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Entries in Broadway (360)

Thursday
Apr202017

Call Answered: Caesar Samayoa: "Come From Away"

Caesar SamayoaThere are certain dates that will forever be embedded in everyone's mind: One of those dates is September 11, 2001, the day the Twin Towers were struck. 

Now, there is a new Broadway musical, Come From Away, about the 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that put their lives on hold and opened their homes to this world of strangers. On 9/11, the world stopped. On 9/12, their stories moved us all.

Caesar Samayoa is one of the actors who gets to share these stories eight times a week. Out of tragedy comes unity. And through this interview, Caesar reinforces how Broadway comes together to uplift during difficult times. It's hard to find the good when there is so much evil out there, but Caesar and the rest of the cast of Come From Away have found a way to share the love that took place in Newfoundland.

Come From Away plays the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre (236 West 45th Street, between Broadway & 8th Avenue). Click here for tickets!

For more on Come From Away and tickets visit http://www.comefromaway.com and follow the show on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For more on Caesar be sure to visit http://www.caesarsamayoa.com and follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? I really owe it all to one of my teachers way back in grammar school, Mrs. Reynolds. I’m a first generation American and theatre was not really a part of our lives. My parents were extremely hard workers trying to get their family settled in a new country. My teacher approached a neighbor who had a child in an acting program and said she should bring me to it one day. And that was it. That was 5th grade and I was involved in the arts ever since. For some reason though it never occurred to me that I could do it professionally. I was in college majoring in International Relations when I happened to come to NYC and saw Anna Deavere Smith in Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Her performance shook me to the core. Multiple characters and each one completely transformational with such simplicity. A story that was so human and so relevant. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. The lights came up and I absolutely knew that I had to do THAT with my life. I transferred into a conservatory acting program and have been performing ever since. So thank you Mrs. Reynolds and Anna Deavere Smith!

2. What made you want to audition for Come From Away? What went through your head when you found out you booked the show? All my agent had told me was I have a script for you about a musical dealing with the week following 9/11. I’m a New Yorker - I was here during 9/11 and know people that were lost that day. I couldn't fathom what this was, and to be honest, was very trepidatious about even reading it. I never say no without reading so I sat down in my living room and from the first page I could NOT put it down. Even in that first version - the story, the characters, the heart - it was overwhelming. It was extremely moving and then there was the whole premise of playing multiple characters. I called my agent and said "I don’t know what I have to do to be a part of this but please get me an audition!"

My auditions and callbacks spanned about three months and when I finally got the call that I booked it I couldn't believe it. It’s exactly the kind of work I love to do. And there was no talk of Broadway, no talk about anything other than a developmental run at La Jolla at that point. I was going to be working with this dream team, telling such an important human story. I felt like I had hit the jackpot - and to be honest, I did!

3. Of the characters you play, what do you identify most with about them? I relate so strongly to "Kevin J." He’s one of the few characters that struggles with his time in Gander. And I get it. Like I said, I’m a New Yorker and had that been me stranded in Gander; YES I would have deeply appreciated what that community had done, but all my thoughts would be with my family back in NYC. I would try to do anything I could to get back home. And I also tend to be the guy that blurts out jokes in tense situations so there's that too.

There’s a gentle kindness about "Ali" that I love. I think of my Dad when I’m playing him. My Dad always chose kindness first, even when he was looked at as an outsider. And we were for a big part of my childhood. It’s hard to imagine it now, but when we moved into our neighborhoods growing up we were always the first Latino family moving in. We were outsiders and experienced everything that came along with that. I identify so strongly with that part of "Ali’s" storyline.

Cast of "Come From Away"4. What do audiences tell you at the stage door after seeing this show? Our stage door interactions have just been incredible. The conversations are different with this show. It’ not so much about how good you or the show are, but about thanking us for just telling this story. It’s so humbling. Two stories stick out:

I remember this one young woman approached me and told me she was Muslim and never realized how much her parents lives changed after 9/11. Her parents always made her feel that being pulled out of security lines was just normal growing up. She promised to bring her parents back to the show and she did. Her father said "Thank you for telling this story. We see ourselves in your show and we so rarely do."

I’ll never forget this one night though. This woman stopped me and said "This is my second time seeing this show and I would like to give this to you." She handed me what looked like a card. She had worked in 1 World Trade Center and survived that day. One of the fortunate people that got out. It was her ID from 1 World Trade Center. She said "I finally have a different story of that day in my head. Thank you."

