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Entries in Broadway (226)

Monday
Dec032012

Anthony Crouchelli: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Interview

Anthony Crouchelli is a rising actor to take notice of! From film to television to theatre, Anthony is making headlines in every medium. His theatre credits include Carner and Gregor Downtown Showcase (Soloist) and God's Favorite (Lipton), How to Succeed in Buisness (J.Pierrepont Finch), Next to Normal (Henry), Children of Eden (Japeth/Dance Captain), Little Shop of Horrors (Seymour), and Rent (Mark/Dance Captain). On film Anthony has lit up the screen in Thirty ThirdThe Yard Sale, and Step Up 3! while television audiences have seen Anthony on The Good Wife , Law and Order SVU, Gossip Girl, and Rihanna "What's My Name" and in National Commercial/Print campaigns for Journey Shoe's and Bosco Jeans.

Now Anthony is taking his talent on the road as "Huck Finn" in the National Tour of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer!

Catch this exciting show, coming to a town near you.

Dec. 3, 2012: New Roads, LA

Dec. 4, 2012: Amite, LA

Dec. 5, 2012: Bogalusa, LA

Dec. 6-10, 2012: Bastrop, LA

Dec. 11, 2012: Vidalia, LA

Dec. 12, 2012: Jena, LA

Dec. 13, 2012: Shonglaloo, LA

Dec. 14, 2012: New Orleans, LA

Jan. 6, 2013: Tyler, Texas

Jan. 7, 2013: Dallas, Texas

Jan. 14-26, 2013: Baton Rouge, LA

For more on Anthony be sure to visit http://www.anthonycrouchelli.com and follow him on Twitter!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Theater for me started in a really funny situation. I had three teachers in High School named Kerr Lockhart, Alexander Diaz and John Coviello whom I recieved detention from all the time on a weekly basis. After ditching about half of my detentions for soccer practices and games, I faced the scenario with in-school suspension or auditioning for the school play. I auditioned for Lockhart and Coviello's plays, and the musical directed by Alexander Diaz. I fell in love with theater and never looked back.

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Lindsey Mendez, there is just something about her when she is on stage that makes people in the audience who are watching her fall in love with her.

3. What made you want to audition for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer National Tour? I have a good friend who is currently on the tour playing Tom Sawyer (Chris Grimm), has done nothing but speak about how amazing and incredible the process has been for him up to this point.

4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? I hope they come away with the true value of what friendship is, and I also hope they are able to exit the theater singing some of the songs and smiling for the rest of their day.

5. What do you identify most with about "Huck Finn"? Playing collegiate soccer and being a BFA Musical Theater major is probably the craziest combination, so when I come to think of scenarios of where I am like Huck I find those times when I feel out of place with being what people thought was cool (playing soccer), and what I truly loved (Theater).

6. What excites you most about being on a national tour? The opportunity to discover myself as a performer, and just how I will be able to join a group of people and see the country while performing live art for various audiences throughout the country.

7. You just finished playing "Finch" in Rhino Theatre's production of "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying." What did you enjoy most about starring in this production? The Rhino Theater will always be my home away from home. The family that I made throughout the five months I was working on the production with these people is something that I will always hold dear to my heart. My fantstic director Carmela Barranco Wolosz gave me the opportunity to step into a company where I didn't know anyone, and trusted me with such a demanding role, which to me meant the world.

8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? That life is too short to keep your head down. Theater allows people to come together in the worst of times, and allows them to watch a production that sometimes would only last an hour with a message that would carry in someone's heart for the rest of their lives.

9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Sam Carner and Derek Gregor also know as the composers carnerandgregor, told me about three weeks ago to not just wish that I could be like an Aaron Tviet or a Brian Crum, but to find the great things inside yourself that allows you to become the person that people want to admire in the future.

10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Emma Watson. She is the definition of everyhting I would ever want in a woman and more.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Favorite way to spend your day off? I am a huge family person so anytime that I get to spend with my family or friends is a huge deal to me.

12. Favorite way to stay in shape? I am the definition of a gym junkie. I go anywhere from two to three times a day.

13. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs all day.

14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Ability to go back in time, I feel that there is alot of situations where I feel like I could go back and help people out when they really needed someone at that moment.

Monday
Nov262012

Dorothy Lyman: August Osage County Interview

Dorothy Lyman as "Opal Gardner" and Kim Delaney as "Jenny Gardner" on ABC's "All My Children"Dorothy Lyman is an actress, director, writer and producer who has won two Emmy Awards for her portrayal of "Opal Gardner" on ABC's All My Children. This lead to a starring role on the CBS sitcom Mamma's Family as Vicki Lawrence’s daughter-in-law "Naomi." Other television appearances include a recurring role on ABC's Life Goes On and several guest starring roles on Bob, The Practice, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Judging Amy, Battlestar Galatica, and Reba. Dorothy also produced and directed three seasons of CBS' The Nanny

Dorothy has also lit up the big screen in the films Ruby in Paradise, World Trade Center, The Departed, Blow and I Love Trouble. Most recently, Dorothy has produced and directed three films The Northern Kingdom (2006), Split Ends (2009) and her first documentary film, Janet’s Class.

