Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 Interview with Suzy London

Actress/singer Suzy London loves her work with a passion. She is one of those gifted performers who can do a role brilliantly in a play onstage and ... perform equally well in cabaret. In our conversation she tells our readers about how different one arena is from the other. She will do her brand new cabaret show Tattoos on My Heart at Sterling's Upstaris at the Federal on Sunday January 19, 2020. The show is described as an evening of country, bluesy, jazzy tunes. London relates to us with great humor about singing country.

Tell our readers about your new cabaret Tattoos on My Heart. Is it different from you other cabaret shows? If so, how?

SL: It is different, first of all because of the venue for one reason. And...anytime you do a cabaret, you can't just take a show as it is and put it into a place where it's not going to fly. You have to look at the kind of audience you're going to have and what that's going to be like. For instance, there are people in the audience who are drinking and sometimes eating, and so that limits their attention span. If they're there with a group of people, maybe they're talking, so what you do is you have to grab them and keep them or you're not going to be listened to.

I did this show specifically for the Federal. I've never done this show before. I had had great success at the theatre (Group Rep) doing the theatre version of my previous show Around the World with Suzy London. That's where I sang in twelve different styles of twelve different languages. It was sort of autobiographical of my experiences around the world. When I went to the Federal and looked around, I realized it was not the right place for that show, because it had slides and it was a more theatrical production.

How did your musical director play into all of this decision making?

SL: I talked about it with him - Robert Brandzel, and this place lends itself to something light, something fun and something funny. I have had some funny experiences with singing country music because I am a classically trained singer.. Yet, I ended up writing country jingles for a while when I was in Las Vegas. I knew nothing about country but, hey, I got the job. I did a lot of demos for country singers.

Also, right now, you have to take into consideration what is happening in the city you're in, the world you're in, and it's very strifeful. There's a lot of strife going on, a lot of unhappiness going on. I think the number one thing about entertainment is just sort of take people out of the drudgery and misery and upset. So, I wanted to do something that is light and fun. There's a lot of comedy in this show. I do a couple of novelty numbers and a couple of comedy numbers. A good laugh goes a long way.

Robert Brandzel is a joy to work with. I've worked with him for years. I met him when I was hired to do Buttercup in H. M. S. Pinafore. Even though I'm very thin, we did a very thin, skinny Buttercup with humongous breasts. We've done many shows together around town since. We don't even need to speak, we know exactly where we need to go with the music. He listens to me and says, "This isn't feeling right to me. We need to change this." He's a joy...everything about this show has been lighthearted and fun. I think when you get up to perform it, that carries across to the audience and becomes infectious. We need that right now. I'm very excited. There are several songs that I wrote. I put together the flow of  the show with the stories. I do have funny stories about ending up singing country songs in foreign countries. They had no idea what they heard; it's just American to them. (we laugh)

What is your goal with this show? 

SL: This show is meant for a place where people are having some food, drinks and fun. Just the experience of doing it is a joy for me.

It sounds like it may be perfect for cruise ships.

SL: It would be.  That's a good idea. It is very self-contained. I don't need anything but me and the band.

What is the high point for you doing cabaret?

SL: It's much more personal. When you do theatre, you can hide in the character you're playing. and you can let your emotions come out as the other character. But in cabaret, that is not going to work. You cannot have that mask. You have to expose yourself. You have to expose your painful, hurting side, your laissez faire who gives a damn side...your soul, and get through it with a sense of humor. I get through life because I laugh about it.

That's great advice. Do you have a favorite cabaret performer?

SL: I love Liza Minnelli. I know her. Many years ago I met her at an AmfAR Aids Benefit
Man, she really puts herself out there, and I admire that. She just lets it show. And she's a very sweet person. I was taken to see a show of hers when I was a kid, and it was magical. That's I think one of the things that inspired me. And what a small world, Robert Brandzel worked with Liza as well in the beginning of her cabaret career. He thought she needed honing, but had something very special.

 I love Liza too! Let's switch to acting. You are so good at doing big, bold, down.trodden characters, truly bringing them to life onstage. You cement the nitty.gritty of the role you are playing. Do you have a favorite role?

SL: I always enjoy doing musicals. I love singing and dancing, so of course I loved the role I played in The Ghost of Gershwin.  I also enjoyed doing Steppin Out at Group Rep directed and choreographed by Stan Mazin. She was a character with a very interesting arc. I always like characters that have a really clear, distinct arc. I'll tell you right now I am working on a fabulous show about Tallulah Bankhead called Looped, in which she loops dialogue for the film Die Die, My Darling!

I saw that. You would bring a lot to that role.

SL: Thank you. I'm having such fun. I'm hoping to do it somewhere. Bankhead is so outrageous.
As I've been working on Looped. I've found something very interesting. I wondered why Tallulah made such a religious reference and then I saw the film Die Die, My Darling! that the looping was about. In it she's a religious fanatic in that role. Then I got it about her as a person and as an actress. She was the type who became the person and let it influence her, and let it influence her in her private life ...  and it came out in the recording session. By the way, a lot of Looped is taken from the actual recordings of that day when she went to loop that line. It has told me a lot about her as a person, how she sort of becomes the character and imbues everything in her life.

Do you have a mentor? Someone that inspired you, other than Liza?

SL: You know who I also admire because I have seen her work on film and onstage...Annette Bening. She is amazing. You see the kind of vocal skill and control that she's got. You have to be able to project onstage without it looking like you're projecting, and withoiut affecting the tone of the character or what you're trying to say. She's brilliant. She's definitely an inspiration.

What would you like audiences to say about you? She was...

SL: Fun. She was so fun. That was such a great night.

Remember Suzy London in Tattoos on My Heart, Sunday January 19 at 7 pm. Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal is located on the second floor at 5303 Lankershim Blvd in NoHo.

For tix call (800) 838-3006 or go to
Sup011920.brownpapertickets.com



Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019 Interview with Patrick Burke

Actor/director Patrick Burke is nominated for a BWW Award for his outstanding direction of Avenue Q at Group Rep this past summer. This interview shows his deep connection to the show and desire to move it forward.


You’ve been an active member of the Group Rep for years, as an actor and producer.  The Group Rep is not known for having musicals on their season schedules.  How did Avenue Q get on the 2019 Season Schedule?

PB: I have just always had a passion for Avenue Q since I saw it on Broadway in August of 2003.  At the Group Rep, members are encouraged to present projects which are performed in front of the company following the Monday night membership meeting. I approached fellow member Paul Cady, a wonderful pianist, and discovered that he loved the show too. Our Co-Artistic Directors and the Artistic council enjoyed the presentation and decided to put it in the 2019 season.

How did you prepare to direct a musical?  

PB: I have performed in many musicals myself and learned a great deal from the men and women that have directed me.  For this particular show my puppeteer training was a plus. I trained with both Kevin Carlson and the late Michael Earl, both had worked extensively with the Henson Company. Kevin Carlson still puppeteers in Henson Company films.  The late Michael Earl worked on "Sesame Street" in the 60s and 70s.

Is this your first BWW Award nomination? Regardless, how do you feel about it?

PB: I was nominated as an actor for my role as Eddie in Lost In Yonkers It is always amazing to be recognized.

Is acting always going to be first with you, or might you continue to direct?


PB: Acting is my priority. However, I really enjoyed directing and most definitely will do it again.

You put your soul into Avenue Q. Might you revive it at some point, if not at Group Rep then at some other theatre?

PB: I would love to revive it. I have all the puppets. I am sure people are tired of hearing me say it but I just love this show.

I understand you created puppets for The Man Who Came to Dinner -  penguins? -  as well. Is that true?

PB: No I was not involved in The Man Who Came To Dinner. I hear it is a wonderful production and I am looking forward to seeing it.


To read more about Patrick Burke and  especially his puppetry background, go to the link below to see an interview I did with him during the run of AVENUE Q last tummer..

