Tuesday, September 15, 2015

2015 Interview with Carole Cook

The inimitable Carole Cook is one of those theatrical greats who...well, the mere mention of her name makes faces light up. And immediate laughter abounds at the thought of the outrageous things she has said onstage. This fiery redhead legend - it's OK, she and Lucy were friends - is about to open her night club act for 5 performances only - directed by the one and only David Galligan - at Tom Rolla's Gardenia. Miss Cook took time from her rehearsals to sit down and chat about the upcoming show.

Talk a little about the content of your show. Is it a series of anecdotes from your life in chronological order?

To an extent it is in chronological order, but not all of it. When I talk about certain things, it'll spark a memory that I'll then bring up. Some sweet things that happened when I was young that influenced me later in life. Frankly, I hope it gives the show a very spontaneous feeling, and I want the audience to feel like I'm telling it for the first time. I love the illusion of it being for the first time. Some of them are my favorite stories. I love telling them. And I love to hear the audience react. Sometimes they laugh, sometimes they take things very seriously. But they all mean a lot to me. I go emotionally with it each night. David Galligan, the director, does such a wonderful job molding and shaping the show, and Chris Marlowe tailored the songs which just makes it such a pleasurable experience for me to perform it.

The last thing I want to create is a spoiler alert, but will you give us just a tease of the music? What are some of the songs you have chosen to perform? What is your favorite one?

My favorite song in the show - there are two: I absolutely adore a song that goes waaay back and is pertinent now. It's called "Something Cool" by Billy Barnes (I sing 4 of his numbers in the show). And I'm very fond of "Have I Stayed Too Long At The Fair." And, of course, I love doing "Hello, Dolly!" Gower Champion really created a legend with that staging, and I loved doing it for two years in Australia. I mean who wouldn't? You have 20 handsome guys looking at you coming down the stairs. "Before The Parade Passes By" is also very special to me. Honey, let me tell you, that's what Dolly's all about. 'I'm gonna throw open the doors and embrace life and just do it!' I believe in that song. And it's what I believe for my life, too.

What is one of the funniest mishaps - when everything went wrong - you can remember from a show you did onstage?

Oh, my dear, my life has been full of missteps. Like when there's a mess up and you're laughing your ass off. And you try to shake it off and say, "Carole, be a professional!"
There was a play, I can't even remember the title. It was a murder/comedy and in the end of Act 1 there were people sitting around the breakfast table. And I burst in (I was the murderer) and the curtain comes down. This night, I came on to kill the man. I reached in my pocket to shoot him dead and there is no gun! I did not have the gun. It was a breakfast scene, so I grabbed a jar of grape jelly and I reached in and grabbed a handful and started throwing it at the man!! I was screaming "Poison jelly!!" I got so into it, I hit everyone at the table. I "killed" the whole cast with poison jelly at the end of Act 1! Now what??? In Dolly one time I kicked my foot up and my shoe went flying off into the audience. And this little bald man brought it down to the foot of the stage. I gave him a big, red kiss on the top of his head. These crazy things are the best part of live theatre.

How did doing Steel Magnolias change your career?

I would not say it changed my career, but it gave impetus to it. I loved playing Ouisar. Everybody in it loved what they were doing, and that was joyful. And we're in an audience-pleasing show, so it was just so rewarding. All of the women, there were six of us, loved each other. I don't think there were any cross words among us. It goes against the axiom that women do horrible things to each other in show business. Barbara Rush and Margo Martindale were in that show and we toured for years. We did the Kennedy Center and performed for the Bushes. Bobby Harling wrote it, and it was just a fabulous show.

What is the favorite show you have done? Why?

It's difficult to pick a favorite. I worked with my husband, Tom Troupe, in Lion In Winter, and that was special. There are wonderful things about many shows that make them dear to me. I've done such enjoyable shows from comedy to drama. I love Chekhov. Some would find that hard to believe. I'd love to do Gypsy. Honey, there's a roomful of shows I'd like to do. The trick is, "Keep breathing!"

Did anyone serve as mentor to your career?

There are so many more opportunities for women in comedy now. There's SNL and so many other things to cut your teeth on. Just get out there and do it! There are so many talented, funny women right now, and it's hard work. Lucille Ball, God knows, proved that. Lucy loved to rehearse, you could never rehearse her enough. And I learned my professional dedication from that.
Years ago, Lucy heard about me and sent for me to come to LA. And at the meeting we had a long talk and I told her some of the stories I do in my show, in fact. And at the end of our conversation she wanted to put me on contract. She asked if I would consider changing my name which was Mildred Frances Cook then. And I said, "Of course!" (I mean, it was Lucille Ball, after all!) And I said, Carole, for Carole Lombard who was married to Clark Gable. And Lucy said, "Carole Cook." "You, Carole Cook, and Carole Lombard have the same healthy disrespect for everything in general," and I took that as the greatest compliment.

