Friday, March 22, 2019

Brushes Interview

Brushes by co-playwrights Cathy Hamilton and Carol Starr Schneider is set to open at the Whitefire Saturday March 30. These gals recently sat down and chatted about the play.

Co-playwright Cathy Hamilton (CH) is a former TV reporter, newspaper columnist, blogger, marketer, author of sixteen humor books (Andrews McMeel Publishing) and creator of “Boyfriend in-a-Box,” a tongue-in-cheek, imaginary boyfriend kit. She has appeared on the "Today" show as herself, "To Tell the Truth" as Cathy Hamilton #3, and in countless musical theatre productions, including Nunsense. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her husband Rex.

Co-playwright Carol Starr Schneider (CSS) is a television writer, humor blogger (Short Jew
ish Gal) and journalist. Her recent TV movie “When Sparks Fly,” starring Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, continues to air on Hallmark Channel. She lives in Sherman Oaks with her husband Howard.

Cathy and Carol met in 1997 when Carol read about Boyfriend in-a-Box in the Los Angeles Times and wound up optioning the movie rights. The movie didn’t happen, but a wonderful friendship did. They bonded over a warped sense of humor and their life.

Tell our readers briefly about Brushes.

CH: Brushes: A Comedy of Hairs is a play about the complicated relationship between women and our hair since time began, loosely based on our personal experiences throughout our lives. To us, there is no greater, more maddeningly consistent source for comedy AND tragedy. It’s universal and it never ends! In the show, audiences will see themselves in various “brushes” with disaster, vanity, envy, self-doubt, sex, death….and the common denominator is always hair.

Is this your first collaboration on a play?

CSS: Yes.

It sounds funny. Is it in your face slapstick humor or is it character driven? Share some of the humor in the play, giving us a sneak peek.

CSS: It’s both! The humor ranges from the absurd (Lady Godiva gets ambushed for an extreme make-over right in the middle of her famous ride) to highly relatable cringe moments (bumping into your ex-stylist who immediately realizes you’ve cheated on her with a Groupon.) The show is really a character actor’s dream. Each cast member plays 10-11 different roles ranging from old ladies who discover a salon called “Blow Me Now” has replaced their neighborhood beauty parlor to an enthusiastic mortuary cosmetologist who works in dead earnest on a special corpse. There’s a lot of humor in how the actors transform themselves on the fly into these outrageous characters. Of course, our hilarious wigs and costumes add to the laughs.

Tell us about Boyfriend-In-A-Box. It sounds like a Hallmark movie. I understand you are making it into a play. Is it silly humor or for only mature adult audiences?

CH: That’s funny. Carol has actually written a Hallmark movie – “When Sparks Fly,” starring the now-Duchess of Sussex Megan Markle.

Boyfriend in-a-Box was a novelty product I invented in 1997. It was a DIY imaginary boyfriend kit that was sold in, yes, Hallmark stores, and LGBTQ book shops in Greenwich Village. Think of it as a funny PG-rated gift you’d give someone after a divorce or break-up. Carol read this article about it in the LA Times ( and was one of five creative types to contact me, wanting to option the film rights. That’s how we met.

The Boyfriend-in-a-Box play, which is currently in the preliminary stages, takes the concept in a slightly different direction and drops it into a funny whodunit scenario. We would probably call it a comedy for mature audiences.

Vignettes sounds like many scenarios whose prime purpose is to entertain. Do any have depth; is there an underlying message or are they all short, sweet and full of fluff? Is there any music interwoven?

CSS: Our goal was to create a hilarious night of entertainment for the ladies or a group of hairstylists or couples on a fun date (because there’s plenty of relatable stuff for the men here, too). But, there are real moments of poignancy (see aforementioned mortuary cosmetologist) and depth. The show has an arc of empowerment that says who cares what anyone else says about your hair or anything else about the way you look. Everyone is fabulous in their own right. Each scene will be woven to the next with recognizable music, vintage hair commercials and sound effects but if we told you anymore, we’d have to kill you.

I can't help but think of Steel Magnolias as it takes place in a beauty salon. Did you get inspiration from Robert Harling's tale of female camaraderie? In this play it's all women. In your play the men are present. Do you favor the female perspective over that of the men or not?

CH: Brushes is a totally different animal than Steel Magnolias. But there’s definitely a feeling of camaraderie in the ensemble scenes. There’s one in which salon stylists bond over tequila and horror stories of ‘no shows’ at closing time. In another scene, we step inside a support group for women who can’t stop cutting their own bangs. It’s very funny yet endearing at the same time. Since we are females, that perspective is certainly our go-to, although we gave conscious effort to looking at things from a man’s perspective. There’s a scene, for instance, in which a man bemoans his hair loss in a bongo-driven performance art piece.

