Actor/Singer Robert Bannon Works Creatively During COVID-19 Closure of Feinstein's

Actor/singer Robert Bannon has worked on Broadway and on TV's "SNL." He was scheduled to present his cabaret show "Unfinished Business" at Feinstein's at Vitello's April 14 (Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.) In our conversation he tells us about his background and how his love of the "American Songbook" came to be.

Tell our readers why you are recording an album in salute to the American Songbook. You graduated from Juilliard Prep. What did you learn from the composers of these songs? Who are your favorites?

RB: Growing up in a good little Italian-Irish family in NJ, the music of Sinatra, Sammy, Dean, Johnny was reverent. The instrumentation, storytelling, and classic nature of these songs just spoke to me. I have always been a fan of the “story” and the build of a song. I love singing all music and listening to everything from hip hop to country (and sometimes that sneaks into the show) but all in all nothing beats the classics. They can be done and reimagined but the bones of them remain and will last forever.

I did go to Juilliard Prep, I was in the first music theatre class under Bertin Rowser and Diane Wilson. I am so grateful to them for seeing something in me, as a child, I didn’t see in myself. I learned that acting and musical theater are truly art forms. There is a difference between fame/celebrity and the art and the work it takes to serve it. That goes back to the classic element of the show. It is my story, but I serve the music and I hope that translates.

As far as composers, I learned it iss all in the melodies. Can you listen to a song and remember it? That is the magic of a good song. Also the saying that you don’t remember what you did or what you said but you will always remember how you FEEL! Does the music make you feel something? The universal themes of them all!

I have a bunch of favorites. I love Johnny Mercer. His vibe and style is just timeless. The poetry of his lyrics is second to none. Also I love Anthony Newley. He is often not thought of but I love the DRAMA of his music!! His arrangements and songs are full of drama. It makes a moment in my shows and hopefully emotes something we all can relate to!

You title your concert show Unfinished Business. You are so young. Usually artists use this term at the end of their careers. What is your intent?

RB: Thanks for this question and saying I’m young!

There is a story to the title. When I was in high school and at Juilliard, I ended up getting sick for 4 years. I had undiagnosed Lyme disease which turned into meningitis before Justin Bieber made it a newsworthy thing. I literally never had a chance to go to high school as a “normal” student. When I recovered I only knew one thing - singing. I started putting myself out there. I got called in to replace Roger in Rent on Broadway. I walked in, botched the audition and freaked out. I changed my major to Political Science and became a history teacher done with performing. After two Masters Degrees in Education, I felt something was missing. I would literally tear up at a curtain call or a concert.

So after 10 years of not performing, fate intervened. I met up with the amazing performers and writers Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. They just did their show Witness Uganda at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. They helped me literally dust off the rust and get back out there. They told me I had something to say. The first day I sang again I said I had some "Unfinished Business" to do and it stuck. I called my show that in NY at 54 Below. It is the journey and the lesson that we all have something unfinished to do. Take a step and the path will FOLLOW!

Do you tell anecdotes in your show or just sing? As a principal in SNL, you must love comedy. Any comedic stories or skits we may look forward to?

RB: I think I talk as much as I sing! I have stories for days and have had such an interesting life thankfully! I love to talk about my journey, family, love, and some of the things that I’ve experienced. I love comedy! I grew up obsessed with SNL so being there is beyond anything I could ever imagine. I’m so grateful to just be in the halls of that American Institution!

I do have some fun stories. I talk about my childhood obsession with all things Manilow, being stuck on an elevator with singing legend Phoebe Snow, my personal life which is a show in of itself, etc! There are a lot of laughs. I am all Jersey all day so that totally comes across in the show.

Talk more in depth about SNL. What has this added to your career as a performer? Has improv strengthened your delivery and stamina onstage?

RB: I was first asked to be on SNL in a sketch about the TSA. In the sketch they let me through security with a sketchy bag and book bag while others were not allowed to come through as they had a travel ban. I had to shave my head for the part and I asked the Casting Director, if I shave my head, can I be on a live show? Please! It actually worked. Ask and you shall receive.

Since then I have had big roles, small roles and everything in between. Check out Electric Shoes with Kenan Thompson and see my bass playing wig debut. Seeing the way that show works and how talented they all are is inspiring. I’ve seen some of the best in the biz work up close to make that show fly. It’s always an honor. When I was first on, a friend from elementary school wrote me and said “You used to stay up and watch this show every Saturday and now you are on that stage!” It is a pretty surreal moment!

