Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 Interview with Andrew Rannells

Actor/singer/dancer Andrew Rannells, Tony nominated Broadway star of The Book of Mormon, for which he won a Grammy Award, and new star of NBC TV's The New Normal as well as HBO's Girls, will make an onstage appearance for one night only singing in S.T.A.G.E.'s Broadway My Way on Saturday April 6 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. In our chat he talks about success in Mormon, Jersey Boys, in his two current TV sitcoms, both of which focus on gay men, Broadway My Way...and more.

Tell me about Broadway My Way and what you're doing in it. I love David Galligan's sense of humor, so I'm sure it will be a great show.

Yeah, it's quite a group. I'm very excited about it. I'm thrilled to join them. I was asked what I might like to sing or what I've always wanted to sing, so I'm doing "What Kind of Fool Am I?" from Stop the World I Want to Get Off.

You have a great voice for that!

Oh, thank you very much! I'm really excited about it. I've never sung the song before and I've always wanted to.

Any comedy involved?

No, I'm not the comic relief this time. I'm leaving that to some other folks. I'm playing it straight, as it were.

Well, I'm sure it will be great. What's it like to have a Grammy and a Tony nomination?

(he laughs) Well, it's very nice. The Grammy thing...Josh Gad and I were so surprised by that. When it happened, we were still doing The Book of Mormon in New York, so neither one of us really got to participate in the activities. All the parties we were invited to were in Los Angeles, so the evening the awards happened, we were doing a show, and we got a text message saying that we had won. It was very exciting, but it felt a little funny not to be there.

You're from Omaha, Nebraska, a small town boy. Did that help you to develop the role of Elder Price in The Book of Mormon?

There was kind of a midwestern shorthand that came in handy. I'm from Nebraska, Elder Price from Colorado. It wasn't so much religion...I wasn't raised Mormon, I was raised Catholic. But there was just an understanding of the general tone of this guy and these kids who go out as missionaries. So being from the mid west was helpful, I will say that.

I saw Gavin Creel do the role here in LA. I understand you guys are pals.

He's one of my oldest and best friends. I was so excited that he's getting the opportunity to play this part.

Tell me about Jersey Boys and your involvement in that. You were with that quite some time, correct?

I did it for about 2 years. I started in a company in San Francisco and then moved to a company that toured a little bit, and then we opened the Toronto company and then I finished my run with 6 months on Broadway. All in all it was about 2 years that I did Jersey Boys. I loved doing it...completely different from Book of Mormon. It was also such a great role, playing Bob Gaudio. The real Bob Gaudio and Frankie Valli were very much involved in the production at the time. It was very cool to get to meet him and hang out with those guys. The show was such a hit every place we went. It was thrilling getting to open it in these new cities.
Jersey Boys

Tell me about Elijah in HBO's Girls and then your new role on NBC in The New Normal.

Two very different characters. Elijah on Girls is a little bit of a mess. He and Hannah in this last season just kind of tripped around New York and Elijah made a lot of bold and hilarious mistakes in his friendships with Hannah and Marnie. Bryan Collins in The New Normal is a very established, very successful television producer who is in a very committed relationship and ready to start a family. It was interesting. We shot Girls first and I finished in July. Right away I went to Los Angeles and started in early August with The New Normal. We start the third season of Girls in mid-April and it's yet to be decided exactly what my  involvement will be, but I'm happy to be there.
the cast of The New Normal

Who are your idols? Do you have any?

Most recently, at the time I moved to New York, I think that Patrick Wilson was a really big influence.Watching him do The Full Monty, and the tour of Carousel, and then seeing his whole career sort of explode with the film of Angels in America...he was definitely inspirational for me. He's a great actor and such a nice guy. I've never gotten to work with him, but have had the chance to hang out with him a little. Dick Latessa has also been a big influence on me. I did Hairspray, but not with him, and then years later we did workshops on Little Miss Sunshine. I just completely fell in love with Dick. I think he's a great example of somebody who just consistently does really great work, and he's worked for decades in the theatre and on TV and film. I think that's what every actor aspires to, that kind of longevity and that body of work he's created. I greatly admire him. Role models are an ever changing thing for me. I work with people that maybe I didn't know before and...

Well, you're just beginning.

People ask me what the turn was. It feels like it was getting my first Broadway show. Being cast in Hairspray was a huge deal for me. Even though I was a replacement in the ensemble, it felt like the biggest thing that had ever happened. Hopefully you keep having these moments where you feel like you've reached a new level.

What role would you like to play?

