Garry Marshall Theatre Appoints New Managing Director

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Garry Marshall Theatre Appoints New Managing Director
September 12, 2018 – BURBANK, CAGarry Marshall Theatre's Board of Directors is proud to announce that Kurt J. Swanson has joined the new nonprofit's leadership team as Managing Director.
“We're thrilled to welcome Kurt to the Garry Marshall Theatre,” says Artistic Director, Dimitri Toscas. “His extensive knowledge of nonprofit development and theatre management is bolstered only by his first-hand understanding of the local community and what makes it tick. His leadership style is inspiring and he's quickly become a valued member of our team.”
Swanson is the theatre's first official Managing Director in its year-long history after relaunching as the nonprofit Garry Marshall Theatre in the summer of 2017.
The role of Managing Director was created after the departure of Executive Director Sherry Greczmiel at the end of the inaugural season. Swanson will lead the organization's charge in fundraising, infrastructure development, and brand-building while guiding the theatre in the best-practice business principles that pertain to nonprofit live performance.
“I feel very fortunate to have been able to capitalize on my long-time performing arts and theatre background with my business and fiscal skills that have been honed over several decades,” says Swanson. “This is my ‘home town theatre' since I've lived nearly two decades in the neighborhood and have always admired this performing space.”
Alongside the Artistic team of Dimitri Toscas and Joseph Leo Bwarie, Swanson will be a major player in the continuation of programming during the Garry Marshall Theatre 2018/2019 Season, which begins on October 12 with a new production of Real Women Have Curves by Josefina López.
With over 30 years of continuous nonprofit business management of performing arts, nonprofit, and social services organizations, Swanson has a long history of bold, dynamic leadership and collaboration. He has served numerous theatres and nonprofits across the country – including the The Broad Stage (Santa Monica) as General Manager, Steppenwolf Theatre Company (Chicago) as Interim Business Manager, Arts Services Associates (Milwaukee) assigned as Business Manager for Theatre X, and Box Office Manager for Skylight Theatre in Milwaukee. He also served as Operations Director of CASA of Los Angeles and Executive Director of Animal Samaritans in the Coachella Valley.
Swanson's appointment culminates a three-month search process, which considered a significant candidate pool from Los Angeles and across the country. The search was conducted by the Garry Marshall Theatre Board of Directors.
About Kurt Swanson
Chicago native Kurt Swanson has been involved in theatre since his years as a musician for High School plays. His performance skill garnered statewide awards and earned him scholarships. He served in a variety of administrative positions with social service and arts organizations in Milwaukee and Chicago, including serving as a founding member of the “Second Tier” collaborative arts organization in Milwaukee, and as manager of Theatre X, an internationally touring ensemble theatre. In Chicago, he served as finance manager for Steppenwolf theatre during the time of its mainstage, experimental and Broadway productions, often interacting with major stars and virtually every sector of professional theatre production. He has served as senior staff to major nonprofits in the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles, and served on the board of Syzygy Theatre Group.
About Garry Marshall Theatre
Garry Marshall Theatre is a nonprofit organization providing innovative performances, educational opportunities, and storytelling activities for all ages, year-round. Located in the heart of Burbank and Toluca Lake's entertainment industry, the critically acclaimed and Ovation Award-winning 130-seat theatre was founded in 1997 as the Falcon Theatre by Hollywood legend Garry Marshall. Reestablished as the Garry Marshall Theatre in 2017, the theatre continues to cultivate new artists and experiences that spark ideas and build community.
MEDIA CONTACT:
Chelsea Sutton, Marketing & Publicity
Garry Marshall Theatre
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Jeff Campanella Getting Familiar With Garry Marshall, Maria Callas & Neil Simon

