Interview with Deborah Robin on LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER

P3 Theatre presents LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a powerful one-woman musical about the dazzling Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas and her improbable marriage to songwriter Cole Porter who created such classics as “So in Love,” “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “Love for Sale.”

Though Porter was gay, their companionship and love lasted through 35 years of marriage and a spectacular, glamour-filled life. With innovative arrangements, the timeless music and lyrics of Cole Porter weave through the compelling narrative of Love, Linda examining the darker sides of their life, while also celebrating the deep love that blossomed through their unconventional relationship.  “It’s an amazing love story,” said P3 Theatre Company Executive Artistic Director Jon Peterson. “Many people are surprised to learn that Cole Porter had a wife. The show has all the behind-the-scenes secrets as well as the luscious music of Porter.”

LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013 featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter, with Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman. The show will have its Southwestern Regional Premiere October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach before moving October 30-31 to the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. Through song and story, Deborah Robin promises a tour-de-force performance as Mrs. Cole Porter. And as a fan of Cole Porter’s music but not knowing anything about his wife or their life together, I wanted to find out a bit more about the production, especially what led Deborah Robin to take on the role.

(Shari): Hi Deborah. Thank you for taking to time to speak with me about LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER.

 (Deborah): Hi Shari, it’s my pleasure to chat with you! I am so delighted that you have an interest in our show

(Shari): First of all, congratulations on your acclaimed pre-pandemic turn as Doris Day in P3 Theatre’s Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day. What else would you like readers to know about your theatre background?

(Deborah): Oh thank you so much, Shari; Day After Day was a wonderful experience! I adore everything about Doris, and always will. It was a privilege to portray her, and to work with the P3 Theater Company. As for my theatre background, I have been involved in theatre for most of my life (including post-graduate studies at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), with the exception of the years I stepped away to be home with my babies. The first time I stepped back into a theatre to audition again, it felt like coming home, like Cinderella’s magical slipper fitting her foot at last. I knew that I belonged here. Many of you can relate, I am sure! Speaking of magic, I have found that I gravitate to shows with elements of magic within them. Besides Doris, one of my favorite past roles to play was Mary Poppins. If enchantment is involved, I’m your girl!

(Shari): I take it you are a big fan of Cole Porter’s music. Do you have a favorite number or two you will be performing in the show?

(Deborah): Ah, that is a tough question! All of Cole’s music is timeless, memorable, marvelous! At this point, I think one of my favorites in this show might be “In the Still of the Night.” Some singers have interpreted this song dramatically, even fun and jazzy, but when it is done tenderly, with feeling, wow, does it touch the heart. Doris Day did an incredible recording of this song that I love, of course!

(Shari):  Since many aspects of Porter's life simply could not be discussed in great detail during the 1940s and 1950s, such as his 35-year marriage to Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas, what was it about her life and unconventional marriage that pulled you into wanting to portray her onstage?

(Deborah): Yes, absolutely, the reality of their marriage was not up for discussion at that time! There was a rather fictionalized account of their marriage in the movie Night and Day starring Cary Grant as Cole Porter. Apparently, after seeing the film, Cole remarked, with humor, “None of it’s true.”  But I knew almost nothing about Linda’s life before Jon Peterson of the P3 Theatre Company reached out to me during quarantine, asking if I’d heard of Love, Linda and if I might be interested in taking a look at it for the future? Of course, I said “yes” immediately because I relish Porter’s music, especially from Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate.

When I began researching Linda, I was fascinated. She was certainly a very sophisticated, sparkling socialite, but very private. I believe she truly loved him since they were together for nearly half of her life. Did you know she kept every Cole Porter review, ticket stub, and program and that her scrapbooks reside at Yale now?

(Shari): No, I had no idea!

(Deborah): And she saved his life as well, insisting that doctors not amputate his legs when he suffered an accident since she knew it would crush his spirit. I believe Cole loved her, too! After she passed away, he wept inconsolably at her funeral, and said he’d had two great women in his life: his mother and Linda, who kept him going. He commissioned a rose for her as well, the Linda Porter rose.

(Shari): What else do you hope audiences will learn about her?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will come away with an understanding of and connection to this spirited lady. Linda was much more than Cole Porter’s wife, or benefactor, or muse. She was a bright and vivacious woman with a passion for culture, music, and Cole!

(Shari): No doubt their glamour-filled lifestyle was essential for both of them. But how do you think they were able to stay married for 35 years?

(Deborah):  Yes, they were the epitome of glamour! The palatial houses, lavish decor, the world traveling. Linda’s jewelry collection is just to-die-for! Many of her pieces were commissioned by Cartier, and are so gorgeous! One of her most iconic pieces was an aquamarine and ruby Belt Buckle Necklace made by Paul Flato in 1935, which is considered an American work of art.

I think there are many reasons Cole and Linda were able to stay married, which Linda discusses in the show. They admired and respected one another, in addition to love. She saw him for the man that he was, and gave him space and freedom in his intimate life. In a practical sense, for Cole, his marriage to Linda gave him access to a sophisticated social life; for Linda, Cole granted her access to the world of the arts. Of course, they did have problems in their marriage, which Love, Linda explores as well

(Shari): What do you think will surprise audiences about their behind-the-scenes life, either in Paris or New York?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will be pleasantly surprised, even touched, at the genuine love and affection that existed between these two! Marriage can be challenging enough under the best circumstances; Cole and Linda (with eyes wide open) managed to have a beautiful life together, as unconventional and puzzling as it may seem.

(Shari): For this production, are you able to rehearse in person with director Tony Santamauro and/or musical director Bill Wolfe or just online for now?  And have you ever worked with either of them before?

(Deborah): Yes, I have been able to work with both of these fabulous people in person, and we are following all safety protocols. Tony was my director for Day After Day, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again. He just radiates a zeal for theatre, he lives and breathes it, and is a joy to work with. This is my first time working with Bill, and he is delightful (and so talented)!

(Shari): What message do you hope audiences take away with them after seeing the show?

(Deborah): Besides all of the classic Cole Porter tunes that will be playing on repeat in their heads for days? Most of us know Cole Porter as a clever and witty composer who was unable to live openly as a gay man. He was more than clever and closeted; he was staggeringly brilliant, and much deeper and more complex than people realize. He was not able to be himself, openly, in the world, but he had someone in his corner who cared. Some of his more thoughtful songs really portray this side of him, touching emotions in us that cannot be conveyed except through music. I hope audiences will come away with a bit more insight into the captivating man that he was, and of the woman who adored him

(Shari): Is there anything else you would like to add?

(Deborah): Yes! The number one reason to come to this show is the music! It is delightful and delicious, and the particular arrangements in Love, Linda are de-lovely! There are also some lesser-known treasures you may never have heard before. Cole Porter’s music is universally loved for a reason, and I hope you will love it, too. Thank you so much, Shari, for your interest in our show, and for this interview! I really appreciate it.

P3 Theatre Company presents the Southwestern Regional Debut of LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a musical one-woman show starring Deborah Rubin about the improbable love of the gay songwriter and his socialite wife. With Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman, the production is Directed by Tony Santamauro with Musical Direction by Bill Wolfe.

Performances take place:
October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach, with Adult General Admission: $32.00 or Senior/Student/Military General Admission $28.00, available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-65321

October 30-31 at the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach with General Admission Adult: $35.00 or Senior/Student/Military: $32.00 available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-89246 

Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission, and both venues have wheelchair accessible parking and seating available. All ticket sales are final. Please note: For all in-person performances, you will be required to wear a mask indoors in compliance with the current LA County mandate. In addition to wearing a mask, you will need to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test (within 72 hours) along with a photo ID.

Headshot photo of Deborah Robin by Susan Spann

Stock Photos of Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee Thomas

Photo of Deborah Robin as Doris Day in "Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day"
by Caught in the Moment Photography


Leela Dance Collective presents ReSound, a 5-day celebration of kathak dance

Leela Dance Collective presents ReSound, a 5-day celebration of kathak dance, featuring street performances and workshops to educate and inspire audiences of all ages. The Kathak (pronounced cut - tuck) dance form can be traced back to the kathakas from 400 BCE who were the traveling storytellers and artists of ancient India. In modern times, the art form has emerged on the presidium stage and traveled outside of India, finding expression in diasporic communities throughout the US and beyond.

One of kathak’s most notable characteristics is the fast, percussive footwork dancers perform by striking their bare feet on the floor using various techniques. In addition, it is known for swift pirouettes, a dynamic movement vocabulary, and compelling character portrayal. Kathak is typically performed with North Indian classical Hindustani music, which provides an exhilarating soundscape and a very collaborative environment for the artists. Dancers wear a string of 150-200 bells around each ankle to ornament their footwork and movements, and to highlight the rhythmic sophistication of the artform.

 

In Los Angeles, free street performances will take place at such iconic locations as Santa Monica’s 3rd St Promenade, DTLA’s Grand Park, Pasadena’s Memorial Park, Culver City’s Town Plaza, Woodland Hills’ The Village at Topanga, and the Oak Canyon Community Park showcasing kathak dance at its best. The $10 workshops are a great opportunity for individuals to experience kathak first hand, the way that kathak dance can ground the body, focus the mind, and uplift the spirit. Workshops are held at some of LA's most popular studios including Evolution Studios, Electric Lodge, The Vault, and Diaz Studio of Dance in Culver City.

Culver City performances include a Free Pop-up Performance on Sunday, Sept 26, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Plaza, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City; with two $10 Workshops: The Indian Avatars on Sun, Sept 26, 3:00-4:00 p.m., at Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City, in which kids ages 5 and up are introduced to kathak and learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology; and Movement, Music & Meditation on Sun, Sept 26, 4:00-5:00 p.m., at Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City, in which participants discover the beauty and dynamism of kathak by being introduced to the technique, movement, music and poetry of the art form woven together into an experience that is meditation in motion. To register for free events and $10 workshops, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/resound-kathak-in-the-streets-los-angeles-tickets-158038416157

The concept and arrangement of the ReSound repertoire is curated by Rina Mehta, senior disciple of kathak legend Pandit Chitresh Das and cofounder of the critically acclaimed Leela Dance Collective, and showcases Das’ original compositions and choreography, while featuring a new generation of emerging kathak dancers trained in his iconic style: Sonali Toppur, Ahana Mukherjee, Carrie McCune, and Ria DasGupta.

After more than a year of living in fear and isolation, we are thrilled to see our neighborhoods and communities start to come back to life. To do our part, we are quite literally dancing with joy - on street corners and promenades and at community parks and outdoor malls across Los Angeles and San Francisco,” shares Rina Mehta, whose work is grounded in the belief that kathak dance can be a powerful tool for empowerment and social change.

Founded and led by women, Leela Dance Collective’s central aim is to advance the voices of women artists and choreographers while providing a space for women to lead and create outside the confines of a traditional male-defined framework of leadership, mentorship, and artistic practice. Through their productions they hope to bring together artists and communities across race, ethnicity, and religion. It is through such exchange that Leela Dance Collective continues to engage with their own artistic tradition, remaking it for contemporary audiences.

For more information, watch the ReSound trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS6eyK09TPs and check out their moves on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/LeelaDanceCollective. View the complete ReSound schedule at https://leela.dance/resound/

Performances - Free

Friday, Sept 24, 12:30 p.m.:  Grand Park, DTLA

Friday, Sept 24, 6:30 p.m.:  The Village at Topanga, Woodland Hills

- Saturday, Sept 25, 1:30 p.m. & 2:30 p.m.:  3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Saturday, Sept 25, 5:30 p.m.:  Memorial Park, Pasadena
(featuring performance by Los Angeles’ inaugural Leela Youth Dance Company)

- Sunday, Sept 26, 11:30 a.m.: Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park

(part of the Kathak Karnival featuring additional family activities, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.)

Sunday, Sept 26, 5:30 p.m.: Town Plaza, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City

Workshops - $10

- Before Bollywood: Wed, Sept 22, 7:00-8:00 p.m., The Vault Dance Studio, 57 Palmetto Dr, Pasadena Before Bollywood there was kathak,
known for its grandeur, beauty, and elegance. Join us for a workshop that introduces you to the movement, music and expression of this dynamic art form. Students of all levels and backgrounds are welcome.

- Bare Feet Beats: Thurs, Sept 23, 7:00-8:00 p.m., Evolution Dance Studios, 10816 Burbank Blvd, NoHo
Dive into the dynamic world of kathak. Move, groove, jam and slam as you learn how to make rhythm and music with your bare feet. Students of all levels and backgrounds welcome.

From Sensuality to Spirituality: Sat, Sept 25, 10:00-11:00 a.m., Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice

Radha is one of India's most beloved goddesses. Her love, devotion and yearning for Krishna is a metaphor for our relationship to the divine. As we explore Radha's love for Krishna through the art of kathak, classical dance of North India we explore the eternal human search for the divine. Students of all levels and backgrounds welcome.

- The Indian Avatars: Sun, Sept 26, 12:00-1:00pmOak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park

In this workshop, kids are introduced to kathak, classical dance of North India. Kids learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology. For kids, ages 5 and up. Part of the Kathak Karnival featuring additional family activities.

The Indian Avatars: Sun, Sept 26, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City

In this workshop, kids are introduced to kathak, classical dance of North India. Kids learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology. For kids, ages 5 and up.

Movement, Music & Meditation: Sun, Sept 26, 4:00-5:00 p.m., Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City

Discover the beauty and dynamism of kathak. Workshop participants are introduced to the technique, movement, music and poetry of the art form woven together into an experience that is meditation in motion.

Family Festival - $10

Kathak Karnival: Sun, Sept 26, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park
Enjoy dance, music, food, and fun - $10 admission includes an exclusive performance of ReSound by Leela Dance Collective, with an opening performance by Los Angeles' inaugural Leela Youth Dance Company, as well as kathak workshops for children, youth, and adults. Register now and get unlimited access to family activities including henna art, face painting, photo booths, gift giveaways, and more. Free parking.


Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Gordon Shapiro, Composer of Music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls


This Spotlight focuses on Michael Gordon Shapiro, a composer of music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls, who I first met during the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival when I attended his The Bully Problem musical, which included not only great lessons against bullying in schools and why it is so important to stand up for yourself, but also his love of robots! The show had its commercial premiere at that Festival, where it earned an Encore Producers Award and was a Pick of the Fringe selection. It was also nominated for seven awards including Best Musical, Top of the Fringe, and Fringe First. And you can bet I was back in the audience during its additional performances in August 2019 – for a third time!


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Michael Gordon Shapiro (Mike): I wasn’t a theatre kid. I regarded actors as magical creatures with unnatural abilities. (How did they show emotion on demand like that? How did they even memorize all those lines?) And I didn’t become serious about writing musicals until my 30s. Age is a great motivator!

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Mike): I’ve been developing a new family musical called Gideon and the Blundersnorp. (The mental image that you just came up with is probably accurate.) We were slated to premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this June, and my producing organization, New Musicals Inc., had booked our run at the Broadwater Main Stage. I had reserved studio time for the cast album and was thinking about my wardrobe for the festival awards party. In short, we were looking forward to this.

(SB): I understand.  It will be a very strange June this year without being able to walk from theater to theater and see 3 or 4 shows a day as I have done at the Fringe for several years now. It must have been very difficult to communicate about the shutdown with the cast and production team of your show.

(Mike): The producers and I had kept an eye on the Coronavirus situation as it progressed, adjusting our expectations accordingly. By the time LA announced the closure of theater venues, we had a suspicion that our original production schedule wasn’t going to happen. We weren’t fully cast yet, but we emailed members of the creative team. It was primarily a courtesy; at that point just about everyone understood the situation.

(SB):  I know the Hollywood Fringe Festival has been re-scheduled for this October. How confident are you it will be able to take place at that time?

(Mike): Our star is hitched to the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Fringe has tentative plans to open in October. If the festival proceeds, we’ll be there with bells on, running at the originally-planned venue and on dates that parallel those of the prior June schedule. Needless to say, we’ve got our fingers crossed!

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Mike): If there isn’t a Hollywood Fringe this year, we’ll likely move Gideon and the Blundersnorp to next summer. Consequentially, whatever to-be-written show I might have premiered in 2021 will get bumped. Unless I become pathologically ambitious and try and launch two shows next summer… no, that would be unwise.

(SB) Unwise, perhaps. But most welcome to this reviewer!

