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.