Jeff Campanella already has earned the distinction of being the only actor to be part of both the recently re-named Garry Marshall Theatre's inaugural season's first and second productions. Jeff goes from 'stage managing' Maria Callas in MASTER CLASS to being a vital contributor in Neil Simon's homage to his beginnings as part of a classic television comedy writing team in LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR. Jeff took the time to give us a little insight to his involvement with MASTER CLASS and now LAUGHTER, which begins previews March 21, opening March 23.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Jeff!
LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR is your second show at the Garry Marshall. Do you have a history with the Falcon Theatre? Or was MASTER CLASS your first Garry Marshall/Falcon project?
MASTER CLASS was my first audition and production at the Falcon/GMT, and could not have been a better experience. Our director, Dimitri Toscas, is truly one of the kindest people I know, and I'm so happy for him that the show got such wonderful reviews.
Did you ever have the opportunity to interact with the late, great Garry Marshall?
No, I wish. I'm a great admirer of his work. Laverne and Shirley is my favorite Garry creation. I love hearing stories about him. He will be remembered not just for his numerous films and TV shows, but now for his beautiful theatre.
I saw you as the "Julliard Stagehand" in MASTER CLASS with the incredible Carolyn Hennesy as Maria Callas. You were most fun in your various entrances and exits interacting with Diva Callas. How would you compare your Stagehand character with the writer you play in LAUGHTER? And, which writer are you playing in LAUGHTER?
I'm playing Ira Stone, a hypochondriac who always shows up late with some new ailment. The characters are similar in that they are the outcasts of their particular worlds. Both oddballs, but in very different styles.
In your research process of getting familiar with your LAUGHTER character, did you watch some of the classic comedians that these characters were originally based on?
My character is based on Mel Brooks, or at least the Mel Brooks off-camera that Neil Simon worked with. Spaceballs was my first favorite comedy. I already watched it a dozen times before I was seven years old. I knew nothing about The Saturday Night Review or Sid Caesar, which our 'The Max Prince Show' is an allusion to, but in terms of that time period, I'm a big Jackie Gleason fan. My family loves The Honeymooners.
Have you, by chance, ever seen other theatrical productions of LAUGHTER or the 2001 television version with Nathan Lane?
No, I haven't. It's tough when you watch other performances not to at least subconsciously copy them. So, if given the choice, I'd rather not watch a performance of the character I'm going to play. I've seen Nathan Lane on Broadway in WAITING FOR GODOT, and my favorite of his films is Birdcage.
Any other Neil Simon project you've love to be involved in?
I really like THE ODD COUPLE and THE SUNSHINE BOYS, and the good news is these roles will be waiting for me in fifty years!
You have worked with a number of divas (and, I mean 'diva' in the most positive sense!) - the aforementioned Mz. Hennesy, Susan Lucci (Devious Maids), Pauley Paurette (NCIS), Mary McDonnell (Major Crimes), Jeremy Irons (An Actor Prepares). What other 'diva' would be on your wish list to work with?
Ooh, probably Maya Rudolph. She's hilarious!
Tell us some fun incidents you experienced during MASTER CLASS? (practical jokes, gag opening night gifts, spilled pitchers of water, pratfalls)
I would always find new ways to scare Maegan McConnell around the theatre. Also, before each show I would pretend to be a real stagehand and give the 20-10-and-places call to the ladies' dressing room. I'd find a new way to screw it up each time. But my favorite gag was Joseph Bwarie, the artistic director, would follow me around backstage as if he was my assistant. The Stagehand's stagehand.
Being raised in Atlanta, Georgia, does your accent reappear easily when you're around other Georgia folks? Was it easy or difficult to 'lose' your Georgia inflections?
Well, my dad's side is from Brooklyn, so I'm definitely drawing from him more than my mom's side for this role. I've never really had a southern accent, unless I'm being really polite.
What is your affinity to F. Scott Fitzgerald? I believe you dogs' names are Zelda and Fitzgerald?
You're good! I think the third dog will have to be named Gatsby!
What 1950's topic of Neil Simon's writers' room would you think will resonate (and possibly seem too relevant to our present times) with the Garry Marshall Theatre audiences.
Carol's monologue about wanting to not just be seen as a child-bearing woman, but also to be taken seriously as a writer definitely resonates today. Also, the government's desire to silence those who disagree with the status quo has always been relevant in our country. But, all in all, this is a comedy, aimed more at making one laugh than think. So bring your laugh. Or your fake laugh. I'll take either one!
Thank you again for doing this, Jeff. I look forward to experiencing your comedy chops in LAUGHTER.
For ticket availability and show schedule through April 22, 2018, log onto GarryMarshallTheatre.org


Martha Hackett Sculpting A Character of Flaws & Strength

The Garry Marshall Theatre's next play (in their inaugural season under their new moniker honoring the late Garry Marshall), Edward Albee's OCCUPANT will begin January 31, 2018. Albee's hypothetical interview of modern sculptress Louise Nevelson will feature Martha Hackett in this integral role. Martha was gracious enough to spare us some chat time in the midst of her rehearsals.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Martha!
Have you inhabited any Edward Albee characters before Louise Nevelson?
In college and acting school, I performed in BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE and SEASCAPE. I was a lizard-like sea creature in SEASCAPE - great costume.
I was most lucky to catch VIRGINIA WOOLF many years ago in London with Dame Diana Riggs and David Suchet. Have you had the pleasure of seeing someone perform Albee?
I think WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF is an American masterpiece, and I've tried to see whenever I can, especially with a strong cast. I saw Glenda Jackson as Martha, with John Lithgow - twice! Also Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin - both of those casts were amazing. You were very lucky to see Diana Rigg.
I've also seen THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? and A DELICATE BALANCE - great plays.
Edward Albee writes his characters with glaring flaws, worts and all. What would you describe as Louise's flaws?
Louise Nevelson certainly had flaws, as she was a real human being, and a friend of Albee's in actual fact. But the play is not strictly biographical. I think Albee plays with Louise's tendency to spin a yarn, or outright lie - as a way of creating a narrative for herself. On top of that, she might not be voted the world's best mother, as she was detached and unhappy in that role. However, she did have bouts of depression, and of course, that's not a flaw! I think it's hard for me to judge her too harshly while I'm playing her - as I'm seeing things from her point of view! The main spine of it is that she was destined to be an artist - and what it takes to become an artist involves great sacrifice, and a strong sense of self - which she worked tirelessly to develop.
Looks like Albee was ahead of time, writing about gender disparity in the sculpting arts. How relevant is OCUPANT with the recent revelation that Michelle Williams got paid much less that Mark Wahlberg for the reshoots of All the Money in the World?