Talk about your marriage to Tom Troupe and how that wonderful marriage has lasted all these years. What's the secret?

We've been married for 51 years, and it's been the best thing that's certainly ever happened to me. He's made me better. He's just improved me. I don't think there's a secret. You just do it every day. There has never been jealousy between us - any competition professionally. If only one of us can get the job, I want him to get it. I want people to recognize the talent that each of us sees in the other. He was in The Caretaker, and I thought he was the best actor I'd ever seen. I didn't see any tricks in his work. There was so much honesty-nothing showy. But the end result was stunning. There was always a hint of danger in his work. George C. Scott had the same quality, and it sets some people apart. Tom plays comedy as honestly and dead seriously as tragedy. Anything less than great in those two fields will get you booed off the stage.

What do you want to be remembered for most? What should the inscription on your tombstone say?

I would like to be remembered as somebody who brought a little difference to people's lives for the good. We all want to be beloved, and that would be nice. I'd like for them to think "I'm glad I knew her."

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Interview with Brady Schwind

Producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman and The Transfer Group have announced that CARRIE THE MUSICAL will return to Los Angeles at the historic Los Angeles Theatre, the first theatrical musical at that venue. CARRIE THE MUSICAL begins previews on October 1, 2015 and officially opens on October 8, 2015.   
 Directed by Brady Schwind and choreographed by Lee Martino, this immersive staging of CARRIE takes the legendary musical off the stage and puts the audience right in the middle of the action, back in the rooms and hallways of high school and, of course, with a prime seat at the prom.   This production is based on the acclaimed run this past spring at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, with most of the original La Mirada cast.  

Director Brady Schwind recently sat down to chat about the changes that have been made to the show since last March.
Has the show changed in any way since March? Have you had to adapt it to the new space in any way?
Yes, indeed it has!  Our pilot production at La Mirada this spring was a fantastic chance to test the environmentall-immersive concept I had for the piece, but The Los Angeles Theatre is a whole different play-ground. Quite literally!  This old jewel of a downtown movie palace is a vast, fascinating labyrinth of space, with decades of lore and an astonishing architecture. It's also one of L.A.'s best kept secrets. One of the biggest thrills for me on this incarnation, is imagineering how the story of CARRIE can work in tandem with the story of this extraordinary building.  So while, we are taking the bones (and hopefully the best aspects) of what was done before, we are completely re-imagining the show for our new home. Everything is bigger and better! We have lots of new surprises, and I think for even those who saw it at La Mirada, it will feel like a fresh, new production.
Expand once more on your mission for Carrie. How does the immersion help audiences to understand the issues better?
I love iconic stories. I love stories that have endured for decades. And I love asking 'why' those stories have endured, and to then as a director  to ask if I have any new insights into what makes them relevant.  The brilliance of Stephen King's work on CARRIE is that he took what is, by-and-large, the most universally terrifying  time in a person's life -- the American high school experience - and in his own way 'theatricalized' it into a grand, almost operatic horror story.  In this immersive approach to CARRIE, we are asking the audience to step back into high school -- and to bring their own personal memories with them.  The characters in the piece are archetypes -- we know who they are -- we know who we are in relationship to them, and of course -- we all, at some time or another, know what its like to feel like Carrie.  The environmental landscape, which takes away any 4th wall separation between between the cast allows audiences the opportunity to get swept up, not only in the experience of the story, but in the experience of how how their own personal story relates. 
What are the plans? A Broadway run?
Oh wow! Taking this revival of CARRIE to Broadway would be a a personal dream come true for me, but right now we are focusing on other cities where we think the show could be unique and powerful.  Certainly, Las Vegas holds the potential for an especially grand staging, and I love the idea of New Orleans, a city with haunted roots that seem a natural fit to the story.  But I think this production could also find great success internationally too -- in Europe or Japan.  Even if the culture is a little bit different, we have all shared these universal experiences and feelings of growing up. I think CARRIE speaks to everyone.
What other shows and directors have you been influenced by? Any shows you dream of directing?
My work on CARRIE definitely takes some inspiration from the work of Michael Bennett and Tommy Tune  (namely their productions of FOLLIES and GRAND HOTEL) which were both riveting fantasias on environment and memory. And I'm fascinated by the historical work of theatrical pioneers like Tom O'Horgan and Peter Brook. Of the current crop of directors, I'm endlessly thrilled by the work of Marianne Elliott, Alex Timbers and Sam Gold and this season, like everyone else was knocked out by Thomas Kail's work on HAMILTON and Michael Arden's re-imagining of SPRING AWAKENING at DeafWest.

