Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2015 Interview with Jules Aaron

Award-winning veteran director Jules Aaron has been putting his directorial stamp on musicals and plays for several decades.  Mr. Aaron takes time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about his current project, the west coast premiere of The Group Rep’s production of THAT LOVIN’ FEELIN’ running December 11 through January 24, 2016 at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood, which already has some SOLD OUT performance dates.  He also gives us a glimpse into his background and the encouragement he received along the way.

Interview with Veteran Director Jules Aaron  written by Steve Peterson

When did you first get interested in theatre as a performer and later as a director?

I performed since I was six years old through graduate school.  I made two close friends — Bernadette Peters, who I went out on auditions with when I was young; and Lily Tomlin in undergraduate school at Wayne State University. I became close to Lily and her brother. She and I did reviews together. 
When I saw Olivier do Beckett at 20, I knew I was not going to be a real actor. I became interested in directing during my PHD program at NYU, and my former wife and I had a theatre in a loft in the West Village. My first show, THE MAIDS, was fortunately well received by The Village Voice and given a good review.

What was your first directing experience and what did you learn from it?

Since as an actor I had no connection with my inner feelings, I learned to find that inner life in the actors I worked with. I was always good at orchestration and visuals, but as they say - casting is 2/3 of directing, and I’ve learned from wonderful actors.

Did you have a mentor along the way?

Richard Schechner, the king of environmental theatre, was my mentor and Joe Papp and his wife Gail Merrifield at The Public Theatre in New York also took me under their wing and I learned a lot from them.

What was it about this particular musical/play that drew you to it, wanting to direct it?

Of course I love the music of the Righteous Brothers, I grew up with it.  And it’s a great story told to by Older Bill Medley to a college reporter that looks at the real turmoil and love in the story underneath the sanitized legend.

Tell us a bit about the play

We get to see the funny ups and downs of the younger brothers in the 1960s with their wives and agents and producers — especially the notorious Phil Spector; but most importantly there are these well-known R&B songs that are belted out by the brothers with a four-piece band with three hot back-up singers/dancers.

Besides singing the music, what do you want the audience to take away from having seen this musical?

I think the take away is the real story of how love and respect can transcend two very distinct personalities and create a legendary team.

You’re very busy with multiple projects both in Los Angeles and New York.  What’s up next for you?

We are working on a Sammy Davis musical for Broadway, my annual project at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) and A Shred of Evidence which will open at Theatre 40 March 2016.

THAT LOVIN’ FEELIN’ runs December 11, 2015 – January 24, 2016/Friday and Saturday Evenings at 8:00 PM; Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM/General Admission:  $25.  Students/Seniors with ID:  $20.  Groups of 10+: $15/Buy tickets/info: or (818) 763-5990. The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood 91601

(Artistic Director Larry Eisenberg with Jules Aaron)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

SPOTLIGHT: Interview with Sam Meader

British actor Sam Meader is currently performing on the El Portal stage in NoHo in Michael Cooney's Cash on Delivery to critical acclaim. This is his LA stage debut and he is knocking the role of Norman McDonald out of the park. In our brief chat he talks about his roots, his background and his lofty pursuits in the wonderful world of show biz LA.

Where do you hail from?

I was born in the Isle of Man, which is an island in between England and Ireland. I've kind of lived in a couple of places in the UK, but I basically grew up in a place called Guernsey which is a Channel Island. It has a lot of history - being occupied by the Nazis during WWII.  It was a great place to grow up. It was great for me as a creative because it's a small island but has a large population. They really support creativity there. If you want to do it, there's some great venues you can explore.

Were your parents supportive of you?

Yeah. Very supportive. I was very academic as well. I was sort of expected to go the academic way; then, when I turned around and said that I wanted to be an actor at 18, they were kind of like, "Well, OK, if that's what you want to do."

Was either one in the performing arts?

No. I'm the first in my family. I have three brothers. I'm the youngest by about 8 years. My grandparents are painters, artists. When I graduated high school at 18, I got a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts...which took me out here basically. I want to mention that I was a product of great teaching. I had such enthusiastic teachers that it made me fall in love with literature, and from there sparking me to want to perform and spread it. I remember being taken on a school trip to London when I was 17 and seeing Sartre's Kean at the Apollo Theatre and Othello at Shakespeare's Globe in the same day; the performances mesmerized me, and I returned home knowing that there couldn't be anything else I wanted to do.

So you were hooked! Wasn't AADA a radical change from your schooling?

I was looking at acting schools in the UK as well, but after 18 years in England, who wouldn't pick LA with its sunshine, palm trees... and acting? (He chuckles.)  I did the course for two years, graduated in 2011, and then after that, I stayed here about six months.

Then what? Did you audition?

I was on an OPTV (Optional Practical Training Visa); it's like a work visa or internship visa. Time was running out, so I went back home. I lived in London for a couple of years, but I missed the opportunities here. I just saved up and worked like crazy, and eventually came back here about a year and a half ago.

Did you do any acting work while you were back in London?

I did some independent film projects. London is hard. I love it so much. I love the work ethic there, but it's easier to make a living here as an actor for sure, and that was one of the biggest draws for me to come back. One of the negative things there is they tend to recycle a lot, bringing back older stuff, older actors. They focus on the past. Unless you have significant credits in London, it's harder to break in, just because there's less work. It's who you know, and that goes on here as well, but they're more open to what's coming next. They focus on the future a lot more.

Cash on Delivery is your debut in theatre here, correct?

Yes, and part of that is I recently had my green card approved. For Equity theatre, a work visa isn't sufficient; you need a green card.

Did you audition for Cash?

Yes, my agent and my manager got me the audition. I read the script, got excited and I thought "Oh my God, I want to do this. I have to get this role." I have to say that Chad Murnane and Lisa Fields were fantastic CD's throughout the casting process. Chad literally laughed all the way through my initial audition, despite me fluffing the first line. To have such a supportive atmosphere from casting makes you feel like a winner already.