The Book of Mormon taught me it's probably not been written yet. What I took away from that was the excitement of creating a show and creating a role. If you'd asked me 10 years ago, I would have had a long list of things that I would love to do...and maybe some of those things are still possible... but it's the shows that are yet to be discovered that mean the most to you. I would love to go back to New York and do another musical, certainly, but I haven't pondered what, because maybe it doesn't exist yet.

Do you have a favorite musical of all time?

I think that's a tie: West Side Story and Sweeney Todd. West Side Story was the first musical I was aware of as a kid. Sweeney Todd to me is a perfect show.

As an openly gay man, how do you feel about the way things are right now? Do you think we've made strides?  

I think you have to look at where we were five years ago to where we are today. I think there are big strides. Historically speaking, we're moving much faster than a lot of civil rights. It sometimes feels like there's not a lot happening. Since Gavin (Creel) and Rory O'Malley started Broadway Impact in ... 2008, even in that brief amount of time, it's amazing to see how much work has been done and how much progress has been made. We're definitely on the right track, and it's definitely moving. I may not be satisfied but I'm encouraged by what's happened. There's very much a conversation that's happening that didn't  really exist even a few years ago. Public opinion is changing, and I'm happy to be a part of a television show with The New Normal. Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler (executive producers/creators) really are conversation starters. I'm thrilled, being the other half of a gay relationship with Justin Bartha, to be a little part of a larger conversation that includes gay parents, gay marriage... so we're definitely on the right track.

Andrew Rannells is most assuredly on the right track to stardom, so catch him on April 6 at the Saban Theatre for S.T.A.G.E.'s annual fundraiser for APLA (Aids Project LOs Angeles), this year's show called Broadway My Way.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

ALEX NEWELL, one of the newest cast members of FOX's groundbreaking mega-hit series, "Glee," has been added to the cast of the 29th Annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (S.T.A.G.E.) "Broadway, My Way," being held on Saturday, April 6th at the historic Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. David Galligan directs for the 29th time with John McDaniel returning as Musical Director.

In the last two years, ALEX NEWELL has gone from regular high school student to
appearing on one of the hottest series on television. Newell can currently be seen in the recurring role of “Wade ʻUniqueʼ Adams” on FOXʼs “Glee,” and has quickly become a fan favorite.  Introduced at the end of season three last year, ʻUniqueʻ is back this season and better than ever. Newell shines as shy, timid, outcast Wade, and his alter-ego Unique, whose bold and daring personality and talent on stage demands attention in every scene she is in. The drastic change from each character has shown not only Newellʼs powerhouse vocals, but also his versatility as an actor.

Newell will be making his first S.T.A.G.E. appearance in this year's show. Wells Fargo is the Presenting Sponsor with Grand Sponsors HBO and Swerdlove &  Aster.


For tickets and detailed information, visit: or

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

2013 Interview with Les Wieder

by Steve Peterson

How did you originally get involved in theatre?

In high school, a girl I was dating got the lead in the school musical.  I didn’t want her to be rehearsing all night with other guys, so I tried out for the show.  Much to my surprise, I was given one of the lead male roles.  I’ve always suspected that it was because I could sing on key.  Anyway, that was 1960, and that’s where my life in the theatre began.

When did you start writing plays?

In 1988, I wrote my first play, Zamo.  It was a children’s show for adults.  It ran at the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica for three months.

Where did the idea for VOICES come from?

One day in January 1991, I was driving in my car, listening to Public Radio, and they began playing excerpts from The Slave Narratives.  Recorded in 1931, The Slave Narratives are recordings of African-American men and women, who at the time were in their 80’s and 90’s, speaking about their lives as slaves.  As soon as I heard their voices, an idea for a play came to me.

Where was VOICES originally staged and performed?

VOICES was first performed in 1992 at Moorpark College where I was a professor of Theatre Arts.  A year later, it was produced in Los Angeles.

Have racism and the conflicts involving racism changed in America, since the play’s first performance?  And, if so, how?

Yes and no.  In the late 1980s and 90s the idea of inter-racial romance was becoming more common, but old prejudices still existed.  Today, inter-racial marriages and relationships are, for the most part, accepted by society, and much more public.  I have been in an inter-racial marriage for over 30 years and I can tell you that times have changed, for the better.  But, while society may be more accepting of the idea of inter-racial relationships, it can still be a difficult thing for many individual families. 

How did the play become part of Griot Theatre’s inaugural season?

