Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Interview with Chris Verdugo and Joe Nadeau of GMCLA

Chris Verdugo

Executive director Chris Verdugo and artistic director/conductor Joe Nadeau of the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) are busy these days getting ready for the big holiday concert to take place this weekend Saturday December 13 at 3 pm and 8 pm and Sunday December 14 at 3 pm at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.

What is new about this year's concert in comparison to those of past years?

GMCLA's Holiday Spectacular: A Gleeful Celebration is drawn from two main inspirations:  The TV Show GLEE  (which is currently in it's final season) and music that has been performed by men's glee clubs over the years.  When looking at the potential list of songs for this concert there were hundreds of selections to choose from.  From this extensive list we created a concert that is fun, artistic, challenging, exciting, entertaining, and spectacular. This year there are more costumes and more flesh than in year’s past and possibly the funniest second act we’ve ever had in a Holiday Show. 

Is there a happy balance between upbeat popular music and traditional carols?

Very much! Each year GMCLA pulls out all the stops for our Holiday Spectacular - and our audience expect nothing less.  For A Gleeful Celebration we will be singing traditional holiday favorites, new and exotic selections from around the world, pop hits, delightful surprises, hilarious spoofs with a fabulous cast of characters.  

Tell me more specifically about the comedy in the show.

We end the first half of the concert with a song called "Heavy Christmas".  This is a big medley of famous "heavy" hits from classical music with a gay holiday twist.  This one song will include appearances from Santa and his (ahem, sexy) reindeer,  elves, and toy soldiers. The second half features a show-stopping all-male version of the Nativity - with Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, and a heavenly host of angels to bring it all home. 

What is planned for 2015? Any special guest stars on tap in the year ahead?

Our Holiday Spectacular is just the first performance in GMCLA's 36th Season. In February, GMCLA will collaborate with the amazing string quartet - Well Strung to present a special concert we are calling Heartstrings. This concert will showcase the LA premiere of a new commissioned work called "Tyler's Suite", showcasing the life and legacy of Tyler Clementi.  We also have GMCLA Goes Down Under in March and Vegas Baby in June and are currently in negotiations with some exciting guest artists.  

How has the chorus been doing over the past year in its attempt to bring different members of the community closer together? 

Over the past several years, we’ve seen an influx of younger members auditioning and making it into the chorus. This wonderful occurrence has created a truly intergenerational membership within the chorus that is mirrored in the make up of our audiences.  Never before have we had so many young people attending our season shows. And through the work of our it gets better tour, we are traveling to cities across the country, engaging in conversations about bullying while bridging the gaps that exist in those communities so they can work toward the shared goal of keeping their youth safe, alive and prospering.  

The chorus is in a great place and we continue to move upward with the new concerts this February and an expansion of our it gets better tour through California.  We’re truly changing hearts and minds in all corners of the world.  
Dr. Joseph Nadeau
For tickets go to:


Monday, December 8, 2014

Interview with Charles Edwards

Actor Charles Edwards, known for his roles in Batman Returns and Downton Abbey, will appear in Blithe Spirit with Angela Lansbury at the Ahmanson opening December 14. In our conversation he talks about the play, working with Miss Lansbury and other highlights of his career so far.

I read that one of your first appearances on stage was in Blithe Spirit. What part did you play then?

I played the role I’m playing now - Charles. It was my first theatre job and I was way too young for the part but it was at a beautiful rep theatre in Yorkshire, the Harrogate Theatre, that used to hire people straight out of drama school to gain experience. We were really cheap to hire, too, which perhaps had some bearing on it.

How does it feel to return to the play? 

It’s about 20 years since I first played the role so I don’t really have much recollection of it. I remember being terrified because it’s a large role and I felt very responsible. That hasn’t altered much.

Have you been with this production since Broadway or have you recently stepped in?

The Broadway production was sort of remounted and remodelled for London, but Angela and Simon Jones were the only two cast members who remained. I joined in London where we played earlier this year, and now for this new production we have an amalgam of the two previous ones, with members of both the Broadway and London casts involved, but with a brand new Ruth, Charlotte Parry. The joining together of the various strands has created a unique fresh energy that is very exciting to be part of. 

What is it like to tread the boards every evening with Dame Angela Lansbury? Talk a bit about her as an actress and costar.

