Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Please see my review of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Georgia Shakespeare at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts delivered directly to your Inbox or to your news feed.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Thank you for your support!

-Susan Asher

Friday, June 26, 2009

Atlanta Icon Performs Musical Review

Please see my review of Libby Whittemore at Actor's Express at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts delivered directly to your Inbox or to your news feed.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Thank you for your support!

-Susan Asher

Thursday, June 25, 2009

LIbby Whittemore Performs at Actor's Express

Please see my interview with cabaret singer Libby Whittemore at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts. Libby will be performing at Actor’s Express this Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Please visit me often at You can go there and sign up to get new updates on the arts delivered directly to your Inbox.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

Please see my review of Georgia Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," at my new blogging site,, and sign up there to receive my latest posts.

I have had such good feedback from this blog that I have moved it to another format that works much better.

Please visit me often at You can go there and sign up to get new updates on the arts delivered directly to your Inbox.

Thank you for your support!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

'End Days' Brings Rapture

Review by guest blogger: Karin Koser

Horizon Theatre Company’s smart and sassy production of “End Days,” a play that revolves around Armageddon, blends hilarity with one character’s certainty that the world is ending.

Fresh-voiced playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer brings a zany, entertaining twist to the prediction of the world's impending doom. Having recently found Jesus, Sylvia Stein (Stacy Melich) a former reformed Jew, enters her kitchen carrying a load of Bibles. Jesus Christ, dressed in a robe and sandals, follows closely behind. With Sylvia's expectation that Armageddon is coming soon, Sylvia—with Jesus’ help—tries to save as many souls as she can. Her toughest sells are in her own household: her husband, Arthur (Robin Bloodworth), and her whiny, foul-mouthed, goth daughter, Rachel (Maia Knispel).

Jesus (Adam Fristoe) takes turns visiting Sylvia, while astrophysicist and atheist Stephen Hawking (also played by Fristoe) visits Rachel, an atheist. Fristoe uses physical comedy masterfully and subtly throughout the play. I’m not sure whether I liked him better as the cardboard Jesus or as the realistic Hawking, whose funniest bit is when he smokes pot with Rachel.

The play has many high points, starting with the opening scene featuring an Elvis-clad, guitarist and singer Nelson Steinburg, who has a crush on his new neighbor, Rachel. Nick Arapoglou is believable, lovable and adorable in his role as the bumbling, nerdy, misfit Nelson. He brings the crumbling Stein family closer and brings Arthur out of a depression he’s suffered since losing his job due to 9/11. With all the over-the-top scenes he has, Nelson never overacts, unlike Knispel, who is a bit hard to take at times with her emoting. Hearing Sylvia say, “Thank you, Jesus!” with the zeal of a Pentecostal televangelist never gets old, although Biblical literals may find it offensive.

Laufer’s dialogue is smart, thought-provoking and easy to relate to. Her writing is full of humor, comparing evangelical Christianity to Orthodox Judaism, and professing, “You can’t be Jewish on Saturday and evangelical on Sunday to cover all your bases.”

Expertly directed by Heidi Cline, “End Days” is a joy to watch. Bloodworth is terrific—except for his inconsistencies with his character’s Boston accent. His “comeback” scene moved me to tears. Melich is outstanding as the overly zealous, anxious convert, and Arapoglou is an up-and-comer to keep your eye on. Knispel is annoying at times, but redeems herself when she stops "acting" to make me want to see her in a softer part. And Fristoe nearly steals the show.

"End Days" at Horizon Theatre Company runs through June 28.

Reviewer Karin Koser is a writer, producer, publicist and sometime actress, who still regrets not taking a gap year in New York after high school to pursue acting as a career.

Susan Asher adds: Karin, I'm with you on much of this. But I think no one comes close to stealing the show from Stacy Melich, a master actor who passionately plays each moment as if she were truthfully the character Sylvia. And what a character she is!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Performers Revive Vaudeville at Actor’s Express

Pining for the theatrics of the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Buster Keaton? Vincenzo Tortorici is, so he’s bringing Vaudeville to Atlanta.

Although no one can compare to “the inimitable Groucho,” Tortorici is doing his best to bring back the feeling of the era with a one-night-only show that will include the highest caliber of variety acts in Georgia. He will present “HAVE VAUDE, VILLE TRAVEL” this Friday, June 12 at 11 p.m. at Actor’s Express.

“We have amazing performers who are at the tops at what they do,” Tortorici said. They include a juggler, musicians, comics, a mime, and a magician.

Juggler and comic Todd Key, who is known for his precarious feats of standing on two-legged ladders while juggling knives and hatchets, will do his famous hand-shadow routine and his “exploding poodle trick,” which involves balancing a wine glass on a mouth-stick while creating an explosion. He said he also will “juggle the eight most dangerous objects that can be juggled throughout history.” Key has performed at corporate shows for Coca-Cola, IBM, and 3M, and has toured four times overseas for the USO. In his 30 years of performing, Key said one of his greatest compliments came from a U.S. soldier, who said his show was “Better than the Hooter’s Girls.”

The Dukes of Uke, a quartet featuring singers and ukulele players, will sing classic Hawaiian tunes, as well as music by The Beatles and political satirist Tom Lehrer. Known for its comedy relief, the band features Tim Settimi who has played comedy clubs, festivals and colleges for more than 20 years. He was voted “Performing Artist of the Year” six times by the National Association for Campus Activities. He has appeared in feature films with Tim Conway and Goldie Hawn, and on TV for A&E’s “Comedy Tonight” and “Comedy on the Road,” and for Showtime's “Atlanta Laff-Off.” Additionally, he’s been the opening act for numerous entertainers, including Little Richard, Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine and Steve Martin.

Renowned throughout the country as a teacher and a performer, Tom Pierce blends improvisation, slapstick, and pantomime to fascinate audiences with his physical comedy. In addition to working with The Big Apple Circus and Cirque Du Soleil, he has performed for nearly 30 years in schools, theaters, and festivals in 40 states, as well as in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, England, Mexico and Cuba.

Internationally known magician Baffle-o Bill can make ripped up newspapers whole again and people disappear. When describing his Wild West act, Tortorici said imagine “David Copperfield meets Davey Crocket.”

Impersonator Dean Crownover will reincarnate Elvis Presley. Crownover has performed in numerous films, commercials and in corporate theater. He played Elvis at Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s 50th Birthday Bash.

Sarah Onsager, an actor in theaters around Atlanta, will sing classic tunes from Vaudeville’s heyday.

A 20-year theater veteran who will serve as master of ceremonies, Tortorici has performed commedia del 'arte around the world. He said, “We are the finest variety performers in the United States at this price.”

Tickets at Actor’s Express are $15 each.

Pictured in photo: Todd Key

Monday, June 8, 2009

Grammy Nominee Trumpeter Dave Douglas Releases New Album

Two-time Grammy Award nominee Dave Douglas will release “Spirit Moves” next week with his quintet Brass Ecstasy.

A prolific composer and trumpeter with 28 albums under his belt, Douglas has performed with the biggest names in jazz, including Don Byron, Don Cherry, Horace Silver and John Zorn. He has been named “Trumpet Player of the Year,” “Composer of the Year,” and “Jazz Artist of the Year” by such organizations as the New York Jazz Awards, Down Beat, Jazz Times, Jazziz, and the Italian Jazz Critics' Society. Appreciating a diversity of musical genres and artists, Douglas has made recordings with Tom Waits, Sean Lennon, Suzanne Vega, and Cibo Matto, and he has recorded versions of cover tunes by numerous pop artists, including Mary J. Blige and Bjork.

Brass Ecstasy’s first recording, “Spirit Moves,” includes eight original tunes and three cover tunes by dissimilar artists. On Ottis Redding’s soulful “Mr. Pitiful,” Douglas's addition of funk and brass flavors reminiscent of Lester Bowie and Herb Alpert practically rips you out of your seat onto the dance floor. The trumpeter turns Rufus Wainwright’s “This Love Affair” into a sultry seduction that could render Viagara obsolete, and he creates a beautiful slow, lugubrious, mellow wail out of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” “Bowie,” a tribute to the late Lester Bowie, mixes New Orleans jazz with sounds of Bowie’s fun antics with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Brass Fantasy. Brass Ecstasy members Vincent Chancey, French horn; and Luis Bonilla, trombone; were part of the latter band. Other Brass Ecstasy members include Marcus Rojas, tuba; Nasheet Waits, drums; and Dave Douglas, trumpet.

