Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 Interview - Steve Ross

Singer Steve Ross has been knocking 'em dead on the cabaret circuit in New York and other theatre cities for many years. He has released several solo albums. His latest is It's Almost Christmas Eve but features an ensemble of singers. Ross took time from his busy touring schedule to talk to me from Boston about the album and his love of old music.

Are you on tour right now with your Christmas album?

Actually, no. I did the Christmas show a couple of times, but I don't have a Christmas show per se. I'm certainly featuring the recording in my regular show. I'll do my Birdland shows and I'll do songs from it. Everywhere I go, I kind of try to sell it.

 I think you could very easily make a show from this album.

It could be, but of course so much of it is set up for the other voices. Maybe they could do the solos or I could do it with a couple of other people. A Christmas revue...that's an idea.

Maybe you should plan it for next year's holiday season.

Absolutely. I didn't think about that.

Why did you decide at this point in time to do a Christmas album?

I was at a party in LA hosted by performer K T Sullivan two yesrs ago. I had written a melody and at the party I sat down and played it for Kenny Hirsch, a published lyricist in LA.  I told him I just had this instinct. When I played it, he said, "I hear it as a Christmas song." I asked him if he'd be interested in writing a lyric to it. He said, "I would be." That's how it all started. So this song "It's Almost Christmas Eve", which became the title of the album, was born a couple of years ago. And then a singer heard it and said, "I think it should be an album." And then it evolved from there. It was going to be traditional songs. I took out my huge cache of Christmas music that I've collected, all these different genres. We looked at everything and listened...and these are the ones we picked. It becsme more specialized which I thought  might be in a way a relief to the people that due respect, everyone puts out all the same songs. I thought it would be kind of fun since we had dug into the songbook for more obscure things. It would be consonant to what I do. I have a couple of good singers and that's how it evolved into this lesser known stuff. I think there are s couple of gems in there.

I was brought up by an Irish mom who was from a musical family, so I know all these songs, like "Sing a Little Song of Christmss", "Goin' On a Sleigh Ride", "The Wassail Song". I am so happy you are bringing them back for those of us who remember them and for the youngsters out there who need to learn to appreciate that everything old is new again. Then you combine wonderful Broadway tunes like "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame and "A New Deal for Christmasz' from Annie.

People might be interested if they're searching for lesser known stuff. It would be nice if they downloaded them or buy the CD.

"The Twelve Days After Christmas" is hilarious.

I thought everybody knew that. Did you know that?

No, that's one I have never heard. What a hoot!

When I did it recently in my show, a lot of people didn't know it. It's very clever.

How long have you been doing the cabaret scene?

Are you sitting down? (I laugh) You should lie down. I have been as they say hoodwnking the unsuspecting public for 60 years. Not cabaret, I've been a professional musician for 60 years  Cabaret started basically when I came to New York when I was 30. I found a job in this gay bar on W. 56th Street. One of the pianists was let go. The manager said to me that I was going to have to start singing.We want you to sing and play. We're not hiring two people. I had only sung for a joke. Many voice teachers later, I figured it out. Now I can't imagine not singing. It all started way back when.

You have quite an audience of admirers. Young people, as I said, need to learn to appreciate the old standards you play.

I feel that way if we can only get them to sit in on it. Cabarets are an expensive proposition for the young artist, which is very unfortunate. When I came to town, I was able to sit in at Bobby Short's bar at the Carlyle. He was wonderul and in those days you could go to places fairly reasonably. Now it's out of the reach of most people who should be hearing it. A situation for which I have no solution.

Who is your favorite composer?

Cole Porter. I like his brilliant wordplay.When I started singing, I sang funny songs, songs with words that were amusing. I didn't have the tones that a singer should have. I can do words. I started off doing funny songs, wordy songs, Noel Coward songs. Patter songs from the English music halls, songs that were situationally funny. I love the fact that Porter made sex chique. He was very sexy and sensual and erotic in a way in his lyrics, but he did it with such a genius and with such style that he pulled it off. "Let's Do It, Let's Fall In Love". We all know what the metaphor is. It made everybody smile and laugh without being crass. He elevated that kind of humor to s very high thing "Brush Uo Your Shakespeare" I love the double entendre thing and that he got away with it. I also love his very deep passion when he wrote his love songs. The longing that is in any good love song he expressed very beautifully."In the Still of the Night" is my favorite song. It's a gem. When he is at his best, he's nonpareil. He represents a life I might have aspired to when I was growing up, a glamorous New York life that he writes about, that I sing about, that a lot of people dream about. He painted a picture, and it's the kind of picture I enjoy looking at and talking about.

