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"Call Me Adam" chats with...

 

 

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.

Wednesday
Mar222017

Call Redialed: Facetime Interview: Bobby Cronin: Concerts, Theme Songs, & Winning New York

Call Me Adam and Bobby Cronin at The Algonquin Hotel's "New Yorker Suite"From inside The Algonquin Hotel's New Yorker Suite, what an absolute joy it was to catch-up with Bobby Cronin, award winning composer/lyricist (and creator/singer of the "Call Me Adam Theme Song")! It's been a few years since Bobby & I have sat down for an interview so needless to say, we had lots to talk about: from his upcoming concerts to creating the "Call Me Adam Theme Song" to Winning New York, we reveal it all!

Bobby has two upcoming concerts. One is Sunday 3/26 at 7pm at The W Hotel in Times Square, NYC (47th & Broadway) called #Love Is Love as part of the W's Broadway at The W series. Featuring Bobby's music, #Love Is Love will welcome Anne Brummel (Wicked), Bryan Terrell Clark (Hamilton & Motown), Lauren Elder (Hair & Side Show), Lora Lee Gayer (Holiday Inn & Follies), LaQuet Sharnell (Memphis & Lion King), Adam Kaplan (Kinky Boots & Newsies), Kyle Scatliffe (The Color Purple & Les Miserables), Marty Thomas (Grammy Nominee), Michael Williams (Charllie & The Chocolate Factory & On The Town), and Cortney Wolfson (Kinky Boots & The Addams Family). Click here for tickets!

Bobby's second concert, Bobby Cronin & Friends will be April 19 at 8pm at The Yotel's Green Room in NYC (42nd & 10th Ave). This will be a benefit for the Humane Society and feature a host of Bobby's New York friends and International talents. Click here for tickets!

For more on Bobby be sure to visit http://bobbycronin.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube!

"Call Me Adam's" Facetime video interview with Bobby Cronin:

Friday
Mar172017

Call Redialed: Lucie Pohl: "Apohlcalypse Now!" at Under St. Marks Theater

Lucie Pohl, Photo Credit: Laura RoseLast time comedian/actress Lucie Pohl and I spoke, she was starring in her one-woman show Hi, Hitler, now these two Jews are talking about her new show Apohlcalypse Now! From tyrants to death, we know our herritage! In this new show, Apohlcalypse Now! bangs together stand up, storytelling and character comedy. Expect bad language, bad decisions, a wedding, a break up, dead rats and wake up calls from Stephen Baldwin.

Apohlcalypse Now! will play a very limited run, four performances only, March 20, 21, 27 & 28 at Under St. Marks Theater (94 St. Marks Place). March 20 & 27 are at 8pm. March 21 & 28 are at 7pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on Lucie be sure to visit http://www.luciepohl.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

1. It's great to catch up with you! Last we spoke, we did an interview for your one-woman show Hi, Hitler. Now you are back in NYC with your brand new show Apohlcalypse Now! How ironic that your show a few years ago had Hitler in the title and now your show has Apohlcalypse (a funny take on apocalypse) in the title. In the few years between shows, we got a new Hitler leading our country and he's creating an apocalypse. How do you explain this irony? Yes that is creepy and ironic. I'm psychic! Or may be it's that artists have invisible, subconscious feelers which pick things up before they've emerged into daily life.

One way to look at it is also, Hi, Hitler was very much a fish out of water story which went all the way back to my Jewish-German family history of persecution and migration. The whole point of the show was embracing that not fitting in was in my DNA. In this sense, I am not surprised that those of us who are different (for many different reasons) have become a target again. The fight for acceptance against periodic assholes will never end, I think.

The Apohlcalypse theme came out of a period of extremely taxing events in my life that kept piling up relentlessly. I also had been having this feeling of imminent doom for a few years. I never anticipated that history would tie these two shows together in such a frightening way.