I'm not sure Albee was writing about gender disparity per se, but it was so glaringly obvious that it's certainly woven in there. And though I don't necessarily think Louise identified as “woman artist,” she couldn't help avoid that issue - and she let Albee know about it. The truth is, the intense bias against female modern artists makes Louise's achievements even greater. Not so ‘modern,' eh? Odds were definitely stacked - very, very high - against Louise.
In terms of OCCUPANT being relevant right now, with the discussion of pay equity in Hollywood - well, it's been relevant for just about forever. This is not a new issue….it's been this way for a long time. Although I think there was a time in Hollywood when some actresses were the highest paid performers…..Lillian Gish, perhaps? And during the 30's and 40's, I think (could be wrong) there were a few actresses leading the way because they were such important box office draws.
There are also some fascinating parallels in this play about the immigration conversation happening right now. How immigrants were treated, and how valuable they become…

How would you compare and contrast Louise with Seska, your character on Star Trek Voyager?
I don't think I'd compare Louise or Seska at all - don't get me wrong, I LOVE Seska - would play her again in a minute. But Louise was a real person, and I've been able to read about her life and study her art. Louise was about lifting the human condition - the mind/body response to art - and Seska, well, she was a warrior in the more classic sense! World domination!
Have you and the late Garry Marshall's paths crossed on a set or at his previously named Falcon Theatre?
I never had the pleasure of crossing paths with Mr. Marshall - sadly. Big fan though…
Any dream roles you'd like to tackle on stage?
Hmm, dream roles - there are so many! And I'm sure some haven't been written yet. Here are a few off the top of my head - Arkadina in THE SEAGULL, Martha in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, Lady M (again!), Gertrude in HAMLET, and anything in a Pinter play.

What would you like the Garry Marshall Theatre audience to leave with after experiencing OCCUPANT?
I hope the audience leaves with a better understanding of the deep sacrifices, grit, and most importantly, the sensitivity that is necessary in becoming an artist of any depth. There will always be some blood on the floor, mostly your own, but sometimes mixed with others'. Also, I hope that if they aren't familiar with her work already, that they another look at Louise Nevelson's incredible body of art. It's pretty darn breathtaking.
Thank you again, Martha. I look forward to seeing how you inhabit Louise Nevelson.
Enjoy the show!
For OCCUPANT ticket availability and schedule through March 4, 2018, log onto GarryMarshallTheatre.org


LA STAGE: A Royal Dilemma and Lots of (Crazy) Comedy Tonite!

Quote of the week: "Trump said that Latinos are rapists and criminals.  So when I meet him, I plan to rob him and fuck him." - George Lopez

I saw something last night at a performance of Something Rotten at the Ahmanson Theatre that I'd never seen before in my 21 years in Los Angeles.   In the middle of the First Act, after the killer musical number, "A Musical," the crowd went wild - wild - and clapped wildly for a full five minutes, then a man spontaneously stood up and gave the show a standing ovation!  A mid-Act Standing-O!  Unheard of!

Anyway, the point is that actors on LA stages are crushing it this holiday season!  Crushing it!  And it's not too late to get in on the fun.

Caitlyn Conin, Kendra Chell and Dylan Jones. Photo by Justin Szebe

Before I get to it, though, I want to wish Theatre Movement Bazaar a great week in Beijing, China!  A full  house at the Bootleg were fortunate enough to catch their parting performance of TRACK 3, their brilliant interpretation of Chekhov's Three Sisters.  Better, funnier, fuller, more precise than I recall from the time I saw it before.  Why not run it here again for a few weeks?  If the audience at the Bootleg was any indication, there is a lot more happiness to be had with this show about the search for happiness.

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND:  KING CHARLES III by Mike Bartlett, Directed by Michael Michetti

Jim Abele as King Charles III. Photo: Jenny Graham.

I have to start with this caveat, that whatever the opposite of a Royal Family watcher is, that's what I am.   I know who Kate is, but the name of her kids? Have no clue.  Prince Harry and the Markle sparkle?  No thanks, I'll pass. So I'm not the ideal audience for this "future history play" about what could happen after Queen Elizabeth dies and Prince Charles finally becomes king.  Now I do know who the Prince of Wales is, and he's always seemed to me like a comedic figure with his rubber face and big ears.  But not here.  As played with great earnestness and dignity by Jim Abele, Charles is a learned man, deeply versed in the ways of monarchy, who intends to make the most of the royal position that he has waited so long to assume.  I must admit that the First Act seemed overly long and self-serious to me, but most of that paid off in the Second Act, which succeeded in making King Charles III into a memorably tragic figure.  Given all the current hubbub about another Royal Wedding (yawn) and the fact that this 16-actor play needs to be done on a majestic level, you'd better rush down to the Pasadena Playhouse this weekend if you have any hopes of catching this play.  Michael Michetti directed with great assurance, and Abele and Laura Gardner (as wife Camilla Bowles) stand out.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim - Directed by Joseph Leo Bwarie 

Nicole Kaplan, Michael Thomas Grant and Paul C. Vogt

This musical, based on the plays of the Roman satiric playwright Plautus, premiered in 1962.  It has the distinction of being the first musical to feature both music and lyrics by musical theater god Stephen Sondheim, along with a book co-written by Larry Gelbart, a comedy genius.  With such an illustrious heritage, I suppose it's no surprise that this is a rollicking laugh machine, featuring three wonderful Sondheim songs that have been imitated in hundreds of lesser musicals: "Comedy Tonite," "Lovely" and "Everybody Ought To Have A Maid."  This production, directed by Joseph Leo Bwarie, co-artistic director of the Garry Marshall Theatre, is highly entertaining, using a nicely-spacious Roman Square set that is beautifully-lit by Francois-Pierre Couture.  The show was well ahead of its time in the tongue-in-cheek way it plays to the audience, and Paul C. Vogt leads an agile and talented cast in bringing this farcical concoction to vivid life.  (Joey McIntyre replaces Vogt until Dec. 10, when Vogt returns to the show.)