As for shows I'd like to direct -- well, anything by Tennessee Williams and Chekov (what director wouldn't) -- but I also have a secret dream of taking a stab at LOLITA MY LOVE (the fabled John Barry / Alan Jay Lerner take on the Nabokov book) which I think, like CARRIE ,has always been a mis-understood musical waiting to be mined for gold.
 Any final words about the cast, the space or the production. Look forward to seeing it again.
I adore our cast, who I think have completely redefined these roles.  I am thrilled that almost all of them are returning to the production.  And I'm honored too with the best creative team in Los Angeles.  But most of all, I am blessed to be working with writers (Composer Michael Gore, Lyricist Dean Pitchford, and Book Writer, Larry Cohen) who are still in love with CARRIE -- ever open to new ideas,  and firmly committed to making this production the best Prom Night she's ever had.

Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
                 /Performances begin Thursday, October 1, 2015
                               /Opening Night Thursday, October 8
                               /Performances on sale through November 22.

                Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings at 8p
Saturdays Oct. 17, Oct. 31 (Halloween), and Nov. 14 at 6:30p and 11p
Saturdays Oct. 3, Oct. 10, Oct. 24, Nov. 7 and Nov. 21 at 2p and 8p
Sundays at 2p and 6:30p

                              Tix available online at ExperienceCarrie.com or by calling 1-888-596-1027

One of the Top Ten Stories on BWW this week:

Interviews for Welcome to My World with Bruce Kimmel, Sami Staitman and Corey Fogelmanis


        Welcome to My World, starring Sami Staitman, is the first ever one-girl musical written for and about a fourteen-year-old. The musical will have its world premiere September 10 and continue through September 27, 2015 at the Grove Theatre in Burbank, CA. The Disney Channel’s Corey Fogelmanis (“Farkle” on Girl Meets World), who appears as a Special Guest on the show’s upcoming Kritzerland Records’ CD Cast recording, will be on hand opening weekend for a private Meet & Greet with fans who have donated to the production. The show is created and directed by prolific Bruce Kimmel, surely no stranger to LA theatre.

         In the following brief interviews, creator/director Bruce Kimmel, star Sami Staitman and CD guest Corey Fogelmanis talk about Welcome to My World.

     BRUCE KIMMEL wrote, directed and starred in the cult movie hit, The First Nudie Musical (available on a Special Edition Blu-ray).  He also co-created (with David Wechter) the story for the hit film, The Faculty, directed by Robert Rodriguez.  As an actor, Mr. Kimmel guest-starred on most of the long-running television shows of the 1970s, including  The Partridge Family (recurring), Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, MASH, Alice, and many others, including leading roles in several pilots for all three of the major networks. Mr. Kimmel is a legendary Grammy-nominated producer of theatre music on CD, having produced over 180 albums. He has produced solo albums for Petula Clark, Helen Reddy, Jason Graae, Liz Callaway, Christiane Noll, Rebecca Luker, Brent Barrett, Sally Mayes, Judy Kaye, Judy Kuhn, and many others.  In addition to the albums he has personally produced, Kimmel has also released over four hundred classic cast albums and soundtracks, including his acclaimed remix of the original cast albums of Follies; Promises, Promises and Sugar.  His label, Kritzerland, issues a new CD every two weeks.  For nearly five years he has been producing and hosting a series of live entertainment tributes based on albums he’s produced.  The series takes place at Sterling’s Upstairs at The Federal in North Hollywood and features top regional  singers and special guest stars. He is also the creator, writer, and director of the popular web series, Outside the Box.  Most recently he directed a critically acclaimed production of Li’l Abner; and took a sampling of his Kritzerland shows to New York.  He also directed the hit Los Angeles musical revival of Inside Out, and One Starry Night:  From Broadway to Hollywood, a benefit for ALS at the Pasadena Playhouse which starred Renee Zellweger, Petula Clark, Melissa Manchester, and Ed Asner, among others.

     What made you decide to write this musical? Was it Sami's talent that totally motivated it or do you have a passion for the craziness of that age?

     About three years ago I was asked if I could find a comic monologue for a thirteen-year-old girl.  I searched, couldn’t, and ended up writing one for that girl. That planted the seed about doing an evening of monologues for the character I’d created, who I’d called Molly. And I thought it would be fun to have one song in it to set up the show – and I wrote the beginning of one, which I called “Welcome to My World.”  But things were busy and I kind of just put it away.  Last year, after I’d been working with Sami for two years, I began to think about it again as a vehicle for her.  We sat down, I told her how much work and commitment it would be and said if she was willing to go there, I would begin writing the rest of the show. She was and I did. I’ve written fifteen books, thirteen of which are fiction, and eleven of which feature teen or pre-teen protagonists – I guess I love writing young characters.

       What do we learn about the 14 year-old girl in the show without issuing a spoiler alert?

     Molly pretty much runs the gamut in terms of subject matter – she talks about anything and everything that’s on her mind, some of them quite frankly – as she says at one point, “Have you noticed that I have no edit button?”  I hope both young and older folks will relate to the subjects and I hope they find Molly unique and even refreshing for a fourteen-year-old.

       Did you compose new songs or are you using familiar ones?

