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Entries in Musical Theatre (117)

Wednesday
Mar222017

Call Answered: Sean Patrick Monahan: DIVA: Live From Hell

Sean Patrick MonahanFor the past 10 years I have been enjoying the talents of Sean Patrick Monahan in Charles Busch's Times Square Angel at The Theater for the New City. It's my one Christmas holiday tradition I look forward to each and every year! Well, after this year's performance, Charles made the delightful announcement that Sean Patrick would be presenting his original new musical DIVA: Live From Hell this spring at The Theater for the New City. As soon as I saw Sean Patrick in the lobby of the The Theater for the New City, I ran up to him asking if we could to do an interview together about this show. At the time he said he'd love to, so after a few months, I'm beyond excited that when I called, Sean Patrick answered! What fun we had talking about everything from DIVAS to legends to angels!

DIVA: Live From Hell is a devilish new musical that charts a high school musical nerd’s descent into madness. "Desmond Channing" is a teenager who’s spent much of his short life basking in the spotlight. As Drama Club President and star of ALL the productions at his Florida public high school, "Desmond" never imagined he could fall so far so fast. But when "Evan Harris," a hotshot transfer student from New York, rips the rug out from under him, "Desmond" responds, as any diva would, with lethal force. Now, "Desmond" is forced to relive his humiliation and insanity over and over again at a cabaret in Hell. As he begins his one-millionth consecutive show, "Desmond" performs with renewed desperation, in the hopes that he can prove he’s learned his lesson and be freed from his eternal, campy torment.

DIVA: Live From Hell will run from March 23-April 9 at The Theater for the New City (155 First Avenue). Click here for tickets!

For more on Sean Patrick be sure to visit http://www.seanpatrickmonahan.com!

Cast of Charles Busch's "Times Square Angel" with special guest Narrator, Joan Rivers1. Who or what inspired you to become a playwright/performer? Whatever it is that made me want to spend my life in the theatre has always been there. When I was two years old, my dad took me to a Renaissance Faire, and I insisted that he buy me a court jester hat. All of the other kids got crowns or Robin Hood hats, but I had to have the jester’s cap with little bells on it. I didn’t know what a jester was, but I wanted to be one. I still want to be one. And along with that, I always wanted to be a storyteller.

But beyond those sparks that have always lived in me, the person who inspired me to become a "playwright/performer" as a career was, and still is, Charles Busch.

2. Your show DIVA: Live From Hell is going to be at Theater for the New City, which I have been coming to for the past 10 years, seeing you perform in Charles Busch's Times Square Angel. Before we get to your new show, we have to talk about Times Square Angel. How did you first get involved with it and what do you look forward to about performing it every year? Yes! It was so delightful to talk to you after Times Square Angel this year. And oh man—10 years! I love that. Pretty much the whole audience comes back year after year, and I have to say that is the thing I look forward to the most—the sense of reunion, of a holiday homecoming at Theater for the New City. It’s an incredibly special event.

I’ve been playing "Jimmy the Newsboy" in Times Square Angel since I was 11 years old. I met Charles at Manhattan Theatre Club, where I did a reading of a play of his when I was a child actor. Charles read the scene in the audition with me, and I will never forget it. Well, I kept in touch with Charles, and that December he wrote me a terrific role in Times Square Angel, which I’ve done every year since. It’s a great feeling to have originated a role in one of his plays.

3. Now, let's get to DIVA: Live From Hell, which you wrote and are starring in. What made you want to write AND star in this show? Why didn't you want someone else to star in it and you just write it? Jeez Louise—so far the answer to all of these questions is "Charles Busch." What kind of DIVA am I? I need to start talking more about myself pronto. But this show really does all come back to him—when I was a kid, Charles suggested that I should write parts for myself, rather than wait around for someone to cast me. So, in 2013, when an opportunity arose for me to develop a solo act with Less Than Rent Theatre for the United Solo Theatre Festival, I jumped at the chance. It became a 45-minute solo comedy called DIVA. A few months later, the wunderkind composer/lyricist Alexander Sage Oyen approached me about expanding it into a one-act musical, and I jumped at that chance too.

Four years later, the show has evolved into DIVA: Live From Hell, and I’m still donning the sequins and performing the piece myself. Someday I’d like to hand it off to another performer, but for now, I’m the storyteller and the act of me physically telling the story is part of the narrative.

Sean Patrick Monahan in "DIVA: Live from Hell"4. What do you relate to most about your character "Desmond" and what is one characteristic you are glad you don't possess? One trait I share with "Desmond" is that we both feel out of step with our peers and with the times. When I was in high school, and everyone I knew was into Rent and Spring Awakening, I was listening to Dear World and Anyone Can Whistle. It often felt like the only people who knew what I was talking about were the adults—our theatre directors and my English teachers.

I’m not sure that there are any of "Desmond’s" characteristics that I don’t possess—though he does express himself more extremely than I do. When I got dumped for the first time, I dealt with the pain by writing a screenplay in which I brutally murdered the guy who stole my childhood sweetheart. "Desmond" actually does kill his nemesis. So, I’m glad I had healthier outlets to express my adolescent angst.

Sean Patrick Monahan in "DIVA" from 20135. In DIVA: Live From Hell, "Desmond Channing" is forced to relive his humiliation and insanity over and over again at a cabaret in Hell. What has been the most humiliating thing to happen you so far? When I was 11, I once clogged the toilet backstage at the Mazer Theater and blamed it on one of the adult chorus girls. The rest of the cast mocked her relentlessly for weeks. I’ve never told anyone except my therapist, who thinks it’s okay for me to come clean in this interview. If that poor chorus girl finds out, it’ll be the most humiliating thing ever.