Lucie Pohl, Photo Credit: Elmar Lemes2. What can people expect from this new show? What people can expect from Apohlcalypse Now! is a wild roller coaster ride into a year of tragically funny disasters in my life told through storytelling, stand-up and character comedy. It's an intimate, sometimes surreal, hilarious and very honest 60 minutes. And there's a goldfish monologue.

3. Let's play with the title of your show, "Apohlcalypse Now!" for a moment. What is the biggest event to happen in your life that would be as big as an apocalypse? The biggest apocalypse ever to happen in my life is when I realized Nutella is made with palm oil and I can no longer eat it! Game over!

No, ok, I'll be serious: it was the violent shattering of my 12 year relationship. Internally that was something which completely destroyed everything I thought I was, I thought I had and I thought I knew. And then a few other things happened simultaneously which just added more fire and brimstone. But these are all spoilers! That's what the show is about!

But one more thing: In writing the show I spoke to Anbarra Khalidi who is an apocalyptic scholar at Oxford (yes that's a job title) and she told me that the nature of the apocalyptic framework is both horror and clarity - exposing uncomfortable truths, mirroring the notion that we are our truest selves in moments of suffering, trial and judgement. This idea sort of fell into my lap and became what I was most interested in.

Lucie Pohl, Photo Credit: Mindy Tucker4. In this show we can expect bad language, bad decisions, a wedding, a break-up, dead rats, and wake-up calls from Stephen Baldwin. So for the next few questions we are going to break these down. If you could create a sentence using your five favorite bad words, how would that sentence look? Trump is a motherfucking thundercunting asswiping fuck-shit fascist.

5. What is the worst decision you've ever made? What did you learn from this bad decision? The worst decision I ever made was deciding to act on every impulse I had regardless of the consequence. I've made many bad decisions. What I've learned (the hard way) is that decisions matter and they are decisions, not accidents. You control that, it doesn't control you. It's not always about doing the thing which feels best in the moment, it's about knowing what's important and what you want in the long run.

And of course looking at the ingredients list on a Nutella jar.

6. What is one of your most funny break-up stories? When I was a teenager my boyfriend at the time said he was going downstairs real quick to get a Snapple. He came back 10 days later. I tried to punch him and missed. We broke up.

Lucie Pohl7. What is a good wedding tale you can tell? I once went to a wedding in England and woke up in Wales.

8. I hate rats. I mean HATE, but I'm going to ask a question about them anyway. What is an interaction you've had with a dead rat? Big, fat spoiler but here it goes: I found a dead rat in my mailbox! Yes, this is a true story and I have the pics to prove it.

9. When did you get a wake-up call from Stephen Baldwin? I got a wake up call from Stephen Baldwin in Istanbul, Turkey when I was in a horror film with him about a cult which impregnates women with demon babies to make an army of super humans. Duh! What else?! (Another spoiler).

10. 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? Right now I'm trying to not freak out on subway platforms every day about terrible MTA service. Yesterday I waited for 45 minutes at Union Square and at one point a nice man eating plantain chips told me to "Relax." Gotta work on that. Ommmm.

Lucie Pohl, Photo Credit: Laura RoseMore on Lucie:

Lucie Pohl is a German-born-NYC-raised comedian, actor, writer, solo performer and producer. Her storytelling comedy debut HI, HITLER was nominated for the 2015 New York Innovative Theater Award (Outstanding Solo Performance), received 5 and 4 star reviews and played to sold out houses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, on London’s West End, 59E59 Theatres NY & Los Angeles.

Thursday
Mar162017

Call Answered: George Bettinger: The Mom and Pop Shop

As the host of "Call Me Adam," I love chatting with other people who conduct interviews, especially when I ask them "What question I haven't asked that they would have liked?" It's so interesting to see how what someone else will think of. When I found out about comedian George Bettinger, who had a friendship with the legendary comic/TV host Joe Franklin and hosts the hit radio show The Mom and Pop Shop, I couldn't wait to interview him. He has interviewed some of entertainment's biggest names such as Madeline Khan, Julie Newmar, Robert Morse, Kathy Garver and so many more.