Monday, December 23, 2019

2019 Interview with Doug Haverty

Actor/playwright Doug Haverty will become Group Rep's new artistic director in January 2020. In our conversation he tells our readers in great detail about the upcoming season and talks in depth about his vision for the theater.

How long have you been a member of Group Rep?

DH: I started in 1983, so 36 years.


What is it about being in the theater that drives you onward and upward?



DH: I guess I enjoy the challenge of it, the pushing that huge rock up a very steep hill and audience reaction when you get the rock up on that hill. I recently went to see one of my plays in Zurich, Switzerland. The producers wanted to introduce me before the show and I requested that they do that afterward. I just wanted to feel how the play went without the audience knowing an author was in the theater. The play was being performed in English and most people in Zurich speak French, German and then maybe some English. I had no idea how it would be received. I was very pleasantly surprised because they got every single joke. They were listening really intently. I didn’t know anyone there. No friends in the audience cheering, no supporters, no one. And I was struck by the question: what other artist gets to sit with an audience, anonymously, while that audience react to their art? Naturally, there are other elements impacting an audience’s reaction; actors, delivery, direction, etc. But it was pretty cool. If you’re a painter and you have a painting up in a gallery or a museum, a patron probably studies your piece for 10-20 seconds, silently. I got two hours of uproarious laughter and applause. It’s rare and I guess that audience reaction is what drives me.

Is Lonny Chapman's mission for the Group Rep theater still vital to the theater's operation?

DH: It will be because I intend to re-establish his playwrights unit and develop new plays and musicals with the same process that he used when I first joined in 1983.


You were in many of the plays this past season.

DH: Gosh, did it seem like that? I was in THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, LOOSE KNIT, and MAN/DINNER (downstairs) and NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS and OTHERWISE ENGAGED (upstairs). But we did 12 shows this season.

I know you work exceedingly hard for the company...

DH: Yes, as do others. We are a completely volunteer-run organization, so many people wear many hats and devote a lot of time to the running of the theater. It’s kind of cool when you stop to think about it; that there’s that kind of unselfish cooperation and like-minded goal orientation.

As the new artistic director what is your overall goal?

DH: I am going to try and maintain the status quo, initially. I’d like it to be a seamless transition. I have been on the Artistic Council for Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield and suggesting shows and reading plays and discussing themes, so I plan to keep that the same. As I mentioned earlier, I am going to re-establish Lonny’s playwrights unit and develop new plays and musicals. Chris Winfield has contributed immensely to the overall production of sets and the facility. Having him depart leaves a huge hole. I am going to look to young designers to give us creative, unusual and suggestive sets, so there may be a slightly different look to the shows, simply because we won’t be able to erect the majestic sets that Chris has built for us.


Do you see areas that need improvement?

DH: There is always room for improvement. I hope that each show will be a slight improvement on the previous one. I’m going to try and develop audience beyond our current reach.

What is your plan of attack?


DH: I would love to be able to improve/clean-up/spruce up our physical space. We are going to have to be very creative in how we raise the funds to accomplish this, but it’s a goal.


Are you happy with the play selections from season to season?

DH: I am pleased with the play selections because I was involved; although Larry and Chris did make the final decisions.

Do you think audiences have been pleased or do you need to cater more toward their likes and dislikes?


DH: For the most part, I think they have been pleased. Larry and Chris would usually do 4 or 5 safe bets and then a riskier play. For the first season under my watch, I am trying to present plays we can do well, plays that audiences will want to see (we hope) and plays that have not been over-exposed.


My personal feeling is the need for variety. Not too much Shakespeare but definitely some classics; not too much Neil Simon but maybe an array of Ayckbourn, Simon and some newer comedic and dramatic playwrights.

DH:: I love all those writers, especially Neil Simon and Alan Ayckbourn. And, I agree, variety is needed. What I discovered in arranging the 2020 season is that many new, modern, hip plays are not available to us because we are in Los Angeles. So, another challenge gets heaped on the pile.

Also, you need to attract a younger audience.

DH: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a delicate balance to keep our current audiences satisfied while trying to attract a younger demographic. We’ve tried to do that previously and our marketing campaign must have mis-fired because we didn’t reach that audience.

Is there a plan to bring some newer faces to the board who might express their opinions for change?


DH: We have a new, wonderful on-line marketing manager, Kristin Stancato, and I firmly believe she will be able to help us expand our audience beyond our current status.


Talk about the season coming up in detail.

DH: I am so excited about our new season. I appointed a five person Artistic Council and we looked at a lot of plays and musicals. 2020 is an election year and there will be lots of mud-slinging and speechifying and political craziness. So, we set out to find plays that would offer great escapism, so that our audiences could get away from Breaking News and all things political. We wanted to find plays that we could do well, that audiences would like to see (that haven’t been overdone) and plays that have some kind of feel-good, which will — we hope — engender good word-of-mouth.

We start out with a play that is near and dear to me. It’s a play I wrote and it was the first full-length play presented in our current facility. It’s called IN MY MIND’S EYE and it was the play I initially submitted to Lonny Chapman, and he developed it through his play development process. This play is a love story/memory play based on true events. A teacher of mine inspired it. My first day of junior high, was her first day of teaching and she was legally blind. Even then, I recognized that this was a brave woman. She fell in love with the English teacher next door. The play also deals with the blind teacher’s mother who has grown dependent on her special needs offspring.

Then we return to the world of Neil Simon. Mr. Simon inspired me as a young playwright and I even got to meet him when he was a guest speaker at his brother’s (Danny) writing class where I was a student. We are doing his LONDON SUITE, which is similar in structure to PLAZA SUITE and CALIFORNIA SUITE. It’s four unique plays that just happen to take place in the same suite in London. We also get to re-visit Sydney and Diana (whom we met in CALFIORNIA SUITE). Many people have not even heard of this play, so we are hoping people will enjoy discovering rather unfamiliar Simon wonderfulness. They are reviving PLAZA SUITE on Broadway with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. When they announced the production, Broderick said, “We all need a little Neil Simon now.” And we’re hoping that is true.

Then we’re doing a big, Broadway musical. This musical won the Tony Award in 1970, so this is its 50th Anniversary. Based on “All About Eve,” this musical is APPLAUSE. It has a wonderful score (by Charles Strouse who wrote BYE BYE BIRDIE and ANNIE), full of musical comedy classics and a sharp, witty book (written by Comden & Green who wrote ON THE TOWN and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN). It’s a huge show and rarely done because it has so many mammoth production requirements. We’re going to do very theatrical presentation that still lets it live in all its glory.

TO GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO by Joanna McClelland Glass will follow that. I saw this play in the early 90s on Broadway with Eva LaGalliene and Kim Hunter. I loved it. When I was working with the Colony, Barbara Beckley asked me to recommend a great American family drama and I told her about this play. Her subscribers loved it and she thanked me profusely every time I saw her after that. It’s about Grannie who’s trying to cope with widowhood and retirement and suddenly all her middle-aged children have to move back home due to financial hardships. So, it’s about that and also claiming your life and following your bliss regardless of what age you start. I think it’s even more timely today than it was when it originally presented.

I love mysteries and thrillers. We tried to get THE DESPERATE HOURS last year and it wasn’t available, but this year it is! This is a classic thriller, really well written about an all-American family who is held hostage in their own home by bank-robbers on the run. Based on the best seller by Joseph Hayes, the Broadway version starred Paul Newman and the film version starred Frederick March. Father, mother, daughter and son are captive and try to prevail over a terrifying situation. And the conclusion is breathtaking.

We close the season with a wonderful holiday treat by Ken Ludwig (who wrote LEND ME A TENOR). It’s part murder mystery, part thriller, part farce and part Christmas play. It’s called THE GAME’S AFOOT (HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS) and it’s wonderfully theatrical and unpredictable. Ludwig is known for zany plays and this is no exception. We hope it will be the perfect holiday alternative confection for theatergoers.