Talk about your cast and their chemistry together.

CSS: Three of our cast members – Heidi Appe, Ashley Taylor and Andrew Villarreal – appeared in our staged reading at Theatre West last summer so they were familiar with the material and we knew they could handle the challenge. Fortunately, we found two more gifted and versatile actors – Amy Smallman-Winston and Clara Rodriguez -who added their experience and range. Amy is a former member of The Groundlings and all of our cast are experienced improv performers which is imperative in this show. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have the amazing Kevin Bailey ( as our director/executive producer. Kevin was our male cast member in the NoHo Arts Center reading and has championed Brushes ever since. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude if not a lifetime supply of hair products. It’s been wonderful to watch everyone play off each other, inspire new directions in the material, and become a fun, wacky family.

Is there anything you wish to add that I have not mentioned?

CH: We’re bristling with pride that Brushes will have its world premiere at The Whitefire. The show was conceived close to six years ago and, in that time, we have had readings in Kansas City, New York (Workshop Theatre) and two in Los Angeles (NoHo Arts Center and Theatre West). It’s been a hair-larious ride and we can’t wait until opening night. Our only fear is that the crazy L.A. weather will wreak havoc on our hairstyles. (Humidity is not our friend, Don!)

About Show Times and Tickets: March 30 – May 4. Saturdays at 8:00 pm. Running time: 90 minutes - no intermission. Appropriate for ages 15+. Tickets: $30. For tickets and information: The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks 91423. Theatre has AC/Heat and is wheelchair accessible.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

2019 Interview with Jules Aaron

Director Jules Aaron is one of the busiest and most renowned local directors working in the field. He has helmed too many plays to mention here, but be it known that he is constantly sought after. Currently prepping Agatha Christie's The Secret of Chimneys for a March 29 opening at Group Rep in NoHo, Aaron took time away from his schedule to talk about the play.

Tell me about the play. The Secret of Chimneys. How does it rate among Christie's masterpieces?

Lost for thirty years, The Secret of Chimneys is one of Agatha Christie's least known plays and one of the most intriguing. While it does not have the sleek veneer and brilliant solution of a Murder on the Orient Express, it is a delightful comedy of manners with a very prestigious dead body. There is no Poirot or Miss Marple, but there is fun repartee between the leading could be lovers, Anthony and Virginia, as well as a sly game of cat and mouse with Anthony and the deceivingly pedestrian Superintendent Battle ("no flies on him" Anthony tells Virginia.) .And also the mystery humorously comments on itself ("Suspicious stranger, eh? So obvious you can hardly believe in it. A mysterious stranger with a beard": or, "well, no handcuffs for one, Superintendent")

Why do you think audiences love mysteries so much?

I believe audiences like mysteries because they're like good roller coaster rides. You never know where the curves and drops will be. And hopefully at the end you're satisfied at a delightful ride. And if you come back again, you'll find there are no factual cheats -- just a few red herrings. Chimneys has three interweaving plots, in addition to a wild international cast of fourteen characters, there is even a missing black diamond necklace of Herzoslovakia, a secret sliding wall and the menacing Baltic servant Boris.

Tell us about your cast.

The cast, as we are lucky enough to honestly say, is really a dream one -- and a great ensemble. I've directed over half of the eleven (one actor plays several roles, and truthfully we've had a lot of fun (and naturally a bit of a work out) putting the many pieces together. My leads have great chemistry, and we hopefully have put ourselves in a British country home in 1947, where I have cast an actress playing a sharp British business woman (Me, Too) with Margaret Thatcher to come years later. With dialect coach Linda Brennan, we've worked hard on the play's several dialects, and I had a chance to choreograph some large stage pictures.

What is the funniest play you have ever directed? Why? Be specific!

I'm afraid the funniest play I ever directed is too obvious, the ever popular Noises Off. Frayn's craftsmanship, as we as the remarkable depth of the actors playing Actors, cannot be beaten. The flow of the three acts, moving on stage, back stage and on stage again (later in the run of the play within the play) is genius. I've directed the show twice, and my major request was having the second act set early in rehearsal (because comic timing is impossible without the levels, doors, steps and the backstage paraphernalia). We always want to know what goes on behind the scene in a play, and we get it in spades in Noises Off -- in all it’s a huge belly laugh splendor.

What do you believe is the audience take away?

As for what the audience should take away from Chimneys, there is the obvious joy of trying to figure out a complex mystery, hopefully laughs and the visual fun of a period piece. And as a bonus, considering today's politics, a bit of nasty political scheming may feel familiar.

What's up next for you?

And my plans: an evening of monologues about the homeless produced by Theatre 40, and a workshop of "I Will, I Can", a musical bio on Sammy Davis Jr. produced in N.Y. by Arlie Cone.