Improv is simply the best! It is scary which makes the payoff so much better. I am a graduate of Willian Esper for acting under the amazing Barbara Marchant. That program is Meisner acting technique which is mostly improv. That skill is something that makes you so present in your work as an actor and has certainly helped my stage show and listening to the audience moment to moment. It keeps you on your toes and ready for anything! Who knows what will come out of my mouth!?

What is your favorite Broadway show? It does not have to be one that you have done.

RB: That’s a tough question. I love Rent. I loved finally being able to be in Rent after my awful audition as a kid and being Roger. That show resonates with me so deeply about love and living each day to the fullest.

I would love more original musicals to be made on Broadway! Witness Uganda is BRILLIANT! That score is something that has stuck with me. It was genius at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. Matt Gould who co-wrote that show has a new show coming to La Jolla called Lempicka! Go SEE IT! I am hoping after California it takes over NYC!

Any particular role that you are yearning to play onstage?

RB: I would love to play Bobby in Company. I just relate so much to his character and the score is brilliant. I also love comedy and have been singing “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada” for years. So I would love to be fitted with a puppet to have some fun in Avenue Q! I am always down for some campy puppet moments.

Did you grow up with music in your family? What inspired you to be an actor and singer?

RB: My parents loved music. My dad loved placing big headphones on me and letting me rock out to Earth, Wind and Fire. My mom loved Carly Simon. We would listen to her when she made us breakfast every weekend but don’t ask them to sing! Ha! They are not singers. My parents are kinda shy and I am literally shot out of a canon 24-7. I think I always wanted to make people smile and entertain. I would take the sheets from my bed, make curtains, and put on shows for my family since I could remember.

I tell a story about trying sports and being dreadful (soccer goalie is not on my special skills on my resume) and finally being like "nope I quit!" Take me to singing lessons instead. Sixth grade hit, I was the Prince in Cinderella at my school, I was hooked. I wanted to sing and act anywhere and everywhere.

My parents were hip and loved music. I was the old soul. I got a karaoke machine for Christmas with the Hits of Manilow and I was sold. Hook line and sinker. I would listen and study him nonstop.

What was it like performing with giants like Patti LaBelle and Whoopi Goldberg? What did you learn from being in their presence?

RB: Wow! I had the pleasure at 12 years old to perform with Ms. LaBelle at a tribute concert for Laura Nyro (songwriter) at the Beacon Theatre. I have loved her since. She was so kind, humble, and a FORCE on stage. She brings 110% every time and is so authentically herself. Her kindness and authenticity are what makes people love her. I have had the pleasure to see her numerous times after and sing with her again, she is as amazing now as ever! OBSESSED!

Whoopi is such a wonderful performer, kind, and generous. She was such a wonderful person to be around. I think I learned that being kind matters. Being a good listener and remember that you matter and your art matters but you can’t do it without the people who support it.

Do you have a goal in LA? Are you looking toward more work in TV and roles in film? Will stage always remain a vital part of your performing life?

RB: It is so humbling to be booked at Feinstein’s in Studio City. No one is more surprised and honored than me. Three years ago, I had hung it all up and had not done a thing so I’m thrilled people are inspired and supportive. I am focusing on my new album which is on the way based on the one man show and journey. My first love will always be me, a stool, mic, and a piano player. It’s taken me decades to be comfortable sharing my story, and that will always be the one I want to tell first and foremost. I am just happy to meet some new friends in LA and spread my message and music! Therefore stage and the live show will always be the first love. We are always adding more dates so I’m so grateful for that. You can find all upcoming dates on RobertBannon.com.

I also love TV and film! I would love to do more straight up acting. That is such a fulfilling way to make a living to be the vessel for the text and project either comedy or drama-that is a blast. I am open to whatever surprises life has to to offer. One thing I learned is it’s gonna surprise me so let’s see where it goes!

Add anything you wish here that we did not already mention.

RB: Thank you so much for your time and platform! Come see me at the show and say hi! I am so excited to share this show with LA! Joining me is Michael Orland as Music Director! Michael was the MD on American Idol for 15 seasons. He’s worked with everyone and is as talented as he is kind. You don’t want to miss what surprises we both have in store. Also, LA has some of the best singers in the world and I happen to know them so expect a bunch of surprises and a lot of fun!

Unfortunately Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.*

* I asked Robert Bannon what he is doing creatively during this time. Are you working on the CD of the "American Songbook?" When your appearance is rescheduled, will there be a CD release party?

RB: I am working on the album! It will be of the Great American Songbook. It is produced by Bob Magnuson and features arrangements by Tedd Firth and Rich DeRosa of songs you know but with my own twist. Thanks to technology we will hopefully do it all digitally and get it ready to be out as soon as possible. I am trying to be as creative as possible with this time out.

