Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Interview with Armina LaManna

Armina LaManna is writer, director and also co-founder and artistic director of Imagine Project, L.A.’s only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to young audiences. Its inaugural production opens on Nov. 7.

This inaugural production is the world premiere of The Tale of Turandot, a modern theatrical puppetry experience for elementary school–aged children. Inspired by the centuries-old story, Armina LaManna wrote and will direct this family friendly production, which is geared toward children between the ages of four and twelve years old.

In our conversation LaManna talks in detail about the theatre company and the inaugural production. As a fan of children's theatre, I was amazed that there has not been am Equity company exclusively devoted to it. I grew up loving puppets and as a language teacher have used them in theatrical skits to tell my stories to students and teachers alike.

As the only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to young audiences, Imagine Project is surely getting off to an exciting start with the world premiere of The Tale of Turandot, a modern theatrical puppetry experience.  Tell us about it...the storyline and its background.

AL: When I read the Gozzi play in my teens, I remember really enjoying the combination of commedia dell'arte with an ancient legend. I also recall, however, being saddened that a smart female character was portrayed to be cold and heartless. It was back then that I decided to tell Turandot's story differently one day. Never in a million years did I think that I would be retelling it to young audiences. Yet, over three years ago, when we first decided to commit to telling stories that spotlighted female heroes, I knew that the time was right for Turandot's story from her perspective. Shattering this idea that smart women had to be cold women, was imperative.

This is why, The Tale of Turandot is told from Turandot's point of view - from the perspective of a young woman seeking passionately the opportunity to control her own destiny with plot twists specifically adapted for young audiences. In this play, Turandot uses the riddles to delay being betrothed; she stands her ground, and uses her wit and erudition to get a voice and choice in how her life unfolds; she is a self-reliant heroine - one that I hope would serve as a strong role-model for all kids, but young women especially.

Will there be live actor performances in the future or are you planning puppetry exclusively? 

AL: Puppetry was chosen to help tell this particular story, and while Imagine Project is not a puppet theatre, I do not doubt that we will be seeing more of this majestic craft in the years to come.

Puppetry is a European tradition which when transplanted to American culture has been enchanting children for years. What do you think is the magic of it? Why do kids find it irresistible?

AL: Kids and adults I would add. The magic in large part comes from the audience witnessing puppets transform something common into something extraordinary. What is a simple task for human actors - holding hands for example - suddenly becomes epic when two puppets do it. This allows the audience to develop a new appreciation for holding hands, because it suddenly sees this every-day occurrence in a new and whimsical light. I was born in the former USSR and spent my childhood there, specifically in Yerevan. It was a gift to grow up in a city that had professional children's theatre and of course the Toumanian Puppet Theatre, which was a rite-of-passage for kids there. And really, that's what we want Imagine Project to be for kids in Los Angeles. Did you know that there are hundreds of children's theatres in Belgium, which has a population of only 11.5 million? But Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, which is home to over 10 million people, 2.3 million of whom are kids, had only a handful, and until now, did not have a flagship Equity children's theatre?

No, I did not. We really need you. As artistic director of Imagine Project, what is your mission in detail?

AL: There was a great study done by University of Arkansas a few years ago; it found that seeing high-quality live theatre enhances kids' literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy (which we have known to be on the decline for the past few decades). Growing this capacity for empathy at an age when technology is interfering with genuine human connection, and also igniting compassion for our differences, all through live storytelling, is the driving force behind our commitment to our community.

We also chose to tell stories that spotlight female heroes derived directly from the folk tales of Los Angeles' rich cultural fabric. The objective is to create an opportunity for our audience to see characters who look like them, while at the same time, inspiring girls to aspire and to teach boys to value parity in society.

From the very beginning, we also made a commitment to produce at the highest levels of professionalism; this is why we chose to be an Equity company.

Is there anything else you care to add like wisely scheduling performances on or close to weekends to avoid conflicts with school...or other future projects?

AL: Oh goodness, this has been one heck of a learning curve. Between testing months, school holidays, required lunch/recess times, bus acquisition issues, scheduling a field trip is nothing short of a miracle. There are schools/districts that made things comparatively easy, and then there are those that we have struggled to connect with. We also find ourselves having to often clarify that we are a company dedicated to producing work for children, and not by them.

Performances of The Tale of Turandot are Thursday, November 7 – Sunday, November 17.  Nine performances:
• Thursday 11/7 - 7:00 pm
• Friday 11/8 - 7:00 pm
• Saturday 11/9 - 11:00 am & 2:00 pm
• Sunday 11/10 - 4:00 pm
• Friday 11/15 - 7:00 pm
• Saturday 11/16- 11:00 am & 2:00 pm
• Sunday 11/17 - 4:00 pm

Performances will be held at The Colony Theatre 555 N. Third St., Burbank, CA 91582; 818-558-7000

For tickets and more informaqtion go to: http://imagineprojectca.com/the-tale-of-turandot

(photo credit: courtesy of Imagine Project)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Spotlight on RJ Seikaly

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present The Spanish Prayer Book by Angela J. Davis and directed by Lee Sankowich. The fascinating historical play about the power of art to forge human connections had its official opening on Friday September 20 and plays until November 10. Each week we will spotlight a cast member. This week the light shines on RJ Seikaly.

What character do you play in Spanish Prayer Book?
Julien Nazir.

How does he contribute to the play?
I bring protection and loving support to Michaela. I do everything I can to honor Jacob's legacy. I do my best to guide and advise Michaela to do what’s right in the eyes of history, while respecting her and her mother's wishes while honoring Jacob's legacy in heart and mind.

Any challenges to overcome as an actor?
Understanding the true weight of the historical content and putting the puzzle together.

What to you is the message of the play?Always let integrity, intelligence, and love guide us through decision making. As long as the truth is upheld, a balanced compromise can be made.

Tell us about your director and fellow cast mates.Lee (Sankowich) was great to work with. Everyone was collaborative and lovely.

