The Different Shades of Hugh directed by Sam Anderson at the Road Theatre Company in its new space at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony on Magnolia January 24-March 15, 2014!

news: Choreographer Matthew Bourne to Present his Sleeping Beauty

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty to play the Ahmanson November 21 through December 1 only.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

news: as PS Follies closes its doors, Judy Bell and Randy Doney......

This, unfortunately, is the final season of the PS Follies. The Last Hurrah in Palm Springs... I thought it appropriate to single out two of the show's longest running and most endearing cast members.
They are Judy Bell, a powerful belter whose "God Bless America" I will remember for years to come, as lovingly as Kate Smith's version...and Randy Doney, the affable conductor of the PS Follies orchestra who opens the show and danced on The Carol Burnett Show for 11 years on CBS Television. Both, and all their teammates, have made the Follies a unique experience for the past 20 years. Break a leg, wherever you go!

Monday, September 30, 2013

2013 Interview with John Frank Levey

Casting director John Frank Levey is the director of the Road Theatre Company's current production of Lake Anne at their second theatre space on Magnolia in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony. He has directed many shows over a 45 year period; in fact, Levey had the NEA Directors Fellowship in 1980 at the Mark Taper Forum here in Los Angeles.

Who are your favorite playwrights and what are some of the plays you have directed before Lake Anne?

I grew up on Albee, Pinter and Ionesco in the 60s. Some of  the plays I have directed include Waiting for Godot, Death of a Salesman and Zoo Story.

As director of Lake Anne, what were your greatest challenges in staging the play?

Because of the projections the stage got very shallow so keeping good angles of movement was difficult but those same projected images added so much to the production that it was worth it.

For you, what is the key message (or messages) in the play?

Having known Marthe Gold for four-plus decades, it is a pleasure to join with the village that is the Road Theatre in giving her this world premiere production of her play, Lake Anne. Sadly, there is often a gap, a gulf with regard to loving between what we think, what we say, what we genuinely feel, what we intend, and what we actually do. For me, Lake Anne is a play about love, and that gap, that gulf, that chasm, that empty space between intention and result. Even as I love you badly, I love you with all my heart.

Compared to other plays you've directed, how does this size up?

Lake Anne is a dark and nuanced piece and for all of us finding the balance between that darkness and the character's humanity was hard work. living in the world of Lake Anne for the duration of the rehearsal period and the run takes a level of commitment from the actors that is demanding.

How was it like directing this cast?

A complete pleasure we had fun and worked well as a unit for which I am grateful and proud.

Talk a little about the Road Theatre Company and your association with it.

Sam (Anderson) was my entry point and I have known and respected him as an actor for a long time. Working with Marthe and Sam on the script was a pleasure. He is great with the written word and insightful in many ways. I had never met Taylor when this process began and in the early meetings she was so quiet that I didn't get much of a sense of her. Honestly I am quite sure we would not have made it to the finish line without her. She made it fun when it was difficult and I've never felt so supported and appreciated by a artistic director ever. The rest of the family of the Road has been wonderful as well.

Visit Lake Anne through November 9:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

2013 Interview with Nicole Parker

Actress Nicole Parker is onstage two more weekends as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl in Fullerton, through September 22 and in Redondo through September 29.

How does it feel playing the classic Fanny Brice, knowing full well that Streisand put her original stamp on it at the start?

Well, it's a legendary role because a legendary person made it legendary. There is no way around it! That will never change. So it's a tremendous honor to get to play this part, and I don't take it lightly. But then in order to actually play the part I have to forget all that because it doesn't help to remind yourself you're not Streisand. So I accept it, and never think about it again, honestly. The only thing I can control is how I tell the story. That's all that's left. So that's what I focus on. Bringing my own personality to the role in order to tell a story. If I think about all the other stuff I'll go crazy. CraziER.

You are brilliant with physical comedy. I think you added more of this than any other actress I have seen play Fanny, and I like that. Where did you learn your technique? Did it start before MADtv? Did that show help to hone it?

Thank you, that's so nice! MADtv certainly helped, I learned so much about comedy from that show. I learned about every aspect: timing, writing, character development, physical comedy, improv etc. But I would say my initial interest in physical comedy began with Fawlty Towers. It is a British sitcom that was super short-lived, with John Cleese. And it will teach you everything you want to know about comedy. And at the center is Cleese, that wonderful gigantic tall man and he does hilarious things with his body that are all character-driven. That's what I was drawn to. I wore out those videotapes when I was seven years old and honestly can trace so many choices back to those episodes! So go watch them, everybody!  The other person I learned from firsthand was Martin Short. I did  Fame Becomes Me on Broadway with him, and he is a brilliant physical comedian. But I'd never seen someone break down a bit of business quite like him. He'll spend an hour on one moment--working out the timing, the look, because he's so smart, and knows exactly how and when something needs to happen. And then of course on stage it looks effortless. That kind of education was invaluable! I knew I wanted to make my Fanny physical, because in watching the little footage that's publicly available of Fanny Brice, I noticed she made very funny, specific, physical choices. She has a number in a movie where she's dressed as a swan, ("It's Gorgeous To Be Graceful") and she does this crazy skip that I love. I try to do a bit of it in "Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat" as a tip of the hat to her. Also, adding physical comedy is just another way to pepper the scenes with moments that aren't on the page. I feel like a lot of this role is filling in the spaces with humor and personality. 