SPAMILTON: An American Parody, Created, Written and Directed by Gerald Alessandrini, at the Kirk Douglas

Zakiya Young, Wilkie Ferguson III, William Cooper Howell, John Deveraux and Dedrick A. Bonner

Like everything connected to the phenomenon of Hamilton, this parody is selling out the Kirk Douglas Theatre like no other production before it.  While Spamilton is funny and barbed, it does not re-invent the parody form the way that Hamilton has apparently done with the musical.  (That's right, I haven't been able to get a ticket either.)  As long as it sticks to spoofing Lin-Manuel Miranda, his show and its now-famous performers like Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom Jr, this evening is on solid comedic ground.  When it strays into parodies of other current Broadway shows, the energy level definitely takes a dip.  But the performers are absolutely first-rate, especially John Deveraux and Zakiya Young (whether she's spoofing Renee Elise Goldsberry, Audra McDonald or J-Lo).  The choreography by Gerry McIntyre is straight-up brilliant, with some of the wittiest and most unexpected comedy movements I've seen.  I have to commend CTG also for the post-show Broadway karaoke in the theatre lobby, which is a wonderful idea, and really carried over the fun from the show.  It was inspiring to hear all the talented young performers belting out not only the score of Hamilton, but of many other Broadway shows.  But like I said, good luck getting tickets.

SOMETHING ROTTEN!, Conceived by Karey Kirkpatrick & Wayne Kirkpatrick, Book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O'Farrell, Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick. Directed/Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw

Blake Hammond and Rob McClure

Hopefully it was clear in my opening paragraph to this article that I think Something Rotten! is anything but rotten. The truth is, I didn't see the Broadway production, and I'd heard so many mixed and unenthusiastic things about it that I set my expectations fairly low.  And, my word, I was simply blown away by the inventiveness and exhilirating lunacy of this musical!  Yes, it owes a large debt to Mel Brooks - not just The Producers, but also the musical number at the end of Blazing Saddles, where the characters from the movie all go spilling into each other on a Hollywood soundstage.  But this show has its own brand of historical and parodic zaniness, it does a masterful job of keeping a sense of real stakes while continuing to move the story and characters forward.  To my mind, every element of this production is brilliant, top-tier, and yet they all come together to form something that is greater than the sum of its wonderful parts.  This is so rarely achieved, and I am in awe of the many talents at work at such a high level here.  The cast is all strong, but Blake Hammond as the soothsayer and Scott Cote as a Puritan leader are simply off the charts in their musical comedy mojo.  This show is around for the entire month of December - you owe it to yourself not to miss this. It left me feeling positively giddy.

 

 


Paul C. Vogt Has Made A Lot of Funny Things Happen ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

Paul C. Vogt will again mount the boards of the first Los Angeles theatre he connected with upon his arrival to L.A. in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, beginning November 15, 2017. Just this year, The Falcon Theatre was re-christened The Garry Marshall Theatre, in honor of its founder. Some of the shows Paul performed at The Falcon include: LAUREL AND HARDY, TWIN-PROV, HAPPY DAYS, THE LITTLE MERMAID, CINDERELLA! Paul waxed most poetically on his many happy days working with Garry Marshall and The Falcon.

Thank you Paul for taking the time for this interview.

This will be your first time performing at the recently renamed The Garry Marshall Theatre. What originally connected you with The Falcon and Garry Marshall?

I saw the theater when I first moved to town in '99, and knew I wanted to work there. It was close to where I was living and I loved the look and feel of it - very homey, comfortable and welcoming.

I auditioned for BEANSTALK! - one of the Family Series of shows they performed on the weekends. I had no idea Garry was involved, or that the director Kathleen Marshall was Garry's daughter. I got a call-back for the role of the Giant; but did not get cast. Shortly after that, I was asked to work with a group of friends from Orlando doing a show at The Falcon theater called LAS VEGAS HOSPITAL. A scripted/improvised comedy. I would fill in for a couple of actors when needed. This is when I met Garry and realized where I was. He saw me in that show and we hit it off. The actor that got the part of the Giant in BEANSTALK! had to suddenly leave the show due to a family emergency. Garry and Kathleen asked if I would help them out and accept the role of the Giant. I said, "Yes" on Wednesday, and was in the show on Saturday.

So, Garry was already very familiar with your comedic chops at his theatre when you were cast in his film The Princess Dairies 2: Royal Engagement in 2004.

When Garry asked me to do Princess Diaries 2, we had done a couple of family shows at the theater including the first try at HAPPY DAYS: "AAAY!" IT'S A MUSICAL  and I was on MADtv by that time - which I attribute to Garry.

What words of advice or encouragement has Garry Marshall given you?

If you try a joke a couple of times, and it doesn't get a response - stop doing it. It's not funny. Do something else.

Do you have a funny Garry Marshall memory to share?

In HAPPY DAYS: "AAAY!" IT'S A MUSICAL, I played Jimbo Malachi, one of the bad guys. During our number, there would be moments my character would toss in a little bit of improv. Often before a show, Garry would come up to me and ask me to put random words into my song. Like one night he had me incorporate YoYo Ma the cellist. I sang my song,went into my improv section and sang about YoYo Ma. The audience laughed a bit 'cause it was funny and odd. BUT in the back behind them all, you heard a loud belly laugh that belonged to Garry, who was delighted that, once again, I took on his challenge and ran with it!! We would both giggle like idiots after when we would see each other.

If MADtv were to write a breakdown description of Pseudolus, what character traits would it include?