What do you hope will be the audience takeaway?To have a deep understanding and respect for maintaining the true side of history. Important that we as human beings do not repeat history, evolve and learn from our past to inform a better future.

The Road on Magnolia is located in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. There is plenty of street parking but allow yourself plenty of time. Tickets may be purchased at 818- 761-8838.

Interview with Joseph Bwarie

Joseph Leo Bwarie is one of the Artistic Directors of the nonprofit Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, California. He is a Sherman Oaks native and a recording artist popular on Siriusly Sinatra on SiriusXM Radio. JLB is widely known for his record-breaking turn as Frankie Valli in the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys (over 2,000 performances - Las Vegas, 1st National Tour and Broadway). Bwarie’s career began at age nine, appearing in the television series Highway to Heaven and Mama’s Family. He is a longtime member of Troubadour Theater Company (recent: co-director and ‘Ziggy’ in Little Drummer Bowie and ‘Octavius’ in Julius Weezer). A directorial highlight was serving as associate director alongside Garry Marshall for the world premiere of Billy & Ray and its New York premiere at the Vineyard Theatre. GMT directorial: A Funny Thing Happened … Forum starring Paul C. Vogt and Joey McIntyre, and The Root Beer Bandits: A Rootin’ Tootin’ Wild West Musicale - an original family musical he co-created with Lori Marshall and Rachael Lawrence.

Bwarie is getting ready to open a live radio play at Actors Co-op Friday November 1. In our conversation, he talks in depth about this new production of Miracle on 34th Street.

Nice to see you are doing a live radio play. Miracle on 34th Street is a classic. Why do you think it still holds up after all these years?

JLB: I think Holidays defy age or trends. They become part of people’s traditions and become eternally relevant. So, whatever the holiday tradition – they are special. And Miracle On 34th Street is such a valuable story. It is a classic film that gets its annual viewing alongside White Christmas and The Grinch and It’s A  Wonderful Life and all the stop motion tv specials that are ubiquitous with Christmas. They will always be indelibly part of the season.

Tell our readers, especially those who have not seen one, what is shown in a live radio play...all the behind the scenes activity.

JLB: The exciting part about being in the room while a live radio play is in action is seeing the way the microphones are used with the voice actors, the musicians and the foley artists. In this production, it all happens right in front of your eyes. And if you close your eyes, there are moments that the foley design can transport you to Central Park, Doris Walker’s dinner table in her Manhattan apartment or even an elevator trip to the Toy Department at Macy’s in 1947. And that’s just a few that don’t give away the surprises.

Even in serious moments there is fun. What do you think are the most comedic elements in the play itself?

JLB: It’s a show that is operating on many levels. So, the layers of fun and comedy are coming from all different sources and styles. It really is a show for all ages. And it’s a feel-good show. There is humor and heart in the music, there is charm and whimsy in the foley, and at the core of it all, the adaptation of the original film script brings its own specific wit and comedic appeal. It’s a true ensemble cast and they create the entire world – the music, the foley, the movement, and of course… the laughs.

What to you symbolizes the use of the word "miracle"?

JLB: It’s a special word, right? And it’s a word that is probably used too casually. Getting from Pasadena to Santa Monica in 45 minutes is not the true definition of a miracle. For me, a miracle describes anything that is full of wonder… something that makes a person feel jubilant or alive. That is what a miracle does. When you can’t believe it could be happening and then, in fact, it IS happening – that is a miracle. It think it’s hope. I think it’s possibility.

This is a perfect family show. Tell us why.

JLB: When I was a child in Los Angeles, this is the “seasonal event” that my grandmother would take me to see with my parents and brother and sister. And my grandfather would come along, when he really wanted to stay home to listen to the game on his radio (he preferred sports on the radio to the television). After the show, my grandfather (a man of few words) was so glad he joined and we would all get in our blue minivan together and talk about the show, and we would drive around to see Christmas lights in the neighborhood. What is so great about this production of Miracle On 34th Street is that performances start this week on November 1st making it the perfect family show from a calendaring standpoint.

Talk a bit about the music in the radio play. Are you choosing the carols to be performed?

JLB: The music is clever and catchy and also beautiful. It’s an original score and emulates the sounds of the 1940s with dynamite harmonies and beautiful melodies. And everything is performed live. But there are glimpses of traditional carols that we all know. Although, they are not performed exactly how you might expect. And there are some hidden holiday gems woven into the beautiful underscore as well. I think audiences will be leaving the theatre singing the tunes and wll be filled with the holiday spirit.

How has your background with the Troubies helped you to direct this kind of show? Talk about the unexpected.

JLB: More than anything, working with Garry Marshall for so many years was what informed the detail of how I approached this show. At times in rehearsal, I would find myself saying things that Garry would say, in a Garry-like cadence. And the cast would say, “Garry’s in the building.” He would love that. That has been an interesting extension of Garry’s legacy – actors that never met him, get a “Joe version” of his unique way of communicating a detail of comedy or how to deal with the unexpected. And of course, working with Troubadour for so many years always is part of how I look at stage comedy. Matt Walker was always generous to me when I was in a Troubie show, letting me have the opportunity to invent more ideas or quirks or character business to inhabit the playground. And he would be the first to say that a clown in trouble can possibly be the best laugh of the night.

Do you wish to add anything that I did not mention?

JLB: This is a live musical adaptation of the LUX radio play from 1947. This production is the LA-premiere. And it weaves song and dance and some extra magic into the radio play transcript that was presented over the airwaves seventy-two years ago. This is a fully realized play with a huge original score that is fully designed by a team of LA’s best, and brought to life with 1940s flair by a terrific ensemble cast who do it all.

