Sunday, August 31, 2008

Everyone has a story

As I watched the Democratic Convention last week, I was happy to get a glimpse of Barack Obama's life story. Like many people, I didn't know much about him, though that didn't deter me from being absolutely blown away by some of his speeches early on in his campaign. In fact, I had originally been a Hillary supporter, but after I saw Obama speak, I knew this was the person who could truly be an amazing Commander and Chief. Every time someone threw some garbage his way, he handled it with great poise and calm, and I believe that's what this country needs in a leader.

Watching his story and watching history take place, made me think about my own stories and the people who brought me into this world (like my Dad and grandparents pictured left). My Mom had done some genealogy research when I was a teen, and she made a huge family tree, tracing our roots back to the Goddard and Daniel families of the 1600s! The Goddards were mostly from England and the Daniel family was actually the Scottish Daniell. Both families came to America and men from both sides ended up marrying Cherokee women. The families settled in the middle of the country, but moved west in the 40s.

The current play I'm working on makes me think so much of my family, because it takes place in the 40s, which my grandparents and great-aunts and uncles always had such great stories about. I have a feeling they'd enjoy Johnny On A Spot, which has some delicious history itself in that it opened on Broadway right before America became involved in World War Two, so it didn't get a chance to play long. In fact, this production is the first Off Broadway production to happen since then!

It was written by Charles MacArthur who wrote a ton of plays including Twentieth Century and The Front Page which became a film of its own title and was later remade as His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant. Johnny On A Spot crackles with that same fast-paced wit and has a huge cast of characters! There are 3 women and 13 men! Isn't that wild? Usually it's the other way around, and I appreciate that Mr. MacArthur lets the ladies take the limelight.

I play Barbara Webster, a feisty little southern belle who I'm sure modeled herself after Scarlett O'Hara! She is an absolute whirlwind of a character who comes onstage and simply stirs up trouble. And I have to laugh, because as a kid, I used to watch Gone With the Wind whenever it came on TV, and I just loved it! I think my parents had even taken me to an actual theatrical showing of the film where it played with an intermission. And what little girl didn't want to be either Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz or Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind? Well, I have to simply marvel because I've gotten to play both these character types this year when I sang as Judy Garland in Hell's Belles and now as Miss Barbara Webster in Johnny On a Spot.

So Johnny opens this week for previews! Wowza! And it's my first lengthy run Off Broadway (5 weeks), so it's really a time for celebration! Yahoo!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Last Dance

Yesterday was the final Fringe show for Kaboom, and it was a blast! So many friends and family filled the audience, and there's always something especially cool about the audience for a final show. It's almost like everyone's there to see what "parting gift" they might get in the way of an inside joke or a magical mistake or some last minute zaniness from the actors on stage.

Well, we had such a moment in Act One when a sound cue was missed. Our tech folks were in a tiny brick "booth" off stage right with no visibility except for a teeny little monitor, so its no wonder! But it happened on my cue of knocking on an invisible door, so I just said, "Knock, knock, knock," and the audience erupted in laughter! So we went right along with it and had a laugh ourselves, enjoying that connection with the crowd and the magic of live theatre.

It all went too fast really. With only a few weeks of rehearsal and 5 performances spread out over 2 weeks, by the final show, we all felt like we were just getting in the groove!

My stage partner, John DiDomenico (pictured with his wife at the cast party), reminded me that if we were on Broadway, it would've been only our 5th performance of the week! And Ray Wills followed this up with the fact that we still would've been in tech rehearsals if we were on Broadway. But it's all good! That's what's so interesting about Fringe festivals. You have a super short amount of time to rehearse and perform, so you just throw yourself into it and do your best.

I had read somewhere that Christopher Plummer comes to his first rehearsal with the script already memorized, and while that's not quite possible with a show that's a work-in-progress, I can see why he does it. That way he can savor absolutely every moment of the ride, of discovering the evolution of the characters and their journey.

Kaboom was a blast! I would do it again in a heartbeat!

When the show was over, we went to Daddy-O's in the Village to celebrate. Got lots of cool pics. Hope you dig em!