In addition to television and film, Dorothy has bestowed her talents on stage. She wrote and starred in A Rage in Tenure for which she won four Dramalogue Awards. She also directed and starred in both the New York production and national tour of John Ford Noonan’s A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking, Snoo Wilson's Loving Reno, the Los Angeles production of Denis Spedaliere's Vicious, Last Summer at Bluefish Coveand adapted and starred in My Kitchen Wars.

Now, Dorothy is taking center stage in Hot Summer Nights Theatre Raleigh's production of Tracy Letts' Tony Award winning play August: Osage County from November 29-December 9 at the Fletcher Opera Theatre (2 E South Street, Raleigh, NC). Click here for tickets and follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My brother had a theatre group in the basement of our church when we were in High School in Minneapolis. He let me work on the productions and finally act in one of them: Thornton Wilder’s Skin of our Teeth. I played the Tallulah Bankhead role at age 15. The Tyrone Guthrie Theatre opened at the Walker Art Center that year and we got to see so many wonderful productions. That company of actors headed by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy really inspired me. I also have vivid memories of all the films I saw as a child (Gone with the Wind, Auntie Mame, Sound of Music). They opened up a magical world to me. I also realize now how influenced I was by the TV stars I watched as a child. My work is very reminiscent of Eve Arden, Ann Southern and Lucy, of course!

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? I've gotten to work with so many people like Liz Taylor, Bette Midler, and Milton Berle (all of whom I directed in episodes of The Nanny, everyone came on that show for Fran). I admire Vanessa Redgrave very much. It would be great to work with her. I've had a great career so far and I'm hoping there's a third act, so maybe August: Osage County will start the ball rolling and I'll get out more. I'd love to continue to work with Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy as well as a host of writers whose plays I'd like to do.

Dorothy Lyman as "Violet Weston" in "August: Osage County", Photo credit: Curtis Brown Photography3. What attracted you to "August: Osage County"? What attracted me to this production was the director Eric Woodall. He is a casting director in New York City and I went in to meet him and he offered me the part. I wasn’t really looking to be away from my new Grandbabies this Thanksgiving, but Eric wanted me, and I don’t get many offers these days, so I said yes. I actually hadn’t liked the play when I saw it on Broadway, but since I have been working on the role I have come to see there is more to it than I originally saw. It's a straight play, but there are a lot of laughs in it. If I'm acting in it, it's going to be funny. Tracy Lett's is a very creative writer and I'm so happy I got to see him in the Broadway revival of "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf" before I left New York. 

4. What do you identify most with about your character "Violet Weston"? Her views about aging. She takes getting old very hard with regards to losing her looks and her sexuality and femininity. Aging has important psychological challenges and needless to say, she is not doing well with it.

The "Weston" Women: Pamela Dunlap, Dorothy Lyman, Julie Fishell, Lauren Kennedy and Lisa Brescia, Photo Credit: Curtis Brown Photography5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing "August: Osage County"? I hope they feel they saw a great piece of theatre. I hope they are blown away by the quality of the production that Lauren Kennedy and Alan Campbell and their producer Michele Weathers put together. I hope audiences have a deeper appreciation for their own families and with a desire to heal their own family problems. The "Westons" are not honest with each other. I hope people will realize it's important to tell the truth at every opportunity.

6. What excites you most about performing at Hot Summer Nights Theatre Raleigh? This is the first time I've been on stage since 2003, so I'm excited about that. When you get to certain age, the roles tend to be fewer and farther between. Since I've worked mainly in television, I don't have a lot of stage experience. I'm excited to show people I know how to build a character and sustain the arc of a character over the course of an evening. Working in theatre you have to maintain the character from beginning to end. In television, if you forget your part they just cut it out and you start over. On stage, if you forget your line, you are out there in front of hopefully at least 600 people, and you have to find a way to move forward.

I'm very impressed with the group of people with whom I am working with on this production: Pamela Dunlap (AMC's Mad Men) and Lisa Brescia (Broadway's Mamma Mia) along with Raleigh's very own Phil Crone (Beverly), Julie Fishell (Barbara), Jeffrey West (Bill), Mary Mattison Vallery (Jean), Jesse Gephart (Little Charles), Paul Paliyenko (Charles), Estes Tarver (Steve), Kathleen Lynch (Johnna) and David McClutchey (Sheriff Gilbeau).

Dorothy Lyman preparing for the cutting of her hairDorothy Lyman after donating her hair to Locks of Love7. You recently donated your hair to Locks of Love. What did that mean to you? When I came here to North Carolina, I had very long hair. While they were cutting it, I wanted it to be used for something good. I was very happy to find out that I was able to donate to Locks of Love. It feels great to know that it's going to be used for such a good cause.

8. In 2004 I had the pleasure of seeing you in "My Kitchen Wars," which you also helped adapt for the stage. What made you want to adapt and star in the show? How great that you saw My Kitchen Wars! The woman who was the subject of that script, Betty Fussell is a long-time friend of mine, and I read the memoir in galley form and we discussed and agreed to my adapting it for the stage. I produced and acted in two productions of it, one in LA and one in NYC. I am always looking for interesting material to act in, and have always generated my own projects. That was in 2003-4 and I haven’t been on stage since! So this gig in Raleigh is a milestone. At my age, you don’t know if there will ever be another opportunity to play a great role. Most parts available to an older gal are pretty small and unrewarding and not enough of an incentive to leave my farmstead!

