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


Choreographer/Director Keith Young On Working W/The Best & Sharing His Craft W/The Masses

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! will be opening July 26 at The Pasadena Playhouse under the slick choreographic vision of Keith Young. Amidst running his SHOUT cast through his distinctive dance routines, Keith managed to find a spare moment to answer a few of our questions.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Keith!
Sister Rosetta Tharpe was the first to combine gospel with secular music and became a big crossover hit in the 1930s. Was your family or you growing up aware of her music?
No, I wasn't aware of her or her music; not sure about my family.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe caught a lot of flack for taking gospel music out of the church and into nightclubs. Did your family have any opinions on that matter?
Yes, it wasn't really acceptable to combine the two.
So what styles of dancing can we expect to see in SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!? What was popular or indicative of the 1930s and 40s?

As always, I will use the movement to nourish the storytelling (gospel-inspired), and this show has various fun styles within that.

Which songs of Sister Rosetta Tharpe will you be choreographing to? "The Train"? "Down By the Riverside"? "Strange Things Happening Every Day"?
There is a little something to all of her songs, and there are many. But my approach has been to allow you to see the music.

With her distinctive vocals and spirited electric guitar playing, she became known as the Godmother of Rock & Roll. Will SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! audience be able to see similarities of movements to later artists like Little Richard or Elvis?
Yes, the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and others.

What aspects of SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! drew you to commit your artistic energies?
I think Rosetta was an amazing and powerful force. As a trailblazer, she really broke down so many walls and expectations. She also was an incredibly vibrant personality, woman, and artist. Having said that, she was primarily looked over, and I hope my participation will help bring her and her artistry to the forefront.
Earlier this year, you choreographed and directed FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE. Did directing seem for you like the obvious next step after choreographing?
Absolutely! For me, it was a natural progression. I also didn't have to tell the choreographer what I wanted, or ask the director to try something - a fun, timesaving fact.
Would you describe the challenges in choreographing in the different mediums you're quite busy in - commercials, television, theatre, Carnival Cruise lines?
I am fortunate to be able to create in so many different mediums. Each one does have unique and specific challenges. But for me, the larger objective remains the same - to make sure that what I create perpetuates the story, and helps bring the overall vision and objective to fruition.

How do you choreograph for a performer cast for their acting chops rather than their dancing abilities?
This is very common. My approach is to embrace what they have naturally and embellish on that, giving them pride of ownership and not discouraging them.

What dance classes did you, yourself, start in (jazz, modern, ballet)?
I was insatiable and pursued them all.

Which style of dance did you prefer when you began?
Modern.

You started your choreography career as Twyla Tharp's assistant on Milo Forman's Amadeus. Please tell us what Twlya first recognized in you and what lessons you learnt from her.
I can't really speak on what she saw in me, but I was determined. Regarding the lessons, that list is too long. But I will say she is a remarkable visionary and can stand proudly in the pantheon of the greats. 
Would you consider her your first mentor?
No, that honor would be my mother.
Can you briefly describe your experience as rehearsal director for the American Ballet Theatre's staging of The Sinatra Suites with Twyla and Baryshnikov?
Having been an original member of her NINE SINATRA SONGS, I knew most of the roles, so when Twyla and Misha condensed it to create The Sinatra Suites, I was asked to be the rehearsal director. It was such an honor. I was humbled by the opportunity to engage with these legendary artists.

Have you ever been awe-struck by the performer you're hired to work with?
I wouldn't say AWEstruck by anyone, but there have been many that have amazed me with their focus, talent and work ethic.

Your professional resumé contains so many name-dropping gems, we'd be here all week discussing them all. Sooo, allow me to name a few and you say a word or a sentence about each person or show you choreographed, OK?

The 78th Annual Academy Awards' production number of Oscar-winning song "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp"-
This was an extraordinary experience. I felt as if I was on the front line of a cultural mash-up.
So You Think You Can Dance -
Am so glad shows like this exist, and have brought dance into the living rooms of people who would not normally get a chance to experience it. Was happy to be part of it.

Dancing With the Stars -
Again, I like the accessibility to dance these shows provide, a fun one.
Kristen Chenoweth in Pushing Daisies -
A divinely charming, hard-working and talented artist.
Emmy nom for The Drew Carey Show -
Having done many episodes, I feel this was instrumental in changing dance on TV at the time. They worked really hard which I really appreciated.

Naomi Campbell in the  SuperBowl SOBE commercial -
She was willing, and beautiful.

Jane Krakowski in Trop 50 commercials -
Such a pro, and so full of willingness and talent.

Meryl Streep & Alec Baldwin in It's Complicated -
Really love the director, Nancy Meyers, and was really taken by Meryl's phenomenal ability to be in the moment, and her consistency. Alec was a lot of fun and willing.

Mel Gibson in What Women Want -
Simply loved his work ethic. He worked so hard, and never gave up.

RENT, the movie -
I'd have to say this was the most meaningful, in that the content, objective, and message were aimed at compassion, kindness and tolerance - virtues I cherish and prescribe to.

So what's in the near future for Keith Young? Any more directorial gigs?
I certainly hope so. I really love the opportunity to affect life through my art, and will hopefully continue to have the chance to honor my craft. I am in the process of creating a show that's been on my mind for a bit .