For tickets and more information, contact:

Spotlight on Playwright Stephanie Walker

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present a female perspective on the controversial issue of gun ownership in America, in Stephanie Alison Walker's Friends with Guns playing Friday March 22 through Sunday May 5. Each week we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week the light shines on the playwright herself, Stephanie Walker.

What was the catalyst for you to write this play?

I began writing Friends With Guns at the end of January of 2017. It had been in my head ever since I discovered, to my shock, that our dear liberal parent friends were gun owners. The fact that I was so shocked made me realize how naive I had been about gun ownership and who owned guns. I knew then that there was a play somewhere in there and that in order to write it, I would have to confront a lifelong fear. I would have to examine my own biases and set them aside. I would have to actually hold a gun... And fire it.

Tell our readers what the play entails.

I went into writing this play with a commitment to set aside my own fears/biases against guns. I knew I would have to step into the shoes of gun owners, lace them up and truly see this issue from their perspective.This play is about guns, yes. But it’s also about human beings. It’s about women. It’s about control. It’s about power dynamics in marriage. It’s about listening. It’s about what most divides us and what we fear most. It’s about parenthood, motherhood, marriage, violence, kinship, loneliness and fear. It’s about all of that and more. My objective with Friends With Guns is to inspire audiences to listen newly about a terrifying and divisive issue- no matter which side of the issue they identify- because without listening, the conversation can never evolve. Without listening, there is no conversation.

Friends with Guns plays Friday March 22 through Sunday May 5 at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 W Magnolia Blvd in NoHo. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. There is plenty of street parking but arrive early to guarantee a space.

Call 818.761.8838 for tickets and more information. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Interview with Rebecca Spencer

Actress/singer par excellence Rebecca Spencer has delighted audiences on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde and played Madame Giry in Phantom in Las Vegas. Since 2014 when she moved to Los Angeles, she has performed her exquisite cabaret and done at least 3 shows for Musical Theatre West (MTW) in Long Beach: The Music Man, S'Wonderful, and Mary Poppins. She will open March 30th in their new production of Catch Me If You Can. Spencer took time out of a busy rehearsal schedule to talk about her role in the show and about her illustrious theatrical career thus far.

You'll be starting performances of Catch Me If You Can at MTW March 29. Larry Raben is directing. Have you ever worked with him before?

RS: No, but I've enjoyed his work. I've always wanted to work with Larry. When I was in Las Vegas, he was in The Producers. I got to see his work. He's wonderful. I've only auditioned for him one other time besides this out here. I had the audition for Catch Me If You Can with Doug Carfrae. I met Doug when I did the Las Vegas Phantom. We became quick friends but at that time I was still living in New York. I had no idea I would be moving out here. Anyway, reuniting with Doug was great, and we've never been cast together. We'll be playing husband and wife. It's such fun.

The fact that you already know Doug will give you an extra edge, good chemistry together and make it that much more interesting to watch.

RS: Yes. As far as the show is concerned, Larry I'm sure will have his different take. The show had mixed reviews on Broadway.

It's a wonderful show. I've seen it a couple of times.

RS: I never saw it. When I moved out here, I started teaching at AMDA (American Musical Dramatic Academy) College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts. There was a very talented student who chose this as his dream role and we had to explore the show, but mostly his role, the lead role.of Frank Abagnale  ...

I know I'm getting off the beaten track, but moving out to LA, I didn't really know anybody...I came out here because my husband Jim D,Asaro got the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts director production position...amazing, the first thing I saw in the paper was MTW had this giant picture of Davis Gaines doing Man of La Mancha. I had heard that Musical Theatre West was one of these very good places to work. I hadn't seen Davis for years. We had done Showboat together when we were younger. He introduced me to Mary Ritenhour a production manager for them and my agent got me my first audition for MTW for Music Man, reading Eulele Shinn. I got the part. It was a terrific company, Davis was doing the lead and I had a lot of fun. 

I put myself into AMDA at the time as a regular teacher and when I walked into the faculty room the first day it was like a Broadway show cast ... people with whom I had done summer stock, early cabaret in the 80s and early 90s...we all moved up the ladder developing our passions. I was so enamored that I had walked into a community of teachers, directors, choreographers...and we cared about the kids. It was so wonderful to work with the students and ... I was put in front of music every day. My favorites are the American Songbook and vaudeville all the way up to the 60s, my favorite era...and I taught Drew Mizell with the Catch Me material, that I mentioned earlier. Fast forward four years and I'm in Mary Poppins at MTW playing two little character parts, and there's Drew. I was performing with AMDA graduates. All I can say is, you better do what you teach. (she laughs)

Rebecca Spencer left in MTW's S'Wonderful 2014

Are you still at AMDA?