(Mike): *looks contemplatively into the distance*

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Mike): I’ve taken advantage of the downtime to work on the cast album from my prior musical, The Bully Problem. We tracked vocals last year, but there was such a tremendous amount of editing and mixing that I decided to defer it to when I had sufficient time to hunker down. That time is now. The silver lining for me personally is being able to launch this album much sooner than planned.

(SB): As you know, The Bully Problem was one of my favorites shows at last year’s Fringe, and I look forward to being able to hear the score again. For those who missed my review, here is the link

(Mike): I also contributed to the Hollywood’s Fringe’s premiere Virtual Cabaret. Allie Costa self-recorded herself performing a song from Gideon which was presented alongside videos from other Fringe participants. A lively group interacted in the chat room while the online talent show live-streamed. It was great fun, and certainly helped maintain the spirit of artistic camaraderie while we’re all physically separated. (You can watch the first cabaret installment here:

Jenn Crafts started an online play reading series that’s been a huge success. I’ve enjoyed being an audience member and supporting creators who might need a motivational boost. While online readings aren’t meant to replace live theatre, I think they offer a valuable supplementary experience. I hope this sort of thing continues even as we emerge from the lockdown period.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Mike): If you’re nervous on a plane flight, think about what you’re going to do after you land. That is, look past the unsettling present, and make your mind focus on what’s to follow. The same principle applies here.

For more information, please visit the website of my upcoming show's Gideon and the Blundersnorp at GideonMusical.com. Here is the website for The Bully Problem TheBullyProblem.com. You can also find me on Twitter and on Instagram.


The Bully Problem photos credit: Matt Kamimura

This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Robert Yacko, One of the Busiest Triple-Threat Performers in L.A.


This Spotlight focuses on Robert Yacko, one of the busiest triple-threat performers in Los Angeles, whose musical theatre skills constantly bring magic to the stage.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Robert Yacko (Robert):  I’ve been around a long time, a native Philadelphian who cut his teeth on theater in high school after being a musician for a few years. I was pulled into the love of dance by a choreographer who saw potential in me. My brilliant acting teacher at Temple University, Joel Friedman, then gave me the tools that got me into the Juilliard Drama Division and things took off from there. My Broadway debut was in Fiddler on the Roof with Herschel Bernardi, directed by Jerome Robbins himself, assisted by Ruth Mitchell and Tommy Abbot. The subsequent National Tours we did brought me to LA twice, and after having the privilege of dancing with the legendary Cyd Charisse in summer stock, LA was beckoning.

“Sunday in the Park with George” with Robert Yacko and Pamela Myers at the LA Premiere at Long Beach CLO. Photo by Craig Schwartz

I was quickly welcomed in the City of Angels with two back-to-back seasons in the Mark Taper Rep, soon followed by one of the highlights of my career - starring in the Los Angeles Premiere of Sunday in the Park With George, with Pamela Myers (the original Marta from Company) as my brilliant Dot and Marie. We had the Broadway sets and costumes and a director chosen by Sondheim and Lapine, the wonderful Fran Soeder.

 

From that flowed lots of amazing opportunities, many of them in Sondheim musicals, which was a gift, since his work was the very reason I longed to do musicals. Highlights of my Los Angeles Theater work include Into the Woods with Leslie Uggams, Company with Carol Burnett and Patrick Cassidy, Chess with Jodi Benson, A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia with Cathy Rigby, The Donmar Warehouse production of Parade at the Mark Taper (which began my association with Jason Robert Brown), and more recently, Annie at the Hollywood Bowl with Lea Salonga, Megan Hilty, Anna Gasteyer, David Alan Grier, and Steven Weber.

As many singing actors do, I have also branched out into the LA Cabaret scene in the last decade, aided and guided by my inspiring friend, Bruce Kimmel. To say I have been blessed over the years, especially in this city, is an understatement!

(SB): I have seen many of the shows you mentioned, but were you involved with any productions when word went out to immediately postpone or cancel them?

(Robert): I had two corporate shows scheduled in late March, one of which was cancelled, one postponed. I have been working with my corporate event company for 17 years and those were the first to go, as they are highly attended events. And I was slated to do the second in a series of Concerts at the Wallis Annenberg on April 1st, organized by the outgoing Mayor of Beverly Hills with Richard Sherman’s son, Greg. The first Concert of this series we did on February 26th, which was an evening of Tom Lehrer and Stephen Sondheim as a partial sing-along. The April concert was to be in a Hollywood Musicals theme, but this event was cancelled.

I was due to perform in the April and May Kritzerland Cabarets at Vitello’s, the second of which would coincide with our Director/Producer Bruce Kimmel’s new book Simply, A Lifetime of Lyrics being published, and would highlight his songs. The April 5th event had to be cancelled. However, the May Concert went online on May 3rd on Facebook Live and YouTube Live with a theme change.

Robert Yacko as Henry Ford in "Ragtime" at 3D Theatricals

The biggest event of mine that got postponed, first from March 30th to June 1st, and now to a TBD date, was the 2nd Benefit for Musical Theatre Guild’s Educational Outreach, an event called Rewind2: By Request at the Rockwell. I was honored to be directing this benefit show and we had been working hard on its planning, built with music from audience-requested musicals from MTG’s archives, using 25 of LA’s best musical theater actors. I’d been working closely with Kristi Holden (producer / organizer) and our Musical Director, Dan Redfeld, since late January and we had a stellar lineup of songs and MTG members to perform them. We were about to have our first rehearsals when everything shut down. This was the toughest one to lose, even temporarily, but I do know that it will get done when we can do so safely.

(SB): That was a lot of changes in such a short time. How were the shutdowns communicated with the cast and production teams?

Robert Yacko in “Undiscovered Country” in the Mark Taper Rep, with Christina Pickles

(Robert): With the corporates, our manager let us know via group email as soon as things changed. With Kritzerland, I spoke to Bruce Kimmel as things unfolded, and at the point where Shelter in Place went through April 15th, we knew we had to cancel April 5th. Then in mid-April, I got a message that we might try and do a Kritzerland online. The Wallis concert word came in a group email from our vocal director Carly Bracco, who had already put a ton of work into the event. It was heartbreaking for many, as this one is lost for good.

Finally, the MTG Benefit word came through back and forth messages with our brilliant coordinator Kristi, who at first tried to have us keep our March rehearsal schedule and get tracks to the singers for the June date. At the same time, MTG was still trying to plan for Kismet on May 3rd and a Glendale Arts event immediately after, which I was asked to direct as well. We soon realized that putting 20+ singers in among some of our elders was not prudent, considering how COVID news was darkening daily. It was first shared privately among the production staff and performers, then the date changes were announced publicly.

(SB): Are plans in place for any of those productions to be done at a future date?

Robert Yacko as Horace Vandergelder In "Hello, Dolly!" at 3D Theatricals

(Robert):  One corporate event may be done in October. The Wallis concerts are gone permanently. Krtizerland went on Facebook Live and YouTube Live, with guest star Liz Calloway contributing from NY. The MTG Benefit will happen at a TBD date. It will be a great show for a worthy cause, to support and inspire the next generation of Musical Theater Artists.

(SB): I have to say, you are one of the busiest stage actors I know. What future productions on your schedule are also being affected by the shutdown?

(Robert): I worked last November for the first time with David Green’s Musical Theatre University in Palm Desert doing Gypsy with a dear friend from NY, Alix Corey, who teaches there. Their program is extraordinary and so are the students involved. David and I talked about future productions (among them, JRB’s Honeymoon in Vegas), and in truth, I am not certain how this affects the program’s schedule. I was to be a guest star at the group’s last (of 6) cabaret shows on March 19th, but that of course was cancelled. I will indeed work with this group again when it is safe to do so.

There were some play readings I was to do with the gifted writer/director Suse Sternkopf (who took my great Cabaret headshot photo), with the ultimate design to create a new theater company. That is off the table until we can reconvene, as her two plays require a real intimate emotional connection which is hard to make with semi-strangers on Zoom.

Other than the MTG Benefit and their Glendale Arts show at the Americana being delayed to indeterminate dates, what is mostly affected is the ability to audition for future work, which is huge. Since no one knows exactly when and if productions can be done, no one is auditioning for anything of note. Of course, that will delay the start of productions at theaters across the board when they can re-open.