What dance steps would you love to see your SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! audience attempting as they leave Pasadena Playhouse?
I'd like to see them dance their way over to the box office to get tickets for them and their friends to see SHOUT again!!! 
Thanks again, Keith! I look forward to seeing your dancing feets SHOUT.
For tickets and schedule of SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! through August 20, 2017, log onto www.pasadenaplayhouse.org


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

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


Ashton's Audio Interview: Davis Gaines - The Phantom of the Opera stars in Man of La Mancha @ La Mirada Theatre

Enjoy this interview about the 1966 Tony award winning play Man of La Mancha staring Davis Gaines (2012 Ovation Awards: Won for Lead Actor in a Musical for his role as Cervantes/Quixote in the Musical Theatre West production of "Man of La Mancha) at La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, running until Jun 25th. You can listen to this YouTube interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage.  For tickets and more info Click here.


Voices from Hollywood Fringe 2017: Exclusive Interview – Rich Silverman, Writer/Composer ‘Robot Monster The Musical'

The Hollywood Fringe Festival has a long and storied history of making musicals out of cult classic films, and #HFF17 is no exception as we witness the world premiere of Robot Monster the Musical, with songs and book by Rich Silverman.

Not only is this Silverman's first Fringe experience, it's his first theatrical experience entirely. He took some time out of the dizzying production schedule to answer some questions about the show.

Are you a fan of ‘50s sci-fi or of bad cult movies in general? If so, what are your favorites?

You know, my answer may surprise people. I'm not really a diehard fan of cult movies or “bad” movies. I'm sure I would lose at trivia night on the subject or on Jeopardy. I've never even really been into the Ed Wood catalog. I find his personal story more interesting than his work. I do love The Room, though, but who doesn't?

You're tearing me apart! Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind the show.

Robot Monster is a film I've loved for literally decades. I'm also a big fan of the Great American Songbook and Broadway's golden age – from Jerome Kern through Lerner & Loewe, really. I attempted a musical once years ago and always thought I would try again. When I attended a screening of Robot Monster a few years ago in Hollywood, it just popped into my head that it would be a great musical, and here we are!

Are there modern references in the piece that will resonate with audiences?

Like the movie, the show is set in the 1950s. It works best that way. Most of the modern references are really thematic. There are some things in there – mostly about anxiety and neurosis – that feel more relevant to today's audiences than they may have in the '50s, or at least they're not quite as repressed! About as modern as I get is Philip Glass and Lawrence Welk, and I'm pretty sure this is the first show in history to wink at both.

Obviously you don't have to be deeply familiar with the original film to enjoy the show. How did you manage delineating the plot and exposition while squeezing in 16 original songs?

Oh that's easy. The film doesn't have that much plot to begin with! There's some clumsy exposition in the movie, which I've retained for its absurdity, but at least 10 minutes of the 60-minute original is spent watching Ro-Man and other characters walking around Griffith Park.

What about the music? Is there a particular style or is it a potpourri?

As I mentioned, my frame of reference is our great standards. While I would never in a million years compare myself with those songwriters, about half my songs are in a Sinatra/‘50s vein along with my take on Broadway ballads, plus a smattering of pop, a hint of opera and a maybe a tad of Sparks thrown into the mix.

How did you go about casting the piece? How does the cast contribute to the show?

It all just kind of came together and in a really great way. We held auditions and Derek Long, the show's director, and his assistant director, Pam Paulson, brought in people they've worked with before. I also have a friend of mine in the cast, Val Peterson, who is a very talented and versatile professional singer. Talk about knowing the Great American Songbook – she probably has 1,000 songs memorized. Val's more into Ella Fitzgerald, whom I consider the second greatest singer after Sinatra, but we don't fight about it – not too much, at least.

How do you manage the strict Fringe 15-minute load-in and load-out? Did you come up with some creative solutions?

Rogaine extra strength.

Is this your first Fringe experience? How have you been enjoying it?

This is my first theater experience! And I'm Jewish, so I don't enjoy anything.

Since the Fringe is a community rather than a competition, what other productions stir your interest?

I'm very interested in other new musicals. I've gotten friendly with a few creators. I just bought a ticket to Comic-Con the Musical (also at Sacred Fools). There are other shows I find really interesting because of their somewhat obscure and/or intellectual source material, like a play about the Algonquin Roundtable and the baseball player, Mungo.

Finally, can we watch Robot Monster the Musical without 3D glasses?

Only if you don't mind getting hit in the eye with a bubble.

Robot Monster the Musical plays June 4 through June 23 at Sacred Fools Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or by phone at (323) 455-4585. As a special offer for Fringe participants, the June 4 performance is pay-what-you-can.

This interview was originally published on BlogCritics.org.


Wayne Moore On Making His DREAMS A Reality

A popular LA cabaret and theatre mainstay for over a quarter of a century, singer/songwriter/musical director Wayne Moore has revamped his 1992 cabaret act FREEWAY DREAMS into a full-length musical production called, wait for it... FREEWAY DREAMS. Write Act Repertory will be producing it in their new space, Brickhouse Theatre in North Hollywood, beginning May 19, 2017.