That’s our mainstage season. We are also planning exciting things for Upstairs-At-The Group as well. We will start the season up there with TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. Our current Artistic Director performed beautifully in this play last year at Sierra Madre Playhouse with direction by L. Flint Esquerra. So, we will be bringing this touching human story to North Hollywood.

We are continuing our series called NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS upstairs too. Writers from around the world submit ten-minute plays and we select nine. This has been a very successful endeavor and we hope it will continue to thrive.

When our building at 10900 Burbank opened in August 1984, our very first production was a program of one-acts called MOTEL 66. The plays were all written by our members (as opposed to Nine Winning One Acts which are outside submissions). The set is the exterior courtyard of a motel along Route 66, any city, any year.

Then we will close out the season upstairs with ORPHAN’S REVENGE, which is a good, olde-fashioned, musical melodrama complete with villain, hero, heroine and lively songs. This was done at Group Rep previously, written by one of our members and was tremendously successful. We’re hoping to repeat that rollicking success.

Change comes slowly if it is to be at all effective. What do you hope to accomplish in 2020?

DH: I hope to build our audiences, expand our audience and become the theater known for creating exciting new material (plays and musicals). I’d love it if people started coming to us to find new material.


Tell us about the award nominations for A Carol Christmas for BWW and Ovation Awards. Great show; you should be very proud!

DH: Yes, very proud of our BroadwayWorld Nominations for A CAROL CHRISTMAS. I was immensely proud of all aspects of that production. And equally thrilling was that we got to make an Original Cast Recording at Village Recorders (in the same studio where Fleetwood Mac recorded their iconic “Tusk” lp). It was very exciting for all involved and the CD sounds stunning.

It’s also very exciting to receive Ovation nominations for Book and Music/Lyrics. The Ovation voters are very tough and very critical, so just to have it nominated is really quite an honor.


Visit Doug at:

www.thegrouprep.com

Sunday, December 15, 2019

2019 Interview with Kristin Towers Rowles

Actress Kristin Towers Rowles is also an amazing director. She is nominated this year for two BWW Awards. In the conversation that follows she talks about acting, directing and the meaningful choices she has made in her career so far.

(Kristin Towers Rowles, second from left)


Congratulations on your BWW Award nominations! Tell our readers in what categories you received them.

Thank you. I'm nominated for Best Actress in a Play (Local) for playing Hattie in Laundry and Bourbon at Group Rep and as Director of a Play (Local) for Directing the World Premiere of The Lost Virginity Tour at The McCadden Place Theatre.

If you had to choose winning one, which would that be? Why this choice?

That's a really difficult question..I am an actress, first and foremost. Even though I've done mostly Musical Theatre, my first love and what I feel I am best at is acting. I come from a family of performers so it's not so much a choice, it's who I am and what I know.

But I am also a Director...I became a director by just doing it...I've been in over 200 shows as a performer so I've learned by watching, gleening from the great people I've been blessed to work with. It was on-the-job training...so I feel the Directing Award nomination is even that much more prestigious. I took a show that had never been done and created an entire world. It was the World Premiere and it launched the show into orbit (more on that later). Actors who work with me as a Director say that they love my style...I approach everything from the ground up, I encourage "play", I am on their team.

Tell us about your next major stage project.

This is a really great time to answer that question!! As an actress, I was just offered a role in the long running show, The Manor produced thru Theatre 40 at The Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Directed by the Brilliant Martin Thompson. I recently became a company member at Theatre 40 and this will be my first show with them. For more info, please go to www.theatre40.org

I am directing Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party at The Morgan-Wison in Santa Monica. This show is an incredible, sizzling 20s musical, perfect to usher in the new Roaring 20s. The show runs March 14-April 11, 2020 at the Morgan-Wixson. www.morgan-wixson.org.

I am so elated to announce that after directing the World Premiere of The Lost Virginity Tour in Los Angeles, I am being hired to direct the Franchise and National Tour. The writer, Cricket Daniel, was given the opportunity to take her show nationally by Jeanie Linders, who created Menopause the Musical. She chose me to be her Director. We had a blast developing the show in LA with our original cast and team. I'm very excited that this show has legs and will be seen on such a National scale. And that it's about older women...women in the age range of these characters have such rich stories to tell..this show celebrates them.

Talk about caroling this Christmas. You look amazing in your beautiful pre 20th century caroler costume. How many gigs do you do?

This is my 20th year working for the company I carol with, The Voices of Christmas. Many people assume that it is something that we do just for fun, but no it is actually a job and a very lucrative one. I spend most of my evenings in December at The Tam O'Shanter in Atwater Village or Lawry's in Beverly Hills. People come from all over California to dine and hear the carols... it's amazing! We also do Private events/Holiday Parties, office parties, wrap parties for TV shows...I've sung at Disney and been drawn by a Disney Animator. I've Christmas Caroled on the arm of a famous Rapper...it's a fun job and it brings joy to people...and I get to sing great music in a quartet with some of LA'S finest vocalists. Check us out at www.voicesofchristmas.com

If you had to choose, would you be a director or an actor? Why?

I have been asked this question so many times...I love both of my jobs so much!! I do know that if I absolutely HAD to give up one of the things I love, it would be directing because I can't imagine a life without performing. It's just a part of me. Luckily, I don't have to choose. I get to do both and I truly feel that one art form informs the other...my acting is given so much perspective because of my directing and my directing benefits from my knowledge as an actress. People want us all to do one thing only...why?? I'm good at both so I'm going to keep going. This is my unique path.

What project do you really want to do in the not too distant future?

I am in talks with a wonderful director in town to do The Bridges of Madison County and play Francesca. It is my dream role and it's perfect for where I am at right now...I'm a mom of teens, I'm not a 20 year old ingenue and I'm not "older"...and I'm a soprano...most modern musicals ignore true sopranos so it's something that is right for my sound. It's got one of the most gorgeous scores, written by Jason Robert Brown. I'm really hoping it happens.

Talk about the support of your family and their involvement in the industry. Cite your amazing daughters and their accomplishments.

I am very lucky to have an incredible support system..my husband, Ryan, is a musician and a music teacher. He plays 17 instruments proficiently! We have 3 beautiful daughters Ryanna (15), Makayla (14) and Amelya (12) all of our kids are artists in their own way. My older daughter is a visual artist/animator and a stage manager! She loves all things tech. My youngest daughter is a singer with a beautiful Soprano sound and a Kung Fu master...my middle daughter Makayla is my mini me. She is a Musical Theatre girl and she's currently studying Improv and Theatre in an Arts School in Downtown LA. All different, all talented in their own way.

Part of what keeps me going is knowing that my daughters are watching me. They have an example of a mom who continued to live her dreams, even after having children. This business is not kind to women as we age and I feel so fortunate for each and every opportunity to continue creating. Thanks to my friends and family who support my unconventional and on-the-go life. And thanks for your questions!
(Kristin with her husband and three daughters)
https://www.kristintowers-rowles.com/

Friday, December 13, 2019

2019 Interview with Doug Engalla

A Twisted Christmas Carol marks Doug Engalla's eighth production as Director at The Group Rep. Doug has worked with Phil Olson since 1997 on a number of productions, including five World Premieres in the Don't Hug Me series (most recently, as director of Don't Hug Me, We're Family in 2018), as well as the 2016 World Premiere of A Nice Family Christmas (featuring Tony Award-nominated actor, Marcia Rodd) at The Group Rep. A Twisted Christmas Carol is Doug's sixth World Premiere as Director with Phil Olson. Doug's cast of Phil Olson's A Nice Family Gathering - also in 2016 at The Group Rep - earned a Best Ensemble, Small Theatre nomination from the NAACP Theatre Awards. Doug's previous directing project at the Group Rep was for Neil Simon's Rumors in 2018. He is preparing to open A Twisted Christmas Carol this Sunday December 15.



You have such a great rapport with Phil Olson. Tell our readers about that.

DE: Well, for one thing, Phil and I are pretty close in age; only a few months apart. So, when it comes to comedy, I think we're not only similar by generation, but also by the mutual appreciation of the same kind of whacky, almost non-sequitur humor. There are times when we've worked on a project together, including this one; and during rehearsal notes, one of us will come up with something that we will both have had, in our separate notes. I also believe that the author should be present as we rehearse and develop the project. Phil has a specific vision and idea of timing. I learn from Phil with every project.

How many of his plays have you directed? Is there a favorite?

DE: I've directed a total of seven of his feature-length plays, one of his short plays, and co-directed one on which he collaborated with entertainer, Wayland Pickard. Of the seven feature plays, six are World Premieres. Whenever Phil has a new project coming, I never assume that he'll ask me to direct it, even after all of these years. But when he does ask, I am delighted, because I love his writing style. I also say, Yes.

I have several favorites of Phil's that I've directed; but, the one that holds very close to me, was the opportunity to direct A Nice Family Gathering in 2016. I co-produced (with Art Shulman) the World Premiere of that show at the Group Rep in 2001, and it was produced again in 2007 there. I knew that this is, to date, Phil's most personal work, as the characters were based on his own family; mixed with doses of humor, pathos, and whimsy, and I had always wanted to direct it. Not only did I get that opportunity, we switched out the original Norwegian-American family in the play and had an African-American cast, with very little change to the dialogue, and its poignancy unchanged.

In detail talk about the challenges you face in directing A Twisted Christmas Carol. Also, what similarities do you see here with the characters in the Don't Hug Me musicals.

DE: I was involved with the World Premiere of A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol as Co-Producer (with Stefanie Ibanez) and I also performed in the show as an alternate. Since A Twisted Christmas Carol is based on this episode in the Don't Hug Me series, I felt more connected to this material than I would for a new episode of Don't Hug Me. Early in the rehearsal process for Twisted, I would occasionally refer to one of the characters by their Don't Hug Me name! So, I do turn to my past experience to support the new show, and after that, find a way to make it a little different from its predecessor. Sometimes, though, you really do need to mirror what was done when A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol premiered in 2006.

To that end, all of the characters are very nearly direct transfers of the regular characters in the Don't Hug Me series, by their core definition. Phil and I understand their characters very well, even when placed outside of wild and wonderful Bunyan Bay, Minnesota; because we've learned that everyone shares the same feelings and basic human responses to their various situations.

Tell us about the actors playing the Scrooge character and the ghosts.

DE: Buford Johnson, our story's Scrooge, is played by Van Boudreaux, who is a longtime member of the Group Rep company. Van played the role of real-life Lou Costello in The Group Rep's 1995 production of Lou's on First; and I am happy to be working with him at long last. Van is funny, boisterous, and is a fountain of stories and information; the opposite of Buford's emotionally and financially reserved, cranky character. But, that's a testament to how Van takes Buford on his journey of transformation. As for the three ghosts, Phil used the same concept as he did in A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol, by putting all three into the persona of Buford's rival of his own imagining - in this case, his former business partner, Hank Walker; who is played by the very talented Paul Cady, another longtime Group Rep member. This is also the first time I've worked with Paul; who is, in fact, from Texas.

Does Dickens' story hold up in substance or is A Twisted Christmas Carol mostly a lot of belly laughs?

DE: A Twisted Christmas Carol has belly laughs, to be sure, and not a day of rehearsal goes by without us laughing uproariously. But like much of Phil's work, there's some heart. There are no pretensions to this being a direct adaptation, but the themes of transformation and redemption, along with looking at what would happen if we made different choices in our lives, is still of the Dickensian cloth. It's about finding the real joy in our lives, which is often located where we see it the least; which is either right in front of us or in someone near to us.

Do you wish to add anything?

DE: A Twisted Christmas Carol is one of two shows to close out the Group Rep's 45th consecutive season, and it also comes at the conclusion of a decade-long tenure of Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield. I'm beyond words in expressing my gratitude to them, and the opportunities they have given to me, as well as their leadership to the Group Rep. Doug Haverty, who steps in as Artistic Director beginning next season, is a longtime member and colleague, and I'm looking forward to taking the next steps with the Company, under his creative leadership.

A Twisted Christmas plays December 15 - January 12. Saturdays at 4:00 pm. Sundays at 7:00 pm. Talk-backs after Sunday shows 12/21 and 01/04. For tickets and information: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Upstairs at the Group Rep on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. The Upstairs venue is not handicapped accessible.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

2019 Interview with Rosyln Cohn

Actress Roslyn Cohn is remarkably versatile. She is nominated for a BWW Award this year for The Sound of Murder at Theatre 40. In our converrsation she tells our readers about her work and who and what she admires in the acting profession.




Tell us about your BWW nomination for The Sound of Murder at Theatre 40. What kind of character did you play?

RC: I was excited to get a nomination for this show as we didn't get the amount of reviews we should have in my opinion. It was a very good production with clever and clean direction by Adrian Cohen. I played, Eileen Forbes, a British "spinster" who in the end goes through a big character twist and reveals a psychosis. One of the most fun roles I've had a chance to play. I hated to say goodbye to her.

You have been nominated for at least 5 Awards. I remember Separate Tables and Lost in Yonkers. You were wonderful in both. Talk about those roles and the challenges of playing both characters.

RC: Thanks Don! It was actually 6 nominations, the 1st being for my anti-Scientology cabaret, "diffiCult to leave" which can be seen on Youtube. It was written by myself, Jake Anthony and Joshua Finkel. I did that show one time, had it professionally filmed so it could be seen on Youtube in order to bring awareness about that Cult after having been inside 23 years. When I did it, no other artist had done a show about being inside, Going Clear had been published but Leah Remini had just left and wasn't yet speaking out, so it was kind of a biggie.

As for Separate Tables and Lost in Yonkers, both roles were a gift and very different. Cybil in Separate Tables began my relationship with Theatre 40. I love working there because when on stage, the set values are so good that I feel like I'm playing Off-Broadway. Cybil is a very lonely role who spoke few words. It was all internal work and I loved playing 2 particular scenes - 1 with Diana Angelina and 1 with David Hunt-Stafford. In those 2 scenes Cybil got to go through her journey and eventually break through. I still well up when I recall that journey for her.

Bella was at Group Rep where I had been a company member. That role is one of those where you know you're born to play it. It was completely exhausting playing her as she carries the show with voluminous amounts of words and deep emotion. But it was so gratifying getting to work with all the other actors and play in a theatre that feels like old time Summer Stock in a way, which I loved. Our audiences really took the journey with us and some even said they preferred the production to the Broadway one, I know hard to believe, but it was because it was so intimate rather than playing in a big theatre. The audience felt like they were peering into the living room of these people. I especially loved working off Loraine Shields as Momma.

Do you have a favorite role to date? Why this choice? 

RC: Oh boy! I've been so blessed to play so many exceptional roles. In NYC I got to do I Never Saw Another Butterfly at The Mazur Theatre. It was about the Terezin Concentration Camp and ripped your heart apart. After the show we'd have talk backs with Holocaust survivors and it was exceptional in experience. I was the only adult in a company with about 10 kids (some had done Broadway as had I or 2 young twenty-somethings. Not that they're not adults, but I was probably 18 years older

Another blessed production was 26 Pebbles at Theatre 40 about how Newtown heals after Sandyhook. Most of us played 4 characters, never leaving the stage but with costume tweaks as each scene passed with no intermission. It's so sad we had small audiences because they were afraid of the story, regardless of how many times we would tell people, "It's not what you think. This is life affirming and beautiful." Thankfully we got lovely reviews, earned some awards, we all were Broadway World nominated...but still, I just wish we had full houses as the play is gorgeous and important. In NYC I did musicals when non-union and loved playing Bloody Mary in South Pacific. Being a lean gal, I was cast against type, but it was so rewarding as we played in the round and audiences were so moved. I loved it and her!! I loved playing Eileen Forbes in The Sound of Murder - such a fun character arc, of course Bella in Lost in Yonkers as she's such a beautiful human being and I'm currently playing a very intense role as Florence Harding in Fifteen Men in a Smoke Filled Room. She was a highly intelligent woman and a great First Lady. A very tough role and draining but so worth the journey.