I met and cast Sabah el-Amin in my play, Sojourner, the Story of Sojourner Truth, in 2005.  That play received 7 NAACP award nominations and won for Best Ensemble Production in Los Angeles, in 2006.  So in 2010 when I was asked to direct Peppur Chambers’ House Rules I was happy to find that I was working again with Sabah, this time as a producer.  My relationship with Sabah has been very successful.  When she told me that she and her husband, Malik, were going to start Griot Theatre, I was immediately supportive of the idea, and as I had been speaking with Sabah about producing Voices sometime in the future, they asked if it could be included in their inaugural season.

What would you want the take away to be for an audience member?

I write and direct plays to move audiences to action.  By that I mean, I want audiences to leave the theatre and talk about what they just saw.  Good or bad, love it or hate it, I want them to be engaged.  Voices is not just a history lesson.  It’s a play about love and race, and for me, the most important issue in our country—r-a-c-e.  Combine race and love, and everyone has an opinion.

What future projects are you currently working on?

I have a film script, “The Blacksmith’s Son”, a mystery set in contemporary Montana, in development.  I also have three plays I am working on, The King of Hollywood; the Clark Gable Story, Waiting for Huey, a comedy about men growing old but never growing up, and Second Chance, a romantic comedy about second marriages.

Les Wieder, now retired, was Professor Theatre Arts, Moorpark College (28 years)  Plays include: “Sojourner: The Story of Sojourner Truth” (Hudson Theatre); “Elijah”, the opera (Libretto) Civic Arts Plaza (Thousand Oaks); “Voices” (Hollywood), “Zamo”, Mayfair Theatre, “The Secrets of Harry Lay” (San Diego); DIRECTING: “Sojourner: The Story of Sojourner Truth” (Hudson Theatre); “Elijah”; “The Secrets of Harry Lay” (San Diego); “House Rules” (Hollywood);  AWARDS:  NAACP Drama Award for Best Ensemble Production, “Sojourner”;  NAACP President’s Award

Griot Theatre of the West Valley presents Les Wieder’s Voices directed by Malik B. El-Amin, produced by Sabah El-Amin.  Previews March 21-22.  Runs March 23 – April 14.  Dark April 5.   Fri-Sat at 8pm; Sunday at 3pm. Open Captioning available March 30 & April 7.   Theatre is equipped with a "Hearing Loop" for hard-of-hearing audience members who wear hearing aids with T-Coils & Cochlear Implants.  Tickets: $25; Seniors/Students/Groups 10+:  $15.  Buy Tickets:  On the campus at Bethel Encino. 17500 Burbank Blvd. Encino, and

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Guest Interviewer Mike Pingel Talks to Lynda Carter

It's been a year and you're back! What was the most exciting thing that has happened during that time?

The most interesting was a trip to Singapore that my husband and I went on. It was like stepping back in time. People live in bamboo huts built on stilts and they fish. They have these farms that are on a lake and have been doing this for hundreds of years. It was really interesting to be in that part of the world. It was one of those really rich experiences.

My kids are doing really well and I'm happy. You just have to cross your fingers that your friends and your family stay safe.
Right now I'm in the process of putting together a new show. I always add new material, mostly for myself. I could get away with just adding a couple of songs and switching a few things around, but I really like the process of coming up with new ways to do things and new approaches to the music, which is what I'm doing and I'm really excited about.

Is the whole musical gang back with you again?

I do have an important addition; Luis Conte, who is probably one of the three top percussionists in the world. He is really a superstar. We were backstage at the James Taylor concert talking and Luis said, "Oh God, your band is great. I wish I could play with you guys." Lou Marini and I looked at each other and we said "Well would you like to do a couple of dates?" So, if you can believe it, we are going to squeeze one more person on the stage at Catalina! Luis will also play with us at the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center.

That's going to sound great.

Yeah, I've got all these super accomplished musicians again - they are all fantastic.

Your new tour is titled, From the Heart. How did that title come about?

From the Heart is really about singing songs I want to sing. I want to share those moments with the audience, which is really thrilling for me.

Can you give me a sneak peak on your new set list?

I was just working on a new set but some of these might not end up in there. The Black Pea's "Lonely Boy," Gotye "Somebody I Used to Know," a new Sam Cooke song, Bruce Springsteen "I'm on Fire", Christina Aguilera "Candyman," and a few other surprises.

Are you releasing a new CD? 

I have not started on a new CD. 
I have to decide why I want to do it and what I want to do. Creatively, I want to figure out where that belongs. Do I really want to do another album of covers? The first CD was romantic and the other one was a little more pop.

I noticed that you were listed under country for your last album.

The first time they put me in the jazz category and the second time they put me in the country category. Why? I don't know. I don't understand it. They probably don't listen to the music; they just look to see who the producer is.

What about a Lynda Carter "Holiday" or "Live" CD?
I could.

