Monday, April 16, 2018

2018 Interview with Will North

Artistic director of 5-Star Theatricals Will North is doing double duty as he is playing Quasimodo in the next production The Hunchback of Notre Dame The Musical, set to open in Thousand Oaks Friday April 20. North sat down and talked about how much the role and musical mean to him.


How does it feel playing this glorious role of Quasimodo?

He is a role that is very close to my heart. I was the first person to perform as Quasi on the Cinderella Castle stage (Disney World) back in 1996 when the animated movie was released…though it was just a few of the songs, since the entire musical was yet to be created. And another fun fact is my full name is Will North Cleckler (Cleckler from the German “Gloeckler” which means “bell ringer”). As far as crafting this role and playing him each night…physically, by far the biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken. I’m in a full squat the entire show and my legs are bowed inward in that squat, then add to that running, jumping, climbing, swinging on ropes, and carrying other cast members multiple times per show, and I have no need to go to the gym. Emotionally, I use a lot of Strasberg technique in my work. I rely on a lot of sense memory and emotional recall to allow myself to become the character. So I pull on those times of loneliness, heartbreak, times of being an outcast for whatever the reason may be, and then with Frollo the book says that Quasi loved him as “never a dog, never a horse, never an elephant loved his master”, so I pull on my emotional recall with my own dad and those needs to please and gain adoration, etc.



What about the use of your voice?
The director, Misti B. Wills, and I worked well before rehearsals began at what we thought the voice should be. He isn’t born deaf, and in fact can “still hear a little” so we didn’t want to go the route of the speech tendencies of a deaf person. Yet we wanted him to not sound completely normal. And then there is the challenge of creating a means of so doing that doesn’t harm the singing voice. So I started from the place of his malformed face and with trying to speak out of the side of my mouth while it being drooped downward.This naturally created a sound that was distorted in a way that allowed me to still focus and support properly. I just tap into the given circumstance of having a deformed mouth and it works. Another challenge not previously mentioned is I do the entire show with one eye open.That makes for interesting peripheral vision challenges, but also gives us at least one or two good comedic moments in the show.  And that was another challenge—finding the comedy in such a tragic tale. It isn’t really written in very much. However, it was a journey of discovery that by playing Quasi’s intentions of loving Frollo, never having left the belltower, having voices of these gargoyles in his head, etc…just by honestly playing the intentions, the comedy naturally came—it was quite fascinating to discover. 



Tell us about your director, creative team and fellow cast members
Misti B. Wills and I go way back to NYC in 2005. She is a dear friend, and there is not a harder working director I have ever met. Her research is exhaustive—and it informs so much of the entire process for the entire team and cast. For example…she researched each individual gargoyle in Notre Dame (and the history thereof ) and then set about having a gargoyle claiming day at rehearsal where each of the gargoyles explored the various real life ones until they each settled on a specific character each with specific traits of that saint or creature. I can’t tell you how much this helped fill out the characters of the gargoyles. But she did this with everything. Architecture, history, heck even each individual bell in the cathedral—again exhaustive. And I call her both a director’s director (because of her vision and research) but also an actor’s director because she begins each scene work session with a table read and an open conversation among actors about the scene.The actors have great input in her process. She is an absolute rare jewel of a director. 

But the rest of the creative team are equally adept at their respective jobs. Dan Redfeld our Music Director and Conductor is a total junky—nay aficionado of all things scores. He found all of these specific aspects in the score relative to each character that really informed us as to Menken’s (Alan) original intent when creating the music for each character. He also went to great lengths to add an upright bass player to the pit…something that is not standard in the orchestrations and something that has not been part of the show since Tokyo, many versions ago—but we just had our sitzprobe last night, and the bass adds a great deal. When it comes to getting the fullness from an orchestration, and getting as close as possible to the composer’s intent, there is no one better than Dan. Michelle Elkin our choreographer is a total perfectionist. She too, does a lot of research and spends countless hours in pre-production in the studio coming up with spectacular dance routines. We also are incorporating a fire dancer and fire eater into this production to capitalize on that medieval carnival feel, and that was all Michelle’s doing. She is a creator—and I love working with those who want to create—rather than those who want to recreate someone else’s work.  And that is true of this entire team, and that is true of my entire vision as managing director.  I don’t want our productions to be something that has been seen before…to me, that, at least a little bit, diminishes the artistic aspect of what we are all doing here. We want to produce shows that are from our individual artistic minds and perspectives, that will add a
new voice and vision to the shows that are seen at 5-Star.  