While Douglas plays with various artists and leads a couple of bands, he’s been leading Brass Ecstasy since 2005, playing at jazz festivals and clubs around the U.S. and Europe. “Spirit Moves” is available on CD, MP3 and FLAC on Douglas’s own label, Greenleaf Music. The company is offering an in-studio video recording of Brass Ecstasy, shot by Jem Cohen (REM, Patti Smith) and Christoph Green (Wilco, Burn to Shine) on DVD. Those who order the Spirit Moves preorder package by June 16 will receive an additional recording of a live set from the band’s upcoming show at the Jazz Standard in New York.

In addition to running his own record label and touring, Douglas is the cofounder of the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT). Now in its seventh year, FONT will be holding trumpet workshops and performances in New York June 26-28.

To hear sample tunes from “Spirit Moves,” visit Greenleaf Music. You can also hear Douglas on Pandora Internet Radio.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

'Jersey Boys' Shines

The national touring company of “Jersey Boys,” now playing at The Fox Theatre, is one of the best shows I’ve seen in years.

Now I know a lot of musicals are corny—"Mama Mia!" comes to mind—but this isn’t one of them. This is a story about a dream to bust out of a poor neighborhood and rise to the top in the music business.

“Jersey Boys,” winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, lets you peer into the lives of a few hoodlums from a tough neighborhood in New Jersey in the 1960s. Along the way, we meet Joe Pesci—yes, that Joe Pesci—who helps the roughnecks put a band together and names it the Four Seasons. We watch as the group plays dives around New Jersey, until it finally meets its match when it partners with songwriter Bob Guadio, then a one-hit wonder for Who Wears Short Shorts? For Frankie Valli, the nearly four-octave singer who sometimes sounds like a woman, he writes Sherry, which catapults the band to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” launching the song to the No. 1 spot on the charts. While many other Top-40 hits follow and many millions of records are sold, the band members struggle through personal and professional ups and downs, including stints in prison, divorces, the loss of their fortunes, the death of a child, and for some, a fall back to the blue-collar life.

The script, written by Woody Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, a former advertising man, is scintillating and witty. The music is so spectacular that I was sure part of it had been a recording of the original band. I checked and it’s not. Joseph Leo Bwarie, who plays Frankie and played him in the original Las Vegas cast, has a voice range that extends from tenor to soprano, and when he sings the sound stems straight from his heart. He sang the most beautiful rendition of the jazz standard “There I Go Again” I’ve ever heard. If Frankie Valli ever looked and sounded as good as Bwarie, I know why ladies swooned.

"Jersey Boys" plays through June 21 at The Fox.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

'Zanna Don’t' at Actor’s Express is a Do

Imagine living life as a heterosexual in a homosexual world. “Zanna Don’t,” now playing at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, shows us what it could be like if our sexual preference were outside the norm.

Playwright Tim Acito skillfully shows us what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. In a land of upside down living, he takes us to a place where chess players are studs, football players are geeks, and heterosexuality is an anomaly.

It’s all done tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a fun show with light, catchy pop tunes reminiscent of those in “Little Shop of Horrors.”

The story revolves around a group of students at Heartsville High and their searches for love. With a wave of his magical wand, Zanna, a Cupid-like sprite, casts spells upon the boys and girls as they descry possible mates. But alas, even Zanna cannot stop true love when the unexpected happens: a boy and a girl, each already in a relationship with another of their same sex, fall for each other. To the couple’s dismay, no matter how hard they try to stay away from each other, they can’t stop the magnetic force between them.

Although the story takes place at a high school where kids rebel against the establishment in the heartland of America, that’s about as close as it gets to other high school musicals like “Grease” and “Hairspray.” All right, “Hairspray” takes on the topic of racial equality and “Zanna Don’t” covers homosexual equality, but thankfully, “Zanna Don’t” is a lot more subtle. It doesn’t preach about equality, nor does it throw in a gratuitous, over-the-top drag queen to catch our attention. It does, however, have a fairy of sorts, Zanna, played by Ricardo Aponte.

Unfortunately, upon the show’s opening, Aponte played the role like a true “fairy.” He could have been more interesting had he chosen to play his character as a stronger being. When he finally stopped his fey ways and his mugging for the audience, in one of his final solo tunes he belted out from his heart, Some Day You Might Love Me. That is the moment when his passion and inner light sparkled far brighter than the sequined top and red pumps he closed the show in.

The play is good and the music is a fun mixture of pop, blues, and doo-wop, with catchy tunes such as I Ain’t Got Time and Whatcha Got. The show features a live band and notable performances from Erin Lorette as Roberta, Caitlin Smith as Kate, and Jimi Kocina as Mike.

“Zanna Don’t,” book, music and lyrics by Tim Acito with help from Alexander Dinelaris, has played Off Broadway, around the country, and currently is playing in London and at Actor’s Express in Atlanta, where it is running through June 20.

Photo: Eric Hermann

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chris Botti Trumps Symphony Hall

Written by guest blogger: Karin Koser

Lush. Lyrical. Light.

That was the fare tonight at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra concert at Symphony Hall. From the moment guest conductor Sarah Hicks lightly, quickly entered the stage, the hall was filled with fresh air. What, a female with bare arms leading the ASO? Long silky brown hair shaking as she directed, Hicks was warm, engaging and enjoying herself and the caliber of the musicians under her baton. Guesting from her usual assistant conductor spot in Minnesota, Hicks led the ASO in a breathless version of Debussy’s Claire de Lune. As in, I dared not breath during it, so as not to miss a single, perfect note.

Three songs later, she introduced the main attraction: trumpeter Chris Botti. To the initiated Botti fan, there was but one new addition to his usual tour fare--the exquisite young violinist Lucia Micarelli, barefoot and sparkly and the centerpiece of one of Botti’s (and my) favorite songs--the love theme from Cinema Paradiso. The show featured just one number accompanied by the considerable vocal talents of the show-stopping Sy Smith, cousin to Botti’s versatile guitarist Mark Whitfield. Her vocal rendition of The Look of Love, that iconic pop song popularized by Dionne Warwick, blew more fresh air into the room, especially when she mimicked Botti’s notes on the trumpet in a pitch-perfect vocal mirror. Everyone around me wanted more of Ms. Smith.

Botti’s show was complemented beautifully by the ASO, particularly the strings. His choice of songs--by now predictable to his fans--nonetheless showed off the exceptional range of one of the finest symphonies working in America today. To have the talented Ms. Hicks at the helm was a bonus, for Botti and the audience.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rolling Stone Chuck Leavell
to Play Benefit for UGA Music Business Program

Chuck Leavell, keyboard player for the Rolling Stones, will perform with Randall Bramlett in Athens, Ga., to benefit the Music Business Certificate Program at the University of Georgia (UGA). The program, a joint venture of the university's schools of music and business, was created to prepare students to work in any field of the music industry.

The concert will be held Friday, May 1 at the Melting Point at 8 p.m. Music Business Program co-founder Bruce Burch hopes to raise $50,000. Prior to the concert, he will auction off a trip to Nashville and signed memorabilia, including a guitar signed by Chuck Leavell and Randall Bramblett.

A member of The Rolling Stones for the past 25 years, Leavell has played with some of the biggest names in the music business, including The Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton, and George Harrison. He is an inductee into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Bramblett has recorded or performed with Steve Winwood, the Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt. Leavell and Bramlett previously played together as members of Sea Level, a band form the ‘70s that mixed jazz with blues and rock. Leavell said, “I have not played Athens as a solo artist probably since we had our band Sea Level. . . what a great thing, say hello to the Athens fans and raise some money for the program.”

Burch, a songwriter, started the Music Business Program in 2006. The program, tailored to the music industry, also provides business training for people who want to work in the entertainment field. The university provides classroom space and administrative services. The only funding comes from donations, mainly from alumni and music corporations.

Burch said, “That’s why we’re doing fundraisers, as an outreach to people in the industry to support us.” The 21-hour Music Business Certificate is available to anyone attending the university who passes seven of its classes, which include topics in industry trends, copyright laws, networking, management, production, marketing and public relations.