We had the chance to chat with the ever-youthful Wayne on how his early dreams become real DREAMS.

Thank you, Wayne, for doing this interview with myself and Better Lemons.

Hi, Gil!  Thanks for asking these questions.

You world premiered FREEWAY DREAMS in 1992 @ Tom Rolla's Gardenia Cabaret in Hollywood. How does it feel to be revisiting one of your early creations?

It feels great to revisit FREEWAY DREAMS.  The original show at The Gardenia was a revue I put together for my friends and myself and was so much fun to do!  It had “situations” that framed the songs, but not a real script.  Robert McGarity offered to produce a CD of the show and that's how it became so popular.  This has been a wonderful opportunity for me to improve and solidify the show.

Have you performed/produced FREEWAY DREAMS again since 1992? 

I haven't performed the show since then, although I've sung a lot of songs from FREEWAY in a lot of bars!  I kept being asked what the script was like.  Well, there really wasn't a script until now.

Only a true Angeleno could have written FREEWAY DREAMS. Just two films come to mind when thinking of L.A. freeways - Steve Martin's L.A. Story from 1991 and Damien Chazelle's La La Land from last year. Did the freeway scene from LA Story inspire/influence FREEWAY DREAMS, by any chance?

I loved L.A. Story!  The coffee ordering scene still cracks me up.  I haven't seen La La Land yet.  I hear the opening number with mad dancing in and out of cars is terrific.  But that's not our show.  We're terrific in a different way!

You are now adapting your what-was-originally a cabaret act into a full theatrical production. You didn't happen to be stuck on a freeway when you first thought of your first nuclei of FREEWAY DREAMS?

Being a home-bred Los Angelean, I've been stuck on a freeway more times that I can count! But the songs I tend to write when stuck on the freeway aren't suitable for musical theater!

Which song was FREEWAY DREAMS' first?

The first song written directly for the show was the opening number “Freeway.”

Can you share with us some of your processes of coming up with such FREEWAY DREAMS ditties as ‘Manic-Depressive Blues,' ‘A Big Woman Needs A Big Man,' ‘…And A Pizza To Go,' ‘My Superman' and ‘What If The Other Guy Wins?'?

“A Big Woman Needs A Big Man” was written for Brenda Moore, my ex-wife, cabaret partner and best friend.  She actually blushed when I played it for her – and being a dark black woman, that's hard for her to do! - but she certainly throws herself into the song now.  

“And A Pizza To Go” was created because I wanted to write a comic opera piece.  I went around the corner to an Italian restaurant near where I lived, grabbed a to-go menu and wrote it in about ten minutes.  

“My Superman” may be my most popular song.  Believe it or not, it was originally written for Rose Marie!

“What If The Other Guy Wins?” didn't make it into this production.  I re-wrote the script completely and it just didn't fit. I hope I've created four real, but funny human beings to be stuck next to each other on the freeway.  (They are there for so long, they start showing up in each other's fantasies.)  A lot of re-writing went on to accommodate the new premise.

With all the clever lyrics you write, how old were you when you first realized you possessed a sense of humor that could possibly make you a living?

I was a terrible geek growing up with few friends.  I wrote my first song when I was six years old and music was always pouring out of me. But I didn't learn I could be funny until I went to L.A. City College.  It was quite a revelation!  I still can't quite believe it!

As a frequent contributor to the L.A. Theatre and cabaret scene over the past 25+ years, can you tell us the characteristics of live entertainment in Los Angeles back in 1992 that are still evident/relevant today? 

There are very few venues for cabaret performances left in L.A.  And the classic piano bar set-up I thrived in is pretty much gone for now.  This kind of entertainment happens in cycles, so I'm hopeful some new piano bars will pop up.  With the abolition of 99-seat theater in L.A., the whole scene is shifting. Nevertheless, there is some wonderful work being done in theater companies around town.  I love seeing that.

Wayne, you're a singer, songwriter, actor and musical director. Which is your primary passion?

My primary passion has always been song-writing.  Nothing like it.

Where would you like to take FREEWAY DREAMS to next?

Write/Act is considering taking the show to its off-Broadway venue this summer.  I'd like to get the show published so small theater companies looking for something new can discover us!

Any immediate projects for Wayne Moore you can tell us?

Wayne Moore projects:  I wrote the music for a show by Chandler Warren called ADAM & EVE & STEVE which moved to England after a good run at Theater 68 here in L.A.  We had a sold-out run in London and they're planning a tour.  I have new shows completed with two other writers, and my own solo epic SOUNDSTAGE is, at last, ready to go.  

As one who's made a fairly steady living in the entertainment field for over a quarter of a century now, what sage advice would you give to someone coming to our City of Angels with the goal to grab the elusive brass ring?

Sage advice?  Go elsewhere, I fear.  It's true I've never had what my father insisted on calling a “real job,” but looking back, I'm not sure how it all happened or what I did to make it happen.  This sounds corny, but the best advice I can give is:, to always do your best work, stay as nice as you can to everyone, and keep your eyes and ears open for your next opportunity.

Thank you again, Wayne! 