I haven’t even gotten to the cast yet…ha.  Cassandra Marie Murphy as Esmeralda is as focused and driven a performer as you will ever find.  While others are taking breaks, she is working on choreography or drilling fight choreo, always looking to get that one degree closer to perfection—all the while not realizing she already IS perfection…Gregory North as Frollo (no, no relation believe it or not as North is neither of our given last names) is very thorough in his process as an actor, those table reads with him and subsequent discussions were always gratifying….and his voice—so powerful and effortless. Justin Michael Wilcox as Clopin, has more energy than any human being I have ever met. He never stops. While you are laughing at a joke he just told, he has already told two more—and this kind of energy and enthusiasm is exactly what Clopin needs. Adam Hollick as Phoebus is one of the up and coming stars of this theatre world. His voice is enormous, his presence enormous, and we will all be seeing MUCH more of him in the years to come—such a talent. But all of these leads, and all of the ensemble are a huge family—our crew as well led by Talia Krispel as PSM and Tawni Eccles as ASM—everyone is supportive of each other, everyone kind and helpful, dare I say we just all love each other. And in a show like this that is such an important aspect. 



Is this production the one based on the animated Disney film?
It is based on it yes, with the same lyricist (Stephen Schwartz) and composer (Alan Menken) but the story and score has been added to by at least double the animated film I would say. Twice as much music. With original  songs for the musical version. But also, the story does harken back more to the Victor Hugo novel. It definitely has a darker twist on it than the animated version, though as mentioned, we have tried to bring in as much comedy and moments of lightheartedness as possible. Nevertheless, the serious messages of this show have never been more relevant….for instance, I was floored, absolutely floored to hear Trump speak of Assad as a monster. Why was I floored? Because again it made it clear how relevant our show is when perhaps the most meaningful line in the production is “What makes a monster and what makes a man?” But also the messages of acceptance and love for each other have never been more needed. 



Anything to add that you haven't discussed?
It is the Ventura county premiere. And again, this artistic team has added many elements, and made choices that we believe will make this version of HUNCHBACK unlike any other. And we hope and believe the choices we have made will cause others to love this show as much as we do. Of all of the Disney staged musicals it is my favorite. Dan Redfeld now says the same. So many of our cast agree.To the audience member out there that may not know what to expect—just come.Trust us to give you a night of theatre moments that will touch your heart and give you lasting memories that will effect you for the better. I know it is cliche’, but you truly do not want to miss this show. 



 As artistic director, what changes are happening  for 5-Star Theatricals? Be very specific.
Specifically, we are branching out into other types of shows (not just large scale musicals). For instance, Patrick Cassidy will be presenting his one man show the weekend of June 21-22nd in the Scherr forum (the smaller venue at the Civic Arts Plaza). And we will be doing more plays, even possibly Shakespeare, and immersive theatre in the future. We will also be performing at some additional venues in the future as well. We also want to bring in more Broadway names to our productions…for instance we are over the moon excited that Susan Egan will be reprising her role as Belle in BEAUTY and the BEAST for us this summer! Look for more of these exciting announcements in the near future. 


The Hunchback of Notre Dame will open on Friday, April 20, 2018 and run through Sunday, April 29, 2018. Performances are Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. A signed performance for the deaf and hard-of-hearing will take place on Saturday, April 21 at 2:00pm, followed by a post-show discussion with cast, staff and audience.   

Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza Box Office located at 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard in Thousand Oaks,  or through www.5startheatricals.com, or by phone at (800) 745-3000.  For groups of 10 or more, please call Group Sales, 5-STAR THEATRICALS at (805) 497-8613 x 6.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

2018 Interview with Jules Aaron

Jules Aaron has directed shows at GRT including The Paris Letter (a major critical success) and That Lovin’ Feelin' (the Righteous Brothers musical that was extended and broke all house records).  Aaron is the winner of over 40 awards for direction around the country (including LA Drama Critics Award, Garland Award, Bay Area Critics Award, Philadelphia Critics Award, Utah Theatre Critics Award, etc.  He is bi-coastal, working frequently in fifteen California theatres including South Coast Repertory,  ICT, McCoy/Rigby, Pasadena Playhouse, Odyssey Theatre (most recently directed the acclaimed Two Fisted Love), TheatreWorks, Colony Theatre, Falcon Theatre and Theatre 40; In New York at The Public Theatre (personally developed plays with Joe Papp), Soho Rep, the Unit Theatre; regionally at the Humana Festival (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Philadelphia Theatre Co., Utah Shakespearean Theatre among many others. Aaron is currently in rehearsal for Deathtrap expected to open at Group rep Friday April 6.

When did you have your foray into directing, and was it easy for you to take the leap from acting?
I was a Ph.D. student at NYU (in theatre, theatre history and dramaturgy) in the latter 60s/early 70s. Richard Schechner was my mentor. His company, The Performance Group, was doing groundbreaking environmental theatre.   Also, The Living Theater, The Wooster Group were also evolving.  (The great Jerzy Grotowski brought productions). And playwrights like Sam Shepard John Guare, Lansford Wilson, and Leonard Melfi were writing amazing one-act plays.  I was very stimulated to create my own work.  My wife and I had a large loft on Tompkins Square.  Influenced by all this brilliant material, I began my own voice in theatre.   My first New York production, Genet's “Deathwatch,” was reviewed favorably by the Village Voice. And my work grew from those homemade beginnings.
I moved to Los Angeles to head the MFA Directing Program at CalArt, and continued my work with small theaters.  My first Equity jobs were at South Coast Repertory, and Pasadena Playhouse, and from there I went on to work in New York and major regional theaters.

Talk about a recent directorial experience that turned out more gratifying than expected.
I took over the direction of Two Fisted Love at the Odyssey two months ago. Then I left the play to do a reading in N.Y., as well as because of having creative differences with the producers. 10 days before opening, they needed someone to pull the show together. It was a new play I loved with a great cast, and I gave it my best shot. I think very successfully!

Tell us about Deathtrap.
Deathtrap is one of the three or four great thrillers.  Ira Levin's writing is a beautifully constructed journey with laughs as well as scares.  It has great humor, thrills and keeps the audience on their toes.  It deals with a famous playwright who has not had a hit play and agrees to help a former student with his brilliant new play.  Deception and murder result.

What would you like the audience to take away with them, having seen the play?
I would like the audience to take away from their two hours at GRT a trip analogous to a thrilling roller coaster ride, having observed the results of obsessive love and the dangers of acting on your thoughts.

What are you currently working on, or preparing to direct?

My next projects are, another wonderful thriller, Wait Until Dark at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the charming whimsical play Mr. Pim Passes By at Theatre 40.  We are also having yet another workshop of the Broadway bound musical, I Will, I Can, the story of Sammy Davis, Jr. in New York in June.

