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 Elizabeth Adabale Who Studied Pre-Med at USC Before The Stage Called Her Elsewhere


This Spotlight focuses on Elizabeth Adabale, a dedicated musical theatre entertainer who studied public health and theatre at the University of Southern California and taught high school biology with Teach for America, until the stage pulled her elsewhere. I first met her in 2013 when she began to audition for productions in Los Angeles and knew with her talent and stage presence, Elizabeth was destined to “hit it big” on stages across the country! I reached out to her to find out how is she dealing with the cancellation of her national tour in The Color Purple after 111 performances.


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

Elizabeth Adabale (EA): My musical theatre career has been a windy road, beginning with my claim to fame, "starring" as Passenger #3 in my middle school's production of Anything Goes. From the age of 11, I realized that my happy place was on stage singing and dancing in front of an audience. So much so, I begged my parents to let me go to a performing arts high school, but instead went to a medical magnet school that would prepare me to study medicine at the collegiate level. I was still able to participate in some children's theatre in high school, and went on to study public health and theatre at the University of Southern California.

During my time at USC, I realized that there were a lot of opportunities I missed out on because I wasn't a theatre major. I was able to perform in a few shows, but felt I didn't have the training to pursue a career right out of college. Though I was pre-med throughout my time there, I decided at the last minute to pursue another career and joined Teach For America as a high school biology teacher. During the day, I would teach 11th graders about photosynthesis and eventually helped found the theatre program at my school. At night, I would audition and pursue regional theatre in the greater Los Angeles area.

 

(SB): I do remember you were teaching during the day and doing theater at night when I first met you when you walked into the Westchester Playhouse to audition for Little Shop of Horrors in 2013 and blew us away with your voice and stage presence. As I recall, it was one of your first community theatre shows in Los Angeles.

(EA): And my first paid performance was in the ensemble of Queenie Pie, a Duke Ellington opera, with the Long Beach Opera. Realizing I could get paid for my passion lit a fire in me to take things to the next level. My turning point was participating in a musical theatre competition called LA's Next Great Stage Star. It was a 6-week process where 19 contestants and I sang audition cuts to a panel of judges (think American Idol) that included casting directors, agents, and directors.

I signed with Across the Board Talent Agency in 2015, and went on to book shows at various regional theatres in LA such as 3D Theatricals (Parade and Oklahoma), 5-Star Theatricals (Evita, Children of Eden, and Hunchback of Notre Dame), Performance Riverside (Sister Act), The Cupcake Theatre (Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray, and Urinetown) and the Taylor Performing Arts Center (Sister Act and Joseph...Dreamcoat).

In January of 2019, I took the big leap and moved to New York City to further pursue my career, and waking up at 5am to stand in mile-long lines in 30-degree weather paid off! Within 9 months in the city, I made my Off-Broadway debut in Revelation The Musical, played Jan in Grease at the Fingerlakes Musical Theatre Festival and played a Dynamite in Hairspray at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre. I also made my national tour debut as a Church Lady and Sofia in The Color Purple. It was a dream job, working with Tony Award-winning director John Doyle and the original set and costumes from the Broadway revival.

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

(EA): I was on the beautiful island of Key West, Florida and had just completed my 111th performance of The Color Purple. We were making the drive to Cutler Bay, our next tour stop, when our company manager notified us, first by email and then later in person, that we would be laid off for a month. Our tour bus was pretty silent as the weight of the situation dawned on all of us.

Truth be told, we hadn't felt the effects of COVID-19 yet because Key West was such an isolated place that hadn't put any stay-at-home measures in place as yet. It wasn't until we stopped at a Walmart on our way into Miami that we realized the severity of the virus, amazed that lines were irrationally long and it was impossible to purchase simple things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and gloves.

Our company of over 35 people were on planes home 2 days later. Originally, we were to resume performances in mid-April and finish the rest of our tour, which was due to run until the end of May. But 2 weeks later, we were informed that Key West was indeed our final performance and the rest of our tour dates had been cancelled. It was devastating to say the least. But while I am unaware of any plans to pick the tour back up in the future, I would love the opportunity to continue telling this story across the country as part of a future touring company.

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

(EA): I was in the audition process for a lot of projects that would have started after my tour ended in May. It's so difficult to be unsure of when I'll be able to perform again, but know that everything will work out exactly the way it's supposed to!

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

(EA): I am so grateful for the wealth of resources that have been available to artists during this difficult time. I am in a Facebook group called No Marking which is led by casting director Kate Lumpkin. From Tuesday-Friday, the group provides various Zoom calls on topics ranging from audition tips to meditation to financial literacy. 3D Theatricals also has a similar program called 3D+U that provides virtual classes geared at supporting the artistic community. I've also been a part of a few virtual cabarets and readings that have helped raise money for The Actor's Fund. But then sometimes, I need to just unplug and take the time to rest. But I am grateful that I know where to go and get resources should I need it.

(SB) Any other 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?

(EA): Stay strong! These are unprecedented times and it's easy to find the bad in all this, but focus on the good. I am using this time as an opportunity for self-reflection and preparation. I've been ruminating on why I've chosen this profession, and what I want to accomplish. I've also been taking the time to update my resume, fine-tune my self-tape skills, read, and network. We will get through this, and can't wait to see how our industry evolves once this is over.

Let's stay in touch! Follow me on Instagram and Twitter or check out my website at ElizabethAdabale.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Ashton's Audio Interview: Oklahoma! @ 3D-Theatricals is SHOCKING!!!

The 3-D Theatricals' take on “Oklahoma!” …is SHOCKING. It is either bad taste or pure genius (and whichever it is, is completely up to you). Is it the story of a Jim Crow Negro being killed for harassing a white woman? Do the audience members feel like they're part of a lynch mob after watching a trial? Do black lives matter? You may never see it done like this again – no one would be courageous enough to show it! Personally, I love this disturbing take on “Oklahoma!”
Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Oklahoma!” at 3D-Theatricals, which closes Jul 9th. You can listen to this YouTube interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage.  For tickets and more info Click here.