(SB):  How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Robert): Since I work a lot, the initial shock of having my entire work schedule vanish in the course of two days, topped by the ever-frightening tone of the news, caused me first to reach for humor, rather than panic. It was partly to keep things light and probably partially due to disbelief and denial. So, in the first 9 days of Shelter at Home, I started posting parodies of Musical Theater Posters, as if these were the only shows we could do now: things like Sunday in the Park Without George and No Company. I posted a dozen on Facebook the first day and people clamored for more, as everyone needed a way to laugh off the shock of this new normal in which we were suddenly living. I began posting every day on Facebook and Instagram, and in 9 days, I had created 101 mocked up posters of “Quarantined Musicals.”

A friend asked me to make a book of them for her as a cheer-up and a funny memento, so I went into iPhoto and created one, and sent copies to friends to keep them smiling in the moment and to keep as a funny memory once the plague has passed.

Just 10 days ago, I submitted my vocal-part video for a virtual choir, in which I was asked to participate by Jeff Rizzo and Eric Andrist. It is an 8-part SATB 1 & 2 choir version of a well-known pop song from the 70’s, which I cannot mention until it is ready. Fifty great LA singers sent in vocal/visual tracks to be edited together by David Engel. It should be ready soon.

As mentioned, I was shooting 3 songs for Sunday’s Krtizerland show, from composers Randy Newman, Cole Porter, and Noel Coward. And I am redesigning my professional website. It’s time and I have the time now.

Otherwise, like so many, I am eagerly watching the online concert events like Sondheim’s 90th Celebration and Jason Robert Brown’s Subculture show, highlights of the last 2 days (as I write this). And I am trying to stay in touch with my friends in our circle to make sure everyone is okay.

(SB):  Are there any other thoughts would you like to share with the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Robert): Be Kind - to yourself first and to everyone around you, friends, family, and strangers alike. There is no roadmap for this current madness, but we as artists are more used to the kind of uncertainty that everyone is experiencing right now, and are suited to help however we can. This time is a reminder of the Native American adage that “No one wins unless the whole tribe wins.” We are all part of a tribe, both in the theater world and the rest of the world. No one is safe unless everyone is, and kindness goes a long way in making someone’s day, and in relieving some of the stress that breaks down immune systems. The smallest gestures make an enormous difference.

(SB): I so agree with you on bringing kindness into the world. Before the pandemic at the opening night of Daniel's Husband at the Fountain Theatre, director Simon Levy gave me a badge that says “Make America Kind Again” which I proudly wear every day. I wish I had hundreds of them so I could give one to each person who has reacted so positively to its message.

(Robert): I also encourage everyone to mine your solitude for its gifts of self-learning and resting, which is something we don’t do enough of when the wheels are turning full-speed. The digital world has made resting and recharging a forgotten art, one we all need to do to create our best work and, of course, to stay healthy.

You can find me by name on Facebook and Instagram. You can also watch some great videos of my many Cabaret performances on my self-named YouTube Channel, as well as a few bootlegged videos from productions of Company, Chess and Sunday in the Park With George, plus a recording of some unsung Sherman Brothers.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Selah Victor, Former Actors Co-op Theater Production Manager


This Spotlight focuses on Selah Victor, an actor and former Production Manager of Actors Co-op Theater Company in Hollywood whose next production, which is very personal, is due later this year. And while the “wait is on,” Selah is sharing her musical comedy talents by creating clever and very relevant “safe at home” videos on YouTube. So, with a toddler at home as well as a new addition to her family on the way, how is she fueling her creativity at home and sharing it with others?


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Selah Victor (Selah): I have been a performing in the theater since I was 10 years old and graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in Theater, which also included a year studying and performing in theater all over the UK.

Selah Victor with Floyd Van Buskirk in "Lend Me a Tenor" at the Actors Co-op

After college, I moved to Los Angeles where I continued to perform on the stage all over the city including Actors Co-op, The Garry Marshall Theater, Theater West, Pico Playhouse, and Second City. I became a member of Actors Co-op Theater Company in 2003, serving on the Production Committee and producing several shows before becoming the Production Manager from 2015-2019. I also co-founded an independent theater production company called Standing Room Only to bring shows from concept to creation.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

Selah Victor in "The World Goes Round"

(Selah): I wasn’t involved in any stage productions personally. But our two Spring shows at Actors Co-op, Marvin’s Room and A Man of No Importance, had to be postponed, and the closing weekend of A Body of Water (March 13-15) had to be cancelled.

(SB): Now that you find yourself at home, how are you keeping the Arts alive by using social media or other online sites?

(Selah): I have been having so much fun keeping the Arts alive while at home by producing sketch comedy with my toddler! And I am pregnant with our second child due later this year. As busy as I have been, it has truly helped to keep my spirits up and I have found it such a thrill to produce things at home, sharpening my skills as a performer, writer, and editor, as well as a Mom! It’s also been so rewarding to post my sketches on social media and YouTube and to get positive feedback from the internet audience.

(SB): My personal favorite, which I saw on Facebook, is your “Stay at Home Rap” which I watched over and over again, laughing myself silly over the cuteness of your son and your relevant lyrics with such important messages.

(Selah) Here are the links to my “quarantine” sketches:

Quarantine With Kids:

Stay at Home Rap:

 

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Selah): It’s been so wonderful to see how the LA Theatre community has come together throughout all of this. I’ve seen online rehearsals, performances, play readings, and more, all of which have helped artists to keep their spark alive to keep creating. I do think we need to support our small theaters to help them keep the lights on through this difficult financial time, and so many people have been going the extra mile to make sure these theaters can stay open. 

Let’s stay in touch through my website, my instagram and my twitter accounts.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Female Fusion: Siobhan Dillon

Siobhan Dillon is an astonishing vocal talent. She was “discovered” when she participated in the British Televised Talent Show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Though she finished third, she had made her mark, attracting the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the judges of the show and one of the most prolific composers of modern musical theater.  She made her West End debut in 2007 playing Patty Simcox in Grease and has gone on to star as Molly in Ghost, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Sandy in Grease, Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde and Betty in Sunset Boulevard. When the British production of that show moved to Broadway in 2017, Ms. Dillon made her Broadway debut. A move to Los Angeles followed to explore television, film, and to fulfill her dream of living in sunny California. In addition to performing, she has gradually expanded the scope of her voice, both literally and figuratively, to help others through meditation, sound baths and yoga nidra (yoga sleep),which she teaches with her husband Adam Korson.

Luckily for those of us who were not able to catch her on the West End or Broadway, Ms. Dillon just released her first pop album, a stunning collection of covers entitled One Voice. This is not an album review, though I highly encourage you to check it out. It is gorgeous. What is extraordinary about the album, aside from the glorious vocals, is the journey that led to it. While taking British musical theatre by storm, Ms. Dillon fought cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 in 2015, while performing Ellen in Miss Saigon. While healing, she worked with Breast Cancer Haven, an amazing organization in the UK that supports those fighting the disease. All proceeds from the album benefit the organization. According to Ms. Dillon, “what makes Haven so wonderful is that they are equipped with health care professionals in so many different areas of expertise that they can provide comfort and support for anyone going through the breast cancer struggle. I just felt so strongly about them and the comfort that their charity had brought me that I wanted to say thank you. I didn’t give them a penny during that time, and I think in moments of need, the charities that offer everything for free are the ones who should be celebrated. The tricky thing at this moment is that they can’t continue with their fundraising events as the world is going through this pandemic. I was originally going to continue to support the charity by encouraging people to visit their site and hopefully encourage donations but with everything going on it just felt like the right thing to do to donate all monies to them.”

I asked Ms. Dillon to share her journey, her experience in creating the album and her focus moving forward with life in Los Angeles.