These are the kinds of interactions that are happening. They are so beautiful.

5. In rehearsing for this show or during the run of the show so far, what has gone through your mind as you play out this real-life story? Every time I take a step back to really look at what’s happening I get overwhelmed. I am so deeply grateful to be chosen to tell this story. I feel a great responsibility to every person that we are playing. To honor them and to do them proud. For me, doing the concert in Gander was the most important part of our two year journey to Broadway. We did a concert version of this show for 5000 people, IN the actual town the show takes place. The real people that we play were there. To experience the pride this community had of having their story told. I’ll never forget it.

"Come From Away"6. Because Come From Away is about events that took place on 9/11, is there something special the cast does together either before or after each performance? What is so beautiful about this cast is that our two year journey with this extraordinary show has made us into a solid family. We couldn't be more different than each other, yet there is a connection between us that I don’t think I’ll experience again. This show is so much about community that we simply take a good amount of time to connect with each other before the show. We’re usually at the theatre early and just spend time with each other. This kind of connection translates onstage. There is a flag from Gander that flew over the Town Hall that is now hanging Stage Left and we all get to see it before the show. A reminder of the real people that we are honoring and the real stories we are sharing. Also, half the cast starts the show on Stage Left and the other Stage Right. Each side has a special tradition that they do to kick off each show. But that’s secret. :)

7. How do you prepare yourself each night to tell this moving story? We are ALL IN with this show. So my days are focused around being ready for the performance. I take my health and fitness very seriously in order to do this. I’m very careful about what I eat and I workout regularly, especially boxing. My part of the dressing room is filled with things that remind me of our journey and of the people that are part of this show. The real life people, the audiences we have met along the way, the experiences we’ve had. I take about five minutes to myself to focus and right before I step onstage I say a little Thank You. It’s different every night but my Dad is always part of it. He would have loved this show and he would have especially loved the characters I play in it. I always thank him right before I step out on stage.

Caesar Samayoa rehearsing for "Come From Away"8. On Come From Away's website's it states "On September 11, 2001 the world stopped. On September 12, their stories moved us all." What is a story, not necessarily about 9/11, that has moved/changed you? Last night I left the stage door and a woman approached me and said "I’m 73 years old and I have never waited by the stage door. I need to thank you and your cast for telling this story. We need to be reminded these days that people are good and all we want to do is help each other out." She gave me a hug that I will not forget and walked away.

9. You say as an actor, you never know when the next gig is coming and it’s always a surprise. What is something that you love about this lifestyle, but at the same time you hate it, but the positive outweighs the negative? The uncertainty. I remember hearing Meryll Streep say on Inside the Actors Studio- “As an actor - I’m always wondering what the next job will be."  And it’s true!! And this was Meryll Streep of all people!! The uncertainty can make you crazy if you let it. But then there's the flip-side. This is one of the few careers where your life can literally change over night. You’re feeling like all those years of hard work and jobs and momentum aren't getting you anywhere, and all of a sudden - Boom!, you are in one of the most amazing experiences of your life. Like Come From Away. Come From Away is absolutely one of the most amazing experiences of my life and it came out of nowhere.

10. I read that you live to inspire life, love, excitement, power and creativity. Well, I too live to inspire. 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? Kindness. Living in NYC can be overwhelming. Just walking down the sidewalk. Thousands of people that refuse to look at each other. But have you noticed what happens when you just take a second to smile at someone? And if you take another extra moment to be kind in some way. To acknowledge someone or to help a stranger. You can physically feel the effect kindness has.  It completely changes the energy. And other people notice it too. I try to simply be a kinder person. And it has a beautiful ripple effect. Be 1% kinder in your daily life and watch how your life can change.

Caesar SamayoaMore on Caesar:

Broadway: Sister Act, The Pee Wee Herman Show. Select Off-Broadway: Love's Labour's Lost (Delacorte Theater), Shakespeare's R&J, Bernstein's Mass (Carnegie Hall). Credits include leading roles in Film, TV, Off-Broadway and Regional Theatre Companies including The Public Theatre, Yale Rep, La Jolla Playhouse, Goodspeed Musicals, and Tectonic Theater Project. Caesar has also appeared as a soloist at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center and various national and international concert tours. BFA, Ithaca College.  