Talking of energy. She totally owns the role and has made it completely her own; she says it’s the best role she’s ever had. We’ve got her at her absolute prime. She’s played it many times now and won a Tony for it. What I love about seeing her play the role is that her Englishness comes absolutely to the fore, which perhaps for people more used to seeing her in American theatre and TV will be a fresh experience. She uses a voice for Madame Arcati that is the English of her childhood, the kind of accent that you only ever hear in old black-and-white movies. It’s a beautifully observed performance, full of rich detail and delicately executed comedy. A real treat to watch, you’ve got to see her.

Which Shakespearean role is your favorite? Why?

I had a terrific time with Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Many people who’ve worked at the Globe say the same thing which has sort of become clichéd so forgive me, but the plays that were written for that theatre make total sense in performance there. A role like Benedick, where you are literally conversing with the crowd, is a lot of fun. The Globe is a wonderful place to be. Even when it rains.

Tell me about The 39 Steps. You premiered in it in London and then in the US, correct? What an achievement for an actor to play all of these roles! It is  so physically demanding as well as emotional. How do you feel about this role and the play?

I’m very proud of The 39 Steps. I played Richard Hannay first at the brilliant Tricycle Theatre in London, then into the West End, then to the Huntington in Boston, then for Roundabout at the American Airlines, and then to the Cort. It’s still on in London at the Criterion. My giant face still looms over Piccadilly Circus. It’s a production that required and continues to require a lot of work and care from everyone involved, from its inception to current performance. Anyone in it will tell you it’s exhausting, but very satisfying when it’s done right. I did 2 years in all.

Tell me about Downton Abbey and your role in it. How do you account for its tremendous success in the US?

The Downton Effect. I don’t think anyone quite knows its secret, least of all Julian Fellowes who has often said so. I suspect at its core it’s something to do with the two faces of society - the social veneer above, coupled with the grime and the cogs below that keep the veneer intact. People like to peek behind green baize doors. I play Michael Gregson, Lady Edith’s lover who is currently in Germany, trying to get a divorce from his lunatic wife so he can marry Edith.

Do you have a dream role? By that I mean one that you are yearning to essay. Why this particular one?

When I was younger I always found myself being much more interested in roles that would come later in life. Young lovers and confident heroes have never held much appeal and as a result I was never very good at them. Flawed people whom life has chipped away at are more satisfying to play. George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is something I would love to do one day because the role exemplifies those elements.

What do you think makes Noel Coward plays as timeless as they are? Talk about his wit and how your character in Blithe Spirit contributes to the humor.

The humor in Blithe Spirit is maybe a little different to what you’d imagine from a Coward play, although that’s not to imply that he only ever churned out a particular brand of humor. His style and wit are of course intact as they always are, but this play is very much a farce as well as being a pretty tart observation on sexual satisfaction versus solidity and comfort in a relationship, and whether a balance of the two is ever possible. That’s a question that has never gone away, and never will.

Don't miss Charles Edwards in Blithe Spirit, which begins previews Tuesday December 9 with official opening set for Sunday December 14!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

2004 Interview with Ellen Greene

Ellen Greene has just released Songs for a Winter's Night, her second solo album, featuring mostly Christmas music. It has taken her 10 years since her first solo album In His Eyes.
This is a wonderful collection from this premiere artiste who can still sing at the top of her craft.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

From 2004:

A singer's singer Ellen Greene was about to launch her brilliant new album In His Eyes in 2004 when the following interview took place for

Why has it taken you so long to record a solo album?

I did an album as a youngster when I was 21. We worked on ii for a bout a year and a half. It was beautiful. On it was "Never Never Land", "Nights in White Satin", "This Amazing Thing" was for Atlantic...and when it was almost finished, I was told that it was not going to be released. I was so in denial, how much that hurt, because I loved recording it. Every time I would record for a show...I always loved recording and making movies, because you're only with artists. Not that I don't love stage and all that, but when you're just around artists, it's all about the creation. There's no response, there's no reward; the reward is the creating part. It's a collaborative thing.
After what happened, for many years I didn't own up to how badly I wanted to record. I've never thought of myself as a singer, but an actress.

You're a terrific one and that's what makes your singing come alive!

Thank you. There are also many other reasons I stopped singing. At Peter Allen's memorial, my friend Don Palladino was out in the audience, and I was singing "Love Don't Need a Reason", and I looked at him and I just knew he was next, and both of us knew. My heart just went into my throat, and I said, "I cannot do one more memorial for someone I love, and I don't want to sing again. "I'll sing for a show, but, portraying myself, I don't lie...and my heart was broken. When I started singing again with Christian (Klikovits), I realized how much I missed doing it, and he so admired my work, he made me realize that I've always wanted to do an album and was in denial about it. There are so many singers that are better technicians than I, but...