In this interview, we talk about laughter, fame, Joe Franklin, and get some inside scoop about a few of the celebrities George has interviewed!

For more on George be sure to visit http://www.momandpopshopradio.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!

The Mom and Pop Shop airs every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4pm EST! Click here to listen!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a comedian? As a child I had nephritis, which kept me indoors a lot. I watched a great deal of television. In the mid 60's there were great comedy films on TV from the silent days on up to the 50's. I loved Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, The Bowery Boys, The 3 Stooges and so on. It inspired me to imitate them and later to make little films on 8mm film doing that style of comedy.

George Bettinger and Lucie Arnaz2. You always say "Make sure you laugh a little everyday, it is important and can change the way you feel." Do you remember the first time laughter really changed the way you felt? If so, what was that moment? Has there been a day where you haven't laughed? If so, why didn't you? I can go as far back as being hospitalized for my nephritis, (maybe four years old) grabbing a doctors stethoscope and running down the corridor making the nurses and attendants laugh. There have been multitudes of days I haven't laughed. I suffered severe third degree depression and debilitating panic and anxiety.

3. When did you realize your brand of humor made people laugh and that perhaps this could be something you could do for a living? What feeling did you get the first time someone laughed at your jokes? Around age 12 I was making people laugh, in school, at friend's homes. I didn't think of it as a living then. A living to me was the toil my father worked at being a retailer on New York's Lower East Side, putting in six days a week selling luggage one suitcase at a time. From an early age I too helped out in the store. It was serious work. There was a huge family to feed with many splinter families and friends who came in and out of our home. My parents worked very hard. My mother took care of the home making sure all were fed and then packing food to take to her invalid parents. I accompanied her many times.

George Bettinger4. What was the worst comedy set you ever performed? After that performance, did you think of giving up or did you say, "We all have bad nights, I'm just going to learn from this and do better the next time?" I don't recall performing an actual stand up set that was so bad that I wanted to quit. There were many "on" and "off nights." I do recall attempting one particular bit on LIVE television that fell flat. It embarrassed me and gave me pause and made me realize that I can not do all that I think I could.

5. You first came to the public's attention as an Eddie Cantor impersonator on The Joe Franklin Show. What was it about Eddie Cantor that made you want to impersonate him? I loved Eddie's energy! I watched him on TV and really enjoyed his delivery and his mannerisms and his singing was unique. I read a great deal about performers. Eddie was one who was quite the humanitarian. He was also Joe Franklin's first friend in show business and I knew it delighted Joe when I impersonated him. As with Groucho Marx, I could do the "young version" and the "old version." Joe particularly got a kick out of when I would talk to him as the "old Eddie." Joe laughed and said "You make him sound like an old man in a rocking chair!"

George Bettinger and Joe Franklin6. What went through your head when you found out you were going to be on Joe Franklin's TV show? How long after your appearance on that show, did things start to change for you? Excitement, fear, adrenalin rush, pounding headaches and a feeling of accomplishment. Things changed relatively quickly. I was already putting together my first cable TV show called Movie Magic and contributing to The Uncle Floyd Show.

7. In a nice turn of events, you got to interview Joe Franklin in 1985. What was it like to interview the man who helped get you your start? Was there anything you wish you got to ask him that you didn't? I was 23. Joee was about 59 at the time. We were already long time friends. It was a delight to interview him. We had chemistry on TV and as personal friends. Joe kept a close circle of real friends. I was honored to be part of that circle. At that time he was extremely on top of this game as the "King Of Nostalgia" and a legendary late night host. He would not do any show. But he did mine. He then had me on his show the next week, sitting beside him, and told the world that "this is a recip (reciprocation)." He said referring to himself; "I did his show and now he is doing my show." I was able to make Joe laugh in private to the point where tears were flowing and he would beg me to stop. I would impersonate people that only he and I knew. We had a bond.

