Tuesday, December 10, 2019

2019 Interview with Scott Dreier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anything you wish to add? 

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

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

Thursday, December 5, 2019

2019 Interview with Phil Olson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there a final comment you care to make?

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Interview on the Panto with Director BT McNicholl

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

What do you like about the Panto productions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about your ingenious cast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more info and to purchase tix, go to: