Saturday, March 7, 2015

2015 Interview - Dan DeLuca Tours with Newsies

        Actor/singer Dan DeLuca has many regional stage credits that include Danny in Stephen Schwartz's Snapshots (Goodspeed), Lucas in The Addams Family (Muny), and Gabe in Next to Normal (Weston Playhouse). New York credits include: Cain/Japheth in Children of Eden (CAP21), plus various concerts/new works at 54 Below, Joe's Pub & Radio City. DeLuca will begin performances at the Pantages in the first national tour of Newsies as Jack Kelly on March 24. In our chat he tells us just how much Newsies means to him.              

             I understand you were born in 1992, the year the film Newsies came out. Put all of this into perspective for me, how you feel about that and how you felt about the film as a kid. Did you ever think that someday you would be playing the role of Jack Kelly?

I have to be honest, I never actually saw the film until I was in high school. I am a very proud Disney freak but my parents never bought me the VHS so I never had any exposure to it. However, when I finally saw the film, I imagined myself playing the role of Racetrack (Max Casella’s role in the film). I dreamed of standing on tables and singing King of New York, not riding a horse in a cowboy hat. Now I’m 22 and Captain (or cowboy) Jack Kelly is a much better fit.

              How challenging a role is Jack to play onstage? Is it as difficult or more so than others you have tackled? If so, in what way?

I think Jack Kelly is one of the most difficult male tracks in musical theater. I wore a Fitbit on my ankle one night and I burn over 900 calories every time I do the show. It’s the best marathon ever. It’s extremely vocally and physically demanding. Lots of high notes to sing, lots of speeches to get the guys riled up, lots of punching and lots of getting punched. It’s an adventure every night and I am having the time of my life.

How is the stage version of Newsies similar to the film?

It still has the plot line and songs that everyone knows and loves.. You still get “Seize the Day” and "Santa Fe", they are just more flushed out for the stage. 

            How is the musical different from the film?

There are quite a handful of differences, as one should expect. Harvey Fierstein cut the Bill Pullman character (Denton) from the film and created a new character for the stage named Katherine, a sassy and sophisticated reporter who writes about the Newsies’ strike and serves as a love interest for Jack Kelly.  Alan Menken and Jack Feldman added a number of catchy and smart songs that won them the 2012 Tony Award for Best Score. I’ve met many fans of the movie who have come to see the show and they have not been disappointed.

Describe working with this creative team - the composers, the director, choreographer. I understand we are about to see some of the best dancing onstage EVER. Talk a little about that.

Alan Menken, Jack Feldman, Harvey Fierstein, Jeff Calhoun, and Chris Gatelli…no wonder the show is a hit. Each one of those men is just as talented, smart, loving and supportive as the next. 

The score is out of this world. On my day off, I find myself singing the songs in the shower and I get mad at Alan and Jack because the score is so catchy and I deserve a day off (laughing). I have never had a composer make such a tremendous impact on my life as Alan Menken. Not a day has gone by in my life when I have not either hummed or sung one of his songs out loud. Jack Feldman and I also share the stupidest sense of humor and we can entertain each other for hours texting dumb jokes. Jack also wrote the songs for A Goofy Movie, which makes him one of the coolest guys ever. 

Harvey is also one of the sweetest men on the planet. He treated me like an old friend the second we met. I have seen him in countless Broadway shows and movies and think he is one of the most talented people in the business and, it’s a dream come true getting to work with him. 

I met Jeff Calhoun two years ago and he has been so supportive of me getting this role, and I can’t thank him enough. He’s been so great about letting me explore and play as Jack. Every time he comes to see the show, we’ll have a new discussion about the character and it continues to help me grow. 

Poor Chris Gatelli had to work with my “dance” skills. I've never worked with a choreographer who caters so much to his dancers. He is one of those talented forces of nature with a heart of gold. I'd work with him again in a heartbeat. 

     Are you looking forward to LA audiences? 

I am thrilled to be opening this show in LA. It will be so nice to sit down and really explore the city. I don’t know what to expect but I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy it.

      What fun story can you tell me about working in Newsies on the road? An embarrassing moment or something that can only happen onstage.

There is a new story everyday. The set is made up of 3 giant towers that move all over the stage. If they malfunction, it results in me improving a whole new scene (which is an adventure for everyone involved) until stage management can get them back on track. Lyrics have been forgotten and I’ve fallen on my butt and face a number of times. The list goes on...

The performance schedule for Newsies is Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm. There are previews March 24 and 25 and opening Night is Thursday, March 26 at 8 pm. The show runs through April 19. Newsies is recommended for ages 6 and up.
For tickets or more information about the Los Angeles engagement of Newsies, please visit: 

(photo credit: Deen van Meer)

2015 Interview with Brady Schwind, Director of Carrie the Musical

What has been your greatest challenge in directing Carrie The Musical?

The biggest challenge to directing this production of Carrie is our environmental staging which is at once intimate and epic - putting the actors and very complicated special effects only feet away from audience members. It's rather like creating a two hour 'close-up' magic trick - you can't hit any false notes - either in the slight of hand of the effects, or in the honesty of the performances.The audience will be right there for everything.

More specifically, the technical challenges of the show are enormous. We've got 300 lighting cues, illusions, water, blood, complicated sound effects.  Integrating those elements takes enormous logistic planning. The tone of the piece has to be just right to work -- horror relies on thrills and unexpected surprises, but the story also demands humor, and emotional honesty.  Balancing those elements is a careful science. 

Explain how the changes in the script affect your work on the piece.

I've luckily had Lawrence Cohen, the original book writer, at my disposal in creating this production, and he has been incredibly supportive of our vision for this piece, and open to tweaks to the script that work for 'this' concept of the musical. That collaboration works much as it does on any re-imagined production; Larry and I talk about new ideas for a certain scene; he creates wonderful new lines which we explore in the rehearsal room, and then we hone in together to create what will ultimately work best in performance.  

How vastly different is this piece from the original Carrie?

Larry, Michael and Dean already did a drastic re-write to the musical before it opened Off Broadway in 2012 at MCC.  We are starting with the template of that revision and are making tweaks for our re-imagining. But audiences familiar with that production can expect quite a bit of new dialogue, a new scene involving Margaret in a parent-teacher conference at Carrie's high school, and musical verses in "Do Me a Favor" and "The Destruction" that are restored from the original Broadway mounting.

What is your cast contributing?

They are sensational!  Fearless and true. Misty Cotton who plays Margaret is one of Los Angeles's finest singing actresses; Emily Lopez who plays Carrie is a real find: she was living in Vermont at the time of our casting for this production, and won the role after submitting two sensational audition videos.  And for the younger roles, we are blessed with some of the best new talent in Los Angeles. It has been a joy to give so many kids right out of school their first professional contracts.  

What do you wish audiences to take away?

I want them to be thrilled and moved and above all else, I want them to have fun. Theatre should be a visceral experience.

Remember Carrie will perform in La Mirada at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, March 12 - April 5!

2015 Interview with Producers of Carrie The Musical


Explain briefly but specifically the changes in the staging of Carrie since the last New York production three years ago. I understand the set is different. How? Does it bring the audience into the action more?

The Off Broadway production was the impetus for a renewal of interest in the show. Although it closed early, that chamber production, which was performed on a standard proscenium stage, proved that the brand still had widespread audience appeal.

Following that lead, we are producing an audience-immersive, environmental production of Carrie in which we will be bringing the audience into the center of the action. The audience will be seated, some of them in movable bleachers, in the gymnasium of Ewan High School and the story of Carrie’s days in school will happen all around them, with many surprises and terrifying moments. At every performance, some members of the audience will be invited to attend the prom and who knows what might happen there?

Is the music intact or has any of that been changed as well? What about the book?