While many people say the record business is dying, mainly due to file-share sites that allow users to download music on the Internet, Burch believes there are and will continue to be plenty of opportunities to work in the industry. “The physical CD where you hold music in your hand may never come back, but I think we’ve reinvented ourselves,” he said. He predicts money will come from concerts and from sales of music used in films, TV shows, advertising, and video games.

Burch, who graduated from the University of Georgia in 1975, says that it’s pertinent for people wanting to work in music to understand the business side of the industry. He learned that the hard way. He moved to Nashville in 1977 and worked odd jobs for five years before he sold his first song. He waited another five years to have one of his songs, “Rumor Has It” (sung by Reba McEntire), crack the No. 1 spot on the country music charts. (Two years later, she would take another of his songs, “It’s Your Call” to the No. 1 spot again.) George Jones, The Oak Ridge Boys, Faith Hill and Dan Seals are a few of the stars who have recorded his songs and made them hits. He said had he known more about the business side of music, he might have made it five or ten years earlier.

Burch said the entertainment industry knows artists need training in how to conduct business in their field. That’s why many universities near music hubs, like Atlanta, Nashville and Los Angeles, now offer music business programs. Nashville’s Belmont University pioneered the concept of a music business program in the early ‘70s. Burch taught a music publishing class there as an adjunct professor in the ‘90s. Burch said a donation of millions of dollars from Mike Curb, who owns one of the largest independent record labels in the country, helped that program grow into a full-blown entertainment business school that awards bachelor and master degrees. “If we could get something like that [a huge donation], overnight we could become a lot bigger.” With funding, he believes UGA’s Music Business Program will grow to a full-degree program.

Presently, graduates of UGA who hold the music business certificate are working as musicians, marketers, promoters, music editors, tour managers, production assistants, and studio engineers. Some former students work for themselves and others work for some of the top companies in the business, including Live Nation, the William Morris Agency, and the Harlem School of Music. Burch said entertainment companies around the country contact his office to recommend qualified candidates to fill open positions.

As a songwriter, Burch spent his mornings penning songs and his afternoons pitching them to record companies, managers and artists. He became so good at pitching songs, he began pitching for other songwriters as well, and created his own publishing company. He later worked for EMI Publishing—the song publishing arm of the record label EMI—which makes money from selling recordings for CDs, MP3s, video games, movies, Web sites, and more. Ready for a change after nearly 30 years, he returned to Athens, a college town well known for birthing bands such as the B-52’s, R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and the Drive-By Truckers.

Burch said in the past 10 years Georgia’s music business “has exploded,” and it’s expected to grow even more with the passing of the state’s recent tax incentive, which boosts the state tax credit for qualified production and post-production expenditures by as much as 30 percent. Burch said, “There are more films and TV productions in the pipeline here than ever before.”

But without having the proper knowledge, even musicians who find jobs in the boom could get hurt. Leavell said people who want to work in the music industry need to understand the business to protect themselves. “In my career, early on I did take the time to read books on the business side of music and to talk to attorneys and to understand what I was getting myself into,” he said. “But I saw so many other young musicians that did not do that and that consequently wound up with record deals that were substandard, or they signed things that they wished they had not signed. To have a program that would teach people the fine points of the business of music is extremely important.”

The benefit for the Music Business Program will be held at The Melting Point in Athens, Ga. General admission tickets are $100. Patron pre-party tickets, at $150, include reserved seats, a silent auction and an hors d’oeuvres reception. For reservations and information, call 706-254-6909 or visit

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Poundstone Pounds the Pavement

Don’t let Paula Poundstone kid you. The observational comic may say she “always loses,” but she’s got to be joking. After two decades her career is still going strong, and just days after we spoke she was the week’s champion on “Wait, Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me,” the NPR news quiz show where she is a regular contestant. The self-proclaimed “loser” bested Harvard graduate and journalist Mo Rocca and political satirist Adam Felber.

In addition to her regular travels to Chicago to serve as a panelist on “Wait, Wait,” Poundstone traverses the country performing about 100 shows a year at large venues and theaters. She is the recipient of two Cable ACE Awards, an Emmy, and the American Comedy Award for Best Female Stand-Up.

Poundstone began her comedy career in the late 1970s playing clubs around Boston. She soon moved to California where she pursued more opportunities, and was cast in a couple of movies. But although she originally dreamed of becoming a comedic actress like Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett, she found more success in stand-up comedy, and today appreciates the freedom it gives her.

Continually working, Poundstone has co-written children’s text books, authored a memoir and articles for magazines and newspapers, performed voices on cartoons, and has been a guest on all the major talk shows, including Letterman, Leno, and Craig Ferguson, has served as a correspondent for “The Tonight Show” and as a panelist on game shows “Hollywood Squares” and “To Tell The Truth.” She has served as a foster mother to several children, and lives in Santa Monica, Calif., with her three adopted children, ages 10, 15 and 18. She spoke to me from their home.

SA: I’ve read that you wanted to be like Carol Burnett. Did you have the acting bug as a child or did you always want to be a comic?

PP: I wanted to be a comedic actress. Clearly I’m not. I was not all that familiar with stand-up per se because it was an adult entertainment form back then [when I was growing up]. Now it’s on TV at all hours of the day, but when we were kids there was “The Tonight Show,” three networks, and it [comedy] didn’t proliferate the way it does now. So I don’t think I was familiar with that. I’d still love to be a comic actress, but it’s not much in the cards.

SA: Why do you say that?

PP: I haven’t pursued it in recent years. Partly because the scheduling is very challenging. One of the great things about my job is I say when I come and go within the marketplace. If I’m not getting a lot of work, then I’m forced to work on dates when I’d rather be home with my children. If you do a television show or a movie, you’re really on their schedule, and it’s not necessarily family-friendly. I just started with Facebook and YouTube and started making these goofy little films, although they probably haven’t gotten any views at all. I can’t figure out how to get them out to the viewing public very well. People, truly, will have a picture of a cat eating the wing of a parrot, and it gets 100,000 views a day. And I can’t quite figure out how they do that, from a marketing standpoint. But, anyways, I have started making these goofy little films, and I’m delighted. It’s so much fun. It’ll likely never amount to anything at all, but it is fun. It’s my fantasy life. I get to put on goofy wigs and costumes.

SA: Do you tweet about it once you upload it.

PP: I do. I was saying to my manager today: I can do the Twitter thing all day long. I addictively and narcissistically enjoy reducing my thoughts or daily life to 140 characters. You know, it’s sort of a challenge. I find it a really fun way to tell a story. I suppose it’s like an ape with a one-size cave wall. Whether it translates to buying tickets, it’s a big issue. If you take my several thousand Twitter followers and divide it by state, (chuckles from Paula) it’s about 50 a state and then you divide it into the cities, it might be five each. You’re assuming that those five people are free on that night [that I perform]. It’s not necessarily a groundswell. It’s fun. I have a friend who used to say that his boat was a hole in the ocean that you pour money into, and I have a funny feeling that all this stuff that I really do enjoy doing is a hole in your schedule. I was just talking to my daughter the other day about putting effort into something and we were talking about the difference between—she had suggested that she wanted to be a star, and I said, a star of what? I was trying to explain, although that’s a juicy, yummy byproduct, certainly, of doing some public form of art, you have to enjoy the thing so much that it really wouldn’t matter if you were doing it in your closet. You’d just enjoy doing it. And I think I’m living proof of that because you know what? I actually do do some stuff in my closet. I recorded a piece a couple of weeks ago, where I was sitting in my bathroom, totally exhausted, and the whole film begins in my closet. I’m finding it fun. I’m like a lot of people that are just getting into it [making videos to upload to the Internet], finding out what you can do with it. You’ve got to be doing it because you enjoy it, because unless you have a film of a cat eating a parrot’s wing, it may just be what it is.

SA: Tell me about other comics that you looked up to growing up and how they influenced your comedy.

PP: I think the first comic I was ever really familiar with was Bill Cosby. My parents had the albums. I stole them when I moved away from home. I’m not proud of that. There were 11, and I remember them so well. A couple of years ago I bought some CDs of Bill Cosby cause I wanted the kids to hear them, and they loved it. You know, he’s a story teller. He’s a guy who tells stuff from his own life. That’s what I do. You know there’s not a lot of veneer to what I do. In fact, I’ve always tried to have some veneer quite frankly. When I was a younger act, I’d work with these middle acts that ended with some sort of crescendo that was really hard to follow. Oh they’d go off and on and off and on and the crowd would be so excited, they build them to this point, and I have never, ever been able to do that. Not in my entire career. I think with me it’s just sort of what you see is what you get. My act is kind of a loping pace, and I’m delighted that I perform to as many people as I do. I’m delighted about the generational demographic.