Thanks, Gil

To share in Wayne's DREAMS through June 11, 2017; log onto

www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2951519


WOODS' Evan Harrington's Baking Up Some Tasty Theatrical Treats

The classic INTO THE WOODS from the creative minds of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine has been having a successful, standing-ovation-filled run at the Ahmanson Theatre (closing May 14). With Sondheim and Lapine's blessings, Fiasco Theater has re-interpreted their 1986 musical into a no-frills, bare-bones version that some say is the most relatable retelling of familiar INTO THE WOODS' fairy tales.

We had the chance to chat with Evan Harrington, who embodies the role of the upstanding Baker.

Thank you, Evan, for taking the time for this interview.

You started this touring production of INTO THE WOODS last November. How did you first get involved with Fiasco Theater?

My involvement with Fiasco Theater began with my audition for INTO THE WOODS! I had, of course, heard of the production and the company, but never had a chance to see any of their work. And when I heard they were sending this version of the show on the road, and I jumped at the chance to do it!

You had played the role of 'Baker' before in the New Repertory Theatre's 2005 production. What was it like putting on the baker's apron after over ten years?

It is always strange and exciting to revisit characters you've played before after a few years. I think having grown up over the years (sorta, ha-ha) puts a totally different perspective into your choices on stage. I feel like now, I'm at a good age to really understand more of what the Baker and his Wife are dealing with in the play. Every time I've been involved in INTO THE WOODS, it's been a totally different experience; this is actually the third time I'm playing the Baker.   In addition to New Rep's 2005 version, it was the last show I performed in my senior year of college. So I've played this role over a long span of my life, and my own life experiences continue to influence the way I play the role. I feel lucky to have played the Baker over many years in my life, for sure!

How has your interpretation of 'Baker' evolved over the long span of your life from your life experiences and your profusion of theatrical roles?

My version of the Baker has certainly changed with each time I've done it. I feel more grounded now as an actor and a person, so I hope that comes across in this current version. I think as a college student, I was just jazzed to be doing a Sondheim show! Stephen Sondheim was our hero back then, and certainly continues to be for me! It was the last time I got to perform with all of the graduating class I went through theatre school with - our 'last hurrah' before choosing our next step; so there was a youthful sentimentality we all had for that production. As I've gotten older and had opportunities to work on many projects over the years, I feel like the experience I've put under my belt has made the Baker more relatable to me. Hopefully as you get older, you gain some wisdom and knowledge of the way the world works. And that is part of the journey the Baker is on - finding himself in the face of adversity. The best kind of theatre! 

The cast of the Fiasco Theater production of “Into the Woods,” which plays April 4 through May 14, 2017, at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 972-4400. Media Contact: CTGMedia@CTGLA.org / (213) 972-7376. Photo by Joan Marcus.

What it easy for you to adapt your 'Baker' from the more traditional presentation you were involved with in 2005 to the current Fiasco's interpretation of INTO THE WOODS?

It was 'difficulty easy.' Ha-ha! This production is so different in terms of how we put the show together, that it all felt new in many ways. For example, the staging and movement and instrumentation is so unique. The advantage of having the music/lyrics in my memory was super helpful in allowing me to focus on adapting to the Fiasco Theater version.- But, I also think some other shows I've been involved with recently (ONCE, PETER AND THE STARCATCHER, THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM) had set me up to fit well in the world this show lives in (i.e., playing instruments, using the actors and props to create the play, etc.)

Do you, yourself, actually bake?

Nope! Ha! Not really. I make a mean Thanksgiving dinner once a year, but that's about it for me in the kitchen.

Have you worked with any of your current cast and crew of INTO THE WOODS before, by chance?

I had only worked with Darron West, our sound designer (Great guy, even though he's a Red Sox fan) from our time with THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, but I hadn't worked with any of the actors before. I have known Ms. Stephanie Umoh as a friend for many years, and have admired her work. But this was our first time working together! Everyone else was a relatively new face to me. But this theatre biz is so small, we all had several mutual pals...

What's your "I love this moment" in this show?

I love anything Darick Pead (our Milky White/Rapunzel's Prince/Florinda) does. He's a really funny dude and he regularly cracks me up! But specifically, his melodramatic Shakespearean cow death is particularly sublime.

Any Ahmanson audience responses so far took you by surprise?

I've been humbled to have so many huge fans of the show itself say how this particular production is the best version they've seen; how it feels accessible to them in a way INTO THE WOODS hadn't felt before. 

And for people who haven't ever seen the show before - They seem to really be excited by the way we present the play and how we all make it happen with 'just the actors' doing all the ensemble work and music playing. 

It's rewarding to have people say they didn't know what to expect at first, and then tell us we drew them in to the show. And by the end, they've taken the journey with us! That's why I love live theatre. You can feel the audience reactions. That's the good stuff...

I'm sure you can hear the audience laughing from the stage (i.e., "Agony"). Can you actually hear when they cry? Like maybe during "Moments in the Woods" or "No One Is Alone"?

The audience reaction when hilarious things are happening is certainly more apparent than when you're going through some of the more delicate moments of the show. But you can feel it when you're up there and you've got the audience with you in the more emotionally charged moments. I don't hear or see them crying often, but when you're trying to be 'in that moment' - the audience's attention and silence are just as telling as the laughs.