Tell our readers about your upcoming projects. Anything particularly fascinating? 

RC: We're closing Fifteen Men in a Smoke Filled Room December 15th at Theatre 40 and it's worth seeing. 90 minutes with no intermission about the Harding Administration which has been the most corrupt Administration in history...until, you know....today. I'd love to get back to musicals. It's so sad what happened in our fight with AEA. I was very involved in the Pro99 movement as I know what it's like to do Showcase in NYC and how many opportunities have been robbed from us. I could have had the shot to do musicals at so many of these 99 seat theatres but now so many are only non-union. It's tragic. I may need to start doing some open mic nights just to be able to sing out there again.

I actually am pretty new to the LA theatre world. I moved to LA to do more TV/Film and my highest priority was to spend time with my folks up in Marin after 20 years in NYC. Thankfully I made that move as I lost both my folks to lung cancer. I would visit them every 3 weeks, then every week once my Dad was diagnosed and every other week once he passed. Then my Mom went through it. I made a choice not to do much theatre as I wanted to be with them for those years from 2001-2012 and so glad I did. After my mom passed away in 2012 is when I discovered the Intimate Theatre scene for real and threw myself in. It's been so rewarding and I'm so thankful to all the companies who've hired me. They've all been such gifts. And Thank You, Don, for your amazing support of my work!

You are so good at slipping into a character's skin and being that person, especially crazy or unusual people. How do you face each role? Do you have a game plan or do you start and build from the ground up? 

RC: Oh boy, that's a great question but hard to answer. I'm a hyper sensitive girl. I had a neurological disease my whole life but was never diagnosed until my mom was in hospice. That disease, Essential Tremor, is what pushed me into Scientology for 23 years as I thought it was all psychosomatic. It's not. I've been ridiculed a lot in life for it so I guess I understand playing unusual people. It's hard for me to label them crazy as I don't feel they are. They're characters in deep pain - which I understand - and are just trying to cope. I understand that. I honestly don't know what happens when I play these roles. I have had tons of training from Meisner, Austin Pendleton to Milton Katselas. I use a little bit of everything and a lot of imagination. Tons of imagination. I pray before I go on to let me just be that person, go moment to moment and truthful - and then I go on the ride.

What part would you really like to play? 

RC: Wow!! You know what? I'm dying to do a Comedy again!!!! I miss making people laugh. At one point I was hired to do a non-union tour in NYC of Lend Me a Tenor to play Maria and I've love to do that!!! I couldn't do the tour as I got hired by National Actors Theatre on Broadway which is how I got my Equity card. God Bless Tony Randall, John Tillinger and Georgianne Walken for that!!! I don't travel on tour because I have my huge dogs and want to do more TV and Film but I sure as hell would LOVE to do a production of Come From Away. Absolutely LOVE that show! I actually need to read up on more current plays to find those comedies.

Who are among your favorite actors today?. Why these choices? 

RC: Yikes! So hard!!! Well, the 3 that influenced me in my life from the time I was a little girl have been Barbra Streisand, Ben Vereen and Bernadette Peters. My goal as a kid was to be the female Ben Vereen but knee injuries took that away - thank God I can act. I love Emma Thompson on film as she's so versatile. Oh man, I know I'm missing some greats. Adore Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. I love the Brits and how they work!!! Oh, Dang, I know I'm going to feel badly I didn't give someone else props for the inspiration they've been to me. Yikes!!! Nicole Kidman blows me away in how she challenges herself. Now I'm blanking!!! Kate Blanchett and Emily Blunt are fabulous!!! All these artists are unique, true and seamless. That's what I admire.

Anything you wish to add?

RC: GO SUPPORT LIVE THEATRE!!!! And try not to be too judgmental. We're all doing the best we can out there and as Judi Dench would say, "See you on the ice!"

For more info on rosyln cohn, visit:
www.roslyncohn.com

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Gina D'Acciaro 2

Actress/singer Gina D'Acciaro has a remarkable show Famous Adjacent that I reviewed this past year. She is up for a BWW Award for it, Cabaret - Intimate Space, Female. She is terribly funny, yet down.to.earth and very likable. In our conversation she tells us in depth about herself and her show.


To what do you attribute your success with Famous Adjacent? What makes the show so appealing? In a city without actors competing, would it be as big a hit? 

G D'A: I think the success that my show has achieved (at least, so far!) is largely because the story, MY story, is relatable. Famous Adjacent is quite literally the story of my life and journey while here in Los Angeles over the past 18 years. I’ve been through it all. The highest highs and the lowest lows. I just happen to find myself surrounded by famous people while I do this thing called life.

Talk about your nomination for an award. Does it excite you? Do you feel that it is a goal in your work or something extra? 

G D'A: Does it excite me?? You kidding me? I’m over the flippin’ moon! I didn’t set out to “try to get an award” when writing my show, but now that this opportunity is here? Baby?? Bring. It, ON. I’m fired up in the best way my Italian self knows how and am determined to use this nom (and hopefully a win??) to propel myself into a more successful future.

I heard you are taking the show to New York. When? Are you going to change anything or leave it as is? 

G D'A: Taking Famous Adjacent to NYC is my absolute DREAM. I am an East Coast girl at heart after all… And I’d really like to do it by Spring 2020. Some small things would have to change, for sure as I’m always (gratefully) adding new chapters to the book of my life story. Now is probably a good time to tell you that I’m now moving to New York!! Wouldn’t it be great to remount the show there and invite casting from Broadway and SNL to come see me in action?!

You have been busy participating in other shows this year as well at Rockwell. Tell our readers about that. 

G D'A: That last show I closed recently at Rockwell was UMPO: A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (directed by Emma Hunton) where I played Marla Hooch. As well as: Stillwell, Penny Marshall, Geena Davis (from that pirate movie she did) and… a cow. I also sing there regularly as a member of the Singers of Soul Gospel Choir. Recently I sang backup for Seth Rudetsky’s CONCERT FOR AMERICA at UCLA and am finishing up a TYA workshop of DORY FANTASMAGORY at South Coast Rep.

What do you feel is the most important thing for an actor to concentrate on? Is talent all by itself enough? 

G D'A: This is a great question. My first response is to say I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA but I know that is a terrible answer. So really I would say – talent is not enough. Not by a long shot. It’s best to find balance. So you aren’t just always concentrating on acting stuff. Especially the business side of acting. It can eat you alive from the inside out so I find it best to keep your craft in the forefront of your thoughts and actions but also, you have to make time for family, friends, FUN… take it all in, take care of your head and heart, and doing so will only make your acting better.

Is Robert Marra going to continue to direct the show or will you find another director in New York? 

G D'A: That is the plan! Even when I move to NYC, we can also talk/or video chat if he can’t be in town. We’ve been friends for many years and speak the same language. He just gets me, ya know?

What about the rest of the cast? Will you recast comedy spots with local talent in New York?

G D'A: I think half and half? I have friends who were in my original night at Rockwell that have moved to NY as well and have strong community of actor/performer friends on both coasts. I’m excited to seek out some local NY talent to fill in some of the other roles!

You are so funny yet real onstage and pull your audience in by communicating with them. It;s a combination of real humor and wild exaggeration. Do you agree? 

G D'A: Haha! Why thank you… Can you see me blushing?? I love to make people laugh. I never, ever, EVER want to be the reason someone else is in a bad mood. And I love talking. (Just ask my husband Jaq!) I feed off of other people's energy and if I exaggerate, it’s because I worry a lot. A running theme in my show is that if something goes astray, I freak out in my brain and think “Oh no! I’ll never work in this town again!” when really, it wasn’t that bad . Also, I learned at a very young age: BIGGER FASTER FUNNIER and that’s how I am. A clown. But like, a really REAL one. Instead of a big red nose, I wear my heart on my sleeve.
Do you wish to add anything?