SA: What is that demographic?

PP: I have little kids who come up to me, maybe middle school, certainly not a crowd full of them, but a crowd including them, from middle school to people on walkers. The majority of my crowd is probably about my age [49]. It depends where I’m working. I’m pleased as punch it’s like three generations.

SA: How did “Wait, Wait. . . Don’t Tell Me” come about for you?

PP: In such a mundane way. They called me up and asked me. I had never heard of it. I don’t think they like that when I say that. I’m an NPR listener but not on weekends, because on the weekends I’m with my children, and I am in the weeds. But during the day I always have it tuned to them [NPR] on my car radio. Therefore, I had never heard of it. And they called me. They said how about if you come try it out. Then somebody taped it for me, I listened, and thought it sounds like fun. At that time we didn’t perform in front of a live audience. At that time we were all in different studios, so it was not as lively. It was still fun to do. I was hooked from the first time I did it. They had some sponsoring stations that invited them to perform their show in a city, and through that they discovered, hey, this live audience thing really kind of fires you up. So they went back to Chicago and they found themselves a space, in the auditorium of a bank, believe it or not. I think it seats 500 and it generally sells out. After we tape a show people come up and talk to us and take pictures, get autographs, which is really great cause we have a real sense of who we’re talking to in terms of a live audience. My tendency is always to play to the crowd, and they [the staff] always chastise me for it because, they say, it’s a radio show. It’s a radio show that these guys happen to be watching. They are a great crowd. They’re very tolerant because we actually tape for an hour-and-a-half or two hours. A lot of them come over and over again. That’s a lot of reading each week to keep up with the news. You may notice that I lose a lot.

SA: It’s also clear you know a lot and keep up with the news. Have you always been interested in keeping up with what’s going on in the world, or do you do that more for your career than personal interest?

PP: I certainly have considered myself someone who has kept up with the news. And I still go on and get my butt kicked over and over and over to the point of looking like an idiot. What usually screws you up is the News of the Silly. A lot of that kind of stuff I never knew, because my main news source prior to this was McNeil Lehrer [the hour-long PBS news show, now titled “The News Hour With Jim Lehrer”], and they don’t do any news of the silly (chuckles). In preparation for the show, I now use newspapers and carry a big stack of them with me and read them on the airplane [while touring] and on the way to the show. Actually, until my early twenties, I had absolutely no interest in the world far outside of myself. It was in the early '80s and I must have been around 23 or 24. I lived briefly one summer, for a couple of weeks, with Tim Leary and his wife at the time. They were friends of a friend of mine. I was out of a place to live and his wife said to me, ‘Oh you could come live with Timmy and I.’ I think she regretted it very soon thereafter. There may have been some alcohol involved. But I did live with them for a couple of weeks. I used to take my traditional nap before going out to perform at night. And Tim runs in and yells, ‘The news is on!’ And I was so annoyed. Who would wake someone up to watch the news? I just truly did not care and could not understand for the life of me why he would. Tim Leary’s a very brilliant, brilliant man, a little fried maybe by this point in his life. I said, “Why do you care? What does it matter?” And he said, ‘You don’t watch the news?’ He had a stepson and even his stepson looked at me like I had two heads. And he said, ‘What do you mean you don’t watch the news?’ I said, “At this point, given that I haven’t been watching the news, it would be like coming in in the middle of a movie.” Tim said, ‘You come in and watch with us, and anything you don’t understand, we’ll explain it.’ So, I did. And my questions, and this shows you how long ago that was, were like, “What’s South Africa?” And they were blown away that anybody my age could be that stupid. And I really was. So I watch the news. I watch McNeil Lehrer as often as I can. I videotape it and try to watch it or take the tapes on the road with me. I gathered along the way it was an important thing. Yep, Tim Leary introduced me to the news.

SA: You joke that you dropped out of high school at 17 to hang out in a parking lot. Had your parents been overseeing that you had been studying before that?

PP: No. I was the last kid. They really didn’t pay that much attention by that point. I think they tried to a handful of times. But really, I was so determined to have drama in my life. Therefore, I went to school trying to figure out a way to get new drama in my life, and it didn’t leave a lot of room for studying. I was excruciatingly dramatic. So now when my daughter does that, I’m onto that.

SA: You said you were dramatic in high school. Can you give me an example of what that may have looked like?

PP: I think I wandered the halls trying to get people to feel sorry for me. I was just pathetic, really until I was around 40. And then after that, I took the reins. I took the helm. I was a total drain on people’s time and energy. I look back with great embarrassment. But you know? What can I say? It’s who I was.

SA: Some of the articles you’ve written remind me of humorous children’s stories and other times parts remind me of stories that Woody Allen writes in the New Yorker. Have you ever thought about writing a children’s book or for the New Yorker?

PP: I have thought about it. Somebody did come to me with a deal for a children’s book. But right now I’m in the midst of a deal with my last publisher to do another book. You know it took me nine years to write the other one [her 2006 memoir, “There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say”]. I’m already way behind on this one. I spend every day of my life feeling guilty that I haven’t done this thing that I’m supposed to do. The truth is: I could have never gotten it in within a year [the time allotted]. It was a joke from the start. So we changed it to two years. And you know what? I’m already behind. This next one is a book of experiments with happiness. The experiments take so much time there’s no time for writing. Although the experiments did produce some amount of happiness, I do feel guilty because I’m behind on writing. Anyway, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. An upsetting amount of my time goes to writing things for Facebook and Twitter. I did write a few things for NPR. The last one was probably a month ago, and I think they were good and they were fun. That felt nice.

SA: With all the children you’ve fostered and adopted, there is clearly a concern for helping children. What was your childhood like at home, the relationships between you, your parents and your siblings?

PP: I think, I didn’t figure this out until far too late in life. First of all, we lived in a really sweet town [in Sudbury, just 20 miles from Boston]. It’s not the same now. They’ve built on land they never should have built on. They used to have great zoning. We thought people down the block, who were conservationists, we thought they were kind of nutty. But in truth, they were the salvation of where we lived. Because we had woods you could walk in, you could hike around. Boy it was fun to do. We had a creek behind our house. Actually it was sewage from another town that went through there but it didn’t matter. It was so nice to play at my neighbor’s house. I have two sisters and a brother, and my sisters and I had similar senses of humor, and spent a lot of time laughing.

SA: Were you the funny one back then?

PP: I don’t know. I think they say I was. We had a couple of fun years when we laughed a lot.

SA: Were you close to your parents as well?

PP: No, not particularly, but we had great neighbors. You know, I’m an atheist and my children are atheist, but when they ask me about it I say I was raised in a lovely church, nice families, people that—although they all privately had their own struggles that you don’t really find out about until much later. They had retreats, and square dance nights and we had fun. We swam in the pond, ran around the trees playing hide and seek, tag. And we don’t do anything like that now. Now, we have ping-pong parties like four or five times a year. And we live for those nights. This last summer we had mini-parties all summer long. You know, Wednesday night one friend came over, or a group came over on another night and we played doubles. I have an antique scoreboard that came from an old high school, it’s the kind where the light bulbs make the numbers, and you have to push a button to increase or decrease the score. It’s so beautiful and we treat it with kid gloves. There is something about it, playing in the glow of the scoreboard. It is really delightful. So we do have nice things like that, but we don’t have those things that are community based. Nights where people all come together. I’m fond of those memories and grateful for those memories and I wish there was more of that for my kids, like in the neighborhood where I grew up.

SA: Where does your sense of humor come from?

PP: I watched great stuff as a kid. My mom used to go in the bed in the morning, so it was just me and the television for hours in kindergarten and pre-kindergarten. And what was on was “I Love Lucy,” “The Three Stooges,” and “Leave it to Beaver.” Those remain my favorite, favorite. I have them on DVD and I show them to my kids like they’re frankincense and myrrh. I take them out delicately and say, “I want to show you something very special.” My children aren’t allowed to watch television so they don’t know about all the terrible, bad things that are on TV. They only know. . .well we do watch “Lost in Space,” but I make an exception for that.