     Originally it was going to be just one song to open the show, but as I began writing the monologues I would get to the end of one and think, gee, what a good place for a song, and it just kind of morphed into a musical – but when you have Sami that’s just kind of a natural thing to do.  With the exception of one song that I wrote a few years ago and which Sami had already sung in a Kritzerland show but that also worked perfectly for this show, all the songs are new.

      Sami is best at comedy. Do we get a chance to see that in the new show?

      The majority of the monologues are comic, so, yes, she gets to do lots of comedy in the show. 
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    SAMI STAITMAN, a millennium child, has been performing on stage since she was 4, where it was love a first footlight! Sami's first professional gig was at the age of 8 and she hasn't stopped since. She adores musical theatre and has over 30 credits on stage. She is equally at home in front of the camera or in a recording studio singing and recording voice-over.  Sami has performed on stages all across the country from Los Angeles to New York. She is part of a very active cabaret scene performing in Los Angeles and in NYC alongside some of the great talents in musical theatre and cabaret today. Sami earned her Equity card at the age of 11 for the title role of Annie at the Pioneer Theatre Company.  Sami balances school with a professional acting and singing schedule performing in cabarets around the country and also taking part in musical theatre productions, readings and workshops, TV/Film & Voiceover. All this and she competes on the Comedy Sportz LA High School Team. She's fortunate that she has a school that is supportive of her career and a loving family that is by her side. At school, as a part of her core curriculum she takes American Sign Language as her foreign language requirement and she's a natural. In January, 2015, Sami was nominated for three Robby Awards, from Los Angeles critic Rob Stevens who recognizes the best of theatre in Southern California.   www.samistaitman.com

        How does it feel to be starring in your very own show at 14?

      Starring in this original musical is such a thrill and an honor for me!   I am beyond grateful to Bruce for this amazing opportunity!

       Has Bruce really nailed 14? Does he have you playing yourself or a fictional character?

       When Bruce first told me about this project I was really excited about it! Bruce and I spent a lot of time talking about all kinds of things.  About once a week for many months, me, my mom and Bruce would have lunch and he'd ask me all sorts of questions or I'd tell him stories that had happened to me at school, with friends or at camp.  So although I am playing a fictional character, I completely get Molly.  She and I are very different but share a lot of the same experiences.  And yes, he's really great at capturing what's going on in a 14 year old's world.    

      Tell me about your friendship with Corey Fogelmanis.

       Corey and I have been friends since we were about 9 years old when we were both cast in a local community theater production.  After that we went to NYC together for Broadway summer camp together.  Then when I was cast in a musical movie and they needed a boy to sing, we recommended Corey.  Next, when I was cast in a TV Pilot which had a musical number in it and they needed a boy to sing and I recommended Corey again. Then I introduced him to my agent who signed him and the rest is history. 

      I understand there's a song that you will be sharing with him on the album? You will do a version that you are singing in the show and he will do a different version? Talk more about this.

      We're each singing the song titled, "Everything is Gonna Be All Right".  It's a very positive, sweet song about no matter how bad things might be going, everyone goes through things like this and you're not alone in feeling the way you do, but in the end you'll get through it and that "Everything is Gonna Be All Right".  I think Corey's fans will love the song and it really speaks to kids our age.  Corey has a great voice and a lot of people don't even know that he's been singing most of his life.  It's one of my favorite songs in the musical and I can't wait for people to hear this song as well as all the other songs too! It really talks to not only kids my age, but it's a great song no matter how old you are.  This musical is filled with so many wonderful, fun and heartwarming songs.   (ask Bruce, but I think all the songs will be available on ITunes.) 

      Do you get a chance to do a lot of comedy in the show? Give us an example or two.

     This show is very funny, and Molly talks a lot - I mean a lot! Well she has to, doesn't she? Since she's the only one on stage, besides Alby Potts, the show's Musical Director, who is also on stage.  I don't think Bruce would want me to give anything away, so you'll just have to come and see it!  But as funny as it is, this musical also has it's sweet moments as well. 

     Tell me about the music that you sing in the show. Is it all original? 

     Every single song is a Bruce Kimmel original and they're all fantastic!  Only one was written before the show, but it actually happened to me in real life, so Bruce kept it in the show.  I love singing all the songs and I think everyone who hears these songs will have a favorite or many favorites and will want to sing them too. The songs are so amazing!  There are fast list songs to slow moving ballads, story songs and everything in between!  I can't wait for you to hear them all!
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     Corey Fogelmanis, “Farkle” on the Disney Channel’s mega-hit TV show Girl Meets World, has been involved with theatre from a very young age; and this year was honored to receive an Arts Advocate Award for his dedication to community theatre.  Staitman and Fogelmanis have been close, longtime friends and, together, have performed in numerous stage shows and on TV and in films.  Because of their shared passion for musical theatre, Corey lent his support to Welcome to My World by not only agreeing to be a part of the musical’s upcoming Kritzerland Records’ CD Cast recording and singing a special bonus track titled “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright”, but will appear opening weekend at a private Meet & Greet event for fans who donated to the production.  For more information about the CD, visit  www.GetTheCD.com.