What is your honest opinion of today's music?

It's not something I connect to. As I do my revue, I've been revisiting the master classes I used to do. It's been a facinating journey, I must say. I've learned a lot about these songs. We live in a world that is questioning that. Most of my students have been middle age, nonprofessionals. A lady the other day said, "We can't sing "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer'" because it's about bullying.".I looked at her and said, "Yes, but it has a happy ending. He finds a reward from Santa Claus .., and he ends up being a hero". We can only take this so far. It ends up being extreme. Don't you agree?

Absolutely! Did you like Hamilton?

Yes, it's historical and life changing. It has become a favorite with young people. Bully for it! Good for it! They see that Broadway music can be relevant. It brings young people into the theatre, as did the brilliant 1776 and Rent, big life changers.

Let's get back to your CD It's Almost Christmas Eve. What would you tell our readers about it that will really make them want to buy it?

It captures the spirit of Christmas in many different ways with worthy but less known Christmas songs that can touch the heart and tickle the funny bone.

Go to itunes or amazon to purchase the album or visit Steve Ross at:

Thursday, December 13, 2018

2018 Interview with Kevin Odekirk

Actor/singer Kevin Odekirk has been delighting audiences worldwide with his stage appearances in musicals such as Miss Saigon, concert venues and with his amazing CD Unheard. He now has a Christmas album called Season of Hope. Odekirk took time from a hectic holiday schedule to tell us about the album.

Why did you want to record a Christmas album? And why at this point in time?

I have been so lucky to connect with so many great fans and friends over the years, and every year many request a Holiday CD for them to enjoy themselves and for gifts. This year, I had the chance to put together a solo Christmas program for a large private VIP Gala in Los Angeles. We were putting so much effort into new arrangements and new rendtions of these amazing songs, it only made sense to put them down on disc for more people to enjoy. Combine that with the opportunity to work with my amazing composer/arranger Jonathan Keith, and I just couldn't not share!

You seem to have a very serene personality. Where does most of your musical inspiration come from?

Well, that is really nice of you! I think some days I'm better at that than others, especially with four kids.

Music has always played a really important role in my life. I don't think, for me at least, that many other things have the power to affect my emotions and my spirit as strongly as music. Happiness, sadness, heartache, elation, loneliness, and love...nothing makes me feel things as deeply as a good song. When I can share that with others, it's even better. I want to create things people will feel, but to be honest, I create things that make me feel first. I can only create things that connect with my spirit, and then just hope others feel something unique for them.

There are several very religious hymns included. Do you have a favorite? Explain your choice.

There are a lot of religious hymns on this CD. I feel like it's really easy, for me at least, to get sucked into all the other things related to Christmas, and maybe this was my way of reminding myself what really mattered. Every song on this CD is a prayer. Really, that was my guide through this. I wanted Season of Hope to be an intimate look at prayers we all can connect with this time of year, no matter what your religion.
At the same time, I had this idea that I mention in my liner notes, this concept that most normal people (i.e non performers) may never get the chance to work through a sitzrobe. The very first time musicians and vocalists perform together on a new work is amazing to me. Nothing is flashy, everything is new. Everthing is foreign and familiar all at once. And there, without costumes or sets or sound deisgn, we get to connect to the music and to each other. I love it, and I wanted to share that. Big songs, performed really intimately. Piano quintet (mostly) and a voice.

How does "Bring Him Home" fit into a Christmas album in your opinion?

To me, the catalogue of musical theater is full of prayers, stuff so heartfelt, so empassioned that they easily reach that level. In the Dead of Darkness from Kristina is one such example, with a man separated from his wife and family on a horrible journey across the ocean. How could he do anything other than pray? "Bring Him Home" is maybe the quintessential prayer, though. I'm not sure I can think of anything more appropriate for a holiday season than thinking about someone else more than yourself, praying for them, wanting for them, and being willing to sacrifice everything for them and their happiness.

You should record more often. Do you have a plan for a future project? Share if you will.

Well, I am so grateful you would even say that. I think as long as I have interesting and valuable things to say, I will have a strong desire to try and say them. I don't want to add to the mountain of similar stuff already out there. My first CD, UNHEARD, was neat because we got to share some totally new and ultra-rare songs that any musical theater lover would enjoy. I want to really contribute something. I love getting to share, but I am not always sure I have things worth sharing. (Hence the mountains of demos buried on my hard drive - stuff the world will never hear. lol) That may not be fashionable or sound cool. But it's true. (Too honest, maybe.) We all get to see other people and their infinitely Instagrammable lives, and then we sit back and think we are the only ones struggling or doubting or grinding. I struggle. I doubt. But I love singing, sharing, and connecting with people so much that I keep trying. I hope people keep listening. 

Who was the motivational force in your career choice to be a singer? Were your parents supportive?

My family was a sports family. Most of my cousins, uncles, and my dad all played professional baseball at one level or another. It was rather expected I'd go that way. (I still can turn a mean double play.) So when I joined a musical theater class my junior year of high school to be near a hot girl I wanted, I think they were all a little shocked. Turns out, I loved it, and loved studying what the voice could do.

Here's the amazing thing, my athletic father without a bit of artisitc experience immediately threw his support behind me, even going as far as joining the board of a local arts organization. I can only hope that I'll show my kids the kind of love my mom and dad showed me.

And thank you to that hot girl that I don't think I ever had the guts to even talk to!

Any plans to possibly do a musical? You were so good in Miss Saigon. I would love to see you do another show. Are you possibly looking at Les Miserables?Are you casting? lol

That is so nice of you about Miss Saigon. I had such a great time in that show. I grew up singing that music. It was one of the very first musicals I saw, so I really wanted to do that show. Great music. And we had an amazing cast. I felt really lucky to be part of that.

Honestly, I've been so busy with other projects, concerts and recording work, that it made it hard to devote the time to a show or a tour. I'm hopeful I can make that work again soon, either on tour or back on Broadway. Let's make this happen!

What is your wish for Christmas?

LOL Dolls. Oh sorry, I'm channelling my daughter. (Seriously, since when did girls toys sell out so quickly!?)
Um... for Christmas this year I hope someone listens to Season of Hope and feels something good for them. That would make me smile. And a new baseball glove. But mainly the happiness for other people.

Anything you care to add?

I'm grateful for those that continue to support me and listen to my music and see my concerts and shows. Happy Holiday to everyone out there!

Season of Hope is available at to listen, visit:

Monday, December 10, 2018

2018 Interview with Robyn Spangler

Consummate singer Robyn Spangler has been resurrecting her singing career for the last ten years with great success. She appears in cabaret from coast to coast and has just released her newest CD Christmas Is. She took time from a busy schedule to talk about the album and her concert appearance at Rockwell Table and Stage on Sunday December 16.

Robyn, I was just listening to the album. I picked "Who spiked the egg nog?" first. What a deliciously offbeat song!

You know I hired a radio promoter for this CD. They asked me to name a couple of songs and I didn't name that song, but you know it is getting a lot of air play. It was originally done by the acapella group at IU.

It's a cute song!

It's very funny.

Why did you decide to do a Christmas album? And...why now?

The honest answer is: I saw a lot of other people getting attention who were doing Christmas albums...and I was talking to a promoter and he said the best thing to do if you want to try to get air play is to do the album first and put songs on it that are different from the standard fare, so when you do do another album, then they've seen your name before and they've played you before. That's the technical answer. Also from a business standpoint, I turned 60 this year.

You look years younger.

You're so kind. But, as we get older, I know that divas sing well into their 70s and 80s, but it's like how many more years can I put out a CD before I feel like I'm completely aging out of the sytem?!

Your voice is alive and young. You have no worries. You sound the same and I have been listening to you sing for a few years now.

I was a voice major in college. The music business has changed so much just within the years that I have started to sing again. As a young person, I would have had to go out and find a record label to carry me. There's just no way I could have gotten the exposure that I get now. So... I'm taking the opportunity that a lot of independent artitsts are taking and putting their music out there. I have to laugh because the duet that Don (Most) and I decided to do ( "It\s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas") ... personally, if I hear "Baby It's Cold Outside" one more time...

But to give that song its due, I hate all this negative publicity that it's obscene...after all these years.

(She laughs) It's a good thing we didn't do that song. (pause) I wanted to do something different, so that people would go, "Oh, that can be a duet too." Overall, as with the eggnog song, I researched to find songs that weren't typical and had them rearranged so people would listen to them.

Talk about your association with Don Most. How and when did that begin?

That relationship began because, as you know in entertainment, there are agents and managers and bookers. So one of the bookers that I have for the symphony show (Linda Ronstadt sings Nelson Riddle) also books for Don. When I decided to do the symphony show,  I had looked at Don's reels, and he's also trying to get traction for a symphony show. I reached out to him and said, "Do you want to come over and sing a number with me?" I had seen him perform a lot here in Los Angeles. We talked on the phone, and he's just the nicest guy. So, he agreed to come over and we rehearsed a duet. After that symphony show at Rockwell a couple of years ago, we just stayed in touch. I put up on FB that I was going to do a Christmas album and he reached out and asked, "Are we going to sing a duet?" He has a booker in Florida, and he is trying to put together a symphony show ... and he has invited me to work with him. We would do a new show together.