Large, loud, bossy servant/slave, has passion to acquire his freedom and will do anything to achieve it... ANYTHING!

How would you compare Pseudolus to some of the other characters you've inhabited on the boards- HAIRSPRAY!'s Edna Turnblad, CHICAGO's Amos Hart, CHEERS LIVE ON STAGE's Norm Peterson?

Oddly enough, each one of these characters has an overwhelming passion that drives their actions:

Psedolous to be free,

Edna to love and take care of her family,

Amos to protect his wife,

Norm...beer.

Who have you seen perform Pseudolus previously?

It's been a long time since I've seen anyone do the show.

Would you name your favorite Stephen Sondheim song?

That's a hard one. Sooooo many. Ummmm? Anything from SWEENEY TODD, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, INTO THE WOODS. Also "I Feel Pretty" from WEST SIDE STORY - that song has been very good to me.

I caught your HAIRSPRAY! duet with Michael-Leon Wooley at the Broadway to the Rescue fundraiser. Your Edna to his Wilbur rocked the Montalban Theater audience.

Thanks! It was so fun to do it with him.

How old were you when you realized you were a funny (and talented) guy?

Still trying to figure that out.

I've seen you perform in various shows in Los Angeles, At least I thought I had. When I was looking at my old programs, I realized it was your twin brother Peter Allen Vogt that I saw in ROMEO & JULIET: LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD, and more recently DOGFIGHT. Was TWIN-PROV in 2008 the first time you two performed together? Or was it a reunion performance of your fraternal talents?

We have worked several times together on TV and a couple movie items. In Orlando for Disney back in '89, we did improv. We have been doing improv together and in groups for years. TWIN-PROV was our first TWIN IMPROV show with special guests.

Any plans to perform together again?

It always seems to happen.

You wrote your first children's book Billy Butler and the SnowDog last year. Any theatre projects you're penning to come in the near future?

Nothing yet. I have an idea for a one-person show chatting about my cancer situation, but it's still all in my head.

What is your dream role you'd love to take a stab at?

Hard to say... I would love to play Sweeney Todd. I love his passion and drive. I kinda understand him.

Thank you again, Paul! I look forward to see your sure-to-be hysterical Pseudolus!

Thanks! It's such a fun show to do, amazingly well-written.

For ticket availability to experience what funny things Paul makes happen ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM through December 31, 2017; log onto www.garrymarshalltheatre.org


LOVE, ART, THOUGHT - Searching for the Magic Connection in the Sacred Space

HIPSTER TIPS

MASTERCLASS by Terrence McNally, directed by Dimitri Toscas

Carolyn Hennesy and Roy Abramsohn in "Masterclass"

This is the first production of the Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon), but I have to admit that I didn't have high expectations.  The play Masterclass was first produced in 1995 - right here at the Ahmanson,  then on Broadway - with Patti Lupone as the aging Maria Callas and the young Audra McDonald as one of her students; and it's been revived several times since.  Was this really how you want to kick off a new theatre?  Well, it turns out that the answer is Yes.  This is a stellar revival.  In fact, it's so alive, so strong moment-to-moment, that it doesn't feel like a revival, it feels like an Event.  This is largely thanks to Carolyn Hennessy, who is wonderful and simply seems to BE Maria Callas.  She inhabits the play, she comes to life as a creature of the stage, full of joy, sorrow and many contradictions.  But everything is excellent in this production, from Callas's students (I was especially taken with Landon Shaw II as a tenor who is especially taken with himself) to Manny the accompanist (Roy Abramsohn) to Francois-Pierre Couture's heartbreakingly beautiful stage design of the naked stage.  Credit must go to director Dimitri Toscas, who is also co-director of the Garry Marshall Theatre (GMT).  He clearly has a passionate connection to this play and to the character of Callas.  He deeply feels her pain - the pain of dislocation and loneliness.  "You know the only place where Callas truly fit in? On stage. In the opera house," Toscas writes in the program notes and wonderfully dramatizes on the GMT's stage.

 

INCOGNITO by Nick Payne, directed by Katharine Farmer

Claire Adams and Henry Jacobson in "Incognito"

I was fortunate enough to catch the West Coast premiere of British playwright Nick Payne's new play Incognito at the Rubicon in Ventura, and to my mind it confirms that he may well be the second coming of Thom Stoppard.  The play scrambles together three different story-threads having to do with the act of cognition and the very real possibility that our sense of self may be the biggest delusion of all.  It is not a perfect play by any means - as Philip Brandes in the LA Times pointed out, it may add on one subplot too many, which invite a confusion that threatens to obscure how brilliantly it explores the intersecting byways of consciousness, identity and memory.  It's simply the most exciting and challenging play I've seen this year.  Under the guidance of Katharine Farmer, the cast of four actors - Claire Adams, Joseph Fuqua, Henry Jacobson and Betsy Zajko - is excellent, making hairpin emotional turns and seamless character transitions.  Here's hoping that CTG or the Geffen or Roguemachine or some other adventurous purveyor of new plays brings this production to Los Angeles, where it deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.

Paige Lindsey White and Daisuke Tsuji in "With Love and a Major Organ" at Boston Court. Photo: Jenny Graham.