You put your soul into it. And on In His Eyes your voice manages to capture so many different stylings, it's amaItaliczing!

They're really great songs, aren't they? I love the writers I've chosen. They, in my mind, do the songs best. I hope that I add to the renditions. I let you see their words in another way. I'm so very proud of this album.

As well you should be. Let's go back a bit. Now that Little Shop of Horrors is a great big stage hit all over again, and Audrey is in demand, does that part of your life come back to haunt you? How fond of her are you?

I love Howard Ashman. I miss him desperately. That was 5 years of my life. If someone could love a character I've done...means I loved it first. I loved her. She was a sweet brunette on the page. It was one of those happened in my life a few times like In His Eyes and Side Man, the play I just finished at the Malibu Stage...I get on a creative roll and I create something that's beyond me. Certain things happen; it clicks. For Audrey: the voice, the look, the clothes, the hair, the makeup...round enough to fall off the tree like a peach...Howard and I wrote some lines for her; we were very, very close. I knew things instinctually. I'm proud of her. I made her from the ground up. I thought she should be created in the land of Little Shop. Anything that was a little campy got taken out of the script. When I went to say the lines, the voice just came out of me naturally. I felt that she would be dressed-up. What she thought was in good taste, obviously was a little off. I wanted her in high heels, because I wanted her teetering. Just when you got to laugh, she makes you cry. Just when you're about to cry, she makes you laugh. I thought the power of her insides should come out when she sang. That's her inner life, and her outer life...I bought a wig, we cut it into a bob with a duck back. I remember Carol Channing coming to one of the shows and wanting my wig. When we auditioned for replacements, I said, "This character doesn't have to be a blonde. She doesn't have to be dressed like this." I'm proud that everyone loves my take on it, but to me, the key to Audrey is her innocence, her sweetness and how she views people.

Getting back to the new CD, one of my favorite songs is T. Amos' "Winter"!

Isn't it beautiful and aren't you touched? I remember the first time Christian said he wanted to have a tribal feel in that moment where it's the opening up realization that life is going by, and if you don't do something about your dreams and make them a reality and start to love who you are as yourself, then you will not be able to embrace any of those dreams. Who you are is the immense magic. It's a very hard thing for all of us to accept ourselves at all the different stages - the horrible side, the wonderful side, the adorable side - and who you are as a grownup. And then to bring what you learned as a child to that grownup: that is the magic of creativity. That song says so much to me.
to purchase In His Eyes, visit
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _  _
Visit CD baby to buy digital or CD copies of Songs for a Winter's Night.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Interview with Michael Arden

Actor Michael Arden, who has played Broadway and sung on a European tour with Barbra Streisand, is currently blowing audiences away at La Jolla Playhouse as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, playing through December 14.

How arduous was it to prepare to do Quasimodo physically? How difficult is it to maintain throughout the show?

I would be lying if I said this role wasnt the most demanding Ive ever taken on. I started training a few months prior to starting rehearsals and I still feel like its a bit of a marathon every time I go onstage. Its a huge sing, but also incredibly demanding physically. Maintaining Quasimodos stature takes a toll on the body, so I have been developing a routine to keep myself from turning into a Hunchback offstage. Its also emotionally draining as well. 

What are your feelings about this man?

I love this character. I love that he is in many ways a child, but also an adult. He has created a universe around him, in his solitude and it’s such a joy to explore each night. There’s no limit to his imagination and therefore it allows me much freedom in the playing of it. His world is the cathedral and his master, Frollo. It has been very fulfilling to try to strip away worldly pressures and influences on the character in order to get closer to who this man would have been. 

Is this the greatest part you have played so far? If so, why? The most difficult?

I’ve been very lucky to play many wonderful roles, but I would count this among the greatest. The score is sublime and demanding as is the physical nature of the role, but I would say that the emotional journey is both incredibly challenging as well as rewarding. It isn’t an easy thing to lose what Quasimodo loses every night, but it is also an actor’s dream. 

Your voice is really a powerhouse. Do you do anything special or different vocally to play Quasi?