The cast of the Fiasco Theater production of “Into the Woods,” which plays April 4 through May 14, 2017, at Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 972-4400. Media Contact: CTGMedia@CTGLA.org / (213) 972-7376. Photo by Joan Marcus.

You've been in shows on Broadway and all over the US. Have you noticed any notable differences from audience responses in different cities?

I like bringing shows on the road to different cities; because in NYC, you may have lots of people come see the show, but not everyone can make it to NY to see shows. The NY audiences are excited and ready to see everything there is to see. It is so electric to work in NYC. There is nothing like it. 

Bringing shows to the rest of the country is a whole different excitement. People across the country are excited for us to be in their town - where they can do dinner and a show in their hometown! 

And the extra perk of being able to see friends and family who live in the far reaches of the country is amazing. Many of my friends wouldn't have seen this show and many others I've done if they were just performing in NY. So I like touring for that reason. It brings theatre to a wider audience, and it allows me to see friends and allows them see my work! Win-win!

Could you describe a 'typical' New Yorker reaction vs a Los Angeles one you could easily pick out of a crowd?

I don't think I could say if there was any particular difference, except in LA, people are more sun-kissed! Theatre goers usually love theatre to begin with, so it doesn't matter where you're from.

Any subtle dissimilarities in Broadway audience reactions from Off-Broadway audiences?

I think with Broadway audiences, you get both the theatre-savvy and the tourist crowd, so it's more of a cross section of reactions. I sometimes feel like Off-Broadway shows are where you'll see some of the more risky new works that might eventually find their way to a Broadway house. So really savvy theatre goers are checking out all that that has to offer. Some of the most exciting theatre happens Off-(or Off-Off) Broadway! 

What cities will you be 'Baker-ing' in next?

We finish up this week in LA, then off to Dallas, TX to close out this amazing tour! We close up shop May 28th at the Winspear Opera House.

What's on the horizon for Evan Harrington?

First on the horizon is a little mini-vacation - doing a road trip to see some live music, some MLB games, and visit family back home in Rochester, NY. Then I'll get back to NYC to (hopefully) book that next gig!

Thank you again, Evan! And congratulations on a wonderful, most entertaining trip through THE WOODS!

To check ticket availability through May 14, 2017, log onto www.centertheatregroup.org


Director Glenn Casale's The Man Behind LA MANCHA

Don Quixote, with his sidekick Sancho and his Impossible Dreams will be fighting windmills at the Valley Performing Arts Center May 5 through May 7, 2017. Multi-award-winning director Glenn Casale will be helming his production with Davis Gaines reprising his award-winning role of Don Quixote. Better Lemons and I had the chance to question Glenn not only on his LA MANCHAs, but on his long resumé of hit shows he directed.

Thank you, Glenn, for agreeing to this interview.

I've looked through your extensive list of shows you've directed. Have you directed MAN OF LA MANCHA before in a regional theatre that's not included in your resume? 

Yes, this will be over a dozen times, and it is always a different and thrilling experience.

The original Broadway production of MAN OF LA MANCHA debuted in 1965. What productions of LA MANCHA have you seen and loved?

I saw the original and met Richard Kiley on a few occasions.  I have not seen it anywhere else.

You worked with Davis Gaines a number of times before, including in Music Theatre's CAMELOT a number of years ago, and before that, in a concert performance of MASADA, THE MUSICAL at the Shubert Theatre in 1998. Do you two now have a shorthand in communication after knowing each other for almost twenty years? 

Davis is a treat to work with.  It isn't that there is a shorthand with communication, but there is a great deal of trust with Davis, Nikki (Crawford), and Roland (Rusinek).  It allows you to trust that they will get there in a short time.

If we could turn back time, what would the more experienced, more theatre-savvy 2016 Glenn Casale say/do/direct differently to the 1998 Davis Gaines in MASADA, THE MUSICAL?

MASADA was a concert with a sixty-five-piece orchestra and very little rehearsals.  What I told him then is, "I can't wait to work with you again."  We did CAMELOT in 2009 and here we are.

Your directing resume includes mostly musicals, as opposed to the fewer straight dramas (QUEEN OF THE STARDUST BALLROOM, WRESTLERS, THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE) you've tackled. Any particular reason you gravitate to musicals?

I have done over 50 plays.  At La Mirada from 1987-1992, I did four plays a year at the theater.

You have directed productions internationally. Describe the challenges you've had to master with the different cultures and languages.

It has been fascinating going to the other countries to direct.  The biggest challenge is finding the humor in each culture. Each culture finds different things funny.  Finding the right translations have also been a challenge.  LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE WIZ were all translated by a woman who was a famous actress in the Netherlands.  She was brilliant and took such care with the humor and lyrics.  

If we talked about all the shows you've done, this interview would be endless. Sooooo, would you give a short sentence (or word) about the following:

PETER PAN with Cathy Rigby:

The best...a true professional. We spent fifteen years keeping PETER PAN real and truthful.

THE PROPERTY KNOWN AS GARLAND with Adrienne Barbeau:

A daring piece written by Billy Van Zandt.  We worked on this piece for a year and Ms. Barbeau really captured the heart of Garland.