8. You are currently hosting the hugely successful radio show The Mom and Pop Shop on Dreamstream Radio. What do you love about having your own radio show? What made you want to call your show The Mom and Pop Shop? Our main station is Tune In Radio's It's Right Here In Miramar broadcast out of Miramar City Hall in Florida and heard worldwide on the Internet. What I love about The Mom & Pop Shop is that it's one of a kind. Fan's who merely met on the LIVE chat have literally traveled from FL to Italy to meet, from Ireland to The Bronx. That is loyalty and trust. I love that. It is a hybrid of the charm of the golden age of an accessible host combined with the immediacy of the fast paced internet. This is why NBC and ABC network news covered the show.

I decided to call the show The Mom & Pop Shop because of the album I created in 1998 titled George Bettinger's Mom & Pop Variety Shop which is still available of Amazon and CDBaby.

9. Over the years you have gotten to interview so many legends: Madeline Khan, Julie Newmar, Robert Morse, Kathy Garver and so many more. I personally was a big fan of Madeline Khan and Julie Newmar, what was one surprising fact about each of them that you learned from interviewing them? If you don't remember, then you can answer this question...what do you enjoy most about interviewing people? Who do you still want to interview? Madeline Kahn and I clicked as soon as we met in person. It was at an audition. She was a brilliant performer and a genuine person. I was overjoyed to gain her trust. When I reflect back, I realize that this was very important to Maddie. I feel blessed that she was in my life. William V. Madison mentions me in the first authorized biography of Madeline Kahn. I am at the top paragraph of chapter 74. Quoted as "her friend George Bettinger." What struck me most about Julie Newmar was her keen intelligence and wisdom on how to deal with life. I think of the words she said to me everyday. There are many people I wish to interview. I enjoy talking to people.

10. As an interviewer yourself, what is one question I didn't ask you that you wish I did? (and please provide the answer to said question). Here is my question: Where would you like to see yourself in the industry? I would like to have a television show, that would give me the opportunity to be a genuine, charming host sans the popular snarky-ness so prevalent today. I would like to have a program like The Joe Franklin Show where celebrities are interviewed and up and coming talent get their start.

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? Wisdom. I wish to continue to learn.

George BettingerMore on George:

George Bettinger began producing short comedy films by the age of 12, at a time when Kodachrome Silent 8mm film was the standard. "I began way before VHS tape. We had to purchase each 3 - minute film cartridge individually. It was costly for a kid. Three minutes was 50-feet of film stock and then we would shoot scenes and hope that after waiting a week for the 50-foot roll to be processed, something showed up that was usable!" At the same time, George was appearing regularly in school plays and occasionally showing his 8mm custom made films at school.

At a young age, George developed a great appreciation of classic comedians from the golden age of silent and early sound films. By 16, he was impersonating Groucho Marx, Eddie Cantor and other legends, when he caught the eye of broadcast legend Joe Franklin, who featured George regularly on The Joe Franklin Show on WOR-TV. He was also writing and appearing in comedy bits on The Uncle Floyd Show.

In 1982, George created an early cable TV series called Movie Magic, which ran for five years. He simultaneously worked at his father’s world famous little luggage store, Bettinger’s Luggage, on Rivington and Allen Streets in NYC’s historic Lower East Side. There George delighted customers with his impersonations as he sold suitcases.

Throughout the late 1980’s and 90’s, George kept busy auditioning and booking numerous radio and television commercials, playing the voice of the animated red M&M on NBC promos for Frasier and Will & Grace, one of the highlights of his commercial career.

Teaming with his mentor Joe Franklin on Saturday nights on WOR radio as Joe’s "Man of 1000 Voices," gave George the opportunity to release his CD, The Mom & Pop Variety Shop on Original Cast Records.

When given the enthusiastic green light to bring a 90-minute radio program to the internet George used the CD as his template and The Mom & Pop Shop was born.