I have developed a sound for him that is what other people hear. He is deaf (fully in the novel, partially in our production) so that was definitely taken into consideration. I also spend a lot of my day warming up, steaming and drinking tea. =)

How has it been to work with this creative team like Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Peter Parnell and Scott Schwartz, and these actors like Patrick Page and Ciara Renee?

This process has been such a thrill. The creative team is truly a dream come true. These are writers I have idolized and admired since I started listening to music and developing an interest in theater. As daunting as it could be, they are all men I so respect because of their devotion to the craft of theater-making. They are some of the most supportive and encouraging people I have ever come across and their talent is only the outward manifestation of who they are as people. I am honored to bring their words and music to life and hope to instill each note and syllable with all of the care and thought they deserve. 

Working with this cast has not only been a joy, but a master class. I am so grateful to play with Patrick Page each night onstage. He is so alive and dangerous and I learn from him nightly. Ciara is not only the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my entire life, but also such an inspiring scene partner. When she sings, it comes from somewhere deep within her soul and I sometimes find myself lost in her performance. I also get the chance to work with the incredible Andrew Samonsky and Erik Lieberman, not to mention this magnificent ensemble. I’m a very lucky man. 

Tell me a little about directing Spring Awakening at Deaf West Theatre?

I could write a book. At times, mind-melting, it has been the most rewarding project of my career. I set out to create a true company of stage actors and was able to assemble the most wonderful ensemble of young deaf and hearing actors and musicians I think the world has ever seen or heard. I am so proud of the work they all did and will continue to do on this show. It’s a play I have long loved and to bring it to life in a new light for a new audience has been the highlight of my career.

You seem to have a long-standing relationship with Deaf West. I saw you do Big River there and then Pippin for them at the Mark Taper. Will you talk a little about this?

I was lucky enough to make my Broadway debut in Big River. Before working with Deaf West, I had never met a deaf person, and now I can’t imagine life without ASL. The deaf community has shaped me as an artist and a person and I am very grateful that I have been able to share and create so much art with a group of people I would have never imagined sharing and creating with. It’s a true testament to the power of theater. There are no walls. 

Have you done any concert work since performing with Barbra Streisand several years ago? Are there any plans to add that to your schedule at some point?

I have done a few concerts here and there. Below 54 and in Los Angeles. I also sing every now and then with Trumpet player Chris Botti. I do hope to do some more concert work soon. 

Be sure to catch Michael Arden as Quasimodo in Hunchback through December 14 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Interview with John LaLonde

Actor John LaLonde, artistic director of Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre in Claremont is preparing to mount his Christmas show It's Christmas Everyday at Candlelight, opening the weekend after Thanksgiving. In our chat, he talks in detail about the show, the upcoming season and some of his favorite musical roles.

Tell me about the creation of your Christmas show every year at Candlelight. Traditional? Edgy? I hear that it is extra special and original each and every year. Explain.

The annual Christmas show at the Candlelight has been a staple since the theater opened in 1985. It features wonderful sets, familiar holiday music and a family friendly story line. And we have never repeated a story line.

Without revealing too much can you give us a tease as to what’s on tap this year?

This year's production is called It’s Christmas Everyday. The year is 1949 and the setting is Walli’s Christmas Pavilion, a Christmas decoration warehouse that literally has Christmas everyday. The owners Barney and Betty are celebrating their 25th anniversary as a married couple and store owners. By all accounts it should be a very successful season for them except for some unforeseen circumstances that quickly put a damper on the normally festive owners.

Is there lots of singing and dancing? Familiar or original tunes?
There is a lot of singing and dancing. We use mainly familiar holiday standards. "Silver Bells", "Silent Night", "Winter Wonderland". And a few obscure tunes just for fun.

How long have you been on board as artistic director and how many Christmas shows does this make?
I have been the artistic director for seven years. And this is the seventh Christmas Show I’ve written and directed.

You do some wonderful work as director and actor there. Do you have a favorite role that you've played? Is there one you are longing to play?
It's very kind of you to say that. My favorite role is Quixote in Man of La Mancha. It is one of the best musicals ever written and it is a privilege to play that role. In the past few years the Candlelight has steered away from just doing the classics and ventured into the darker side of musical theatre with shows like Sweeney Todd in which I was fortunate to play the title role, Miss Saigon and currently Jekyll & Hyde. I’d love to play Ben in Follies someday, but financially it would be a miracle if we, or anyone ever produced that show. People often ask me what show are you going to be in this year at the Candlelight and honestly I never plan on doing any of them. As an artistic director I pray that new talent comes through the door each and every audition. If it means I don’t play a role because someone else is more suited for it, then so be it. I am happy to stay off the stage.