RS: No. It was by choice due to prioritizing my career focus and energy, I am currently not an active faculty member as I was from 2014-16, but remain on their substitute list. I had a lovely experience there. I teach from home now, as a vocal coach and preparing young artists to build their audition material book. I also love classical singers, recitals and cabaret. It's important that all young artists understand what their essence is.

Let's get back to Catch me If You Can at MTW. Describe the role you're playing.

RS: I am cast in the role of Carol Strong, with Doug (Carfrae) playing my husband. We are the parents of Brenda Strong. Frank Abagnale is in love with her. We do a step into time with a Mitch Miller singalong pastiche. It's a bit of a production number. She's from New Orleans. It's the 60s. There was an innocence in the 60s, that this guy could get away with writing fraudulent checks and becoming a conman. My character doesn't know that the FBI has found him until after he admits it. He's been posing as a minister of the Lutheran faith and a doctor and a lawyer. The mother is very impressed. 

Do you have a certain philosophy about preparing for a role?

RS: I think what is so interesting when you're building a supporting role, and it's a little gem of a's like why does it happen? In this kind of show, there's obviously a time evolution, whether there are ... flashbacks or flashforwards, this was the 60s, and you're influenced by what it was like in the south as opposed to anywhere else. How did women serve in that time? Some of the social graces. Sometimes the essence of people has never changed, a strong woman is a strong woman, outspoken can you be? You try to make the character interesting, and just as I do with my recordings, you've got to get to the truth. It embraces the fact that Frank was after a family; he came from a broken family, so he's after a stronger family or he's attracted to a family tree that he's always wanted.  There's an evolution for his journey and my character impacts the storyline.

A lead role is of course decidedly different in scope.

RS: When you have a lead role, and I've done numerous leads in my's almost easier to have a bigger part because you get a longer time for your pivotal moments and your journeys and you have a bigger interaction with the other characters in the company and what information and discoveries you get in those exchanges last throughout the scene...but,, when you're doing a supporting role, you have to know why that is happening, that's for the audience, as they're following that character. I like to offer as many layers as I can, not to elongate the scene, but it's my job to layer it. You don't have a lot of time. In a way, it's kind of like television.

You have to jump right in. Let's look back at your illustrious career onstage on Broadway. What was your favorite role?

RS: I started in theatre at Ithaca College, thinking I would do a little writing for broadcast journalism, and then they found out I could sing. I ended up a music major and I graduated from Ithaca with a classical degree. I started auditioning and did Jekyll & Hyde. I have a long history with Jekyll & Hyde. Versatility was how I was brought up. I think that's what's helped me survive transitioning as an actress. I created a role in Jekyll & Hyde and 7 years later when it came to New York, I was the swin
g. At the same time that was happening in New York, I had just come off the workshop of Ragtime I did the very first cast album of Ragtime. I turned down the role in Ragtime in Toronto, which ultimately would have been my Broadway debut. Instead I did Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway because I wanted to see something come full circle. 

And you stayed with Jekyll & Hyde?

RS: Six months into it as the swing, I was going to leave ... but I was thrown on to do Emma, the role I created. This time it was with a duet "In His Eyes" with Linda Eder. I was given a week and a half notice. Christiane Noll was doing a recording and needed to get out. It was kind of beautiful that I did get to step in for the role I created. The night I went on, Frank Wildhorn was conducting. They were still in rehearsals for The Scarlet Pimpernel down the street. They all came in for the second act when I did the big Lucy/ Emma duet with Linda. To sing against a powerhouse like Linda, I didn't have to hold back at all. At the end of my journey with Jekyll & Hyde as a swing, I had learned about directing, which is what I wanted to do because it makes you a better actor. I moved up to understudy. Then I assumed the roles and got billing out front. I hung up the ingenue dress and became a character woman.

Do you have an example that stands out in your mind of really connecting to your audience?

RS: The great thing was that when I was doing Jekyll & Hyde a stock group from my high school in Pennsylvania Neshaminy High School came up. It was a night to raise money for Equity Fights Aids, so a couple of castmates and I came out and talked to my old high school. The kids were whole generations later, but they all had that dream. We could relate because we had that in common. Someone in that audience had the same dream I once had.

For tix and info for Catch Me If You Can at MTW, go to:
Rebecca Spencer, Chuck Wagner and Linda Eder in Jekyll & Hyde

Thursday, March 14, 2019

2019 Interview with International Singer Tom Lowe

Tom Lowe is a pop singer/composer who recently released a short video entitled "Polanco". It's enchanting to watch this little miraculous film about a small Mexican city and what goes on in one of its popular bars. The story is based on a real life incident in which Lowe was robbed in the back of a taxi in Mexico City. His disgust of the people eventually turned to respect and love when many came forward, helped him to survive and to produce his video. The full story is at the next to last link at the bottom of our interview and is an exciting and humanely worthwhile read. Lowe, born in England  and with a multi-cultural background both here and abroad, discusses "Polanco"and also his fascinating career thus far as an international pop singer and musical theatre actor.