The radio play of Miracle on 34th Street plays the David Schall Theatre at Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA, 90028 on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood  November 1- December 15, 201  Free Preview Wednesday, October 30, 2019, 8:00pm (Reservation required)  Performance Schedule: Friday, Saturday at 8:00pm, Sunday at 2:30pm, Additional Saturday Matinees: November 9 and November 16 at 2:30pm

Get tix: Online -- www.actorsco-op.org By phone at 323-462-8460 ex. 300

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Singer Terron Brooks and The Soul of Broadway - Impossible Dreams

Actor/singer/songwriter Terron Brooks is best known for his portrayal of Eddie Kendricks in the1998 NBC Emmy winning miniseries The Temptations. On Broadway he played Simba in The Lion King and Seaweed in Hairspray. Brooks is about to release a solo album entitled The Soul of Broadway - Impossible Dreams. I have heard some of the mastered tracks and his range and delivery are nothing short of amazing. The voice is pure velvet. On Sunday November 3, he will perform in concert at the Montalban in Hollywood, where the new CD will be available. In our conversation he talks passionately about the CD and the concert.

Tell our readers in detail about your new album The Soul of Broadway - Impossible Dreams, and why it is so important for you to make these songs fresh for today's audience.

TB:I wanted to share these classic songs with everyone. Not just the Broadway community and Broadway lovers. Taking the songs out of the theater character story and reimagining them with a soul sensibility breathes new life into them and lets the listener hear them in ways that hopefully relates to their own story. I approached them as if I wrote them and infused my story into the narrative. We tried not to limit ourselves to genre and just make good music that connects universally.

Will you do songs from the album exclusively in the concert or will there be others? Give us an example or two.

TB: We will be performing most of the album, except for maybe one or two. The show however is not exclusive to the recorded material, although it is also a record release concert.  It is the launch of a new creative concept... songs from HamiltonDear Evan Hansen, and Les Miserables, which are not on the album, for example, but will be performed during our show. We're keeping a little mystery for our audience but a few songs on the record include "The Music of the Night" (The Phantom of the Opera), "Something's Coming" (West Side Story) and "The Impossible Dream" (Man of La Mancha).

Is the orchestra for the concert the same as on the CD? Tell our readers why it is so wonderful to work with the same musicians who assuredly elevate and inspire you.

TB: The musicians are so important. They inform the emotions that the songs grow to become. The band—led by Mark Vogel, the Music Director and Executive Producer of The Soul of Broadway record—is roughly half studio musicians on the record plus new members who most certainly bring enthusiasm and soul to the live experience. Add to that three phenomenal vocalists, who we call The Soul Singers, who just happen to be friends of mine. It was essential to have Mark on board because as one of the co-creators of the music, he knows the music inside and out. During the recording process there were many magical moments that just organically happened because we share the same sensibility. The music led us many times and we followed without ego or attachments. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from the evening of song? Talk particularly about how you hope to shape their hopes and dreams.

TB: Well, the show is called Impossible Dreams. So of course, the theme is reaching for the impossible. I'm using the backdrop of my own journey to hopefully shine a light where others may find themselves in their own life. I'm hoping my vulnerability will help to inspire others to define their own success and find their voice while bringing people of all walks together. Music is a great connector and if one person leaves with more hope, determination and empathy, then we've done our jobs. I'll be living my dream in real time November 3rd!

Tell us about your association with your wonderful producer/director Brian Purcell. How long have you known each other? Why is he the perfect collaborator for this project?

TB: Brian Purcell was one of my employers and band mates in America's favorite mashup group, The Company Men, which I'm still a proud member of now. We've known each other for many years but over the course of the last four years we've formed a great friendship first and a new partnership with his company 4 Times Entertainment, along with his wife Leah. Brian is the perfect collaborator because he sees me. He understands emotionally what my intentions are with music and has the talent and creative energy to bring it all to life without ever losing authenticity and soul. Everyone needs someone in their corner who ignites their dreams and humbly pushes you to think outside the box and dream bigger. Brian is a visionary and I cannot wait for audiences to witness this experience, which will be like no other.

What I'm most excited about is creating a show where I can be me. No pretense. I think we've created something unique and familair at the same time. Audiences have the chance to be there at the very beginning of an impossible dream coming to life. And my record, which has stretched me the most, will be available that evening before its release later in the week to the rest of the world.

(photo credit: Lionel Garcia)

For more information and to purchase tix, go to:


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Spotlight on Allison Blaize

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present The Spanish Prayer Book by Angela J. Davis and directed by Lee Sankowich. The fascinating historical play about the power of art to forge human connections had its official opening on Friday September 20 and plays until November 10. Each week we will spotlight a cast member. This week the light shines on Allison Blaize.

What character do you play in Spanish Prayer Book? How does she contribute to the play? 

Michaela Adler. The play follows her journey into her family's secrets, and the life-altering decision she has to make because of them.

Any challenges to overcome as an actor? 

It's always interesting working on a new play!  Discovering how to build the character without a precedent.  It is truly exciting!

What to you is the message of the play?

I believe the message of this piece is that God (whatever or whoever that may be to you) is LOVE. 

Tell us about your director and fellow cast mates.

It was a pleasure to work with Lee and all my fellow cast mates.  Everyone was fully invested in the work and process. I have truly enjoyed working with each and every one of them.

What do you hope will be audience takeaway?

People aren't so different from one another, and everyone has something that matters to them.  

The Road on Magnolia is located in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. There is plenty of street parking but allow yourself plenty of time. Tickets may be purchased at 818- 761-8838.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Spotlight on Laura Gardner

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present The Spanish Prayer Book by Angela J. Davis and directed by Lee Sankowich. The fascinating historical play about the power of art to forge human connections had its official opening on Friday September 20 and plays until November 10. Each week we will spotlight a cast member. This week the light shines on Laura Gardner.

