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.



The 34th Annual 'Robby Award' Winners Announced


The 34th Annual Robby Awards show scheduled for March 23, 2020, has been canceled due to the Coronavirus and social distancing.

Here is the list of the winners for the best in Los Angeles area theatre for 2019.  With the Robby Awards, a few categories resulted in a tie vote, even with critic Rob Stevens as the only voter.

The Pasadena Playhouse’s production of "Ragtime" won Best Musical as well as three other awards. The Ahmanson Theatre’s production of "Indecent" also won four awards, including Best Drama. Best Comedy was awarded to Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s "Loot" which also won two other awards.

A Noise Within led all producing companies with five awards spread over three of their productions—"Argonautika," "The Glass Menagerie," and "Frankenstein." The Geffen Playhouse won three awards, one each for their productions of "Key Largo," "Skintight," and "Witch."

Among 99-seat theatres, Celebration Theatre won two awards for its production of "The Producers," Boston Court Pasadena won two awards for "The Judas Kiss," and Antaeus Theatre Company won two awards for "The Cripple of Inishmaan," while two awards were given to shows at the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival.


The Robby Awards


Teri Ralston Award for Best Musical
Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Virginia Capers Award for Best Director of a Musical
David Lee, Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Michael G. Hawkins Award for Best Actor in a Musical
Marc Ginsburg, Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Michelle Nicastro Award for Best Actress in a Musical
Shannon Warne, Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Gary Beach Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Michael A. Shepperd, The Producers, Celebration Theatre

Lisa Robinson Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Lauren Van Kurin, Earth to Karen, Hollywood Fringe Festival

Dom Salinaro Award for Best Choreography
Christine Negherbon, Holiday Inn, Musical Theatre West

Elan McMahan Award for Best Musical Direction
Gregory Nabours, Scissorhands, The Fuse Project

John Raitt Award for Best Music and Lyrics
Brooke deRosa, Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon, Trial Run Productions

Nan Martin Award for Best Drama
Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Martin Benson Award for Best Director of a Drama (Tie)
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, Argonautika, A Noise Within
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Ray Stricklyn Award for Best Actor in a Drama
Rob Nagle, The Judas Kiss, Boston Court Pasadena

Sally Kemp Award for Best Actress in a Drama
Deborah Strang, The Glass Menagerie, A Noise Within

Richard Doyle Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
Kasey Mahaffy, The Glass Menagerie, A Noise Within

Belinda Balaski Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama
Jenny O’Hara, Daniel’s Husband, The Fountain Theatre

Carole Cook Award for Best Comedy
Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Ron Link Award for Best Director of a Comedy
Bart DeLorenzo, Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Tom Troupe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy (Tie)
Harry Groener, Skintight, Geffen Playhouse
Evan Jonigkeit, Witch, Geffen Playhouse

Lu Leonard Award for Best Actress in a Comedy
Elizabeth Arends, Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Albert Lord Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy
JD Cullum, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Antaeus Theatre Company

Dee Croxton Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Anne Gee Byrd, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Antaeus Theatre Company

Michael Devereaux Award for Best Playwriting
David Hare, The Judas Kiss, Boston Court Pasadena

John Iacovelli Award for Best Scenic Design
John Lee Beatty, Key Largo, Geffen Playhouse

Best Projection Design
Aaron Rhyne, Anastasia, Hollywood Pantages Theatre

Paulie Jenkins Award for Best Lighting Design
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Garland Riddle Award for Best Costume Design
E. B. Brooks, The Producers, Celebration Theatre

Steve ”Canyon” Kennedy Award for Best Sound Design
Robert Oriol, Frankenstein, A Noise Within

Lies and Legends Award for Best Ensemble Award
Matt Darriau, Elizabeth A. Davis, Joby Earle, Patrick Farrell, Harry Groener,
Lisa Gutkin, Mimi Lieber, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, Adina Verson,
Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Billy Barnes Award for Best Cabaret Performance
Daniel Thomas Bellusci, Brittney Bertier, Ellie Birdwell, Bruce Kimmel,
Kerry O’Malley, Jenna Lea Rosen, Robert Yacko,
L’Wonderful, L’Marvelous, Legrand, Kritzerland at Vitello’s

Special Award for Props and Puppet Design
Erin Walley and Dillon Nelson, Argonautika, A Noise Within

Robby Living Legend Award
Teri Ralston


Rare Ennio Morricone Tribute Concert at 'The Autry' Sunday, January 27, 2019

What started out as an annual birthday celebration with close musician friends, family, and other appreciators in the backyard of show organizer Henry Stanny, soon grew into a full concert tribute to the Oscar®-winning Italian composer Ennio Morricone at the Autry Museum of the American West (The Autry.)