In 2015, Ms. Dillon was just about to open in the West End production of Miss Saigon as Ellen, a role she had long coveted. Just before opening, she discovered a lump during a self examination and her life turned upside down. The lump was malignant. After a few performances, she left the show for treatment. She endured a brutal regime which included surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. During the time between surgery and radiation, she visited California, staying with a friend in Malibu and setting the stage for her future. She did return to the show, but as a changed person. “I had started hormone treatment which effectively switched off my ovaries because the type of cancer I had was all due to hormones - specifically estrogen. So, the doc wanted me to stop producing it which would effectively leave the cancer cells without anything to ‘feed’ on. For anyone who has been through the menopause, you will know all about this. The side effects of reducing that hormone are quite brutal. Panic attacks, depression, hair loss, weight gain, hot sweats... to name a few. It was a challenging time, but while I was sitting on that beautiful California beach, I made a decision that I wanted to push hard to spend time in the US.” She started the process to obtain a green card to work in the US before she returned to London to continue treatment. She found that when she returned to the show, she struggled. “I returned to Miss Saigon to perform and was struggling with being back on stage. I’m not sure what it was exactly but I didn’t have as much fight in me so the nerves returned and it left me wondering if performing on stage was the right thing for me to be doing moving forward….I had always joked as I lifted my eyes to the sky that when the universe took me to perform on Broadway - at that point that I would have just left musical theatre! (It really was as simple as that!) Within weeks I auditioned for Sunset Boulevard and was cast as Betty in the UK production and yep!... we then transferred to New York. I made it to Broadway!” After the show closed that June, she traveled for a few months then made the move to Los Angeles.

Ms. Dillon recorded the first single, She Used to Be Mine, shortly after her recovery process. It seemed to stand in for her entire journey. “I was kind of done with the treatment but was still feeling the waves of what had happened a year earlier. I was petrified that the experience had changed me in a negative way. I was scared of losing something. My fearlessness? Maybe. My naiveté? Probably. I was so scared that people saw me differently. I was scared that my energy had changed, and my light had dimmed.” The song has even more resonance with the current world situation. “This idea of “life slips in through a back door” just really takes the wind out of me every time I hear or sing it, as we get on with living our lives, day to day and suddenly there we are. We find ourselves in places we would never have imagined without noticing it happening.”

One Voice is curated with and produced by Steve Anderson, who has produced the work of more recognizable names that you can count, including 20 years as producer for Kylie Minogue.  The entire album took four years to record. Ms. Dillon says, “both myself and Steve really took our time with this album. We had no idea what it would be or when it would all be complete, but we started anyway. What a wonderfully rare position to be in. It started with Steve asking me to send him a list of ‘Desert Island’ songs, which progressed into ‘the songs that I had always wanted to sing’ which very quickly progressed into ‘the stories that my heart wanted to tell through song.”

Although all of the tracks are gorgeous, Everyone’s Waiting is a standout, both vocally and in what it meant to Dillon to record. “I’d been performing on London stages for almost a decade when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was a few weeks into my contract at The Prince of Wales in Miss Saigon, playing Ellen. I decided to get through my treatment as quickly as possible to get back to the stage and play this iconic role. But when I got back there, I froze. Everything felt different.”  She continues, “I remember stepping onto that stage and it feeling completely different to any other time I had stood on stage before. I was fragile. More sensitive. Things felt different, but I couldn’t work out exactly how. It felt empty and pointless. Nothing about being on the stage excited me. In fact, I just felt uncomfortable.”

This onstage experience led Ms. Dillon to rethink her entire approach to her art and life. “When I stepped back on stage after the treatment, I was quite shocked at how fragile I felt. I took it for granted that I would just walk out there and be focused and hard as nails again. But my hard exterior had really been chipped away and that only really hit me in that moment. My nerves in auditions were through the roof- more so than normal... I think I just wanted to relax! I didn’t like the adrenaline anymore. I think the main reason for this was numerous conversations with my doctor about limiting stressors in my life. He once asked me if I had a stressful life. I said “No! I perform on stage for a living! It’s fun!” He asked me if I ever got butterflies or moments of adrenaline surges... I thought about it for a while and as we talked, I realized that I was constantly feeling these things.”

“The way I live my life has definitely changed. I removed things that were causing me stress. I don’t do things that cause me stress and most importantly I take relaxation incredibly seriously because if the body can't rest, it’s struggling to heal and if the body can’t heal, disease will have a much easier time thriving. So my work in theatre hasn’t stopped- far from it. But my work in meditation and crafting healing sound baths for others has increased. Whenever I can help someone relax to enable them to reach the parasympathetic state, allowing their body to begin to restore and heal itself - I am a happy woman!”

I wanted to take us back to the album for just a moment. The tone of the album is very specific, and though not all of the music is calming or meditative, there is a balance to it that when listened to straight through is very soothing and restorative. Was the idea of sonic healing a part of the process? Was this life path already in motion as she recorded this album? My impression is that it was there, but maybe not intentional. I asked Ms. Dillon directly.  “I think probably you just hit the nail on the head. I think it was subconscious. Steve (Anderson, the producer) is so open himself to artists just going with their flow and he is really a phenomenal support that what actually happened when we started working together that he let me just relax….I heard somewhere a rider who was just told to relax into the saddle like butter…..I love that…... It is kind of like how this process happened. It was kind of a seamless and pain free experience for me, which I can’t say about previous recordings. With Steve, he just allowed me all of the space and time and energy to do what I felt was right and I was able to tap into a part of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

So life in Los Angeles is different, but not entirely divorced from performing. There is a continuity in music, sharing and song. Ms. Dillon was on the Amazon hit show Frankie and Grace this past season. She is absolutely open to the right theatre project or role sweeping her into its fold, but is currently focused on a life of healing, meditation and love. She is deep in study and with her partner Adam, she runs Salus, “a sanctuary space dedicated to creating peace, tranquility and healing.” They are building a new space, using this time to embrace the unknown. She integrates her healing work with her performance and art and is focused on the spiritual rather than commercial side of sound, embodying a Southern California lifestyle. “I am working on meditation music as well as guided meditations specifically designed for self-healing. This, over acting and singing, I have to admit is the thing - at this moment in time - that is getting me out of bed in the morning! That, and the California sunshine of course!!!!!”


Featured photo credit: Adam Korson



Spotlight Series: Meet Dana Weisman, A Musical Theatre Actor Who Longs to Get Back Onstage ASAP


This Spotlight focuses on Dana Weisman, a musical theatre actor who longs to get back on the stage and entertain audiences as soon as possible!


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Dana Weisman (Dana): It seems like I have been involved with theatre my whole life. Originally from New York, I began taking dance lessons at around 7 years old and then became a company member in a local children’s theatre troupe when I was around 10.  Like many young girls at the time, I was captivated by the musical Annie when it opened on Broadway and would have given my right arm to be part of that experience. In my mid-teens I attended a performing arts camp called French Woods in the Catskills and further fanned my musical theatre ambition.

Roy Okida and Dana Weisman in "Somethings Afoot"

Then, after the movie Fame came out, I was given the opportunity to audition for the High School of Music & Art (now LaGuardia) and was accepted as a Vocal Arts major. We were classically trained, but for me one of the most fun and fulfilling parts of my high school years was being a member of M&A’s acclaimed Gospel Choir. While at M&A, I was also a part of a professional theatre company in Manhattan called The First All Children’s Theater. With this troupe, I had the opportunity of performing at the Kennedy Center in an original musical called The Trip when I was 16 years old.

After high school, I attended Northwestern as a Theatre major for a couple of years before transferring to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (Circle-In-The-Square) as I had decided I wanted to earn a BFA. After college followed long years of waiting tables at MANY restaurants up and down Manhattan. You can definitely “Betcha your life a waitress earns her pay!”

In between waiter gigs and other odd jobs, I took classes and built my resume doing lots of regional and summer stock theatre. I made lifetime friends at all these jobs and seemed at times to move closer to my goal of a Broadway gig - but then would slide back. It became frustrating as I saw many of my friends move on to Broadway and my confidence eventually began to erode. I learned there is no question one needs to have an unflagging, burning desire coupled with talent and being in the right place at the right time in order to succeed in this biz. But I seemed to never have all three at the same time.

Dana Weisman as Frau Blucher

Eventually, after a break-up, I decided to move to Los Angeles where my brother was living and try out a change of scenery and maybe pursue the TV/film side of the biz. Shortly after being in LA, I met my husband Jon, a native Angelino, and my fate to become a West Coast transplant was sealed. After getting married, I decided to pursue my other strong interest - psychology - and in between raising a family of three, I earned my graduate degree and became a licensed MFT.

However, as almost any theatre person can attest, once you are bitten by the theatre bug, it is impossible to truly get rid of the itch to be involved in the business in some way, shape or form. After years of singing lullabies to my children, I decided I wanted to get back to singing in another capacity. A few wonderful years singing with the famed Angel City Chorale was followed by my LA theatre debut with Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse. Since then, I have been performing in many other venues around LA, The Blank Theatre, The West Coast Jewish Theatre, and the Cupcake Theatre, to name a few, and also trying to break into the television / commercial / film / VO side as well.