6. "Desmond" performs in hell in the hopes that he can prove he’s learned his lesson. What is the biggest life lesson you've learned to date? Slotted spoons don’t hold much soup.

7. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent every day? I love that. I’d love to be one percent more empathetic every day—as a writer, as an actor, and as a person. That might sound trite or simple, but it’s hard to consciously work to access deeper empathy, especially in these trying times. I think it’d be worth it.

Charles BuschPenny Fuller8. An exciting component to this show is that you are having Tony nominees Charles Busch & Penny Fuller voice their parts. Charles is the voice of the manager at the dingy cabaret venue in Hell, while Penny will voice Desmond's grandmother. What made you want to have their parts as voice overs as opposed to live actors? Maybe someday there’ll be a version where those roles are played live, but in this incarnation I want the voices to be recognizable. Charles was a no-brainer, because he’s been like an uncle (or "Auntie Mame") and he’s guided me in developing DIVA from the beginning. It’s very special to have his voice in the show. And as for Penny Fuller—I think it’s very meaningful stunt casting. Penny was, of course, nominated for a Tony for playing "Eve" in Applause (based on All About Eve). Her performance of the song "One Hallowe’en" is, in my opinion, one of the best in the history of musical theatre. The plot of DIVA: Live From Hell is partly inspired by the plot of All About Eve (along with Sunset Blvd), so, it’s incredibly meaningful to have Broadway’s original "Eve Harrington" portraying "Desmond’s" grandmother.

9. In addition to having Charles in your show and you in his Times Square Angel since 2004, Charles was one of your playwrighting teachers. What did you learn from Charles? How did you take that lesson and apply it to DIVA: Live From Hell? Well, Charles came in and taught a master class at Fordham when I was a student, but he’s been my personal writing mentor for much longer. When I was 15, I sent him my first screenplay (the aforementioned murder-y one). He took the time to give me thorough, helpful notes and was very encouraging. All through college, he read drafts of all my early plays and always took great time and consideration in his feedback. When I wrote the first incarnation of DIVA in 2013, he went through the entire script with me, page by page, giving notes. Then, we spent an hour sitting in his living room, listening to monologues recorded by the legendary Ruth Draper. That afternoon, I learned an amazing lesson about camp comedy—the circumstances may be received ironically by the audience, but must be completely truthful within the play. The audience can laugh, but the playwright must take the characters and their conflicts seriously. Ruth Draper has a hilarious monologue called "A Children’s Party in Philadelphia," in which she plays a very silly suburban mother, but Draper doesn’t patronize or mock the character she’s playing. She’s only funny because she’s honest. Charles treats his characters the same way. I saw his play The Divine Sister five times off-Broadway; it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, but there’s an incredibly moving scene in which a daughter is reunited with her long-lost mother. One could play it all as a big joke, but without the emotional truth of that scene, I don’t think the rest of the piece is as impactful or as funny. I try to approach every moment of in DIVA: Live From Hell with empathy and honesty, no matter how ridiculous.

Sean Patrick Monahan in Ken Urban's "Nibbler"10. If you were sent to hell and could only bring one diva with you who you had to watch one million times consecutively, who would you take? Preface: I’m using the word "diva" here to mean an unbelievably talented songstress, not a narcissistic, unkind one.

When I was in high school, I would have had an impossibly difficult time choosing just one. It would have been a four-way tie between Merman, Lansbury, LuPone, and Stritch. But now, I can answer 100%, without hesitation: Grace McLean (currently in Natasha, Pierre…). I met Grace last year at the Johnny Mercer Writers’ Colony up at the Goodspeed Opera House, and I find her voice, her persona, and her talent to be absolutely electrifying. I have since seen her in concert five times, and after each and every song, I jump up and down in screaming delight like I’m a sixteen year old girl watching Elvis on Ed Sullivan. I could certainly stand to see her perform another 999,995 times. But that sounds more like Heaven than Hell to me.

Angela Lansbury, Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times11. I have heard you are a HUGE Angela Lansbury fan. What is something about her that only a super fan would know? Have you met Angela Lansbury? If so, did it live up to what you had pictured in your mind? Well, I celebrate Angela Lansbury’s birthday every year (October 16th). I even wrote it into DIVA: Live From Hell. The last scene of the play takes place on October 16.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Dame Angela four times, and she is even more wonderful than I ever could have imagined. Charles knows her, and he’s taken me to see her in every show she’s done on Broadway since Deuce in ’07. Each time, we’ve gone backstage, and every encounter has been magical. Talking to her after A Little Night Music was especially so. Charles told Angela how I was having a hard time deciding where to go to college. She sat me down on the sofa, took my hands, and said, "This is your time. Go where you want to go, and don’t ever look back." I picked Fordham University—and thank God I did.

A couple years ago, someone approached me about producing DIVA with a big TV star in the lead role. I wasn’t sure what to do—I really wanted to originate the part myself. I told Charles that I was wrestling with this dilemma, and he happened to be getting dinner with Angela that night. He mentioned my predicament to Angela, who said (with grave, Manchurian Candidate-style seriousness, according to Charles), "No, he must hold onto that for himself." So, the bottom line is—I’m doing DIVA: Live From Hell because Angela Lansbury thinks I should.