PREVIEW of a New Play at the Boston Court:

WITH LOVE AND A MAJOR ORGAN by Julia Lederer, directed by Jessica Kubzansky

Speaking of "adventurous" - a word that is in the mission statement of the Boston Court Theatre - I attended a preview last weekend of their new production, With Love and a Major Organ by Canadian playwright Julia Lederer, directed by co-artistic director Jessica Kubzansky.  The play depicts what director Kubzansky described as "three screamingly lonely people" searching for love in a hostile technological landscape: a 20-something man, his mother, and a 20-something woman.  The young woman and man meet on the subway every morning on the way to work at some anonymous office job, and the woman feels a pheromone-fueled attraction to the man.  The man doesn't sense this at all and feels embarrassed by intimacy.  His mother, meanwhile, is on the internet searching for a soulmate - or if not that, then simply someone she can talk with.  The play contains another of Boston Court's extraordinary sets, something they have become justly famous for.  In this case it's a dingy subway train, complete with the illusion of movement.  There is a mythic sense to the characters, who are not so much realistic individuals as figures of yearning, desperate for that magical sense of connection in a world of disconnect, where the wish for intimacy is dangerous and actively suppressed.

"There are three qualities we look for in a Boston Court play," Kubzansky told me in the theater lobby after the preview.  "The play must be inherently theatrical, visually arresting and textually rich.  Julia's play is poetry for the theater - another quality necessary for a Boston Court play.  We are constantly on the lookout for plays that find new and original ways to convey poetic essences in a theatrical style."

Kubzansky added that Boston Court has been adapting to the conditions of the new Equity contract, which have definitely increased the challenge of living up to their mission.  "Last season we used half as many actors as we had the previous year, but it cost us $112,000 more.  This is has made it impossible for us to do some plays we love, but which require a cast size we can no longer afford.  Still, our subscribers expect a certain kind of theatrical experience from us - something they can't find anywhere else - and we are determined to keep providing that."

At its core, With Love and a Major Organ is a deeply romantic play which should appeal to theatergoers looking to feed the heart without ignoring the mind.  Paige Lindsey White, Daisuke Tsuji and Bonita Friedericy breathe life into Ms. Lederer's words, and you have until November 5th to catch Boston Court's latest theatrical train ride.  Click here to hop aboard!


"US CELEBRATING US" - The New Garry Marshall Theatre and Lots More Showbiz Biz

This has always been a piece about Garry Marshall's Falcon Theatre in Burbank becoming - with the passing of Mr Marshall - the Garry Marshall Theatre.  And I will get back to the important changes going on there, but Garry Marshall was also very much a creature of show business - stage, film and especially TV - so let's take a dip in those waters before circling back to the legacy of the one and only Mr Garry M.

It's almost 35 years since Neil Postman's book Amusing Ourselves To Death was published.  The book couldn't be more topical, as we are awash in "dystopian societies" as soures of entertainment, and that was Postman's Topic A.  It was 1984 at the time, and everyone had George Orwell (author of 1984) on their minds - fear of Big Brother and the onset of the totalitarian state.  But Postman posited that the dystopian model we were heading towards wasn't the one in Orwell's novel but rather the one to be found in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  In Huxley's dystopia, the population all becomes addicted to a pleasure-inducing drug called soma, whch causes them to exchange their interest in rational thought and public discourse for an obsession with televised entertainment.

Sound familiar?  Certainly thoughts of both Huxley's and Postman's books were stirred up by THE 69th PRIMETIME EMMY AWARDS, which host Stephen Colbert described as "us celebrating us."  This is something that Hollywood is justly famous for, which, again, Colbert deftly characterized as "clapping our hands while patting ourselves on the back."  I've already read some accounts panning Stephen Colbert as a host, but I don't agree - those opening musical numbers are intentionally silly, and his sophisticated sense of humor was surely an upgrade on James Corden, who bores me to tears, or whoever else hosted it last year.  No, the sad part was seeing someone as witty and intelligent as Colbert having to be dumbed down so he could play to the lowest common denominator, which probably still wasn't dumb enough for the advertisers... though I could almost hear them sighing out loud that at least he wasn't Jewish or black.  And yes, it was good to see some well-produced shows rewarded, and to have more women and African-American winners than in recent memory.  White American men, especially of the hetero variety, were definitely the big losers, though British hetero men (John Oliver and that guy who wrote Black Mirror) did very nicely, thank you very much.  Of course Latinos and Asian-Americans of all kinds were largely left out, which oddly seems to arouse little attention or concern.  My guess is, though, if you follow the money trail, it would still lead largely to white men.  For those who think there's been a major power shift going on, get real.  That's the very meaning of "soma," which provides a pleasant fantasy-high while the old sleight of hand is taking place.

Now I was going to use this as a transition point into talking about two of the more amusing series on TV right now,  EPISODES (Showtime) and GET SHORTY (Epix), both of which find the source of their humor in the deeply anxiety-ridden and often-perilous world of show business.   Both take place deep inside the Hollywood bubble, where the power plays for fame and fortune are going on.  Anyway, I recommend both shows highly and am happy to say that Episodes has come back stronger than ever from its premature death (yes, it was cancelled in 2016) and is, for my money, the funniest show on TV.  But I'll have to save that discussion for another day, as the spirit of Garry Marshall has begun barking at me in that inimitable Brooklyn accent, telling me that it's time to circle back already, if I know what's good for me.

So yes, back to my own Topic A: what has been The Falcon Theatre in Burbank for the last 20 years has now become The Garry Marshall Theatre.  This may seem odd at first, since Garry Marshall was known mostly for commercial film blockbusters like Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries, and for TV shows like The Odd Couple and Happy Days (and its various spinoffs).  But the Falcon was a passion project for Garry, who participated in every aspect of its creation, then ran it with his daughter Katherine Marshall LaGambina in a very hands-on way.  I saw many shows there over the years, and Garry was often in the lobby, especially for the first 10-15 years, greeting the audience as if welcoming them into his home.  Sometimes - especially on  matinee days - Garry could be found napping on a chair in the lobby.  When roused, he would smile and go right into a conversation, as if he'd just been conversing with you a moment before.