What CD is playing in your car?

I'm listening to & singing to the songs I'm working on. I'll have Kerry Marx, the guitarist, put down a track for me without any vocals so I can work on the songs and decide if I want to do that song. I go through approximately twenty songs and narrow them down to about six new songs.

You were at the Super Bowl this year!
I was! How did you know that?

Your Facebook page. What was the highlight and how about those lights going out?

It was wild. We were in the CBS box with a lot of close friends in our group and the lights went out. That was a huge problem and I don't know what caused it. Beyoncé was fantastic and the Ravens won. I love San Francisco but I was rooting for the team closer to the home town. It was really exciting. The Super Bowl was great for the economy in New Orleans and it's one of the greatest cities. All year round, New Orleans always has great food, music and lots of stuff to see and do.

You are big on Facebook and Twitter - do you love it or hate it?

I think it's really time-consuming. I post when I'm doing things. I don't do a lot of personal stuff and I ask permission if I put on any of my friends.

Many people have asked me if you have a portrait in the attic. What are you doing to keep so youthful and gorgeous?
Do I have that portrait of Dorian Gray that ages?


(Laughs) I love that! Yes, I have that picture and it's getting really old! (Laughs) You know, my dad is 90 and my mother lived to 89. I think we inherited good pigments in our skin and it's all hereditary. I do try to stay out of the sun - that's all I do. I do the best I can, but the sun is the most damaging thing. My father is not very wrinkly and neither was my mother. I think it's the luck of the draw. I just take good care of myself. I've seen lots of changes in the last few years. I'm much more aware of the changes on my face and neck. But hey, I don't think I'm willing to do much about it. I don't want to do anything invasive.
I was on the internet and up popped something like celebrity facelift disasters. I don't know how I got on it but I looked kind of macabre. It shocked me how many people have ruined their looks and they don't even look like the same person anymore. I just don't know if I can do it. I think the person who looks the best is Jane Fonda. When you do something to alter your face, you can't go back. I have a friend from high school who is a prominent plastic surgeon who spends most of his time fixing other peoples' botched surgeries. There is a fear factor there and I'm not willing to go down that road.

There has been all this chatter about the new CW original show, Amazon. Do you think your version of Wonder Woman and the series set the bar so high they just can't do it?

You know, I don't think so. I think they miss the point in my humble opinion. There is something so simple about Wonder Woman. There is goodness in her; a certain sweetness and loyalty. There are really human things about her that don't necessary go with the other superheroes. There is viability, comradery with other women, goodness and sweetness. There is a genuine piece of her that they miss. In character development, it is most important that you see the human being.

Do you think it's the modernizing of Wonder Woman?

It's not so much that. I think they probably should stay with the original costume. You could change the hairstyle and that kind of thing, but you need a character with humanness. No one cares about someone knocking people out. They miss the boat with what she is all about.

Lynda Carter's "From the Heart" tour continues at the Catalina Club, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Calif. for two more nights, tonight, March 15 and the 16th, at 8:30 p.m. Cost: $45-55. Dinner or two-drink minimum required. Tickets are currently on sale at or

Photo Credit: Mike Pingel

2013 Interview with Ben Rimalower

Actor/director Ben Rimalower brings his critically acclaimed show Patti Issues (about his infatuation with Patti LuPone) to Casita del Campo for two performances only Friday March 29 and Saturday March 30. Gravelly, yet sexy-voiced Rimalower, reminding me somewhat of a young Harvey Fierstein, is outspoken, frank and funny about his association with LuPone which began long before this show was ever written.

I adore Patti LuPone. I truly believe that she's one of the best
performers on Broadway.

That's good. You can replace me when I'm done with the show. (we laugh)

She's always lovely to her fans at the stage door.

She knows which side her bread is buttered on.

How did Patti Issues get started?

I've been obsessed with Patti LuPone basically all my life in a very major way, that's been very central to how I live my life. My friends make fun of me. It's almost a religion. I've followed her like people follow the North Star. One of my first jobs out of college was assisting director Lonny Price on Sweeney Todd starring Patti LuPone with the New York Philharmonic. There was a PBS broadcast, a recording and all that. Then I got to work on several shows with Patti and Lonny and actually became good friends with Patti. Someone that's obsessed with Patti is her kind of guy. (laughs) Even though she's been somewhat in my life close by throughout the rest of the development of my career, I remained obsessed with her to the point where up until this project the greatest success I had had in my career as a director was a show I conceived Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches ...where we recreated Patti's famed cabaret act, which had been done originally at the club Les Mouches during the run of Evita.