Have you enjoyed working with Ray Cooney, the Master of farce?

Oh yes. The amount I've learned...the one thing it's shown me is that you can never stop learning. As an actor, you learn from everybody you work with and everyone you meet. The amount I've learned from Ray is crazy. When we were rehearsing, he would give me a direction and I'd think "I don't know about that," and then I'd try it out, and Oh my God! Suddenly I'm a comic genius, you know what I mean?

You're very good with physical comedy. Are you athletic?

I used to be sporty. I used to be in a rock band, so I moved about and had fun onstage, but this is the first comedy I've done.

Really? You seem perfectly suited to it, a natural.

I never thought I could pull off comedy. But now, (He gushes.) I want to do comedy, I want to do comedy... it's learning to let go.

What are your two main career goals for 2016?

I would love to do a larger theatrical production, maybe tackle a leading role in a drama, or otherwise a comedy, and I'd also love to do a great independent film.

Big plans, but Sam Meader certainly has what it takes. Watch out for this bright up and comer! He's bound for glory! Right now, catch him in the hysterical farce Cash on Delivery at the El Portal through December 20, playing Thursdays at 8, Fridays at 8, Saturdays at 3 and 8 and Sundays at 3. You'll laugh yourselves silly!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

2015 Interview with Ben Vereen

The legendary song and dance man, Tony Award-winning triple-threat Ben Vereen will be performing his solo cabaret act Steppin' Out with Ben Vereen at Catalina Jazz Club on December 18 and 19. In our talk, he comments about the show and shares memories from many of the shows he's done during his illustrious career.

You graduated from the High School of Performing Arts.How do you feel about the quality of that school?

My godchild is there now, and she's studying the arts. It is still a school that primes our young people for a career in the professional arts. For the performing arts aspect of life they are, as far as I'm concerned, number one. Of course, I'm a little prejudiced. I am a recipient of the first star on their Walk of Fame.

Congratulations! You deserve it. Memory time! I'm going to mention a show to you that you have done. Mention the first thing or two that come to mind.

Sweet Charity. (67-68)

My first show. I talk about it in my show Steppin' Out, when I first met Bob Fosse... at the Palace Theatre. It was phenomenal. It was like the opening of "All That Jazz", every dancer in the world was there. Bob hired me for Sweet Charity. Also when I met Gwen Verdon, Helen Gallagher and Thelma Oliver backstage, it was the first time I had ever been to a Broadway show.

Hair. (68-72)

Well, Tom O'Horgan, who is a good friend and a wonderful genius of theatre, touched my life and touched many people's lives. The play is very important especially relevant to today. We are in a world today where we need to "let the sun shine in". I just directed the show again in Venice, Florida, right outside of Tampa or Sarasota, Florida. I took it, sort of re-imagined it and took it to a place where the emotions would be personal relationships, with the message that would go deeper than just the surface where everybody is having a good time. For me the real meaning behind Hair is that in fact we made a promise some years ago and we didn't live up to that promise. That's why we are where we are in the world today. So, we got good reviews and we're looking to take it around the country. It's still playing in Florida until December 13.

Golden Boy. (68)

Golden Boy, Sammy Davis Jr., my buddy. My mentor, who took my hand and took me to London, out of the country for the first time. He gave me that experience and also stuck by me throughout my career. He was a good friend.

Jesus Christ Superstar. (71-73)

Another Tom O'Horgan play. It was amazing because it was really innovative for the theatre. The way Tom directed Hair ...a very innovative director. I got a chance to introduce a young actor named Ted Neeley, who played Jesus Christ in the movie. As dance captain, I discovered him in the LA company of Hair, I hired him, and he came on to New York to blast away and take off. He became understudy to Jesus in New York.

Pippin. Your Tony Award and my favorite. (72-74)

Bob Fosse again. My buddy. I auditioned for him because I wanted to show him what I had learned through the years of being away from him, starting me out in Sweet Charity. I came to the audition not expecting to get the role; he asked me to read for it and the next thing I knew I was in rehearsal. There was no role in the beginning, and he said not to worry about it. With Bob's help, we created the role. Bob had the vision, and we went to work.

   Now the newest version of Pippin has a female actress playing the role.

That was not the first time. Paula Kelly played it first, in Brazil. For me, I like to see the woman more seductive. Being the female aspect of the consciousness, it's more seductive. I prefer to see more of that sensuality that Bob(Fosse) was all about. It's the calling of the other consciousness of the mind. A woman may be more seductive, a man more enticing.

Switching to television. Roots. (1977)

Roots was an opportunity that Alex Hailey brought to the world. It relates to all mankind. All people are struggling for humanity, and now for the planet. We must all step up and do something about the environment, do something about the violence and all the inhumanity that is happening to man right now. Roots shows us what we have done to the African American people. It's about my holocaust. Our Jewish brothers and sisters had their holocaust. This is about the African American holocaust. The American Indian had their holocaust. Various peoples have had holocausts down through time. It's stops. We are all one people.

Chicago. (99)

When they called me to do Chicago, my friend Chita Rivera insisted that I play Billy Flynn. We took it to Las Vegas ...  once again, years before we brought Pippin to Vegas, and it was the first Broadway show to play Vegas. Now I came back to Vegas in another Fosse show, Chicago.

Fosse. (2001)

I was not working, and Ann Reinking called me out of nowhere and said I want you to do this show Fosse. I came to this...I had had an accident in '92 and injured my back. I didn't think I could do Fosse. I remember that Fosse had said to me, "If you learn to dance this way, you will dance the rest of your life." I was nervous to do Fosse, because I didn't know whether I'd be able to pull it off. As we began to rehearse and do the dances, it came back inside my body and... I wept. I cried, I cried. I had to thank Bob for that. He reached out and touched me from the other side. Thank you, Bob!