G D'A: Make sure you VOTE by December 31st!!! Follow me on Instagram @duhchairoh for updates on all things FAMOUS ADJACENT! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

2019 Interview with Scott Dreier


Actor/singer Scott Dreier needs no introduction. His involvement with The Doris Day Project is amazing and next Sunday he will present The Merry Little Christmas Show for two performances only at the Colony Theatre. In the conversation that follows he talks in depth about both.

Tell our readers about your Christmas show. Is this the first time you have done one at Christmas?

SD: This is my first official Christmas show! Of course, as a singer, I have been hired many times over the past years to sing for different Christmas and holiday events. And I have always absolutely loved getting to sing these timeless, gorgeous songs.

I have always wanted to create a holiday show. And the inspiration for it has been watching those classic Christmas specials of Perry Como, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, etc. No matter how many times I watch those specials during the holidays, it just feels like they are each effortlessly transporting me with them into the cozy comfort of their living rooms.… And I wanted to create a show that would honor that feeling that we all get and just help take people away from the hustle and bustle and stress that can come with this time of year - transport them into my living room with me where we can all just escape our troubles for a little while and celebrate and share some holiday cheer together.

Without creating a spoiler alert, what are some of the traditional songs you will be performing?

SD: I wanted to make sure to have a wonderful mix of songs. I want to sing every favorite, but there are a lot. Knowing that isn’t possible—I chose songs that mean something special to me and I really wanted to include a musical variety.

My set list will include holiday classics like Sleigh Ride, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, O Holy Night, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and Merry Christmas Darling and some fun takes on classics with some good musical surprises.

Isn't there a new holiday song you released as a single a couple of years back? Is that on the program?

SD: Believe it or not, I have never actually recorded a holiday album. It has been on my wishlist forever and now even more after working on this Merry Little Christmas show, I hope to make that happen in this next year.

I did record a duet version of Joni MItchell’s "River" a couple of years ago with Kurtis Simmon’s for his holiday EP. And I am so thrilled that Kurtis is joining me as my special guest for the show. I have always loved the special guests of those classic Christmas specials and there is no one I would rather share the stage with and sing with than Kurtis. He has such a glorious voice and we have not sung live together in several years.

There is a YouTube video up of us signing a beautiful original song by Bret Simmons called “Eve.” And it pops up on social media a lot and we always get so many friends and people saying —“you need to sing together more— your voices blend so beautifully together!” And so this felt like the perfect opportunity to do that. It has been absolutely thrilling to get to sing together and then having our sensational musical director Andy Langham on piano—it has truly been holiday heaven.

I am so excited that Kurtis will also be singing a couple of his gorgeous original songs from his holiday EP during the show. It is going to be such a fun show to perform—I can’t wait!

Talk about your joy the Doris Day album that has brought such love to everyone.

SD: After performing my show Doris and Me (celebrating the music, life, and career of Doris Day and my quirky life long obsession with her) for several years-—it was truly a 10 year dream come true and one of the biggest thrills of my life to be able to record “The Doris Day Project” album.

Doris’s music is the soundtrack of my life—-and as an artist, animal welfare activist, and then —still surreal —eventually a friend—-she continues to inspire and shape the course of my life in every way.

So getting to record these timeless, magnificent songs— that have always been in my life—and to celebrate this human being whose artistry I respect most of all—It was such an honor and so humbling. My self-imposed rule when I started the project—I wanted to find my own way with each of her songs—but I also really wanted each song to capture the same essence and emotions that Doris’s version of the songs make me feel.

One of those songs was “Everybody Loves a Lover” and I was absolutely over the moon to get to record the duet for the album with beautiful, dear, extraordinarily talented jazz singer Jane Monheit. She is one of the singers today that inspires me most of all. And all the proceeds for that single —and also a portion of my album sales goes to the Doris Day Animal Foundation to help with animal welfare.

The only song on the album I wanted to really pay homage and sing the original version was “Sentimental Journey”— and I always knew that song would end the album. I was so grateful and thrilled that when I spoke with friend Les Brown, Jr—and talked to him about wanting to sing his dad’s incredible song—he immediately said “You should sing my dad’s original arrangement. What key do you sing it in? I send it to you now.”

The thing about performing live is when you do the show—it lives in someone’s memory—hopefully. But getting to have a record of my Doris Day journey is a permanent, tangible piece of art that is captured forever.

My album came out on Doris’s 94th birthday. Doris was interviewed by People magazine and they asked her whose music she was listening to and her response was “Perry Como, the Mills Brothers, and Scott Dreier’s The Doris Day Project…” It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it…a dream come true.

Bless you for keeping Doris's memory alive and for helping to shelter the animals. Isn't the show in Beverly Hills this year or am I confused? Was it this past year?

SD: Thank you for those beautiful words of support. They mean so much to me. It has been an incredible honor to celebrate our beloved Doris Day. And one that I don’t take lightly. There will never be another Doris Day—ever. And I never want anyone to forget her. She was so special and one of a kind. And everything you imagine her to be—she was more. And thankfully she will live on thru her music and movies— and all the work she has done for the babies. Millions of fans adore Doris because it always felt like we were watching a friend or a mom. She had the extraordinary ability to be able to always have herself shine through in every song, every movie she made, and on her TV show, and TV specials. It never felt like you were watching a star—she was a friend.

I have always been such an animal lover. And Doris was the trail blazer for all of us—she was a pioneer for animal welfare. It has been a thrilling and humbling part of my life to help to raise so much money for the precious four-leggers during the course of raising money with my show, helping with the Doris Day Animal Foundation fundraising events, and other DVD projects interviewing Doris’s Co-Stars. And then one day waking up to the realization that I have become an animal welfare activist. I have been a part of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over these few years—and that is what I am most proud of. I can just hear Doris’s voice so clearly still saying “Help the babies.”

Yes—you are correct about my show next year. I am so humbled and honored to have been asked to perform Doris and Me next year in Los Angeles during Doris’s 98th birthday week—March 30th-April 5th (Doris’s actual birthday is April 3rd). Julien’s Auctions will be auctioning items from Doris Day’s estate on April 4 and 5 at their Beverly Hills gallery and online, with the proceeds benefiting the Doris Day Animal Foundation so her extraordinary animal welfare legacy can continue well into the future.

In addition to performing my show, I have jumped on board to help Doris’s animal foundation create magical moments during the week leading up to the auction for the many fans coming from all over the world to celebrate her life and career. Doris read all of her fan mail and truly loved and appreciated all of her fans. We are working on several wonderful surprises, including at least one film screening where I will moderate a Q&A with some of Doris’s co-stars.

What else is on the horizon for you? Any new projects to announce?

SD: I just recorded a fantastic song written by the terrific song writing team Joel Evans and Adryan Russ with the Australian Discovery Orchestra (ADO), conducted by the wonderful Kevin Purcell for an album the orchestra will be releasing next year “New American Musicals” on Broadway Records.

And I just filmed a guest star spot on the Disney Channel show “Coop and Cami Ask the World”—it was a lot of fun to film— and should be airing the end of this month or sometime in January.

I am really hoping to get back into the studio to record another album this next year. I would love to record a holiday album. And I am hoping to expand our holiday show for next year.

I also really want to record a second Doris Day album—to sort of bookend this unimaginable journey into Doris Day Land.

And—of course—performing Doris and Me for the festivities in Los Angeles happening during Doris’s 98th birthday week in April.

Apart from Doris, who is your favorite singer? Do you have a choice from among the male singers of yesteryear or today?

SD: Current artists—Jane Monheit. And I also really love Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin—and —of course- Frank Sinatra! Oh, you said “current”? I don’t really listen to a lot of artists you might call “current”, but I do enjoy Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr, kd Lang, Brandi Carlile, Joni Mitchell.

Anything you wish to add? 