CAMELOT with Michael York and Rachel York:

Like the Lunts...lol. It was great to work on the script and restructure it.  It was on the road for a year and Mr. York was replaced by Lou Diamond Phillips.

FROM THE TOP with Carol Burnett:

Truly one of the greatest experiences of my life.  She was outstanding.  It was written for her by her TV writers.  It had a wonderful cast lead by Gary Beach. We rehearsed in her old studio at CBS. Magical.

WRESTLERS with Mark Harmon and George Clooney:

My first directing job in LA and it changed my life.  The understudy was Brian Cranston.  It was written by Bill C. Davis and starred Gina Hecht.  It got a lot of attention.  It was at the Cast theater near Paramount.  

ANYTHING GOES with Rachel York:

Won an Ovation Award for Best Musical.

SWEET CHARITY with Donna McKechnie:

Stunning. We did this right after Bob Fosse died.  She had just done it in Washington for him.

What was the eye-opening moment when you first said to yourself, "And this is why I became a director!"?

MAN OF LA MANCHA at the ANTA Theater in NY.  No lie. I was hooked by the world that was created.

Who would you like to work with that you haven't as yet?

Too many to list.  There are new people that I see all the time and say, "I would love to work with them."  I just want to work with talented people who want to do the work.

Any particular show you're dying to undertake?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? MINNIE'S BOYS.

Back to MAN OF LA MANCHA, what response from the Valley Performing Arts Center audience would make you the most satisfied?

That the audience is moved by the story and see the relevance of the piece today.  I want it to make them think and dream.

Thank you again, Glenn!

For available tickets for the May 5 through 7 performances, log onto www.ValleyPerformingArtsCenter.org For info and tickets for MAN OF LA MANCHA moving to La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts June 2 through 25, log onto www.LaMiradaTheatre.com


Will North On Bringing His Talents To CMT

The Cabrillo Music Theatre, nestled in Ventura County, has been a theatre force to be reckon with for over 30 years. CMT consistently produces award-winning productions, along with providing outreach programs to kids, seniors and the military to give back to the community. Just this year, CMT welcomed to their board of directors, their new Managing Director Will North. Better Lemons and I had the chance to exchange a few words of inquiry and responses amidst Will's multi-tasking schedule.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview with Better Lemons and myself, Will.

Sooo, to begin with... Who, what, where, why brought you into your still relatively new position of Cabrillo Music Theatre's Managing Director? 

It is interesting, indeed. I, of course, began as a musical theatre performer as a kid. Did my first Equity show at 12, then really went through a period of time going from show-to-show-to-show playing leads as a performer all the way through my MFA program. Then, continued to perform professionally after that.  At the same time, I directed my first show at age 18.  My philosophy was always: I am a storyteller. I want to stay in the theatre (the building) always, in whatever capacity, whether on stage or directing.  That philosophy led me to eventually tech, direct and produce as well.  Simultaneously, I had some tremendous opportunities in the business side of entertainment that allowed me valuable experience on that side of things.  So, this position truly is a situation of me being led to a place where every bit of my training and experience is highly relevant. 

Your business resume is equally extensive and impressive as your theatrical resume. Would I be assuming correctly that your business accomplishments came before your theatrical?

Theatre came first, because I basically grew up on stage.

You earned a Masters of Fine Arts in acting pedagogy from the University of Alabama, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from Jacksonville University. What exactly is an "acting pedagogy"? I've never heard of a "pedagogy.”

"Pedagogy" is the method or practice of teaching.  In my MFA program, I studied the methods of acting conceived by the greats and how to teach them.  I got both a broad and deep survey of all the various methods of acting—in-to-out, emotional-based approaches, as well as, movement-based, out-to-in approaches.  I graduated with a valuable toolbox of techniques to both unlock roles that I portray and the roles for the actors I direct.  The University of Alabama has an excellent program. 

Did you receive your business acumen from formal training? Or from your assistant stint at the William Morris Agency? 

I did not receive formal business training.  All of my business knowledge comes from doing.  I have worked closely with the marketing department of Mattel since 2005, and that has been an extremely valuable learning experience in the marketing and PR side of things.  Also, working with Abel McCallister Designs taught me a great deal about producing. However, yes, as assistant to Sam Haskell (though immediately after his William Morris days), I learned many things, including contracts, budgets, and other important lessons. I was there as he produced the Miss America Live, Miss America Reality Check, his 60-city book tour for his bestseller; among many, many others. So, yes to your point. I have spent quality time in marketing, PR, production, and the agent side of entertainment—but have had no formal business training.  I guess you can say I am an advocate for getting a degree in what one is passionate about.  I fully believe following one's passions will open the right doors.  All of that time spent in the theatre department made me more than comfortable speaking in front of large crowds, and helping me be an effective communicator.  So, yes, one can have a career that is congruent with one's degree choice—even in theatre (said he with a smile of amazement).  

I would think that the position of CMT's managing director would be the perfect outlet for merging your creative and business talents. Could you give the Better Lemons readers an example of a typical work week at Cabrillo Music Theatre?