You've played Elphaba in Wicked. That's another big, big role, which, like Fanny, requires a lot of stamina 8 times a week. How would you compare the challenges of playing both and the music? Is Jule Styne's score easier to perform than Stephen Schwartz's?

They are so, so different. Both are challenging I would say. Elphaba lives in a bit more of a pop world, where as the Funny Girl Score is rooted in the torch song era of Broadway, two completely wonderful styles of musical theater, but so very different to sing. Fanny just lives in a different place in my voice than Elphaba. I will say that Elphaba is wonderful training for a role like Fanny. The endurance you have to have for Wicked is pretty extensive, so I'm very glad I have experience knowing how to pace myself for three hours. And both scores require you to have power, and backup reserves of it! Funny Girl naturally sounds more old-fashioned, which it should--music from another time and place. It really transports you to hear it, so vocally it requires it's own technique to achieve that sound. It would be strange if I rocked the "Defying Gravity"-style "Ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh!" the the end of "Don't Rain on My Parade," although the cast has made it clear that they would really enjoy this one night : )

I would say the workload is very similar, but it's the material that makes the parts so different. With Fanny, yes, I'm on stage almost the entire time, change costumes every two minutes, and sing exactly 41 songs, but there are several scenes that are fun and silly. It makes a very big difference to be able to have moments on stage where you're playing with an audience, or other actors on stage, and engaging in a comedic moment. It affects the experience and makes the ride more light. Elphaba on the other hand, kind of has a rough go of it from the start. I mean, the poor girl has a MOUNTAIN to climb. She's not very happy for much of the show, even when she's kissing a guy, cause it's her best friend's guy! she has a lot of angst. With all the being green, flying, crying, running, and being a renegade, it takes an emotional toll on you 8 times a week. It's interesting how Elphie gets under your skin and can really affect you. Even though it's incredibly rewarding to be Elphie!  So I'd say that's the difference!

I would like to go on record and say I think Fanny and Elphie would be friends. But every once in awhile Elphie would have to say to Fanny,"Shhh...just...Shh. Please be quiet."

Who are your idols? Your favorite actors? On stage or film.

I have a bunch: Gilda Radner, Madeline Kahn, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Mel Brooks, the ENTIRE cast of Tootsie and Fawlty Towers, Stephen Sondheim, Emma Thompson, Judy Kuhn, Martin Short. I promise I didn't just google "Celebrities" for this answer. I just have been influenced by a lot of different people!

What role would you love to tackle next? Any one in particular that you are yearning to play? 

Oh my! I have weird ones, cause I started out as a high soprano, so some of my dream roles are super impossible because I'm not an ingenue! I'd love to play Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, my all time favorite musical. Or Magnolia in Showboat, and Amalia in She Loves Me. See what I mean? But of course someday I'd love to play Dot in Sunday in the Park. I've done Into the Woods twice, would happily do it again. There's Mrs. Lovett, and Mame: all the broads. I basically won't work again until I'm fifty, apparently.

How has it been working with Michael Matthews, this cast and 3-D Theatricals?

Michael is amazing. All I wanted was someone who would let me play and experiment, and he gave me exactly that. He asks great questions, and he doesn't let you off easy, he wants you to know the answers for yourself. I could have done three more weeks at least of scene work with him because he just keeps adding layers and layers. Most of the time a scene session began with him asking me,"Are you ready to play?," which, as an improviser, I really appreciated. He had a clear vision of how to tell this story, and approached it with a very calm and easy hand. There was no pressure, it felt as if this show was ours--almost like a brand new show. He was also super collaborative about making some structural changes in Act II to further serve the story. I trust him completely and hope that we work together again!!!!! The cast is dreamy. Josh Adamson, my Nicky Arnstein, is the most charming, talented, and supportive leading man a gal could ask for. We get along so well and it just made the process a blast. And everyone else is just as wonderful: from the hysterical poker ladies, to our fabulous Ziegfeld, to the AMAZING ensemble that stops the show with their tap number. The cast is very special. It's been a very positive and supportive experience from start to finish, which is clearly a reflection of 3-D and the environment that they're cultivating. They're great! 

Only two weekends left to see the amazing Nicole Parker as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. In Fullerton at the Plummer Auditorium September 20-22 and then in Redondo Beach at the Performing Arts Center September 27-29.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

2013 Interview with Larry Eisenberg by guest journalist Steve Peterson

You’ve been with The Group Rep for quite a while.   How did you first get involved with the company?  What keeps you excited about The Group?

In 1990 Bonnie Snyder who was a member of the company called me to play Richard III for a Monday night project she was directing. It was a good experience and I ran into several GRT members whom I had known and worked with over the years.  Then, after a conversation with Lonny, I decided to join.  They were auditioning for Room Service and I ended up playing Sasha, the Russian waiter which was great fun and a terrific experience.  I acted in a number of shows and wrote and directed an original project called Nautilus.  I left in 1994 to enter the MFA directing program at CalArts.  I was gone for almost ten years but remained close to Lonny and the company, visiting often.  One of those visits was for the 1999 renaming of the company as the Lonny Chapman Group Repertory Theatre.  In 2003 I joined again and have been with them ever since.