Dorothy Lyman on CBS' "Mamma's Family"9. You've also starred in some of my favorite TV shows and movies such as All My ChildrenMamma's Family, and Tears and Laughter: The Joan and Melissa Rivers Story as well as directing three seasons of The Nanny. Looking back, what did you enjoy most about working on these endeavors? What did it mean to you to win two Emmy Awards for portraying "Opal" on All My Children? Winning two Emmy awards for playing "Opal Gardner" on All My Children (1981-1983) was the highlight of my career. It meant everything to me. Luckily I knew when I was playing her that it would be the best role of my life; that is until this one as VIOLET WESTON in August: Osage County. We had a ball, Kim Delaney and I, playing mother and daughter, and I think we revolutionized Daytime TV. People refer to "Opal" as the first comic character on Daytime, and the role opened up the writing to a broader sensibility. I spent 15 years acting in soaps in New York. Carol Burnett was a fan of All My Children, and she and Vicki Lawrence decided to invite me to come out to co-star with Vicki in Mamma's Family. I loved getting to know Joan Rivers, Fran Drescher, Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett, Rue McClanahan, and Betty White and getting to work with Ken Berry and everyone over at The Nanny. I directed 75 consecutive episodes of that show, three years straight as producer and director. Fran Drescher is the best gal in the world as are Joan and Carol. These are the people that made differences to my career.

10. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? I retired to the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York in 2003 when I left Hollywood. After directing 75 consecutive episodes of The Nanny I was ready for the farm! I raise organic free-range eggs for local restaurants and markets. I live on 43 wooded acres with my chickens and horses and dogs and cats! Since I have "retired" from Hollywood, I have been extremely creative and regained my perspective as an artist. I have made (produced and directed) three films: The Northern Kingdom, Split Ends, and a documentary called Janet’s Class, about aging. I followed a group of senior citizens around Manhattan as they took an acting class from a fabulous teacher/director/actress named Janet Sarno. That film is being submitted to festivals and having screenings, seeking distribution. The first two are available on NETFLIX.

11. What did you enjoy about making these movies? Making movies is the best. I got to choose the cast and the setting and do the scenes in a reality that no set can approximate. I was able to create my own private world. I guess there is something about me that make people want to sit in the dark and be quiet and listen to me...hahahaha. These movies are the ultimate expression of that. The films are not subject to human error like theatre is. You only have to do it right once for the camera and then everybody that sees the movie sees the same exact performance, unlike theatre where it's in the lap of the Gods as to how it is going to go down.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

12. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever received was to say YES to everything! YES takes you somewhere, NO stops you cold.

13. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? My farm. I have my boyfriend-a 22-year-old Thoroughbred retired hunter/jumper living up there with me as well as a retired polo pony. I definitely would rather come to Raleigh to play this great role than dream about my farm. Everyone has been so welcoming. My return to the stage is a happy respite from cleaning out the coops!

Tuesday
Oct302012

T. Oliver Reid: Feinstein's Debut Interview

Last time I spoke to T. Oliver Reid he was getting ready to release his debut CD "Do I Love You." Since that time, "Do I Love You" has made its way into the world, delighting fans. He also enjoyed a run in Broadway's "Sister Act" alongside Raven Simone and Carolee Carmello.

Now, T. Oliver is starring in "Cotton Club Parade" at City Center from November 14-18 and making his Feinstein's debut with his new show "Drop Me Off In Harlem" from November 28-December 9 at 10:30pm (for just $20 and one drink, you'll get an hour of excellence). Click here for tickets to "Drop Me Off In Harlem!"

For more on T. Oliver be sure to visit http://www.toliverreid.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Last time we spoke, you were getting to release your debut CD "Do I Love You." What is it like now that the CD is out? It's kind of the same. When I was working on the CD that took up all of my time and now that I'm done with it, I'm really happy with the result and people have listened to it and love a lot of the songs and I apparently have a huge following in Korea. I'm working on putting a tour together there.

When I work on a project, I focus on it for as long as it takes to get it done and then once I'm done with it, I move onto the next project. Looking back, I do wish I got to spend a little more time on it, mainly with me getting to record the song a few times before making it the final cut, but I'm happy with what I have. The CD is doing well.

2. What has the reaction from fans and the industry been like for you? I have my 15,000 Korean followers. Overall, people have been very happy with the CD, especially my musical choices.

3. You also were in the Broadway production of "Sister Act." What was the best part about being in that the show? There were a lot of great parts. For me, since I was off-stage most nights, it gave me time to work on other projects. It was a wonderful cast. I really enjoyed working with Raven Simone. She's brilliant and amazingly talented and funny. She's everything you hope that generation of Hollywood/young starlet would be...she was hardworking and respectful. The cast was great. We had a really fun time! I love the message the show gave out.

4. Now, you are getting ready to perform in the Cotton Club Parade at City Center as part of an evening of Duke Ellington music and other great jazz composers. What excites you about these upcoming shows? I love this music. You get these amazing Duke Ellington songs as well as some Harold Arlen songs, which are some of the most beautiful music you'll ever hear, like "The Devil in Deep Blue Sea" plus we'll have the jazz band from Lincoln Center, so it's going to be quite an evening. The show is at that point in American history where the popular standard was really coming into its own and all these wonderful writers were writing music for The Cotton Club and Broadway so you get a lot of what was going on in New York at that time. It's going to be an amazing evening, a fast 90 minutes of great music.