The music is essentially the same great score that many people love so much, although there will definitely be additional music in this production. The authors are working closely with us and are making small changes to the score, book and lyrics. We are excited because we are attempting to develop a new approach to the show which will make it more accessible to today’s audiences. One of the most beloved thrillers of all time, Carrie spins a classic tale of bloodsport and revenge. Our production is not a replacement for any other version. It is a reimagining, a telling of a classic tale from a new point of view.

Has bringing Carrie into contemporary light with all of the psychological problems of teens more apparent made the story more accessible to them and to their parents?

The psychological problems of teens are the same now as they ever were. It is the media and technological advancement that has changed. Perhaps it is easier now to reach our younger audiences but the world of high school never changes. There are always the jocks. There are always the cheerleaders, the nerds, the stoners, the bullies and the bullied. No matter when we went to high school we all have visceral memories of that time. We are inviting our audiences to enter into their own good or bad memories and to go back to high school with us. Everyone remembers. Do we ever forget those days? Do we ever escape them? Do they still haunt our dreams?

What is the plan for this show? Is it hopeful that a Broadway run is in the offing?

This is a developmental production with an extraordinary director, Brady Schwind, who has conceived this exciting new road we travel, and a fantastic creative team who are working with all their powers to astound our audiences and to scare the pants off them. If all goes well at LaMirada, we are planning future productions for cities around the world, perhaps kicking off with Las Vegas, New Orleans and Toronto. Although we are active Broadway producers, we have no sights set on Broadway at the moment.

Anything else you care to add?
We invite you and your readers to join us in conversation #experience carrie and at the theatre for this very special look at a most remarkable musical. Carrie lives in all of us. We are all Carrie and we delight in bringing terror to the City of Angels.

In addition to Carrie the Musical, these prolific men are about to open the first major New York City revival of the Tony Award-winning The 39 Steps. They have brought the entire original creative team back together, including Tony Award-nominated director, Maria Aitken, and the show is presently in rehearsal re-creating the acclaimed Broadway and London production. The production is scheduled to begin performances on April 1 and open on April 13, 2015. In addition, they also have a major play revival in development for the fall and a new dance musical Pirates! Their critically acclaimed production of the musical On The Town continues to delight audiences at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway.
Remember Carrie will perform in La Mirada at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada, March 12 - April 5!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Guest Interview

by Steve Peterson

FRAWLEY BECKER is a published book and short story author and a published and three-time prize-winning playwright. A man of many talents, he was a State Department Entertainment Director for military bases outside Paris during the Cold War, founded the first African-American theatre company within the U.S. military in 1959, formed Paris Playhouse in 1963 and was the first to professionally produce Edward Albee plays in France. For the next ten years he worked as a bilingual dialogue coach in films while living in Paris, coaching Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole, Rex Harrison, Omar Sharif, Jacqueline Bisset, Ann-Margret, Samantha Eggar, Robert Ryan, Gene Wilder and all the Oompa-Loompas of the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Back in the U.S., Becker worked as a location manager for features including Jerry Maguire, Steel Magnolias, and the original Footloose, and TV movies for Oprah Winfrey Presents; and was a production executive at The Disney Studios. His award-winning, searing drama “Tiger by the Tail” has its west coast premiere March 6 through April 19 at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in the NoHo Arts District of North Hollywood, CA. For more information about the play please visit

How did you first get interested in the theatre and working in the theatre?

I grew up in Philadelphia which, like Boston, was a try-out city for plays before they went to Broadway. I saw everything that opened, started when I was 17. I saw James Dean in the only two plays he did before he went to live television in New York and on to Hollywood. After college and the army I hooked up with a local theatre company and found I loved the work and the atmosphere.

You were hired by the State Dept. as an Entertainment Director for American military bases outside of Paris during the Cold War. How did that job come about?

Shortly after I arrived in Paris I landed a job as an American Express bank teller on a military base outside Paris. It was the top military base over all the others throughout Europe. I soon formed a theatre company and started directing plays after hours. One of the plays was Clare Luce’s The Women with 25 women in the cast, some military, some dependent wives. When the play closed, two generals phoned Washington and said I should be doing this work full time and be paid American dollars instead of French francs.

You founded the first African-American theatre company within the U.S. military in 1959. What drove you to do that and how was the work of the theatre company received by the military administration and the military audience members, at a time when the United States was till embroiled in racial conflict with the African-Americans?

I grew up in a liberal family. When I was 19, I attended a political rally for Henry Wallace who was running for president in 1948 on a third party ticket.  Paul Robeson sang and going home the trolley cars were filled with black and white people all singing together. Years later when I was working on the military base outside Paris, I noticed that only white people auditioned for plays but that both white and black people auditioned for the musical shows. So I decided to form an African-American (Negro back then) theatre company. The first play was Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew in Elizabethan costumes, complete with tights and ruffs and capes. In the audience on opening night, you could hear jaws dropping down to the floor.

In 1963, while living in Paris, you formed the Paris Playhouse, and were the first to professionally produce plays by Edward Albee in France. Why the plays of Edward Albee?

Albee received the Tony for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1963 and was the hottest American playwright around. I met with him in New York and told him about my forming Paris Playhouse and wanting to produce two of his one-acts, Zoo Story and The Death of Bessie Smith in English. Though the theatre contained 400 seats, Albee asked for only a small royalty payment, as if the theatre were a 99-seater Off-Broadway, thus contributing to the Franco- American cultural affair. Princess Grace of Monaco and the British ambassador to France attended the gala opening.

 Tell us a bit about the play.

In 1999 Frank Valdes, a prisoner in a Florida State prison, was brutally beaten to death by guards. The prison tried to cover it up and even a federal investigation was later buried. In such an atmosphere of violence, corruption, and murder, I wondered what it would be like to play a love story against it, and not just any love story but one involving two men, one on the outside and one on the inside. Just as there is violence in many forms, so there is love in many forms and the play takes you through some of them. Also, love is always worth writing about.

 "Tiger by the Tail” garnered Best Play in the 2005 Firehouse Theatre Project’s Festival of New American Plays and soon after, a production in New York City. Have there been any major revisions to the play since you first fashioned it, as the world has changed?

The play has barely changed in form or content because it was already ahead of its time in 2005. A love relationship between two men today is much more acceptable than it was ten years ago. Brokeback Mountain was released at the end of 2005, just after I’d received the award in Richmond, and just prior to the play’s mounting in New York. That film was a game-changer. The New York production of the play attracted a completely heterogeneous group of people. Older straight couples were walking out at the end with handkerchiefs to their noses. It’s universal -- everyone is touched by a good love story.

"Tiger by the Tail" plays March 6 - April 19/Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00PM/Sunday Matinees at 2:00PM/Talk-back Sundays after shows March 15th & April 5 th/Mature Material – Nudity – Strong Language/Admission: $25/Seniors/Students: $20/Groups 10+: $15
Buy Tickets/Info: or (818) 763-5990

Friday, February 13, 2015

Guest Interview

Singer/Songwriter/Actor Richard Byford started his musical journey during the folk music era of the 60s and honed his craft singing in folk clubs, theaters and pubs around the world.   In addition to his other creative credits, Byford is an event producer and popular public speaker.  Richard Byford performs stories from his travels, highlighted with original songs, in his heartfelt and personal look inside “The Heart of a Gypsy Troubadour” running February 13 through April 9 at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, CA.

Written by Steve Peterson

How did you first get interested in acting/performing?

That question is answered in my play – I just fell in love with theatre and performing.  I won a scholarship from the British government to go to The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and I have now been a performer for 53 years.

What was your first performance experience like?

It was terrifying; I suffered from stage fright really badly – but I got over it and between acting and fronting a Rock & Roll band, I found my lifetime love.  It was much easier to get girlfriends too.

For many years, you’ve performed as part of a musical duo with Mary Avery.  How did you and Mary get started? 