Thursday
Apr062017

Call Redialed: NEW Facetime interview: Sheri Sanders is LEGIT! An Evening of Legit Musical Theatre + Rock The Audition Online

"Call Me Adam" catches up with Sheri Sanders, the pioneer trailblazer who started Rock The Audition, where Sheri teaches how to audition for rock musicals even cutting & arranging music for your personal needs. Now, Sheri has brought this program online, making it possible to study directly with Sheri from every corner of the world.

After dipping her toe back into performing two years ago, Sheri is taking the stage once again, this time at Subculture NYC (45 Bleecker Street, in the basement of the Lynn Redgrave Theatre) to perform a concert of legit musical theatre "Sheri style!" On April 17 at 8pm, Sheri will present Sheri Sanders is LEGIT! An Evening of Legit Musical Theatre, directed by Joe Barros. Click here for tickets!

For more on Sheri & Rock The Audition be sure to visit https://www.rock-the-audition.com and follow Sheri on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

"Call Me Adam's" NEW interview with Sheri Sanders:

Monday
Apr032017

Call Answered: Sally Schwab: Adventures in Babysitting, The Marvelous Wonderettes, NEWSical The Musical

Sally SchwabFor over 10 years I have been a fan of Sally Schwab. Ever since I saw her star in Tom D'Angora's (Call Me Adam's very first participant) A Broadway Diva Christmas, I was hooked on her glorious vocals! She has repeatedly won me over and over again every time I see her sing.

In addition to being a high school history teacher, starring in the Off-Broadway revival of The Marvelous Wonderettes and being a swing in the long-running hit musical NEWSical the Musical, Sally is bringing back her one woman show Adventures in Babysitting for three performances only at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC! Adventures in Babysitting recounts Sally's story of arriving to the Great White Way as a young, wide-eyed aspiring theatre actress. It follows Sally as she navigates the insane world of auditions while paying her dues working odd gigs, including what would become her go-to survival job: helping to raise NYC's most colorful children.

Joining Sally in Adventures in Babysitting are Alex Ringler (Broadway’s West Side Story, first national tour of A Chorus Line and off Broadway’s Pageant) Dylan Thompson (NEWSical the Musical and Naked Boys Singing!) and Gregory Sullivan (Naked Boys Singing!). Music direction is by eight-time MAC Award winner and Bistro Award winner Tracy Stark.

Adventures in Babysitting will play at The Laurie Beechman Theatre in NYC (407 West 42nd Street, between 9th & 10th Avenue, in the basement of the West Bank Cafe) on Monday, April 3 at 7pm, Monday, April 17 at 9:30pm, and Monday, May 1 at 7pm! Click here for tickets!

For more on Sally follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

For more on The Marvelous Wonderettes visit https://www.themarvelouswonderettes.com!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? There were a few people in my life that really inspired me to become a performer. My entire family is very musical and has always loved musical theatre. So I grew up watching all the classics...The Sound of Music, Carousel, etc. My grandmother actually recorded the PBS Les Miserables special with Colm Wilkenson and Lea Salonga played "Eponine." I remember just falling in love with the music and studying the way she sang "On My Own." It was the only song I sang between the ages of 11 and 16. Around this same time, I was 11, my Aunt took me to NYC for the first time. Beauty and the Beast just opened on Broadway and we saw that. I remember just crying through the opening number. It was a happy, uplifting number, but I was just so moved and at that moment I knew I wanted to be a performer.

2. This April, you are revising your show Adventures In Babysitting, which recounts your story of arriving to the Great White Way as a young, wide-eyed aspiring theatre actress. It follows you through the insane world of auditions, odd jobs, and finding your go-to survival job. What made now the right time to bring this show back? I decided now was the time because I am so immersed in the performing world right now. Before Wonderettes, I haven’t performed in years. You realize very quickly it all can go away, so one day before a Wonderettes show, Tom D'Angora, my producer, and I just looked at each other and said "It’s Time."

Tom D'Angora3. Adventures in Babysitting is co-written with your long-time friend Tom D'Angora. How did you first decide to have him co-write the show with you? What was it like revisiting this show with him now? Tom and I working together is nothing but laughs from start to finish. We met 14 years ago at a Kinkos my first week in NYC. We have been working together on various projects for our entire 14-year friendship. Tom has always believed in me and supported me. I can’t remember if I said to Tom that I wanted to do my own show or if he said "you need to do your own show," but we decided a few years ago to sit down and write something. There was a restaurant on 48th Street called Mont Blanc…it’s closed now, but that was our spot. We met there one day and just started throwing ideas around and the show was born. Working on it now is just as fun. We couldn't go to Mont Blanc, but our other lucky spot is in Tom’s building. So we went there and just started reworking some bits and once again just started laughing and never stopped.