The 130 seat Equity house will now become the non-profit Garry Marshall Theatre under the leadership of co-artistic directors Joseph Leo Bwarie and Dimitri Toscas.

As Joe Bwarie explained to me, the theatre will now be developing a subscriber base, like the Geffen and the Center Theatre Group.  For the first season, the plan is to present four plays, all by Pulitzer-Prize winners and all with some connection to Garry Marshall.

First up is MASTER CLASS by Terrence McNally, directed by Mr Toscas and starring Carolyn Hennesy as the great opera diva Maria Callas.  That begins performances this week (Sept. 20) and will run until Oct. 22.  You can click here for further information and tickets.

This will be followed by A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the West Coast premiere of THE OCCUPANT by Edward Albee (about the sculptor Louise Nevelson), and LAUGHTER ON THE 23rd FLOOR by Neil Simon.

Here's hoping they can do Garry proud and bring his distinctive touch to the work - which means being something more than just "us celebrating us." But I'll let co-Artistic Director Dimitri Toscas speak for himself on this point.  Take it away, Dimitri.

DIMITRI TOSCAS:

Garry believed that gathering people together to share a live storytelling experience was one of the most important ways we process our lives together. He loved live television. He loved live theatre. And to honor that lifetime dedication, our mission is to continue to bring people together for the unparalleled experience of participating in the live arts. We will continue to strive to connect people through diverse storytelling and innovative performances, and echo and expand upon the philosophy that the live arts spark ideas, elicit conversations and pledge the promise of possibility. Our hope is that we can open the theatre up to be a community stomping ground for exploration and education as we celebrate and cultivate artists and audiences alike, and we're working toward programming, classes, and other opportunities that can support these big, abstract ideas. That's a tall order, we know…but we want to prove we are up for the challenge.

We are also excited to carry on Garry's tradition of looking for new works and developing new pieces to produce in the future. To do that, we will be hosting a New Play Festival in the Spring. This will give us a chance to review new works that will be submitted by both new and established playwrights. After the preliminary review process, we will present the selected new plays in a series of readings that the audience will be able to give us feedback on. Hopefully we will find new works to develop into full productions in future seasons here at the Garry Marshall Theatre and beyond.

2017 marks the 20th Anniversary of Garry Marshall's Falcon Theatre in Burbank, where there has been a subscription season for the past 15 years. For the past twenty years, the theatre was a for-profit company that was subsidized by Garry himself, but now, to keep the theatre thriving and growing into the future, we are in the process of transitioning to a nonprofit company, putting the new theatre more in line with the industry standard for successful regional houses across the country. Now, as a new nonprofit theatre, we are reaching out more to the community, sharing our story with a wider audience, because we can only survive with the continued support of our subscribers and the Toluca Lake, Burbank, and Los Angeles community at large. For the first time, we have a Board of Directors, Joe and I have been named Artistic Directors to maintain and develop the artistic vision of the theatre's growth and expansion, and Sherry Greczmiel has been named the Executive Director. Together, we are developing the programming, productions and procedures that will hopefully grow the theatre into the next twenty years.

An important way we are reaching out into the community is by including other successful theatre companies in our programming. Personally, I don't think I've ever looked at other artists, directors or companies as “competition” when it comes to theatre. Art is collaboration. Not competition. And to be true to that, we are opening our doors and welcoming successful companies and artists to collaborate with us every season here at the new Garry Marshall Theatre. This year, we are welcoming Rogue Artists Ensemble to our stage in the Summer of 2018 with their multi-media production of WOOD BOY DOG FISH, a macabre retelling of the Pinocchio story. It's a dark, arousing curiosity written by the remarkable up-and-coming playwright Chelsea Sutton, with original music by Adrien Prévost, directed by Sean T. Cawelti. Besides this Hot Summer Show, we will also host other companies throughout the season, with special events and concerts — all in an effort to reach out into the community and welcome more people to make ART with us for our Inaugural Season.

 

 


The Diva-licious Carolyn Hennesy On Inhabiting Callas, Holding Oscar, & Meeting Garry Marshall