         Tell me about your Disney Channel show and the character "Farkle" whom you play. Do you sing in the show?

        Currently, I am working on a show for Disney called Girl Meets World. It’s a sequel to the hit 90s show Boy Meets World. Basically, the show follows the daughter of Cory and Topanga, Riley, and her friends as they make their way through life. In the show I play Farkle, who is part of a group of four close friends. He is very smart and likes school and values the friendships he has. I do not sing in the show.

      What other kinds of roles have you had a chance to play - on TV or stage? Do you prefer musicals?

       I spent a good amount of time on stage before I started television and film. Some of my favorite roles that I have had the chance to play on stage include 10 year-old Tommy in The Who’s Tommy, Bugsy in Bugsy Malone Jr., and Young Don in Singing In The Rain. I like to perform whether it’s on tv or on stage.

       Tell us a little about the song you sing on the CD without giving too much away. I understand it is a different version of one Sami is singing in the show?

       The song I’m singing on the CD is called "Everything is Gonna Be Alright". It’s about not giving up and holding on because in the end everything will work out. I’ve added my take on it and I’m excited for it to come out.  

     Previews: Thursday, September 10 at 8pm; Friday, September 11, at 8pm/Runs: Saturday, September 12 – Sunday, September 27.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm Tickets:  Gala Opening Night September 12.  Thursday – Sunday: $25./Telephone Ticket Reservations: Plays 411 - (323) 960-7787 or reserve online at www.plays411.com/world

Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015 Interview with Creative Team of Assassins

zach lutsky

dan fishbach

On August 21 Red Blanket Productions will present a rare revival of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Assassins at the Pico Playhouse in West LA. Director Dan Fishbach and actor/producer Zachary Lutsky, who plays assassin John Hinckley, recently took time out of their busy schedules to talk about the show. It is particularly relevant this year as we recollect the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth in 1865.

Dan Fishbach: Recent credits include The Maiden's Prayer, Private Eyes, Company, 25th Annual Putnam Co. Spelling Bee, HAIR, Bat Boy, Chicago, One Night Stand, International Tour (an improvised musical for Producer Marc Platt) and several productions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Currently a professor at The USC School of Dramatic Arts (Directing & Musical Theatre). Formerly Head of Performing Arts at Harvard-Westlake School (2002-2006), Director of The Groundlings Theatre & School (2006-2008). Has taught at CalPoly Pomona, Santa Monica College and lectured extensively about the History of Musical Theatre. As a producer he produced the play An Oak Tree at The Odyssey Theatre, which was described by Variety as “A celebration of pure theater’s power”, Impro Theatre’s Impro Unscripted (Odyssey) and nearly 30 shows at the Edinburgh Festival. He is an alumnus of Director's Lab West. Degree from Kenyon College. Member SDC.

Zachary Lutsky: Zach is thrilled to be working with the amazing cast and creative team behind Assassins.   Some of his favorite roles include Harry in Company, Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Mr. Mushnik in Little Shop of Horrors, and Albert in Bye Bye Birdie.  During the day (and too often nights) Zach can be found working as a doctor in the ER.  He also has worked as a writer, medical consultant and actor on such shows as “ER,” “Parenthood,” “A Gifted Man” and “Scandal.”  He is currently a writer/producer on NBC’s “The Night Shift” in its third season.  Special thanks to Liz, Jacob and Emma, for their enthusiasm and support.  For Grandma Florence, who inspired his love of theater.
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How do you know each other?

DF: Zach and I have known each other since Jr. High School.  We were in a production of Gypsy together.  I played Rose’s Father and disappeared after about page 8 and he played Herbie (the lead).  No jealousy there at all. ;)

In the past, have you worked together doing theater – and if so, how and when?

DF: We have talked about doing a show together for a couple years now.  Zach’s been eager to produce something.  He initially approached me about doing In Trousers, which didn’t work out.  We then talked about The Last 5 Years, and Parade before agreeing on Assassins, and I’m thrilled that we did.

How did the idea of producing a musical first get hatched?

ZL: As mentioned, I have had a deep passion for musical theater since my high school years.  I have long fantasized about producing a musical.  But as a doctor and TV writer there has not been any time to make this dream come true.  In the meanwhile (meantime?), I have long supported and envied Dan's work directing plays and musicals at the college and professional level.  When it turned out that the show I am currently writing on was going to be on hiatus for a few months, I saw my opportunity and finally approached Dan about working together to produce a musical.  I knew he too loved Sondheim and with his extensive experience would be the perfect collaborator for this endeavor.  Fortunately, he was interested and we started working on it immediately.

