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.



Spotlight Series: Meet Simon Levy, a Director and Producer Who Calls The Fountain Theatre His Home


This Spotlight focuses on Simon Levy who began his directing career in San Francisco, then moved to Los Angeles in 1990 where he has been the Producing Director for the Fountain Theatre since 1993. His directing and producing credits are numerous, with over 100 productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco that have won more than 200 awards. His journey has been blessed with having wonderful mentors along the way, which has enabled the talented director to earn his living doing theatre and earned him great respect from the entire LA Theatre community.


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

Simon Levy (Simon): I started off as a sax player, but when I got bored with some of my music classes at City College of San Francisco, I decided to take an acting class. I immediately became friends with two very talented dynamic actors, Harry Groener and Peter Kors, who are still friends to this day, and because of their encouragement, I fell in love with acting and switched my major. Then it was on to San Francisco State, a national tour doing Hamlet with the rag-tag/caravanning San Francisco Shakespeare Company, a season at the Alley Theatre as an apprentice actor, then back to San Francisco State to finish my degree, where I fell in love with directing.

Simon Levy as Hamlet with the San Francisco Shakespeare Company

My friend, Michael Lynch, a playwright, was having his plays produced at the One Act Theatre Company, and he and I became a playwright/director team which allowed me to really earn my chops as a director. At the same time, I worked at Steve Silver's "Beach Blanket Babylon" for 7 years as everything from House Manager to Stage Manager to General Manager, where I learned to appreciate the business side of theatre.

Eventually I ended up in LA in 1990 and the Fountain Theatre in 1993, where I've been ever since. I've been very fortunate to have wonderful mentors along the way and to earn my living doing theatre.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(Simon): I was literally days away from going into rehearsals for Steven Levenson's magnificent play If I Forget at the Fountain with a really wonderful cast and creative team.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy at The Fountain Theatre

(Simon): It was pretty obvious to Stephen Sachs and me at the beginning of the week of March 9th that our lives were about to change, so we started preparing. We were supposed to have a meeting with the cast and designers of If I Forget with our consultant, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila (who was one of my consultants on The Chosen) to start prepping for the background work on the play. We cancelled that meeting out of a growing concern about being in the same room together. Then on March 12th, we made the decision to suspend the production of Human Interest Story and rehearsals for If I Forget. We really wanted to do both in person, with everyone in the room. But, again, out of a heightened sense of precaution and uncertainty, we decided to communicate with everyone by email. By then it was pretty obvious where the news cycle was going.

Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings in "Daniel's Husband", directed by Simon Levy at the Fountain Theatre

(SB): I am so happy I was able to attend the opening weekend of Human Interest Story and have featured Spotlight interviews previously on the show’s two stars: Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander. I also interviewed Bill Brochtrup, one of the stars from Daniel’s Husband which you directed last year at the Fountain, which was one of my favorite shows last year.  And I treasure the Make America Kind Again badge you gave to some of us in the audience on opening weekend, and I proudly wear mine every day. It’s an important message, especially right now.

Are plans in place to present those two postponed productions at a future date?

Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in "Human Interest Story" at the Fountain Theatre.

(Simon): Both productions are currently suspended, but it's our intention to re-open Human Interest Story and go into rehearsal for If I Forget once we get an All Clear from the City and State. We recognize, of course, that re-opening businesses, especially theatre, will be a helter-skelter, slow rolling out and testing, but we will adjust accordingly. Safety first for our artists and patrons, above all else.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Simon): We have the rights to two very exciting projects, Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone and Lucy Kirkwood's The Children. Future announcement about all Fountain Theatre productions will be posted at FountainTheatre.com.

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

(Simon): There's a stunning amount of material online right now, from local companies like Impro Theatre to readings by Skylight Theatre and L.A. Theatre Works and others, from Broadway and London, and world theatre from Berlin to Japan, plus all the Zoom meet-ups. So I'm sampling a lot of that, and I like to listen to Broadway musicals. Ironically, I haven't been able to read any plays yet as I feel like the real-life world drama that's unfolding on TV and my news-feeds supplants everything else right now... though I'm starting to feel the urge to dig into the huge backlog of plays sitting on my desktop.