The cast and crew give kudos to our writer, Michael Small.

Michael Small and his lovely wife, Cindy (right).

Our director BT McNicholl with John DiDomenico outside Cherry Lane Theatre (on left). And Our associate director and choreographer PennyAyn Maas (on right).

Our awesome crew: JonMarkPonder (asst. dir), David Premack (sound), Amanda Gwin (asst. stage manager), and Devan Hibbard (our sensational stage manager).

The Kaboom guys backstage: Tyler Hollinger, Ray Wills, John DiDomenico (back) Jim Barry and Fred Rose
Kristen Cerelli and I share a hug backstage (above).

Some friends and fellow artists from PA and NJ came to join in the fun!
Thanks, Carolyn, Chris, Jayne and Dwayne! You guys rock!
And many thanks to my super troopers who've come to see just about every show I've ever done in the Big Apple: Robbie (my sweetpea), Carl, Michael and Ataman.

A big thanks to all my friends and family who've been a part of this ride. I love you all!

Hope you all had a blast!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Seeing Stars

This has been a wild couple of months! Not only am I now engaged and sporting a big rock on my little finger which feels like a mini galaxy of stars on my left hand, but the past 2 shows I've done have brought some amazing Broadway stars across my path.

In May, I performed in the staged reading of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with Emily Skinner, and my friend Kristine Zbornik brought Faith Prince with her to see the show! They sat right in the front row and the cast was agog! Faith Prince.... watching us??? She'd recently been nominated for the Tony Award for A Catered Affair, and there she was... in our audience! It was surreal.

Then last night, Donna Murphy came to see Kaboom! Our leading man, Ray Wills, worked with Ms. Murphy on Broadway in Wonderful Town, and I've been a fan of her work on stage and screen for years!

I'm astounded that these incredible Broadway stars, all of whom I've admired for years, have come to see shows I'm performing in this year! It makes me realize how truly communal and supportive the theatre world really is. I've seen their work and now they're seeing mine. It is beyond cool!

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Tale of Two Theatres

It has been a wild couple of weeks! I've been rehearsing Johnny On A Spot at The Theatre at St. Clements during the day and performing Kaboom at the Cherry Lane Theatre at night. It has been so cool to shuttle between these two historic Off Broadway theatres, to be working with exceptional casts and crews on 2 zany comedies!

We had a photoshoot at St. Clements last weekend, which was also the opening weekend for Kaboom! So I went from being a 1940s glamor gal for Johnny to a modern psychadelic bicycle messenger for Kaboom at night.

We were blessed with a full house for Kaboom on opening night, and received great response. Truly, we were just happy to get through a full run with lights and sound, because our opening night was our 2nd run with these elements! You see, that's the thing with the Fringe and with other festivals like NYMF. You don't get to rehearse in the theatre you're actually performing in. You get ONE rehearsal with tech (lights and sound) and that's it!

For The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun, we didn't even get a full tech rehearsal because our tech was scheduled opening night! Those folks who've worked in musical theatre know how insane incorporating lights, scene changes, and sound can be, and to do it in a few hours is truly impossible. So I was seriously impressed that we were able to get through Kaboom with relatively few tech issues.

Also, something I've come to realize with festivals is that it allows authors the chance to see how an audience responds to their work. And that means that more often than not, the writer will make script changes, which means new or cut lines for the actors and cue changes for the tech crew, and the director will often find and give new directions. So a festival show will change from one performance to the next. And you know what? I LOVE IT! It is a wild and wooly ride, but if we let go and really go with this ride, it can be a blast! I've learned so much from it! And you know, I suspect that there are many shows in many venues, film and TV included, that make changes the spur of the moment in order to create a better production. It's all a work in progress. And there are beautiful discoveries to be made along the way.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Gearing up for Opening Night: Kaboom!

It has been a whirlwind of a week! On Wednesday, I had tech rehearsals at the Cherry Lane Theatre for Kaboom and I have to say it was one of the smoothest techs I've been through! Considering we had to do a load-in of set, costumes and props in 15 minutes and be ready for performance in 10 minutes, that is amazing! And then running the show with lights and sound in only 3 hours (it's a 2 hour show and most tech rehearsals for a show of this calibre are usually 8 hours at least), it was quite a feat!