You are correct in your assessment.  And already my short time here has been greatly fulfilling, rewarding, and the perfect blend of my passions and skills.  To give you a typical week is impossible.  No one week is like the other—yet another reason for why I thrive in this environment.  Audition weeks are different than rehearsal weeks, which are different from production weeks, which are different from planning weeks.  For someone like myself, who gets bored VERY easily and quickly with routine; it is a dream situation. 

Does this executive position allow any leeway for you to take time off to rehearse for an acting or singing gig? 

I don't really ever take time off; my phone is always within reach. But I do have time to squeeze in quick gigs here and there that don't take a large time commitment.  You may have seen me on the barrage of Chrysler Pacifica commercials that have been running all year (said he with a wink).  When I interviewed, someone asked when did I stop performing and just direct and produce. I answered, “I didn't realize I had stopped.”  Obviously, a majority of my time is spent producing and directing, but I would hope I will always sing and perform as well.  

Do you plan to be performing in or directing any future CMT shows?  

Well, I am super excited to be directing the first show of our 2017-18 season, JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT!  I have a very specific vision for this show, which includes updating the choreography for 2017.  I want to bring one of the masters of hip hop choreography, Dave Scott, on board to do just that. Cannot wait to work with him!  Performing?  Stay tuned. 

For our Patrón drinkers and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf patrons, can you share what your experimental event marketing for those two brands were? 

I was producer for the Patrón Aficionados tour in 2015 (that went to all of the major cities in the US), as well as, events such as Celebrity Fight Night in AZ, Bloom Fest in San Diego, and many more activations across the country. For Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, it was more SoCal-based, doing activations at the Emmys, Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards, etc. 

You've performed in a variety of major venues across the States - Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Disney World and the Celebrity Galaxy Cruise Ship, to name a few.  Can you pick an element or two of each's wonderfulness that you would love to incorporate into CMT?

They are all so unique and different. What we have here at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is unique and great in its own right. So from a venue standpoint, I don't know that I would change too much. But let me answer your question in another way. I do plan to perform in other venues while still continuing our yearly schedule at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  There are some projects and shows that simply don't work in an 1800-seat space (amazing as our venue is for the large-scale musicals). But these other shows and concepts I believe are very relevant, and I am very committed to producing. 

What did you learn from the various challenges you encountered in all these different venues that you're bringing to CMT?  

Again, the venues you list that I have performed in were all top notch. The venues themselves didn't really pose any particular challenges to speak of.  I guess if anything, the level of quality—not that Cabrillo ever lacked quality—I think the shows have always been top notch.  But I guess what I am saying is elevating the brand to a place of national notoriety.  Eventually, I want actors in NYC, when they see a casting call for a Cabrillo show, to understand the quality and artistic excellence that that implies.  There are a handful of regional theatres in the US that everyone knows the name of. I want Cabrillo on that list. 

You had EVITA, now SISTER ACT and PETER PAN planned for your current season. Can you give us a hint as to what you're shooting for next season? Or is it too early?  

Next season is:  JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (as I mentioned I'm directing, said he with excitement.), DISNEY'S HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, and another Disney Classic that I can't announce until July. 

For a future CMT production, what would your biggest get be? 

That I don't want to let the secret out on.  But I will say, I am committed to doing West Coast premieres here at Cabrillo. 

For a future Will North project, what role would you still like to conquer?  

Oh, I certainly have my list: Javert in LES MISERABLES, Sweeney in SWEENEY TODD, Floyd in FLOYD COLLINS, George in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, Archibald in SECRET GARDEN, the Russian in CHESS, and more recently, Pierre in NATASHA PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812…to name a few. 

In regards to CMT's “Beyond the Footlights” program, what goals have been met and what future goals have you set for it?  

While we are committed to producing Broadway-quality shows, we will always give back to the community—and that is a priority for us.  Our kids and teens programs, outreach to senior centers through performance, our free Christmas show to the troops on the naval base in Oxnard, CA, "Buy a Bus" program to bus in kids to see our performances who otherwise might not get the chance, as well as, other causes/programs will continue to be a part of who we are as an organization. 

Any other thoughts you'd like to add on the future of CMT?  The future is extremely bright for Cabrillo Music Theatre. We will continue to produce Broadway-caliber shows here at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza. We look forward to expanding our footprint to other venues and experiences in the very near future. 

Thank you again, Will! 

For further info, tickets and scheduling of Cabrillo Music Theatre's current season of musicals (SISTER ACT begins April 21, PETER PAN on July 14), visit www.cabrillomusictheatre.com


A Modern Musical Shines Light on a West Coast Landmark

How “La La Land” is saving jazz in Los Angeles

In a recent interview, Damien Chazelle (Director of “La La Land”), said that his initial impression of Los Angeles being a cultural vacuum changed after he moved here from the East Coast.  He found that LA is a fascinating city, rich in history and beautiful.  Thanks to the methodically creative compositions of Justin Hurwitz, the original soundtrack of “La La Land” is a splendid mix of memorable award-winning music. The film “La La Land” is a musical love letter to Los Angeles and is shining a beacon on jazz music.

In “La La Land,” the character Keith (John Legend) critically lectures Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) in a scene at a recording studio; “How are you gonna save jazz if no one is listening? … You're playing to 90-year-olds at The Lighthouse. Where are the kids… the young people? ... You're holding onto the past, but jazz is about the future.” Jazz is a true American art form that began in New Orleans during the 1800's and is an evolutionary music genre, from which many of the popular genres we listen to today have developed. Even in “La La Land” John Legend's character Keith combines jazz with modern electronic pop music to appeal to a younger and bigger music buying audience.