Dana Weisman in "Broadway Bound"

(SB): I remember being amazed at your performance in Broadway Bound with The West Coast Jewish Theatre, quoting from my Broadway World review: "And what dedication to her craft was on display by Dana Weisman (understudy for Maria Spassoff), taking the stage with a broken leg in a boot and walking on crutches as Kate's sister Blanche Morton. But as soon as the initial surprise wore off in a matter of seconds, the lovely scene with Blanche visiting the family home, dressed to the nines by Shon Le Blanc in a lovely dressy suit and fur coat, reflected how well she has done for herself." A truly masterful performance! What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show? 

(Dana): Luckily, I was in between shows at the time the “Safe At Home” quarantine began. I had recently ended a run at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center as Donna in Mamma Mia and was auditioning for my next opportunity. I had a callback in the works but unfortunately, the show was postponed as we started to see the ripple effect all over LA of theaters closing and schedules being put up in the air indefinitely. Post show confidence is always a great booster for moving forward to one's next goals. So while I wasn't part of a show in the works at the time the quarantine began, any momentum I was hoping to build upon post Mamma Mia has had to be suspended indefinitely.

Dana Weisman as Donna in "Mamma Mia"

(SB): If you missed Dana in “Mamma Mia” in Simi Valley, here is my review of that fabulous production.

Regarding that callback, how was the shutdown communicated with you?

(Dana): News of this particular shutdown was communicated online via Facebook, emails, and other social media. That said, I knew it was coming and had contemplated perhaps not even attending the original audition because by that time, shutdowns were already taking place all over town. But I am glad that I did though as it always feels good to get out and turn in a mini-performance and get to do what you love, even in nerve-wracking audition circumstances.

(SB): Do you know if plans are in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Dana): As far as I know, this particular production will commence in the future but no dates have been announced as yet. I certainly hope and pray that CoViD-19 and future precautions do not effectively “kill” live theatre, and I look forward to the day when auditions and live performances can resume. But I know that smaller theaters and theatre companies will have their budgets affected by the shutdown, and that all shows will be pushed back and schedules will have to be altered and reworked. I have a daughter who is attending Northwestern University in the fall as a freshman but, as with theatre, schedules are up in the air and may look like something completely new that we have not yet seen as we get closer to the start of the next semester.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Dana Weisman with "Sunday in the Park" cast

(Dana): So far, I have taken advantage of this time by cocooning at home with my family by resting, cooking, baking, watching TV, taking safe distancing walks, meditating and attempting to get some much-needed sleep. Lots of self-care. However, I will say that it can be difficult maintaining motivation as lethargy is not easy to stave off when the rule of the day is to stay at home and mostly indoors. As a theatre person - and generally a “people person” - the distance created by interacting onscreen is not always as fulfilling as the live experience. But if this is the new normal, we will all need to adjust.

Moving into this next phase, I hope to begin keeping up personally by honing my audition songbook, learning monologues, and reading plays. There are so many online classes for just about any aspect of the theatre -- auditions, dance, acting -- I hope to begin taking part in many of them. Some groups I participate in are doing online play readings, and I am planning to also take part in those. Keeping up with my fellow actors in Zoom chats is also a much-needed balm.

(SB): It’s been fun being in a few of the Zoom meetings with you! Any more thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Dana): It is difficult to maintain hope and positivity during such unprecedented and anxious times. But theatre isn’t going anywhere. I think it’s best to just take a little rest and time to recalibrate and emerge with renewed vigor once it is safe to again “go live.” As we have all seen, the Arts in all forms are what people are turning to in these crazy times to keep going and to be inspired. They provide solace, laughter, a creative outlet, and catharsis even when shared via distance and online.

Forgive my corny sign-off but it’s true: “The sun will come out tomorrow!”


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Doug Mattingly, A Multi-Talented Actor, Singer, Director, Composer, Teacher and Sound Designer


This Spotlight focuses on multi-talented actor, singer, director, composer, teacher, and sound designer Doug Mattingly, most recently involved with the production of Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Doug Mattingly (Doug): I'm a stage and screen actor and have performed in dozens of plays, features, shorts, commercials, and videos. I've trained at the University of Southern California as an undergraduate where I also appeared in several student films at the time, at Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC, and at Groundlings here in Los Angeles.

Doug Mattingly as Jack in Theresa Rebecks "Dead Accounts" at Little Fish Theatre

I recently won a Stage Scene LA Award for "Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy - Intimate Theatre" for my performance as Jack in Theresa Rebeck's Dead Accounts at Little Fish Theatre.

In addition to acting, I also work as a theatre sound designer. Most recently I designed sound for Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone at Little Fish, directed by my wife Branda Lock.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

Doug Mattingly as Jack in Theresa Rebeck's "Dead Accounts" at Little Fish Theatre

Doug: We had just completed our second weekend of four, of Dead Man's Cell Phone at Little Fish Theatre. I was able to see a design run of the show as well as tech week performances and opening night. My wife and I left for a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium the day after opening and were hoping to see a couple more performances upon returning. But unfortunately, the production closed just after we got back to the States. And given what has gone on since then, we were fortunate to get back when we did.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

Doug: I believe the director was notified via email and phone the day prior to the email notice going out to the cast and designers, followed by a public announcement. There was talk initially of live streaming or filming the performance, but events unfolded quickly to where social distancing measures made that impossible.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

Doug Mattingly as Ekhart in "Key to Eternity"

(Doug): The broader question right now for many theaters, is if the theater will reopen at all. For now, Little Fish Theatre (LFT) is hosting a Virtual Stage where company members are posting various forms of content. Given my musical background as a performer, composer, and teacher, I've posted a video on songwriting which you can find at the above link. Other actors have posted comedy bits, short films, etc. There's even an ongoing web series happening with material from legendary television writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier), prolific playwright Rich Orloff, best-selling author Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen), and LFT Company Members. A full slate of live stream readings, an original web series, classes, and interviews are now available on Little Fish Theatre’s Virtual Stage website.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

 

(Doug): As far as LFT is concerned, everything is up in the air. I also have some on-camera projects that are on hold. Another theatre company I am a member of, Infinite Jest Theatre Company, is working with the City of West Hollywood to mount readings and/or a production in September. As of now, plans are moving forward in the event that there is some return to normalcy by then.

(SB): I think everyone is hoping things return to normal as soon as possible. For now, how are you personally keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Doug: I am an instructor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood, a performing arts college that offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts as well as a two-year conservatory certificate, so I am (very fortunately) still working. I am teaching all my courses online for the remainder of the semester, so I am engaging with young artists in live one-on-one video settings and by making prerecorded lesson videos and posting documents in Google Classroom.

Doug Mattingly in "Spray It, Don't Say It"

I've also participated and will continue to participate in live online readings of screenplays and short theatrical plays. As a matter of fact, some actor friends and I are doing a reading of one of my feature screenplays on Sunday, April 26 at 4pm. We'll have an invited online audience as well! So that's a lot of fun! I will provide details for those interested in being part of the audience as the details become available.

I'll also be recording live solo music performances (I'm a guitarist and singer). My wife, who is a fantastic singer, and I have recorded a couple pieces as well and will be posting them in the coming days. I hope folks will check out Little Fish's Virtual Stage since there will be a lot of good material hitting there.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Doug): I will have moments of feeling normal: practicing guitar, working on a screenplay, reading a play, making dinner, watching a movie, preparing for a class I'm teaching, and then remember what's going on outside my front door. That has been unsettling. It's like holding the two ideas in your mind that one day we'll shuffle off this mortal coil, yet you have to do the laundry.

Doug Mattingly staying fit

It's tempting to think of this period as a "hold" or "pause" until we get back to real life. But for me, it's been important to remember that this IS real life. And so I've been doing my best to make the most of each day. I'm using the various video chat formats to keep in touch with friends and family and all that. I had a lockdowned birthday last week. I'll never forget that one, that's for sure.

As people all over the world shelter in place and stream hours and hours of movies and TV shows, creative people should be proud of the service we as a community are providing during this time. When folks watch a movie or TV show, they are enjoying the talents of actors, writers, set designers, directors, gaffers, cinematographers, composers, editors, makeup artists; not to mention the legions of drivers, caterers, accountants, agents, lawyers, union representatives who help make it all possible. We must always remember that artists are vital to our society and we need for all of us to go on creating.

