Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Interview with Michael Arden

Actor Michael Arden, who has played Broadway and sung on a European tour with Barbra Streisand, is currently blowing audiences away at La Jolla Playhouse as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, playing through December 14.

How arduous was it to prepare to do Quasimodo physically? How difficult is it to maintain throughout the show?

I would be lying if I said this role wasnt the most demanding Ive ever taken on. I started training a few months prior to starting rehearsals and I still feel like its a bit of a marathon every time I go onstage. Its a huge sing, but also incredibly demanding physically. Maintaining Quasimodos stature takes a toll on the body, so I have been developing a routine to keep myself from turning into a Hunchback offstage. Its also emotionally draining as well. 

What are your feelings about this man?

I love this character. I love that he is in many ways a child, but also an adult. He has created a universe around him, in his solitude and it’s such a joy to explore each night. There’s no limit to his imagination and therefore it allows me much freedom in the playing of it. His world is the cathedral and his master, Frollo. It has been very fulfilling to try to strip away worldly pressures and influences on the character in order to get closer to who this man would have been. 

Is this the greatest part you have played so far? If so, why? The most difficult?

I’ve been very lucky to play many wonderful roles, but I would count this among the greatest. The score is sublime and demanding as is the physical nature of the role, but I would say that the emotional journey is both incredibly challenging as well as rewarding. It isn’t an easy thing to lose what Quasimodo loses every night, but it is also an actor’s dream. 

Your voice is really a powerhouse. Do you do anything special or different vocally to play Quasi?

I have developed a sound for him that is what other people hear. He is deaf (fully in the novel, partially in our production) so that was definitely taken into consideration. I also spend a lot of my day warming up, steaming and drinking tea. =)

How has it been to work with this creative team like Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Parnell and Scott Schwartz, and these actors like Patrick Page and Ciara Renee?

This process has been such a thrill. The creative team is truly a dream come true. These are writers I have idolized and admired since I started listening to music and developing an interest in theater. As daunting as it could be, they are all men I so respect because of their devotion to the craft of theater-making. They are some of the most supportive and encouraging people I have ever come across and their talent is only the outward manifestation of who they are as people. I am honored to bring their words and music to life and hope to instill each note and syllable with all of the care and thought they deserve. 

Working with this cast has not only been a joy, but a master class. I am so grateful to play with Patrick Page each night onstage. He is so alive and dangerous and I learn from him nightly. Ciara is not only the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my entire life, but also such an inspiring scene partner. When she sings, it comes from somewhere deep within her soul and I sometimes find myself lost in her performance. I also get the chance to work with the incredible Andrew Samonsky and Erik Lieberman, not to mention this magnificent ensemble. I’m a very lucky man. 

Tell me a little about directing Spring Awakening at Deaf West Theatre?

I could write a book. At times, mind-melting, it has been the most rewarding project of my career. I set out to create a true company of stage actors and was able to assemble the most wonderful ensemble of young deaf and hearing actors and musicians I think the world has ever seen or heard. I am so proud of the work they all did and will continue to do on this show. It’s a play I have long loved and to bring it to life in a new light for a new audience has been the highlight of my career.

You seem to have a long-standing relationship with Deaf West. I saw you do Big River there and then Pippin for them at the Mark Taper. Will you talk a little about this?

I was lucky enough to make my Broadway debut in Big River. Before working with Deaf West, I had never met a deaf person, and now I can’t imagine life without ASL. The deaf community has shaped me as an artist and a person and I am very grateful that I have been able to share and create so much art with a group of people I would have never imagined sharing and creating with. It’s a true testament to the power of theater. There are no walls. 

Have you done any concert work since performing with Barbra Streisand several years ago? Are there any plans to add that to your schedule at some point?

I have done a few concerts here and there. Below 54 and in Los Angeles. I also sing every now and then with Trumpet player Chris Botti. I do hope to do some more concert work soon. 

