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


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


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

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

Roy Okida and Dana Weisman in "Somethings Afoot"

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

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

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

Dana Weisman as Frau Blucher

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

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

Dana Weisman in "Broadway Bound"

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

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

Dana Weisman as Donna in "Mamma Mia"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dana Weisman with "Sunday in the Park" cast

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



From Mormon to Callback Queen Actor/Singer Luke Monday Takes the LA Stage By Storm

Actor/singer Luke Monday has performed as standby for Elder Price in The Book of Mormon which just canceled at the Ahmanson Theatre. He is now preparing to perform his concert/cabaret at Rockwell Table & Stage on Monday March 16 entitled Callback Queen. In our interview Monday talks about both shows and how he really likes performing in Los Angeles.

I understand you are standby for Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. Have you gotten the chance to perform for this show yet? Do you cover other roles?

LM: Yes, I have been performing as a standby for Price! I went on for him on Tuesday March 3rd. I only cover Elder Price in the show. When it’s a role as demanding as this, often times companies will hire a standby just to cover that part. I’m the only Price standby in this company.

This is without a doubt the funniest musical comedy, especially for gay people. Are audiences still jumping out of their seats?

LM: They really are! I wasn’t sure what to expect since the show has played here a few times, but we’ve been selling really well and the crowds have been fantastic. I went on on a Tuesday night, and it honestly felt like a Friday night crowd. Totally electric. I loved it!

What do you think is the message of The Book of Mormon and do you think the message is important in today's mixed up world?

LM: My takeaway from the show is that it’s ok to follow your own path, even if it’s not what you expected. Particularly in Elder Price’s case, he’s had this very specific idea of how everything in his life (and afterlife) will play out. Obviously once he gets paired with Cunningham and sent to Uganda, that all gets derailed. But by the end of the show he learns to manage the change, and in that change he finds a new strength. I think that’s something anyone watching can learn from. Life always throws curve balls, but it’s all about how you handle the struggles and find a way to move forward!

Is this the favorite role you have played? If not, what is your favorite role and why?

LM: The Book of Mormon is definitely one of my top favorites! Maybe top 3? I love the music in this show. I remember watching the Tony’s one year, hearing I Believe for the very first time and thinking, “I can do that!” Almost 9 years and 3 auditions later and here I am! My other favorites would have to be Gabe in Next to Normal and George in She Loves Me.

You were in Mamma Mia. What part did you perform in that show and did you enjoy being in that production?

LM: Mamma Mia was a blast! One of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It was my first time touring, and the people in that show became my family. I was in the ensemble and I covered Sky, the fiancée. I loved Mamma Mia because no matter what negativity was going on in the world at the time, we could take the audience away for 2 hours and escape all of that and just have fun.

Your cabaret show Callback Queen premiered last summer in San Diego. You tell anecdotes about your career and sing Broadway show tunes. Can you give us a little sneak peek without creating a spoiler alert?

LM: The show sort of opens with my very first rejection, not getting the part I wanted in my 4th grade school play, and then we continue all the way to the present. I noticed a trend with concerts and cabarets that a lot of them are just greatest hits of roles people played or originated i.e. their success stories. And while that is perfectly great, I thought it would be interesting to flip that idea on its head and share stories of rejection. Every actor has them! Without giving away too much, there are going to be appearances from my talented friends from The Book of Mormon, awesome medleys and mashups, a costume reveal, glow sticks, and a choose-your-own finale. It should be a blast!

Do you have a favorite musical or composer or performer?

LM: I think it’s a tie between West Side Story and Ragtime for favorite musical. Two of the most glorious scores ever written, and sadly still so relevant now. I don’t think I’ve got a favorite composer. I appreciate so many of them for different reasons! But I have a few favorite performers. I’m a huge Gavin Creel fan. His voice was and is one of the best in the business. I want to play everything he’s ever played. I guess I’m on my way, seeing that he was an Elder Price! Another fav is Laura Osnes. She’s a true triple threat and just has a positive presence that I think is so important in a cut throat industry like this.

Have you auditioned for the King in Hamilton role yet? It's a funny, funny role.

LM: Obviously I’d love to play that part but I haven't auditioned yet! I think it’s pretty spectacular that a character can be onstage for such a short time and yet be so memorable. So it's definitely on my list of auditions to do. Thankfully Hamilton will be around for MANY years, so there’s time!

Tell our readers anything that I did not mention, like the camaraderie with your Mormon cast or how LA audiences are different from those in other cities across the country.

LM: Well, I love my cast. This is the longest I’ve been with any company and I can honestly say I love each one of them. We lift each other up, and I know they’ll be at Callback Queen on the 16th cheering me on. I think the audiences in LA are used to seeing great theater, so they are really smart! They pic up on the details and the nuances that often go unnoticed in other cities. Being here is a reminder of how truly funny and well written this show is. It feels new again in a way.

Catch Luke Monday on March 16 at Rockwell Table & Stage at 1714 N. Vermont Ave. in Hollywood in "Callback Queen." Call 323-669-1550 for table reservations. 

Both shows cancelled. Check back after the Corona Virus to see if Callback Queen will be rescheduled.


MAMMA MIA! Conductor David Holcenberg's A Super Trouper Who Really Knows the Name of the Game

This year's Hollywood Bowl's annual staged Broadway musical - the enduring, ever popular MAMMA MIA! - will be performed on July 28, 29 and 30. First premiered on Broadway in 1991, MAMMA MIA! (chock-full of classic ABBA songs) has been produced countless times, and in countries all over the world.

We were most lucky to get conductor David Holcenberg to spare a few minutes in the midst of his always-too-short rehearsal.

Thank you, David, for taking time off your short, crazy rehearsal schedule for this interview.

So how many sessions do you get to rehearse with your Hollywood Bowl musicians?

I have just one four-hour rehearsal with the band. I also get a Sitzprobe, which is a rehearsal with the cast and the band in a rehearsal hall singing through the show. It is the first time the cast hears the band and is always one of my most favorite days.

Do you bring in any of your own instrumentalists? Or are all your musicians members of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra? 

I brought my associate conductor (who will also play keyboards) and my drummer. We just use a rock band for this show, so I don't believe they are regular players with the Bowl Orchestra.

How many times you get to rehearse with the performers?

It is very fast. We started full-cast rehearsals Monday July 17. However, I did some music coachings with our principal actors ahead of time.

Have you worked with any of this Hollywood Bowl cast before?

No, but they are great!

Ever previously played at the Hollywood Bowl?

No. Very excited.

Have you been able to sit out in the audience as a civilian and enjoy any Hollywood Bowl shows?

Yes. I used to go when I lived here in my early 20s, and went back this week.  

You are currently the associate musical supervisor for MAMMA MIA! in North America - one of your original positions in the 2001 Broadway production (in tandem with musical arranger). Could you explain what those responsibilities encompass?

I am responsible for casting the show and making sure we have great musicians as well. Once rehearsals start, my job is to teach the music for the show to the cast and band, and work with the sound department and other departments to be sure the show sounds as exciting and clear as possible.

Has there been any major or minor musical changes from the 2001 show?

We are staying true to the 2001 show. Benny and Bjorn - the ABBA guys – are very specific about how the show sounds. They want the audience to get an exciting recreation of their original arrangements from their recordings.

That 2001 edition celebrated the 10th year anniversary of MAMMA MIA! on Broadway. What do you remember of that October 18th performance and the aftershow in Times Square?

Yes. We closed down Broadway, set up a stage on the street and performed a few numbers from the show. It was really cool.

For those of us uninformed in musical terminology, what are the duties of a 'conductor' vs. a 'musical director,' of which you are both for this production?

The conductor leads the band and cast in the performance. The music director teaches the score to the cast and works with the director, choreographer, and other designers to be sure we are presenting the best, most cohesive show we can.

I'm sure if you knew the exact ingredients of MAMMA MIA!'s success you would bottle it yourself. But what do you see as the basis for its popularity and longevity?

Besides the amazing ABBA score, I think the worldwide success is that it is a good time. Everyone can relate to someone on the stage. Everyone is someone's mother, father, son or daughter; and can relate to some of the relationships in the show. I have been fortunate to put together MAMMA MIA! in many countries, in many languages, and it is always well-received.

What would be the most surprising audience response you ever experienced in a MAMMA MIA! performance?

We had a few post-show wedding proposals, which were very cool. What I have always loved is when audience members dress in glitter and spandex and dance along.

Your Broadway resumé is quite impressive. Aside from some mind-blowing brand-new musical yet-to-be/soon-to-be written, what old/not-so-old chestnut would you love to tackle?

Well, I did a new version of CHESS in D.C. that I created a new orchestration for, and was really proud of, I wish that could have a life. I tend to prefer working on new shows. I'm not sure what old chestnut I'd like to tackle. I am sure there are many!

Thank you again for doing this interview, David. And, of course, thank you for your music!

For ticket availability for this infectious toe-tapping, hip-shaking ABBA songfest, log onto HollywoodBowl.com