What character do you play in Spanish Prayer Book? How does she contribute to the play?
I play Joan Adler, wife of Jacob, whose father ‘saved’ the books from the Nazis. I am trying to get my husband to sell some of the books to help support our daughter and granddaughter. After Jacob’s death, I try to persuade my daughter to sell the books for the same reason! Yes, they belong to the Jews and yes, my family needs help too.
Joan brings humor, passion, reason and honesty to the people around her. I love her British straight forwardness and yes, there is a bit of my mother and me in Joan.

What to you is the message of the play?
I come from a Jewish background and although I wasn’t Bat Mitzvahed,  I feel such a deep connection to my roots and to the struggles of the Jews through time. Always running, hiding. This play brings so many things into consideration: who owns cultural treasures, where do we draw the line, and the importance of the truth in a family. 

Tell us about your director and fellow cast mates.
I have known Lee Sankowich for many years and have worked with him and his daughter, Sarah, on Moses Supposes at The Zephyr Theatre so it is fun to work with him again. And I have been with this play since the Summer Playwrights Festival three years ago so am delighted to be working with Angela (J. Davis) for all this time! The cast is terrific with Roadies I have wanted to play with for many years!

What for you is the audience takeaway?
I hope the audience takes away the importance of family, cultural treasures and the connection of our ancestors. There is a moment when I have been at Passover Seder, that I have been overtaken with a deep sorrow and connection to ‘My People’. This play does this to me. 

The Road on Magnolia is located in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. There is plenty of street parking but allow yourself plenty of time. Tickets may be purchased at 818- 761-8838.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Saudade Theatre

Filipe Valle Costa is the founder and co-artistic director of the Saudade Theatre, the first and only Portuguese theatre in Los Angeles to translate Portuguese playwrights into English. The company will soon open My Favorite Suicide on October 18. Based on my knowledge of theatre in Los Angeles, this is a milestone for our community. We desperately need to include theatre artists from all over the globe whose ideas will expand our intellectual horizons and build the best theatre possible.

Filipe, tell our readers about Saudade Theatre. Most importantly, as the first and only Portuguese theatre in the US, how has it made a difference for the Portuguese and our American culture?

FVC: Well, that is the key right there. Saudade Theatre is the first and only Portuguese theatre company in the US, and as such, it's our mission to develop original and thought-provoking work grounded in the Portuguese experience. I never wanted Saudade to be a "museum" theatre company. In other words, it is not our goal to grow a company that merely presents an American audience with a Portuguese story, or our history straight from the history books. As Portuguese immigrants having grown roots in the US, we are specifically interested in having a dialogue: we want to understand where the contemporary Portuguese consciousness meets the American equivalent. We are now based in Los Angeles, but started the work of Saudade Theatre in New York City five years ago - after having the simple realization that theatre bookstores did not carry any Portuguese playwrights translated to English. I felt a longing for my artistic and cultural roots, and craved the ability to share them. Saudade Theatre has been ground-breaking in presenting certain Portuguese plays in the US for the first time. Exploring Portuguese theatre has allowed us to open our minds to other possibilities and other forms of creating theatre. It's been an amazing ride to rediscover what theatre can be, and do. 

Are all productions translated into English or in some is there a mix of Portuguese and English? Have you ever presented any show in Portuguese and translated into English on a screen above for audience view?

FVC: We are not limiting ourselves to any one way of producing works. For now, the majority of our work is grounded on the translation of Portuguese plays and playwrights, in direct response to the lack of such published works. This is the foundation. This is how we create the bridge between Portuguese and American theatre cultures. 

However, we see many other possibilities in the future. We've considered bringing essential American works to Portugal; we've considered performing plays fully in Portuguese with subtitles; we have and will continue to reconsider our storytelling methods according to the specificity of each project and each step the company takes. 

Tell us about the world premiere of My Favorite Suicide. What does it tell the story of and what is its message?

FVC: It's deeply exciting. Through our work creating relationships with Portuguese playwrights, we now have a new work written specifically for our company, penned by one of the most notable Portuguese playwrights today. We are ecstatic to produce this world premiere here in LA. 

My Favorite Suicide is an apocalyptical story about four friends, in a cabin, in the middle of a mountainous forest, grappling with the strangest of all human acts. What deaths do we give ourselves and what countless tales do we tell about them?

This work is also incredibly personal. Suicide has touched my family. One of our goals with Saudade Theatre is to always take the pulse of the current moment - so My Favorite Suicide came about as a response to the general mental health conversation in the US right now. It was important to us to be able to have four actors get on stage and debate the meaning of life and death and choices and survival, nonstop, for over an hour. There is not one defined message per se. This play is not a cautionary tale, nor looking to impose a certain point of view. Our goal is to speak openly about suicide and exchange ideas, which audiences may or may not agree with, but it's an open dialogue about a subject that so often is swallowed by silence.

Talk about the collaborators and the writer/director's first directorial production in the US.

FVC: I feel personally fulfilled to be working with everyone on this project. Starting with Mickaël De Oliveira - his writing repertoire includes more than 20 plays, which have been produced internationally and translated into English, French, Spanish and Slovak. He's been working at the national theatre and on Portugal's largest stages for years.  Having him and his translator/dramaturg Maria Inês Marques in the US working with our theatre company is a unique opportunity for ourselves (as artistic directors), for actors, and also our production designers, to work with artists of great experience and perspective. And, with our goal to further Portuguese playwrights, Saudade Theatre set up a conference with UCLA's Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, where Mickaël will have the opportunity to present on his Ph.D. thesis regarding contemporary European theatre for students and department staff. 

We're also incredibly grateful to be working with Drum & Lace once again this year. Drum & Lace is a composer & performer that writes & creates music for film, fashion & media. She composed original music for our West Coast Premiere of The Constitution, also written by Mickaël, last year. There's no limit to the wonderful things I can say about her. Her scoring of HBO's documentary “At The Heart of Gold” was absolutely gorgeous.