The new goal is once we have a new date for Feinstein’s in LA this summer it will be an album release with a whole new show! So I am definitely looking forward to what comes in the future. For now, just sending light and love to everyone to stay safe!


Bill A. Jones Sings Song Stylings of Love on Saturday, February 15th

Actor/singer Bill A. Jones has a varied background as an entertainer and has established himself as quite a sensational crooner of pop songs over the past few years. As he prepares to perform at Feinstein's Upstairs at Vitello's this Valentine's weekend, he chats in detail about his career thus far.

Tell our readers about your love of singing and how your career got started.

BJ: I grew up in an extended musical family outside of Nashville, and the music we performed was country. As a 6 year old, in talent shows and on local radio stations, I sang songs like, "Okie From Muskokee" and "Folsom Prison Blues." Yes, I sang lyrics like, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" as a 6 year old! (laughs) So I grew up singing in church and at square dances, and hearing rock and roll on the radio, until I discovered the great standards sometime in my early teens. One of my earliest influences came from the Bing Crosby Christmas album, and from there I gradually worked up to Sinatra and all those other iconic artists that sang what we now call Classic Pop Standards.

About the same time, I started doing musicals in high school, and started working in radio when I was 16. For a stretch during my college years, I'd be rehearsing a play during the week, on Saturday Nights play Bass and sing in a square dance band, and on Sundays knock out a shift at a Nashville radio station. While I eventually stopped playing country music - about the time I got cast in a production of a wonderful little musical called Tintypes - I stayed with the radio, and continued acting and singing. Eventually I moved to LA to scratch the acting itch, and promptly stopped singing for about 15 years!

Why did you stop singing?

BJ: Well, when I got out here, the Musical Theatre scene was very different from what I was used to. For one thing, they expected you to dance! And while I'd started tentatively singing with a Big Band in Nashville, I had no idea of how to connect with that community in LA. So for about 15 years I concentrated on my acting career, worked as a radio personality, and met my wife and started a family.

Fast forward to me singing "But Not for Me" on a passenger talent night on an Alaskan Cruise about 17 years ago. That got my singing 'itch' going big time. I returned to LA, discovered a Big Band that needed a singer, and one 'coincidence' after another since then led me to where I am today. And interestingly enough, when I started singing again, my acting career picked up. I remember, I was thinking about an arrangement of some song or another as I was waiting to audition for Glee, for instance. And ironically, I got cast on that show not for my Singing ability.

Tell us about your time on Glee.

BJ: I had the pleasure of recurring for 6 seasons as "Rod Remington." If you've never seen the show, Rod was sort of a later day version of Ted Baxter from the old Mary Tyler Moore Show - a local TV newscaster who was a legend in his own mind.

First time I worked, I did a little ad lib that broke up everyone, and I was doing a little schtick making eyes at Jane Lynch - who was playing back - and I guess someone took notice and the role got bigger than originally intended. I had a ball every time I was on set, and I'll forever be grateful to Ryan Murphy for taking my career up several notches.

Apart from your family background did anyone serve as a mentor to you? Who was this mentor and how did this person help you to go forward?

BJ: I know I'll leave someone out, but here it goes: my Nashville vocal coach, Lucille David is one. my High School drama teacher, Joyce Mayo. Steve and Eydie's musical director for 27 years, Jack Feierman, who taught me a lot. A couple of Big Band leaders, John Vana and Harry Selvin. Arrangers Bill McKeag and Diz Mullins. Composer and arranger Van Alexander. Pianist Bill Marles. And when I first started singing again, a gentleman named Frank Perry. He was perhaps one of the last staff pianists at one of the hotels here in LA, and had rubbed elbows with dozens of greats. Frank saw me singing early on with a Big Band, and during the break said, "Hey, come over here," as if he could no longer hold back his frustration, and had to steer me in a better direction. That started a conversation that lasted for several years on how to approach lyrics. Invaluable. All of them.

Talk about your daughter and her contests and advancement in the field. She is taking after you and you sang together in the past. Will you get an opportunity to sing together again soon?

BJ: I tell people she's the real talent in the family. She just starred in her school's musical production of 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. When I did my show in New York at the Triad a few months ago, the next night she sang with her high school choir at Carnegie Hall. We've only sung together a few times, like at a recent Actor's Fund benefit, but it's always a joy, and the response has been tremendous. And she's only a junior in high school. She'll be my special musical guest Valentine's weekend at Feinstein's at Vitello's.

You've sung a lot with Big Bands, as well as with smaller groups. Which do you prefer?