T. Oliver Reid singing at the 23rd Cabaret Convention in NYC5. In late November, you will also be making your Feinstein's debut with "Drop Me Off in Harlem," an evening of music by Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington and Andy Razaf. What is it about this music and time in history that resonates with you? It's a time when so much was going on, a lot of good and still a lot strife in different places, so it's a point in New York, especially Harlem, where there was this entire renaissance of this black community and what was going on and integrating downtown NY and white NY into what they were doing, so again we had these white club owners who were bringing in the Dorothy Fields and Harold Arlen and the Gershwins were coming up to Harlem and doing music for all these clubs and putting their amazing songs on these black orchestras and performers for their audiences. They were just doing amazing things. While this was happening, let us not forget on Long Island there was an influx of white supremacy and they were standing up for what they believed, but in this little town in New York, especially in Harlem, most people looked at it as we're enjoying our lives, listening to jazz and it was one of the few times you'd get any number of races in one club and it was no longer considered downtown. It was very integrated and just about the music.

I was so fortunate to have so much free time during "Sister Act" to put this show together. I had the time to read a lot of novelists from the late 20s and early 30s and read many of the African American poets to see what they were doing and from there the show started to take shape. The original idea for the show was to an evening of Harold Arlen music at The Cotton Club, but, the more I read and the more I listened to the music of that time, it made want to do a broader show, so I decided to bring in Dorothy Fields and the Gershwins, and Duke Ellington.

I wanted to do a show that is racially based and it would still be a show about The Cotton Club, but the music each group would sing would be because of the color of their skin. So there would be very fair skinned women who would sing certain songs and darker skinned men would sing other songs and the funny guys would do certain things and divide it that way and show what each performer could do, not necessarily because of talent, but because of the color of their skin. Then I thought that would be off-putting to some people, so I kept thinking about what to do.

Then one day I found this picture about what Harlem was and I think it was 1933 and all the clubs were on the different streets, and I could make my show about a night of club hopping and what you'd hear and what you'd see and what you'd eat and drink and what time things would happen at the various clubs and then you would go from one club to the next and get a full evening of music. The show is really about a Saturday night in Harlem in 1934 and the journey you would take from the start of your evening to the end, early Sunday morning and where you go from there.

6. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing your show? I think with every show, I want them to come away with knowing a little bit more about me. This show is a lot more theatrical than my last show. My last show had a lot of humor and you get a lot of who I am as just Tim, but with this show you get that plus many more theatrical moments because of what the music is. Everything in the show is defined by the music to evolve. There will be a lot more me, a lot more fun, and a lot of songs that people don't know. There are also going to be a lot of songs that when the first note is played, you'll know it. It's a great mix of your favorites and some things that people should know.

7. What are you looking forward to about making your Feinstein's debut? Everything. When I got the idea for this show it was like somebody slapped me in the face. The more I worked on it and put it together, it's everything I want a show to be. It has the perfect arc and everything makes sense from the grouping of the songs to how we want them to flow. I'm adding a horns section, which will be fun.

The fact that I get to debut at Feinstein's before they close is really wonderful. I think I will be the last person to debut at Feinstein's. This show is a great venture to have right after coming off of The Cotton Club at City Center. There is so much great music!

8. You have also started your own blog Soapbox Doozies. What made you want to start your own blog? What do you like about this venture? Earlier this year I started writing a screenplay and after I finished that, I realized how much I liked writing. You know, I clearly have a lot of opinions on things, so I just started writing here and there and decided to post it on my website and if people want to read it that's fine. The first one was kind of hard-hitting and I wasn't sure if that's how I wanted to start things off, but I had the ideas on my mind, so I did it. As I told people, some will be very funny and others will be serious. The second entry was very funny, so it's a way for me to get stuff off of my chest and be creative in certain ways, even when I'm working on other things. I work best when I have like 6 projects happening at once.

Me: Can you talk about the screenplay at all?

T. Oliver: It's a friendship of 5 people, but one of them has died, so the story is told through flashbacks on what their lives were living in New York in the early 50s and how their friendships developed and how they all took care of each other over the years. It's based upon a friend of mine who died last year and he always had these great stories. I just thought somebody has to do a documentary because he knows so much about New York and was everywhere like at Judy Garland's Carnegie Hall concert. So I decided to write a story that was loosely based on him.

The film is about these socialite women and the gay men that were with them the whole time. At that time they would have been known as their escorts, but they were far more than just that, they were their friends and knew things about them their husbands or other women didn't know. To them, the gays were their true friends. That's the main storyline, but there are some side stories and lots of cameos.

9. In addition to your blog, upcoming show "Drop Me Off In Harlem" at Feinstein's, and the screenplay, are there other projects you'd like to talk about? I don't have anything set in stone, but I would like to start teaching master classes and teaching younger kids song preparation that focuses on the American Songbook.

10. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? To freeze time. I've definitely had moments I've wanted to hold on to for longer, from a few seconds more to hours. It would allow me to savior moments I've really enjoyed or it would allow me to take a stupid moment, say hold please, let it sink in and then press play and move on from there because I've allowed the moment to pass.

