Bruce Kimmel wrote, directed and starred in the cult movie hit, “The First Nudie Musical.” He also co-created the story for the hit film, “The Faculty,” directed by Robert Rodriguez. As an actor, Mr. Kimmel guest-starred on most of the long-running television shows of the 1970s. Mr. Kimmel is a legendary Grammy-nominated producer of theatre music on CD, having produced over 180 albums. Most recently he has directed the shows L.A. Now and Then, Hit Song, The Musical, Welcome to My World, Li’l Abner, and Inside Out. Mr. Kimmel is the author of seventeen books, many musicals, and is an award-winning songwriter. Bruce Kimmel serves as director on the Group Rep’s upcoming production of Frederick Knott’s mystery thriller Dial “M” for Murder which opens on the Main Stage, June 30th, at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood at the edge of the NoHo Arts District.
Written by Steve Peterson
When and how did you first get bit by the theater bug?
I always wanted to be an actor, as far back as I can remember. When I was twelve I began going to the theater – just went off on my own and saw the matinee of Paddy Chayefsky’s The Tenth Man at the Huntington Hartford Theater here in LA – I’m a native. That began it all – it was magical and I went to see just about every tour that played there – wonderful plays with wonderful actors. My first musical was the tour of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which played the old Biltmore Theater downtown with its original stars, Tammy Grimes and Harve Presnell. That, of course, changed my life.
When did you start directing and which project drew your attention?
I always enjoyed being in charge, even when I was a kid. I put on shows for our Monday night family dinners – I was the star, the director, the writer – kind of my own version of “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I directed stuff when I was a teen – a musical revue we had the chutzpah to produce, and a production of Jan de Hartog’s The Fourposter – I’m sure they were dreadful. In college (Los Angeles City College) I directed some shows I wrote in their small upstairs theater. From then on, I directed pretty regularly in LA, but mostly my own musicals.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
I don’t know that I’d call them mentors, but I was like a sponge when I was an actor – if the director was good I would watch how he/she did what they did and learned from it. But from an early age I learned by watching the master directors of my generation – folks like Mike Nichols, Gower Champion, Bob Fosse, Alan Schneider – I watched how they’d pace shows, how they’d make everything seamless, and I just sopped it all up.
You’re very involved in the writing, directing and producing of musicals and plays. A parent doesn’t usually admit to a ‘favorite child’…do you have a project past or present that might be your favorite (or are most proud of)?
I do love musicals. Of my own shows, I’m fond of The Brain from Planet X and Stages. Of traditional musicals I’ve directed, nothing tickled me more than doing one of my bucket list shows, Li’l Abner – I had my way with it and the audiences and critics loved it, which was the icing on the cake. And I did enjoy doing Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ’s Inside Out, because it was a real challenge – and Doug is, of course, how I got to know Group Rep.
What was the genesis of the monthly concert series Kritzerland and who might enjoy the event?
Back in 1993 I made a life change and became a record producer – I found a lot of success right away doing that – two Grammy nominations in my first year and producing over 180 albums so far. Back in 2010 I thought it would be fun to do a cabaret series based on the albums I’d done. That was the genesis. So, we began doing it once a month and much to my surprise it was kind of wildly successful – we came up with a formula people loved and here we are just about to have our seventh anniversary and our 80th show – the longest-running cabaret show in LA history.
Larry Eisenberg came to see my production of Inside Out and really liked it. At some point we began to talk about me directing something for the Group Rep – I’ve seen a lot of the shows there and always enjoy them. He finally asked me what play I’d like to do – I thought about it for about a minute and said Dial ‘M’ for Murder. He asked why, naturally. I said, “Because it’s on old-fashioned talking play with a great murder scene and it reminds me of all the plays I loved when I was growing up.”
What intrigues you about the mystery thriller genre (as it relates to the stage)?
I love the genre, always have. In days of old, I especially loved what I called the civilized thriller, of which Dial ‘M’ for Murder is the classic example – all those lovely people having sophisticated conversation, drinking cocktails, all the while underneath the surface plotting such deliciously devious things. I also loved Mr. Knott’s Wait Until Dark and then of course Sleuth and Deathtrap are masterpieces. It’s very hard to pull off, but when it’s done well, there’s nothing quite like it. Back in 2007 I wrote my one and only mystery thriller play (I’ve written many mystery novels), called Deceit, which had a nice run at the El Portal Theatre.
Tell us a bit about the play.
First done in London in the early 1950s, then on Broadway and, of course, turned into a wonderful film by director Alfred Hitchcock – originally shot in 3-D but never shown that way back then, although it has been several times since. Our production, by the way, will be in 3-D. I could tell you about the play but then I’d have to kill you. That’s how it is with mystery thrillers – part of the fun is not knowing too much.
Is there something you want audience members to experience having seen the production?
I’m hoping it will be fun for audiences to travel back to the 1950s when people in plays dressed well, spoke well, and occasionally murdered people in clever ways. I hope it will be fun to revisit a really well built play and revel in the kind of dialogue no one really knows how to write anymore.
Is there anything about you or the production that you want us to know or wish we had asked?
I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. All you need to know about me is that I am blessed to be able to do what I love, whether it be directing an old-fashioned and delightful thriller, directing a musical, whether old or new, writing a novel, doing a cabaret evening, and producing CDs.
The Group Rep’s production of Frederick Knott’s Dial “M” for Murder directed by Bruce Kimmel, produced by Mannette Antill and LizAnne Keigley, runs Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm. June 30 – August 19. Tickets: $25. Students/Seniors with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15. For tickets: www.thegrouprep.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reservations Line: (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601.