(SB): You have so much going on. How can others stay in touch and/or find out more about you and your projects?

Doug: Folks can keep tabs on me here at my website, where I've recently updated my comedy and drama. And if you've watched all the Netflix, there are a few short films posted including the award winning "Grand Cru," I can also be found on Instagram as dougmattingly.

I'm also posting lots of videos on my YouTube channel. Half Life is a comedic drama about a 40ish struggling actor who returns to his hometown to settle the affairs of his estranged, overbearing father and to find a way to finally move into an adulthood that's been a long time coming. Anyone interested in being part of the audience for the reading of my screenplay Half Life can contact me through my website.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Composer, Conductor, Lyricist, and Producer Christopher Raymond


This Spotlight focuses on composer, conductor, lyricist, and producer Christopher Raymond who has won an NAACP, Stage Raw, and Broadway World Awards for his work in theatre. Chris has also music directed several Los Angeles area awards shows as well as 14 productions with DOMA Theatre Company in Hollywood, among many others. And in December 2018, he became Music Director for Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas where Passover and Shabbat services are being LiveStreamed from home.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your professional background?

Christopher Raymond (Chris): I started my career at the age of 15 by playing in the band for Jason Robert Brown's 13 The Musical at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and on Broadway.

(SB): I saw 13 The Musical at both the Kirk Douglas Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum and really loved the energy in the show. And all the teenage emotions bursting at the seams reminded me of many challenging days I experienced as a middle and high school teacher.

(Chris): I then went on to study music at CalArts, and am now a composer, lyricist and music director, and have won an NAACP, Stage Raw, and Broadway World Award for my work in theatre.

I co-wrote the theme song for the show, Troy (which opened at the 80,000-seat Beijing National Stadium in July, 2017), and music directed and orchestrated the Ovation Awards twice (at The Ahmanson Theatre and at the Theatre at Ace Hotel). I also music directed / arranged the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards twice.

I music directed, conducted and played piano for 14 productions with DOMA Theatre Company in Hollywood, including prominent revivals of Avenue Q, American Idiot, and Dreamgirls (which was awarded "Best Musical" by the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards and the LA Times Awards.)

I recently wrote the book, music and lyrics for Scarlet Letter: The Musical, which had a workshop production at Greenway Court Theatre. A highlights reel for the musical is available on YouTube here:

In December 2018, I became Music Director for Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas. Working with Rabbi Ron Li-Paz, Cantor Michael Li-Paz, Chaplain Jennifer Eaves Nye and the rest of the VOS team is a continually inspiring experience.

(SB): How has COVID-19 affected your work at your Synagogue?

(Chris): The quarantine orders began in Los Angeles shortly before Passover. Due to this, we at VOS held two virtual Seders on our website. The Rabbi, Cantor, Chaplain, and myself LiveStreamed our Seders from our respective homes as our congregation joined us from their homes. It was a beautiful way to create joy and unity during a challenging time for the world.

We are currently LiveStreaming our Shabbat Services on Friday nights and all of our classes are being held online. We are grateful to live in a time when technology allows us to continue functioning and providing help as a Synagogue while our leadership and membership remain safely isolated at home.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Chris): I have been recording / composing music in my home studio and I have also been making musical videos for Valley Outreach Synagogue's website. I have also had an opportunity to watch and support many friends' musical and arts-related projects online, which has been a joy.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Chris): As a community, we are all going through uncharted waters, but I believe that at the end of the day we will be stronger and hopefully a bit wiser from the lessons we've learned during this pandemic. May we all stay safe and do our best to keep up our spirits/morale by continuing to learn, grow and create / appreciate art.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Shelley Fisher, “The Hebrew Hillbilly”


This Spotlight  focuses on Shelley Fisher, a down home diva better known as The Hebrew Hillbilly, her persona in her solo music play which is the longest running in the USA. Believing that music is the universal language which brings healing and encouragement to everyone, performing her show fuels the flames of creativity and hope for Shelley, and comedy provides a welcome break from the weight of life as it is today. So, what is she up to until she can back inside the Santa Monica Playhouse to perform for an audience again?


Shelley was born and raised in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in Memphis, TN, the home of The Blues and the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll, which inspired her love of music and performing. Her mother was a professional singer/comedian and her father was a concert violinist who co-founded the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The gritty musical backbeat of Beale Street and the King of Rock n’ Roll himself, Elvis, coupled with her parents influence, made performing a natural focus of Shelley's early life in local talent shows and high school theater. She moved on to Boston University, studied fine arts and drama and formed her own Blues/Folk band.

"I’m the writer and performer of the longest running critically acclaimed solo musical play in the USA, The Hebrew Hillbilly, which is autobiographically based on my true story of growing up Jewish in the red neck South and is a celebration of diversity, dreams and determination! Obviously, it has hit a popular nerve and is perfect for this time of Passover, Easter & Coronavirus, since for the first time in modern history, Passover and Easter have been canceled due to a Plague.  With 17 original songs I wrote with my co-songwriters Ken Hirsch, Harold Payne and Steve Rawlins, we were preparing for a May 17th benefit performance for Santa Monica Playhouse when the Coronavirus pandemic shut down civilization as we know it."

Since it’s a solo musical play, Shelley only had to contact her audio visual staff, management and acting coach, Missy Peikin, about postponing its current run, and the co-artistic directors of Santa Monica Playhouse, Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo. Evelyn and Chris are seasoned veterans of the theater who welcomed Shelley almost eight years ago and deftly knew how to deal with the current situation. And, if the fates allow, all three are looking forward to present The Hebrew Hillbilly on Sunday, June 28th at 6:30pm as a Benefit Performance for the Santa Monica Playhouse. Of course with uncertainty of the pandemic, all her other productions, including national television (JBSTV), theatrical presentations in Florida, Atlanta, and NYC are now on hold.

To keep her creative juices flowing, Shelley is skyping and zooming with other noted songwriters, including Harold Payne and Steve Rawlins, to create new songs. "I’m also sending bi-weekly emails to friends and fans, posting on my Facebook public page, The Hebrew Hillbilly: Fifty Shades of Oy Vey! and on my website HebrewHillbilly.com."

"Music and performing fuel the flames of creativity and hope. The universal language, music, brings healing and encouragement to everyone. And comedy provides a welcome break from the weight of life as it is today. Take two Ha Ha’s and call me in the morning! We’ll be back soon."

The Hebrew Hillbilly is designed to entertain and encourage folks to never give up on their dreams. If one dream doesn’t work, get another one. The finale says it all: ‘I’m Still Hot’ (It Comes In Flashes Now).

You can hear Shelley's CD, Rockin' in Memphis on Amazon, and her latest song, ‘I Wanna Win A Grammy (Before I Am A Grammy)’ is available at Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, and CDBaby.

Link to short (1 min 49 sec) performance video:

Be Glad You’re Different:

Miami Beach:


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Writer Par Excellence Shelly Goldstein Offers Sage Advice During Covid-19


Writer/actress/cabaret performer Shelly Goldstein is very popular worldwide and is in a constant state of motion with a unique sense of humor. In this special creativity interview she talks about just that. Especially wonderful is her advice to everyone to stretch your horizons and reach out to others.


DG: Overall, what are you doing during this horrible CoViD-19 period to stay creative?

SG: First of all, Don, thanks for reaching out. One of the positive aspects of this wackadoodle time is the return to old-fashioned phone calls between friends, and emails/texts that are a bit more personal than a typical 6-word message. It’s been great to actually have conversations with people. I didn’t realize how rare such calls had become and I hope they don’t disappear.

Human interaction inspires creativity.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Like everyone, I’ve lost a ton of work. Any gig I had on the books since mid-February was either cancelled or put on indefinite hold. That meant a lot of performances and many gala/award show events went away. The biggest disappointment was a gig where I was going to work with Julie Andrews on a lifetime tribute she was going to receive! But such is life. And “life” is what matters now.

My husband and I had a few projects that were in the works before this happened and we’re still inching those forward. There’s a series coming out this year in Europe called Cold Courage that we worked on: he wrote & Story Edited. I was a Script Consultant and I actually had the joy of writing a song lyric that is part of a key scene. Can’t wait to hear the final mix as, obviously, we weren’t able to be there as it was finishing post. I think it will air in the US in 2021.