Deathtrap runs April 6 – May 20.  Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm; Sunday matinees 2 pm. Talk-back Sundays April 15 and April 28. General Admission:  $25.00. Seniors & Students with ID: $20.00. Groups 10+:  $15.00.  Buy tickets/Info:  www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd. North Hollywood.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

2018 Interview with Alex Skuby


Actor Alex Skuby was born in Neptune, New Jersey. He moved to Chicago in 1992 and was cast in various plays with several different theater companies. In 1998 Alex moved to LA and has been in television series, films and voice-overs. Some of his credits: "Santa Clarita Diet," "Bones," "Last Man Standing." "CSI," CBS's hit sitcom "The King of Queens" (5 seasons recurring as ‘Mr. Pruzan’), recently recurring on Freeform's drama series "The Fosters" as Detective Joe Gray. We caught up with him in rehearsal for the new play Damaged Furniture opening Saturday March 24 and running Saturdays only at the Whitefire Theatre.




How did you get into acting?  Did you grow up in a creative or artistic family?

My mother had a beautiful voice. She sang all the time around our house. My father is a salesman. He's always had a big personality. I would always try to get their attention by being, what they called, a "ham" - - putting on shows in the living room for them and anyone who'd care to watch. I’ve always had a yearning to be on a stage I guess.

You are known for roles in the Freeform Drama Series “The Fosters” and the sitcom “King of Queens”; and work as a professional actor in both TV and film.  Was there a particular role (in TV or film) that you consider your breakout role? And how did that lead to other work opportunities?

Well, I started in the theater. The role I did that let me know that I indeed wanted to pursue this as a career was at a community college in New Jersey. I played Lt. Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men. I was 19 and I remember being in that show and feeling a sense of wholeness… in a spiritual way. Then when I moved to Chicago to attend the DePaul Theater School, I was in hog heaven.  Theater in Chicago is amazing; very talented actors in that city.
As far as TV and film goes, I'd have to say "King of Queens". It validated all the work I had put in over the years figuring out the craft, and was a very fun job.

You were  in the original cast of Howard Skora’s well received Miserable with an Ocean View which played for months of Saturday nights at the Whitefire Theatre  in 2015. What was that experience like for you?

Absolutely loved it. The cast was great. The director was great. The script was wonderful. I was incredibly grateful to do that show.

How did you get involved with the production of Howard Skora’s new comedy Damaged Furniture? 

Howie told me about the new play he had written right before Christmas. He mentioned that he had me in mind to play the lead role of Doug Elling. I was immediately excited. Howie is an amazing playwright. In addition, Jim Fall was going to direct - he directed Howie's last play. I love working with Jim. By the way, the cast of this play is wonderful!

What lured you back to the theatre?

Before Miserable with an Ocean View, I hadn't done a play in about 17 years. That saddened me, especially since it's where I started. You can get sucked into the "business" side of acting when you come to LA. When you begin getting nice pay checks from acting in front of a camera, the thought of doing theater can slip away. For me it kind of did. I remember waking up one day and saying to myself "I need to do a damn play again! Get back to the rawness of craft!" Theater is definitely raw. No safety nets. I absolutely love it. It frightens me.

What is about your character you hope to communicate?

This play is relationship heavy, Between my character’s relationship with his dad, mom, sister and aunt. There is a love/hate relationship between all of us. I think that rings true for many families out there. But at the base of dysfunction is love.  So to answer your question,  Love... in my character’s own dysfunctional way. Hahhahahaha...

How did you and your wife, Mo Collins, meet?   This is the first time you’ve worked on a play together.  What’s that been like?

We actually met online. We fell in love through instant messaging.
Yeah, this is the first play we've done together. We've been on stage together before - but not in a play.
It’s EXCITING! She's soooooo funny and talented. Truly awesome actress and human. It was a bit strange when I found out she was playing my aunt. Hahahahaha... But when I was assured it wasn't a "blood" relative, I was ok with it.

What’s up next for you?

I have a comedy movie coming out next year called "My Babysitter the Superhero" ... My wife is in that too. Very fun shoot on that. I play an evil alien warlord named Commander Kruel. Should be fun for the whole family!