Describe in detail the scenario created in Polanco. What  I see is
a local bar in  Mexico with lots of different people enjoying the
ambiance, the music and each other...but there's so much more

TL: In the music video “Polanco”, we see a girl meandering through a dimly lit bar. She sits down next to a guy she knows. She seems disinterested by him, instead sharing a moment with the attractive female bartender. The man tries to kiss her. She dodges the kiss and makes her way to the bathrooms. The man follows and finds her kissing another guy. The first guy seems really upset.

Meanwhile a singer performs in the bar while people dance energetically on the dance floor.

The girl nonchalantly returns to the bar, whispers something in the female bartender’s ear, and leaves. The bartender is shocked by the comment, but curious. She joins the girl outside for a cigarette. The girl takes her home to a high rise apartment overlooking Mexico City. They get it on while the sun comes up.

In the final shot, the singer sits alone at the bar and raises a glass of “marguerita mango” to the camera.

Did you write the
song? The script? Both?

TL: The script was written by the music video’s director, Abdeel Moreno, from Mexico City. I described to him a vague scenario involving a love triangle intrigue and a same sex romantic encounter. He took it from there.

Explain what it means to you and what you hope audiences will experience.

TL: What it means to me is; something naughty, a story told without words with twists and turns, a fly on the wall experience that keeps the audience interested and guessing. It’s supposed to be sexy, cheeky, daring, filled with surprises.

Perhaps the behavior of the girl, while being morally corrupt, is titillating for some viewers. Perhaps some people watching have behaved in a similar way after one too many drinks. Perhaps her drink has been spiked. What if the girl represents the dark side in everyone? Perhaps the final action of the singer holding the marguerita to the camera, is as if to say: Look what happens when tequila is involved!

The film and the music are interlocked, or so it seems. I cannotimagine one without the other. I have not seen Roma, so forgive me. Are you trying to convey a similarity in this music video to the content and themes of Roma? Explain in detail.

TL: The video was not intended to be viewed without the music, but the song is indeed available for download on all the usual channels. Spotify, iTunes, Amazon etc. It’s designed to be played in bars, nightclubs and on the radio, hopefully to a wide global audience some day! 

The video has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie “Roma”. In my promo email, I merely made an allusion to the Oscar winning Mexican movie as a joke, since both it and my video are named after neighbourhoods in Mexico City. Aside from that they couldn’t be more different in conception, genre, feel, and size of audience reached so far!

Is the song entitled "Amor"? There are many kinds of love depicted in the room. Tell us your vision of this.

TL: The song is entitled “Polanco”. The love depicted in the video is first unrequited love, then sneaky, duplicitous love, and finally fun, playful, same sex love. The same sex experience is nothing out of the ordinary for our lead character, but for the bartender it’s a bit more scandalous and forbidden. It might be her first time going with a girl.
Talk about your role in the video as singer and also in putting it all together behind the scenes. Are you executive producer? You mentioned that the talented Mexican musicians are up and coming. Who are they?

TL: I’m playing the role of a singer who’s performing his original song on stage in the bar. It’s a small crowd. The singer is a relatively unknown artist. 
My role behind the scenes was executive producer and co-writer of the song. Many of the extras in the music video are acting students in Mexico City. They generously offered their time for free. There were several pitchers of mango marguerita flowing freely from the bar during the six hour shoot, so a good time was had by all. 

What kind of response are you getting in the US? Abroad? In Mexico? Is there a goal? Will there be a sequel? A continuation of the storyline?

TL: The response has been great so far. People are loving the contemporary Latin pop sound. Most people have commented that they really enjoyed the video and thought it was sexy.

The song is my first outing with 3KMKZ; music producers Pepe Portilla, Oliver Garcia and Hector Mena, based in Mexico City. We’ve recorded a second song, “Moctezuma’s Revenge”, which is due a music video shoot hopefully next month. I’m envisioning being sacrificed by Aztec warriors, scantily clad, while sitting on the toilet!

I’m hoping to record several more songs with 3KMKZ in the future, starting next month. 

There is no goal persay. I do this mostly just for posterity, for the pleasure of integrating on a deeper level with foreign cultures, for the fun of the experience. 

Maybe in the back of my mind I have the idea that young gay people might have the opportunity to see an expression of homosexual love on the screen so they don’t grow up feeling that it is wrong to be gay, as I did.

You have a varied background in music and speak many languages. Does Spanish have a bigger and more important meaning in your work? If so, be specific about what that is.