SD: I’m just hoping to get a house full of people for this show. We’ve put together something that I think is super fun & chill & musically delicious --that now I just want to be sure people see it. It’s going to be a great way to get some Christmas spirit running through your blood. I know that there are a lot of options out there this month for Christmas shows & concerts & stuff to do, so I hope you’ll find the time to include The Merry Little Christmas Show as part of your celebrations this month.

The Merry Little Christmas Show will play Sunday December 15 at the Colony Theatre at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank at 3pm and 6 pm only. For tix, go to: colonytheatre.org or call: (866)811-4111.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

2019 Interview with Phil Olson

This interview is directed to playwright Phil Olson, so tremendously popular for his Don't Hug Me series of musicals. His new play A Twisted Christmas is about to open Upstairs at the Group Rep on December 14.

Tell our readers about your A Twisted Christmas Carol. When you say that it is the Dickens tale Texas style, what exactly do you mean? Is there a lot of the humor of Don't Hug Me and its characters in this piece?

A Twisted Christmas Carol is a Texas spoof of Charles Dickens’ classic story, “A Christmas Carol.”
It’s Christmas Eve in a small west Texas town and cantankerous barbecue joint owner Buford Johnson gets in an argument with his wife, Darla, tells her he's skipping Christmas, he storms out of the restaurant, goes four wheeling in his pickup, gets hit by a twister, rolls his truck and goes into a coma. He comes back in his dream where he's visited by ex-business partner and barbecue king, Hank Walker, who plays the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. Hank takes Buford (Scrooge) on a journey similar to that in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" only Texas style.

I used quite a lot of the humor from the Don't Hug Me musicals in A Twisted Christmas Carol. One of the differences is A Twisted Christmas Carol is set in a small town in Texas while the Don't Hug Me musicals are set in a small town in northern Minnesota.

I understand that your show is playing in other states this Christmas? Tell us where.

A Twisted Christmas Carol will open and play in 8 cities concurrently this year. The theatre groups and cities are: 1) Town Players, Watertown, South Dakota, 2) High Desert Center for the Arts, Victorville, California, 3) Port Arthur Little Theatre, Port Arthur, Texas, 4) Alton Little Theatre, Alton, lllinois, 5) Hill Country Community Theatre, Cottonwood Shores, Texas, 6) Indian Valley Theatre, Sandwich, Illinois, 7) Trinidad Community Theatre, Trinidad, Colorado, 8) The Group Rep Theatre, North Hollywood, California.

Is this the first Christmas show that you have written or have there been others?

I'm a big fan of Christmas stories. A Twisted Christmas Carol is the third Christmas show I've written. The others are A Nice Family Christmas and A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol.
Is there music in this show? If so, are the songs parodies of well known carols?
A Twisted Christmas Carol is a play with one parody song. We have a few short verses of a couple popular Christmas songs, but A Twisted Christmas Carol would be best considered a play, more specifically a fun parody of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Your comedies are very popular and well received. What is your secret for writing successful comedic pieces?

I'm not sure if I have any secrets with my writing. They say to write what you know, and I tend to write about my experiences growing up in an emotionally reserved Scandinavian household in Minnesota. My father would tell us he was the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, he almost told her. We never hugged growing up and I never once heard any family member say "I love you." Not once. The thing is, I never felt that my parents didn't love each other or the kids. I just assumed that they did. When I learned how strange it was to never hug or say the "L" word, I started to write about it. My stories tend to be about relationships dealing with a lack of communication, affection and emotions, and the comedy in that, and how, ultimately, it's okay to hug or say, "I love you."

When my stories started playing all over the country and internationally, I realized that people all over the world could relate to these issues. It wasn't just a regional Minnesota/Scandinavian thing. With A Twisted Christmas Carol, I brought the same sensibility I experienced growing up to a small town in west Texas. Because so many theatres around the country are producing the play this year, the experiences I had growing up in Minnesota seem to translate well to a small town in west Texas.

Is there a final comment you care to make?

I hope that audiences enjoy A Twisted Christmas Carol as much as I enjoyed writing it. A big thank you to all those who support live theatre!

A Twisted Christmas plays December 15 - January 12. Saturdays at 4:00 pm. Sundays at 7:00 pm. Talk-backs after Sunday shows 12/21 and 01/04. For tickets and information: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Upstairs at the Group Rep on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. The Upstairs venue is not handicapped accessible.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Interview on the Panto with Director BT McNicholl


BT McNicholl is the producing artistic director of La Mirada Theatre of the Performing Arts and occasionally directs a show. He is currently in rehearsal for the Lythgoe Panto Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirate's Christmas to open this week at the Laguna Playhouse. In our conversation he talks in detail about the Panto.



What do you like about the Panto productions?

BTM: They're eminently accessible -- contemporary pop songs fused with plucky twists on well-known tales. Plus, these productions feature exceptional professional talents, so -- for children experiencing theatre for the first time -- it's an introduction at a very high level. Best of all, it's a family tradition that can be repeated annually, but without ever becoming stale -- the content keeps changing (one year it's PETER PAN, the next year it's SNOW WHITE, then ALADDIN, etc) -- but the theatrical experience remains vibrant and participatory.

How is Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirate's Christmas shaping up? Talk about your challenges in directing this piece in that style.

BTM: The show is coming along beautifully, actually. The trick is keeping the pacing tight while allowing room for the heart-tugging moments, the passages that evoke wonder (flying) and audience interaction. Also, one has to keep the relationships honest and authentic, to balance the slapstick sequences.

Adults enjoy these shows as well as kids. Explain in detail.

BTM: Like the greatest of the animated feature films, pantos have references and humor that only adults will savor -- so they're not left out of the fun. But in addition to that, there's a good deal of craft, skill, and talent onstage that will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys professional theatre.

How is the American panto different from those originally produced in England?

BTM: Long before I ever imagined I'd be directing a panto, I actually saw two of them in Dublin, where the tradition is as strong as it is in England. I went with my nephews, then 5 and 6, and their parents, so I experienced panto as the perfect target audience member -- as part of a family outing. Naturally, I was studying the show as I was watching it, as theatre people can't help but do. With the exception of the "Dame" (a man playing a female character -- typically an older woman, like Jack in the Beanstalk's mother), the American version has the elements that make English panto so successful. These elements have been retained in America, including: fractured fairy tales, pop music, slapstick, lavish production values, accomplished actors and lots of audience engagement throughout.

Talk about your ingenious cast.

BTM: We're lucky that we have a cast of seasoned veterans like John O'Hurley -- who relishes his villainous role while embracing the humor -- and his side-kick Ben Giroux, whose comic inventiveness is boundless, along with sensational dance talent like Clarice Ordaz from "So You Think You Can Dance", young, exciting TV stars such as Dakota Lotus, Ashley Argota and impressive triple-threat Broadway pros like Bryce Charles and Lincoln Clauss. It's a diverse mix of top-tier personalities that add up to a terrific production.

Tell us about the music and songs chosen for Peter Pan.

BTM: From hip-hop to the Carpenters to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the score has something for everyone. All of it is treated with a contemporary sensibility. And while the songs are appropriate to the story and move it along, you get the added bonus of "Hey, I know this one!" -- which, in this jukebox-musical-driven world, is a fantastic plus.

Is there one funny story you will share with us about any mishaps onstage during rehearsals or any comical anecdote about the panto and Peter Pan?

BTM: Well, when Peter Pan finally shows up to save everyone and thwarts Capt. Hook, we discovered that changing Hook's like line from "Oh, shiver me timbers!" to a disappointed and frustrated "Oh, ssssh... iver me timbers" got a great laugh.

Also, the best part of rehearsals is the day when the Pirates run through their slapstick "deck mop" routine for the first time in front of the kids in the cast. They laugh like they're watching Saturday morning cartoons. If they like it, we know we've done it right.