Show runs March 24 – May 26.  Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm. For tix: go to  damagedfurniture.brownpapertickets.com  Whitefire Theatre is at 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks at the corner of Sunnyslope.

2018 Interview with Actress Mo Collins


Mo Collins,  a Minnesota native, moved to LA in ’98 where she landed “Mad TV,” giving birth to characters such as Lorraine, Stuart’s Mother, Trina and more. Post “Mad TV,” Mo built her credits with hit shows such as “Parks and Recreation” as Joan Callamezzo, Gyna in “40 Year Old Virgin” and Susan on Netflix’ “Lady Dynamite” . Mo Collins garnered her first Emmy Nomination in 2017, for her work on the animated show “F is for Family” on Netflix. She’s about to open onstage at the Whitefire in Damaged Furniture.




















How did your family react to your wanting to work as a performer of improvisation and sketch comedy?  
I wouldn’t say there was any great ‘reaction”. I think they all enjoyed coming to see my shows over the years, and who doesn’t like comedy!! On moving to LA with a 2 year-old in tow, Mom said “I think you’re crazy”, but still helped me pack and rode along with us in the truck. Dad said “I think you can do it!” And 9 months later I landed “Mad TV”.
What was it like being nominated for an Emmy in 2017 for your work on the animated Netflix show “F is for Family.”  Did the nomination lead to other work opportunities (and if so, what)?
 I was stunned!! I didn’t even know it was the season. I don’t pay too much attention to those things. But, yes, the phone call from our Exec producer stunned me!! It came out of left field. After so many years on camera, I get a voice nomination!! Who knew! Being nominated was fun and confusing! I didn’t know how to “work” it. I don’t have a team, ya know? SO, I got busy shopping dresses on Ebay. I did pretty well! Spent about $200 total on dresses for all the events. The nomination did absolutely nothing for my career. But I enjoyed the experience, love my certificate, and will forever have “Emmy Nominated” next to my name on IMDB. I win!!
 How did you get involved with the production of Howard Skora’s new comedy Damaged Furniture?  Were you involved during the development process of the play?
My husband, Alex (Skuby), had done his previous play Miserable with an Ocean View. I LOVED it. Howie is currently my favorite contemporary playwright. When he came to Alex with this new play, I eeked my way into the table read of an earlier draft, and Howie was gracious enough to ask me to play Aunt Laurie in the production. As far as developmental involvement, I was a part of table reads, and perhaps a few bits of feedback, but that is all.
What lured you back to the theatre?
Short answer? I miss the audience. I need to get up in front of people and get some instant feedback. I don’t get to work as much as I would like in the “industry” and choosing to do a play gives me a sense of taking control over the creative aspect of my life. It’s been 20 years since I’ve done a play, and the process feels real good down to my bones!
What do you hope to communicate to the audience?
I’m just hoping to convey Howie’s words in a truthful way, and to entertain the audience. I’m hoping they buy my character. She’s got a few screws loose. I love that. I hope the audience sees how much I love living inside this person, and we all have a great time.
How did you and your husband Alex meet?   I was told that this is the first time you’ve worked on a play together.  What’s that been like?
Alex and I met online!! Before online got too crazy! We went on a date to Cat and the Fiddle and then popped over to Tom Bergins. Both now closed!! We’re not letting that get in the way of our love.I play Alex’s aunt in the play so we’ve had some laughs about that. It’s interesting doing a show together because there’s no one to come home to and dump the stress of putting up a show! Our poor dogs are sick of hearing about it! 
What’s up next for you?
Good question. And it’s always the question. Honestly, I’d love to get a series regular role and relax for a bit. Enjoy a TV family for a stint. That would be nice. Alas, it seems my life is about “seeking the next thing” and the fact that I am still here in this business doing that is proof of my resilience. It turns out I am always up for re-invention of self and my artistry, so bring on the next challenge!! Seriously….bring it. Where is it??
Show runs March 24 – May 26.  Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm. For tix: go to  damagedfurniture.brownpapertickets.com  Whitefire Theatre is at 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks at the corner of Sunnyslope.