It seems clear that you both enjoy musicals by Stephen Sondheim.  However Assassins is not one of his most popular works and when first produced, was not a successful venture creatively or financially.  The musical later picked up steam with a production in London, and was revived in New York, earning five Tony Awards in its first revival.  That being said, why choose Assassins and why now?

DF: As a director, Assassins appeals to me because for the very reason that it was not a financially successful venture:  it’s not traditional musical comedy fodder;  it asks us to look at a very dark side of America’s history and our present, and to look at these assassinations not from the outside but from the inside.  It asks us to step back before the moment of assassination to view the circumstances that provoke unthinkable violence.  They’re questions that regularly surface today with the regular gun violence in our country, and questions that even today, in real life, we hesitate to answer.  This show forces us to look at those questions, without ever really answering the questions.  It does what Sondheim and his collaborators do best: make an audience look inside  themselves and think.  That, to me, is the most exciting kind of theatre.

ZL: It is true Dan I are both huge Sondheim fans and this show popped in my head almost immediately when I thought about producing a musical.  I love that it is so unique, so rarely done and that ONLY Sondheim would have the brilliance and confidence to attempt to write a musical about people who murder presidents.  Who would ever think that that topic could be so entertaining, funny, moving and even lend itself to song and dance. Another aspect of this piece that I found attractive is that it is an ensemble show.  We have been able to pull together a very diverse group of actors and have been blown away by how their individual talents have melded together.   Finally, I feel that its message and themes are still very relevant today.  The show explores what happens to sick minds when they are confronted with the reality that most people will never achieve the American dream that we are all promised.  Looking at all of the horrific violence in our country today, we see the modern manifestation of this realization, when certain individuals, hopeless and disturbed, lash out in grotesque ways against the country they feel has betrayed them.  The Balladeer belts out early on in the show, "Listen to the stories. Hear it in the songs. Angry men don't write the rules, and guns don't write the wrongs."  I often think of these lyrics when yet another gun-related tragedy pops up on the evening news and pray that one day the world will know this truth.  

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Red Blanket Productions presents the multi-Tony Award-winning musical Assassins with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by John Weidman based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr. directed by Dan Fishbach, music direction by Anthony Lucca, and choreography by Lili Fuller.

Disturbing, alarming, and eerily funny, Assassins is perhaps one of the most controversial musicals ever written.  Stephen Sondheim, the great genius of contemporary musical theater, with stand-out shows such as Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Company, leads audiences on a tuneful review of Presidential assassins and would-be killers from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley.  Thought provoking and darkly delightful, Assassins won five Tony Awards in its first revival on Broadway. 

The cast includes the talents of Claire Adams, Jeff Alan-Lee, Sean Benedict, Janna Cardia, Cole Cuomo, Dominic De Armey, David Gallic, Adam Hunter Howard, Jason Peter Kennedy, Zachary Lutsky, Sandy Mansson, Nick Tubbs, Bryan Vickery, Selah Victor, Travis Rhett Wilson, and Paul Wong.

Material appropriate for ages 15 and up/August 21 – Sept. 27, 2015/Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM/The Pico Playhouse, 10508 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles 90064
/Tickets: $30

For tickets and information please visit http://www.assassinsmusicalLA.com 
Show Facebook: facebook.com/assassinsmusicalLA
Twitter: @assassinsshowLA

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

2015 Interview with Gregg T. Daniel

Director Gregg T. Daniel returns to The Group Rep to direct Eric Simonson’s critically acclaimed play LOMBARDI based on the book When Pride Still Mattered:  A Life of Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss.  In our conversation, Gregg talks about the play, his fascination with the nature of greatness, and what he’s been up to as a director.

By Steve Peterson

When did you take an interest in directing? 

While I was in college, I worked for a number of years as a counselor at a summer performing arts program in East Harlem. The program provided neighborhood youth classes in Art, Music, Dance & Drama. I was in charge of the Drama Division. The program culminated in a fully mounted production utilizing all of the departments. One year, the program director asked me to direct the stage production. After that, I was hooked, the challenge of bringing various disciplines together into a cohesive whole thrilled me.   

What was the first play you directed and how did it go (or what did you learn from the initial experience)?

I believe the first play I directed was the musical, “The Me Nobody Knows.” It was an enormous amount of fun working with a musical director, a choreographer and a scenic artist. We were all very young and thankfully were willing and open to learn from each other. 

How did your directing of the Group Rep’s production of LOMBARDI come about?

I’ve developed a very fulfilling artistic association with the Group Rep. GRT’s Co-Artistic Director, Larry Eisenberg continues to invite me back and is willing to consider material I’m interested in. Lombardi is my fourth product with GRT. I was watching the sports channel ESPN one night and stumbled on a two part documentary about Vincent Lombardi. I was fascinated by the man and his accomplishments. I remembered there had been a play on Broadway a few years prior about Lombardi. I acquired Eric Simonson’s script and brought it to Larry.  