I was singing at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California back in 1971 and Mary came in one night with a choir who wanted Mary to sing with me – she did and has for over 40 years.  We are now in our 44th year. We have sung all over the world.  We were married for the first three years and she’s my best friend.

How did the solo show come about?

I have always told stories in between songs and I have been extremely lucky to do a lot of things in my life – working behind the Iron Curtain in the 60s, riding bulls in rodeos, racing cars and much more.  So, I have a lot of stories which people really seem to like.

You’re also a producer of other performers’ events.  How has that helped you in fashioning your solo show?

I think it’s the other way around – because I am a performer and I know what it is like to be on both sides of the “footlights,” I know what it takes to produce a show. A lot of well known celebrities have said that they like working for me or with me for that very reason.

Tell us a bit about your show.

My show is a collection of originals songs illustrated by stories from my life.  Some are funny, some are sad, but it has been one hell of a ride.  I have performed on stage for the past 53 years and as I said, I have always told stories as introductions to my songs - people always love the stories and say "You should write a book."  Well, instead of a book I wrote a theatrical play - that's always been my dream. The Heart of a Gypsy Troubadour is a collection of stories from my life - stories from my cowboy days, stories from my car racing days, stories from the 60s when I spent time in Yugoslavia & Russia and performed behind the so-called "Iron Curtain", stories from Alaska and much more.  The stories are highlighted with original songs - that is what troubadours do - they tell stories and sing songs.  Some of the stories are funny, some are sad but you will agree - it has been a life well-lived.

What would you like the audience to take away from having seen your show?

I have thought about this topic a lot. The world needs steady working family people but it also needs the creative restless artists – the difference is not necessarily bad – but I want the audience to know my side of it – Pete Seeger once said that the audience comes to his performance either as couples or singles but by the time they leave they have become a family because they have shared, laughed and sung together.  I’d like that.

Is there anything you want the reader to know about you or the solo show?

I want people to come to my show ready to feel and share all the emotions that make life so interesting – I want them to share in the life of a Gypsy Troubadour and walk away saying “Wow I have to do more with my life.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2015 Interview with Cathy Rigby

Actress/singer Cathy Rigby is preparing to open as the Cat in the Hat in 3-D Theatricals' production of Seussical February 7. Rigby talks about her love of the role and other theatrical delights.

Why is the Cat in the Hat a favorite role of yours?  I saw you play it at your theatre many years ago.

Although the Cat seems to create chaos… His main objective in this play is to help "Jojo" understand that his imagination and creativity are wonderful!!! As well as valuable, and practical! In this story, Jojo's "Thinks" help him to save "Whoville" and all the people who live there. 

As with Peter Pan you bring such a sense of wonderment and fun to it. Audiences of all ages seem to take to the piece. Why do you think this is so?

Whether you are an adult or a child there is something for everyone…The characters, including Horton the Elephant, Gertrude Mcfuzz, The WHO's ,  the Sour Kangaroo…JoJo etc.  in Seussical, are trying to figure out how to fit in, have their voice heard, deal with war, and many other personal and social issues. (Ie ,War, bullies,  hypocrites… "Being different" hopes, dreams etc.) It's all done with beautiful lighting, whimsical characters and most of all fantastic music by Lynn Ahrens  and Stephen  Flaherty. 

How is it working with 3-D Theatricals? To me their professionalism is a perfect match for what you and Tom have established at La Mirada. You make it worth traveling south to see a show.

It's really quite exciting to work as a real theater community.  3-D theatricals has been a real friend to McCoy Rigby Entertainment and the La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts. We all want to do great work and higher talented theater folks, whether it's artistic directors, actors, musicians, crew, front-of-house ushers...We are all part of an effort to keep theater alive and well and growing in Southern California.

Talk a little about your cast and director for Seussical.