Sean Patrick MonahanMore on Sean Patrick:

Sean Patrick Monahan is a playwright, performer, and hopeless Angela Lansbury addict. Plays include RODHAM/SADE (Sanctuary @ HERE Arts Center), AUNT JACK (Wide Eyed Winks), WHAT DO YOU CALL A—? (Rhapsody Collective), LITTLE MAC, LITTLE MAC, YOU’RE THE VERY MAN! (written w/James Presson, Less Than Rent), 6B (Fordham University), and GALLOWS TREE (Winner Best One-Act 2012, Manhattan Repertory Theatre). As an actor, Sean Patrick has performed at the Vineyard Theatre, the Helen Hayes, New World Stages, and, most recently, The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in The Amoralists’ world-premiere production of Ken Urban’s NIBBLER. Other acting credits include THE VAST MACHINE (Axis Theatre), FMK (Under St. Marks), LITTLE TOWN BLUES (The Wild Project), OUTLAWS (le Poisson Rouge), and A STOOP ON ORCHARD STREET (Mazer Theatre). Sean Patrick is thrilled to be returning to Theater for the New City, having performed there every year since 2004 in Charles Busch’s TIMES SQUARE ANGEL. Sean Patrick’s greatest theatrical achievement was crafting the high school club constitution for Thespian Troupe 132, which was never enacted due to the short-sightedness of the club’s administration.

Monday
Mar132017

Call Answered: Nancy Opel: "Urinetown", 92Y Lyrics & Lyricists' "Baby, Dream Your Dream: Dorothy Fields and The Women of the American Songbook"

Nancy Opel"Who rules the world? Girls!" Throughout history, or should I say, herstory, we have had many strong female songwriters. Most of my iTunes consists of songs written and performed by woman. When I saw the 92Y was going to be showcasing the music of Dorothy Fields and other women lyricists' of the American Songbook as part of their Lyrics & Lyricists' series, I couldn't wait to see who would be part of this concert. Then I saw the cast list (Marilyn Maye, Kenita Miller, Nancy Opel, Margo Seibert and Emily Skinner) and was like, "This is going to be one heck of a concert."

I loved Nancy Opel in her Tony-nominated turn in Broadway's Urinetown. She really brought the laugh in laughter to that role. I have gone on to enjoy her in Memphis, Cinderella, and Honeymoon in Vegas. My favorite Nancy Opel moment was just this past February when I got to briefly interview her during Billy Mitchell's Villain: DeBlanks at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. We had a great time together, so it's super exciting to get to do a more in depth interview with her now for the 92Y's latest Lyrics & Lyricists' concert series entitled Baby, Dream Your Dream: Dorothy Fields and The Women of the American Songbook.

Led by Dorothy Fields, Baby, Dream Your Dream will also include such pioneers as Betty Comden, Carolyn Leigh and Mary Rodgers whose work earned them an indelible place in the American Songbook alongside their more visible peers like Berlin, the Gershwins and Cy Coleman. Their timeless classics range from "The Way You Look Tonight," and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love," to "Witchcraft," On the Town and Once Upon a Mattress.

Baby, Dream Your Dream will take place at 92Y (1395 Lexington Avenue, 92nd Street & Lexington Ave.) from March 18-20! Click here for tickets! 

For more on Nancy be sure to visit http://www.nancyopel.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For more on 92Y visit http://www.92y.org and follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

1. This March you are you are starring in the 92Y Lyrics & Lyricists' Baby, Dream Your Dream: Dorothy Fields and The Women of the American Songbook along with Marilyn Maye, Kenita Miller, Margo Seibert, and Emily Skinner. What are you looking forward to most about this upcoming concert? I love doing an all female show, especially with this sensational collection of gals. I’ve been a fan of Marilyn Maye’s for many many years (I snuck into the Kansas City Playboy Club when I was a kid to see her show there). I’ve worked very happily with Ms. Skinner and I look forward to this go round. Kenita I don’t know well, but we’ve done a bit of work together and I really admire her talent. I just saw Margo in IN TRANSIT and she’s great. PLUS, I have worked several times with our director, Mark Waldrop, and we always have a good time.

2. What do you think will excite 92Y audiences about this show? Well, it’s great, and I mean GREAT material - it’s an interesting grouping of points of view since it’s not a concert featuring one writer’s lyrics.

3. How did these female composers influence you? If you have been in show business for 15 minutes, you’ve sung one of these women’s lyrics, just runs the gamut on well known and significant.

4. Of the songs you are performing, which one did you jump up and down over that you are getting to sing? I am both thrilled and terrified to do "If You Hadn’t But You Did."

5. This concert is sort of a coming home for you in that songs from one of the show's featured is On The Town, which you starred in as "Madame Dilly" at Barrington Stage. Whether or not you are performing one of the songs from On The Town in Lyrics & Lyricists, how do you feel you relate to that music now as opposed to when you were starring in the show? I loved ON THE TOWN and since I sang very little when in the cast, I got a chance to enjoy and admire it back then. It’s an amazing show then and now.

Nancy Opel as "Bea Singer" in "Honeymoon in Vegas"6. Since this installment of Lyrics & Lyricists is called Baby, Dream Your Dream, what is one dream you just had to pinch yourself over that came true? What is one dream you still hope manifests for you? I’ve had a bunch of pinching moments, haha. I guess a couple of obvious ones are first Broadway show (Evita), first Sondheim show (Sunday in the Park), and Tony nomination. What do I still hope for? Well, I guess, continuing to do relevant and exciting work is all I really hope for now.