I'm Not Rappaport. (2002)

It was amazing. (He laughs.) First of all, Judd Hirsch is an incredible actor. Being onstage with him every night was such a lesson. His timing, his sat back and watched and learned.

The Exonerated. (2003) (Off-Broadway)
as the Wizard in Wicked (2005-2006)

That was a wonderful chance to talk about what's going on in our prison system. It was a short run, but an important piece.

Do you have a favorite musical of all time?

Well, of course, Pippin...what can I say. It's the depth of the character. The Leading Player. I looked at him as the consciousness of Pippin. That part of our mind that sort of like seduces us. It takes us into areas of great adventures. Its goal is to really burn out that big part of our lives. Be aware of a higher power that will guide you instead of man guiding you! Lean not on man, lean ye on spirit; it will never let you down; man will let you down. Man has to turn to spirit...when we wake up in the morning, we have to realize that there is something great to put us on our way, and that is created in our own human consciousness. It's a spiritual thing. That's why I enjoy Pippin, and I'll probably direct Pippin somewhere again, down the line. It speaks to me on so many levels.

Is there a current Broadway musical show that you think possesses that same kind of power, one that turns you on?

Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken an historical piece, and he's placed it in this can I say this?...the piece is people, he has black and white people up there onstage and they're all playing experiences in our government, set to rap music. And this rap music, if you sit there and listen, you get it. You hear, you get every word. And it has meaning and depth. And the choreography is amazing. You look at it and go, " Wow! They would have danced like that. They would have moved like that...O.K." (He laughs.) I really enjoyed it. I can't wait to see it again.

Is there a performer now, singer/dancer that you see as a real up and comer?

Leslie Odom Jr., who plays Aaron Burr in Hamilton, the man who kills Hamilton. That young man seems to have a lot going for him. He sings, he dances, he's amazing. He's the only song and dance man that I see stepping forward.

Tease us a little with your cabaret show Steppin' Out.

We've been working on it for some time. It's in retrospect of my career, the experiences that I've gone through, I share with the audience. It's really a celebration to my audiences, for allowing me an opportunity to be on the stage doing what I do and giving me the great career that I have had. It's my thank you to them.

Don't miss the incredible Ben Vereen live and in person at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood December 18 and 19. His show was a big hit at 54 Below and he will be bringing it back there in January. 
For tix and reservations to Catalina, go to: or call (323) 466-2210

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015 Interview - Ray Cooney

World renown British actor/playwright Ray Cooney will be performing the zany farce Cash on Delivery, written by his son Michael Cooney, on the mainstage of the El Portal in Noho December 3-20.  Cooney performed Out of Order at the El Portal in 2001, and was a tremendous hit. In our conversation Cooney, who was bestowed the honor of OBE (Order of the British Empire) by the Queen, and wife Linda talk about the play, and among other topics, theatre and its importance in our world right now. Linda is a landscape painter and former actress, and her work will be exhibited in the El Portal lobby during the run of the play and on to January 1, 2016.

Your comic timing is so brilliant you must be classically trained. Come to think of it, I have never interviewed a British actor who has not been classically trained, so I'm sure you were.

No, I wasn't. I left school to go into the theatre. I went straight into the theatre as a boy actor; I persuaded my parents to let me leave school. They had scrimped and saved to send me to a good school. All I ever wanted to do from when I was about 10 was to get into the theatre.

Did you ever study or do Shakespeare?

I didn't study at all, I just went in, found an agent and started to get boy's roles. There were lots of boy's roles in the plays then. There was an American play Life with Father; I played one of the sons in that. I never looked back really. I had to do my national service when I was 18. I did my national service in the army, came out and I went straight into weekly rep, and by the time I got into the West End in theatre, I had done about 150 plays. I didn't realize how much I'd learnt over the years. I was acting with actors who acted with actors who acted with actors in Shakespeare's plays. When I started, I got into a play that ran 4 years, and in those days in Equity, a run of the play contract was a run of the play. Unless you died, or had a heart attack or got pregnant, you had to do the role. The play ran 4 years, and I wasn't married at the time, and after sort of chasing girls and playing tennis, I thought I'd better do, in the daytime, that is, something else. So I said I'll start writing a play for the man that runs this lovely theatre, and I didn't realize what I'd soaked up.  So, that's how I segwayed into writing.

Were you always more into comedy than drama?

No, I wanted to be either Marlon Brando or James Dean at the time. But, the gentleman I was working for Brian Rix was very famous, and he's still our best friend. He's 90 now. He was the manager and the producer of the play I was in at the White Hall Theatre, which was famous at the time. So I wrote the play for him. Having been in the play with him I saw the kind of things that made that kind of play work. It was called One for the Pot.

What a very funny title! So many possibilities!

It means a pot of tea. When you make a pot of tea, you go one, two, three and one for the pot. (he mimes and we all laugh)

Run for Your Wife came later. It ran longer than any comedy in London. Talk about that.

It was in its ninth year when it closed. By that time, I had met Linda. We've now been married 52 years and have lived in the same house for 50.


Tony Hilton who wrote One for the Pot with me didn't like the pressure of writing. He just wanted to be an actor where you'e told what to do and you move there. Tony went really back to acting, so I started writing by myself. Then I wrote several plays with a lovely guy called John Chapman. We teamed up and wrote 4 plays together, which all ran in the West End. Then John decided he preferred writing for television. I had been carrying around this idea of a guy with two wives, and how he would cope with that, trying to get out of that awful situation, if there was a danger of them meeting. I had made a few notes on bits of paper. When I got to about 100 bits of paper in my pocket, I thought "I'd better start writing this." One of the best professions for a bigamist would be a taxi driver, 'cause he's always running around the place late at night and getting up early in the morning and all that. It took me about a year to write it up in the attic where I go. I did what one usually does with the plays, I wrote it, left it alone for about a month, did a rewrite, and we had a play reading with my chum actors who I know from doing these plays. I did a rewrite after the workshop, then we tried it out at Gilford, another rewrite, then came into the West End and it ran for 8 and a half years.