When I did the symphony show I got all the arrangements at the University of Arizona in Tucson because that's where Linda Ronstadt had donated those arrangements As it turns out, the University also has a bunch of Nelson Riddle arrangements for Frank Sinatra, which is what Don is interested in singing. I've helped him procure some of those original arrangements too. So we're at a point where we're ready to put the show together. We're waiting for the booker to book us, we'll do the show and have it taped so it can be pitched to other symphonies. I'm so excited about it. Who knew that I could get this kind of traction at this age? I'm grateful and happy to be in the business and be able to do this kind of stuff. I know the day will come when I stand onstage and start to forget the words, so I think "What am I waiting for?" My husband is very supportive and thankfully we're financially able to do it.

Give us a little tease. What are you doing in the show at Rockwell besides the songs from the album?

I'm doing one piece that's not on the album, but I'm not going to give that away. I haven't really done a show before with more than one special guest. Shawn Ryan is just a hoot, so between him and Don and Joanne Tatham, a singer from the jazz circuit, they all bring something special. It's going to be a great show. It's not like the Ronstadt show or the Billy Barnes show. Those shows are tributes basically to those people. This show is just more like a party and a celebration. It's an opportunity for people to get together and celebrate Christmas in a fun way.

Christmas Is SINGING. Please join me and my very special guests at Rockwell Table + Stage Sunday, December 16, 2018. Ticket link:

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

2018 Santasia Interview

Santasia in LA is a staple show that should not be missed. Brothers Shaun and Brandon Loeser created it and it's about to open on December 7 at the Whitefire Theatre. Shaun took time out of a super busy schedule to tell us about this year's show.

How many years have you guys been selling out this show? I remember it played the Secret Rose, and the Whitmore Lindley before moving to the Whitefire.

Yes, we started at Secret Rose in 2000 and we started selling out the last weekend of that early run. And we kept selling out so we had to find bigger venues…We moved all the way to New York too…We ran at St. Luke’s Theatre Off-Broadway and we sold out there too!!! 188 seats!

We did a Bi-coastal run in LA and NYC for the past 2 years…but this year we decided to slow down and just play Los Angeles.

Without giving away too much, tell our readers a couple of the new sketches.

We have a lot of fun new stuff this year!  We have an “Office Party Drinking Sing Along” …an homage to Christopher Walken entitled “Walken in a Winter Wonderland” and our parody vignette of “Creed”.

What favorites for you remain audience favorites year after year?

Sledding and Snowballs from Hell….those scenes are still so much fun to do. And of course the Musical Numbers…the “Hamilton” spoof is not only funny but it’s really fun to perform and it’s super hip! And of course,7 out of shape middle aged men Dancing the “Full Monty” in Christmas Boxers is both alarming and hilarious. These all remain audience favorites.

What else have you been involved with in the theatre? I noticed Brandon received a BWW nomination this year for a play at the Whitefire. Congrats!

He did?! Wow congrats bro! Brandon is a part of the Whitefire theatre group..And they put up their comedy shorts show twice a year.

What about TV and film? Anything on the horizon?

Yes we got some stuff coming up…I’m in a new Netfix show called “Malibu Rescue”..I play the character “Clive” he’s the comic sidekick to the evil Lifeguard Commander.It’s a teen sitcom it’s really a fun show. I think it starts in February. And you can see Brandon almost every week on "Conan".

Back to the show... Where do the ideas for most of the sketches come from? Are you TV and film addicts?

Most of the ideas are based on real life situations and past holiday experiences. I am addicted to the Rankin and Bass Claymation specials..That’s why we made our own for our show. Also, we’ve always been inspired by "Monty Python”, “The Kids in the Hall” and the “Carol Burnett Show”

Was Christmas the most important holiday in your family growing up? Explain in some detail here.

Yeah Christmas was always important…our parents made Christmas the most special time of year for us. Our Dad used to decorate the house like “Clark Griswald” and our mom decorated the inside of the house with her massive Christmas music box collection. And she usef to bake soo many cookies!

Mention anything you wish that I have not included like your cast and what enjoyment the audience will take away with them.

I’m excited to say we have an awesome and talented cast!  We have 3 new guys joing the crew! …this is a very special “Santasia” show…It’s dedicated to our Mom and Dad this year and was totally built out of love and heart. The audience will take away that fuzzy Christmas feeling and we gurantee they will be laughing all the way to grandma’s house. 