Which shows will you be directing or acting in in 2015?
As of now I don’t plan on being in any of the shows in our 2015 season. I will direct Buddy (Holly), Smoke On the Mountain and of course The Christmas Show.

Is Christmas a favorite time of year for you? If so, why?
Christmas is hands down my favorite holiday. I love everything about it, the music, the classic movies and TV specials, the decorations, the feeling of hope and renewal. And of course gathering with family and friends. I grew up in Niagara Falls and Christmas was always magical especially with all that snow.  

What is your message for audiences this Christmas?
I’d say the message of this year's show is that out of lemons you can make lemonade. By being able to adapt and bend to the crazy circumstances that life can throw us, we can come out on top and maybe even be a little wiser for it.

Anything you care to add?
In the past we have steered clear of any religious Christmas songs for fear of upsetting people. But I say if you don’t want to hear "Silent Night" then don’t go to a Christmas show. After all, Christmas is more than just Santa and toys. Now I am not saying our show is religious by any means, but to ignore the baby whose birthday we are celebrating seems odd to me. We also have included some fun things for the children. During dinner the children write little letters to Santa which he will read during the show. It's always a treat to hear what children have to say and it makes every show a little different. The children are also invited to sit on stage with Santa & Mrs Claus during the show and after the performance they and their families can take a picture with both of them. I write the show for the talent I’ve cast and this year we have some amazing talent. Jessie Parmelee a local ballerina who I’ve been pestering for years to be in our Christmas show is finally on board. Along with nine year old CJ Wright and Rashonda Johnson both from last year's Motown show. Beth Mendoza and Jeffrey Warden will play Mr and Mrs Walli. Frankie Marrone and Carlin Castellano will add some romance. Katie Lee Shore and Emerson Boatwright and Jonathan Arana add fun to the festivities. And Robert Hoyt and Janice Lee will play the jolly couple from the north pole.

Be sure to catch The Christmas Show It's Christmas Everyday at the Candlelight Pavilion, Claremont starting the day after Thanksgiving and running through December 27.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

mini-Interview with Laurie Okin

Each week we spotlight a member of the "Melissa Arctic" cast. This week we spoke with Laurie Okin, a Road member since 2012.

Who do you play in “Melissa Arctic”?

My character is Mina (the Hermione character).  She is the mother of baby Melissa and for months has been dealing with her rapidly unraveling husband as well as the new baby.  She is highly maternal and loving, but has her own breaking point, and finally draws the line when she feels that Lenny's volatility is a threat to the physical safety of her daughter.  

 What do you feel she contributes to the play?

I feel that what she contributes to the play is in setting the emotional tone of regret, loss and then ultimately redemption and forgiveness.  Her character provides the echo of actions that cannot be undone and the reverberations they cause for the people left to grapple with what has happened, and also the will to not only survive but flourish in the life that is left to be lived.

Describe how you prepared for this role.

I am a mother myself, so finding the heart of Mina has been a matter of simply looking at my own feelings about my child and remembering back to when she was a helpless, nurture-seeking baby.  Apart from that, it's been about trying to nail the elusive Minnesota accent!

How are audiences reacting to Mina?

I think the audience will relate to Mina, as we can all relate to someone who is trying her hardest to keep it all together with patience and love.  If I'm doing my job, they will feel sad about what happens to her but they will see the hope that her presence will have inspired in those she was closest to to carry on and forgive one another.

What do you hope audiences will take away with them?

I hope that what they will take away from the play is that as long as there is love, there is hope.  There is connection.

mini Interview with Tom Musgrave

Each week we spotlight one of the cast members of “Melissa Arctic”. This week we spoke with Tom Musgrave, who has been a Road member since 2012.

Tell me about your character.

Lenny is a husband, new father, and owns a barber shop in the town of Pine City, MN.  At the opening of the play, it is revealed that the town minister has built a new mall next to Lenny's barber shop which includes a brand new hair salon.  Lenny had been fighting the idea and the construction of the mall, but was not successful in stopping it.  We learn it is threatening his livelihood as a business owner, bringing him much stress and fear, which in turn starts his mind in a spiral of (for lack of a better term) madness.  The specifics of that madness deal with how he believes he is seen by the town, his friends, but much more importantly, his wife.