That's wonderful!

Linda interjects:

Linda C: About that tryout at Gilford. About 4 days before you were going to open, the lead guy went awol.
Ray C:  2 days. He got scared.
Linda C: So, Ray had to learn the lines, and if you've written a play, you don't know the lines. He learned them and played it in Gilford. It was an hysterical, terrible 4 days. I'm not sure if you know any of Ray's plays, but those lead characters are brutal on the actor.  They are nonstop and you really have to know exactly what you're doing. This poor guy just ran, but rather late.

Tell me about forming Theatre of Comedy Company in 1983.

There was so much always given to the National Theatre and to the Royal Shakespeare Company. People adored the companies obviously, because Run for Your Wife ran that number of years. People love comedy. People love to laugh. It does them good. Generally, the press and the theatre goers are in that group up there rather than that group there. It's the drama, and the knighthoods are given to those actors up there. Over the years I thought, "I don't know if comedy is given the due". I got about 30 of my chums together and said "Why don't we form a national theatre company?" They all agreed, and it was lovely. You probably wouldn't recognize any of the names.

Didn't I read that Peter O'Toole appeared with you?

He wasn't a member of the company but it did attract actors like Peter O'Toole. Yes, he was lovely.

Linda interjects:

Linda C: Peter did Pygmalion. You directed Peter in it.
Ray C: Yes, he was lovely to work with.
The theatre company ran for about 10 years in the West End. My mistake was going into  a very large theatre. It was too big really. We should have gone into another theatre. Anyway, it ran for about 10 years and then disintegrated.

Linda C: It also had some very idealistic ideas of how profit would be shared with everybody down to the usherettes. When things were in profit, that was great. When things weren't in profit, that's when...
Ray C: There were 2 IRA bombing incidents. There were a couple of periods in the West End when the business dipped. We were running during both of those periods. And so financially it began to fall apart. But, it was a very happy time. We all knew and loved each other.

Was that around the time when you and Michael (Cooney) wrote Tom, Dick and Harry?

Cash on Delivery was written by Michael and that came first. And after that, we wrote Tom, Dick and Harry together.

Linda C: There was a big space in between.
Ray C: Yes, there was quite a big space. Cash on Delivery was actually written 19 years ago. I directed it for Michael. We had a great time.

How many plays have you written together?

Just the one, Tom, Dick and Harry, but we had a fun time together. He also wrote a B movie called Jack Frost. It was very successful as a B movie because it cost peanuts to make. I played an old colonel. So we've worked together over the years. We always keep in touch. The lovely thing about Cash on Delivery and Tom, Dick and Harry is that they are done all over the world, in places like the Ukraine, Crimea. You're so surprised at where they're done, where there are awful things going on. And yet people want to laugh.

We need the theatre in times like these.

Linda C: I think the theatre becomes even more important, because the intellect is so overwhelming. The lack of this sort of communication. Live theatre is going to be more necessary, almost as a therapy.

So many people say that the theatre is dying, but I don't think so.

Linda C: It doesn't die.  It will go on in the will never die.

Ray C: When you're in the theatre watching it, you really get involved with it. With a company doing comedy, it's almost like being in church. These strangers come into a theatre and by the end of the evening, I've seen total strangers (he laughs, imitating them... ha, ha, ha!) And they get to be friends. It's a lovely feeling.

Is Cash on Delivery your favorite play?

I love it because it's Michael's. It is one of my favorite plays. I so enjoy working on it, and it's got the same feeling that my plays have. You ask the actors to play it for real. You don't want to turn it into a Benny Hill show. I tend not to use the word farce, because if you use farce...even though you might have somebody dressing up as somebody else, pretending to be somebody else, or being hit by a door when it opens, silly things like that, the actors are going to be playing it for real. The audience get really involved with the drama of it. Take for example, Run for Your Wife, the story of a bigamist. In real life for a woman to find out that her husband...he's not just having a little affair with the secretary in the office, he's living with another woman, children, animals, pets... another life. It's the worst betrayal.

Linda C: You read it in the paper sometimes when two women turn up at a funeral. (I laugh)
Ray C: You see, this is the lovely thing about drama. You laughed at that and that's what happens. There's no difference between drama and comedy. You toss a coin up; it comes down. Heads or tails, comedy or drama, it's the same coin.

You have been called Le Feydeau anglais in France. That's quite an honor.

(He laughs) They do love the plays in France. That's a very nice comment. There seems to be a feeling around that the critics don't like my kind of comedies, but the truth is in London, I must say, I've been flattered always by fabulous remarks.

I think it's because the Brits do farce better than American actors.

Linda C: Americans doing American comedy are superb. They're wonderful doing Neil Simon, doing television sitcoms like Friends. They're fabulous actors; it's just a different language.

Maybe it's the training that is different in both countries.

Maybe because it's referred to as a farce, they think they have to be funny. You don't. It's the story that is funny.

American actors push the comedy too much. I always enjoy comedy more, when it's played for real.

There are farcical moments in this play but they all come out of the truth of the piece.

Do you have any other favorite playwrights in England? Do you like Alan Ayckbourn?

I love Alan Ayckbourn. He's written more plays than Shakespeare. He's just astonishing. He works so different from me. He's had his theatre in Scarborough for years that he's run. What he does, he fixes his date as the tryout, the first performance, world premiere, say for August. He might sort of have a basic idea, but he's getting on with life, and doing other work and other plays, going down to London and directing something there. His date is getting nearer and nearer. And maybe six weeks before, he'll say, "What? Oh yes! It's set..." He'll sit down and write it six weeks before the play is due to open.

Linda C: All day and all night for about a week. I'm exaggerating but he's amazing.
Linda and Ray Cooney
Ray C: He's fantastic, and he's such a nice man.