Thursday
Oct252012

Allee Willis

Allee Willis is a GRAMMY, Emmy, Tony and Webby award-winning and nominated songwriter, live performer, visual artist, director, multimediaist, collector, social artist, and party thrower. Her hits, which have sold more than 50 million records, include Earth, Wind & Fire’s "September" and "Boogie Wonderland"—both prominently featured in the acclaimed 2012 film "The Intouchables"—The Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance," Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield's "What Have I Done To Deserve This," and The Rembrandts’ "I'll Be There For You (Theme From Friends)." Willis also co-authored the Oprah Winfrey-produced 2005 Broadway musical "The Color Purple"—Alice Walker, the original book’s author, has called Willis "A force of nature."

Willis is also an internationally shown visual artist whose paintings, ceramics, motorized sculptures and furniture are widely collected; were done in tandem with her fearless alter-ego, Bubbles the artist.  Willis’ first solo gallery exhibition, 1985's "Wear The Right Clothes Even At Home," featured kinetic sculptures, some named after her hits, including "Neutron Dance" and "Boogie Wonderland." Willis’ body of work further extends to art direction, set design, and animation. In a feature on Willis, "People" magazine once called her artistic overdrive, "a multi-threat creativity that itself seems like a Godzilla out to conquer Lalaland."

Allee Willis "Ba-de-ya, Baby!", Photo credit: Melissa Manning, THE LOOK PARTNERSHIP LLCAllee Willis "Ba-de-ya, Baby!", Photo credit: Melissa Manning, THE LOOK PARTNERSHIP LLCMost recently, Willis has been performing live, including sold-out runs of "Ba-de-ya, Baby!"—her "one-woman-show-with-25-people-in-it"—and "Allee Willis’ Super Ball Bounce Back Review," which have both drawn raves.  After a long hiatus from performing, Willis celebrates her life in music and art with greatest hits sing-alongs, stories, a live band, dancers, special guests, motorized art, games, videos, and mid-show foot massages from Manly Handz, all delivered with her signature party vibe.  People magazine has written that "tickets to Allee Willis’ ultra-exclusive parties…are the campiest hot tickets in LA."

In 2009, she designed and launched the Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch at AWMOK.com, a social network that’s the largest collection of pop culture kitsch on the planet, and home to her popular Kitsch O' The Day" blog (Dictionary.com once included Willis in its definition of kitsch). Her proudest musical kitsch discovery, The Del Rubio Triplets—mini-skirted octogenarians who toured the world and appeared on more than 20 network television programs—were introduced via Willis’ late-1980s column for Details magazine, "Some Like It Smog."

The WillisvilleIn a career marked by constant reinvention and embracing of new technologies, Willis’ accomplishments also include developing willisville, the first social networking portal, in the early to mid-1990s. During that period, Willis also consulted for Intel, Microsoft, AOL, and Disney, created virtual worlds for diverse companies, and keynoted the first Digital World conference with Steve Case and Andy Groves. In 1997, representing 3,000,000 BMI songwriters, she addressed the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property regarding artist rights in cyberspace.

Willis first returned to live performing at the University of Wisconsin (where she earned her Journalism degree), conducting the school’s marching band through a medley of her hits during halftime of the 2010 Homecoming football game. In 2011, she launched "Allee Willis Marches on Detroit"— events dedicated to her hometown—with a marching band performance in Detroit’s Fox Theatre. It benefited her alma mater, Mumford High—the school made famous in "Beverly Hills Cop," for which Willis won a Best Soundtrack GRAMMY. The cast from the national touring company of "The Color Purple" sang with the students as Willis conducted.

"Marching on Detroit" part two took place in 2012 with Willis’ "Last Call Before the Wrecking Ball" greatest hits concert at Mumford, just a month before the school was demolished. Willis was also honored at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, the first high school in U.S. to license, and second to produce, "The Color Purple." With future Detroit-related plans in store, Willis and writing partner Andrae Alexander wrote “The D,” a new theme song for Detroit and its renaissance. In 2013, Willis will record the song—which is also a love song to the city—at locations all around Detroit, with the participation of literally tens of thousands of Detroiters, and film the proceedings for a series of accompanying videos and films.

Allee Willis Living RoomAllee Willis BackyardMany of Willis’ events have taken place at "Willis Wonderland," her art deco home and studio in Los Angeles, where she’s lived since 1980 (she grew up in Detroit, a city she cites as the source of her creative inspiration, and broke into the music business in NYC with the 1974 Epic album "Childstar"). The house—previously featured in the LA Times and NY Times—was built in 1937 as an official party house for MGM. Willis continues the tradition with A-list parties and thematic soirees through which she freely expresses all her multimedia talents to serve one festive end.  James Brown once said "This is a museum" in praise of the way Willis Wonderland also showcases Willis’ world-famous collections (which are celebrated on AWMOK.com as well).

Journalist Anne Stockwell has written that, "To understand where Willis is going, you have to open your mind to a degree of inventiveness that's frankly a little scary." As Willis continues to make art out of life, and make living an art, she is going stronger than ever. "Ba-de-ya, Baby!"

Due to high demand, on November 8th & 9th, Allee is bringing "Ba-de-ya, Baby" back for 2 nights only. A greatest hits concert including sing-alongs, party games, prizes, dance, and of course the foot rubs. "Ba-de-ya, Baby" will play NoHoPAC in North Hollywood (11020 Magnolia Blvd) at 8pm (Doors open at 7pm). Click here for tickets!

For more on Allee be sure to visit http://www.alleewillis.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!