7. One of the songs being performed is "The Way You Look Tonight." Growing up, how did you feel about "The Way You Look Tonight" and now that you are an adult how has that view changed? Genius tune with equally genius lyrics. I thought so the first time I hear Fred Astaire sing them, I still do. I think the thing I understand now is that that kind of perfect pairing of music to lyrics is a pretty rare combination. It’s one of the most romantic songs in the world, especially because of all the specificity, like "and that laugh that wrinkles your nose - touches my foolish heart."

8. Another song on the show's list is "Witchcraft." If you could conjure up a spell, what you kind of spell would you cast? Give everybody great free healthcare. Bibbity-bobbity-boo!

Nancy Opel as "Penelope Pennywise" in "Urinetown"9. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I am trying to improve my health every day, too! My commitment is to cook more for myself, and to cook healthy food- mostly vegetarian and vegan for the planet!

10. Since we met during Billy Mitchell's "Villain: DeBlanks," I want to revisit the question I had asked you that evening because I loved your answer and I want more people to hear it. You're big number in Broadway's Urinetown was "The Privilege to Pee". Was there a time during the show or rehearsal or since then that you laughed so much you peed? I can't believe that you would ask a woman of certain age, whose been pregnant, and had children, if there was time she has peed.

Nancy OpelMore on Nancy:

A singer, actress and teacher, Nancy Opel was born in Prairie Village, Kansas, and trained at Juillliard. She made her Broadway debut as a "Person of Argentina" in the original 1979 production of Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice’s Evita, and in the later run was the replacement for the leading role. In 1985, she originated the roles of "Betty" and "Frieda" in Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George. After appearance as the replacement for "Hope Harcourt" in the 1987 revival of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, Nancy played "Eleanor" in Teddy & Alice, a musical that drew upon the relationship between Teddy Roosevelt and his daughter as well as on the music of John Philip Sousa.

Nancy was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical for her performance as "Penelope Pennywise" in Urinetown. Other Broadway appearances include Triumph of Love, Fiddler on the Roof, Memphis and Cinderella. She performed the roles of "Mazeppa" and "Miss Cratchitt" in the Encores! staged concert of Gypsy in 2007. That same year, she played the title character in the first national tour of The Drowsy Chaperone. She was nominated for the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for Honeymoon in Vegas, in which she played the ghost of the lead character’s mother.

Nancy's television credits include the Law & Order franchise, Flight of the Conchords, and other shows.

Sunday
Mar052017

Call Answered: Michael Xavier: Sunset Boulevard on Broadway

Michael Xavier"With One Look" I fell in love with two-time Olivier Award actor Michael Xavier after seeing him in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway, starring as "Joe Gillis," opposite Glenn Close's "Norma Desmond." Michael is giving a dynamic performance whose character portrayal of "Joe" is very real and down-to-earth. My favorite "Joe" moment in Sunset Boulevard, without giving too much away, was when "Joe" stood up for himself/what he believes in and took control of his life. That is kind of person I always strive to be (even if I don't achieve it every time).

I was beyond excited when I called and Michael answered. Make sure you catch Michael's performance in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at The Palace Theatre (47th & Broadway) through June 25th only! Click here for tickets!

For more on Michael be sure to visit http://www.michaelxavier.co.uk and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For more on Sunset Boulevard visit http://sunsetboulevardthemusical.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I don't remember who or what inspired me but my earliest memory was at around six years old I went up to my Mother and said "Mum I want to be an actor." She replied with "Go on then, do some acting for me." Surprised and embarrassed I said "No way!" Here response; "Well you'll never make an actor then." She assumed my shyness equated to poor acting ability but she's come to realise I really meant it!

2. You are making your Broadway debut in the revival of Sunset Boulevard, starring Glenn Close. Most people are just excited to have a Broadway debut at all in their career, but yours is starring alongside one of our nations most revered actresses. What were the first thoughts that went through your head when you found out you got the role of "Joe Gillis"? Well, initially I knew I was auditioning to play opposite Glenn in London's West End so it never even occurred to me that we would end up here on Broadway! When I landed the role I thought "WOW! Not only do I get to play this fabulous role and sing this amazing Andrew Lloyd Webber score with a 52-piece orchestra (English National Opera Orchestra) but I get to act opposite the legend that is Glenn Close!" It didn't sink in until the first day of rehearsals just how wonderful this whole experience was going to be.

Michael Xavier and Glenn Close in "Sunset Boulevard"3. What do you relate to most about "Joe"? What is one characteristic of his that you are glad you don't possess yourself? How do you feel your struggle to achieve success as an actor is similar to "Joe's" climb as a writer? Joe's willingness to please is something I can relate to. I can be a people pleaser and as I've gone through life I've realised it's an exhausting quality as not everyone is going to love you or what you do. I'm glad I don't possess Joe's characteristic of "selling out" and settling for an "easy life" but ultimately an unhappy one. I'd rather struggle and be happy in myself than be a kept man! Anyone who has ever worked in the creative industry knows success is often achieved through a struggle but it's how you cope with the knock-backs. Being able to stand back up after a defeat is an important quality in this business and in life. I feel it's the times that I've struggled that have made me a better actor.