Henry Franklin

Henry "The Skipper" Franklin, The Lighthouse, Photo by Mark Sonners © 2015

Once upon a time, Los Angeles was all about West Coast jazz and there were many clubs all over the city and adjacent neighborhoods.  The Sunset Strip had so many jazz clubs back in the early 1950's that you could park your car in one spot and walk to a choice of several clubs to hear live jazz within a four block radius.  Hermosa Beach (20 miles southwest of Downtown LA) has been home to The Lighthouse Café jazz club since 1949 and was featured in “La La Land” as a location and important character of its own as part of the story.  The ninety-year-old that Keith refers to in the scene I noted is Gloria Cadena (91) who is the jazz booker for The Lighthouse Café.  In the past, jazz was played there seven nights a week, but in recent years Gloria books jazz bands only on Wednesday nights and Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  To attract more customers to the club on the other nights, local bands and artists that play music from rock to reggae are booked through another manager at The Lighthouse Café.  Gloria's late husband, Ozzie Cadena, was a jazz record producer and promoter in Los Angeles. He promoted The Lighthouse and is credited with helping to popularize jazz in Los Angeles.

Since “La La Land” was released in early December 2016, The Lighthouse Café has become a popular destination for tourists, fans and locals alike.  Just about a month before this phenomenon occurred, Mark Sonners opened his art gallery, Gallery Exposure, in the front portion of his fine art printing company, Print and Show.  His gallery and shop are located in the quaint Old Town Village in Torrance, California about four miles southeast of Hermosa Beach where The Lighthouse Cafe sits.  Mark Sonners has been very successful in the commercial printing business for many years, but after the Northridge earthquake destroyed his shop and the rise of digital image formats and  decline in the traditional printing, he moved from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay region of LA and settled in Hermosa Beach, just a few blocks from The Lighthouse Café and was delighted to have a club where he could enjoy live jazz.  When he lived in the SFV, he used to be a regular at jazz clubs like Charlie O's, Dante's (both closed) and occasionally The Baked Potato which is still there.

Gallery Exposure

Gallery Exposure, Torrance CA, Photo by Nish © 2017

Being an ardent jazz fan and photographer, Mark began taking pictures of the brilliant jazz players who perform at The Lighthouse and got to know Gloria Cadena and saw the legendary Howard Rumsey (bassist) who started playing jazz with his band at The Lighthouse in 1949. Mark's knowledge of jazz from its roots through its evolution into many new music styles is only exceeded by his passion for jazz music itself.   His photography exhibit reflects his love for jazz played at The Lighthouse Café.

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas, The Lighthouse, Photo by Mark Sonners © 2016

The Lighthouse – café was added to the name of the club many years later – was a very important establishment in West Coast jazz with famous players like Miles Davis, Ramsey Lewis, Art Pepper, Shorty Rogers, Mose Allison, Stan Getz, The Jazz Crusaders, Cal Tjder, and more. These artists I listed all recorded live albums there.  Mark Sonners has been snapping the current players at The Lighthouse and his show is a reflection of the club today. Also showing at Gallery Exposure are some select prints from photographer Chuck Koton who has dedicated the last fifteen years to documenting jazz musicians with his photography.

Mark Sonners, jazz musicians, fans and I would love to see a resurgence of the popularity of jazz, particularly West Coast jazz.  When Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) declared to Mia (Emma Stone) that jazz was dying he wasn't kidding.  In America, the land of its birth, jazz clubs are closing and becoming other types of venues; jazz radio stations are switching their format to other genres, and even at the

Grammys, the jazz categories of awards are not televised.  Gregory Porter won his second Grammy Award for Jazz Vocal Album of the Year in 2017 for “Take Me To The Alley” and he happens to be a Californian.  His first Grammy Award was in 2014 for “Liquid Spirit.” Yet Gregory Porter was not part of the live performances during the televised Grammy Awards. None of the jazz nominees performed for the “main” show.  Al Jarreau passed away on the day of the Grammy Awards and he was barely mentioned during the live show. Music fans in other countries like Japan, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands seem to revere jazz more than we do and they keep it alive. Young jazz musicians from those countries make their way to the USA thinking that jazz still thrives here, but find themselves among a minority of young people who appreciate and know the rich history of jazz in America.

Mark Sonners

Mark Sonners, Photo Nish © 2017

If “La La Land” has sparked a renewed interest in jazz and a curiosity among Millennials to listen and learn about it then let the spark burst into a flame that will help save jazz in the USA.  So far, the multi-award winning film has shined a beacon on The Lighthouse Café and people are following the beam of light to the club to hear jazz in numbers they haven't seen there in years.  If the crowds continue Gloria might be able to book jazz artists there more than three days a week and attract the big names in jazz to play there again. The Lighthouse can also help guide music fans from all over America to have an interest in West Coast jazz and recognize it for the revolutionary and evolutionary cultural art form that it is.  That is the La La Land dream for this LA native and many other dedicated jazz lovers.