Major kudos to our Kaboom crew including our stage manager, Devan Hibbard, Amanda Gwin (Asst. SM), Jon Mark Ponder (asst. director), Travis McHale (scenic designer), Jen Schriever (lighting designer), David Premack (sound designer), Ren LaDassor (costume designer), Oliver Horsey (production asst.), and of course our associate director/choreographer Penny Ayn Maas, casting director Jamibeth Margolis, director BT McNicholl, and our lovely writer/producer Michael Small.

And of course the cast has been a dream to work with! Ray Wills, who helms Kaboom as the con man behind all the explosive action, was one of Nathan Lane's alternates in The Producers on Broadway and was touted for his strong voice and absolute funniness. He also went on for Jason Alexander in the LA production of the show. Fred Rose, our "straight man," played the cello as the character David in the Broadway production of Company. Kristen Cerelli and I had taken a workshop with Jersey Boys musical director Ron Melrose, and besides being an awesome singer-songwriter, she is a lovely funny lady. John DiDomenico is hysterical as Kaljo Bouree, "Mick Jagger of the Kazoo." He is also an incredible mimic and had me in stitches last night with his Austin Powers/Dr. Evil impressions. Tyler Hollinger and Jim Barry round out the cast and they are both brilliantly funny.

We open this Saturday at 6:45 PM on Cherry Lane's Mainstage. There may still be a few tickets left, so if you're in the mood for a zany comedy, come on by!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Living the Dream

I've been hearing this phrase a lot lately. All of my friends have been saying it, "Laura, you're living the dream." And it's so cool to realize that... Yes! I am!

I started rehearsals yesterday for Johnny On A Spot at the Theatre at St. Clement's. Director Dan Wackerman introduced the cast and crew before the table-read and gave us a bit of background on this lovely Off Broadway theatre. Turns out its the 2nd oldest off Broadway theatre! Cherry Lane, where I'll be performing this Saturday in Kaboom is the first, dating back to the 1920s.

St. Clements was the home for The American Place Theatre in the 60s (Tennessee Williams and Myrna Loy were two of the original Board members) and now its home for the Peccadillo Theatre Company.

Our table-read went really well. It's a big cast! But I guess a lot of the productions in the 40s had large casts, so its cool to be in the thick of it all. Plus I'm surrounded by men! It's me and 2 other actresses surrounded by a lot of fellas. :)

Then after the Johnny rehearsal, I boogied home for some dinner and then dashed off for Kaboom rehearsal. We got to play on our set, which was in a warehouse in Jersey.

Since Kaboom is part of the Fringe Festival we're only in the Cherry Lane for 5 actual performances. But we have GREAT time-slots, so that's incredibly cool.

In the meantime, our set is in holding until tech rehearsals, which are tomorrow actually! Woo!

Stay tuned!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Small World, Isn't It?

The more I work in this biz the more I'm amazed how everyone knows each other. I did a recording for the new musical Vienna on Wednesday with Chip Fabrizi of PPI Recording. I mentioned the new show I'm doing, Kaboom! and Chip said he had worked with my director BT McNicholl on the recording of the Off Broadway show The It Girl, which BT directed and co-authored with Kaboom's writer Michael Small.

My Vienna and Hell's Belles composer, Steve Liebman, worked with my Kaboom leading man, Ray Wills.

And I discovered that the Cherry Lane Theatre, where we'll be performing Kaboom next Saturday has been the venue for so many artists! From writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Comden & Green, Gertrude Stein, David Mamet, and Sam Shepherd to illustrious actors and directors like Barbra Streisand, Gene Hackman, John Malkovich, Gary Sinise.... and now me! :)

This almost feels like the 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon game! :)

OMG! Kevin Bacon worked at the Cherry Lane Theatre!

That is too funny!

I feel like I've got a rocket on my back. I'm on my way!