SA: Or the Jim Lehrer report.

PP: We watch that sometimes. Honestly, when the little one was just two years old he could tell you who was the secretary of state. He’s pretty well-versed, just from coming in to watch with me.

SA: What are you looking forward to doing at some point in the future? A movie, a TV-talk show, another book, a play?

PP: It’s really more about finding time to do whatever, because I have a lot of great fantasies. I would love to write a play, and I’d love to write a movie. I don’t know that those things are going to happen. You know, I’m so shy about writing. I’m shy about performing. One of the things I’m enjoying about having a goofy camera and a tripod is filming in the secrecy of darkness. I’m so sheepish about it. But the best thing is that I do it in my house all by myself. I play both parts and I set things up so that it looks like someone else is there. I try to find the low-end, economically and time-saving ways to do it. It’s really fun. My favorite thing is that I can use a silly voice, and say silly things, and there’s no one around. My manager has offered to come over and my daughter, both have offered to do the camera for me, but I say no, cause I couldn’t be big enough or loud enough, or expressive enough with them in the room.

Click on the links below to see Poundstone’s homemade videos.

Paula Bathroom Video

Paula Plays Charades

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tony Award-Winning Playwright
Premieres New Play

The world premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ “26 Miles,” premiering at The Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, presents the story of young Olivia’s broken family, her isolation, and the repair of her relationship with her father and mother.

Fifteen-year-old Olivia lives with her father, Aaron, and step-mother, who both are too self-involved to listen to her needs. After making herself sick, Olivia calls her mother, Beatriz, whom she hasn’t heard from or seen in nine years. The two plan to go for a short drive but end up taking a road trip from Pennsylvania to Wyoming. Her parents come to know precocious Olivia through the small magazine she self-publishes and through her journal, which describe her analyses of her life experiences.

The trip allows mother and daughter to finally get to know and love one another, and the father to appreciate his daughter once she returns. It also gives space to Beatriz’s relationship with her boyfriend, Manuel, who sees during her absence how much he needs her.

The set design, by Kat Conley, is simple and effective. So lifelike is her backdrop of projection images that during the Yellowstone Park scene a woman in the audience gasped and flinched when an elk seemed to suddenly dart in front of Beatriz’s car.

While all the acting is good, the highlight of the show is watching Olivia, portrayed by Bethany Anne Lind. Although her voice and body language portray a character much younger than a teenager, she brings every moment to life in a truthful and interesting manner.

Hudes’ plays have been performed around the nation. Her musical “In the Heights” won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical and her play “Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

“26 Miles” runs through April 12.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Terry “Big T” Williams
Awarded 2009 Blues Guitarist of the Year

Terry “Big T” Williams was named "Blues Guitar Player of the Year 2009” on Sunday, March 29, by the Bay Area Blues Society's West Coast Hall Of Fame.

From the time he was born, in 1962, Big T was listening to the blues that poured forth from the radio at home where he lived with his parents and 15 siblings. His grandmother told him stories about her friends Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. And he’d listen to musicians play at the home of Ike Turner, who lived just one block away.

At age 11, Big T met Johnny Billington, a renowned Delta blues musician and music teacher in need of a bass player. Billington put a bass in the young boy’s hands, and said he had been chosen to become his next bass player. While only in elementary school, Big T made day trips with Billington to play at clubs in nearby towns and small cities around the Delta. Four years later, Big T dropped out of high school and began traveling the country, touring with The Jelly Roll Kings, and later with The Stone Gas Blues Band, and Big Jack Johnson.

While on the road, Big T taught himself to play guitar, and in 2000 he began fronting his own blues band. His musical influences include traditional blues, disco, funk, and hip hop. He has performed at blues clubs around the world, and has played at numerous blues festivals, including the Chicago Blues Festival, the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle, Wash., and the Russell City Blues Festival in Oakland, Calif.

Big T has recorded five CDs, and has sat in with Albert King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and CeDell Davis.

Additionally, Big T has served as a teacher at the Delta Blues Museum’s Arts and Education Program, training young children and adults to play the blues.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mingus On Mingus

Sue Mingus, widow of one of the all-time great bass players and composers, Charles Mingus, is doing all she can to carry on her late husband’s compositions consisting of more than 300 tunes. Having studied classical and jazz, Charles Mingus was at the forefront of avant-garde music. Ballet companies have danced to his music, and pop icons Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello each individually partnered with him to play and write lyrics to his tunes.

Before he created his own band, Mingus toured with bands such as Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, and Lionel Hampton, and recorded with the all-stars, including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Duke Ellington.

Since his death at age 56 of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 1979, Sue has carried on his legacy, creating three separate Mingus bands devoted to playing the composer’s music. While any of the bands might tour throughout the year, The Charles Mingus Big Band will be playing April 4 in Atlanta at The Rialto Center for the Arts. It will also be giving a free master class.

Sue Mingus talked to me from her office in New York.

SA: I understand you have three different Mingus bands: the Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra, and the Mingus Dynasty. In what ways do the bands differ?

SM: We have a residency every Monday night in New York at a club called the Jazz Standard. The bands take turns performing different Mondays. We started off originally many years ago with The Mingus Dynasty, which is a seven-piece band. It performed Charles’ master work, “Epitaph,” which is a 2½-hour composition that was conducted by Gunther Schuller and written for 31 musicians. After hearing the heft and power of this music on a grander scale, we doubled The Dynasty and it became the Mingus Big Band, a band of 14 musicians, rather than seven. This probably is the best-known version of the band. It played at a club here in New York called Fez for a dozen years before they closed down. The other band (The Mingus Orchestra) grew as the result of the club owner wanting a second band to play at another of his clubs in New York City, which seemed a little odd, like it was cutting the baby in half. Rather than just repeat the big band, I got together with some conductors and arrangers and we tossed ideas around, and we came up with an ensemble, which is a bit more exotic and unique in jazz, with instruments that aren’t so common, like French horn, bassoon, bass clarinet, and so forth. So it’s a different sound. We concentrate a little more on the compositional aspect of Mingus music, less on the soloing. We’re doing an event this coming Monday, a collaboration with actors that will be reading from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” We’ll have two big American voices, Mingus and Walt Whitman’s facing off with one another. We have different projects and events that involve these different bands.

SA: I wonder if mixing music with poetry is becoming a trend. Two incredible jazz musicians, Don Davis, a sax player, and pianist and composer Joe Deleault, are just some of the musicians who have teamed up with poet F.D. Reeve, the father of Christopher Reeve, to create a poetry-jazz project. And Sophie Auster (author Paul Auster’s daughter) reads poetry to the music of Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp of the band One Ring Zero.

SM: I know at the Jazz Standard, where we play, about a year ago, it brought back a jazz and poetry event with two of our former poet laureates: Charles Simic and Robert Pinsky. And there were lines around the block. One wondered if there could be a kind of hunger for this kind of experimentation. And I have gone out recently to hear poetry and music events just to see if there were any good ideas I could steal. But it can be dangerous to bring two marvelous things together and enhance them both rather than diminish them, because it doesn’t always work. Sometimes they step on each other. And poetry gets diffused if the music doesn’t work with it.

SA: How did you feel about Joni Mitchell putting words to Charles’ music?

SM: That’s a different way of combining it, when you’re writing lyrics for music that exists, or writing music for lyrics that exist. What we’re doing now is bringing (together) two things that already (pre)exist. Yeah, Joni wrote lyrics and Elvis Costello wrote lyrics for Charles’ music. Wonderful lyrics!

SA: It must be expensive to take 14 band members on the road and come to Atlanta. How do you decide which band tours?

SM: It depends on which band is requested. It depends on what (the booker’s) situation is and what their festival is all about. The Mingus Big Band and the Dynasty are the best known.

SA: What type of systems are in place for the bands to continue after you leave the helm?