 There is a connection with the naming of The Group and the famous Group Theatre in New York.   How did the name for The Group Rep come about?

It was a deliberate tribute to that original company.  Lonny had been mentored by Elia Kazan who was one of the original members of the Group Theatre.  Kazan brought Lonny to California for a role in “East of Eden” opposite James Dean.  Lonny had also been a close associate of Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in New York and through him, learned about the early days of the Group.  It was Strasberg, Harold Clurman and Cheryl Crawford who created the Group.  Lonny felt that the original Group was the birthplace of modern American acting and the place where Stanslavski’s methods were first introduced.  In addition to Strasberg, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, and Bobby Lewis were among the original members.  These were the people who went on to teach acting the way Lonny had learned it and therefore, the original Group represented an ideal for Lonny; it was one that he wanted to honor and to use as an example of the kind of work and environment he wanted to create.

 Is there one particular moment that you treasure or stands out in your mind in regards to working with Lonny Chapman?

Quite a few…I acted with Lonny in several shows but by far, my favorite was as Kit Carson in William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life opposite Lonny’s Joe.  Most of my scenes were just me and him sitting together telling each other outlandish stories and drinking beer.  It was a particular treat because The Time of Your Life had been a big part of Lonny’s life, and William Saroyan was one of Lonny’s favorite playwrights.  Lonny loved to tell the story about how when he played Tom in a revival of the play presented at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958, Saroyan would sometimes walk onto the stage in the middle of a performance, sit at the bar and drink whiskey while watching the actors perform the play around him.

By the end of 2006 Lonny was starting to get very frail.  I directed a play called Chaim’s Love Song by Marvin Chernoff and despite Lonny’s declining health, he managed to come and see it eight times.  I can’t tell you how moved I was and how happy it made me that he would go to all that trouble.  He was no longer able to drive and had to get rides with people to the theatre, but there he would be rooting us on and encouraging us.

As it turned out, Chaim’s Love Song was the last play Lonny ever saw at The Group Rep.

Was there a particular reason that Awake and Sing was chosen for The Group Rep’s 40th Season? 

The reason is simple.  Awake and Sing remains the signature piece created by the Group Theatre and we want to honor that past as we move into the future.

 What is the play about?

It’s interesting that Odets’ original title was I’ve Got the Blues.  On its face the play is about a second generation Jewish American family struggling through the depression in New York during the 1930s.  Three generations of the Berger Family are stuck together in this Bronx apartment.  They are dominated by mother Bessie who has no patience for daydreams or weakness.  Each of the children faces hardship, bitterness and struggle.  After work-shopping the script with Harold Clurman, Odets changed the name to Awake and Sing!  So essentially, the play is a celebration of the human spirit and a call for living life with joy.  “Life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills.” 

The play has numerous themes.  As the play’s director, is there any particular theme or themes that you are focused on?

Well, some people have called it a socialist play.  I pretty much disagree and see it more as a family drama; perhaps even comedy/drama.  But it does explore the conflict between individual expression and serving the greater good.  Social consciousness and responsibility are major “topics” discussed and argued over by our characters.  The two children, Ralph and Hennie, each are struggling to find their personal independence, but are challenged by responsibility to family and the rest of society.  One question the play asks is should the individual sacrifice him/herself for the greater good.  Odets does not proselytize.  He takes no position, just presents the arguments beautifully and poetically.  In the end, the brother and sister choose two totally different paths.  He commits to laboring for the greater good and she chooses to follow her dreams.  I imagine that Ralph will one day go to law school and eventually become active with labor unions or with civil rights.  Hennie may end on a pleasure boat sailing to Havana. 

 What do you want the audience to experience or take away from having seen this production of Awake and Sing?

That life is not easy, and everyone does their best they can with the tools they have.  We must not let our lives stagnate by “singing the blues.”  It’s much better to Awake and Sing and grab life by the throat.

 What’s up next for you as a director, as an actor? 

There’s a production of Arthur Miller’s The Price that I’m hoping to do at another theatre next year.  I also suppose it’s time to start thinking about our 41st Season.

The Group Rep presents
Written by Clifford Odets
Directed by Larry Eisenberg
Produced by Drina Durazo for the Group Rep
Runs:  September 20 – November 3, 2013
Plays:  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
             Sundays at 2pm
             Talk-back Sundays with the Cast after the show - October 6th & October 27th
Where:  Lonny Chapman Theatre   10900 Burbank Blvd.  North Hollywood 91601
Reservations: or (818) 763-5990
Tickets:  $15 - $22 (Admission: $22; Senior/Student: $17; Group 10+: $15)
                Friday Night Ladies Night – Tix ½ price for ladies
Tickets/Information: or (818) 763-5990
Parking:  Ample street parking on Burbank Blvd. and on Cleon Ave. south of the Burbank Blvd.