How do you feel about Neil Simon? He's like the God of comedy here.

He is a God. Love him.

Any new playwright in England who is particularly fascinating?

There's Terry Johnson, isn't there?
Linda C: He's not that new.
Ray C: It's about 20 years since he started. What they're attempting to do is to adapt plays, maybe going back 50, 60, 75 years. I can't think of anyone really new.

Who for you is the greatest comic actor of all time?

There was a British comedian called Terry Scott who was very very good in my kind of plays.

Linda C: Donald Sinden.
Ray C: Donald Sinden, Richard Briers...

I loved George Burns.

(They both chime in, laughing) Oh yes, George Burns!

You see, the thing about American comedians, they were good actors as well like George Burns. I'm not sure if Bob Hope fell into that category. But actors like James Stewart, they could play drama and they could play comedy.

Do you get a little apprehensive about casting your plays here as opposed to London?  Of course, you hand pick your cast.

One does. You can tell from the audition which avenue they're going to go down. I'm really happy with this company. What you need is a team. A team who are going to give it to each other in the theatre. It's rather like a tennis match. If the guy on the other side of the net is a good player,  that encourages you to get the ball back. You need a team, which I believe we've got here. The particularly lovely thing about this is that I'm directing my son's play, I'm playing in my son's play, my wife is with me and she is having an exhibition in the foyer at the same time. I keep saying I've waited all these years to put one over on Shakespeare and Ayckbourn! (he laughs) Because they've never done all that!

(production photo credit: Ed Krieger)
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
El Portal Theatre proudly presents Cash On Delivery directed by Ray Cooney, written by Michael Cooney, December 3 – December 20, 2015, at the historic El Portal Theatre Mainstage in the NOHO Arts District, North Hollywood.

Cash On Delivery reunites the family talents of actor/director father Ray Cooney and his stage and screenwriter son Michael Cooney in this hilarious farcical romp!

The international cast includes Broadway, West End and Regional Theatre veterans: Katie Amess, Marie-France Arcilla, Debra Cardona, Michael Sweeney Hammond, Hap Lawrence, Jim Mahoney, Sam Meader, Henrietta Meire, Brian Wallace and featuring Ray Cooney as Uncle George.

Ray Cooney has earned an international reputation as the finest living writer/actor/director of this form of theatre. Charles Spencer – the doyen of theatre critics – wrote ‘Ray Cooney is a National Treasure’.

Michael Cooney was born and raised in London, England, and now makes his home in Los Angeles. He is the writer and Executive Producer of the 2015 ABC Drama Pilot Runner. Other television and film credits include: Identity, Inside, Tracks of a Killer, directing and writing the cult phenomenon Jack Frost and Jack Frost 2, and Murder In Mind, the film written by Cooney adapted from his stage play, was produced for HBO and star Nigel Hawthorne, Mary Louise Parker, Jimmy Smits and Jason Scott ee.

In addition to Cooney's film work, he is also part of the British theater world. His stage writing credits include the comedy Cash On Delivery that had it's world premier at the prestigious Theatre Royal Windsor and has gone on to break box office records throughout Europe. Cash on Delivery ran for a year in London's West End before beginning a nationwide tour. His two stage thrillers, The Dark Side and Point of Death have both enjoyed successful British tours.

Directed by Ray Cooney
Written by Michael Cooney
Set and Costume Design by Bruce Goodrich
Lighting Design by Jim Smith
Sound Design by Julie Fern
December 3 thru December 20, 2015
15 performances only!

Previews: Thursday, December 3 at 8pm/Friday, December 4 at 8pm/Saturday, December 5 at 3pm & 8pm

Sunday December 6 opening at 3pm followed by British high tea

Plays Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8pm/Saturday & Sunday at 3pm

For Tickets call: 818-508-4200/866-811-4111
Or order online:

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 Interview with Actor John O'Hurley

Actor John O'Hurley will costar at the Pasadena Playhouse as Captain Hook in the Lythgoe Family's Panto of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirates Christmas opening December 9. He chats with us about the show and his varied career on stage, film and TV.

Tell me about your role in Peter Pan. Having fun with Captain Hook? Panto will be fun with kids hissing and booing at you. It must make the actor playing the villain feel like he's truly doing an effective job, or does it?


What is it like working with the Lythgoe family? 


Talk a little about doing Seinfeld. What kind of change did the show bring to TV sitcoms...and how was your role vital in that? 


Did you enjoy doing Family Feud? It has to be a completely different ballgame from acting, right? 


Amazing triumph on Dancing with the Stars! Did you feel you would win the first time? What about the second time? Did you expect it? 


Tell us about doing voice-over work. I know it is a very lucrative business. How did you get involved? Do you like doing it as much as acting? 


Talk about the National Dog Show and how that fits into your life. 


You have done Spamalot many times. What is special about that show and your role in it? 


Anything you care to add? 


PETER PAN AND TINKER BELL A PIRATES CHRISTMAS will play from December 9, 2015 January 3, 2016 at The Pasadena Playhouse.  The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91101.  The performance schedule is Tuesdays Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 12:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.; Special matinees -- Tuesday, December 22 at 3:00 p.m.; Wednesday, December 23 at 3:00 p.m.; Thursday, December 24 at 3:00 p.m., Tuesday, December 29 at 3:00 p.m. and Wednesday, December 30 at 3:00 p.m.  (No performances December 25, 31, and January 1.)

Tickets are available by calling The Pasadena Playhouse at 626-356-7529, online 24 hours a day at, or by visiting The Pasadena Playhouse Box Office, Tuesday Sunday from 12:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. during non-performance dates.  On performance dates the Box Office is open Tuesday Saturday from 12:00 p.m. 8:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m. 7:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Interview with Jason Lott and Helen Pafumi of Wonderful Life

Actor/writer Jason Lott and writer Helen Murray Pafumi collaborated on writing Wonderful Life currently onstage at the Malibu Playhouse. I caught up with both of them to see how all of this got started and what they feel they have accomplished with their Christmas play.