We have found a true diamond in the rough with our stage manager, Garrett Crouch. He's that for us and so much more. I cannot imagine producing anything without him. It’s been a huge gift to share the stage with our actresses Liliana de Castro (Psi, HBO), Joy Brunson (This Is Us, NBC; Snowfall, FX), and of course, my co-artistic director, Diogo Martins (Saramago’s Skylight.) 

Last but not least, sharing an artistic life with my wife, our Executive Director, Vanessa Varela, has been one of the most rewarding experiences I could have asked for. Vanessa has been our rock. 

Tell us about incorporating American actors into casts and how that generates a fine sense of community.

FVC: Saudade Theatre is first and foremost a conversation between American and Portuguese artists, between our cultures & societies. A dialogue about what we might or might not have in common. Our work is always in relationship to where it exists, because the theatre depends on that. I guess we can say that we are not a Portuguese theatre company. We are a Portuguese American theatre company. We never wanted to be solely made up of Portuguese artists because for us, that would mean isolating ourselves rather than opening ourselves up to valuable collaborations. The bridge we are slowly building strongly depends on that.

My Favorite Suicide will play at Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop 905 Cole Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90038  It plays at the following times:  Friday, October 18 - 8:00 pm, Saturday, October 19 - 8:00 pm, Sunday, October 20 - 7:30 pm. NO SHOW on Fri. 10/25. Saturday, October 26 - 3:00 pm, Saturday, October 26 - 8:00 pm, Sunday, October 27 - 7:30 pm,  Friday, November 1 - 8:00 pm, Saturday, November 2 - 8:00 pm, and Sunday, November 3 - 7:30 pm  $20, Ages 16+


Monday, October 7, 2019

Interview - Michael Ventre

Michael Ventre studied at the University of Southern California both in Journalism and at the graduate school of Cinema. He also studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory in Los Angeles.

As s journalist, he has contributied to such publications as MSNBC.com, Variety, American Way (American Airlines) magazine, Los Angeles Confidential magazine, Los Angeles Times magazine, Produced by (Producers Guild) magazine and many others.

Ventre has been working for a few years on a new musical with arresting political references called Letters to Benito. In our conversation he discusses it and how he would like to produce it locally at a prestigious theatre.

Tell our readers about the association between Benito Mussolini and J Edgar Hoover that sparks your new musical. Old timers are familiar with both men, but they may like to know why you created this fantasy to link them as pen pals. Explain the story.
MV: Authoritarian rule is a much-discussed topic these days, in the U.S., in Europe and beyond. There was a time when Hoover had an authoritarian grip on power in America, although it was relatively silent and behind the scenes. He ran the FBI for almost half a century with an iron hand, he intimidated powerful figures into submission, and he went after his enemies. In short, he used Fascist tactics and abused his power. Of course, Mussolini was more of an overt, card-carrying Fascist and a supporter of Hitler, but I think you can conclude that the two were simpatico in terms of how to maintain their respective grips on power through ruthlessness and fear. Plus each was about 5-7 and bald, so I thought they’d make a cute couple.

If the musical is irreverent and political, then it certainly is a fit for our current scene. What motivated you to write it?
MV: It’s something I have been working on for several years, but it certainly seems especially appropriate for our current times and the current political conditions. Back in the early 1990s a biography of Hoover came out and made a number of assertions about him, one of which was that he was a crossdresser. His private life and his relationship with close friend and FBI deputy Clyde Tolson have always been the topics of speculation and discussion. I don’t think it matters who he was with or what he wore; I support anyone living their life the way they want and loving who they want. But for the purposes of this fantasy in which seducing Mussolini was an objective, I put Hoover in a dress, wig and high heels, and I think an impartial observer would probably agree that he looks quite fetching and irresistible.

Did you write the music as well as the book? If not, who collaborated with you?
MV: I did write the music as well as the book.

What style of music did you envision? Opera? Operetta? Of is it more contemporary with rap and hip hop?
MV: It’s more contemporary, and although there’s a dash of hip-hop in one number, it’s mostly what you might categorize as whimsical show tunes within a nutty context. Yet I’m a big fan of soul, R&B and Motown, and some of that is layered in as well, especially after Madame Gottlieb, the beautiful African-American transvestite brothel operator in Italy, is introduced. It’s an intentionally wacky musical, but with a serious side. There’s a delicate balance, and I tried to maintain that balance in the songs as well as the book.

Without creating a spoiler alert, tell us some of the humor that is present. You say it is Mel Brooksian. Explain that in detail.
MV: A friend and colleague, Flody Suarez, who was one of the producers in the Tony-nominated The Cher Show on Broadway, recently read Letters to Benito and remarked: “That is one trippy read! It’s very reminiscent of Mel Brooks’ comedies.” That’s where the Mel reference came from that you’re citing, and it was very nice of Flody to say that. I would never make that comparison. Mel is one of my all-time comedy idols, and I am eternally grateful to him for existing. It is my sincere hope that, if Mel ever sees “Letters to Benito,” he laughs. As for a spoiler … I’d rather not get too specific. I will say that there is one song performed by the Clyde Tolson character that is both dirty and patriotic – one could argue that the two often go hand in hand – and I think most will find it funny and some will find it offensive. I remember thinking, “I don’t think this has ever been the topic of a song in a musical before. Maybe the time is right!” There are also references to a certain current-day individual without mentioning said current-day individual that I hope will elicit at least a guffaw or two.

Many theatres like the Road, Actors Co-op in Hollywood and Antaeus have great acting companies. It obviously will take some pretty terrific acting to carry off the powerhouse ambitions of these two characters. What kind of effect do you want it to have on audiences?
MV: I want audiences to laugh. It’s an irreverent musical comedy, after all, and we could all use a good laugh, especially these days. I feel confident audiences will have fun at this show. But there is always an undercurrent of darkness to it, especially toward the end. No matter how fun the ride is, the subject matter has natural darkness to it that can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. So I think as people walk out they will have a lot to talk about regarding our current leadership, Hoover, Mussolini, freedom, democracy, power, secrecy, propaganda, and how to select just the right handbag.