Friday, March 2, 2018

Interview - Thom Babbes Director of A Man for All Seasons at Actors Co-op

THOM BABBES'  
Actors Co-op credits include Summer and Smoke, Ah, Wilderness (Best Director/StageSceneLA), The Miracle Worker and Wait Until Dark.  He has directed workshop productions of new works, Dietrich (based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer) by John Martins III, The Real Real Thing by Frank Higgins and Washington Irvine’s Sketchbook by Frank Higgins and Southhamton County (based on Nat Turner’s slave rebellion) which Mr. Babbes wrote.  Other credits:  Sun City by Jim Geoghan at Stella Adler Theater, Hollywood.  A writer as well, Mr. Babbes recently adapted William Saroyan’s novel The Human Comedy for the stage.  Screenplays include Deadly Dreams and Body Chemistry (Concorde New Horizons), The Audition - A Short Film (Co-Writer – Winner Best Screenplay & Best Comedy 2008 - 168 Hour Film Festival), X-treme Weekend - Short Film (Co-Writer, screened at multiple fests USA and Canada.)  Insurrection (Samuelson Prods.), Bleeding Writing and Arithmetic (Kings Road Ent.), The Substutute (Apollo Pictures), Island of Lonely Men (Sotela Pictures).
When did you start directing plays?  What was your first directing job, and what did you learn from that experience that serves or guides you today when you direct?
I started directing plays in the late 1990s when I joined Actor’s Co-op.  They were mostly new plays done as a part of the Co-op Too series.  I have worked with many directors over the years and I approach directing as a collaborative process with the actor.  If you cast well, and you are clear about the themes and the story you want to tell, it usually comes together.  I love actors and respect them.  I hate when directors try to get a performance out of an actor using fear and humiliation.  That is not my style.  I try to create an atmosphere of freedom and creativity. 
How did your directing A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS come about? 
 I have had a lot of success with my past Main Stage shows at Actors Co-op THE MIRACLE WORKER, WAIT UNTIL DARK, AH, WILDERNESS and SUMMER AND SMOKE.  The Co-op called me about coming back and directing A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS.  Originally I had to turn it down because I was directing another show at the time but they changed the date for AMFAS and it worked out in the end.  Actors Co-op is my home and working there is such a pleasure for me.  It is a great fit.  
Tell us a bit about the play.  
AMFAS is the story of Sir Thomas More — a man of great faith and conscience.  When his faith comes into conflict with King Henry VIII, he chooses his faith and pays the ultimate price. Telling the story is the character of The Common Man - a character who is the opposite of More. The Common Man represents the worst in human nature.  She is a character who is shrewd and opportunistic but at the same time a survivor at any cost. She says it best, "Better to be a live rat than a dead lion."
What makes A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS a notable play?  What is about the play that might appeal to an audience in 2018?
This is a play that has stood the test of time.  It was a huge hit in London, on Broadway and won the Academy Award for Best Film of 1966. It is a story of conscience and survival.  I think this story is more reverent today in our post Christian world.  In this secular society is there anything worth dying for?  In this divided country, how far would you go to stand for an unpopular belief?  Would you dare to lose it all because of your point of view?  I believe being a person of faith is a very hard road especially in Los Angeles.  This play explores that very issue.  Although the play takes place in the 16th century, it it written for a modern audience.  It is very accessible.
What do you want the audience to experience and/or take away to having seen the play? 
I think I'd like them to experience a new way of looking at the world.  I want them to truly consider their commitment to God, their conscience, and the people around them.  How can we live together, respect each other and still have different views?  Is it better to stand up for one's principles no matter what the cost?  Or is it better to just survive and compromise?
Do you have future directing or writing projects that you are involved in, and if so, what are you working on?  
Right now I am working on a new adaptation of William Saroyan’s THE HUMAN COMEDY.  It is a project I’ve been involved with for many years and is finally beginning to take off.  We did a fully produced workshop production at Village Christian School last November with a group of really talented student actors but now it’s time to get the first professional production mounted.  I am also currently directing a production of PETER PAN.
                                                               