I've worked with a few people before but many of the actors are new to me. But once you work with a cast and crew they become part of your extended family. That's the great part of our rather "Gypsy style" working situations. You meet people very quickly, become close and then see them in another production somewhere. David Engel and I have done other productions. He worked with us at the La Mirada theater for the performing arts in a few shows and of course I worked with him in Seussical on Broadway. I love his passion and enthusiasm as a director and choreographer. Specially with this show because he started with it when it was just a workshop in NY. If anyone understands or has the insight into the characters, the music and the book it's David.  TJ Dawson is simply one of the most caring, passionate, and talented producers. We are very fortunate to have him in Orange County. 

When I last spoke to you, you told me you wanted to play Madame Thenardier in Les Miserables, so when you mounted it - beautiful production, by the way - at La Mirada, you didn't do it. What happened? I'd like to see you do this. Your sense of comedy and physicality are perfect for it.

Thank you for the compliment. Les Mis  turned out better than Tom and I could've ever hoped. Thanks to the incredible effort of all the artistic designers, actors, production staff and especially Dana Solimando who managed to stage many of those big scenes during our tech rehearsal. Les Mis was a huge undertaking. It's one thing when you have months and months to mount a show of this size and scope..vs three weeks, and as far as playing Madam T, I was so busy with our "McCoy Rigby Conservatory"in Yorba Linda, I thought it would be a bit much trying to take on a brand-new role like this and working with our kids. 

What else is in the air for the future for you and for your theatre?

Well our next production is the world premiere of Pride and Prejudice, and we are in talks with producers around the US, Canada, Asia and Europe to bring some of our La Mirada shows to their venues. 

Whatever Cathy Rigby puts her mind to, you can bet it's a worthwhile and entertaining venture. Catchher in Seussical for 3-D Theatricals in Fullerton and then in Redondo Beach at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Ticket info is at the link below.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

2015 Interview with Dick Cavett

Author/actor/TV talk show host Dick Cavett will star at Theatre 40 and for one night at the Saban Theatre in the controversial play Hellman v. McCarthy beginning February 6. Cavett is best known for his TV talk shows from the 70s to present time on CBS, ABC, PBS, USA Network and currently on TCM hosting reruns of his classic 70s interviews. He is known for his laid-back conversational style with such celebrities as Groucho Marx, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Jack Benny and Mel Brooks among many others. He is a three-time Emmy Award winner. He also currently writes a blog published by the New York Times.

In our chat he discusses - with inimitable wit - the play and its background, playing himself in it, and his new book, entitled Dick Cavett: Brief Encounters. 

Just a bit of background: in January 1980 while Cavett was interviewing author Mary McCarthy on PBS, at the sound of Lillian Hellman's name, she is quoted as responding: "Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'.


Unfortunately, I never saw your original broadcast with guest Mary McCarthy in January of 1980. Was that your highest-rated interview at that time?

I doubt that it was the highest rated, because nobody had any idea what was going to happen, including me.

Did Lillian Hellman call in and request a rebuttal or did she just sue for libel?

The phone rang the next morning and I heard (in Hellman's characteristic scratchy voice) "Why the hell didn't you defend me?" from her mouth which was only exceeded in its dirtiness by Richard M. Nixon.

You had interviewed her before, correct?

A couple of times.

When did Brian Richard Mori write the play Hellman v. McCarthy?

I'm not sure when he worked on it; it suddenly just appeared in my life, out of the blue, and I remember thinking "How do you make a play out of this?" Well, he certainly did. You are riveted all the way through it. It's like following a good, well-plotted drama or mystery. Nobody falls asleep during this play.

Why do you think it took over thirty years to dramatize?

Well, I don't know, now that he's done such an excellent play, you think 'what a great idea, why didn't ten people do it?' And maybe people tried, but this one certainly is the successful version.

Explain the conflict with Hellman.

You mean that old bag who started this psychotic lawsuit with no justification whatsoever?! They had to prove that she was not a public figure, because you can say anything you want about public figures. At the same time she was appearing in that Blackglama fur ad, which did not mention the name of any of the women in them...Carol Burnett, Beverly therefore she was hired because she was a public figure but in her vengeful nasty way she... and somehow her lawyer got away with denying that. But she's half the drama; the two women are equally represented throughout the play.