SM: I wish you hadn’t asked that question. I don’t know. I think the music has entered into the general consciousness. The music is out there. I don’t think it needs me. I may have helped speed up the process, but Charles left one of the largest legacies of compositions in 20th century American music, second only to the great Duke Ellington. Charles gave us over 300 compositions. It’s such an enormous variety and such personal music. It’s unique in its own way, and I think it will be carried on the way any great music lives on. There are many aspects to what we do. There’s a publishing arm. We have a publisher, Hal Leonard, the largest music publisher in the country, and they do all our publishing. We publish educational books, fake books, play-alongs, charts, a number of Mingus Big Band charts. We started a series a couple of years ago called Simply Mingus, for beginning students, that makes the music a little more accessible to somebody who’s just learning. That took off like wildfire. A lot of band directors buy those charts for high schools and colleges. And we just started our first Charles Mingus high school competition (a free 3-day summit in Manhattan where children learn to play Mingus’ music), and we hold clinics and workshops run by different musicians who play in the Mingus repertory bands. So, you see, this is a sprawl. It doesn’t need one person behind it. We also have a booking agency. The Big Band just came back from the Far East, where they were in China, Australia, and New Zealand. And we’re going to Italy in May. And this summer The Dynasty will tour Italy, Yugoslavia, Spain, England, and the Netherlands.

SA: Tell me how the music has changed over the years.

SM: The music changes with the musicians the way Charles intended it to. You know, there are a lot of open spaces in his music, and room for musicians to come in and bring their own sound and interpretation of the music, which is what keeps it modern and moving forward all the time. It changes and grows as the musicians approach the music. The music is that wonderful combination of written composition and all this freedom to bring in individual interpretations of the music.

SA: You were a journalist in the sixties. And your memoir, “Tonight at Noon,” which came out in 2002, was named Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Are you writing anything now?

SM: Yes. I’m working on another book.

SA: Can you tell me about it?

SM: No. It involves the music world. It’s a mix of fiction and nonfiction.

SA: Can you tell me about the newspapers you worked for?

SM: One was called The New York Free Press, a political paper back in the sixties. And then another paper called Changes, which was a music magazine. It came out at the time Rolling Stone started in San Francisco. They were on the West Coast and we were on the East Coast. We wrote about rock, jazz, classical, all music.

SA: I heard that Mingus hung out with some abstract expressionists in the sixties. Do you know how they might have influenced his music?

SM: I think everything around influenced him, a leaf falling from a tree, whatever is around you, the art of the time, and the different kinds of music around. As you know from his music, he drew from classical forms, Latin music, bebop, pop, rock, Dixieland. Whatever was out there (he used). That magic chemistry fused everything into Mingus music.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Robert Klein Can’t Stop

One of the most popular comics on the circuit in the ‘70s, Robert Klein, is back on the road perfecting his act, preparing to tape his ninth HBO special. And at age 67, he’s still funny.

Klein performed two nights, March 24-25, at Atlanta’s most renowned comedy club, The Punchline, to an audience mainly of baby boomers.

Whether you have seen Klein live before, there are plenty of reasons to see him in your town: Foremost, he is a legend. Klein honed his craft at the premier training ground for comedic actors of his day, Chicago Second City, where he worked with Fred Willard and Peter Boyle. He has starred on Broadway, has penned an autobiography, “The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue,” has hosted “The Robert Klein Radio Show,” an internationally syndicated comedy-rock show, has performed at the White House and in a dozen films, has hosted “The Tonight Show,” and “Saturday Night Live” (where he starred in the first “Cheeseburger” sketch with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd), has performed stand-up comedy at the original “Improvisation” club, and has hosted “Arts and Entertainment Review” on the A&E Network. Additionally, he is seen regularly on “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”

Although you may have seen some of Klein’s material before, on HBO or live, much of it is new, as he covers the latest in politics (Larry Craig, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, and President Obama), religion, sex, aging, erectile dysfunction, Greta van Susteren and Larry King. One of his most side-splitting and least controversial bits is about Cesar Milan, aka “The Dog Whisperer,” who on TV rehabilitates aggressive dogs with a whisper. Klein’s version of what the TV cameras don’t show is too comical.

The most hilarious number in the show is his 2001 Emmy-nominated song, “Colonoscopy,” featured on his seventh HBO special. With help from his keyboardist and musical director, Bob Stein, Klein sings the Broadway-style show tune as if he were acting out a scene on the stage with a lover. The lyrics and music are genius. A Broadway veteran who has performed in musicals, including “They’re Playing Our Song,” for which he received a Tony nomination and a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, Klein still has a wonderful voice, and sings a couple of other comedic numbers—an R&B tune and a blues tune. He closed the show with his classic blues routine made famous on “Saturday Night Live,” “I Can’t Stop My Leg.”

Former 99X morning DJ Jimmy Baron emceed the event. Since he left the station in 2006, he has co-hosted “Atlanta & Company” and plans to be back in radio soon. In addition, he recently launched his own video company, which records personal stories of individual’s lives.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lance Krall Crawls to the Top in Hollywood

No one will ever match Sid Caesar’s portrayal of hundreds of comedic characters that he created on his sketch-comedy show with Imogene Coca in the 1950s, but Lance Krall comes mighty close. And just as TV hailed Caesar with his own show, so it does for Krall, as Vh1 launches the second season of “Free Radio,” which will run eight consecutive Thursdays at 11 p.m. beginning April 2.

Although in “Free Radio” Krall sticks to one character--versus the hundreds of them that he easily slides into in a heartbeat when he performs with an improv troupe--no one, not even Krall himself, knows what his self-titled character, Lance, will do. Playing a moronic morning radio host who interviews A-list celebrities, such as Kiefer Sutherland, Tony Shalhoub and Ray Romano, Krall and his guest improvise the entire show.

Krall started his acting career in Atlanta at Whole World Theatre, an improvisation troupe he co-founded a year before graduating in 1995 with a B.A. in Film and Theater from Georgia State University. As a student at Whole World, I saw his versions of characters that seemed as real as anyone you’ve seen at home, at a mall or at a park. His ingenuity lies in mimicking a person’s voice, facial movements and postures, as well as in putting his wide variety of characters in uncanny situations, giving them certain ticks, and making them say and do things that are hilarious.

I wasn’t the only one gushing over his talent at Whole World. After a Hollywood talent agent spotted him there and suggested he move to L.A., he did in 2000, and landed his first acting job in an NBC sketch-comedy show produced by Steve Martin called “The Downer Channel.” It was a downer, and lasted only four episodes. From there, Krall portrayed “Kip the Gay Guy” on “The Joe Schmo Show,” a faux-reality show on Spike TV, and then created his own show, “The Lance Krall Show,” which also ran on Spike.

Krall has been acting and writing since he landed in Hollywood. If you want to laugh really hard, click on the YouTube links provided. On the first link you can see a trailer for the show. On the second link you'll see him on Conan O’Brien explaining why the CIA shut down three airports to look for him. It really is a true story. An interview with the actor follows.

Lance Krall on Conan O'Brien

Q&A With Lance

SA: Who conceived the idea of Free Radio?

LK: Vh1 approached me after “The Lance Krall Show” (which aired on Spike TV—in 2005 with many former members of Whole World Theatre) to do a show for them. My manager and I came up with some ideas, and he said, ‘Why don’t you do a show set in a radio station and interview celebrities and stuff?’ So we had a setting and what I would do. Then I had to figure out why anyone would want to watch me in a radio station. So I said, what if my character (an intern) is completely ignorant to what a radio DJ would be? I came up with this back story of a shock jock leaving the radio station to go to satellite radio. When David Lee Roth took over for Howard Stern he was completely abysmal at what he did, but he was also in a totally thankless position because to follow in Howard Stern’s footsteps, no one is going to succeed in those conditions. I thought if that happened again in the fictional world where our character Rick Rebel leaves to go to satellite radio, they would have an impossible task of finding a DJ because it’s such a thankless job. So I figured that would be a way the intern could sneak in there and take the reins until they could find someone.

SA: How did you go about getting celebrities like Kiefer Sutherland to come on the show?

LK: We were going to live or die based on whether we could get real celebrities to come on the show. It’s a tall order to get people who are not has-beens to be on Vh1 because that’s the brand Vh1 had created for a while, all B-list and rehab celebrities. We had to shoot a pilot for the show to prove to celebrities and to their PR people that the show’s actually really cool and it wasn’t like we were making fun of them. It was more like I was the idiot and they were along for the ride. We shot a pilot using a few friends we had who were well known, celebrities, to give us credibility. We had Angela Kinsey who plays Angela on “The Office,” and we had Jack Coleman who plays Horn-Rimmed Glasses on “Heroes.” And it really worked out and the PR people loved it, and we ended up getting people you would have never dreamed of seeing on Vh1 before our show. The first season we had Keifer Sutherland, Tony Shalhoub from “Monk,” and Zach Quinto from “Heroes,” Melora Hardin from “The Office,” Penn and Teller, Ray Romano. People you wouldn’t normally see on Vh1.