In addition to being a working actor, you also directed plays for Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, a company you co-founded. What plays did you direct for LDTE and tell us a bit about how they relate to the mission of the LDTE Company?

A central part of LDTE’s mission statement is mounting material, “through the lens of the artist of color.” We look for plays that explore stories of the Black Diaspora. For LDTE, I’ve directed, “Three Sisters After Chekhov” by Mustapha Matura. It’s an adaptation of Chekov’s work set in1941 Colonial era Trinidad. The play is a wonderful reimagining of the original work with people of color squarely at its center. I’ve also directed, “Elmina’s Kitchen” by Kwame Kwei-Armah, a powerful work set in London’s East End about three generations of black men within an immigrant family.  

You recently directed the well received, award-winning production of WEDDING BAND for Antaeus where you are a company member. How did that rarely seen play come to be a part of Antaeus’ season?

My wife, Veralyn Jones is also a member of the Antaeus Company. She brought the play in. We’ve both admired the work for a long time and longed to see it revived. Antaeus encourages its members to bring in material they’re passionate about and arrange a reading for company members. If there’s enough interest in the work, the play may receive a staged reading open to the public. WEDDING BAND went through that process. Ultimately, the Artistic Directors decided it was a work which the company wanted to produce.   

What do you see as possibly being a challenge with the direction of Lombardi?

It’s hard to present a play about sports on stage especially a sport as physical as football. When you’re in a football stadium, there is a visceral reaction to the sights and sounds around you. It’s intoxicating. I want to bring some of that athleticism of the players and the excitement of the game to a stage production. 

What do you want the audience to take away with them having seen the play?

I’m interested in the play as a look at the nature of greatness. What are the unique ingredients which breed greatness in a person? I’d like the audience to possibly reflect on not only what they find great in others but in themselves as well.  

What’s up next for you as an actor and/or as a director?

Next up I’m directing a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, FENCES by August Wilson. I’ll be at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. It’s been 30 years since the play’s initial production at the Yale Repertory Theatre. It’s also the theatre’s 30th anniversary season.  

Is there anything else you’d like to share about the play LOMBARDI that you would like people to know?

You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy LOMBARDI, it’s a story anyone can enjoy. Additionally, Lombardi’s wife Marie figures prominently in the play. She was the glue that kept Lombardi and their family together. He may not have attained the greatness he did, if it hadn’t been for the determination of Marie Lombardi.

LOMBARDI runs July 24 – Sept. 6. Fridays & Saturdays 8PM.  Sunday Matinees 2PM.  Appropriate for ages 12+.  Admission: $25.  Buy Tickets/Info:  www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990.  Lonny Chapman Theatre 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood 91601.

The cast includes the talents of Bert Emmett, Christopher Hawthorn, Julia Silverman, Ian Stanley, Steve West and Troy Whitaker.

2015 Interview with Playwright Martin Sherman

Playwright Martin Sherman, most famous for his Pulitzer-nominated play Bent is in town for the Mark Taper Forum's revival of  the classic directed by Moises Kaufman. We sat down at Vespaio at the after party Sunday July 26 and chatted briefly about the play and this production.

A writer friend of mine wants to know what research you did originally on the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany?

I went to a library called the Wiener Library in London. There was hardly anything written about it. I asked the librarian and she showed me a book that had a footnote and another that had a line and another that had three sentences. I pieced it all together from that. There was also a brilliant book written by Bruno Bettelheim called The Informed Heart which was about the psychology of both the prisoners and the guards at Dachau when it was a detention camp, not an extermination camp. That was very helpful about the psychology of everybody.

When you wrote the play and it first appeared on Broadway in 1979 with Richard Gere and David Dukes and David Marshall Grant - which I saw by the way - what did you hope audiences would take away with them? And now, has that changed?

I wanted them to learn what happened to gays in Nazi, Germany. But beyond that I wanted...I'm sure I wanted... a message about love, which I always want in all my plays. It doesn't matter what time.

Well, as I was watching Act II tonight, you certainly achieved that.

This is a wonderful production. Wonderful director and company of actors!

So this production holds up to other past productions?

Oh, yes. This is so special, brilliantly directed and every part is wonderfully acted. It's a very, very special production. I couldn't be happier.

Is Bent your favorite play?

That's like asking a parent to choose a favorite child.

I love A Madhouse in Goa. It suits my craziness. All of the characters are such losers, and again in need of love.

Yeah, I love that play. It ranks right up there with Bent and other plays. Vanessa Redgrave played Mrs. Honey in London.

You should have won the Pulitzer for Bent. It's so powerful.

I don't know if that's true. In those days, nominations were not announced; now they are. Only the winner was announced. Years later when the Internet came into being, it started to say that I was nominated for a Pulitzer. Maybe I was. I honestly don't know. (he laughs) I have no idea where it comes from or whether it's true or not.