4. I saw Sunset Boulevard a few weeks ago and was very impressed by it. You really held your own throughout the show. There is a moment in the show when "Joe" hears some harsh criticism about the script he is pitching to Paramount, however, the person critiquing is unaware of "Joe's" presence. Has there ever been a time in your life when you overheard someone saying something about you and they had no idea you were nearby? If so, what did you feel in that moment and after looking back on it, what did you take away from that experience? Thank you. Wow, that's a great question. This business can be tough at times and yes I've experienced many things being said about me but not in direct earshot. Lots of rumours and gossip fly about so I tend to try and filter out the noise but it really hurts when you hear something negative about you (especially when it's from someone you would call a friend). You have to thicken your skin and ride the storm if you want to stay in this business. There have been so many times I've wanted to quit! If you can ride the low times, the highs are incredible!

Glenn Close and Michael Xavier in "Sunset Boulevard"5. I secretly applauded "Joe"when he walked out on "Norma Desmond" after becoming fed up with the charade as it's also starting to affect his own career. When have you walked away from something that you thought might help you, but turns out was only holding you back? What opened up for you after this walk out? I always trust my gut instinct. My mantra has become "follow the character, not the money." When I've turned down auditions or job offers that I didn't really believe were right, it's always ended up being for the best as a better job comes up.

In life, sometimes if people are holding you back it's good to let them go. If they don't want to support you they shouldn't get a seat at your table.

6. Another favorite "Joe" moment, which I'm coining as your "Joe-dropping" (instead of jaw-dropping) scene in the show is your pool scene. How do you keep that chiseled body? Have you had a wardrobe malfunction yet? Does the attention you get from that scene ever get to be too much? Joe-dropping! Haha! I like that! Well thank you for the compliment.

I have a very strict diet that I stick to and I work out six days a week. It's all very dull but if I ate what I wanted there wouldn't be much water left in that pool! I had a day when I took off my trunks (back to the audience for those who haven't seen it) but then I couldn't find the strap to my robe and spent most of the song trying to cover myself up. Hilarious and terrifying in equal measure!

Hmmm, does the attention get too much? Well, I don't like it when people are taken out of the story so it's great that as the narrator I have the opportunity to gesture a kind of "sure I sold out" shoulder shrug which tends to break the ice of "how do I respond to this?" At stage door I'd much rather hear "I loved your performance of a difficult character to play" but it's flattering to get "loved the swimming pool scene!"

Glenn Close and Michael Xavier7. What have you learned about acting or life from working with Glenn Close? What is funniest thing to have between you and Glenn either during rehearsal, the show, or off-stage? I've learned so much from working with Glenn! Professionally; How to find the truth in every second, not just moment. How to trust yourself. How to enjoy the audience as a collaborator and not something to be afraid of.

In life: Just enjoy every moment! Glenn makes me laugh a LOT. We're always giggling away about something or other. On stage we're always both very professional but off-stage I'm always teasing her about not being very good or moving her quick change items for laughs! She loves/hates me for it!

Michael Xavier, Glenn Close, Siobhan Dillon, and Fred Johanson on opening night of "Sunset Boulevard"8. You recently posted a picture on your Instagram from Sunset Boulevard's opening night. You said this was your favorite picture from that night. What made that your favorite picture? When you look at that picture now, what memories go through your head? It was my favourite (excuse my British spelling of the word) photo of the night because a door was opened and a breeze of freezing cold air whizzed through the carpet and we all reacted so naturally to it. It wasn't posed, it was real, fun and happy. The memory of a great night. One of the best nights of my life!

9. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Being able to relax about the future. I'm a worrier and I need to chill out by ten percent every day, not one!

Michael XavierMore on Michael:

West End & UK productions include starring roles in Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close (Won Best Actor BWW UK Award), Love Story (Olivier award nomination – Best Actor In A Musical), Into The Woods (Olivier award nomination – Best Supporting Performance In A Musical), Shakespeare’s The Wars of the RosesShow BoatPhantom of the OperaAssassinsThe Pajama GameSpamalot!My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Pageant, Soho Cinders, Sweet Charity, Hello Dolly!, Wonderful Town, Oklahoma!, Mamma Mia!, Miss Saigon and The Mikado. TV/Film roles include: Never Let Go and Gnomeland.

Wednesday
Mar012017

Call Redialed: Karen Mason: It's About Time CD + Birdland Concert

Karen Mason, Photo Credit: Bill WestmorelandIt's About Time Karen Mason & I did a new interview. It's been two years, almost to the day, since our last interview together. At that time we spoke about Karen's month-long residency at Don't Tell Mama doing her show Mason at Mama's. In that interview we went back in time with Karen. Now, we are looking to the future while staying in the present, and using the past to show how Karen became the woman and singer she is!

Karen's newest CD, It's About Time is a mixture of timeless standards ("I Can’t Give You Anything But Love," "Just in Time"), theatre classics ("Everything’s Coming Up Roses," "Somewhere/The Impossible Dream"), and a few original tunes ("It's About Time"), along with a homage to Judy Garland ("The Man That Got Away," "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" and the iconic "Over the Rainbow"). Click to purchase Karen's album on iTunes and Amazon!

Karen will celebrate the release of It's About Time with a return to Birdland Jazz NYC (315 West 44th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue) on Monday, March 6 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!

For more on Karen be sure to visit http://karenmason.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

1. I'm so excited we are doing this new interview, especially since it’s about something you do BEST...and that's sing and make beautiful music. You are about to release your latest album It’s About Time. What made now the right time to release this album? Thanks, Adam! You have been so good to me…and I do love making music! Well, it is about time to release this new CD because it has been nine years since my last CD. I said to Paul (my husband and producer, Paul Rolnick) that we need to take advantage of the time we have….and keep making music! Music speaks to my soul. And honestly, I love recording!