Tuesday
Mar142017

Call Answered: Steve Willis: The Legend of Yma Sumac at The Laurie Beechman Theatre

Steve WillisI love music videos. I love documentaries. I love live performance. I love learning about people. When you get asked to interview someone that encompasses all of these and then you find out they have worked with some of the biggest names in entertainment, you jump at the opportunity presented before you.

That's where Steve Willis comes in. He has made videos for Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and many others (including RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles). Now, he is premiering his "live documentary" cabaret show The Legend of Yma Sumac starring drag performer Scarlet Envy. Featuring many of Yma's greatest hits and never-before-seen footage of Yma, shot by Steve, The Legend of Yma Sumac will play The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) from March 15-29Click here for tickets!

For more on Steve be sure to visit http://thestevewillis.com and Instagram!

1. This March you are premiering The Legend of Yma Sumac, starring Scarlet Envy. The show is described as a "live documentary" cabaret about the late star, whom you were friends with. How did you first come to meet Yma? What was it about her that made you want to be friends? What do you miss most about her? When I first heard Yma’s music I became obsessed and couldn’t stop talking about her. From the very beginning I treated her as news that must be spread. I had the feeling that more people needed to know about her. I was so shocked to find out she existed. So one of the people that heard me talking said she was making gowns for Yma and I begged her to introduce me. She took me to dinner with Yma and I asked if I could make a documentary about her life. She was totally interested but she also wanted help with her career and I eventually learned she wanted help with her life. She was quite isolated. Over the years the relationship developed from director of her documentary, to also include manager for live shows to personal assistant. We would spend long hours in her apartment listening to her new music and hearing stories of the past and the people that did her wrong.

I think what I miss about her is being around such amazing talent and her wise worldly ways. She was always full of good advice and she cared for people and animals. She had a magical quality with animals that was like nothing I've ever seen. Wild animals, birds for example, would come to her and she was acting like it was the most natural thing when it was extremely rare. I believe the power of her mind was very great, she credited her singing ability to her mind and believing she could do it. She taught me more about integrity, artistic integrity than anyone I've ever met.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac2. What made now the right time to mount this show? That's an interesting question because there are three people that were involved with Yma at the end of her life trying to do projects with her. All three of us, without communicating with each other, returned to our projects again at the same time, around seven years after she died. The seven year itch? I've read the human body completely replaces all its cells after seven years and therefore you are a totally new person. Maybe we all had to heal a little before getting back to work on our projects? The other two people are Damon Devine, who was Yma’s caregiver and friend. He is working on a book that I really want to see come to life and I want to help promote. The other is Thomas Lauderdale of the band Pink Martini. I introduced him to Yma to record a song and she gave him a great start.

3. Why is Scarlet Envy the perfect drag queen to portray Yma? What aspects of Yma do you see in Scarlet? Spencer Rothman, the editor of this project has gone so far and beyond helping make this show come to life, introduced me to her. He saw I was really struggling to cast the project. I went through so many options. The problem was...if I was making a show that says "Yma has the greatest voice in the world ever," then how do I cast a live singer? No-one can sing these songs. (if you are reading this and you think this is incorrect….please introduce me to the singer that you think can do this).

Also, if I was in the audience for this show, I would want to hear Yma’s voice. So, the only choice seemed to be to do a lip sync show. I did consider real women along with drag performers but when it came to lip syncing, I think Drag performers have a little more practice…haha. I was already following Scarlet Envy on Instagram, so I was a fan of her beauty. She has an old Hollywood glamor to her look. She’s a beautiful woman and not a girl. I wanted the person playing Yma to be an older version of Yma. When I saw Scarlet paint herself to look like Yma, the resemblance was shocking and exciting. She had to do it. Yma’s career suffered somewhat from being considered "campy" or "kitsch" so I carefully considered whether casting a drag performer was the right thing to do but in the end I decided that the gender of the artist on stage is the last thing anyone needed to worry about. There is no nudity in the show except the male dancers show a lot of side ass.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac4. Some of Yma's greatest hits were "Malambo No. 1," "Mozart's Queen of the Night," and "Claire de Lune." In rehearsing this show what memories come up for you as hear these songs being performed? Because it is pretty rare to hear Yma’s music out in the world, I look forward to hearing my favorite songs by her on a nice loud system in a public place. I never heard Yma sing any of these songs live but when I would drive her around I would play these songs and she would drum on my dash board and sing along. One of my biggest regrets is not filming these moments. The way she would sing on top of the existing song was incredible. She would do this with any song by the way, not just hers. It was always in perfect harmony. I don’t know musical terms that well but she would also counter the melody in a very interesting way. She was also a great percussionist. Who knew the dashboard of a car could add so much great rhythm to a song?