There you have it...straight from creator Shaun's mouth. Santasia opens at the Whitefire in Sherman Oaks on Friday December 7. For additional info and to purchase tix, visit:

(Photo on top is of Shaun Loeser; photo below is of Brandon Loeser)

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Julius Caesar Interview

The Irreverent Shakespeare Project presents an all-female version of Julius Caesar, directed by Heather Ann Gottlieb, produced by Steven Brandon, Mark Laird, Bradley Gosnell, Rachel Rios and Ari Stidham. Director Gottlieb and producer Stidham took time out of their busy schedules and talked with us  about the company and this production of Julius Caesar.

Ari Stidham has been writing and performing music and comedy onstage as well as acting on television for all his adult life. You may know him best as genius Sylvester Dodd on CBS’s “Scorpion” or you may also know his music which he releases as Dr. Television. 

Ari has also produced films that have premiered at Fangoria Fear Con (“Curse of the Siren” - also director) and Sundance Film Festival (“Clara’s Ghost”). Original plays performed in L.A. include Theatricus Americanus (Pack, also director) Dick Duquesne Radio Plays (Open Space) 

Tell our readers about the Irreverent Shakespeare Co.

I started the Irreverent Shakespeare Project with a free invite only event that lasted a few weekends at a house in Tarzana, mainly with friends and collaborators I’d worked with previously. Ashley Tavares, Bradley Gosnell, Rachel Rios, Jordan Stidham and Jake Shillan to be accurate. We put on Midsummer Night’s Dream, twice, and Mark Laird helped us produce it that second time.

Our goal was to produce a take on the Bard’s work that connected with modern audiences. After our first run it was clear we had something to nurture in ISP and the idea to do Caesar came about because of the strong female actors we worked with on Midsummer.

Talk more specifically about Julius Caesar and give us a sneak peek at some of the crazy things you are doing with it.

Specifically bo-staff warfare. I repeat: bo staff fighting and warfare. Something also fun and of note that you can expect is a shorter, more intimate take on Caesar than you may be used to. Our abridged cut moves at a decent clip, as do most ISP shows.

Talk about your music and TV gigs.

Dr. Television is Ari Stidham and vice versa, I released an album called “Jacuzzi Louie” independently and have been playing around LA a bit with my talented band, lead by Hughie Stone Fish (Solo Must Die) - currently I’m composing music to Shakespeare’s lyrics for a production of “Twelfth Night” coming soon from ISP.

Back to the play, if I missed anything, add what you wish. 

Bradley Gosnell, our producer/fight choreographer, co-set designed this production with me, and we tailored to the work to his choreography, he’s really done some great work with the staging of the battle at Phillipi.

Heather (Ann Gottlieb) has done a great job of humanizing the story of these conspirators and finding common ground with modern audiences by casting unique performers and directing clear and different performances, defining our conspirators in a way I’ve never seen before. 

Rachel Rios’ costume design is rich and imaginative, which frames our show in a familiar yet dissonant version of golden Rome.

Tell us about your cast. 

Nefe Iredia is portraying Caesar in this production and she plays him so clearly with such ease, it’s a snapshot of the tyrant I am eager to share with the world. Delaney Milbourn, our Brutus, has a wonderful command of the text and stands out in every show I’ve ever seen her in. Same with Michelle Wicklas, our Antony, who performs regularly at Will Geer’s Botanicum. Also talented actor and performer in her own right, Beverlee Jean, our Octavius, can also be heard hosting Shakey Understanding, her podcast.  It explores Shakespeare’s plays with actors portraying his own characters live and in studio. 

Do you wish to add anything?

A song can change and be performed a million ways, but the story stays the same. So too, with Caesar.

Heather Ann Gottlieb is an award winning playwright and poet. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, at age 10 she began performing in community theatre across the valley, including Phoenix Theatre, Greasepaint, Metro ,and TheaterWorks. 

At age 15, she won the AriZoni Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role (Children's Theater). Her short play The 3 Little Pigs Meet a Chronically Homeless Man was featured at the Artists Speak ceremony in November 2014. 

In 2015, she received her BA in Theatre Arts from Loyola Marymount University. Beth Henley awarded her the department's "Outstanding Achievement in Playwriting" award.  She also regularly competes at Bootleg Theater's Write Club event, raising money for charity through literary bloodsport. 

Tell our readers how you became involved with the Irreverent Shakespeare Co and Julius Caesar.