Have you read it in small groups? If so, what was the reaction?
MV: Yes, and everybody laughed in all the right places, and sometimes in the wrong places, but I’m hoping that was residual laughter from laughing in the right places.

How do you feel about musicals in general? Is this your very first?
MV: I love musicals, now. I’m not going to say I saw Oklahoma! when I was 10 and it changed my life. Nor have I ever appeared in a high school musical. I have attended musicals as a casual fan over the years. But in recent years I’ve been going more and more, catching up more and more, and now I have the bug in a sort of incurable way. Letters to Benito started out as a screenplay, but as I progressed, it just felt like a musical. So I transformed it. And yes, it’s my first.

Do you have a favorite composer? If so, why this choice? What about favorite musical of all time? Why?
MV: Probably the Gershwins and Stephen Sondheim. I know that’s a little like saying “The Godfather” is my favorite movie, but what can I say? That’s it. And although it’s film, can I please throw in Ennio Morricone for “Once Upon A Time In America”? Thank you. My favorite musical of all time is probably a tie between Bye Bye Birdie, The Producers and Hamilton. And I know this isn’t exactly what you asked, but I’ve never been a big fan of rap and hip-hop. But after seeing Hamilton and wearing out the soundtrack, I’ve gained an appreciation for that genre and I am exploring with glee. Thank you Lin-Manuel Miranda. I think you can say that’s the power of a great artist, when he or she has that kind of impact that alters your life a bit.

Do you wish to add anything I did not mention?
MV: One item I’d love for audiences to think about afterward is the idea that you should consider how you want to be remembered, especially if you’re in any position of power and influence. I don’t know that Hoover thought much about it, maybe until the end, if at all. In retrospect, he probably should have. I think there are a lot of folks today who should really keep that same thought in mind.

I have read the play and find it terribly amusing and worthy of attention. Since he is between websites at the present time, you may contact Ventre on his FB page: https://www.facebook.com/michael.ventre.18. Theatre producers, take note!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Interview - Magician Siegfried Tieber

Renowned magician Siegfried Tieber, who was a sensation on television with Penn and Teller, is about to perform a new show Red Thread in downtown Los Angeles Oct. 3 – Nov. 10. The interesting part is that there are only 6 shows per week for 6 weeks and ... only 34 guests will make up the audience for each show. In our conversation he explains the show and why it must be perfromed in an intimate space.

Tell our readers about your fascinating background. Your father came from Austria and your mother from Colombia. You grew up in Ecuador. How did magic become a part of your childhood? When did it become more important to you than anything else?

ST: Many professional magicians, those of us who decide to devote our lives to this pursuit, get interested in magic at an early age. However, I didn’t until I was 19. Someone lent me a book and I started learning from it. After a few weeks of practicing on my own, I gathered the courage to share what I’d been working on with my family. Their response was very enthusiastic—much more than I expected. They freaked out, and I freaked out at their freaking out. Since that moment, I fell in love with magic.

Do you have a mentor? Who influenced you the most? Who taught you magic or are you self-taught?

ST: I’ve had a few mentors along the way. I crossed paths with the first one when I was still living in Ecuador, only a few months after I got interested in magic. I had the good fortune of meeting someone who taught me to care about magic, to nurture it and to see it as an art form. His name was Andres Castro, a great artist and a wonderful wizard who left us too soon.

There are and have been many who have influenced me as a magician. To this day the most present is the Spanish genius Juan Tamariz—el Maestro!!

Who do you think is the greatest magician of all time? Why this choice?

ST: Ayayay… Tough call. “Greatness” is highly subjective and hard to define. I don’t have an answer to that. I have heroes and personal favorites. I’ve had the thrill and pleasure to collaborate with many of the magicians I’ve respected and admired for a long time. Red Thread director Jon Armstrong and co-writer Jared Kopf are very influential figures within the magic community. Collaborating with them has been a privilege. If someone had told me about this only 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed them.

Your show sounds very intimate with only 34 guests in each audience. Explain why this is so important to the enjoyment of the show?

ST: An intimate audience opens the door to interaction and to getting to know each other. I might be doing most of the talking during the performance, but everyone there is an essential, active part of it.

Physical proximity to the stage and to the performer is important for the kind of performance I propose. It creates a specific atmosphere and group dynamic that can’t be attained in any other way.

How is Red Thread different from your past shows?

ST: For me, magic has always been an excuse for human interaction. It’s a vehicle that allows me to engage with people and implicitly ask them for a few minutes of their precious time and attention. My hope with Red Thread is to push this even further, with a performance that puts weight on the narrative, instead of focusing solely on the magic.

Talk about your co-writer Jared Kopf and your artistic director Jon Armstrong.

ST: Jared and Jon have different artistic visions, but both are immensely respected in the magic community. We all pull in different directions, which has led to a work that hopes to encompass and fulfill multiple dimensions. It has been challenging of course, but it’s been a very enjoyable challenge.

We know that the magician makes you focus on one thing while you do another. The magician moves our attention away. Without revealing anything, talk about this.

ST: The idea that a magician distracts people is a misconception. The psychology of magic goes deeper—is more subtle and elegant—than “quick hands” and “distracting people.” If you are being distracted and you realize that you have been distracted, then the experience won’t resonate. Instead, it will be dismissed as a clever juggling feat. In my mind, the magician should encourage people to watch closely and follow the action every step along the way. If people know they’ve been watching attentively and the result is still surprising and wonderful, then that feels like magic.

On a similar note, I greatly dislike the idea of “fooling” people. Magic deals with the psychology of deception, but deception is only a means to an end. Magic is a quite peculiar art form in the sense that it must bypass the intellect in order to reach the emotions. When I perform, my goal is to evoke wonder. No one wants to be fooled; we all want to experience wonder.