But as much as I appreciate all the online content available right now, you can't hit the ‘pause’ button when you're attending live theatre. I miss that immediacy... that visceral thrill... and the danger of it. But I recognize that we're about to enter a "new" normal, which will include theatre online, because this pandemic has forced us to think/create in different ways, and we have to be aware of and sensitive to those changes. Creativity is about growth and moving into the future, and artists will always find a way to be creative. Who knows, perhaps there's a future for Mask Theatre! One thing I know for certain: We artists are phoenixes and we will blaze anew!

(SB): As always, Simon, thank you for your insightful words and presence in the LA Theatre community. For more information about Simon Levy and his projects, please visit:

SimonLevy.com
FountainTheatre.com
TheGreatGatsbyPlay.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Tanya Alexander – Spoken Word Artist and Lead Actor in 'HUMAN INTEREST STORY' at the Fountain Theatre


This Spotlight focuses on Tanya Alexander, a spoken word artist and writer of poetry and music, who I recently reviewed in her leading role in Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, in which she played Jane Doe, an anonymous homeless woman plucked from a park bench and made a media celebrity.


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

Tanya Alexander (Tanya): I've always loved to learn new things and study diverse subjects. I wanted to really get into the technical process of performing an art, as well as the history of it, so it was a must that I go to college and actually study acting and theatre. I graduated Summa Cum Laude/Phi Beta Kappa with an Honors BA in Theatre from St. Louis University. I then moved to New York City to attend AMDA and studied in their musical theatre program.  I can say that what I learned at SLU in a university setting was the art and history of theatre, performance, human stories. But what I learned at AMDA was how to be a professional in the business of entertainment. How to actually work. Two very different schools with very different curriculums that benefitted me in all aspects of my career today.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(Tanya): I was in the middle of our run of Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. We had just finished our fourth week of shows and were about to go into the final four weeks.

(SB): If you missed the show, read my review on Broadway World. How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Tanya): We were actually contacted by email by our producer, Simon Levy.  At first it was just a cast and crew meeting to see what our next steps would be, then very quickly (within an hour), we were informed of Mayor Garcetti and Governor Newsome's request to curb all public gatherings over ten people. After that, there was really no choice but to suspend the run. But thankfully, we just got great news that there are plans to remount the show in the summer.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Tanya): Interestingly enough I had just finished production on a film during our Human Interest Story tech week, so no future theatre productions were on my plate except for some local poetry features and performances which were affected.

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

(Tanya): Since I'm also a spoken word artist and a huge advocate of dance and music, I've been keeping my poetry work available for download and sharing my videos from my website and social media pages.

Facebook's watch parties are great for real time sharing. I've also been supporting a lot of dancers, singers, and musicians on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook.  There's plenty of content to watch and I've been staying engaged with many of my colleagues and friends as we all continue to create at this time.

(SB): The online world certainly has been a lifesaver for the Arts as a creative outlet for so many around the world right now. I am really enjoying and sharing them on my Facebook page as well. Do you have any thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Tanya): I'm very hopeful and optimistic that we'll all be back in the saddle soon! I understand the disappointment that can settle in when you've booked a show, rehearsed and now have to put it on ice.

But we are all artists and we have always supported each other and uplifted the world's spirit. So many people are looking to us, our posts, comments and creations to give them light and keep them entertained and engaged and that's beautiful. We just have to keep using the mediums we have and do it! We are appreciated and it'll be our song, dance, drama, comedy, literature, movies, shows, poetry, and creations that get our global family through these times.

Most importantly, I'd like to encourage everyone to donate to your local theatre and arts communities as they go through this economic downturn. You can go to FountainTheatre.com to donate and support their season, as well as my website TanyaAlexander.net to hear and download my poetry and music. Keep supporting the arts and the artists and we'll keep creating beautiful work to feed and inspire this world.

(SB): For all the poetry fans out there: After listening to Tanya’s poetry and music on her website, please tune in to the just-announced Ren Hen Press Poetry Hour, a new, recurring series broadcast live as part of The Broad Stage at Home, offering new, livestreamed content from artistic partners and archival concert footage. 

Human Interest Story photo credit: Jenny Graham


This article first appeared on Broadway World.