4. How do you feel the four years of life experience, since the last time you did this show, will alter the feel and style of the show? I truly think every experience in life shapes you as a performer. I have been teaching in a public high school in the South Bronx for the past four years. I have grown so much as a human and learned so much about myself. I think it has made me a much more confidant performer. Also, the past year playing "Betty Jean," in a comedic show, has really helped me as an actor. When I did the show years ago, I wasn’t performing, so I wasn’t used to being on a stage. I didn’t have that same confidence that I am hopeful I do now. Haha! I hope the feel and style stays the same though….I just hope I can make it even funnier than last time.

Sally Schwab5. Let's break down this story without giving too much away! It's no secret that your go-to survival job was babysitting the kids of NYC. Why do you think babysitting stuck where so many other "odd jobs" didn't? What did you learn about yourself from babysitting other people's kids? Babysitting stuck because I am such a family person. My first year in NYC was really hard. I was so homesick and missed my family so much. I was so fortunate to meet a couple of really incredible families right away. Yes, I watched their kids, but they welcomed me and included me as a member of their family and that was exactly what I needed. It gave me a sense of stability at a time when I didn’t know anyone and was figuring out my way through the city. I learned through babysitting that I was really good with kids. Working with kids was the best fit for me.

6. How did babysitting lead to you being a high school social studies teacher? What was it like to bring your love of theatre to these high school kids, who have never seen a stage show before, and start their first ever musical theatre department? I love being a performer, there is nothing like taking the stage every night. However, the work I have done as a teacher in the South Bronx is something I am so proud of. Working with this demographic of student has changed my life. I am the person I am today because of these kids. Babysitting taught me that I really loved working with kids, so getting a Masters in Education seemed like the perfect fit. I have always loved history and I knew I wanted to teach it in a way that could be fun and engaging for the kids. I don’t want to brag, but I was writing historical raps for my students well before Hamilton came out. Haha! The kids love when I rap. Of course, musical theatre was always on my mind and our school has a gorgeous stage that never had a musical on it. I knew my mission. My first year teaching I directed and choreographed Once on this Island. This became the schools first ever musical. Now, they are about to have the 4th musical in a row! There are no words to describe the feelings I felt watching these kids take the stage and perform for the first time ever. These are kids who don’t have a lot. They come from an extremely tough neighborhood and just getting them to rehearsals was a challenge. But they persisted and they were all shining stars. My family and friends all came to town to see the show too. It was probably one of the most magical nights of my life. I cried from start to finish.

Cast of "The Marvelous Wonderettes"7. In addition to Adventures in Babysitting and being a high school teacher, you are also starring in the hit Off-Broadway revival of The Marvelous Wonderettes and as a swing in the long-running hit show NEWSical The Musical. How do you keep yourself balanced with such a varied and demanding schedule? That is the biggest challenge of my life right now. I am working seven days a week and every job that I am working is demanding in its own way. I constantly need to switch the roles I play in life. I hit the stage and spend two hours singing in the Wonderettes and having a blast with the gals, then in bed and ready to be up at 6:30am for a full day of teaching. It is intense, but I find time here and there to sit on my couch and watch some Housewives. The girls in the show Ryann Redmond, Jenna Leigh Green and Laura Woyasz have become three of my closest friends, so after every Sunday matinee we go out for dinner and drinks. It is time I really cherish and long after the shows close, it is something I will continue to do with these girls. They have become family. The hardest part is not seeing my friends I don’t work with. It is hard to find time to see people I don’t do a show with or teach with. Also, one day, one day soon, I would love to go on a vacation.

8. 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? Can I pick two things?? Haha!! I need to improve my eating habits. I am always on the go which makes it so hard to cook a nice meal. I love to cook and I don’t have any time to do it. So my bank statement pretty much is all Seamless. So that I need to improve. The second thing is not being afraid to say no to things. I take on too much and I need to say no sometimes.