For info and tix go online to:


Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Interview with Harriet Schock

teacher Harriet Schock has had an incredible career in composing for TV and film. She still performs in live concerts around the globe, gives master classes in songwriting and is lauded for her great skill and humanity in writing songs that resonate with the human spirit. "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady" and "First Time on a Ferris Wheel" are but two of her magnificent hit pop songs. In our conversation she really digs deep to help us understand and feel the songwriting process.

I have been a fan of yours since I heard Carl Anderson sing "First Time on a Ferris Wheel". It's one of my favorite songs of all time. Reaching out and finding love, the exhilaration of it all is perfectly presented in your music and lyrics for this song. Is there a specific event or person that inspired you?

HS: Well, in answer to the question which comes first the music or the lyrics, Sammy Cahn said “the phone call.” In my case, in answer to what inspired it, it was a film assignment. Misha Segal wrote the beautiful melody, in my presence, in the music studio where we worked. I watched him write those notes and those chords and I felt I was riding a horse that I was steering not to make one false move. Of course, I had nothing to do with it, but that was the sensation I had—like I was willing every note and chord and he was doing it exactly as I wanted. After the melody was written, I wrote the lyric. It was for the Motown film, “Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.” I asked myself “What do I have in common with this character?” He’s African American, from the ghetto, a virgin, studying Kung Fu—so far nothing in common. But we had one thing in common…we both had fallen in love for the first time—he with a character played by the actress Vanity. I thought, “Falling in love is sort of like being on a Ferris wheel---it’s exhilarating but terrifying.”

We showed it to Mr. Gordy late one night at his house. He prefaced listening to it with the complaint “Why did you write a love song? There’s no love song in this film.” He then heard it and called the head of Tri Star Pictures on the phone (it was 2AM by then) and asked him to come over and hear the song, telling him they were re-writing the film for that song. Carl Anderson sang the demo and it became his trademark song. In the film, Smokey Robinson sang it. Over 35 singers have sung it but no one could beat Carl’s version. He was Judas in the film, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” as you must know. He was one of the finest singers who ever lived. It was an honor to be in the audience when he sang it.

"Ain't No Way To Treat a Lady" fit Helen Reddy like a glove. What are your memories about creating this piece? Were you happy with Helen's interpretation of it?

HS: I was very happy that Helen sang the actual melody. That may sound absurd but when you’ve had a lot of covers, that can be a miracle, a gift. Even the intro was almost identical to my record. She was very kind to me. After the record started getting airplay, she flew me to Las Vegas and introduced me from the stage. It apparently was a custom started by Edie Gorme who sang a song of Helen’s and did that for her. She continued the tradition with me. My publishers had been bragging about getting her the song, but when I asked her how she heard it, she told me she’d heard my version on the radio. That made sense because “Hollywood Town, “ my first single and “Ain’t No Way To Treat a Lady,” my second got a lot of airplay. Not as much as she got, but enough to get it heard by her. The label I was on—20th Century Records—had 2 top forty stations poised to go on my record on a Monday.

The Friday before it happened, the program director of the first station (in L.A.) quit. When that happened the second station (in San Francisco) pulled out. The promotion team at my label are still upset about it. I was happy to have a hit my parents could point to when they were still around, even if it wasn’t my record. Helen went on to record my song, “Mama,” which my mother used to great advantage to get backstage at Helen’s shows. “Ain’t No Way To Treat a Lady” had a Wikipedia page before I did. Whoever wrote the info on the Wikipedia page must have come to one or more of my shows because he quoted my introduction to the song: “I wrote this song on an airplane as I was leaving someone for the last time. It was one of the last times I left him for the last time.” That pretty much sums up what inspired it.

As I listened to Breakdown on Memory Lane, I marveled at the songs with the word "search" in it. We are all searching for love and some memories are painful as well as happy. Tell our readers about this from the viewpoint of a songwriter. What makes you choose one memory over the other? What makes it tick for you?

HS: Generally, I don’t write a song if the communication I want to make doesn’t have an effect on me, unless it’s on assignment. There’s a physical feeling I get, sort of like tears starting or a yearning feeling. I feel I have to say something and only the saying of it—both melodically and lyrically—will stop the feeling or satisfy it. It’s hard to describe but if it’s not physical, it manifests that way. That feeling will carry me through the writing of the song. Usually it’s not a memory that will do it, it’s something I’m trying to get, to communicate, to express or to share. I might start with a memory but the impetus to write it is outward—something I’m trying to accomplish or say to someone or about someone. I often tell my songwriting students songs are like little trials. You’re in front of a jury trying to win your case. The pictures you use are your exhibits A and B…you have to make your case or a disaster could occur. If you lose your case, she’ll never come back, or he’ll think you never loved him or the world won’t understand the way things REALLY are…whatever you’re on trial about. If I don’t have that gnawing tears-at-the-back-of-my-throat thing, I probably won’t write a song at all. There are so many other fun things to do. Like errands.

One song in particular "I'd Forgotten" really grabbed me. Did this grow out of a personal experience of yours or someone close to you? What inspired it?

HS: The recurring line is “I’d forgotten you were God,” spoken very sarcastically at the end of the first two verses, after which the audience always laughs. Then the bridge says “When I stopped admiring you, I thought it was your loss…but the one who’s disillusioned always pays a higher cost.” Then in the last verse, after discussing some soul searching and reading I say “It reminded me divinity lives inside the spark—that glows in us, each of us, even in the dark… and it showed me I’d forgotten you were God.” When people listen all the way through, they sometimes have the realization that it’s about forgiveness and understanding. When you really know someone and see that person, you can’t dismiss him or her as I was doing in the first half of the song. I like revealing my own flaws in hopes that others will see their own.

You collaborate with other lyricists, but most of the time you write both music and lyrics. That is a true gift. Do you prefer to work alone? 