 What do you feel he contributes to the play?

Lenny is the engine that makes the story go.  The events in the world of Melissa Arctic would not have happened if Lenny could have gotten a hold of himself, his fear, his rage, his jealousy.  

How are you preparing for this role?

This has been one of the, if not THE, most challenging role I've had the blessing to live through.  With Lenny, I've tried not to be general in terms of 'he goes mad.'  I've tried to look at the reasons for the actions, rather than a broad sweep of 'crazy.'  And in looking at those reasons, I can relate to the worries and tribulations of a man who is just trying to do his best to provide for his family, love his daughter, and love his wife.  He feels rejected on all fronts, I believe we've all felt rejection, so I've done my best to just live in that space.  I also could not have done this role without the tender help of our director, Scott Alan Smith.  He has cemented it into my head that this journey needs to be done with ease, if that's possible.  It's been an incredibly fun challenge.

What will be the audience reaction to the play and your character?

I don't know.  I really don't.  I hope they see the love, forgiveness, and redemption that Craig Wright offers in this play.  As for the reaction to Lenny, I do hope people see that while the actions he takes are horrific, in a way they really do come out of love.  He loves his wife and daughter tremendously.  I cannot overstate how much that plays into what Lenny's actions are tied to.  I also hope the audience gasps from time to time, as there is a lot of "What the Heck?" going on during the performance.

What do you hope they will take away from the play?

Once again, I hope they see the love, forgiveness, and redemption.  During Act 1 you would think those things are impossible, but this play shifts you upside down, and shows you beautifulness amongst ugly.  It is a pure joy from an actor's standpoint, and I hope the audience enjoys the ride too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mini Interview with Michael Dempsey

Each week we spotlight a member of the “Melissa Arctic” cast. This week we spoke with veteran Road member Michael Dempsey, who plays Lindy.

Tell me about Lindy.

My character is Lindy. My wife Cindy and I are good friends with Mina and Lenny. We’re older, and we've raised kids. Lindy ran a steady business, an apple orchard, for years.

What purpose does Lindy serve in the play?

I am an older, wiser person who is able to listen to Mina and Lenny and their struggles without prejudice, and yet also be tough when I need be.

How are you preparing for this role?

Remembering my childhood in a small town. The way neighbors knew each other, helped, challenged, supported, celebrated and mourned. A lot of my work as an actor is in Craig’s (Wright) writing. Much like Shakespeare, there are a lot of clues to your character in what you say and what others say about you.

How are audiences reacting to the play?

Audiences love the immersion into this "world". There is a lot going on (projections, puppets, songs, etc.), but it all beautifully supports the story.

What do you expect audiences to take away?

A sense of forgiveness, family and community. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


A new play by award-winning playwright Luke Yankee will receive its world premiere at UC-Irvine this November.  The Last Lifeboat is the untold story of J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Line at the time of the sinking of the Titanic, whose decision to save himself rather than go down with the ship made him the scapegoat for one of the greatest disasters of all time.  An ensemble cast playing multiple roles tells this epic tale which explores not only the tragedy itself, but the sensationalized trials and aftermath of the night that changed the world forever.  The production will be directed and produced by Don Hill, Vice Chair of the UCI Drama Department. 

Yankee, an award-winning playwright and director said, “The idea for the play came to me while I was on a cruise in Nova Scotia, which is the closest land mass to where the ship sank.  I did an all-day Titanic tour and the guide spoke about how the disaster shattered Ismay’s life, because his survivor’s guilt was so intense.  After the inquiry into the shipwreck, he was forced out of his company and became a Howard Hughes kind of recluse for the rest of his life.  I thought, ‘With everything that’s been written about the Titanic, here’s a fascinating story that’s never been told.”  Yankee spent the next several months doing research before he began writing a screenplay version and finally, the play.

When Yankee approached Stephen Sultan, who was then the President of Dramatists Play Service (the largest publisher of plays in the world), Sultan was initially reticent to produce a play that was so new, it had not yet received a major production.  But, given the universal fascination with the Titanic, coupled with the fact that The Last Lifeboat is performed by an ensemble cast playing multiple roles on a practically bare stage, Sultan immediately saw the potential, particularly for regional theatres, schools and amateur groups. He contacted Yankee and said he’d be happy to publish it.