What motivated both of you to adapt It's a Wonderful Life?

JL: Honestly, it was all Helen's idea. She wanted to do a one-person holiday show at her theatre, but wasn't finding the right script. She approached me about doing the show (whatever it might turn out to be) and mentioned that she was planning to adapt It's A Wonderful Life. I asked if she'd mind if I co-wrote it with her and she was gracious enough to say "Yes." You could make the argument that I only asked to co-write because I knew it would be easier to memorize that way, but that's only half-true (because, honestly, it is easier for me to memorize something I've written). The other side is that I only knew a little bit about It's A Wonderful Life. I knew it was an "American classic" and I knew that I loved Jimmy Stewart's work in other movies, but the embarrassing fact is that I'd only seen bits and pieces over the years. I'd never watched the whole thing in one sitting. Once I did, though, I fell in love with the movie and absolutely wanted to help bring that story to the stage.

HP: I love the story because it celebrates what is best in the season - hope, redemption, gratitude. As an Artistic Director I have a hard time finding shows for the holiday slot that feel like they are in line with the flavor of work we do at The Hub. I searched for a retelling of the movie, and ideally a one person show (there is something so magical about one person playing all the characters), but could not find one that I liked, so I decided to adapt it myself. Having worked with Jason before, I knew I wanted him to do the show. He suggested a co-adaptation and I am so glad he did.

Is the Christmas season special to you both? If so, how?

JL: The Christmas season is very special to me. It always has been. It was the one time of year that guaranteed a great big cinnamon-scented loving cocoon, no matter what stresses I had at school or in my dorky personal life... Like George Bailey, I had Norman Rockwell holidays. The family would gather around a feast for food and laughter and fun. It was a tradition that I loved and will always cherish: Christmas Eve service with my family in my home town, opening presents on Christmas morning, then driving to Northern Ohio to visit both sets of grandparents for 4-5 days of eating and talking and playing games and eating and eating and also some eating. What's not to love?

Like George Bailey, though, you run into life or it runs into you. Grandparents pass away, you move across the country, commitments crop up. The great part is that the season is still special, regardless of the changes. Sure, we can't gather by Grandma and Grandpa's fireplace and sort candy from our stockings, but my family is always finding new ways to make the holiday meaningful. Nowadays, it means traveling to new places and having new experiences, because, like it was true even when I was a little kid, it's not about where you are or what gift you receive, it's about being together.

HP:The holidays are a mixed bag for me. It can get very stressful. I am usually in production, and balancing that with family can be a challenge. But it is also the time of year when people give and help the most. Acts of kindness, closeness of community and being surrounded by family are gifts that are in abundance during the season. I am all for that.

It must have been difficult to make cuts, but you seem to have gotten the most important scenes into the play. How did that work...the process of eliminating characters and moments?

JL: It was extremely difficult to make cuts because the source material is so rich and so deep. How do you monkey with Frank Capra?! What we ended up doing, however, was just using the screenplay as a baseline for the story. We weren't beholden to particular scenes or characters because our primary goal was to tell the story of George Bailey, not to recreate the movie. The end result is that only about 5% of our play is actually taken from the screenplay and those portions are mainly just the iconic lines. The remaining 95% comes from us creating the scenes and the backstories that tell the story.

In early drafts, we played around with more characters (like Zuzu and Annie), but eventually decided that the story needed to be lean and straightforward. It's tough not to incorporate such important characters in George's life, but we think we found the right balance.

HP: For me, it was harder to find the architecture of the play than it was to cut characters, or side stories. We had some very…interesting…early drafts. The play is 90% original writing that is inspired by the screenplay, but only a little of the show is made up of quotes from the film. This took some time to hone. Once we discovered the theatrical means for telling the story it got much easier. We were sad to see some of Bedford Falls’ residents not make the cut, but the town still feels complete and in stripping away the other moments and characters we were able to bring out the rich heart of the play even more.

Jason, is this the first play in which you have played several characters? If not, what else have you done where you have to display a lot of versatility?

JL: No, I've actually been doing multiple-character roles for many years. My first one was The Baltimore Waltz (by Paula Vogel) when I was in college (in the awesome theatre program at Kenyon College). I played The Third Man, which required an outrageous number of accents and characters and I just loved it. I didn't do too many of those types of roles in college, but once I graduated and moved to Washington DC, I started booking more of them. Actually, I found a nice mix of being cast in both single character and multiple-character roles. It's good to give all those personalities a break...

Some of my favorite multiple-character roles include: Alice at The Kennedy Center; Headsman's Holiday, Painted Alice, and Gross Indecency at Theater Alliance; The 39 Steps at Olney Theatre Center; and one of my flat-out favorites is playing The Narrator in The Pavilion at The Hub Theatre. I'm very excited to reprise the role this spring in a new production of The Pavilion at the Malibu Playhouse.

How did you divide the collaboration between you? Who did the actual writing? Describe how you worked on this project.

JL: Dividing the collaboration was fairly easy, actually. Once we brushed out the broad strokes of the story we wanted to tell, we split characters and went away and wrote monologues. Then, we'd come together (often electronically) and fit them together. The structure proved to be toughest, but once we cracked that, everything else fell into place.

HP: Once we settled on the monologue like nature of the play, we divided up the characters and wrote them separately, and then would meet up, or exchange work and make suggestions. While we each have characters for which we were primarily responsible, we had the freedom to tweak it throughout. There are many times, at this point, when I cannot remember what I wrote versus what Jason wrote. The tone of the piece grew naturally and we both honored it.

Audiences seem to be enjoying the play. Do you feel you are reaching a whole new audience with the stage adaptation? Be specific!