SA: Did you know any of those guests before you had them on?

LK: Aside from Tony Shalhoub, who I had worked with on "Made-Up" (a flim Shalhoub directed) and "Monk" (the TV show), no. I met all these people for the first time. Quite a few of them are people I really admire, and I’m really excited to meet them for the first time. We all take pictures with each other afterward. I’m in this ridiculous Members Only jacket and this horrible hair, so in all my pictures with all these celebrities I’m dressed like a complete idiot.

SA: You’re used to doing so many characters when you do improv. What are the challenges of being just one character on this show?

LK: When I did “The Lance Krall Show” I got to be all these different characters and it was fun, but it’s a whole other challenge to be one character and maintain him through two seasons. When you’re doing many characters you focus more on the highlights of the person and the loud moments, those that are bigger than life, and you’re done. With this (show), you have to find the levels and complexities of the character without betraying who he is. There are times when we have people come on, and my character is really, really bad at impersonations, so I have to pretend that I can’t do Christopher Walken and all these other people that I’m actually quite good at. But it’s fun. I enjoy seeing people through his eyes. The character has the ability to say whatever he wants to say and do whatever he wants to do. I’m more respectful and I wouldn’t dream of meeting Kiefer Sutherland and telling him he has a Jeffrey Dahmer face. But when I’m in this character, I get to do it.

SA: Was any of that scripted?

LK: No, the whole show is improvised. From the interviews, to the behind the scenes stuff, the entire show.

SA: What about the woman who came over and slapped you? Was that scripted?

LK: Her name was Mary Lynn Rajskub. She’s on the show “24.” She was a cast member of “The Downer Channel” with me. But I hadn’t seen her since then. When she agreed to come on the show, I told her: Do whatever you want to do, feel free to do it.
At one point in the interview it was getting so heated between my character and her that she just decided to get up and slap me. And it was so funny. We thought it was hilarious. And at the end (of the show) I got up and surprised her and slapped her. She chased after me and we play-fought. None of it was planned or scripted. That’s the beauty of the show. It feels very in-the-moment because it’s in the moment for the actors. We don’t know what’s going to happen. You watch these talk shows these days like David Letterman and stuff, you can tell half the time that the guest on there has a scripted or outlined interview, and it’s all going toward this punch line at the end. You feel gypped because you feel that whole thing was orchestrated. This show is by the seat of our pants. Once the celebrity gets in there, you never know what’s going to happen.

SA: Some actors aren’t great improvisers, they’re great actors but they need a script. Do you ever get actors in there who aren’t good at reacting to the spontaneous antics?

LK: There’s definitely people who come in that have a lot of fun with it, and then there are those who are completely lost and go what the hell is going on. But that’s fun to watch too, when they’re outside of their comfort zone, and they’re not in their element. Mine and Anna’s job to bring the funny.

SA: Anna, who plays the show’s co-host, you and she worked together at Whole World Theatre in Atlanta. Do you two take that experience of how the MC or audience threw suggestions out to you, and you became characters in situations. Do you and Anna do that together, throw out situations you could place yourselves in when you’re planning episodes?

LK: Me and Loren Tarquinio, (Anna’s husband who also worked with them at Whole World Theatre) he is my co-writer on the show. We brainstorm ideas and come up with the bulk of (scenario) outlines. Once we get into the recording booth and we do our scenes, all that stuff usually goes out the door and we find better stuff in the moment and just improvise. Once we get into production, we often still don’t know what celebrities are going to come on. Sometimes we don’t know what celebrity is coming on until the day before we tape. That’s the scary part of shooting the show.

SA: How will this season differ from your first season?

LK: All the actors have fallen into their characters, my character is now a successful DJ at a successful radio station, so it (the season) opens up with us being an award-winning radio station, although the award is a lame award, just an L.A. weekly reader’s choice award, but of course my character totally blows it out of proportion. We are now a successful radio show this season, so we had to show that. Lance no longer wonders if he’s going to remain there, and James (who plays the show's producer) no longer has the ability to fire him. Because I’m more cocky and into thinking that I’m all that, the aggression between me and the guests gets a little bit bigger. The first season was quiet but this season has a lot more things going on, like a boxing match between me and Anna.

SA: Can you tell us who the guests are?

LK: We have Dominic Monaghan from “Lord of the Rings” and "Lost;" David Cook, winner of last year’s American Idol; Ed Begley Jr., John Stamos, Henry Rollins, (actor and musician); Cheech and Chong, Sugar Ray Leonard. It’s a really exciting season.

SA: How many episodes will there be?

LK: There will be eight episodes this season starting on April 2 at 11 p.m. on eight consecutive Thursdays. It’s a bit of a short season. For me, to do more than eight would be really tiring, because I’m executive producing, I’m writing, I’m acting, I edit the show myself at my house. It’s an unbelievable amount of work.

SA: How long does it take to do eight episodes?

LK: We shoot them in about a month and a half, and then I edit it about a month and a half, we write for about a month before that, so it equals four or five months.
If we had a larger budget we could have more man power and more people speeding things along, but I’m such a control freak I probably wouldn’t let them do it anyway. I love doing it myself.

SA: What were you doing between “The Lance Krall Show” and this show?

LK: I got some development deals for writing pilots for Fox and ABC Family. We did a show called “The Other Mall.” It made it to pilot but (it) did not get picked up for a series. I’ve been fortunate enough to have employment in the industry since I’ve been out here.

SA: I saw the promo you did with Dr. Drew Pinsky. Is he going to be a guest on the show?

LK: After we met with Dr. Drew (who did a promo for the show after the season was filmed), he wanted to be on our show next season, and he invited us to be on “Love Line” (Dr. Drew’s radio show where he gives advice on love and sex). I’m going to be dishing out advice to young teens as Dr. Moron Lance.

SA: Are you already planning for season three?

LK: We have no idea if it will be picked up. We’ll see what the ratings are for this season, and we’ll probably know in a month or two if it gets picked up again. If not, I’ll just move on to the next thing. I don’t know what that next thing would be though.

SA: What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?

LK: I’m really doing what I love right now, which is creating my own projects. So if I had to create another project, I’d love to create a film. That’s a totally different world with different pressures, but that’s definitely a challenge I’d love to jump into. But for right now, I’m enjoying working in television because it’s challenging, it’s exciting. It’s hard but it’s fun. It’s good training and eventually I’d love to jump into doing some offbeat sort of films. I’d like to keep the scale low though, keep it small, find some fun, small stories that a handful of people like, and grow from there. I definitely wouldn’t want to jump into some big budget thing right away cause I don’t think my sensibilities are mainstream enough to warrant the kind of budget a big budget film would have.

SA: How does an aspiring performer get to be so successful?