Thank you for your time, Martin.

Thank you.

A very humble, gracious human being and brilliant writer! Go see Bent while it plays at the Mark Taper Forum through August 23 only.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Interview with Stacy Ann Raposa

Stacy Ann Raposa has, for several years, worked with actors to explore the depths of their minds and souls.  In doing so, the actors create solo pieces that are performed in public at the end of a four month process.  Rather than just moving from one solo piece to another, all actors are on stage throughout the show – sometimes playing characters in other actors’ solo pieces.  We sat down with Stacy to hear about the process and how BARE NAKED ANGELS came to be.

BARE NAKED ANGELS:  Angels Unabated
Interview with Director/Producer Stacy Ann Raposa
By Steve Peterson

When did you first take an interest in the performing arts (theater, or acting)?
I was 26 and had just moved to California. I decided that it was finally time to go to college. I signed up for a Theatre 101 class at Glendale Community College and fell in love.

How did the idea of BARE NAKED ANGELS come about?   Where does the name come from?
While attending USC (where I met my co-producer Sarah, who also stars in the show,) I took a class in Solo Performance, which I was immediately intrigued by. After I graduated, I belonged to a theatre company and kept trying to get them to do some kind of solo show. My voice went unheard, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I assembled a cast and held meetings in my living room, teaching my actors what I had learned and adding my own twist. One of my actors in the original show just blurted out the name during one rehearsal, and it stuck. “Bare Naked” as in the actors are baring their souls to an audience and “Angels” as in people living in L.A.

What is the development process of the material (briefly)?
For the first month, the actors’ homework for each rehearsal is to write 2 pages. It doesn’t matter what they write, just that they write. I have them start with a lot of stream of consciousness just to get them going. Once they get into a rhythm, amazing things start to emerge. Actors write about things they thought they forgot, or write things they didn’t even realize they wrote. We all lend support and understanding to each other and the stories grow from there. I follow many of the philosophies and use a lot of exercises from The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity, which is a wonderful book written by Julia Cameron designed to help artists harness their creative abilities. One of my favorite exercises is called Imaginary Lives, where Julia asks: “If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them?” She then goes on to give numerous examples and then invites the reader to choose five of their own. It is this kind of work that encourages the artist to allow themselves to think in ways that they normally wouldn’t.    

You have several other BARE NAKED ANGELS productions under your belt using the method you developed for solo pieces – has the method changed in any way since you first started?  What have you learned while in the process of giving shape or developing the monologues?
No, the method hasn’t changed. The end product has, though. The very first show I did was a little different. The process was exactly the same, but the end piece was 6 monologues. Beginning with the 2nd show is when I started to break the pieces apart and glue them back together, making the show much more of an ensemble piece.
I have learned that everyone is an individual and has their own way of learning and going through the process. What works for one may not work for another. You need to cater to each and every actor to make sure that they are giving you (and their audience) the best piece they possibly can.

What is the most challenging aspect of directing the show?
The most challenging aspect of BNA is piecing together the show. I have to take various monologues (in this case, seven) and break them down, finding links (words, thoughts, feelings)  that connect certain pieces and glue them all back together to make an ensemble piece. It usually takes me about 2 weeks to complete.

Is there an overall theme to BARE NAKED ANGELS:  Angels Unabated?  And, if there is no overall theme – how do you go about tying, bundling, linking the monologues together into a play?
No, there is no overall theme; each piece has its own individual theme. That is one of the main messages of BNA, even though we are all different, there are a lot of things that connect us, or make us all the same too.  My process is to print out each actor’s monologue and lay them all out in front of me. I scan them once, searching for a word or a feeling that might tie a certain piece together with another piece. I write notes on a white board of links that I find. Then, I write all over the scripts, numbering each chunk of text in the order that I want it to appear. Then, I cut and paste and voila—a script!

What do you want the audience take away to be having seen the play?
That every human on this earth has something of value to say, even if they think they don’t.

What’s up next for you, new projects, other shows, etc.?
Well, Fringe Theatre Co is currently homeless, so I’m not sure what’s on the horizon for us. But I do know that I’ve been teaching my BNA method to actors for 9 years and it is so rewarding—for me and for them. I would love to be able to teach this to more people in the coming years.

Is there anything else you wish I had asked or something else you want the reader to know about you or the play/this production?
BNA has always been a labor of love. It is a very valuable tool for the actor to possess, going through this process. Past students of mine have reported that the process makes them stronger, bolder actors and also forces them to look at others in a different way. It changes lives, and that is something I’m very proud of.

BARE NAKED ANGELS:  Angels Unabated weaves together the intimate true stories of seven brave actors, creating a unique evening of theatre. It’s solo performance with a twist!   The play runs July 17th through August 9th, at Actors Workout Studio, 4735 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91602.  For tickets and more information please visit www.barenakedangels.com and www.facebook.com/BNAsolo.