I was approached by my friend Rachel Rios, ISP’s Costume Designer, about directing Caesar. We were classmates at Loyola Marymount University, and she’s familiar with both my writing/directing styles and feminist agenda. She threw my name into the mix of potential directors, and I’m happy to say it was a fit! I’ve only directed short-form modern pieces, so it was an interesting challenge for my first full-length production to be in verse. I am extremely lucky to have been supported by such a professional, dedicated team.

Talk about your casting.

When discussing casting, Ari and I went back and forth many times before deciding on an all-female cast. In the end, it was the most powerful choice that simultaneously stripped the script of traditional gender-roles and brought clarity to the true driving force of the story: power, the desire and chase for it, and how it changes once you actually get it.

What has been your greatest challenge as director?

Each cast member had a different level of experience with Shakespeare, so we spent a large portion of the rehearsal process doing table-work. For me, it was important to get everyone on the same page about text and dissect themes together. It was also helpful to have Ari and Bradley, who cut the script together, answer questions that arose throughout our bookwork. 

What would you like audiences to take away?

Honestly, I’d love if the audience left thinking “Wow, women are f*cking powerful."

Describe the overall collaboration.

This process has been extremely collaborative. Producer Bradley Gosnell took the reigns for Act V and crafted great combat moments. Ari, our executive producer and ISP’s Creative Director, helped tremendously with dramaturgy and handled production needs. Producer Mark Laird made himself available for costume and prop needs, and costume designer Rachel Rios worked tirelessly from across the country. Jimmy McCammon, our Tech Director, was able to design an entire show top-to-bottom after one two-hour coffee meeting! Also, the cast is full of badass and extremely talented artists. This show is a labor of love and I’m thrilled to share it.

The Irreverent Shakespeare Project is mounting its third production of 2018 with Julius Caesar. Directed by Heather Ann Gottlieb, with a cast of familiar faces from ISP's Midsummer Night's Dream that fill out the bard's tale of conspiracy and intrigue. 

This show is performed outdoors at a private residence in Tarzana on Nov 29, 30, and Dec 1. It's performed outdoors at a private residence  in South Pasadena on Dec 7, 8 and 9. 
The run concludes December 15 at the Hudson Loft, 1200 S. Hope Street, Los Angeles.  

For complete info and to purchase tix, go to:

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

2018 Interview - A Carol Christmas

On November 16, a new musical version of A Christmas Carol entitled A Carol Christmas will open at Group Rep in North Hollywood. Doug Haverty wrote the book and Bruce Kimmel, the music and lyrics. Kimmel is also the director. In the conversation that follows both men discuss the new piece.

Bruce Kimmel, what are your challenges in directing this piece?

BK: As always with a large cast show in 99-seat theater, it's conflicts, endless conflicts. We tried to be clear up front but you just have to know that stuff is going to happen. Early on we cast a swing to cover stuff, so that's been helpful. Otherwise, it's just making sure that everyone is playing the same show, achieving the energy I know the piece needs, and keeping the staging and pace fluid and fast.  

Did you work in close association with Doug (Haverty) in writing the musical numbers? Was it a true collaboration or did you fill in the music by yourself when the script was handed to you?

BK: We had a funny sort of collaboration. He came to me last year with the idea. I normally write by myself, but I thought it would be fun to let someone else do the book and I very much liked the idea of doing a feminized version of A Christmas Carol. He wrote a really long outline, which I read about two lines of and refused to read the rest, as I felt it was too detailed too early and I find, for me at least, that outlines put blinders on people. So, I had an idea for the opening number and asked him to write that sequence first. He presented me with a seventeen page opening scene, I figured out how the song would function within it and we whittled it down to about three pages of actual dialogue that gets done within the song. I love that sort of collaboration. I also knew right away that I wanted to write an anti-I Want song, since it's our female Scrooge. When we got the opening right, then everything was easier and followed pretty quickly.  We had lots of food meetings at the Coral Cafe going through the script, cutting, focusing, all the usual stuff. So it was a true collaboration, although there were times I just knew a certain song would be good for a sequence and we'd shape the scene around it when that happened. Once the writing began in earnest, it all went very quickly.

Why do you think this Dickens piece is timeless and still so appealing?

BK: I think it's timeless and appealing because we've all known people like Scrooge (or in our show, Carol) or we've even been Scrooge-like ourselves. And I think people really respond to the fact that a grouchy old grump can see the error of his/her ways and change for the better and realize that nice is as wonderful a commodity as money.

Tell us about your cast..