1. You have worked in many aspects of the arts: performer, songwriter, director, visual artist, multimedia artists, etc. Who or what inspired you to want to work in the arts? No one thing inspired me. Making art, regardless of the medium, is just always what I did. I grew up in Detroit when Motown was coming up so listened to the radio religiously. I was always running for some kind of office at school, not because I had any particular interest in the office but because I loved making the campaign posters. I actually have never learned how to read, notate or play music and I certainly had no formal art training. I just always figure out some way of doing what interests me, like banging pencils together to begin the rhythm of a song, and just go from there. I've always been driven by a passion to create. My motto: If you have a weakness, turn it into a hook!

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Any and all hip-hop artists.

Allee Willis "Ba-de-ya, Baby!", Photo credit: Melissa Manning, THE LOOK PARTNERSHIP LLC3. On November 8 & 9 you will once again be presenting your show "Ba-de-ya, Baby!" What are you looking forward to most about this upcoming show? I only recently started performing in order to get over an almost 4 decades long bout of stage fright. I used to throw a lot of parties in my backyard - my house was built in 1937 as the party house for MGM and I have carried on that tradition. The parties were the only way that I could combine everything I do into one space. I do everything from design the invitations, to hand make all the merchandise for sale as well as all the signs and art on the wall, make souvenirs, write the show, star in the show, direct and produce it, write all the music, sing all the songs, etc. It's really one big interactive performance art piece that's built around a whole lot of hit songs. And now doing the live shows, it's a gigantic relief to finally have an avenue to express it all. What I look forward to the most is having fun and giving the audience a type of show they've never seen before.

Audiences at Allee Willis "Ba-de-ya, Baby!", Photo credit: Melissa Manning, THE LOOK PARTNERSHIP LLC4. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? I always say that anything I do is part self-help, meant to be very uplifting and inspirational. I've built a career on making up my own way of doing things, a supreme combo of very high levels of art mixed in with very low levels of kitsch. My shows aren't so much of "look at me and everything I've done" so much as "if I did it you can do it too." I love when people e-mail me after the show and tell me that they went home and started painting after wanting to do it for 10 years, or that they severed an unhealthy relationship, or wrote their first song in years. My show is very much about doing whatever it takes to live a happy life and have the guts to pursue what you're interested in. But unlike most other places where this message is delivered it's all in an environment of a crazy kids party and singing along to songs that have been on your playlist for years.

Allee Willis "Ba-de-ya, Baby!", Photo credit: Melissa Manning, THE LOOK PARTNERSHIP LLC5. What made you want to return to live performance? What do you enjoy most about it? I really felt that performing live would give people a chance to see everything I do and how it all works together so that I would have a chance to do more of it. Combining everything I do into one art form is always what I've wanted to do in my career. I have long been dissatisfied with writing a song for this one, building a set for that one, designing a website over here and writing a story over there. For me, an idea has always been something that I can express musically, visually, theatrically and technologically. I thought the only way I'm ever going to chance to do this on a larger scale than in my backyard is if I get up on stage and show people.

As far as what I enjoy most about performing, first is that I've gotten over this terror that has gripped me all these decades and has been THE big gaping hole in my career. Second, I love making people laugh and the stories I tell are not your normal songwriter stories. I don't know how many people have been named "one of the most dangerous subversives living in the United States" because one of their songs enflamed the Communist government ("Neutron Dance" which they mistranslated as "Neutron Bomb"). Third, I love seeing the joy people get from my songs. I do everything as a sing-alongs so everyone becomes the star.

6. You've written songs for some of the biggest artists in the music industry including Earth, Wind and Fire, The Pointer Sisters, Dusty Springfield, and Pet Shop Boys, just to name a few. What was the best part about working with these artists? The best part of being able to write with the caliber of artists listed above is that you meet seriously interesting people whose life is dedicated to expressing themselves. With the number of parties that I threw I was always more interested in whether people would make great party guests, able to carry on interesting and fun conversations and indulge in all of the games that I would create to break down barriers between people. It also didn't hurt that artists such as those you mention put a few coins in my coffers, allowing me to create more and more.

Allee Willis accepting the BMI Award for "I'll Be There For You"7. You also wrote the theme song to the hit NBC comedy "Friends." How did that come to be? What was it like to know you wrote the song for one of the biggest TV shows in television history? This is the most unlikely hit I ever had. I was on the Internet in 1991 and as early as 1992 began designing and building the world's first social network, willisville. As soon as I went online I wasn't interested in writing linear songs for the radio anymore as I felt that not only was the internet the medium of the future but it would allow all art forms to be social because people from everywhere on the planet could link in and not only influence the art but form communities. And the one thing I knew I was good at from throwing  parties was social directing. So all I was interested in in 1994, when Friends was about to go on the air, was getting out of my music publishing deal so i could concentrate on sculpting the Internet. But every time I thought I had fulfilled my song quota - a dreadful thing to do to any songwriter as it makes you focus more on quantity than quality - my publisher, Warner Chappell, kept finding small percentages of a song that I still owed. Finally it got down to me owing them 1/7th of a song. This commonly happens because although you may only write with one other person, if they're in a group oftentimes multiple names will show up on the label. Friends was a Warner Bros. show so they wanted the theme song to be written by a Warner Chappell writer. My publisher called me up and said if you do this you'll be out of your deal. The music was already started by Michael Skloff. I came in and finished it and was out of my deal. I didn't especially like the song  but thought it worked great with the show. It was never meant to be an actual single but a disc jockey in Nashville  made a cassette off the tv and played it on the radio continuously for 45 minutes. There was such a demand that the song was extended and became the biggest airplay record of 1994. Needless to say, I'm elated that I was looking for a way to get out of my publishing deal or I never would've written it.