Be sure to catch Michael Arden as Quasimodo in Hunchback through December 14 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with John LaLonde

Actor John LaLonde, artistic director of Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre in Claremont is preparing to mount his Christmas show It's Christmas Everyday at Candlelight, opening the weekend after Thanksgiving. In our chat, he talks in detail about the show, the upcoming season and some of his favorite musical roles.

Tell me about the creation of your Christmas show every year at Candlelight. Traditional? Edgy? I hear that it is extra special and original each and every year. Explain.

The annual Christmas show at the Candlelight has been a staple since the theater opened in 1985. It features wonderful sets, familiar holiday music and a family friendly story line. And we have never repeated a story line.

Without revealing too much can you give us a tease as to what’s on tap this year?

This year's production is called It’s Christmas Everyday. The year is 1949 and the setting is Walli’s Christmas Pavilion, a Christmas decoration warehouse that literally has Christmas everyday. The owners Barney and Betty are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a married couple and store owners. By all accounts it should be a very successful season for them except for some unforeseen circumstances that quickly put a damper on the normally festive owners.

Is there lots of singing and dancing? Familiar or original tunes?
There is a lot of singing and dancing. We use mainly familiar holiday standards. "Silver Bells", "Silent Night", "Winter Wonderland". And a few obscure tunes just for fun.

How long have you been on board as artistic director and how many Christmas shows does this make?
I have been the artistic director for seven years. And this is the seventh Christmas Show I’ve written and directed.

You do some wonderful work as director and actor there. Do you have a favorite role that you've played? Is there one you are longing to play?
It's very kind of you to say that. My favorite role is Quixote in Man of La Mancha. It is one of the best musicals ever written and it is a privilege to play that role. In the past few years the Candlelight has steered away from just doing the classics and ventured into the darker side of musical theatre with shows like Sweeney Todd in which I was fortunate to play the title role, Miss Saigon and currently Jekyll & Hyde. I’d love to play Ben in Follies someday, but financially it would be a miracle if we, or anyone ever produced that show. People often ask me what show are you going to be in this year at the Candlelight and honestly I never plan on doing any of them. As an artistic director I pray that new talent comes through the door each and every audition. If it means I don’t play a role because someone else is more suited for it, then so be it. I am happy to stay off the stage.

Which shows will you be directing or acting in in 2015?
As of now I don’t plan on being in any of the shows in our 2015 season. I will direct Buddy (Holly), Smoke On the Mountain and of course The Christmas Show.

Is Christmas a favorite time of year for you? If so, why?
Christmas is hands down my favorite holiday. I love everything about it, the music, the classic movies and TV specials, the decorations, the feeling of hope and renewal. And of course gathering with family and friends. I grew up in Niagara Falls and Christmas was always magical especially with all that snow.  

What is your message for audiences this Christmas?
I’d say the message of this year's show is that out of lemons you can make lemonade. By being able to adapt and bend to the crazy circumstances that life can throw us, we can come out on top and maybe even be a little wiser for it.

Anything you care to add?
In the past we have steered clear of any religious Christmas songs for fear of upsetting people. But I say if you don’t want to hear "Silent Night" then don’t go to a Christmas show. After all, Christmas is more than just Santa and toys. Now I am not saying our show is religious by any means, but to ignore the baby whose birthday we are celebrating seems odd to me. We also have included some fun things for the children. During dinner the children write little letters to Santa which he will read during the show. It's always a treat to hear what children have to say and it makes every show a little different. The children are also invited to sit on stage with Santa & Mrs Claus during the show and after the performance they and their families can take a picture with both of them. I write the show for the talent I’ve cast and this year we have some amazing talent. Jessie Parmelee a local ballerina who I’ve been pestering for years to be in our Christmas show is finally on board. Along with nine year old CJ Wright and Rashonda Johnson both from last year's Motown show. Beth Mendoza and Jeffrey Warden will play Mr and Mrs Walli. Frankie Marrone and Carlin Castellano will add some romance. Katie Lee Shore and Emerson Boatwright and Jonathan Arana add fun to the festivities. And Robert Hoyt and Janice Lee will play the jolly couple from the north pole.