LK: “The Downer Channel” ran only four episodes. It was the first thing I auditioned for and I booked it, and I was like: Oh my god, I’m on top of the world. I’m on a prime-time network sketch-comedy show produced by Steve Martin. The checks are gonna just keep rollin’ in. And it got canceled and I was like: Oh, OK, it’s not that easy. But if it wasn’t for that experience, I would not be doing what I’m doing right now. The reason is that when I was on that show I expected everyone there to know what they were doing. I expected to be blown away by the comedy and television knowledge of the people that were involved in it. And as I was on that show I kept thinking, I could do this. These people don’t know anything I don’t know. It brought me to a realization about Steve Martin, that he’s good at what he does, but there’s no instinct that he has that I found life enlightening to where I was like, oh my god, that’s why he’s Steve Martin. Steve Martin knows how to do Steve Martin, and that’s something that I learned quickly: Lance Krall needs to learn how to do Lance Krall. I need to learn what my thing is. And the only person who’s going to figure that out is myself. Once that show got canned, I was a little pissed, just upset that it wasn’t as good as I thought it could have been. It could have been better. There were talented people on it. It felt like a show done by committee because there were so many producers on the show, and so much money riding on it that they had to try to please everybody. So (afterward), I took it upon myself to shoot “The Lance Krall Show,” and we shot that on my home camera with the cast from Whole World Theatre just as an experiment to exercise my demons a little bit. Then we put together an awesome pilot, for like nothing (low cost), and Spike TV eventually picked it up as a series. It made me realize that no one out here knows what the hell they’re doing. You just have to do it (your projects) yourself. The people that make it out here are the ones who go: My instincts are better. My instincts might not be right for this person, but they’re always right for yourself. You just have to figure out who you are and what you do. I’ve gone through four different agencies out here. When you come out here and you think you’re going to get with an agency you go, 'Wow, this agency is going to solve all my problems. They’re an amazing agency. They’re the biggest agency in the world!' And then you get in there and you realize that they’re not creative people. They’re boardroom guys, and for the most part, they don’t know what the hell they are doing. It’s truly disappointing. As long as I can deal without having an agent, I will. I have a wonderful manager, Rory Rosegarten, and a fantastic lawyer. And that’s all I need, just one guy to open the door for me, and I go in and create my own projects, and have a great lawyer to watch my back. I’m definitely disillusioned with the Hollywood power structure. It might work for big celebrities who already have a career, but speaking for myself, I have found agents to be utterly worthless. And as a producer, when I have to deal with booking actors, I’ll deal with certain agents, and you’d be amazed at how the agent will make you hate the actor, and it has nothing to do with the actor, but the agent is trying to show how big their cock is, and they’re doing no service to anyone and they’re making me hate their client, who is a nice person, but the agent makes me hate their client. Not all agents are terrible, but the percentage of bad ones out here is discouraging. Agents love feeling like they have the keys to the castle, and the truth is, they don’t.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Women Directors Premiere Six Short Films

Six locally produced short films, all directed by women, will have their Atlanta premiere at The Plaza Theater – 1049 Ponce de Leon Avenue – Friday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 22 at 2 p.m.

For many of the women, this is their first-time directing, although all are experienced film professionals who work as producers, writers, actors, assistant directors, and casting directors. The 2009 Woman’s Angle shorts feature “A Peacock Feathered Blue” by Jenna Milly; “Playgirl” by Melanie Mascioli; “Wheels” by Tracy Martin; “Love Happens” by Dellis Caden Noble; “Flights of Angels” by Kimberly Jurgen and “Happy Hour” by Angela Barnes Gomes.

All films were shot in Atlanta in 2008 and are self-financed. The directors served as volunteer crew members for each other’s films in various roles to learn from each other and strengthen their networks for future projects. The screening promises a mix of comedy, kitsch, drama and experimentation.

The Woman’s Angle educates, mentors and promotes women directors, and relies on the support and guidance of highly respected film industry professionals to lead intensive workshops for men and women filmmakers in Atlanta.

Tickets for the 90-minute screening are $10 and include a party with the directors after the show. Reservations are recommended. To order, visit The Woman's Angle.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trey McIntyre Project Dances Très Chic

If you missed it tonight at the Rialto Center for the Arts, go see the Trey McIntyre Project somewhere, sometime. In its first year as a full-time dance company, the TMP will perform in 25 cities around the U.S., as well as in a few countries, including Hungary.

Trey McIntyre’s eclectic choreography consists of a mixture of contemporary and ballet styles, which his dancers make their own with style and feeling. At any moment, had you taken a snapshot, the perfect ballet lines of the bodies and the emotion were all there, as the dancers flowed together effortlessly.

The first half of the program featured dances choreographed to children’s folk songs, such as “Puff the Magic Dragon.” It closed with a more serious tune by classical avant-garde composer Henry Cowell.

The second half of the show featured a mixture of songs by The Beatles that the choreography melted into, highlighting a sense of fun, humor and grace.

Two of the dancers, John Michael Schert and Chanel DaSilva, engaged in a talk-back session at the end of the show. Schert originally hails from Valdosta, Ga., where he began his dance education at a local dance studio. He leapt to the North Carolina School of the Arts and later danced with the American Ballet Theatre. DaSilva, from Brooklyn, N.Y., joined the company along with three other of the company’s eight dancers, immediately after graduating from The Julliard School.

Due to its success over the past three years as a summer touring company, TMP’s patrons and sponsors convinced it to become a full-time, year-round company. Before starting TMP, McIntryre had choreographed for numerous dance companies around the country, including American Ballet Theatre, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and New York City Ballet.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tomáš Kubínek Brings Back Vaudeville

Mime, clown, magician, storyteller, acrobat, actor, musician. No one word could quite describe Tomáš Kubínek.

Kubínek, who performed at the Rialto Center for the Arts Saturday in Atlanta, transforms himself from a Vaudevillian performer to a Dickens-like storyteller. He recalls his childhood growing up so poor that all eight children shared one piece of hard candy that his grandmother gave them. The children would line up in a row, and each child would get 10 seconds to suck the piece of candy and pass it down the line until it got to the wee, youngest, Tomáš himself, who would suck it for a full 20 seconds before passing it back up the line to the oldest child and back down again until it had totally been dissolved. Kubínek acts out the telling of it in such detail, milking the moments, miming everything so perfectly, you can almost see all the children lined up waiting for their turn to suck on the candy.

While performing a magic act, Kubínek borrows from The Marx Brothers’ film “Animal Crackers,” in which Harpo, another mime, has stolen a slew of silverware and gets caught when one by one the pieces fall out of his sleeve. Groucho then says, “I can’t imagine what’s holding up that coffee pot.”

Kubínek’s version is a little bit different. He ventures into the audience climbing on the backs of the seats in which patrons sit, and carries a woman’s purse back onto the stage with him. He riffles through it while delivering humorous commentary on its contents. Finally, he dares to look inside her wallet and amazingly finds the red scarf he earlier had made disappear. Just as he is about to return the purse, he spots something, and slowly, one by one he pulls out nearly a dozen pieces of silverware which he repeatedly drops onto the floor, and ends with a remark about a coffee pot being in there somewhere.

Throughout his act, Kubínek engages the audience, and even brings one unsuspecting patron to the stage to perform an acrobatic balancing act. And, like Groucho before him, Kubínek is a master at firing back snappy quips to the audience.

Clearly Kubínek borrows from Vaudevillian masters, but he makes everything he does his own. In one scene he straps on an awkward contraption with four feet that he buckles around his knees, and walks around on six feet. Strange, nutty, and funny! He also performs an amazing acrobatic feat without using his hands. All while balancing a glass of red wine on his forehead, he whistles and plays a tune on the ukulele, balances on one leg, drops down and reclines on his back, uses only his knees to raise the wine glass from his forehead and places it behind his head, does a somersault and picks up the glass with his mouth and drinks it dry. A toast to Tomáš Kubínek.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Cabaret Act Bares Hart and Soul

Betty Hart brings it all, heart, soul and feeling, in Dancing Monkey’s newest cabaret, “The Other Side of Love.” Too bad she only gets two numbers, as they are two of the show’s best: “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” from the musical “Show Boat,” and a parody of a doo-wop tune written by “Weird Al” Yankovic called “One More Minute,” whose lyrics include, “I’d rather dive into a swimming pool filled with double-edged razor blades rather than spend one more minute with you.”

Unfortunately, that’s my sentiments about parts of the show, which is filled with campy acts and performers who don’t quite hit the mark on the musical numbers or in the dancing or acting department. It’s not just the amateur routines that make you want to stick needles in your eyes, it’s the over-the-top acting that lacks any truthfulness.

The shame is so much time is wasted on kitschy skits that it’s not until the very end that we see the true talent of some of the performers. Only then does Aaron Gotlieb get to show his acting chops in a monologue by Topher Payne. And Adam Montague and Casey Holloway, who play a newlywed couple in jejune skits where neither of them shines, should have been singing all along. They close the show with “They Were You” from Tom Jones’ musical “The Fantasticks,” and it is only then that we see they really are fantastic.

The show runs Feb. 27-March 1 at The Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Other Side of Love

Forget that Cliff never called like he said he would, even after all that online flirting on JDate. This weekend love is promised at Dancing Monkey Cabaret's show "The Other Side of Love," featuring actors and singers Betty Hart and Matthew Trautwein.

I haven't heard either of them sing, but I know Betty from Working Title Playwrights, a group dedicated to writing and performing plays, and based upon her acting, I'm betting she's a great singer. Trautwein, whose work I don't know, has been praised in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for his "lovely tenor singing." I'll attend a dress rehearsal and report my findings.

The show will be held Feb. 27-March 1 at The Academy Theatre in Avondale Estates.