8. Additionally, you co-wrote Oprah Winfrey's Broadway production of "The Color Purple." What made you want to be part of this project? I co-wrote the music and lyrics with Brenda Russell and Stephen Bray. The book was written by Marsha Norman, although all of us basically wrote everything together. I was good friends with Scott Sanders, the lead producer, who originally just brought me in as a music consultant. I did that for about a year and then there was a competition to write a couple spec songs to hopefully become the writer of the musical. I was collaborating with Brenda and Stephen on  the scores for a couple of animated series that I had co-created and suggested we compete as a team. The only advantage I had was that I chose who we competed against. But I did honestly pick who I thought would be the best suited for the job. We won the competition and then spent the next 4 1/2 years writing the musical.

As for reasons I wanted to be part of The Color Purple, most of my success prior to that came from writing black pop music. But when I stopped writing music in order to pursue the Internet throughout the 90s there was literally not a black person in sight on that scene. Maybe one or two, but literally that was it. So i missed working with black artists because of the esthetic match. I also missed collaborating with real artists as opposed to tech engineers who magically overnight became "directors" and "writers" because of all the power Hollywood gave Silicon Valley at that time. Add to that that The Color Purple is one of the greatest stories ever told, so going for it just seemed like the solution to a lot of creative problems I was conscious of.

9. You also co-wrote one of my favorite albums of all time, "Hat Full of Stars" with Cyndi Lauper. How did you and Cyndi come to work together? Looking back, what did you get out of this venture? I got very friendly with Cindy in 1991 after I was asked to write a cover interview story of her in Details magazine, where I had my own column for four years. It was a great way to get to know her. I spent most of the next couple years either with her in New York or her staying over at my place in LA where we wrote a whole bunch of songs, demoing them at my place, which is the form that a lot of them remained in on that album. But all of this was happening at a time when I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with writing music as I so wanted to be a multimedia artist. What I got out of it were some really good songs but more than anything I was very conscious of my creative struggle and finally had the guts after that to strike out on my own and try and execute my own creative vision as opposed to someone else's.

10. What is your favorite part of the creative process in writing a song or a show? Where is your favorite place to write? My favorite part of the creative process in doing any kind of art is at the very beginning where all you're doing is getting ideas and not censoring any of them yet, where everything feels possible. My second favorite part is once you get the instinct that you've stumbled on something great and you're just operating in the flow, open to anything that hits you that feels good.

As far as my favorite place to write, that's unquestionably here at my home, Willis Wonderland. I'm incredibly aware of environment and the effect it has on people when inside of it. I do anything I can to make my house an open garden to growing creative ideas. There is no question that my absolute best co-writes have happened when we work over here. I don't see how anyone gets inspired by a square room, usually without windows, that's dark and filled to the brink with equipment. My house is incredibly colorful, there are no square rooms, light floods in, and it's a very happy place to work.

11. What's the best advice you've ever received? I talk about this in my show. As far as songwriting, from Maurice White, founder and lead singer of Earth, Wind & Fire - Never let the lyric get in the way of the groove. Even if it doesn't make sense, like the use of "Ba-de-ya" in the chorus of "September," if the melody and groove are right the spirit of the song will come across. So don't try and force lyrics in. Which is totally what happened with "September, which I'm eternally proud of as it's the happiest song on earth. The best life advice I ever got in Life was to think positive and forge ahead if you have the passion to do so, as you create your own reality. I have long said “Life is just an experiment to be happy." I totally live by those words.

12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Ooh, I don't know the answer to that and I rarely remember my dreams. I just want to be the best form of me I can possibly be.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

13. Favorite way to spend your day off? Taking a drive and photographing kitsch, and going to thrift shops.

14. Favorite skin care product? A skin cream made by Octavia Ellington that you can only buy privately from her.

15. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? One which would let me get rid of any fear or self-doubt the second it appears. If I could print money that wouldn't be bad either!

Excellent questions. Thanks so much.

Wednesday
Oct242012

Kathleen McNenny: Enemy of the People Interview

Kathleen McNenny was most recently seen on Broadway in Mike Nichols' production of "Death of a Salesman." She has also lit up the Broadway stage in "Coram Boy," "The Constant Wife," "After the Fall," and "A Few Good Men." Off-Broadway, Kathleen has delighted audiences in "Gates of Gold," "Mind Game," "Three Travelers," "Comedy of Errors," "Twelfth Night," and "The Winter's Tale." Regional audiences have seen Kathleen's talent in "Equus," (Guild Hall), "Moon for the Misbegotten" (McCarter), "Richard III" (New Jersey Shakespeare Festival), "Beyond Therapy" and "Good German" (Westport playhouse, CT critics nom best Actress), "Twelfth Night" and "As You Like It" (Long Wharf), "Candida" (Yale Rep), "The Skin of Our Teeth," (Cal Shakespeare), "Sylvia," "Sight Unseen," and "Human Events" (George Street), "Othello" (Philadelphia Drama Guild), "The Importance of Being Earnest" (Huntington Theater), "My Children of Africa" (Baltimore Center Stage). In addition to theatre, Kathleen has been seen on such television shows as "New Amsterdam," "Law & Order" original, CI and SVU, "Third Watch," NBC Movie of the Week "Pennsylvania Miners Story." Her film credits consist of "Morning Glory," "Music and Lyrics," "School of Rock," "Life with Mikey," and "It Could Happen to You."