5. The Legend of Yma Sumac incorporates unseen footage of Yma that was shot by you. How did you decide what footage to pick? What was it like to watch this footage now as opposed to when you first shot it? When I first picked up this project five years after her death, I needed to digitize some pretty archaic video formats (the project started in the 80’s). When I first started watching the footage, I literally broke out in hives on my face. The experience of watching the footage was a overwhelming. I put it away again until now. This year, I also won a grant from the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for my feature documentary about Yma so I’ve been working on that as well. Chip Duckett knew I was doing this and asked me if I wanted to do a live show at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, I wanted the live show to be a tribute to her so I picked footage that was happy and she looked great in.

Scarlet Envy as Yma SumacThe real Yma Sumac6. What do you hope audiences learn about Yma from attending the show? I want them to learn that she was a serious artist and had the greatest voice ever recorded. According to some experts I've interviewed, there are two other women who could sing the same scale as Yma and we know this from the music that was written for their voices but this was before the technology to record them existed.

7. What was the hardest/most emotional part of the show to write? What was the most fun part? The hardest part of the show was the end. Every time we would get to that part I would get emotional. It was a little embarrassing but luckily Spencer the editor is a friend. The "fun" part?…..did I say I had fun? Actually the whole experience has been fun.

Patti LaBelle8. In addition to Yma, you have made videos for numerous high profile artists such as Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles, amongst others. Is there a really crazy story that stands out from one of these shoots where you were like, "I can't believe that just happened?" Meeting Patti LaBelle was crazy and amazing and educational. She was the first big name person I ever directed. The record company guy took me to her hotel room and as we waited in the living room of her suite I was very nervous. From the bedroom she called out "Is that Steve Willis? I love your work!" I said "yes." She answered "Oh my, I look terrible and I don’t want to come out of my bedroom, I'm on my period." We all laughed and my nerves went away. She came out and we had a great meeting. I realized after what a pro move this was. She has probably met and intimidated many people and that's not the best place to start working with someone. Complimenting me and bringing herself to a human level was a great way to start working together.

Rebecca Romijn9. You also directed the documentary Wet Dreams with Rebecca Romijn about your attempt to approach Wet Design, the creators of the Bellagio fountain, to choreograph a fountain show of your own. What did you learn from this experience? Are there any secrets about the Bellagio fountain or fountain show that you can share with us that we, the public, might not know? That was an amazing experience. I was the first civilian to swim in the Bellagio Fountain. The film is about what we learned and the secrets of the fountain. It is on Youtube. So, if you want to know the answer to this question you need to watch the film ๐Ÿ˜Š

10. What is something Yma taught you that you can share with us? She taught me not to compromise on your artistic vision no matter what. Once you have a clear vision, everyone can go to hell before you compromise on any small detail. I’ve never seen anyone hold to this more strongly and I've worked with many of the top people in the Film, TV and Fashion Industry.

Steve WillisMore on Steve:

Steve Willis is a filmmaker, photographer, and music video director. As a music video director, he has made videos for numerous artists, including Mary J. Blige, Patti Labelle, Maxi Priest, Dawn Robinson, Miranda, and many others (including RuPaul's Drag Race stars Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles). He directed the documentary Wet Dreams with Rebecca Romijn, and is currently working on a documentary about Yma Sumac, who he befriended in 1987.