And I also try to do a vocal warmup for every one of the 4,372 times each day I wash my hands.

DG: Have you been helping create projects online for people to watch or listen to?

SG: Yes! It’s a lifesaver.

My favorite thus far is a song parody I wrote (re-wrote Lee Adams great lyric) and uploaded to YouTube called “How Lovely When News Was Stupid.” It’s a parody of Bye Bye Birdie's song, “How Lovely to Be A Woman”, written by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse.

No production value! I’m just sitting in a chair in my living room. But it’s struck a nerve. It’s gotten thousands of views and shares and online posts. I’ve gotten some very kind emails from people telling me the song caused them to laugh for the first time in weeks. That’s a blessing.

This is the song. Please enjoy and share with anyone who could use a smile!

My friend Mark Evanier wrote a terrific parody about the mess we’re all in and he’s asked me to sing/record. As soon as I learn the lyric, it’s next up.

DG: What about interviews?

SG: I’ve done some online (ZOOM) theatre and interviews and just today was asked to write & perform a piece for a benefit for the Chicago Actor’s Fund.

When John Prine died, I was heartbroken. Loss of a giant. I adored his songs. A couple of years ago I wrote a concert special for the Lyric Opera called Chicago Voices that later became a PBS special. Prine was in the cast and he won an Emmy for his performance.

The night he died I kept crying and singing his songs. I’d done, “Angel From Montgomery” in a recent show and took that clip and put it online. It’s a perfect song and I love singing it. Playing/arranging is the great Doug Peck, who I met when he conducted and was the Music Director on Chicago Voices.

This is that video:

I have so many friends writing songs, recording songs, writing commentary/jokes – I think it’s so vital to have that outlet. I love seeing how singers, actors and writers are reacting to what we’re collectively experiencing.

I was so impressed by the song written by dear friends, Michele Brourman & Hillary Rollins, “While There is Still Time,” sung by another woman I adore – Maude Maggart. (I always say Maude’s is the voice that angels wish they had.) It had a touching video made by Christine Lavin who I’ve never met, but whose work I so admire. A gorgeous effort.

Seeing how other people are speaking out inspires me and makes me stronger. I am unofficially mentoring a few people – We keep in touch and I follow what they are doing.

I probably post much too much online – but it’s impossible not to see the insanity swirling around us and ignore it. I try to do it in a way that makes people smile and think – and I delete any responses that call for violence or cruelty. There’s enough of that in a million other places.

I feel like people are moving to a different place this week. Now that we’re sheltered-in-place for over a month, we’re all looking for the next step. I’ve started to get calls and e-mails asking my availability for writing special material or full shows/acts. I love how many performances are happening online and I’m always happy to help!

DG: Do you have any recommendations for people on how to extend their creativity? Should they stick to what they know best or venture into uncharted territory?

SG: If there ever was a time to venture into uncharted territory – it’s now! We are flooded with emotions right now – fear, uncertainty, impatience, vulnerability, anger, gratitude, love – if that doesn’t inspire a song or a script or a joke or a dance or a painting or an opera or a concert…what will?

This is a rare moment of stillness, although it’s impossible to be still in this political climate. We’re all feeling a ton of stress and anxiety. It’s helpful – emotionally, psychologically and physically – to challenge yourself.

One practical thing I need to learn how to do is add more production value to my videos. The days of just singing to camera aren’t enough anymore. I don’t have a green screen and don’t know how to do it…yet. But I am going to learn.

I finally got pulled onto Instagram – I’m GroovyShelly (and at Twitter also @GroovyShelly) Follow me! I’ll follow back.

If I’m not creating, the only options left are worrying/crying/obsessing – or eating carbs. I spent 3 years carb-free and that has gone out the window. I can attempt many things of value during a pandemic. Giving up pasta and bagels is not one of them!

There is so much literally at our fingertips right now. Go online. People are giving classes, sharing shows, major theatres and cabarets are streaming past productions. Take a class – then teach a class. This is a great time for bartering. What can I learn from you? What can I teach you?

No one knows how or when we get out of this, but when we do – I hope it’s with more of a sense of compassion and community. If we don’t learn it now, we never will.

DG: There are so many lies out there. It seems that we have to make our own truth and that is scary. Do you have any predictions on how and when this whole nightmare will be over?

SG: Wow. We must, must, must fight to keep the truth alive. We must dig for it and we must counter that dangerous lies that we face every hour of every day.

Right now, the single most important thing is to listen to the experts and leaders like Governor Cuomo, Newsom, Pritzker, Whitmer, Inslee. We also need to "Stay at Home!" Yes, there are a million other places we’d like to be free to go right now. Be patient. Tough it out. If you don’t want to do it for any other reason, do it to show respect for the medical personnel who are working superhuman hours to keep people alive. It’s literally the least we can do. We must “Stay the F Home!”

We all see how hard the medical first responders are working. The best way we can help them is to flatten the curve. Which means staying home. Another great way to help them is to send food to your nearest ER.

If a friend is alone or vulnerable, send them a GrubHub gift card or find out what you can send them.

I have no idea when this will be over – or even how it will be over. I know it will not absolutely end in one single day. But I can’t fathom what the stages will be that will put us on the road to “normal.”

I think it’s important to say, “I don’t know” when you don’t know. People don’t like those 3 little words and they also don’t like, “I was wrong.” The inability of some of our leaders to honestly say those 2 phrases when needed is one of the things that got us into this mess.

Spread facts. Spread science. Spread art. Spread love. Spread kindness & compassion – and a healthy heaping of dish. Keep washing your hands.

And to quote that great philosopher, Dolly Gallagher Levi (by way of Jerry Herman) – “Whatever you do, for God’s sake, KEEP BREATHING!”

Watch Shelly on YouTube, connect with her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.



Theatre Palisades Youth (TPY) Actors Are Writing Songs and Creating and Performing in YouTube Videos About the Pandemic


Written by Lara Ganz, TP Youth Program Director

"Rehearsals!" "Tech week!" "Cast circles!" "Nine performances over two weekends!" holding hands as we take our bow together... all echos of a distant past... or what feels distant.

It's hard to believe it was only last month when Theatre Palisades Youth's radiant and soulful young cast dazzled sold out audiences with Frozen Jr! 10 days after our final show, it was announced that California was headed into quarantine for two weeks. Those two weeks have since turned into... ??? This is hard. This is heart-breaking and incomprehensible. This is the "new normal".

Real grief needs real joy to counter it and our inspirational community of young actors has risen to the occasion! These young actors are sharing their voices filled with hope and humor... and encouragement!

We look to these resilient children as a reminder of the magic that will happen when we all gather again at our beloved Pierson Playhouse. Please enjoy their videos and share with others who need a smile right now!

Lexi Sexton's "Frozen" Post-Coronavirus Parody

Lexi Sexton has graced the Theater Palisades stage in many memorable roles, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Tinkerbell in Peter Pan, and Ariel in The Little Mermaid. Most recently she "wowed!" audiences at Elsa in Frozen. Lexi has a recurring role on television in Nickelodeon's The Loud House.

Lexi leads with grace, kindness and humility. She is true leader who is always looking for ways to help support her cast mates, she is the first one to offer to take out the trash or help clean up our many messes! Lexi truly delights in helping others.... Oh yeah, and she can sing!!!

Ella White: Stay At Home! Coronavirus Song

Ella White has been shining in role after role at TPY. She is an incredibly versatile performer and has played Tigerlilly in Peter Pan, Benny in Guys and Dolls, Ariel in The Little Mermaid and most recently charmed sold out audiences as Anna in Frozen Jr.

Ella is always looking for ways to be of service and leads with kindness and empathy. Her open heart allows cast-mates to feel safe and supported. Ella is a triple threat to the 10th power! She sings, she dances, she acts, she writes comedy (seriously clever comedy!), she writes songs (lyrics and music!!! Really clever and soulful songs!), she does improv, and now apparently, she plays the ukulele!

She has taught herself to play ukulele during these past few weeks of quarantine and wrote the music and lyrics to this original song about the Coronavirus pandemic "Stay at Home."

Lara Ganz is currently hosting FREE online theater+creativity ZOOM meetings for TPY. If your child would like to participate, please email Lara at: calrayganz [at] gmail [.] com