Did you do the play on the road before New York last year?

No, it was done at a little theatre called the Abingdon off-Broadway; it has a good reputation as an off-Broadway theatre. It only played a limited run, so we ran for three weeks in New York. Splashed all over the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times, I think after the second performance by Mr. Isherwood of the Times. Next day, it sold out.

And you got superlative reviews?

Yeah, yeah, nobody hated it.

Nora Ephron also wrote a play about Hellman and McCarthy called Imaginary Friends. Were you included in that?

It does include me and my show. They had 9 ft high, 4 ft wide television screens onstage. In a crucial scene Mary thinks she's (Hellman) a dishonest writer, and says her infamous line with 'and' and 'the', and it was interesting to see myself not only that tall (we laugh) but then cutting to what was Mary only it wasn't Mary it was Cherry Jones. And they shot it so it matched as if they were showing Mary on my show. And she (Jones) was so good, I really thought she was Mary.

Marcia Rodd played Mary in Hellman v. McCarthy in New York, right?

Yes, and she decided to give it another shot here, and I'm glad she did.

Who is playing Hellman here at Theatre 40?

Flora Plumb, as they used to say, is essaying the part and Marcia, Mary. A wonderful  young actor from New York named Roan Myer plays the only sympathetic character in the whole play, the long-suffering male nurse to Lillian... the irascible, maddening, sick, chain-smoking, booze-drinking, foulmouth talking Lillian Hellman.

It sounds like you didn't like her (intoning humor).

It's hard to like someone who sues you for a million dollars. I liked her fine before. I had dinner at her apartment a couple of times. Other people at the table would be people like the New York Times book critic and Mike Nichols. Mike actually was going to come (to the play). He sent me an e-mail saying "Almost came down to see you, but the thought of seeing Lillian again in any form might be too much."

(laughing) What other actors are in the play here?

Two actors familiar to you audiences  here are Martin Thompson and John Combs who play the two lawyers.

You've been rehearsing at Theatre 40?

They've been rehearsing before I got here, and we're still rehearsing. Howard Storm is excellently directing the play.

Do you expect LA audiences to be as intelligent as New York audiences?

As intelligent as New York audiences?

Well, you know how New Yorkers are always putting down LA for not being a theatre town?

You mean the people who refer to this as LaLa Land. (he laughs) I've never seen a major drop in intelligence in California. Maybe they're only showing me the right people.  I lived here, so to speak, for six months, working for Jerry Lewis, back in the days of the ABC two-hour Jerry Lewis Show with Mort Sahl and everybody. I had a little apartment out in Bel Air, almost to the freeway.

Did you write for him?

I did.

That had to be interesting, that whole gig.

It was. (he laughs)  There's a long book and play in that.

How is it to play yourself onstage?

I try not to think about it.

Did playwright Mori take your actual words from the broadcast?

Some of the stuff is right from it. Some of it is approximate from things that we know happened. And there's a brilliant scene by him on the two ladies meeting one last time after the whole thing is blown up. This never happened. They didn't see each other again. What he has imaginatively... and I point out, we don't know that the ladies ever met really like this, but wasn't that a swell scene and it probably would have been. So, we don't fool the audience into thinking that...

Sounds like fun. I saw you do Otherwise Engaged on Broadway many years ago. I was very delighted with what you did with that. Did you enjoy doing that play?

I couldn't wait for the sun to start going down so I could get to the theatre.

Was it because you were a perfect fit for the character, do you think?

 I've never tried to figure out why; it was just so satisfying to do a well-written play. Strangely enough, I had every other line; virtually, I never was off-stage. I guess that's good for the ego, but sort of tough if you want to have a drink, as Richard Burton did after every scene. I never tried that. And I took over for Tom Courtenay. That was intimidating. I had to assume that most people hadn't seen both of us.

Well, I did see both of you, and I thought you did a wonderful job.