BK: We were able to put together a wonderful cast using quite a few Group Rep members and going outside for only a few roles. A lot of people who would have normally auditioned for this already had holiday plans, which is why we ultimately had to have a few outside folks. The Group Rep was also gracious enough and trusting enough that they allowed me to bring in my set and costume people from Levi to do this show, which I very much appreciated.  And because using a real onstage band wasn't feasible for budget reasons, I hired my long-time musical director, Richard Allen, to not only MD but to create the tracks for the show. They're really great and we have a great sound design team as well to make sure the balance is good, which is always the problem when using tracks.  
We hope everyone will come out to spend the holidays with us - it's a very upbeat and fun show, perfect for the family. And these days, we'll take all the upbeat we can get.

Doug Haverty, tell us about the challenges of turning Scrooge into a woman and setting it today.

DH: There have been productions where Scrooge was played by a woman and there have been adaptations where Scrooge was a woman. Setting it in the present actually makes it easier to believe that a woman could be a business owner and have fallen into the trap of getting greedy as they try to run a company. One of my favorite things about the original is the three ghosts as well as the ghost of Marley. Somehow it’s easier to accept ghosts in a story from hundreds of years ago in faraway London. I think we’re more skeptical today. So, I’ve followed the same ghostly structure, but none of them are actual “ghosts.” Jacob Marley (here named Joelle) has recently passed away and as part of her will has set this Christmas Eve adventure into play. We meet her via a pre-recorded DVD. So, in a way this character is reaching out from the grave, but not in a supernatural way. And the three visits she sets up are from people our Scrooge has already met: Ghost of Christmas past is a regressional therapist who hypnotizes our Scrooge/Carol and takes her back in time; our Ghost of Christmas present is an herbalist who dispenses a special, powerful tea that helps people see their lives with crystal clarity; and the Ghost of Christmas future is a Tarot card reader. What successful, modern day mogul does not consult the Tarot?

Tell us about your past associations with Dickens at Group Rep.

DH: In 2009, we did a newer musical version at Group Rep (under the direction of then Artistic Director, Ernest Figueroa). It was unusual, poetic with lots of additional Dickensian prose culled from other essays. The ghosts were puppets. I played Bob Cratchit and it was so gratifying to tell this story during the holidays. So, I thought I would try to make a new musical version and make it contemporary. While it’s wonderful escapism to go back to jolly old England and watch Scrooge in despicable action, there’s definitely a separation. We think, “Oh, there’s no one that extreme nowadays.” And that got me thinking. Are there people out there who would never consider themselves a “Scrooge,” and I think that maybe there are.

Many of my plays have female protagonists, so I thought it would be fun to explore that. I know there are adaptations where Scrooge has been turned into a woman. But I wanted to go a step further; I’ve taken all the major characters from the short story and made them women. And our Scrooge, Carol, does not see herself as a penny-pincher. She is just a driven, successful female entrepreneur who has been forced to be stingy with her time. And she ultimately learns (by visiting the past, looking deeper into the present and looking ahead) that she can be even more successful if she immerses herself into the lives of the people working for her and to enjoy life and its simple pleasures.

Our Carol/Scrooge does not hate Christmas, per se, she doesn’t like the slow down and apathy that accompanies the holidays. People start being less productive because of “the holidays.” In her I Want song, she suggests that Christmas come every four years (like Olympics and elections) so they’d be more special. I’m hoping that people today will actually identify with her.

Why does the Dickensian plot grab people year after year?

DH: Many people have said that it’s the perfect plot. You have a major character who just wants to be left alone and then has an epiphany and realizes the life he’s missing and that there’s great joy in generosity. We all love a major change in a character and there’s great fun in knowing the story and seeing him gradually learn and change. We’ve tried to follow this plot carefully with (hopefully) just a few new curves to let it have its own flavor.

What do you think is the takeaway?

DH: This is like watching a story we all know and love and seeing it dressed up in new surroundings. I hope people find it refreshing. There’s so much negativity out in the world, I wanted to offer something affirming, charming, comfortable and moving. I’ve always had a soft spot for Tiny Tim, his bravery and appreciation of the smallest gifts. I love the way Scrooge’s heart melts when he realizes Tim’s plight and the bond that is formed between the two. In our story, Tim is Trina and she is similar in the plight and how she bonds with Carol/Scrooge.

Are you happy with Bruce Kimmel's music?

DH: Bruce Kimmel’s songs are pure magic. They’re all beautifully crafted with a wry sense of humor. Sometimes we see new musicals and the songs all sound alike. That is definitely not the case here. Kimmel’s songs are all unique, catchy and winning. I predict that audiences will love this music.

Anything you care to add?