HS: I mostly work alone. In the beginning, I wrote alone. Then I got signed to Motown’s publishing company with a composer named Misha Segal and I wrote mostly lyrics. I generally write second—if I’m given a melody, I write words and if given a lyric, I write the melody. When I write with Arthur Hamilton (Cry Me A River, et al), I write melodies even though he can also write both. . Lyricists like Hillary Rollins and Chana Wise write lyrics that leap from the page to the piano. How can I not write melodies with them? But most of my album songs I wrote alone or, if there’s a collaboration in there, I’ve written the music.

Let's go back in time. Tell us about your background. How did music play into your world? When did you realize it was your life's dream?

HS: I was very close to my father. He was a musician. My sister got piano lessons and when she came home and read the music she was practicing, I’d play that song by ear. So my father taught me some chords when I was about 4. Eventually I’d say “I know, I know.” Then I studied with a piano teacher who was sweet and innocent enough to believe I was reading music after I got her to play it “just once so I’ll know if I want to learn it,” and then I was mostly playing by ear again. I never learned to read music well. My father was a much better musician than I am. He put himself through school playing cello and marimba. Eventually his father convinced him to become a doctor (dermatologist) and I lived out my father’s dream of becoming a musician. It was definitely my dream too. At what age did that start? Probably before my foot could reach the pedal.

Do you have a mentor or mentors? If so, tell us about these people, or person, and why they (he, she) mean (s) so much to you.

HS: I was probably discovered by Roger Gordon who signed me to my first publishing deal at Colgems. I’d write songs each weekend and bring them in on Monday. I got the songs for my first two albums that way. He was my mentor and inspiration in many ways. Colgems had signed Carole King also so there was a lot of pressure to say the least. I performed at what was then The Ice House, owned by Bob Stane who now owns The Coffee Gallery Backstage. He suggested I perform “6 songs and show.” I said “What is show?” He said, “You know, talk to the people!” This unleashed a monster. I think people come to hear my intros to the songs now as much as the songs themselves. Bob has been a wonderful mentor not only to me but to many singer/songwriters over the decades. By playing Bob’s club, I got signed to 20th Century Records. At that point, Russ Regan took me under his wing. He was a true record and song man.

I made 3 albums for that label and during the seventies there was a station that played album cuts. Every cut on all three albums got played. It was how other artists heard my songs and covered them. I was devoted to Russ and his belief in me made a huge difference back then. Then I met Berry Gordy who also inspired both me and Misha Segal. I had met Misha in the early eighties and had started writing with him. We met with Mr. Gordy regularly while we were signed there. He inspired me and during that time, Misha and I wrote “First Time on a Ferris Wheel” among many other songs. In 1991, I met Nik Venet. He reminded me of my records in the seventies and urged me to get back to who I was as a singer/songwriter writing from real communication. He made 2 albums with me which I really love—American Romance and Rosebud. Then Phil Appelbaum came to town and produced a live CD with me. My most recent CD is “Breakdown on Memory Lane,” produced by Travis Allen. All of these business people, in some way, were mentors of mine. As Nik Venet often said, “If you wouldn’t eat dinner with that person, you shouldn’t be working with him.” All my mentors were also friends.

You are helping to keep great standard pop music alive for future generations. What is your opinion of hip hop and other contemporary music styles?

HS: That’s kind of you to say. I have no problem with any style of music. It’s all so subjective. Hip hop has bled into pop and given us rhythms of melodies we wouldn’t have had without it. Everything has a purpose. I do still appreciate melodies that have movement and chords that do change occasionally. And I prefer lyrics that make sense or at least have enough pictures that I don’t care that they don’t make sense. I have trouble enjoying constant repetition and my greatest irritant is chords that never change…either one progression of two chords or even one chord over and over. The fashion parallel seems to be this: You see people dressing in clothing that looks really bad on them and their reasoning is that it’s in fashion. This illogic has spilled over into songwriting and I think we are the poorer for it.

You have done a lot of work in composing for film and TV. Which are your favorites? Why these choices?

HS: I have written or co-written a lot of songs for film and TV but I’ve scored only a few films by Henry Jaglom. That was a lot of fun. Mostly, though, I write songs for films and for TV. I love solving a problem in a film with a song or deepening a message. When I co-wrote (with Misha Segal) the songs for the animated “Secret Garden,” a film by Mike Young Productions, our audition was to solve a problem of the bird singing a song even though he didn’t speak English—or anything else for that matter. So I solved it by the phrase “If you listen to the meaning, not the words.’ Luckily that got us the job and I’ve done a number of shows with that wonderful company, now called Splash Entertainment.

Henry Jaglom came to one of my concerts and decided to make a movie sort of like “Oh Lucky Man,” where the band comes in and out of the film commenting on the story. The film was called “Irene in Time” and my entire band (at the time) was in it along with four of my songs. It was always a thrill working with Henry. He later cast me in a play called “Just 45 Minutes from Broadway,” directed by Gary Imhoff, which ran for nearly a year, and I was later cast in the film version of that. It was great working with the other wonderful actors: Tanna Frederick, David Proval, Diane Louise Salinger, Jack Heller, David Garver, Julie Davis and Judd Nelson.

Anything you care to add that I did not mention?

HS: I have some exciting things coming up. I’m making a new CD of my unrecorded new songs with my fabulous band. When I perform, I get to hear their beautiful accompaniment and I truly have the best seat in the house. There’s Joe Lamanno on bass, Jennifer Richardson on cello, Kelly DeSarla on flute, Eden Livingood on violin and Andrea Ross-Greene on backup vocals. I play keyboard, of course. And sometimes Carmael Frith fills in the third harmony. At my last Coffee Gallery Backstage concert with this amazing group of musicians, a filmmaker was inspired to create a film of some sort about and/or with me. It’s in its formative stages, but it would probably be some sort of documentary. The work he does is always wildly entertaining and never dry so to even call it a documentary is misleading. I am looking forward to his creative ideas on what he wants to do.

To read more about her fascinating life, to check her concert schedule...and to purchase her many cds, visit:

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