BJ: When I worked on radio, I used to crank up the monitor whenever a great Sinatra record would come on with a classic arrangement by Nelson Riddle and the like. I gained a huge appreciation for orchestration. To have the power of 17 musicians displaying that artistry while backing you is amazing - especially considering I have several of those classic charts in my book. But I also love working with a small group, or just a piano. You gain a flexibility and an intimacy that's hard to duplicate with a large group. The communication with your audience is more immediate, as sometimes you can hear subtle nuances like the inhale of a breath or a sigh. At the show at Feinstein's I'll be straddling those worlds with 6 musicians - a trio plus 3 horns, which lets me have a little bit of both. So, to circle back to your question - I love them both. Don't make me decide!

How do you feel about contemporary music? Hip Hop and Rap? Are you comfortable with it? Do you think the American Songbook will survive?

BJ: I think the Songbook is going to survive as long as there is an appreciation for great melodies and lyrics that touch us in a meaningful way. Which will hopefully be forever. As far as contemporary music, I find some of Ed Sheerran's writing quite good, for instance. But there's also a lot of dreck out there, too! (laughs) I used to be totally dismissive of Rap, but I saw a performance by Common a while back, and I gained a greater understanding. I now see how it (Rap) can be a legitimate means of artistic expression. But to repeat, there's a lot of dreck out there!

Who is your favorite composer?

BJ: That's a tough one! I don't know if I can narrow it down to just one. Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Sammy Cahn, Frank Loesser, all tick the boxes for me. Irving Berlin would be another.

What is your favorite musical show of all time?

BJ: Again, a tough one! I used to say My Fair Lady without hesitation, as I played Higgins back in school, and have had a deep affection for it ever since. But there've been so many great shows since then, it'd be hard to say. But My Fair Lady is a great one.

Tell us a bit more about your daughter. Does she want to be a professional musical theatre actress? What are her plans?

BJ: As of now, she wants to pursue Musical Theatre, and is looking at various university level programs. Time will tell. She's a junior in high school, so things could change.

This gig at Vitello's is a big one. Will this show be different than shows in the past?

BJ: Feinstein's at Vitello's in Studio City, Saturday February 15th. Yeah, I've done my "Great Gentlemen of Song" show a lot, and I'll be repeating some of that material. But this time I'll be focusing on romance. The Theme is 'Love Songs and More," in recognition of Valentine's Day. Last time I played at Vitello's a few years ago, we sold out the place a day in advance - so I'm telling people to get tickets early. I'll be bringing in 6 musicians this time - I call them my 'A Players' - and I plan to have a great time. And hopefully the audience will too! (laughs) Seriously, this is a very different experience than when I appear as a guest with a big band. I take a great deal of pride in my nightclub and cabaret shows, as I feel it lets me do what I do best. Not just sing, but tell stories, and share something of myself in a hopefully entertaining way.

Do you want to add anything?

BJ: People sometimes ask me what I prefer: Acting or singing.

Well, when you work in a scene with someone like Jane Lynch, who elevates your game because of their artistry - that's pretty special, and something I'd be very reluctant to give up.

But when you do a show like the one coming up this Valentine's weekend - the energy, or love that you put out as a performer, gets returned to you manifold by the audience. Which further feeds and elevates what you send in return to the audience.

It's a beautiful thing.

For information about the show and to get your tickets go to FeinsteinsAtVitellos.ticketfly.com


AUDITION: 42nd Street

The Morgan-Wixson Theatre's
YES (Youth Education/Entertainment Series)
announces auditions for
performers ages 10 through 18 for
the 23rd Annual Youth Musical

42nd Street

Music by Henry Warren
Lyrics by Al Dubin & Johnny Mercer
Book by Michael Stewart & Mark Bramble
Produced by Special Arrangement with Music Theatre International
Directed by ANNE GESLING
Music Directed by DANIEL KOH and ANNE GESLING
Choreography by KRYSTAL COMBS
Produced by TRACY SALTZMAN and MIRIAM BILLINGTON