Sally Schwab in "The Marvelous Wonderettes"9. What do you love about starring in The Marvelous Wonderettes? What do you relate to most about "Betty Jean"? What is on characteristic of hers you are glad you, yourself, don't possess? I love Wonderettes so much. I have been with the show since the beginning and to see how we have evolved this past year has been an incredible thing to see. Wonderettes is such a feel good show. I love making people laugh and smile every night. I mean, when you hear "It’s My Party," how do you not have a good time. Also, the people have made this experience incredible. The cast and crew have become family. I look so forward to going to work knowing I get to see these gals that have become my best friends. We have shared so much and gone through so much together and they will be lifelong friends.

I relate very much to "Betty Jean's" goofiness and how feisty she is. She has such a positive spirit....even when things don't go her way, she tries to fight through it and stay positive. I like to think I am like that. The one characteristic of "Betty Jean" that I am glad I don't possess is her willingness to just go back to "Johnny" after he isn't faithful to her. I doubt I would be so forgiving.

10. In this post-election world we live in, what makes being in NEWSical The Musical so great? There is so much going on politically in the world right now and to have jokes and songs to poke fun at the administration in such a turbulent time is really helpful for all of us. When I stop and think about everything that is going on it really enrages me. Performing in NEWsical gives us an outlet and an artistic way to express some feelings. There is a really great Melania Trump number that is just so much fun to do. Expression through art is a really great way to cope with what is going on.

Sally SchwabMore on Sally:

Sally Schwab made her Off-Broadway debut in A Broadway Diva Christmas, produced by Tom and Michael D’Angora. She later went on to appear in Back in Pictures and as "Queenie" in the Provincetown Theatre’s production of Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party. She attended the University at Buffalo for musical theatre and holds a Masters degree in Education from Hunter College.

She currently stars as "Betty Jean" in The Marvelous Wonderettes and as the female swing in NEWSical the Musical, both playing at The Kirk Theatre. The Marvelous Wonderettes takes a cotton-candied colored musical trip down memory lane with four girls whose hopes and dreams are as big as their crinoline skirts. Their lives and loves from prom night to their ten year reunion are told through more than twenty chart topping hits of the fifties. NEWSical the Musical spoofs all the headlines of the day in side splitting numbers. Both are produced by Tom D’Angora.

Monday
Mar272017

Call Answered: Laurence Maslon: Broadway & Musical Theatre Historian

Laurence MaslonWhile I'm thrilled to be done with my schooling, education has always been an important part of my life, which is why I continue to keep my brain active and learn as much as I can. 

For as much as I know, there is always someone who knows more than me, and that's why, these people are experts. When a request came in to interview Laurence Maslon, an expert on Broadway/Musical Theatre, I jumped at the opportunity to speak with him. We talked about teaching musical theatre history, famous students, favorite Broadway shows, PBS specials, and so much more!

Laurence is the host of the weekly NPR radio show Broadway to Main Street, which just featured special guest Steven Pasquale. Broadway to Main Street airs every Sunday at 3pm on NPR affiliate NY/Long Island station WPPB/88.3FM.

For recent episodes and more on Broadway to Main Street visit http://www.broadwaytomainstreet.com and follow the show on Facebook!

1. You are one of the leading experts on Broadway/musical theatre history and an Arts Professor at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. What made you fall in love with this genre? I was very lucky to: A., grow up 52 minutes from Manhattan on the Long Island Rail Road and B., have parents who were still very enamored of theater and movies from their youth. So, the first two albums I listened to as three-year-old (they were on these flat black circular things called "records") were Noel Coward in Las Vegas and Oh Captain!, a 1958 musical with Tony Randall. My parents didn’t go to Broadway much, if at all, so a friend’s mother took us to see 1776 in 1969, from the back row of the 46th Street Theater. I was totally hooked; I remember writing, directing, and starring in my own 12-minute version of the show in my 5th Grade Social Studies class. I thought all musicals were about guys in wigs yelling at each other; a few years later, when I saw shows with chorus girls and tap dancing, I had no idea what they were doing in a musical.

Laurence Maslon2. What do you get from teaching? What is something one of your students taught you? For me, it’s about sharing enthusiasm and passing along a history that you love. Context is so important, especially in our perspective-challenged times. I don’t (necessarily) expect a student to share my passion for Noel Coward or 1776, but if he/she can understand or appreciate the context for Madonna or Hamilton, respectively, her/his appreciation of what’s in front of them might be more meaningful. Facts are not, in and of themselves, important; seeing how things fit together in a cultural continuum is important.