JL: I love that we're reaching a whole new audience with this play. I've had multiple experiences where four generations of families come to see the show. The kids are young and might have seen the movie, but the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents know the lines by heart. I'm always slightly nervous when I discover an It's A Wonderful Life super-fan has seen the show, because you never want to disappoint and our version departs a little from the movie. The great thing is that often the super-fans are the loudest supporters. Our play compliments the movie in a lot of ways and even colors in the backstory for some of the characters (like Potter). So, I feel that we are reaching new audiences this way. Some, and I know it is sacrilegious to say, aren't fans of what they call the movie's "whiny George Bailey." I actually met a couple of people who like our play even better than the movie! I'm not sure I've ever received higher praise.

HP: There have been two comments from audience members after the show that have made me feel confident that Jason and I were successful in our work. And I have heard these said repeatedly. “It felt just like the movie.” and “That was so good, now I have to go and see the movie.”
left to right: producer Jeremy Skidmore, Helen Pafumi an Jason Lott

Jason, do you have a certain amount of freedom with the script? If you forget something, do you have ways of covering? Is the play always the same length from performance to performance, or does it change?

JL: Honestly, I don't have freedom with the script and I've never really wanted it. Both of us are very happy with the script and the story we're trying to tell, so I don't have any impetus to change it night-to-night. We do make tiny tweaks here and there, but we always discuss them before I implement them in a show.

Knock on wood, I haven't forgotten anything yet. There are times when I'm so caught up in the story that I'm not sure what comes next, but that can happen when you're living in the moment. You don't want to think ahead; you just need to trust it will be there.

Our stage manager can correct me on this, but I believe the show times out pretty close to the same minute every night. Audience reaction can affect the final run time, but it usually clocks in a little over an hour.

Who are your favorite playwrights? Plays? How did you team up in the first place? Tell me more about the Hub Theatre.

JL: Great question... There are so many fantastic playwrights right now doing such cool work: Samuel D. Hunter, Lauren Gunderson, David Adjmi, Anne Washburn. Having now doing three solo shows, that also makes me a fan of playwrights like Eric Bogosian and Anna Deavere Smith. Oh, and there's this guy nobody's ever heard of: Shakespeare?

The Washington DC theatre community is a pretty tight one, so Helen and I have known each other for a long time. We first acted together, though, in the play Valpariso by Don DeLillo. Helen was starting The Hub Theatre (her theatre company in Northern Virginia) about that same time and I was cast as The Narrator in The Pavilion (her inaugural production at The Hub). We've tried to find ways to work together ever since!

HP: Favorite writers - too many to name, but here are a few: Philip Dawkins, Lauren Yee, Sarah Ruhl, Craig Wright, Carole Frech├ętte, Adam Bock and Jordan Harrison.

Are there plans to take the play further? Perhaps to off-Broadway?

JL: Right now, there are no plans to take the show off-Broadway, but we won't rule it out. Actually, we're both very excited that ArtsWest in Seattle is doing a production of Wonderful Life this Christmas. It should be a fantastic show. Ideally, we'd love to have theatres around the country doing productions every Christmas. It's a heart-warming story, it's easy to produce, and it's a chance for an actor to really shine.

HP: At the moment there are no future plans for the play other than to get it published. But Jason and I are open to anywhere the project might go.

Anything else either of you cares to add?

JL: When the holidays approach, it's easy to get caught up in the rush and the hustle. It's not always simple to find a way to escape and slow down. I mean, personally, I'm always looking for a way to recreate that comforting nostalgia of holidays at my grandparents with my family all around. I like to think that Wonderful Life is way to do that. It's a reflection on a simpler time and it helps remind you that the most important things in life are not the objects that we own, but the relationships that we have with other people.

HP: This show does something very important during this time of year. It gives you a quiet hushed break from the whirlwind. It wraps you up in all the best of the holidays ‘feels’.

Don't miss Jason Lott perform over 20 characters in this fantastic stage replication of It's a Wonderful Life called Wonderful Life by Lott and Helen Murray Pafumi now playing at the Malibu Playhouse until December 20!

Monday, November 9, 2015

2015 Interview - Joanna Miles

Actress Joanna Miles, who won two Emmy Awards in 1973 for playing Laura in TV's The Glass Menagerie, will co-star with David Selby in a world premiere drama Front Door Open at the Greenway Court Theatre in LA opening November 13. In our talk, Miles discusses the play, her costar David Selby as well as highlights from her career.

Tell me what it was like growing up in France? Were you bilingual?

I was born in France during the war. My mother was an American and we were helped to come back to America in probably forty-two. So, I never did very well with my French. We were a headline in the New York Times as the last Americans out of France. My father was from Europe and happy to get out.

When did the acting bug bite? At a very young age?

My parents were painters and although they both became successful, I found my mother's struggles particularly frightening.  So I decided acting was a better idea. In those days, the business of acting was different then it is now. Work was plentiful. The Stanislavsky Method had just come into being and there were some truly amazing teachers in New York, each of whom put his or her personal spin on it. Harold Clurman. Stella Adler. Uta Hagen. Sandy Meisner. Lee Strasberg. I auditioned and was accepted into the Actor's Studio and had the chance to study with an impassioned group of young actors including Al Pacino, Bob DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman. We lived and breathed acting and would gather at Joe Allen's or Jimmy Ray's to celebrate whatever was happening. 

I have the DVD of The Glass Menagerie and love your performance in it. What was it like working with Katharine Hepburn? Did you get along well? What did you learn from that whole experience? Also comment on Sam Waterston and MIchael Moriarty, if you would.

The Glass Menagerie was casting. It was produced by David Susskind and was to be shot in London. It was 1973. I had done the play in stock with Dustin Hoffman. Bill Devane wanted me to call Alixe Gordin the casting director. When I didn't do it, he plugged a dime into the pay phone and handed me the receiver.