For more info and to purchase tix, go to: 

https://lagunaplayhouse.com/2019-2020-special-performances/peter-pan/


Friday, November 29, 2019

2019 Interview with Actor/Costume Designer Michael Mullen

Michael Mullen works onstage and behind the scenes. He is a superb costumer and an equally marvelous actor. In our conversation he talks about his 7 BWW Award nominations and overall about the joy of being in the theatre.

How does it feel to be nominated four times for a BWW Award for costuming?

MM: It feels really cool to be nominated for 4 BWW Awards for Costume Design. I loved working on all 4 of the shows. It was fun to delve into the 1930s with She Loves Me. I love the Victorian period which I got to do with The Importance Of Being Earnest. The Elizabethan period is one of my favorite time periods which we set The Merchant Of Venice in. And Roots was a series of 4 one-act shows that allowed me to create costumes from modern day to Peter The Great to Ayn Rand to a comedic cockroach.

Is there a favorite of the 4? If so, which one? What would you like to win for?

MM: I don’t really have a favorite of the four shows. I would be honored to win for any of them. :)

Do you do extensive research for every project or do you follow your instincts in many cases?

MM: When designing a show, I do some research on the time period in which the show is set- so that I know the clothing styles of the day. And then I follow my instincts with the rest of the work.

Do you have a mentor? If you had to pick one Broadway or film costumer, who would that be? Why?

MM: I don’t really have a mentor. I love Bob Mackie and William Ivey Long as designers. I love the glitter and glamour of Bob Mackie’s work. He is also a great comedian with some of his designs- like on "The Carol Burnett Show". His design for Scarlett O’Hara with the curtain rod dress is genius and comedy gold. As for William Ivey Long, every show I’ve seen of his was amazing. I especially loved his work in Cinderella. Those costumes were spectacular- especially the Cinderella and Marie transformation dresses!

Do you have a preference in costuming musicals or straight plays? Why that choice?

MM: I prefer costuming musicals because I think they are way more fun. There’s nothing like costuming a big fun musical number and seeing 20 actors up on that stage dancing around in your lavish splashy designs. It’s fun to see how all the costumes move and look together. My favorite musicals that I’ve designed so far are Dreamgirls, The Boy From Oz, Siamese Sex Show, and Cabaret.

What about as an actor? You have also been nominated three times for BWW Awards this year as an actor. Is it more fun to do a musical or a play?

MM: I love acting and have been very lucky to act in a lot of shows in the past few years. I love doing plays and musicals. However, I always feel way more confident acting in plays because singing and dancing don’t come as naturally to me as acting does. One of my favorite roles to date is playing Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend Of Georgia McBride. It’s such a fun role and show! I also really loved playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest. She is deliciously snobby and grand.

Would you rather be onstage or designing behind the scenes?

MM: I honestly love being on stage AND designing behind the scenes. Crown City Theatre Company has been wonderful because they have given me the opportunity to act in and costume design I’m Just Wild About Harry, The Mousetrap, The Importance Of Being Earnest, and The Legend Of Georgia McBride. It’s a dream to act in and costume design shows because I love doing both. It’s also really cool to get to dress myself and create my character’s look.

photo by Chris Greenwell

Anything you wish to add?

MM: I am honored to be nominated for seven BWW Awards this year- four for costume design and three for acting. I hope to continue working in both fields and getting better at my crafts. I love what I do. And I hope people come and see The Legend Of Georgia McBride which is now playing at The Secret Rose Theatre through February 9th! It’s a fun show!

Tickets for The Legend of Georgia McBride may be purchased online at www.crowncitytheatre.com or by phone at (818) 605-5685. The running schedule will be Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through February 9, 2020. The Secret Rose Theatre is located at 11246 W. Magnolia Street in North Hollywood, 91601.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

2019 Interview with Bruce Kimmel


Actor/director/author Bruce Kimmel is best known to audiences for his tremendous work with Kritzerland, his own company that produces updated albums of classic musicals as well as recordings of new ones like his A Carol Christmas, produced last year at Group Rep and currently nominated for several BroadwayWorld Awards. Kimmel is about to open The Man Who Came to Dinner at Group Rep on December 6. In our convesation he talks about his fondness for the play and give us his vision for a successful production of it.



How do you envision The Man Who Came to Dinner onstage?

BK: Fast. Funny. I love the play, have played Banjo twice, so it's really fun to come back to it as a director. The comedy is as funny as it's always been and it's also great to be able to bring whatever we can bring to it. But, for me, pace is key - the play can run long, but I'm making sure that doesn't happen here.

Why do you think it has endured all these years even though it's a period piece with the mention of many, many names people today do not recognize?

BK: The central situation is so relatable - someone takes over your house and your life, and disrupts everything, but, in the end, ends up being helpful to people. Add to that, the assortment of crazies who populate Sheridan Whiteside's world and it's just a recipe for fun. The period aspect is never a problem for me. People told me no one would "get" Li'l Abner when I directed it - yet, they did. People told me how dated Dial "M" for Murder was, and yet the Group Rep's audiences ate it up. In fact, any time anyone tells me something is dated I immediately want to do it just to prove them wrong. Yes, some of the name references will go right over people's heads, but it doesn't really matter. Listen, some young folks don't know who Robert Redford is. We're thinking about putting a glossary in the program.

How do you feel about the supporting players adding so much to the comedic elements of the story and in assisting to display different facets of Whiteside's persona?

BK: As I've been impressing on the cast in rehearsals, the characters in Whiteside's world are larger than life (Banjo, Beverley Carlton, Lorraine Sheldon, Professor Metz, etc.), while the Stanley family and the folks in their world, are not, and that's what makes this so much fun. And of course, Maggie, Whiteside's secretary, has been part of his world for so long, and yet falls in love with someone from the small town there in. It's just beautifully constructed in that way.

How do you feel about the importance of a terrific set design for this comedy?

BK: Well, we have a reality to deal with - we're in a 99-seat theater. It's a beautiful 99-seat theater, but the stage, while really great for that size theater, is the size it is. We decided to go the traditional route with this production, simply because that seemed the best and most logical way to do it for this theater. I've seen photos of all kinds of sets - and for whatever reason, the traditional always looks best.

Talk about your design team and their valuable contributions

BK: Well, Chris Winfield has been doing sets at the Group Rep for many years - however, this is my first time with him and we're having fun and I think the set will work very well. Douglas Gabrielle, the lighting designer is new to me, too, but Doug Haverty, our producer, thinks very highly of him and it's actually a very simple show to light. Steve Shaw is doing sound, as he always does, and that's a key element of the show, and he always does a fine job. Michael Mullen is doing the costumes - my first time with him - but he's great, really great - does a lot of shows in LA. Props are key, and Leslie Young has been gathering them up, including a great wheelchair for Whiteside. And a shoutout to Brianna Saranchock, who is assistant directing. I block very fast, and then adjust and adjust, and she's great about getting it all down in the book so that if something goes awry, she's got it right there.

Aside from the hysterical comedy, what important message does the play convey?

BK: For the Stanley kids, it's follow your heart and dreams - Whiteside, for all his curmudgeon-ness, is very wise with them. Tolerance. And, of course, in the case of Maggie, love conquers all.

Is there anything you wish to add? 

BK: In this nutty world in which we're now living, which seems to be more humorless every day, this play is like a tonic - and we hope audiences will come and laugh. We have a wonderful company of players and these characters are just so much fun. They don't know how to write stuff like this anymore, the craft of it is just breathtaking. And we've all got a little Sherry in us, I think.

With your flair for directing musicals, I think you should consider mounting Sherry at some point. Musically it's better than one might expect.

BK: Well, of course, I recorded the title song for the first Unsung Musicals CD (with Christine Baranski and Jonathan Freeman) and everyone, including the show's authors, love that recording. I haven't ever seen the script - I assume it's the play with songs attached. I'm a huge fan of Larry Rosenthal and have issued a couple of his film scores on Kritzerland. I'll have to take a look at it.

The Man Who Came to Dinner by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman opens at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre at 10900 Burbank Blvd. on December 6 and runs through January 12. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. For tix go to:

https://thegrouprep.com/