When I started teaching my NYU Graduate Acting class called "The Now of Then" (back in 1995), I taught two plays written and set in the 1930s, Golden Boy and Stage Door. One of the students in the second class I taught was black and he said, essentially, "There’s nothing about me in these plays." So, I went out and looked at what black playwriting was like in the 1930s and discovered an unproduced play by Langston Hughes called Little Ham. It kicked off my love affair with the Harlem Renaissance and both the play and its cultural context have been an essential part of my curriculum ever since.

3. One of your former students, Mahershala Ali just won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Moonlight. As his teacher, what went through your head when you saw him win? Had you kept in touch with him over the years since you taught him? Hersh was always a kind, thoughtful gentleman and well-deserves his success.  Our jaws dropped when he thanked three of his NYU teachers—and I can only assume he ran out of time before he thanked me. (That’s a joke).

4. You are the host/producer of the weekly NPR radio show Broadway to Main Street where you interview Broadway performers. What is something you've learned about Broadway from your interviews that you did not know before? Who do you still hope to interview? My radio program is more about programming topics and themes around music that made its debut on the American musical stage: in addition to original cast recordings, I play renditions from films, cabaret, jazz, pop recordings. Interviews are just a part of that programming. I’m very lucky when I can get folks into the NYC studio (I usually record in Southampton) to talk about their work and, more interestingly, talk about what music inspires them and what music they put out into the world. I do an annual holiday show and my guests have included Jordan Gelber, Ann Harada, Malcolm Gets, Veanne Cox, and Lewis J. Stadlen for each holiday show over the last five years; I love what they bring in as the songs that influenced their holidays growing up (or what holiday material they have performed in their careers). It’s fascinating to me the range of music that influences a Broadway performer—not everyone grew up with The Music Man. (I always hated that show; give me Oh Captain!)

I haven’t learned that much about the "biz"—because it’s not really that kind of program. I have learned that performers often don’t love the recordings of their own work that I love. Both Marin Mazzie and Veanne weren’t totally in love with some stuff of theirs I picked for the show, but I think, in context with their other recording work on the program, they came around. Through a wonderful bit of serendipity, William Daniels—who I saw in my first Broadway show—has written a new memoir. I reached out to his publicist and—voila!—he’ll be my guest for an hour-long program in June. The idea that I could interview a lifelong hero on my own program, listening to his performances and talking about them is amazing to me.

5. If you had to choose eight Broadway shows (one for each day of the week + a matinee) to watch on a loop, which shows would they be?

Monday: Pal Joey (to get the rhythms flowing)

Tuesday: A Little Night Music (something a bit more reflective)

Wednesday: Do Re Mi or Top Banana (a little Phil Silvers to get through the hump)

Thursday: Golden Boy (a good night to be thoughtfully engaged)

Friday: On The Twentieth Century (because it’s the end of the week and let’s have fun!)

Saturday matinee: 1776 (so I could take my nine-year-old son)

Saturday night: It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…Superman! (maybe my wife would let him stay out late…)

Sunday: Sunday in the Park with George (because, well….)

Sammy Davis Jr.6. Another project you have going on is a documentary for PBS about Sammy Davis Jr. You have worked on several programs for PBS. What do you love about creating projects for them? PBS is by far the most thoughtful and well-produced venue for historical context of any kind, particularly the arts. I’ve been most fortunate in collaborating with producer/director Michael Kantor on most of my writing projects; he makes it easy and fun and jam-packed with integrity. PBS also provides a context: I’ve done two American Masters shows, one on Richard Rodgers, one of Sammy Davis, Jr,, about two decades apart; but what makes them each masters of American culture? How do they fit together as part of a continuum?