Currently, Kathleen is entertaining audiences in Manhattan Theatre Club's production of Henry Ibsen's recently extended "An Enemy of the People," starring four-time Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines and Emmy Award winner Richard Thomas. "An Enemy of the People" tells the story of Dr. Thomas Stockmann (BOYD GAINES) who discovers a toxic secret that threatens the health of his entire community. The doctor expects to be hailed as a hero, but his brother, Mayor Peter Stockmann (RICHARD THOMAS), believes the information will destroy the town, forcing the men into a passionate confrontation of political will and personal ethics.

"An Enemy of the People" plays at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (261 West 47th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue) through November 18. Click here for tickets!

For more on Kathleen be sure to visit http://kathleenmcnenny.com.

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I am from Montana and not a theatrical family. I don’t think I even saw a play until I was in high school. But when I was in fourth grade I joined the 4-H (which is sort of the farm equivalent of the girl scouts), and our troupe performed a play. I felt an instant affinity with it all. Every aspect of putting on a play was interesting and exciting and I wanted more of it. Now without my mom it would have ended there, but she saw that a spark had been ignited and she helped me keep it lit. She helped me find other opportunities to perform. She sewed me wonderful costumes. She drove me to play practice. She helped find the props. She baked cookies for intermission. She was there supporting my passion, while all the while doing the same thing for my four siblings who all had different interests. I think back on it and it blows my mind that she managed to juggle so many balls. Eventually my father realized that this acting thing might not just be a hobby. He had no reference for what it meant to be in the theater and as he said "He just didn’t get it." So he auditioned with me for a local community theater production and had a blast, he "got it." So when you ask what or who inspired me the answer is my parents who supported me unconditionally even though I know they were terrified I would never be able to support myself. Now I am terrified I will never be able to support myself.

2. Who haven't you worked with that you would like to? Oh that list is so so long!! The truth is that I mostly long to work with people I have already worked with. I have worked with some incredible actors but once you work with someone you also know something about who they are as a human being and if you connect on that plane as well you hope to have that wonderful synergy of talent and spirit again in your life.  AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE has introduced me to an entire cast, on stage and off, of folk I hope to work with again. It is one of those rare experiences where everyone is just so talented and really decent human beings (many of whom are excellent cooks so there is potential for free food) that I would relish the opportunity to work with any of them again. I ardently hope for that to happen.

Kathleen McNenny, Richard Thomas, and Boyd Gaines in MTC's "An Enemy of the People", Photo Credit: David Gordon3. What attracted you to "An Enemy of the People"? Working with my husband Boyd Gaines of course. That was at the very top of the list and truly everything else was secondary. The fact that all that other "stuff" was bliss is the happy bonus.

4. What do you identify most with about your character "Catherine Stockmann"? I identify with her love for her husband and children and the struggle for her family’s survival. She is a woman in an era where she is confined by the morals and opportunities times, yet she has found ways to make her voice heard.

5. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? I hope they will go home and talk about the ideas in this play. It is wonderful fodder for the kitchen table. What starts out as a seemingly simple case of right and wrong quickly becomes much more complicated. The consequences for making the "right" decision are severe and it should leave an audience wondering what they would do. It is also frighteningly relevant for a play written over 130 years ago, I hope audiences will ask themselves why nothing has changed. I also hope they will be entertained, Ibsen intended this to be a comedy as well as a play of ideas, so I hope audiences will laugh as much as they are intrigued by the ideas.

Kathleen McNenny and Boyd Gaines at opening of MTC's "An Enemy of the People", Photo Credit: David Gordon6. In real-life you are married to four-time Tony Award winner Boyd Gaines and you play his wife in "An Enemy of the People" as well. What is it like to work with Boyd in this capacity? What do you enjoy most about getting to work with him? We are on the same schedule so we actually see each other! We love doing this play together and we are both just hoping it isn’t another 20 years before someone asks us to do it again! Plus I get to smack him every night, there are some bonuses to that :)

7. You starred in one of my favorite movies "Life with Mikey" starring Michael J. Fox. Looking back, what was the best part about working on this film? James Lapine was the best part. I had done a play with James in NY at The Public right when I graduated from Juilliard. I was lucky enough that that connection led to an audition for "LIFE WITH MIKEY."  It was my first feature film and I was working with Michael J. Fox at the height of his fame and James made it all seem very low key and relaxed. Oh and per diem!

8. What have you learned about yourself from being a performer? Times Square after a show is the loathsome!

9. What's the best advice you've ever received? Take care of your teeth - you’ll live longer!

10. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? At this point in my life, I prefer to dream in the day and sleep at night, deep and dreamless. Now that is a dreamy thought.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Favorite way to spend your day off? Winning the lottery, it hasn’t happened yet but I am sure it will be my favorite way to spend the day.

12. Favorite way to stay in shape? Cookies, milk, and the remote, not saying it works, but would definitely be my favorite way to stay in shape.

13. Favorite skin care product? Don’t do skin care, much to the horror of any makeup artist who has every touched my skin.

14. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Teleport me home Scotty! Wait is that a super power or just a real cool science machine. Don’t care just teleport me!