2. The title song on the album, "It’s About Time,"  written by your husband, Paul Rolnick, as an honor to the passing of marriage equality and then as a celebration of your friend’s marriage. What are some things in your life you feel "It’s About Time" for? Standing up for what I truly believe is more important than ever! I am a middle child…and not much of a trouble maker, always the pacifier. And then I get older…and suddenly I am becoming more fearless! I feel that we must stand up for our brothers and sisters who need our support and well, it is about time I spoke up! The song, "It’s About Time," distills the subject of marriage equality down to its truth…which is love! We cannot deny love…not now, not ever!

Karen Mason and her husband Paul Rolnick3. One song you sing on It’s About Time is "Just In Time," with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Betty Comden/Adolph Green. What is something that happened "Just in Time" to you, either in your personal life or career? I met my husband, Paul, a year after I found out I was losing my best friend and music director, Brian Lasser to AIDS. Brian died two years later, and those years were really difficult….on Brian and on all of us and Paul stayed with me through it. We just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary (and have been together 26 years). Ah…the universe!

4. You also sing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy. When did "Everything Come Up Roses" for you? The first night I went on in Sunset Boulevard, I was scared to death!! Also, very, very excited to be going onstage with this herculean role!! I made it through the show without missing a beat or line or entrance! With the help of that extraordinary cast, I think everything did come up roses for me that night!

5. You also perform "The Impossible Dream." What is one dream you had you thought would never come true? What is one dream you are still hoping comes true? Hmmm, dreams are so private! I can tell you the one that did come true….but I can’t tell you the one that I am still hoping for. Cuz I am a little superstitious about that! One dream I had that I wondered if would ever come true would be singing at Carnegie Hall. And it came true when I was asked to sing with The New York Pops! I have a picture of me on that stage with Skitch Henderson…and a HUGE grin on my face! Of course, wearing a beaded gown for the show! I sang "This Nearly Was Mine." It was so much fun! And so special to sing in a hall that heard the voices of so many talents I admired.

Karen Mason as "Ma" in "Chasing Rainbows"6. You were recently in the Broadway-bound musical Chasing Rainbows and you are including a few selections to honor Judy Garland. How did Judy Garland influence you/your music style? What rainbows are you chasing these days? I was thrilled to include a few Garland songs on the CD! A few years ago I got a chance to do a symphony concert of Garland music…and it was perfect joy for me! All those amazing arrangements…God, I loved every minute!! I am a Garland fan. Judy Garland sang and told stories that speak to my heart. Something about the timbre of her voice, and her ability to sound like she was speaking just to my soul……perfect! And if you are going to steal…steal from the very very best, right? What rainbows am I still chasing? I am not sure if they are all rainbows…but I still have a lot to say and sing! And many more stories to tell!

7. One of the Judy Garland songs you included on this album was "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart." What are a few happy moments in your life when you heart went Zing!? When Paul told me he loved me. On the phone, cuz we are both shy…and my heart was about to explode!! So I told him too..and I think his heart went "Zing" too. You would have to ask him….but I think it would be safe to say that it probably did.

Karen Mason in Broadway's "Wonderland"8. You also record "Finding Wonderland" from the Broadway show Wonderland, a song about finding ourselves and finding our truths? What is something you recently found out about yourself and what is one truth you have not revealed about yourself in a previous interview? I recently found out I am stronger than I have always thought. One truth that I have not revealed is that I hate being called "Dear" by someone I don’t know. If it is someone I know and love, it is good. But someone who doesn’t know me at all? Goes right up my back!

9. Finally, you close the album with a very special song, Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay," but it's using the track your first musical director/friend Brian Lasser recorded. Sadly Brian passed away in 1992, but how great that you get to "sing" with him again. What was this experience like for you? What do you miss most about Brian? Oh Adam, this was such a beautiful gift Paul gave me! To be able to sing with Brian again? Amazing! And because I knew it was going to be so amazing, I kept putting it off for years. Paul asked me about it about 10 years ago….and I kept deflecting. As I got older, I got more fearless (always a struggle for me!)…and finally said YES! And it was amazing and natural and…..home.

Karen Mason and her longtime friend/collaborator Brian Lasser10. This album is a mixture of timeless standards, theatre classics, and a few original tunes. What songs didn't make the cut for this CD, hence saying, it wasn't time to share these songs? We have enough cuts for a few CDs….so that is the plan! We will be releasing a new CD within a year….and then keep ‘em coming! Some of the songs on the next one may be: "He Touched Me," "Time" by Barry Kleinbort….and I would love to do a new Christmas CD (and this time IN the studio!).

11. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I would love to improve my relationship with the gym! Once I am there, I am fine, but getting there??? Seems like miles! And honestly, Adam, a way to improve my own life every day is to continue to try to find ways to be better to others.

Karen MasonMore on Karen:

Karen Mason has starred on Broadway, Off-Broadway, Television, and in the recording studio. She’s been praised for her "fierce emotion" by The New York Times, her "innate comic ability" by Playbill and her "delightful instrument" by the Daily News. Karen has been called "immensely appealing" by The Chicago Tribune, "a towering talent" by TheaterMania and "a dynamic performer" by Time Out New York. According to the Indianapolis Star, "Mason has a powerful voice and rich resonance you associate with Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand. She can sing slow and smoky or fast and punchy with an innate sense of humor. Mason is a poet of the vocal chords."