TL: Spanish has had an important role in my career. In 2016 one of the songs from my first album; “Inesperadamente”, was selected to represent the USA in an international song competition at Viña Del Mar in Chile, the largest music festival in South America, a curious honour, since I am not American. I am English. One of the co-writers and producer of the song, Mitchel Delevie, is American. I had the opportunity to perform the song live in front of 20,000 people and a televised audience of millions. It was pretty scary!

Aside from that, I must say that I find some Spanish and Mexican men to be extremely hot. So perhaps that helps entice me to those parts of the world. Haha. 

Talk about your Harvard days, your East Asian studies and your involvement as a cultural attache for the University. Is that still a major part of your life?.

TL: My college alumni network will likely be a major part of my life until I’m old and wrinkly. Many of my closest friends are from the undergraduate classes of 2001 through 2008. I’m still on the mailing lists for The Harvard Pops Orchestra, The Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and my co-ed college a capella group, The Harvard Veritones!

In 2006 I bought in to a trip to China made by the Harvard Club of Tiger Crane Kung Fu! When it became apparent that no one on the team spoke mandarin, I was volunteered as an unofficial and temporary translator for the team; pretty amusing, since my knowledge of Chinese was basic to put it generously. When a representative from The Shaolin Temple returned to the Harvard campus months later, he presented me with a certificate naming me Harvard’s cultural attaché to The Shaolin Temple!

Learning Chinese has proved to be a quirky skill to have. I’m writing a one man show in Mandarin, singing songs made popular by Chinese Idol and The Voice, China. The songs frame an informal discussion with the audience about my travel adventures along The Ancient Silk Road in 2004.

I understand you have been a member of many bands. Which ones? Have you gone permanently solo?

TL: At 18 I became a member of the British boyband “North and South”. Our first single reached number 7 in the UK charts. We had four top 40 hits and acted in our own comedy TV series for Children’s BBC.

In college I was the lead singer of “Tommy and The Tigers”. We recorded an album and performed around the university campus, and at venues in Boston and New York City, including The Bitter End and the infamous CBGBs, believed to be the birthplace of hard core punk rock in the 80s.

I’m currently lead singer of “Chthonic Angels” in Los Angeles. We’ve written and recorded about 20 songs. Brian Florian writes the music. I write the lyrics.

I will likely continue both as a solo artist and as a member of a band in the years to come, but I’m focusing more on the solo stuff. It’s all just for fun really. I don’t have a record deal and I’m not making any money from it, nor do I expect to. It’s a brave new world of downloads out there and trying to make money to even break even with any of this stuff would be a full time job. I simply don’t have the time nor desire to pursue that. I think of it more as a passion project.

I read that you have also done TV talk shows. Where? When? Is that still a vital part of your life?

TL: In 2011 - 2012 I hosted a reality TV show on The Oprah Winfrey network entitled “Real Life: The Musical”. We crash-coached ordinary people off the street in singing and dancing, and orchestrated flash mob musical production numbers to surprise their loved ones with a unique message in each episode.

Talk about you as an actor in musicals and doing two roles in productions of Les Mis, one of which was at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008.

TL: I’m one of the lucky few to have played both Marius and Enjolras in major productions of this amazing, beloved musical. I played Marius on London’s West End for 2 years, aged 20, which was an absolute dream come true and possibly the biggest, most exciting break of my career. 

The Hollywood Bowl is an incredible venue to perform at, fighting and dying on the barricade under the moonlight, with the 73 piece LA Philharmonic Orchestra backing you up. Spine tingling stuff.

Getting back to the video of Polanco is this your first or have you done others?

TL: I’ve done some other music videos. Check them out on YouTube:

1) The Party Is On
2) Inesperadamente 
3) Quando Chove No Rio
4) Live

Any gigs coming up in the immediate future?

TL:I’m performing excerpts from Les Mis at The Lincoln Center (Bruno Walter Auditorium) in New York on April 6th @ 7pm with The UN Chamber Music Society, led by Brenda Vongova, to raise money for the homeless in New York.

Here is the mesmerizing backstory that led to the video:

Here is the video Polanco:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

2019 Cameron Watson Interview

Director Cameron Watson is about to receive the Milton Katselas Award for distinguished achievement in direction from the LADCC for 2018. He is one busy director in LA theatre and recently sat down to discuss overseeing the new production of Steel Magnolias at Actors Co-op, set to open Friday March 22.

Describe your association with Actors Co-op.