I hated leaving it. And I had to, because the PBS show started. I've tried to imagine that maybe I could have done both a little longer, but I don't know. It never pays to look back.

I just got your book over the weekend and I really enjoyed certain chapters like Bittersweet Christmas Story. That one struck a chord. When you're a kid, and your relatives suddenly get into a spat over something that should please them, you wonder if some deep unhappiness has been festering in them for a long time. Are there other personal encounters like this one?

Not like that one. What you singled out others have called grim reading. A little bitter drama that took place around a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.

My mother put my father's dinner down in front of him one night - it was spaghetti and it wasn't Christmas Eve, father looked at it and suddenly picked up the plate and threw it against the wall. It came out of nowhere, and they started to argue.

Those things happen. In what movie is spaghetti thrown against the wall?

(We both answer simultaneously) The Odd Couple.
Those blowups in long term marriages are painful. You don't know mummy and daddy and all they've done.

Anyway, you wrote it very well and it truly moved me. I also loved the chapters about Mel Brooks and Jack Benny.

Did you read the one about Stan Laurel?

Not yet.

Actually I wrote a second one for the Times. Hundreds of people loved that. I still find it easier to believe by far that I have met Brando and Orson Welles and Katharine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum and all those people than the man that I met who helped the fat man struggle with the crated piano up a hundred and thirty-three steps in the Oscar-winning short The Music Box, which I can watch once a year easily. Somebody out here drove me to the steps - Stan told me where the steps were - and I visited them the last time I was here. They don't look anything like in the movie, because there were virtually no houses. Now they've filled in. There's a plaque there.

I can't wait to read about that. The other chapter that I loved was about comedy and you talked about setting up a joke for Benny.

I don't know if that clip is on youtube or not. It's great. I know there was a joke; Benny knows there was a joke on the subject of insurance. You can see him edging toward it. Then he says something like "Oh, I could do a whole routine on that." I give him another hint and you see it dawn. And he says, "I'll tell you the insurance I have. When I go, they go." Later, he shook my hand and said "Thanks for the cue."(he laughs)

You were such a great interviewer. You were tuned into him and were able to feed him.

When that works, it's nice.

You not only did a terrific interview with the one and only Katharine Hepburn, you did one on PBS with the comedian in a dress, female illusionist Charles Pierce. Do you remember him?


 What do you remember about both of those shows?

I had never really seen his work, and heard about him from everybody it seems in the theatre.
My wife (Carrie Nye) was a great fan of his, but I hadn't seen his work. I was just dazzled right there. It was as if a man came in and walked up the wall or something. That's how good he was. I have to get that out and look at it again.

What about Miss Hepburn?

Of course, the Hepburn one was so unexpectedly long, that we got two 90-minute shows out of it. And there are twenty-five left over that have never been seen.

I remember at one point, she got up and stormed out, saying something like "Are we through?

That was a faux exit, not foe. And she came back and we did more.

It was great.

How do you get rid of her? (we laugh)

Any final comments about the play Hellman v. McCarthy before we rap?

You can safely advise people that they will watch it with rapt attention. It has drama, semi verbal violence, not physical...well, there's a moment, you could call that when Lillian belts her faithful male nurse. It's got everything but nudity and onstage sex. But we're trying to figure out how to get that in.

(we laugh)

Dick, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking to you and I look forward to seeing the play in as couple of weeks.

Thank you for making this painless. My wife reminds me that it goes from February 6 - 28 at Theatre 40 and one glorious night March 1 at the Saban Theatre, which is home for me because I did that spectacular special with Mel Brooks there a few years ago.

Well, best of luck and break a leg!

Thank you about the leg. You know the Germans say Hals und Beinbruch, meaning break neck and leg, Germans being a little more violent.
(we laugh)

What a treat to talk to this icon! I haven't laughed so hard in quite a while. See him live onstage in Hellman v. McCarthy at Theatre 40 February 6-28 and then for one night March 1 at the Saban.