I was asked to read the Gentleman Caller scene, but I had prepared a scene with Amanda. So Katharine Hepburn agreed to read with me, and she cast me on the spot. It was truly a wonderful experience. Katharine Hepburn was an exciting person, who made the set a very demanding place. She even rode around London on her bicycle. It was a pleasure to work with the director Tony Harvey, who had just directed The Lion In Winter. Of course Michael Moriarty and Sam Waterston were the best. Let’s not forget Tennessee Williams who couldn’t have been more pleased.

Tell us about your involvement with Star Trek. It seems that the best actors get to play wildly fun roles in this series. Did you have fun?

Star Trek was such an unlikely job for me. It was 1991 and I was asked to play the role of Perrin, the wife of Sarek, who was played by Mark Lenard. I'm still invited to Star Trek conventions and frequently asked to sign autographs. Due to the magical mind of creator Gene Roddenberry, my character was Spock's mother despite the fact that Leonard Nimoy was nine years older than I. The sets were something wonderful. I brought my young son one day and the crew activated the doors and set pieces to give him a treat. A lot of it was activated by ropes from the rafters. People seem to be very fascinated with this show. 

Any other film role remain a favorite of yours? If so, which one?

I appeared in a film called Born Innocent, which, because of its subject matter, became instrumental in creating the network television family hour. It was about a young girl who was a constant runaway.  She was played by Linda Blair, who is incarcerated and finds herself caught between her brutal peers, her abusive family and the system. I played the only care worker who understood. 

My husband, Michael Brandman, is a producer and in partnership with Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy. He put together a series of films for television, all written by playwrights. It gave me the chance to work with some pretty impressive writers: Arthur Miller, David Mamet, Wendy Wasserstein and Horton Foote. I appeared in all six films, playing a host of different characters, some of them unrecognizable.

To the project at hand. Tell us about Front Door Open. How did you become involved in this project?

A few years ago I developed a series of short plays called “Women In Shorts”. One of those plays was about a woman with agoraphobia. I went to the writer Tom Baum and the director Asaad Kalada and asked if they would be interested in developing the short play into a full length play. They agreed and here we are.

What role are you playing? Does the play have a topical theme?

The part I’m playing is Eleanor, who has Agoraphobia and hasn’t left the house in many years. In my research I found out that one in fifty people in our country have this problem. The play is also about what this condition can do to the family.

Have you and David Selby worked together before? If so, in what? 

Yes, David Selby and I have worked together before. We played husband and wife in a film starring Hume Cronyn, that Horton Foote wrote about life after his wife and life time partner died. Hume told me that for years he developed work for himself and Jessica Tandy. He didn’t wait around for someone to offer him something.

What other observations about the business today would you care to comment on? Are you happy with where you currently are?

As I mentioned at the outset, the business has changed significantly over the years.  There was a time when there were plenty of roles for older actors in movies and television. Those days are gone. Unlike England, where older actors are celebrated and important work is plentiful, here they're put out to pasture and are rarely, if ever, seen again. I'm proud to be active in the west coast branch of The Actor's Studio. I'm delighted to be acting and writing and even producing plays in the vital and energized Los Angeles theatre scene.   

Don't miss award-winning actress Joanna Miles in Front Door Open!
The play runs five weeks; Nov. 13 - Dec. 13, Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm, Sunday evenings at 7pm at Greenway Court Theatre (near Fairfax High). TIX at or call: (323) 673-0544.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

2015 Spotlight Interview with Director Michael Matthews

The Road Theatre Company is proud to present Lisa Loomer’s amazing world premiere play HomeFree at The Road on Magnolia in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 Magnolia Boulevard in NoHo, opening Friday September 18. There are three free previews Friday September 11 at 8pm, Saturday September 12 at 8pm and Sunday September 13 at 2pm, followed by previews on Wednesday September 16 at 8pm and Thursday September 17 at 8pm, both at $15 general admission.
Over the next several weeks we will be spotlighting the cast and creative team for the production. This week the spotlight is on multi-award-winning director extraordinaire Michael Matthews.

Matthews was artistic director of the Celebration Theatre for 3 years. During that time in 2012 he directed The Color Purple on the tiny stage, virtually impossible to conceive. He carried it off brilliantly winning the Ovation Award for Best Director. The production won 6 Ovations also including Best Production. Other stellar directorial achievements include The Women of Brewster Place and the acclaimed 3-D Theatricals production of Funny Girl. This is his first directorial assignment at the Road.

What are the challenges of directing this play?

HOMEFREE is a World Premiere and premieres are always challenging for me as there are always changes and cuts and edits and crafting the words to the voices of the actors. As much as it is a challenge, it is also what I find to be incredibly rewarding.

Is it different from any of the other plays you have helmed? If so, in what ways?

Every play I have done has been pretty different, maybe some similarities but not many. I am directing this play as a modern urban fairy tale. These kids have run away from home, homes filled with abuse, no love, and never really a "home". They find a "home" in each other, protection, and find a way to put back together the broken pieces of their lives.

What message does Lisa Loomer drive home in HomeFree?

Lisa met these kids, some of them. Some of them are based on real people, some are fictional. She would see them as people passed by on their way to the theatre. Now you spend an evening in their shoes AT the theatre and watch the world of the play through their eyes, their experiences, what they feel, and how they survive.

What is it like working at the Road? Tell me about your cast.

I am having a great time!! Everyone is quite lovely. The cast is a mix of younger and older and coming together to create a fantastic ensemble to tell this play with full heart, love, and being completely self-less. For me, that is the most important ingredient in telling this story.

How do you feel audiences will react to the play? What do you hope they will take away?

I want our audiences to lean in and not pull away. I want for them to not only see the world in which these characters inhabit but also feel the pain, the darkness, the glimmers of hope, and how we cope; how we relate. Underneath it all, this is a play on the human spirit and the search for hope and home in what can be an utterly dark and complicated world.