The very first play I ever directed in LA was Horton Foote’s The Habitation of Dragons at the Co-op in 2005. That was an experience and a production that certainly changed my life. I had been seguing from an acting career to directing and had just written and directed my first film, Our Very Own, starring Allison Janney. Allison was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance in that film. I did not have directing theatre on my mind coming fresh off that movie, but it sort of just fell in my lap. All of the pieces and elements aligned and it seemed like the perfect thing to do. I had a very long and good relationship with Horton because he had given me my first professional job as an actor in NYC. I replaced Matthew Broderick in his hit play, The Widow Claire, at Circle in the Square. Horton was very much a part of that production of Habitation at the Co-op for me, and he was very helpful as I was prepping it. He came and saw the show and spent time with the cast. That day was one I will never forget. So, I am very happy to be “coming home” to where it all began.

Steel Magnolias has been remounted several times over the years. What is your take on its popularity? 

It is an evergreen. It has such a loving heart and is chocked full of beautiful, funny, complicated women who care so deeply about each other. Lifelong friends. The story touches everyone in some way. You can plug yourself into it even if you are not from the south or spend much time in a beauty parlor. But I bet your mother did, or your grandmother - or your family had a friend or an aunt just like Clairee, on and on and on. Robert Harling tapped into something deeply universal - the human heart.

Is this production any different in texture or design?  

I have worked closely with the design team to make sure we create a very real world. This is a functioning salon built in a converted carport that has been up and running for 15 years and it generates a living for Truvy and her family. It is very important that it feels like a working, authentic space and not a cotton candy-coated version of a beauty shop. And these women are real women in real clothes, not overly-exaggerated ideas of what that era was. They wear these clothes to work in and to live in.  I think people will be surprised at the detail and the design choices.

What challenges do you face as director? 

My biggest challenge is always to get to the truth of it. I am most concerned with telling a story from the heart by having real people in real time living in real space. But that usually comes easily once we all find our sweet spot of where the play and the people in it live. This particular show has an enormous amount of physical activity. There are actual hair-washings and roller-settings and brush-outs and manicures in addition to the emotional action, so we have had to work very hard on choreographing all of that with great authenticity and realism.

Talk about your cast and their chemistry, which is so important for this play. 

I have the best six women for this play you could ever hope for. They are perfection, individually and as an ensemble. Nan McNamara, Treva Tegtmeier, Lori Berg, Ivy Beech, Heidi Palomino and Deborah Marlowe are all fabulous creatures with enormous talent. I am so fortunate to have them all. There is a wonderful comradery among them already as members of the Co-op and dear friends. We were ahead of the game the moment we sat at the table for the first read. Their affection for each other is palpable and infectious and really serves the play.

What do you feel is the main theme of the play? There is a lot of sentimentality, but it seems to play in well with the characters' relationships to one another.  

If you face the sentimentality straight on and have it come from a very direct, honest and blunt place, you cut through to the truth. And the truth of this play is quite stunning. It is a study on friendships, relationships, parenting, marriage, survival, beginnings and endings

What do you think audiences will take away? 

I hope they have a couple of hours of deep, hearty laughs, some moments of recognition about themselves, and that they walk away with a full heart while wiping away a tear.  As Truvy says, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” And she means that.

On another note, congrats on the Pasadena Playhouse Christmas radio plays Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. Will there be a third this year? 

I have had the best time putting together these Christmas radio plays at the Playhouse. Danny Feldman is breathing such incredible new life into that glorious theatre and bringing amazing local artists into the fold there. I am honored to be a part of the Pasadena Playhouse family. He and I have something fun up our sleeves for this coming Christmas, but I have to keep a tight lip on it for now. Let’s just say it will put you in the spirit for sure!

What other projects continue to keep you active in our theatre world? 

I am blessed to stay as busy as I do in our theatre community. I am always so happy to be asked to do something that involves great writing and wonderful actors and designers. Our talent pool here in LA is staggering. Better than ever. I am currently developing a theatre project that I am crazy about with my dear friends, Beth Grant and (daughter) Mary Chieffo. I also have a stack of new plays on my desk I am very excited to read once I get these Steel Magnolias all coiffured and hair sprayed!

For more info or to purchase tickets to Steel Magnolias, visit:

Monday, March 4, 2019

Story for Grandparents Today Magazine

As a grandfather, parent and overall believer in traditional values, I must say I worry about past cherished customs being discarded in today's fast-paced world. What will happen if things are not written down any longer? Do you remember letter writing, thank you cards, Christmas cards, Birthday cards? Do you recall having a diary or seeing one that a relative had? When my wife Clarice died a few years ago, it was painful, but I cleaned out all of her clothes and jewelry and treasures, except her diary. I didn't know she had one until last week  I was rummaging through a bureau drawer looking for God knows what, when I found this small but compact brown leather covered book. I thought it was a bible at first, but when I opened it, I recognized my Clarice's handwriting. "OMG", I thought, "she kept a diary". How did I overlook this? I felt strange about reading it, but what harm could it possibly do since she has not written in it in over 5 years. I proceeded toward the back of the book and began to peruse one of her last entries.