A soap opera femme fatale/force-to-be-reckoned-with since 2006,  Carolyn Hennesy will be taking one of her many side trips to the Los Angeles boards in the commanding role of opera legend Maria Callas in MASTER CLASS, the first production of the newly-annointed Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon Theatre), beginning September 20, 2017. We managed to catch Carolyn in her few moments of down time in between her day job (as legal eagle Diane Miller on General Hospital), manning phonelines for one of the many fundraisers she gives her time to, and rehearsing for Madame Callas's tutorials in Terrence McNally's play, MASTER CLASS.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview with me, Carolyn! You're portraying the renown opera diva Maria Callas. Were you familiar with her accomplishments growing up?
Only peripherally.  I knew that she was an opera great, if you will, and that she was considered temperamental and brilliant... those words used in that sort of general sense in which history tends to mark individuals who've fallen out of our direct line of sight.  These are two aspects of Madame Callas that are often most on the tongue of anyone you ask, and even though I do love opera, that was only what I knew.
In studying her for your role, how would you describe Ms. Callas? 
In addition to an ambitious, focused, hard, intolerant, passionate genius?  Well, there's also carefully crafted, hell-bent and ruthless.  With regard to Aristotle Onassis, the words besotted and desperate come to mind.  With regard to any moment she stepped on stage in her early career... mesmerizing, magical and jaw-dropping.  Later career... broken, in denial, yet elegant.  In researching her, however... and the process will continue long after the final curtain has been lowered on this production... the phrase (mine) "divine tragedy," I think best sums up Callas.  She ran the gamut at once of otherworldly and yet so flawed.
Tell me your definitions of the label/title 'diva'?
Very simple:  obviously "divine"... but not at all in terms of self-aggrandizement, or public haughtiness or superiority.  My definition simply means you are divine to work with, love and know.  With a secureness of self, you focus on others and becoming part of "the team," whatever project is at hand.  Specifically in the performing arts, a diva works to make everyone else's job easier; that's the mission of the diva.  Divas can do that... because they're, well, divas.
I have seen you in a number of public and semi-public functions, and you definitely do not come off as a diva (in the 'other' definition). So, what qualities of Maria Callas can Carolyn Hennesy more easily identify with?
I would hope I do come off as a diva using my definition, but I'll leave that for others to say.  Regarding similar qualities... passion for our art, certainly.  Loving not wisely, but too well.  A desire to see the work continue.  Focus, determination, a personal mandate to be the best possible.  Fastidious.  And probably more than a little OCD.
Have you ever seen any other productions of MASTER CLASS before?
I have not.
Do you 'steal' from the best? Or try to ignore what's already been attempted?
Not having seen an earlier production, I can't steal and I can't ignore.  With regard to other productions and portrayals of characters that have "gone before"... of course, I'll occasionally gently and lovingly "lift."  Everyone does.  If they tell you they don't, they're lying or they haven't ventured outside their room.  By living we're informed; being informed means a larger pool from which to draw.  Being human means you lift... occasionally.
Have you and the amazing Terrence McNally crossed paths before?
I have not had the pleasure before this.  Of course, I've seen McNally works: KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN; LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART, and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. But this is our first real dance together.
You will be in the first production of the newly named Garry Marshall Theatre. Surely you and Mr. Marshall must have met in the Los Angeles Theatre community before. Share a wonderful memory of him, if you would.
Several years ago, Garry Marshall (and Héctor Elizondo) presented me with my Ovation Award for Theatre of NOTE's THE FAN MAROO.  My dress was especially nice that evening, and as I was walking offstage I heard Garry exclaim, "That's a slow-walkin' dress!"
With your background and discipline in having to learn and memorize daily General Hospital scripts, is it now old hat to open a new theatrical script and have the memorization down in no time flat before you begin working on your characterization?
For this play?  Hahahahahaha... you're funny.
You were just a toddler when your father Dale won his Oscar for Best Art Direction for the 1966 Fantastic Voyage. Did you get to play with the golden statute? 
I'm the only person I know...personally... who rehearsed their Oscar speech actually holding one.
At what age did you realize the whole significance of what the award meant to your father and his peers?
Early.  A very early age.  My father was revered, not only for his "divo" qualities (my definition) of teamwork and respect for others, but for his particular genius, and I saw that every time I visited his sets.  There are so many brilliantly talented people in all aspects of this profession, emphasis on the word "many."  The little gold man, however, is the ultimate pat on the back from one's peers and everyone wants that recognition.  Of course, they do; we do.  To have one in my home was like having a moonrock or the little toe of Saint Peter; my mother wouldn't let me touch it until I was, maybe, 25.  My Oscar speeches were done when she was at the store.  I frequently told her we were in need of hot dogs or cookies. So she would dash out, and I could thank the Academy.
Did you ever want a jumpsuit like the one Raquel Welch wore in Fantastic Voyage?
Why do you use the past tense?  Have you seen my closet?
I'll bet you still look great in it, too! OK, Carolyn, so what got you into flying through the air on a trapeze?
I needed to learn the static (or hanging) trapeze for a production of COMEDY OF ERRORS years ago.  From there (i.e., hanging upside down for monologues, and by only one arm for bits of dialogue); it was only a matter of time before I would want to start flying.  You know, as one would.
Have you been able to incorporate your trapeze expertise into an acting gig?
I have!  I was so vociferous about my love of the static trapeze on the set of Jessie that I (essentially) wore down EP Pam Eells until she wrote in a bit for Mrs. Chesterfield.
Now that you have been inhabiting Ms. Callas, what would you think Ms. Callas would think of Terrence McNally's depiction of her?
There are many things with which she'd take issue... some of the denial, the feinting, the parrying.  She simply wouldn't see herself that way... not even in her truly private moments.  The walls are too, too high.  But she would love his words with regard to art (music)  and her feelings about it.  The most honest line in the play is the line by which I believe she lived her life regarding art... and one which I also find haunting in my own life:  "It's making people think that for that precise moment in time there is only way, one voice.  Yours."
What impression of Ms. Callas would you like the Garry Marshall Theatre audience to leave with?
She bullied and bluffed and twisted people and situations only in service of art.  Her art.  She loved without reservation and paid dearly for it.  She was understood as much as she wanted to be and, ultimately, was the epitome of a divine spark in all-too-human form.  I also think that when she sang, God sang.
Thanks again, Carolyn. I look forward to experiencing your Callas diva-licious-ness.
For available MASTER CLASS tickets and scheduling through October 22, 2017, log onto www.garrymarshalltheatre.org