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


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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – March 10 - 17, 2019

Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

Tangerine Sunset

“Every paradise has a tragic, uh, comic, no, dark side (yes). This homegrown play will close the 22nd Season in the Broadwater Main Stage. In the vein of Absolutely Filthy, Watson, A Kind of Love Story and Beaverquest!, Sacred Fools brings you another show created in its late-night comedy cauldron, Serial Killers. TANGERINE SUNSET tells the story of several unlucky souls who find themselves the involuntary guests of a palatial estate on a mysterious private island. These celebrities, billionaires, madmen, and innocents desperately try to survive the night with their lives and sanity intact. Somewhere in the dark intersection of murder, mayhem, and laughter lies the Tangerine Sunset.”

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Faith Healer

“Brian Friel's mysterious, humorous and unforgettable work about the life and times of an itinerant Irish healer. Is Fantastic Francis Hardy a miracle worker — or a showman in search of a dollar?.At once a Rashomon type mystery, a delving into talent versus sham and, ultimately, a uniquely metaphysical view of life .March 23 – May 12: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. with 3 additional weeknight performances on Wed., April 10; Thurs, April 18; and Wed., May 10, all at 8 p.m. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025; For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.”

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The Sound of Murder

“Charles Norbury is a wildly successful author of children's books. He hates children, and pretty much anyone else, too. He's petty, cruel, vindictive, and treats his unloved wife like a slave. He also refuses to have children with her. In short, he's the sort of fellow who would make the world a better place if only he would just die. Anne, the wife, has found some solace in the arms of her handsome lover, Peter. Charles won't grant her a divorce: It would damage him professionally with the parents of his juvenile fans. The one person who has real regard for Charles is his loyal secretary, Miss Forbes. She is infatuated with Peter.
Anne and Peter deduce that the only way they will ever be to be together forever is if they kill Charles. They come up with a scheme to effect his murder. But things just don't go according to plan…
The plot of The Sound of Murder has more twists and turns than the Arroyo Parkway. Surprise follows surprise, and you'll be kept guessing as to what exactly the heck is going on until the very end.”

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Clybourne Park

“Pulitzer Prize winning family drama inspired by Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun. Act One, set in 1959, shows nervous white community leaders trying to stop the sale of a home to a black family. Act 2, set in 2009, the same house, the same neighborhood, shows the now-predominantly African-American neighborhood battling to hold its ground in the face of white gentrification. How the world turns!”

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Social Media Tips and Tricks for Creatives

“From Beefing it Up to Navigating Algorithms...This workshop is specifically for anyone who is promoting a theater production, venue, film, documentary or short, writing, or is looking to self-promote in general on social media. In this 1 hour presentation with a Q & A following, writer Monique LeBleu will share tools on how to beef up your social media presence—or start one—find your target audience, make the best use of online event calendars, create a timeline for promoting your project, and learn to use social media algorithms to your best advantage. You will learn how to: Determine the best times to post on social media to reach your audience Find Groups and public event postings Use open online calendaring forms Find where you can post press releases online for free Use hashtags, tagging, and other tools that aren't just exclusive to social media Attendees will receive handouts of information to take, along with a completed flowchart to help jump-start the process guiding you forward, and networking and idea sharing will be encouraged at Studio C thereafter.”

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Stuart Little

“Stuart Little is a mouse born into a human family in New York City. Though his stature is appropriately small for a mouse, he displays a wit and intelligence far beyond his years. He engages in a variety of adventures: Winning a sailboat race in Central Park; Befriending a beautiful bird and protecting her from a malicious cat; Attempting to court a diminutive human female from a wealthy society family; Being rescued from a garbage scow; Learning to drive a car; Working as a substitute teacher; Searching for a missing friend; Making his way (rather successfully) in the world.”

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LACKAWANNA BLUES

“A magical, musical, and deeply personal work written and performed by Tony Award® winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Lackawanna Blues is a reminiscence of his 1950s childhood in a small town on the banks of Lake Erie. Santiago-Hudson takes on more than 20 colorful characters—from would-be philosophers and petty hustlers to lost souls and abandoned lovers—in a brilliant celebration of the eccentric boardinghouse he grew up in. Santiago-Hudson returns to his roots in this tour de force performance with live blues music by composer Bill Sims Jr., performed by Grammy Award-winning blues guitarist, composer, and actor Chris Thomas King.”

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Nude Art LA's Spring 2019 Art and Fashion Show

“Nude Art LA is an event unlike anything you have ever seen. Exploring the artistic expression of the nude human form, the show combines a carefully curated collection of world-class, traditional fine art (photographs, paintings, sculptures, etc.) with interactive exhibits and jaw-dropping live performances that include body painting, burlesque, live figure sketching, nude yoga, pole dancing, and so much more. And, new for Spring, 2019: a “naked fashion show” with some of the most amazing and revealing examples of wearable art and fashion you have ever seen...The Fall 2018 show featured 65 artists and a dozen live performers, and admitted over 1,000 guests in just four hours!”

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Fuddy Meers

“Rubicon Theatre continues the company's 21st “Coming of Age” season with the hilarious and harrowing, politically incorrect comedy FUDDY MEERS by playwright DAVID-LINDSAY-ABAIRE. In this outrageously funny roller-coaster ride of a play, Claire, an amnesiac. wakes up each day having forgotten the details of her life. This morning, like all mornings, her seemingly devoted husband Richard greets her with a cup of coffee and a scrapbook of memories. But when he steps away, a limping, lisping man claiming to be Claire's brother pops out from under her bed and says he is there to save her. He takes her to her mother's home in the country, where Claire meets a naïve man with a foul-mouthed puppet, discovers her husband and son have kidnapped an aggressive lady cop, and comes face-to-face with her past.”

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Leaving Prince Charming

“Follow an unorthodox fairy godmother as she travels down the rabbit hole of intimate partner abuse, manipulation, and trauma bonding. This IS a love story, but not the kind you're expecting.
A one-woman serio-comedy told through multimedia and fifteen unique characters, “Leaving Prince Charming” is an unconventional fairytale of one damsel's journey to a different kind of Happily Ever After. Content Warning: Triggering sexual content and usage of prop gun. Not kid friendly.”

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SIMPATICO

“Sam Shepard puts his spin on noir, where he exposes the underbelly of the horse track world. When a couple of grifters, Vinnie and Carter, are caught by a prominent horse racing official, they conjure up a blackmail scheme that involves some scandalous photos and hush money. Now, twenty years later, the past catches up to them when Vinnie decides he's done with being hushed. Colorful characters and juicy dialogue make Shepard's obscure little comedy a wild ride to remember.”

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Small Little Safe World

“Small Little Safe World is the story of Dave, a middle-aged lonely man with no living family and only one friend. He works as a motel desk clerk and eats his meals in a diner. One day, Erin, a much younger woman, strikes up a conversation with him in the diner. They hit it off and enter a relationship, but Erin is looking for a very specific type of relationship, one that will walk the fragile line of reality and fantasy.”

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