January 5, 2013

Today was a particularly lovely one. The beautiful pearl necklace that Jim gave me for Christmas had a broken clasp, so he had it replaced and gave it to me today.. He put it around my neck with such a loving touch, that it was almost as if he had given it to me for the very first time. He is so special, my dear Jim.

I started to cry, because Clarice and I were close, even though we had our difficulties, but....I never heard her refer to me as her...dear Jim! I wondered if I should read any more entries. Of course, my curiosity and the thrill of seeing her beautiful penmanship drove me on. I could almost hear her soft, sturdy voice as I read what she wrote. I turned the pages to the beginning, read some girlish remarks about her wonderful parents, so decided to turn the pages quickly until I got to a more interesting time that included me. I turned to 1985, when my little girl Susie was about 10; Clarice and I had  married in 1973.

November 10, 1985

I can't adequately describe how I feel today. My heart is nearly broken. Jim has been working late every night for over two weeks. I know something is going on. He is seeing someone else. He comes home late, kisses me briskly and goes to bed. He leaves the next mrorning without coming to the breakfast table or even bidding me a goodbye. Our little Susie asked me this morning why her daddy has not been friendly toward her lately. "Mommy, is Daddy sick? He always used to kiss me every morning and every night. It's been a long time since he spent time with me".

December 1, 1985

I love my husband in spite of his infidelity to me. I hate the thought of divorce or even separation. I must stay with him.  I will stay with him ...  so Susie knows her father. I cannot bear for her to be unhappy. Somehow we must work this out. We will. I will do everything I can to make it right.

I was never unfaithful to Clarice. I worked double hours in order to buy her a diamond bracelet for Christmas and to give Susie a giant doll house. When Christmas came and Clarice and Susie saw their presents, all was well. They were overjoyed. But I never knew how she really felt and how deeply my absence at that time affected her, until I read these entries.

December 25, 1985

I am in tears. Today Jim gave me the most gorgeous diamond bracelet and explained that he had taken a second job at night in order to pay for it. He gave Susie a large and beautiful doll house with lifelike rooms. She hugged her daddy so hard. I wonder if he will ever know how much we love him. I feel ashamed to have ever doubted him. I should have known better. However, if some infidelity had occured, the tension here would have been practically impossible to live with on a daily basis. It is the price one must pay to keep your family together under one roof. Thank God, this Christmas was a wonderful one and we are all so happy again.

Recently I spoke with Susie on the phone. She talked of separating from her husband Bob. She didn't know exactly what he had done, but she said she was feeling neglected. They have a little boy Timmy who is 5 years old. Susie had him later in life and of course, adores him, as do I. I'm a proud grandpa.
(He looks at diary). I tried and tried to tell her that she must communicate with Bob and try to stay with him, for Timmy's sake. (looking intensely at diary again...) Now I know why I found this. It's a life saver. I must send it to Susie right away. She may remember how she felt back then when her daddy was out of touch for a while, but ... if she sees in writing and is able to read what her mother went through emotionally, that she actually contemplated the possibility of leaving me...Susie might reconsider and do the same for Timmy. It's worth a try.

(He looks one last time at the diary in his hand.) The value of writing things down is so important. An email is hardly as effective as a handwritten message. One's personal writing is authentic and carefully thought out; it bares one's soul and tells the truth. So, it may very well be a major contributor in changing lives.

A major concern still exists. How can we be sure that our children, and especially our grandchildren, will not only get the message but actually write themselves? I have decided to write a letter to little Tim. Susie recently sent me a drawing he made of me. I am going to send it back with my letter and ask him to write a description of what he drew underneath the picture ... to tell me in words what he drew in the picture. I don't expect a miracle from a five year old, but whatever he says is his first effort at writing a real honest to goodness paragraph. This will hopefully bring the whole issue of writing full circle. If we do not accomplish this, and the children ignore writing altogether, our future is bleak.

We are slowly becoming a nation of computer oriented geeks. We spend most of our lives reading summaries and synopsies, not real, intelligent books and putting together poorly written, opinionated email messages that end up sounding nonsensical and may be grossly misinterpreted. Where will we be without great journalists and authors, who open our eyes to fresh possibilities, without chefs who write new exciting recipes, without teachers creating challenging lesson plans, without leaders who will write coherent speeches advocating justice and fighting its cause...where will these people be unless we insist that youngsters, our grandchildren, start looking ahead, take the responsibility and write down their beliefs, their feelings, their original ideas and their hopes and dreams for a better life? Without letters, documents and such, we have lost a great art and will not - cannot - survive with any real sense of intelligence or purpose.