Karen is a twelve-time MAC Award winner – most recently "Show of the Year" and "Celebrity Artist" in 2016 – and has won the MAC Award for Major Female Vocalist of the Year for six consecutive years. She has also won the 2006 Nightlife Award for Major Female Vocalist and has three Bistro Awards.

Karen Mason as "Norma Desmond" in Sunset "Boulevard"Karen most recently garnered rave reviews starring as "The Queen of Hearts" in Wonderland on Broadway. She originated the role of "Tanya" on Broadway in ABBA’s Mamma Mia, and was awarded a 2002 Drama Desk nomination as Best Actress. Her other leading roles include "Norma Desmond" in Sunset Boulevard, which she performed to critical acclaim and standing ovations on Broadway and in Los Angeles for three years; "Velma von Tussel" in the final Broadway company of Hairspray; "Monotony" singer, "Mazeppa" in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway; "Rosalie" in Carnival (another Drama Desk nomination); plus featured roles in Broadway’s Torch Song Trilogy; and Play Me A Country Song.

She won the Outer Critics Circle Award for her performance in And the World Goes ‘Round, and starred Off-Broadway in her own show Karen Mason Sings Broadway, Beatles and Brian. Her television appearances include the hit dramas Ed and Law & Order: SVU while film credits include Sleeping Dogs Lie and A Chorus Line.

Karen MasonIn regional theatre, she starred in the 1st National Tour of A Christmas Story as "Miss Shields," in the world premiere of the stage production of White Christmas (playing the Rosemary Clooney role at St. Louis Muni Opera), Side by Side by Sondheim (Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida), Gypsy (Sundance Theatre in California), the world premiere of One Tough Cookie (Apple Tree Theatre in Chicago), Heartbeats (Goodspeed Opera House) and Company (Huntington Theatre in Boston). Karen starred in the one-woman musical about Dorothy Parker You Might As Well Live.

Karen has headlined Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Feinstein's at the Regency, Rainbow & Stars, the Algonquin, Arci' Place, The Supper Club and The Ballroom in NYC; The Cinegrill and the UCLA/ASCAP Concert Series in Los Angeles; The Plush Room in San Francisco; and Davenport’s in Chicago.

Karen MasonShe has shared concert stages with Michael Feinstein, Jerry Herman, Chita Rivera, Luciano Pavarotti, Rosemary Clooney, Liza Minnelli, and John Kander & Fred Ebb, among others. Karen has given concerts in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Brazil, Scotland, Tokyo and Osaka. Her starring symphonic performances include The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra with Maestro Michael Berkowitz, the Philly Pops with Peter Nero, The New York Pops with Skitch Henderson, the Oklahoma Philharmonic with Joel Levine, the premier performance of The Chicagoland Pops, the Indianapolis Philharmonic, and the St. Louis Symphony with John McDaniel.

Her highly acclaimed recordings include her 2009 MAC Award-winning Right Here/Right Now, 2005’s The Sweetest of Nights, the MAC Award-winning When The Sun Comes Out, as well as three other CDs: Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!, recorded live at the West Bank Café; Better Days, featuring songs by her longtime composer/arranger Brian Lasser (including the 1998 Emmy Award-winning song "Hold Me"); and Not So Simply Broadway. Karen has been featured on the original cast CD of Wonderland; Jeffrey (Varese Sarabande), the studio cast recording of Wonderful Town (JAY Records), the original cast album of And The World Goes Round (RCA Victor), The Child In Me, Vol. 1 (Harbinger Records), and Lost in Boston II (Varese Sarabande).

Thursday
Feb022017

Call Answered: Wé McDonald: "The Voice" + Highline Ballroom concert

Wé McDonaldIn the world of reality television, there is something for everyone: loosely scripted shows, competition shows and documentary series. I, personally, am a fan of the competition shows like America's Got Talent, American Ninja Warrior, and The Voice. I love seeing the mixture of people on these shows, from the very talented to the not so talented. As the season progresses, it's exciting to watch who moves on and who gets eliminated. 

Season 11 of The Voice was no exception. With her booming voice, I was cheering for Wé McDonald to go all the way and all the way she did, right up to the finals! It was thrilling. While I felt she should have won the competition, I was ecstatic for how far she got. And it wasn't just Wé's voice that I admired, it was also her perseverance, overcoming hardships, and message of self-love. 

I am overjoyed to have the opportunity to interview Wé McDonald just before she takes the stage at NYC's Highline Ballroom this Friday, February 3 at 7pm. Come see Wé along with her special guests Matthew Whitaker & Friends light up the stage with their amazing voices! The Highline Ballroom is located at 431 West 16th Street (between 9th & 10th Avenue). Click here for tickets!

For more on Wé be sure to visit http://www.wemcdonaldmusic.com and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram! Purchase her music on iTunes!

1. On February 3, you are performing at NYC's Highline Ballroom. What are you looking forward to most about this concert? I'm most excited about the people coming. I love when people come together to enjoy something they have in common!

2. The concert is being presented by The Harlem School for the Arts and Jill Newman Productions. You are a student at Harlem School for the Arts. How do you feel the training there prepared you for your experience in this business and on The Voice? At HSA, they don't baby you. We all have an understanding that we have to work hard for what we want to do and they trained me beautifully for that.

3. Who or what inspired you to become a singer? I started singing because my sister (who is a singer as well) was always competing in talent shows and I wanted to be like her. I started developing a strong drive at a time when I was going through some difficult life experiences. I vowed then that I wanted to change the world with my music.