Originally scheduled for this weekend on Sunday, January 27, 2019, at 5 p.m., a second show was then added at 1:00 p.m. at The Autry, where now both shows are currently sold out.

Morricone soundtrack fans span from classic and spaghetti western films to recent years' Quentin Tarantino film enthusiasts, creating a wide swath of appreciators here in the U.S., as well as here in Southern California. Considered one of the world's greatest living film composers, Morricone's world fame came with Sergio Leone's westerns, a few being “A Fistful of Dollars,” “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly,” and “Once Upon a Time in The West,” and more with films like “The Battle of Algiers,” “Cinema Paradiso,” “Malena,” “The Untouchables,” “Once Upon a Time in America,” “The Mission,” and Tarantino's “The Hateful Eight.”

According to Stanny, who works at Laemmle Theatres and has an extensive collection and historical knowledge of film soundtracks and liner note history, the concept of the show birthed from discussions with his wife, Nancy Hoven, from his desire to hear collections of Morricone's music that is not often included in the contemporary tribute concert repertoire, for a birthday party at their home.

"I asked [Nancy] if I could hear some of the stuff that I have never heard from any of these great composers, in my backyard [for my birthday], and she said "Why don't we do that!?," said Stanny. "And we did that for a number of years."

Stanny's friend, Tom Griep, who was a co-director of the USC Film Scoring Department at one time, took to the task of organizing musicians for these annual backyard fêtes. Per Stanny, flutist Sara Andon, played for 18,000 people in Kraków Morricone's music from "Hamlet," "Then she'd come and do the same piece in my backyard." He had also met cellist Circe Diaz-Gomero at the Golden State Pops Orchestra in San Pedro after seeing her play.

"I'd always go there and look at her as she was this cellist in the first row," Stanny said of Diaz-Gomero. "Your eye always went to her because she would go totally into the music and move about and you would just be dazzled by her playing. Stuff like that happened until I got 11 people on my show, and they're all amazing. It broke my pocketbook, but it was really amazing."

Starting about six years ago, Stanny, who paid professional musicians to play, first attracted about 35 guests to his backyard birthday concerts. Over the years attendance grew to over 70 plus, up to the last one. This weekend, The Autry will accommodate 215 seats for each of the scheduled sold out performances, allowing Stanny to enjoy his favorite selections of music with even more fellow appreciators.

Host Bruce Kimmel, along with a total of nine musicians and two guests soloists comprise the orchestra for the program. Featured are Musical Director and pianist Thomas Griep, flutist Sara Andon, violinist  Nathalie Bonin, cellist Diaz-Gamero, on trumpet will be Drew Ninmer, on guitar Omri Lahav, with vocalists Maegan McConnell and Robert Yacko. Special guests Mark Tschanz and Italian pop star Veronika Coassolo will do a piece from "Django Unchained."

The full concert featuring the music of this legendary film composer is performed by this select ensemble of world-class musicians and singers, with “an emphasis on famous Westerns like 'A Fistful of Dollars' and 'Once Upon a Time in the West,''' according to the websites program highlights, as well as some obscure and rare gems.

According to Stanny, Morricone "has written more than 400 scores, and most of them are in Italian." For the Autry, half of the program is from his Westerns, and will feature songs "Ecstasy of Gold" from "The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly," main themes from "For a Few Dollars More" and a "Fistful of Dollars,"  "The Man With the Harmonica," from "Once Upon a Time in The West,"  "Run Man Run," from "The Big Gun Down," and "Gabriel's Oboe" from "The Mission," with rare pieces "Angel Face" from "A Pistol for Ringo," the main theme from "Duck You, Sucker," "The Ballad of Hank McCain" from "Machine Gun McCain," and "Ancora Qui" from "Django Unchained," just to name a few.

Also in the program is "Le Due Stagioni Della Vita." "It's from a movie hardly anybody ever saw. It was released in France, and came and went," said Stanny. "But because Morricone liked it he put it on his album ... it's really obscure, but it's really beautiful."

After the concert, there will be a no-host dinner and drinks gathering at Mimi's Café in Los Feliz around 8:00 p.m. in a reserved a room where music fans and patrons can mingle with the artists.

Mimi's is located at 2925 Los Feliz Blvd. 90039, a short drive from the Autry Museum of the American West.

  1. Poster Art Illustration courtesy of The Autry Museum of the American West;
  2. Photo of Henry Stanny courtesy of Henry Stanny.