SYNOPSIS
The ultimate show-biz musical, 42ND STREET celebrates Broadway, Times Square, and the people who make the magic of musical theatre. Aspiring chorus girl Peggy Sawyer comes to the big city from Allentown, PA, and soon lands her first big job in the ensemble of a glitzy new Broadway show. But just before opening night, the leading lady breaks her ankle. Will Peggy be able to step in and become a star?
The score is chock-full of Broadway standards, including “You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me,” “Dames,” “We're In the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” and “Forty-Second Street.”
***Please note: this casting call is for our annual Youth Musical. Only performers ages 10 through 18 will be considered.***
AUDITION DATES
Saturday, August 25, from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m (Stage)
Sunday, August 26 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Stage)
No appointment needed. Actors only need to attend one day of auditions.
CALLBACKS on Wednesday, August 29 from 6:30 to 10:00 (Stage)
You will be notified by email if you will be needed for callbacks.
PREPARE
32 bars of a song (verse and chorus) from standard musical theatre (no pop or rock, which means no song written after 2000, no Disney songs). Accompanist is provided. You may bring your accompaniment on IPhone or IPad or the Android equivalent as we do have playback ability for those devices. Be prepared to dance.
LOCATION
Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90405. Street parking available. Venice Family Clinic's parking lot is available on weekends and on weekdays after 6 p.m. Do not park at our neighbors AAMCO/Viking Motors or SGI or you will be towed.
PERFORMANCE DATES
November 10 through December 15, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m., including Thanksgiving weekend. Actors will also perform in the Geoffrey Awards the evening of December 16. Actors must be available for all performances. NON-NEGOTIABLE!!
REHEARSAL DATES/TIMES
Rehearsals begin Saturday, September 8 and are held Monday through Thursday evenings from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm, Saturdays from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm and Sundays from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. Saturdays and Sundays are strictly dedicated to dance. More than 2 conflicts on those days may result in an actor not being cast. Actors are not called for all rehearsals, only rehearsals where they are being used for a scene/dance. Rehearsals will be worked around children's schedules as much as possible. As always, we consider homework a priority!
BRING
A picture (school picture or snapshot is fine), resume or list of shows done, and your conflicts for the rehearsal period. All conflicts MUST be submitted prior to callbacks. If additional conflicts arise after casting, it may result in an actor being replaced. Bring both jazz and tap shoes (if you tap).
CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS
Male Roles
Julian March: 14-18, Baritone, a tough, frazzled, and tyrannical director. He is gruff but as the show progresses you see how Peggy's charm touches him. Keeps his thoughts and feelings close to his chest. This is a strong acting role, and the role underpins the whole show.
Billy Lawlor: 14-18, Tenor, a leading man type, cheeky and charming with an eye for the ladies, excellent singer/dancer, tap a plus.
Bert Berry: Character baritone, half of the writing duo, must sing and move well and be able to play comedy with vaudeville timing.
Abner Dillon: Non-singing role, the producer of the show and Dorothy's current boyfriend, pompous, throws his weight (and money) around.
Pat Denning: Baritone, Dorothy's suave ex-vaudeville partner and the love of her life. He likes to stir up trouble. A little bit of a “player” but obviously really loves Dorothy.
Female Roles
Peggy Sawyer: 14-18, Alto/Soprano, extraordinary tap dancer who can sing like a Broadway leading lady and play the ingenue believably. At the beginning of the show we must see Peggy is nervous and quirky but eager and keen. As the show progresses, we see her talent shine through and her inner steel and strength of character to remain true to herself stand out.
Dorothy Brock: 14-18, Alto, a past-her-prime Broadway diva. Must possess a strong send of comic timing. While very selfish and mean to everyone at first, she comes to understand what's really important in life after breaking her ankle and therefore unable to perform. The actress cast must be able to play age (40+).
Maggie Jones: 14-18, Character alto, half of the writing duo; must sing and move well and be able to play comedy with great warmth and charm, good dancer.
Anytime Annie: 14-18, Alto Belt, one of the girls in the "chorus;" must be a first rate tap dancer and natural comedienne.
Larraine, Phyllis: 12-18, Alto/Soprano, two other girls in the “chorus”, featured in “Go Into Your Dance” excellent singers/dancers (tap).
Male or Female Role
Andy Lee: 12-18, Non-singing role, the choreographer of the show, excellent tap dancer.
Ensemble
Ages 10 to 18, must sing and dance well. Strong tap skills recommended. The more you tap, the more you do. Great ensemble parts with lots of lines.
Musical Numbers
Audition: Ensemble (opening tap number)
Young & Healthy: Billy/Peggy
Shadow Waltz: Dorothy & Girls
Go Into Your Dance: Peggy, Maggie, Annie, Lorraine, Phyllis
You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me: Dorothy/Billy
Getting Out of Town: Ensemble
We're In The Money: Peggy, Annie, Lorraine, Phyllis and Ensemble
Dames: Billy & Ensemble
Sunny Side to Every Situation: Annie, Lorraine, Phyllis and Ensemble
Lullaby of Broadway: Julian and Company
About A Quarter to Nine: Dorothy/Peggy
Shuffle Off to Buffalo: Peggy, Billy & Ensemble
42nd Street: Peggy, Billy & Ensemble
42nd Street Reprise: Julian
OTHER
Non-Equity, no pay.
Questions? Email director Anne Gesling at [email protected]