Be sure to catch The Christmas Show It's Christmas Everyday at the Candlelight Pavilion, Claremont starting the day after Thanksgiving and running through December 27.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

mini-Interview with Laurie Okin

Each week we spotlight a member of the "Melissa Arctic" cast. This week we spoke with Laurie Okin, a Road member since 2012.

Who do you play in “Melissa Arctic”?

My character is Mina (the Hermione character).  She is the mother of baby Melissa and for months has been dealing with her rapidly unraveling husband as well as the new baby.  She is highly maternal and loving, but has her own breaking point, and finally draws the line when she feels that Lenny's volatility is a threat to the physical safety of her daughter.  

 What do you feel she contributes to the play?

I feel that what she contributes to the play is in setting the emotional tone of regret, loss and then ultimately redemption and forgiveness.  Her character provides the echo of actions that cannot be undone and the reverberations they cause for the people left to grapple with what has happened, and also the will to not only survive but flourish in the life that is left to be lived.

Describe how you prepared for this role.

I am a mother myself, so finding the heart of Mina has been a matter of simply looking at my own feelings about my child and remembering back to when she was a helpless, nurture-seeking baby.  Apart from that, it's been about trying to nail the elusive Minnesota accent!

How are audiences reacting to Mina?

I think the audience will relate to Mina, as we can all relate to someone who is trying her hardest to keep it all together with patience and love.  If I'm doing my job, they will feel sad about what happens to her but they will see the hope that her presence will have inspired in those she was closest to to carry on and forgive one another.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them?

I hope that what they will take away from the play is that as long as there is love, there is hope.  There is connection.

mini Interview with Tom Musgrave

Each week we spotlight one of the cast members of “Melissa Arctic”. This week we spoke with Tom Musgrave, who has been a Road member since 2012.

Tell me about your character.

Lenny is a husband, new father, and owns a barber shop in the town of Pine City, MN.  At the opening of the play, it is revealed that the town minister has built a new mall next to Lenny's barber shop which includes a brand new hair salon.  Lenny had been fighting the idea and the construction of the mall, but was not successful in stopping it.  We learn it is threatening his livelihood as a business owner, bringing him much stress and fear, which in turn starts his mind in a spiral of (for lack of a better term) madness.  The specifics of that madness deal with how he believes he is seen by the town, his friends, but much more importantly, his wife.

 What do you feel he contributes to the play?

Lenny is the engine that makes the story go.  The events in the world of Melissa Arctic would not have happened if Lenny could have gotten a hold of himself, his fear, his rage, his jealousy.  

How are you preparing for this role?

This has been one of the, if not THE, most challenging role I've had the blessing to live through.  With Lenny, I've tried not to be general in terms of 'he goes mad.'  I've tried to look at the reasons for the actions, rather than a broad sweep of 'crazy.'  And in looking at those reasons, I can relate to the worries and tribulations of a man who is just trying to do his best to provide for his family, love his daughter, and love his wife.  He feels rejected on all fronts, I believe we've all felt rejection, so I've done my best to just live in that space.  I also could not have done this role without the tender help of our director, Scott Alan Smith.  He has cemented it into my head that this journey needs to be done with ease, if that's possible.  It's been an incredibly fun challenge.

What will be the audience reaction to the play and your character?

I don't know.  I really don't.  I hope they see the love, forgiveness, and redemption that Craig Wright offers in this play.  As for the reaction to Lenny, I do hope people see that while the actions he takes are horrific, in a way they really do come out of love.  He loves his wife and daughter tremendously.  I cannot overstate how much that plays into what Lenny's actions are tied to.  I also hope the audience gasps from time to time, as there is a lot of "What the Heck?" going on during the performance.

What do you hope they will take away from the play?

Once again, I hope they see the love, forgiveness, and redemption.  During Act 1 you would think those things are impossible, but this play shifts you upside down, and shows you beautifulness amongst ugly.  It is a pure joy from an actor's standpoint, and I hope the audience enjoys the ride too.