DH: I hope that people leave the theater with renewed hope and refreshed and look at their own lives and appreciate what they have and ask themselves if there’s anything they could do to improve the lives of people around them. Change is refreshing and the joy contagious.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

2018 Interview with Cate Caplin

Cate Caplin has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions and her work has been seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials and in theatrical venues world wide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She is a 34 times Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion, is a published writer and has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women In Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. 

Tell me about this production of She Loves Me and what challenges your directing.  

I've always loved this musical. It's beautifully written, artfully constructed, classically romantic, and it's funny in an extremely welcomed way, especially during difficult political times like these... I think the most challenging part of this process quite honestly has been scheduling!  We are blessed with a superb cast, wonderful chemistry between all the players and a particularly positive, joyful and cooperative manner of creatively collaborating. That should be a "given" in all productions but sadly it is not always the case (!) so I am extremely grateful to have that dynamic during our rehearsal process ... but this has definitely been THE most difficult show I have ever experienced in regard to conflicts and scheduling around commitments out of town, work obligations, unexpected booked gigs, and surprise unavailability, and I have quite honestly been going a bit nuts trying to keep the flow and continuity going for the ones who actually ARE present on a consistent basis!  With a situation like this, the name of the game is to keep finessing the details that need attention with the ones who are there and trust that collectively, the pieces of the puzzles will continue to refine and settle into their happy place! Some times it comes down to sheer will, focus and tenacity to pull these things together! 

Musically this is a lovely show. What do you find fascinating about it?  

The music in this show truly advances the plot and the strength of the text is felt throughout the journey of the story unfolding. The characters reveal dimension and a mixture of qualities and shifts in personality more so than some roles in other "old fashioned" musicals. There are more real moments of anger, vulnerability, uncertainty, bewilderment and frustration than you see in a typical feel good musical yet at the same time, the style of comedy is often heightened, almost borderline cartoon-like in sensibilities. It's a fun line to walk artistically .

There is less dancing in this show. What does the choreography add to the story?  

This may have "less dancing" than a show like 42nd Street but to me, all moments of musical staging are a form of dance. I think the challenge is to make musicalized scenes look seamlessly organic evolving out of the action of the scene. Sometimes that is a trickier assignment than a traditional musical number. Looking for the right balance of choreographed moves laced with natural behavior of the character and blending those worlds so it doesn't look too stagey or not carved out specifically enough is the hard part. Some numbers are still in process as I see the actors exploring and trying different things with the given lyrics and others are more clear when the moves make sense and are married to the lyrics and the action of the scene and I then "lock" them in.  The choreography adds humor, theatrics and musicalized punctuation throughout and the "art part" is finding a way to enhance those colors and details without taking you out of the story.

What is your favorite show...that you have worked on?  Why this choice?  

Many moons ago (!) I was brought into the revival of West Side Story in NY, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein - need I say more?! This was an absolute highlight of my career, and besides being one of the all time best musicals ever written, working on that show with those artists was a thrill of a lifetime. I went on to tour Italy and France with the show, always in 15-20,000 seat Amphitheaters and glorious Opera Houses, always with a magnificently full sized orchestra playing that heavenly music. 

Do you have an overall favorite musical?  

That's a very tough question, I love so many but West Side Story may be my number one choice because of my history with the show.There are others that I love for different reasons, Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Light in the Piazza, the list goes on....!

Is there a show you really long to direct? 

There are many shows on my Director "Wish List",  musicals, straight plays and comedies.... A few off the top include Kenneth Lonergan's "Lobby Hero", Anna Ziegler's play "Actually", "Tennessee William's "Glass Menagerie", Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird",  there are many more....

I wish you would put together a one person show about your life. You have so much to enchant us with. Any desire to do that? 

I can't say that it is something I've ever seriously considered. I so love being on the other side of the table now and take great pleasure in coaching dancers and actors and designing and collaborating with other artists and designers..That seems to be my strongest pull and inspiration at the moment but you never know what will lead to what on this creative path! Maybe elements of my story will come out in my future writing and personal projects on stage or in film, we'll see....

What else are you involved with at the moment that you care to share?  

I am currently in pre-production for Georgette Kelly's play, "I Carry Your Heart" which I will be directing at 59 E 59th street in the spring of 2019.
I am very excited to finally have an opportunity to direct in NY, something I have wanted to do for a long time now. We have selected our design team and are now proceeding with casting. Day One we received over 800 submissions for 6 roles. Here we go, the adventure continues....!!!

Anything you wish to add about why audiences should come out to see this production of She Loves Me?

There is nothing like good natured comedy and a warm hearted love story to brighten anyone's day. We've worked hard on this delicious confection and we're delighted and looking forward to sharing it with our theatrical family and friends.