Yankee then contacted nationally syndicated critic Rex Reed and asked him if he’d be willing to read the script and give him a quote.  Reed wrote, “Imagine the epic story of the drama behind the sinking of the Titanic, revealed with easy, minimal staging on a bare stage.  Luke Yankee has written a surging drama that is riveting, dramatic, educational and entertaining all at the same time.  THE LAST LIFEBOAT is destined to become a theatre classic!”  

Luke Yankee developed a screenplay version of  “The Last Lifeboat” at the DreamAgo Writer’s Workshop in Sierre, Switzerland.  He was one of ten writers chosen internationally for the week-long program in the Swiss Alps, where five Oscar nominated screenwriters mentored him on the project. “While I am very excited about the screenplay,” says Luke, “it’s a big, epic story in the vein of ‘The King’s Speech’. I wanted to see if I could tell the story as simply as possible, on a practically bare stage with a small cast playing multiple roles.

Director Don Hill has been the head of the graduate stage management at UC-Irvine for the past ten years. Prior to that, he was one of the chief negotiators for the western region of Actors Equity Association, associate producer at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera (one of the largest musical theatres in America), and production manager at the Geffen Playhouse. He has directed and produced all over the country and was a protégé of the late John Houseman at USC, where Mr. Hill received an MFA in directing.

The leading role of J. Bruce Ismay will be played by Noah Wagner.  No stranger to Southern California stages, Mr. Wagner is the recipient of three DramaLogue Awards and an LA Stage Scene Award for Best Actor.  He has appeared in leading roles at The Matrix, The Celebration Theatre, The Knightsbridge, Theatre Banshee and the Long Beach Playhouse. His television credits include guest starring roles on NBC, PBS and the Disney Channel, among others.

The Last Lifeboat is being designed by Emmy winning set designer, John Iacovelli.  One of the most sought after designers in America, his more than 300 set design credits include Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan, production designer for the TV series Babylon 5, the recent production of Kiss Me, Kate at The Pasadena Playhouse starring Wayne Brady and numerous shows at the Mark Taper Forum, The Geffen Playhouse,  South Coast Repertory and many others. He is also on the faculty of the Theatre Department at UC-Davis.

In addition to the students at UC-Irvine in the ensemble, other guest artists in the production include Los Angeles and Orange County theatre veterans George Almond, Harriet Whitmyer and Tom Juarez.

Luke Yankee’s other plays have included The Jesus Hickey starring Harry Hamlin (which premiered at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles) and the award-winning A Place at Forest Lawn, which has been presented at several regional theatres and is also published by Dramatists Play Service. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart, which is published by Random House, with a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore.  Critics have praised the book as “One of the most compassionate, illumination showbiz books ever written.” He is currently in the graduate program at UC-Riverside (Palm Desert), where he is working towards an MFA in Writing for the Performing Arts.

The Last Lifeboat will be presented at the Experimental Media Performance Lab (xMPL) in the Contemporary Arts Center on the campus of UC-Irvine. Production dates are Friday Nov. 14th and 8 pm, Saturday, Nov. 15th at 2 & 8 pm, Sun. Nov. 16th at 2 pm, Thurs.  & Fri, Nov. 20-21st at 8 pm, Sat. Nov. 22nd at 2 & 8 pm and Sun., Nov 23rd at 2 pm. Tickets are available through the UCI Box office at 949-824-2787 or online at

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Interview with Randy Harrison

Actor Randy Harrison, best known for playing Justin Taylor in Showtime's Queer as Folk (2000-2005) is rehearsing Amadeus Mozart for the play Amadeus to bow in Santa Barbara at the Ensemble Theatre on October 11. In our chat he talks about the play, his role, his tastes in music, as well as a bit about Queer as Folk.

What was life like, briefly, during Queer As Folk? Did you know at first that this show was unique and groundbreaking? You guys had so many fans. I know because I interviewed Gale Harold when he did Orpheus Descending a few years ago, and the fan response to the interview was incredible. I had comments from all over the world. 

My life during Queer as Folk was pretty hectic.  I was in my early 20s, which I think tend to be a chaotic time for most people, especially young artists.  I was living half the year in Toronto and the other half in New York, which were both new cities to me at the time, attempting to create some kind of stability in my life.  I was trying to figure out what I was most interested in as a performer while simultaneously working and shooting this very personal, emotional and intimate material and becoming some kind of poster boy for something I didn’t understand at the time. I knew very much that the show was unique and ground-breaking.