7. Why did you want to do a documentary about Sammy Davis Jr.? What is something about Sammy Davis Jr. that you can share with us, that the average fan would not know about him? For one thing, the current generation knows practically nothing about him, but in many ways, he defines popular culture of the 21st Century; he set the terms. Sammy has always been a source of pure joy for me. I tend to favor "cool" performers--Noel Coward or Chris Connor or Mabel Mercer or Bill Evans—but Sammy always gave 110%; he’d "pulverize you" with his talent as one of our interviewees, George Schlatter, said. There’s something terribly attractive about that. He was also incredibly complex, as a black man living through the most racially charged times of the 20th Century: when he was trying to make it in the first part of his career, he had to fight white audiences; when he became a success, he then had to fight black audiences. The struggle never ended for him, so he kept re-adapting his identity: "I’ve Gotta Be Me" is our subtitle. But which "me"?—that’s the question, and it’s something we can all relate to. There are a million things in his life that people don’t know—he was a fantastic photographer, he marched at Selma, he was the first black actor to have a dramatic show on television, on and on—but, a lot of people remember nothing about Golden Boy.  Here was Sammy—a major recording star, think of John Legend meets Chris Rock—giving up hundreds of thousands of dollars in club dates, etc., to star in a demanding role on Broadway in 1963, in a show created just for him, about civil rights in America. He had eight songs, plus two fight sequences, and he did eight shows a week for eighteen months, then did it on tour in Chicago and London. So he spent three years at his prime on the stage, in one of the most challenging roles in Broadway musical history: where’s the credit for that? Who would even think of attempting that today?

8. Another series you worked on for PBS is the Emmy-nominated Make 'Em Laugh. What makes you laugh in these post-election times? What has been the funniest thing to happen to you during one of your interviews? Nowadays, the only thing I find vaguely amusing are the three political musicals of the 1930s by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and the Gershwins: Strike Up the Band, Of Thee I Sing, and Let ‘Em Eat Cake. They are all timely and timeless and prefigured the American infatuation with being bamboozled nearly a century ago. They are always worth returning to. 

We interviewed Jerry Lewis, actually for the Sammy Davis documentary, and he talked about being funny: "I was funny when I was four, I was funny when I was fourteen…I was funny when I was 74, I was funny when I was 84…" And I said, "So, Jerry, that means you were funny only once every ten years?" And he laughed: really, really hard.

George Carlin (who was interviewed for MEL) signed my album cover of Class Clown: "To Larry—Fuck You, George Carlin."

9. One of your books that really peaked my interest was Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. If there was a film or comic book created around Trump winning the election and the dark times we are living in, what superhero or team of superheroes do you think could help save us? Maybe "The Flash" could get on the Cosmic Treadmill and run really fast and take us back in time to the summer of 2016 when we could think more seriously about what we were in for. ("Kang the Conqueror" could do that, too, but he’s a bad guy.) Maybe "The Joker" could just show up somewhere to remind us how dangerous a clown can be.

10. Since you are an interviewer yourself, what is one question I did not ask you that you wish I did? (Please provide the answer to that question as well). How did you get to be here, Mr. Shepard?

It’s just amazing to me that all the things I loved growing up—Broadway shows, music, comic books, comedy, old-time radio, the world of the 1930s, Kaufman and Hart, Hollywood movies—I not only still get to "play" with, I get paid to do it. I just had fun with all of this, and got more and more curious about it and read more and more about it, and—lo and behold!—I became an "expert" in it (although there’s always someone who knows more than you do about anything). The responsibility is to share that knowledge and enthusiasm with the next generation.

Laurence MaslonMore on Laurence:

Laurence Maslon is the Associate Chair/Arts Professor at the Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, with an affiliation in the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

His most recent publication is American Musicals (1927-1969), a two-volume set of sixteen musicals which he edited for Library of America. He is the host and producer of the weekly radio series, Broadway to Main Street, broadcast on the NPR-affiliate station WPPB-FM. Among his books are Superheroes! Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture (Random House); Some Like It Hot: The Official 50th Anniversary CompanionThe South Pacific CompanionThe Sound of Music Companion (2007; revised with foreword by Julie Andrews, 2015). With Michael Kantor, he co-wrote two episodes of the Emmy-winning Broadway: The American Musical as well as the companion volume (updated edition published by Applause in paperback) and the liner notes for the five-disc box set for the series, released by Sony/Decca.

He also cowrote the six-part PBS series Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America with Kantor, as well as the companion volume; they were nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing of a Non-Fiction Series for this show. Laurence wrote the acclaimed American Masters/Thirteen documentary Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sounds and is the editor of Kaufman & Co., the Library of America edition of George S. Kaufman’s plays, as well as the official website, www.georgeskaufman.com.

He has written for The New YorkerThe Huffington PostThe Daily Beast and Slate; created concerts and programs for Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Carnegie Hall; and served on the nominating committee for the Tony Awards from 2007 to 2010. He is currently working on an American Masters documentary on the life of Sammy Davis, Jr. for PBS.

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.