Wé McDonald and Alicia Keys performing on NBC's "The Voice"4. You were a finalist on Season 11 of The Voice. What made you initially want to audition for the show? How did you decide to pick Alicia Keys as your coach? What was the most valuable lesson you feel you learned from her? My father surprised me with the audition for The Voice. We had always thought it was a great show, so I'm happy that I got that opportunity. When I had my blind audition, I wanted to pick a judge I knew would accept me for who I was and would always be real with me. That's how I came to pick Alicia, although before the show I wanted to be on Team Adam. But I'm happy I picked her because she supported me and my other team members and encouraged us to always stay true to who we are.

5. As you moved up each round, what thoughts went through your mind? What did you think about as you went into the finals? Was that moment when you felt all your dreams were aligning or did you feel something different? Through each round, I just kept saying to myself that every performance has to be better than the last by a longshot. It was very gratifying knowing that I kept succeeding through every round. I knew that all of it was a part of a bigger plan that I had in my heart ever since I can remember.

Wé McDonald6. On The Voice, you got to cover multiple hit songs including Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama," Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," Hozier's "Take Me To Church," and so many others. How did you choose the songs you sang? Did any of the artists (aside from Nina Simone) contact you after singing their songs? If so, what was it like to hear from them? Between me, Alicia, and my father is how I chose my songs but most of the time I came to Alicia with songs and she helped me through them. Alessia Cara actually tweeted me after I sang "Scars to Your Beautiful." She thanked me for supporting the movement! It was fantastic to know that she noticed.

7. In your song "Wishes," you sing "Still a little dirty, got scars all on me, been through a lot of fights, but they made something of me." What do you feel was your biggest scar or toughest fight that made you who you are today and without that experience, you might be somebody different? When you go through being ridiculed, you tend to fight harder. That pushed me to get stronger. That's why I am where I am today.

Wé McDonald8. You are only 17 years old. With all the exposure you got from being on The Voice, how has your new found fame affected you? What has been the hardest adjustment? What is the best part about it? The fame hasn't affected me at all. If anything, it’s made me more humble. I've had to adjust to random people knowing who I am, which is crazy to me! I can't go out anywhere without someone asking for a picture. I love my fans for that though.

9. You have spoken about getting bullied at school by the other kids because of your high speaking voice. Well, we certainly have something in common...I was teased as well for my high voice and sometimes I still am, but now I'm able to brush it off unlike when I was growing up. There have been so many kids over the years who could not cope with being bullied and have taken their own life. What has kept you going and not give up? Since being a finalist on The Voice, do the bullies treat you any different or have they tried to apologize for teasing you and if they did try to apologize, did you accept their apology or feel like, "well, you shouldn't have teased me in the first place, so I won't accept your apology?" How do you react now when someone makes fun of your speaking voice? Is it easier to shrug off? I have a very strong foundation and people that love me. They taught me to not give up on anything you love, that includes yourself. Of course people treat me differently now than they used to. That comes with the territory. However, I know who my family is. I have gotten an apology from one of the people that bullied me. I accepted her apology because I'm stronger now and I forgave her long before I was even on The Voice. Why hold grudges and give up your power like that. It's better to forgive and be free.

10. What is something about Wé McDonald that you have not revealed in another interview? I'm very superstitious. It's a family thing.

11. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I want to improve my entertainment skills in every aspect at least one percent a day.

Wé McDonaldMore on Wé:

Wé McDonald is a Paterson, New Jersey native born in Harlem, New York. She is a 17 year old scholarship student attending William Paterson University. She attended high school at the Passaic County Technical Institute with a concentration in Theater as an honor student. She was accepted to two prestigious University Jazz studies programs at William Paterson and The New School.

Wé's musical and arts training has been diverse and comprehensive as she has studied acting, dance and music. Since the age of six she has received piano and vocal and is currently a student at the Harlem School of the Arts (HSA) where she is an actor and vocal talent. She began her vocal and piano training in the classics evolving into a unique musical genius covering Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, and Opera.

In 2015, Wé appeared on the stage of the world famous Apollo Theater competing in the Amateur Night competition. She shattered records by winning four times as the youngest performer to place in the Adult category in the history of the legendary venue. Wé has also appeared as a vocalist at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Forbes Women's Summit, National Urban League Awards, Wal-Mart Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall, Minton's Jazz Club, internationally in the British Virgin Island and the Berklee School of Music with Paquito D'Rivera. She has acted in lead roles in theatrical adaptations of Man of La Mancha, 42nd Street, Disney’s The Lion King KIDS, and Annie.

Wé has trained at Diller Quaille School of Music, Dove Tail Studios for Acting, Chimera Concepts for dance, the Harlem School of the Arts for theatre, piano and voice under the tutelage of Yolanda Wyns, HSA Music Director.

She was the recipient of the 2015 Clive Davis Music Moguls Merit Scholarship and a Prep Student Merit Scholarship Award recipient for three years at the Harlem School of the Arts. She is a member of the Dorothy Maynor Singers and featured vocalist on the HSA All-Stars’ 2015 album recording, Evolution, showcasing music prodigies in the Jazz genre. She has been recognized as "Talent of the Week" in Tween Girl Style Magazine and Macy's Best New Vocal Talent 2016.

Most recently, Wé received national recognition as a finalist on Season 11 of NBC’s The Voice where she wowed audiences as well as celebrity coaches. Her debut single, "Wishes," is available now on iTunes.