Show Times and Tickets: March 2 – April 15, 2018.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Additional Saturday Matinees: March 10 and March 17 at 2:30 pm.  No Shows March 30 – April 1. Tickets: $30.00.  Seniors (60+): $25.00.  Students: $20.00.  Group rates available for parties of 6 or more.  To buy tickets or make reservations please visit www.ActorsCo-op.org or call (323) 462-8460.   Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St.  90028  (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

2018 Interview with Playwright Phil Olson


Playwright Phil Olson is best known for his popular, hilarious DON’T HUG ME musical plays written with brother Paul Olson, that are crowd favorites wherever they are performed.  His comedy, A NICE FAMILY GATHERING, played at Group Rep Lonny Chapman Theatre in 2016, has been nominated for an NAACP LA Local Award for Best Ensemble.   Phil shares with us some details about his life as a writer and how “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Family” came about.

written by Steve Peterson

When did you start writing plays?  Do you have any favorites?

I wrote my first play “Crappie Talk” in 1997. I was 40 years old. I got a late start. I currently have 15 published plays, 9 of them are published by Samuel French. It’s hard to say which play is my favorite. They’re like children to me. With that, I have to say, “A Nice Family Gathering” is at the top of the list because it’s such a personal story. It’s about my family, and because it has played in 140 cities around the world, I’m thrilled that so many theatres have embraced it. It’s also been optioned to be made into a movie which is very flattering.

It’s been more than 20 years since you wrote “Crappie Talk” with a storyline and characters that continued in your “Don’t Hug Me” series of musicals.  What generated the idea to go back and turn the play into a musical?

I loved the story in "Crappie Talk", and it had a nice run at the Group Rep Theatre playing for 16 weeks. It was my first play, and even though it did very well commercially and won a lot of awards, there were problems with it that I wanted to fix. I cut down the number of characters, cut down the number of scenes, added 14 original songs (with my brother) and orchestrated 12 radio jingles. Since the setting is the same as that in the "Don’t Hug Me" musicals, the other changes came fairly easily.

What is the premise of "Don’t Hug Me, We’re Family"?

Set in a little north woods Minnesota town, the host of a radio show devoted entirely to ice fishing loses his only advertiser while his wife, a popular host of a book show, has a lot of advertisers, putting the competitive couple at odds. Their marital problems are compounded when two, fish-out-of-water, Brooklyn Italians come to the rural Minnesota town, buy the radio station, and turn everything upside down.  It's "Fargo" meets "My Cousin Vinny" without the blood or the trial lawyers.

What do you want the audience to take away with them?

First, I want them to have a great time. It’s a fun, uplifting musical that will hopefully bring a little cheer to the audience. There’s also an emotional element to the story that’s personal to me that I hope has an impact on the audience. And, of course, I’d like them to hum the songs as they drive home, and then tell all their friends to go see it.

Is there anything you wished had been asked about you or about the play?

The story was inspired by journalist Charles Kuralt who, during his travels around the country, bought a little radio station in Ely, Minnesota, up near the Canadian border. I thought it would be funny if two New York outsiders came to the little north woods Minnesota bar, bought the radio station and collided with the locals. And yet, even though their cultures are very different, they have a lot in common.

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Family runs February 16 – March 25.  Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m.,   & Sundays at 2:00 p.m.; $15 - $24.  Buy tickets: donthugme.brownpapertickets.com or 818-850-9254.  Don’t Hug Me, We’re Family is a guest production at Theatre Unlimited (T.U. Studios), 10943 Camarillo St. (just east of Vineland) North Hollywood.