I know you're responsible for the album recorded at Les Mouches from those days in the late 70s.

There was no album at that time; (it came later). That (whole issue) wound up being a drama between me and Patti because she was very supportive of what I was doing with Leslie initially, and then she changed her mind. Our show was very successful, and she threatened to sue me if we didn't stop it.  Ultimately, all was hunky dory between us. I edited her demo reel that goes out to Hollywood casting directors for film and television work, and she also hired me to do her personal video archive... of all her stuff. That's how I was first exposed to her original archival tapes of Les Mouches, and I ended up producing that album. But, it was a very transformative experience for me, because it made me realize that I was really limited in my career as a director, where I was at the mercy of the material I could get my hands on. And Les Mouches had been this anomaly in my career because without actually writing any words I was the author of that show. It was based on live recordings Patti had made. There was no writer in the room except me to put it together. It was something I was able to initiate myself and not be dependent upon other people to bring me material. I started to think, "What else can I write?" I had been blogging and something I felt passionate about to actually put a whole piece down would be to talk about my experience with Patti, that felt so central to my life. I hoped other people would relate to it because of their own obsessions with the stars that they loved, and I thought the story would be interesting and unique because of the actual specific relationship I had with Patti. And...we had had our own conflict, so there's theatre.

So all of the conflict is within the play?

Yes. But the problem I found as I started to write the show was that it was more about me than about Patti. And there was this experience I had had with my father who I don't have a relationship with. It's OK. But ironically after we hadn't seen each other in about 10 years - he was sitting directly behind me at Gypsy starring Patti LuPone on Broadway.

That's unbelievable!

That felt like such a coup de theatre that happened to me in real life. It felt like a very empowered moment in my life because after all these years of not seeing my father, and having these nightmares, fantasies and dreams, imagining what it would be like to see him, there he was. It felt very good. Everything that I had gone through with Patti LuPone, to come out on the other side of it and now be producing her album, it felt like a very adult full-circle moment for me. That had a lot to do with how I was able to face my father that night. Writing the show, I saw those 2 threads in my life as really intertwining. And that's how I wound up with this piece.

When did you open it in New York?

It opened at the Duplex in August.

And it's been extended constantly from what I've been reading, right?

It's the new Cats  ...  Pats. (I laugh)

Do you sing Patti's songs in the show?

Very little. There are incidental moments where I punctuate things with a line or two, but I really don't sing in it.

So you and Patti are good friends!

We've spent a lot of time together over the years. She's come to support my work, and I've certainly seen her in everything she's ever done. I've always gone back stage or gone out to dinner with her. It's funny that I've gotten to know her so well personally, and not lost any of the obsession that I've had.

Do you remember the first time you heard Patti sing when you were a kid?

Totally. I talk about it in the show. In New York, when I was little...we didn't move to LA until I was 5 years old, I used to go with my grandparents to see Broadway shows. I saw Annie, The Wiz, Peter Pan, West Side Story, but I was haunted by those Evita commercials...those incredible commercials with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin. I was obsessed with them, and I really wanted to see Evita, but everyone felt that it was too grown up, not appropriate for a 4 year-old. In LA, whenever Evita was on national tour and it would come to the Schubert or the Pantages or whatever, they would still play the Broadway commercial with Patti LuPone. That commercial was a fixture throughout my childhood, and of course as an adolescent, I got the album and proceeded to become a full-time stalker.

Switching gears a bit, how did you get the nickname the Midas of Cabaret?

I moved to New York in 1999 and was Lonny Price's assistant in 2000-2002, then I started directing on my own in 2003. I directed a couple of off-Broadway shows: Joy, The Joy of Gay Sex when it played  in San Francisco, and The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero and a bunch of off-off-Broadway shows. The bulk of the work I've been able to get has been cabaret. That's actually fine with me. I think that cabaret... in this day and age of movies and television and the internet and all that, theatre has to find a new way to be relevant. Theatre that is effective and successful nowadays is theatre that offers the audience something they cannot get in TV and film or on the internet. And that's a live experience, engaging the audience directly, breaking the fourth wall. With cabaret or solo shows, with one performer onstage, the fourth wall is broken, and the audience automatically has to be cast as the second character. That's always been exciting to me because I can sit in a room and have someone tell me a story or sing me a song, and I feel immediately engaged. I do not feel immediately engaged by a lot of theatre that I see. I love cabaret and am happy to be associated with it.

To get Ben Rimalower's CA schedule which includes San Diego, San Francisco and Berkeley, as well as LA for two nites March 29 and 30 at Casita del Campo in Silverlake, visit this website: