Latina Playwright Desi Moreno-Penson’s exploration of a dysfunctional Cuban family (via ancient Greek themes) is on display in EL BACALAO: The Catfish Man
A duet of special presentations done in stage reading format will be presented on Friday, May 5 at 7pm, and Saturday, May 6 at 2pm at The Siggy Space at The Flea Theatre, 20 Thomas Street, New York City of EL BACALAO: The Catfish Man, a new, full-length play written by Latina playwright Desi Moreno-Penson. The readings will be directed by SDC Director KM Jones and will feature the acting talents of Jose Febus,* Michael Tyler Jennings, Laura E. Johnston’*, Desi Moreno-Penson, Susanne Pinedo, Yessenia Rivas, Kathy Tejada, and Fidel Vicioso. (*Appearing courtesy of AEA.)
Produced by Dramatic Question Theatre through their flagship new play development program, “DQT Presents,” a series featuring live readings of the works of BIPOC and women-identifying playwrights . https://www.thedqt.org
Loosely based on Euripides’ THE BACCHAE, and taking place in the small, backwater town of Thebes, Florida, EL BACALAO: The Catfish Man tells the story of a cantankerous Cuban family on the verge of losing everything. A storm is coming; a restaurant is closed, a young girl is dead. And a Yoruban demigod is hell bent on vengeance.
Director KM Jones says, “I have always been struck by the intelligence, depth, theatricality, and vibrancy of Desi’s voice. Greek drama, with its big, tragic themes of love, loss, pride, the abuse of power and the fraught, sometimes campy relationships between men and their gods, are the perfect backdrop for this contemporary tale of a dysfunctional family.”
Readings are $20, but currently, there is an Early Bird Special of $15 per ticket from April 3 thru April 17th. Get your tickets at this link: Click Here.
MEET THE PLAYWRIGHT & THE DIRECTOR:
Desi Moreno-Penson (Playwright) is a playwright, actor, dramaturg, and independent theater producer based in NYC. She has an MFA in Dramaturgy and Theater Criticism from Brooklyn College. Her plays have been developed/produced at Ensemble Studio Theater (EST), INTAR, MultiStages, Perishable Theater (Providence, RI), SPF-Summer Play Festival, terraNOVA Collective, Downtown Urban Theater Festival (DUTF) @the Cherry Lane, Urban Theater Company (Chicago), Teatro Coribantes (San Juan, PR), among others. Her short play, DEAD WIVES DANCE THE MAMBO was featured as part of The Chain One-Act Festival at the Chain Theater, directed by KM Jones. Her new play, EL BACALAO: The Catfish Man, a Latinx retelling of THE BACCHAE by Euripedes, was part of the 2021 Fall Intensive Writers Group with Workshop Theater and selected for Lifeline Theater’s Second Annual BIPOC Adaptation Writers Lab in Chicago. Another play, SIN AGUA (Without Water) is part of the 2022-2023 Fighting Words New Script Development Program with Babes With Blades Theater Company in Chicago. Her play, BEIGE received a staged reading as part of the playwrights/directors unit (PDU) at The Actors Studio and is the winner of the 2016 National Latinx Playwriting Award sponsored by the Arizona Theater Company; a finalist for both the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and the Bay Area Playwrights Festival (San Francisco). She has twice won the MultiStages New Works Contest sponsored by MultiStages Theater Company for her plays, OMINOUS MEN and COMIDA DE PUTA (F%&king Lousy Food); has twice been a semifinalist for the Princess Grace Award, and her work has received Honorable Mention on The Kilroys List. Her plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing; her short play, RECONCILE, BITCH is included in the short plays anthology “Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2020,” published by Applause Theater and Cinema Books; a ten-minute play, SPIRIT SEX: A PARANORMAL ROMANCE, was selected for the short plays anthology, “Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2010;” and a scene from her play, COMIDA DE PUTA (F%&king Lousy Food) is included in an anthology featuring plays written by Latinx playwrights, “Scenes for Latinx Actors: Voices of the New American Theater,” both published by Smith and Kraus. Desi lives in The Bronx with her wonderful partner, Anthony, and their cat, Choo-Choo.
KM Jones (Director) Co-Executive Vice President and Board Member, League of Professional Theatre Women, Member: AEA, SDC, Theatre Resources Unlimited (TRU), Workshop Theatre Company, Dramatic Question Theatre, Planet Connections Theatre Festivity (Former Associate Artistic Director), and The Actors Studio Playwrights and Directors Unit (PDU). KM is an alumni of St. John’s University and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts/NY. (AADA). @KM Jones (FB); @KM.JONES.52493 (IG); kmjdirector.com
David McDermott steps into the pivotal role of “Scott” in OBSESSED
David McDermott steps into the pivotal role of “Scott” in OBSESSED
Theater For The New City, Crystal Field, Executive Producer
Presents The Windowpane Theatre Company’s take on a little bit Hitchcock, a little bit Orson Welles with their production of
written and directed by David McDermott
written and featuring Andy Halliday
with Eme’ Esquivel, Andrew Glaszek, and Alexa Renee
Halliday & McDermott’s twisted thriller brings us ample helpings of murder & money … and love gone terribly wrong.
Performing thru April 22 (Wednesday – Saturday @ 8:00 p.m. and Sunday @ 3:00 p.m.)
Theater for the New City
155 First Avenue, between 9th & 10th Streets, NYC
Contact https://theaterforthenewcity.net/ for reservations.
After scoring kudos as Scott, the wealthy “mark” in OBSEESED (“He certainly captures the spoiled elegance and the sadness of the man,” Bart Greenberg, Nitelife Exchange) Andy Halliday will be moving on to other commitments opening the door for director, David McDermott, to step into the role.
“I’m excited about this new challenge,” says multihyphenate artist McDermott. “Andy and I wrote this together, so we are in total sync as to the character’s arch.”
Ample portions of 1950s film noir are doled out as a pair of grifters – on the run from a double-cross they perpetrated on their boss back in Kansas City – find themselves on New York’s Lower East Side in need of cash. They think they have it made when they target an older gay man (McDermott)… until they discover he has secrets of his own … dangerous ones. Twists & turns and the appearance of a femme fatale turn this into a wild ride for all involved – especially the audience!
Bart Greenberg commented on the production in his review, “The playwrights effectively create an out-of-time world where same-sex relationships are unquestioned, where cell phones don’t exist (but rotary phones have an ability to take messages) and where everyone lacks morals but are overflowing with passion;” also commenting on Halliday’s acumen in this genre: “[Halliday] has an extensive background and connection with genre-specialist and camp drag artist, Charles Busch.”
Windowpane Theatre Company’s Mission is to develop new plays for the queer community in New York City. Focusing on exploring issues surrounding sexuality, gender and the individual in society. The company embraces wit, humor, irony and satire. WTC provides queer theatre artists a safe and collaborative environment where they can thrive. Their desire is to inspire a sense of joy and imagination in creating vibrant new work. By linking the past with the present, WTC explores alternative methods of theatrical storytelling and develops new ideas through workshops and public readings.
The production continues through April 22.
Dream on, Baransky! Review by JEN BUSH
Dreams are a series of ideas, images and sensations that occur in a person’s mind during sleep. They are involuntary unless your name is Jonathan Baransky. Jonathan has been experiencing serious bouts of anxiety. When you’re juggling an old flame, a new flame and your best friend’s wife, it’s no wonder that psychiatric assistance is needed. Jonathan attends sessions with Dr. Smithson who prescribes an experimental groundbreaking treatment in the form of a pill called Dreamasil. When a serious anxiety attack hits, Jonathan is supposed to take a pill. The pill will kick in immediately causing Jonathan to have a dream. He is directed to pay careful attention to the dreams because each one of them will have an important message for him. All three women in Jonathan’s life are making commitment demands on him which he vehemently resists. Just about every time he gets together with these women, he is highly stressed out prompting a dream sequence after he ingests a pill.
Dream on, Baransky! has a lot going for it. A strong cast, a unique story, fabulous song and dance numbers, gorgeous costumes and inventive lighting by Shani Colleen Murfin all add up to a quality theatrical experience. At its core, it’s a show about an immature player who is poorly navigating relationships. Thanks to the creative playwrighting skills of Dale Baron and Rich Baron, the story is told in a wildly inventive way. Every well-crafted character has a colorful personality. Several characters use multiple accents in the show to make things more interesting. The cleverly written dream engineers were a nice touch that added to the surreal quality of the show. They were the characters behind the scenes of every dream sequence. It was like a play within a play because they were directing the action, setting out the props and acting in the dreams while having stories of their own to tell. Even the talented Musical Director/Accompanist (Michael Raftery) participates in the show as a silent character with an animated face. It’s a fun fanciful story that serves up themes of dating, friendship and mental health.
The cast made up of talented actors from all over the globe was a dream! You might not like the character of Jonathan Baransky but you will love his portrayal by Joseph Monseur. He carried the show like Atlas carries the world. He can act, sing, dance and has a knack for physical comedy. The three leading ladies, Jennifer, Lyla and Suzie played by Alisa Mironova, Marie-Louise Boisnier and Sky Spallone all stunned in their portrayals of the bamboozled love interests. Sometimes being over the top works and it worked for Jeffrey Jaafar Laraichi who was hilarious as Suzie’s husband Frank. Anita Moreno gave a fun zany spin to her overzealous character of Dr. Smithson. Kudos to Amber Brookes for taking on SEVEN different characters with a range of accents. She made every character she played unique and fun. Reagen O’Reilly played by Elizah Hill was the most likeable character in the play. Ms. Hill gave Reagen such a caring spirit with a side of spunk. Dustin Pazar delighted as the quirky Commander Ted. You’ll cheer for Quinn Nguyen when you see her wonderful portrayal of cheerleader Patsy Purity. It’s hard to stand out among such a skilled cast but Isaias Badilla managed to do it in his role of Kazz-Nova. He’s funny, charismatic and has a very flexible and expressive face. Not only did Karolina Larion give a dazzling performance of Starlet Darlene Winters but she choreographed the show as well. The dance numbers were exquisite. David Allard took on three roles of Boss, Sebastian and Jules and did a fine job with each. Billy Gillen was memorable as an imaginative Genie.
Costume designer Cole Hurley took great care to outfit the cast in a stylish and funky assortment of dazzling colorful threads. Under the keen direction of Jake Minter, the cast utilized the two level play space of the well-appointed set.
There were a few things that I felt could have been different to make the play even better. I would suggest trying to shorten the play. The story could easily have been told in less than three hours without compromising any aspect of the production. Though this play is all about dreams, the audience was saturated with dream sequences. I also envisioned a different ending. I think the main character received a generous conclusion considering his indiscretions. Overall, Dream on, Baransky! is a whimsically entertaining energetic show. The audience loved it as evidenced by their enthusiastic cheers and well-deserved standing ovation.
The landmark American Theatre of Actors has been bringing quality productions to the stage for 47 years. They give new artists a voice and a venue to develop their work in a supportive and creative environment. They chose wisely with Dream on, Baransky!
DAVID SABELLA: A LIFE
JEN BUSH EXPLORES THE ICONIC LIFE AND CAREER OF DAVID SABELLA part 1
A countertenor is a type of male singing voice whose vocal range is equivalent to a female contralto or mezzosoprano. It is the rarest of all voice types and David Sabella happens to be one! According to his bio, he is cited as one of the “originators of the American countertenor sound” and the only one working in the popular music genres of Broadway and the Great American Songbook. His wildly impressive 4-octave range affords him the ability to sing in a traditional male breadth as well.
Mr. Sabella’s biography is vast and impressive to say the least. Here are some highlights. He originated the starring role of “Mary Sunshine in the 1996 revival of Chicago and remained in that role on Broadway and with the touring company for a decade. He won the Luciano Pavarotti International Voice Competition. He’s performed throughout the world in opera companies, has done voiceover work and has performed in extensive cabarets. Just to drop a few names, he’s worked with Ann Reinking, Joel Grey, Patrick Swayze, Chita Rivera and countless others.
Mr. Sabella has built a successful international cabaret act around his alter ego, Amanda Reckonwith. She was once a lyric soprano who graced famous Broadway, concert and opera stages all around the world. She settled down to have some children and now that they’re grown and finding their own way in the world, she’s back to entertain the masses after a hiatus of several decades. She is now known to the world as her generations’ most famous “Spento” soprano. She does transformative versions of the songs of Broadway, The Great American Songbook and other popular favorites. Mr. Sabella has had multiple residencies with this show and will be in residence at New York hotspot, Pangea from April through December. It was a pleasure to chat with this incredibly talented performer to learn more about him and his thrilling career.
Mr. Sabella’s art is far from static. “What a massive question! How to talk about myself as an artist? I don’t ever think of myself in those terms. I just do what I do and I’ve been very lucky that it seems to resonate with people in a certain way. I have certainly evolved in my art. I think that’s key to it all. We are never done. We are constantly evolving. My concept of my own art now is much different than what it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. And I’ve only been able to grasp what the nature of my art is by looking back with hindsight. In the moment you’re just a performing artist trying to eek out a living. That all of a sudden you look back and you realize “oh, that’s what all of that was about.””
Mr. Sabella has undertaken some major health and lifestyle changes that have positively impacted his life. “You’re right. It’s been a major change in my psyche and my gender expression and my comfort level with all of that. And it dovetails into your first question very nicely.”
“Looking back with hindsight over my career, I realized that the greatest success and artistic fulfillment I’ve ever had in my career always had something to do with my ability to blur the lines of gender with both my voice and my look. Whether I was playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago on Broadway, or singing as a Countertenor at Carnegie Hall, there has always been this unique aspect to my career. And until very recently, I kept that locked away in a small corner of my life that I reserved for “my career.” I thought “this is a thing that I do“ I didn’t realize “this is who I am.“”
The Powers behind The Lincolns of Springfield
Rebecca Powers Cranert Interview by Jen Bush
The Lincolns of Springfield is a thrilling new historical musical. The show is produced by Rebecca Powers Cranert. The Lincolns of Springfield tells the love story you won’t find in the history books. The audience is led down a delightfully romantic path leading to the marriage of the most unlikely of couples, Mary Todd and Abe Lincoln, a Southern Belle and a backwoods genius. The Lincolns of Springfield chronicles the incredible story of one of America’s greatest Presidents and his much-loved wife, from their first meeting through the end of the Civil War.
Rebecca Powers Cranert brings a multifaceted background to the production team, having served in leadership positions in the arts, education and business. Rebecca served as Director of Theater Programs for the Los Angeles County Arts Counsel supervising all professional theaters throughout Los Angeles County, including those at the Los Angeles Music Center. She also produced and directed professional theatrical productions throughout California. As a professional singer, Rebecca headlined at major venues throughout the West Coast with her ten-piece, Grammy-winning show band.
This musical went through some significant changes from when it began to where it is now. “This musical began as a story about Abraham Lincoln and evolved into a story about Abraham Lincoln and Mary Lincoln. The more Terry Cranert (book/music/lyrics) studied Abraham Lincoln, the more he -and I- came to see that, as many Lincoln scholars state, without Mary, there probably would never have been a President Abraham Lincoln.”
“Mary came from a very politically active and involved family. She traveled in political circles. Henry Clay was a frequent dinner guest at Mary’s home when she was growing up. Her sister married the son of the governor of Illinois. Mary was even courted by Steven Douglas! Mary apparently recognized almost immediately upon meeting Abe, his charisma, his intellectual prowess and his political potential. She encouraged him and supported him in his political endeavors. She helped him dress appropriately and to behave in a socially acceptable manner- or as we would say today- in a presidential manner. She threw campaign parties that entertained hundreds of people in their home in Springfield! It became clear that we couldn’t tell the story of Abraham Lincoln without telling the story of Abe and Mary Lincoln and their romance and marriage.”
“Although Abe is well known for being self educated, Mary, even though she was a young girl, recieved an education that was in every way equal to that of the best educated young men of the time. Mary studied European History, Mathematics, and spoke French impeccably. In addition, she attended a finishing school run by a Parisian lady, who also influenced Mary’s love of fashion. Later in life, while Abe and Mary were in the White House, Mary’s aristocratic upbringing, enabled her to refurbish The White House, just like both Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan did, in a manner that allowed Americans to hold their heads high when visited by European dignitaries. Abe came to rely on Mary’s knowledge, social expertise and advice. They were most definitely America’s first “power couple.””
“Most people are not aware that as a young girl, Mary assisted her father’s household slaves with the Underground Railway. She was an abolitionist from a very young age.”
“Together, Abe and Mary, worked to free a people and save our country. Together, they made innumerable, unimaginable and unthinkably difficult sacrifices to achieve that goal.”
“Yet, and this is important, Mary, as well as every other woman of the time, was not even allowed to vote. In spite of her aristocratic upbringing, in spite of her exemplary education, Mary was still unable to vote.”
“In many ways “The Lincoln’s of Springfield,” tells a story that causes us to become very aware of the struggles women have faced throughout history, and how and why women, even today, continue to seek equality for themselves and for their daughters.”
“Within “The Lincolns of Springfield’s” story, the pivotal relationship between Mary and her dearest friend, Elizabeth Keckly, a formerly enslaved seamstress, who managed to buy not only her own freedom, but that of her son, shines a light upon women’s struggles and exemplifies how women, empowering other women, has served to strengthen our entire culture throughout American history.”
Many playwrights engage in some level of creative license when writing historical pieces. When it came to Abraham Lincoln, creative license was neither practical or logical. “In regard to historical theatrical license, I came to understand, that Abraham Lincoln’s story is unique in that he has become in every sense, so very highly esteemed, indeed sacred, to many, many Americans, Lincoln Scholars and Lincoln oficianados- that to these people, there is no such thing as acceptable theatrical license when it comes to Abraham Lincoln and his story. These people are extremely familiar with every aspect of Lincoln’s life and when telling this story, you better darn well get it right! If a writer goes off track, even just a tiny bit, the Lincoln lovers will come out of the woodwork and call you out!”
“So with this in mind, Terry was scrupulous when it came to the script for “The Lincolns of Springfield.” He studied and researched for years before he even began writing. Luckily, at that time, we lived just a mile or so away from The Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, which houses an entire wing of Lincoln scholars. When Terry finally, actually started writing, he would put together a scene and a musical number and take them over to the Lincoln scholars at The Huntington, who would go through everything he had written with a fine tooth comb to make sure it was entirely truthful- not a legend!! Any thing that was in the slightest bit inaccurate, was cut. Thus, we ended up with a musical that takes no theatrical license at all, and that proves once and for all, that “Truth is stranger than fiction.””
“So– If you want to find out how an aristocratic Southern Belle and a back woods genius- (possibly the most highly improbable couple ever!!)– managed to find each other, fall in love, get married, and become our country’s first power couple—Who then freed a people and saved our country!! Be sure to grab your entire family and come see the new musical, “The Lincolns of Springfield” at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois this Summer!”
Terence L. Cranert’s stirring new musical,
THE LINCOLNS OF SPRINGFIELD
A musical for the entire family
Premiering in Springfield, Illinois, with sights set on New York.
Performances begin June 15
Hoogland Center for the Arts – Peggy Ryder Theater
420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois
The Lincolns of Springfield is scheduled to play in Springfield, IL through August and the show is currently in negotiations to come to New York.
The Theatre According to Robert
Robert Viagas Interview by Jen Bush (Part I)
Robert Viagas is an editor, author, journalist and teacher with more than thirty-five years’ experience. Most of his experience has been working on Broadway with Playbill, Inc. where he has spearheaded numerous projects for them. He is the founding editor of Playbill.com, Playbill’s theatre news website. Mr. Viagas is an experienced broadcaster hosting satellite radio shows for Playbill. He’s a published author/editor of 22 books and is a nominator for the Tony awards. Topics of his books include biographies of Broadway notables, collaboration, The Fantastics and A Chorus Line. His latest book, Right This Way: A History of the Audience, puts the spotlight in the house instead of on the stage.
Art is created for audiences to enjoy. They remain in the shadows looking, listening and absorbing the art around them. They are not typically in the limelight. Robert Viagas changed that by honoring the people that support the art and the artists. Step right this way to learn more about this prolific artist who was kind enough to share some time and insights with us.
Mr. Viagas began wielding the power of the pen when he was a teenager. Working at a newspaper proved quite formative for him and informed the career path he would take. “I got my training as a newspaper reporter at Newsday, at various New York-area Gannett newspapers, and going all the way back to my teen, when I had a theatre-reviewing column in my late-lamented local weekly newspaper, the Franklin Square Bulletin. Along the way I learned discipline, how to do research and how to structure a large-scale project like a book.”
“No one-trick pony, I saw the potential of the online world to theatre and served as founding editor of the pioneering theatre news/features/etc. website Playbill.com. I created programming for the launch of the Broadway channel on what is now Sirius/XM and was its first newscaster. I also had training as a librettist in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop and have written several novels. But while my non-fiction has been published abundantly, my fiction has yet to face a printing press.”
“Right This Way: A History of the Audience, is my 22nd published book, either as author or editor. Virtually all my books explore different realms of the performing arts. Showing that theatre isn’t just something that happened long ago, but something that is very much alive and important now. Even my book of theatre ghosts deals with ghosts who are said to stalk darkened backstages today.”
“The process of artistic creation is fascinating to me. Humans are so flawed and fallible—yet they sometimes have the power to create something wonderful and practically perfect in every way. My goal as an author has always been to seek out the source of that power. I try to show how certain people of supernatural talent are able to spin the flax of human experience into gold.”
Being such a heralded name in the theatrical literary world, it’s no surprise that Mr. Viagas gets approached to work on projects. He develops other people’s projects and he creates his own. He likens his creative process to building a brick wall. “I’ve had publishers and performers bring ideas to my agent and to me and ask us to develop these ideas as books. But I also find that certain ideas just start whispering to me. My mind just makes up itself to tell a certain story. And then I simply become a researcher and typist for myself. Every big idea for a book is actually a bunch of smaller ideas that come in a cluster, just as a wall is made of bricks. I separate out those smaller ideas and arrange them in an order that makes sense. Each “brick” takes 30 to 90 minutes to write: basically, the length of time I can naturally sit still. I usually can do a couple of those a day. I just keep going until the wall is complete. Hopefully, it includes a picture window.”
Available for pre-sale on Amazon
John Grissmer: Renaissance Man
John Grissmer Interview by Jen Bush
John Grissmer may not think of himself as an artist, but his body of work speaks otherwise. He’s as steeped in the arts as a person can be. He’s a novelist. In his book The Ghosts of Antietam, he reimagines an event in political history. He’s so musically inclined (thanks in part to Steven Sondheim) that he’s written several musicals, one about the invention of basketball. He’s a filmmaker having written, produced and directed multiple films of the horror kind. Let’s add respected theatre professor at major universities to his list of artistic endeavors. He speaks the language of music fluently and he can explain to you how notes speak to each other. It was a pleasure to get to know the man and his work better.
“I don’t think of myself as an artist. What would be the point? I ‘m a guy who loves to play with words in the service of telling a story. The story may be from my imagination, or from documentary history. The most fun I have is in playing around with the conjunction of words and music. I like to start with lyrics that express the content, and let them lead me into a melody idea, and that melody leads me into a blend of chords. I love all the tried and true standard chords, majors and minors. How B flat speaks to F Major. Richard Rogers talks about the pull that B has on C. I understand that.”
Mr. Grissmer’s work has elements of fantasy but it’s all very diverse and stems from real things. “Fantasy? I’m not even sure what that is. Certainly, it’s not on my target list. Basketball is real. So is the Civil War, and so are Irish Plays.”
Mr. Grissmer’s creative process is really an intense thought process. “Creative process? For all forms? That’s easy. I think the hell outta anything I do. Finally I reach a point where there’s nothing left but to start to laying it down on paper, or on a screen, like this.”
With all his given talents, writing music is what Mr. Grissmer likes to do best. “Favorite medium? Song writing. I could spend all day at the keyboard if I let myself. Love the interplay between words and notes”.
Mr. Grissmer has some heroes that we might not have heard of, but he has also been inspired by some of the greatest musical geniuses ever known. He once was given some words of wisdom by a pretty iconic Broadway composer and lyricist. “Heroes: Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rogers, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, and hundreds more unknown. Once I had a pep talk from Stephen Sondheim. It was at the old bar in Lincoln Center. He sat down next to me and started working on a cross word. “Mr. Sondheim, I really liked your presentation at the Dramatist Guild Gala.” “Oh, well thank you for your support.” “I’m a member.” ” Are you a playwright?” “I am, but what I’m focused on now is music. I’m learning all I can about music.” “That’s great! It’s never too late to learn music. Actually, it’s easier to learn music than to learn French. “So now I brag that Stephen Sondheim encouraged my study of music.”
There have been numerous changes in the theatre and film industry over the years. Mr. Grissmer weighs in on the positives and the negatives. “Everything in the traditional modes is crazy expensive now. But there are cheaper short cuts. Such as streaming, and digital cameras that don’t require much light or film.”
Mr. Grissmer has more interesting projects in the works. One of them sounds like a hell of a lot of fun! “Just finished a re-write of a novel, HORROR MOVIE, based of course on my experience directing BLOOD RAGE. Then there’s another musical play coming up. HAIL MARY. It takes place in Judeo-Christian Heaven. The Leading Lady is The Holy Spirit. She has some trouble when she closes down Hell. It’s a comedy.”
Our greatest president — his greatest love
Abraham Lincoln – our greatest president — his greatest love
Terence L. Cranert’s stirring new musical,
THE LINCOLNS OF SPRINGFIELD
A musical for the entire family
Premiering in Springfield, Illinois, with sights set on New York.
Performances begin June 15
Hoogland Center for the Arts – Peggy Ryder Theater 420 South Sixth Street, Springfield, Illinois
Historically significant as the State Capitol AND the place Abraham Lincoln called home from 1837-1861- when he began his tenure in The White House as one of the most lauded presidents in history-will serve as host for a joyous and riveting new musical love story.
The Lincolns of Springfield tells the love story you won’t find in the history books. The audience is led down a delightfully romantic path leading to the marriage of the most unlikely of couples, Mary Todd and Abe Lincoln, a Southern Belle and a backwoods genius. The Lincolns of Springfield chronicles the incredible story of one of America’s greatest President and his much-loved wife, from their first meeting through the end of the Civil War.
They were America’s first power couple! Like of mind and heart, Mary Todd assisted her father’s house slaves with the Underground Railroad and President Lincoln wielded his governmental authority to abolish slavery once and for all.
The Lincolns of Springfield had its successful world premiere at the Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara in October 2022. Critics said hail to the chief with comments like: “A unique and amazing production, one of the boldest portrayals of Lincoln and his legacy.” (Michael Kenney, Nashville Universe) and “Spectacular, uplifting music in the grand style of a Rodgers & Hammerstein or Lerner & Lowe.” (Chris Daniels, The Show Report)
From the moment the curtain rises, audiences are drawn into two very different worlds… Mary’s tumultuous world of the antebellum South—with gentility and honor juxtaposed against the backdrop of the scourge of slavery—and Abe’s vibrant, fearless world of possibilities that is America’s new frontier.
Currently scheduled to perform throughout June, July and August at the Peggy Ryder Theater of the Hoogland Center for the Arts, the producers are currently in negotiation to bring the production to the New York stage.
TERENCE L. CRANERT — BOOK, MUSIC, and LYRICS
Terence worked as an actor in New York and Los Angeles and attended the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop under the tutelage of the Dean of the Broadway Musical, the late Lehman Engel. Terence was associate producer of the Broadway productions of A Night with Janis Joplin, On The Town and The 39 Steps. In addition to The Lincolns of Springfield, Terence has composed the musicals Joan of Arc, Pinocchio in Tinsel Town and When The Fat Lady Sings. He continues to perfect his craft as a member of the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop at Dreamworks under the direction of Stephen Schwartz.
REBECCA POWERS CRANERT — PRODUCER
Rebecca Powers Cranert brings a multifaceted background to our production team, having served in leadership positions in The Arts, Education and Business. Rebecca served as Director of Theater Programs for the Los Angeles County Arts Counsel supervising all professional theaters throughout Los Angeles County, including those at the Los Angeles Music Center. She also produced and directed professional theatrical productions throughout California. As a professional singer, Rebecca headlined at major venues throughout the West Coast with her ten-piece, Grammy-winning show band.
JONATHAN HOGUE — EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Jonathan Hogue is a NYC-based playwright, director, performer, and producer, and has collaborated on a number of festival productions, developmental labs, and industry readings. His musical “Stranger Sings!: The Parody Musical”, for which he wrote book and score, played two sold-out concerts at 54 Below in 2019 and is now in development for an off-Broadway run in the 2021-2022 season. He is also producing a virtual production of his play “The Nations”, loosely based on his experiences serving as a short-term missionary/aid worker in 12 countries around the world, to air in late March 2021. Other written projects include “The Resurrection of Walt Disney’s Frozen Head from its Cryogenic Slumber in the Year 2066”, “The Substance of Matter”, and “Til Morning”. He is also developing the new children’s musical “Lykz”, as well as a musical audio drama about the life of William Penn alongside Broadway’s Christopher Smith. Jonathan is most interested in telling stories that tackle complex contemporary issues, unpack cultural idiosyncrasies (especially with satire), and provoke dialogue among people of all backgrounds. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild.
KEN DAVENPORT — EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Ken Davenport is a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer whose credits include A Beautiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical, Once On This Island (Tony Award), Gettin’ the Band Back Together, The Play that Goes Wrong, Groundhog Day (Tony nomination), Deaf West Theatre’s Spring Awakening (Tony nomination), It’s Only a Play, Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, Godspell, Kinky Boots (Broadway – Tony Award, National Tour, Toronto, Australia, and West End), The Visit (Tony nomination), Mothers and Sons (Tony nomination), The Bridges of Madison County (National Tour), Allegiance, Chinglish, Oleanna starring Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles, Speed-the-Plow, Will Ferrell’s You’re Welcome America (Tony nomination), Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury (Broadway, West End and National Tour), and 13.
Ken’s productions have been produced internationally in over 25 countries around the world. In his mission to continually educate, entertain, and inspire the world through theatre, In 2019, Inc. 5000 named Ken’s production company, Davenport Theatrical Enterprises, one of America’s fastest-growing private companies.
He is the founder of TheaterMakers Studio, a one-of-a-kind “masterclass” community that provides training and inspiration from Broadway’s best to writers, directors, producers and more. Ken also serves as the Executive Producer for North America for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group.
Outside of theatre, he has produced the award-winning These Magnificent Miles: On the Long Road with Red Wanting Blue, a documentary on one of the top unsigned rock bands in the country, and an award-winning TV pilot entitled The Bunny Hole which has appeared in the LA Indie Film Festival, the Orlando Film Festival, the LA Comedy Festival and more. Ken was featured on a national commercial for Apple’s iPhone, named one of Crain’s “Forty Under 40” and is one of the co-founders of TEDxBroadway. He created the best-selling Broadway board game Be A Broadway Star. His blog, The Producer’s Perspective, has been featured in Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, The Gothamist and more. He has written articles for Forbes, Mashable, and many others. Ken’s unique production and marketing style has garnered him international attention, including two front page articles in The New York Times and features on MSNBC, Rock Center, Fox News, BBC, and his favorite, a mention in Jay Leno’s monologue on The Tonight Show.
Upcoming projects include The Griswolds’ Broadway Vacation, Joy the Musical, Harmony: A New Musical written by Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, The Ten, and a musical based on the life of Harry Belafonte.
MARIA DEL BAGNO – CHOREGRAPHER
Los Angeles Jazz Dance Foundation listed Del Bagno one of LA’s top choreographers. She worked with renowned Choreographer Alan Johnson where she co-wrote and produced a retrospective of his life’s work, Alan Johnson – Let Me Entertain You! She collaborated with actress Alicia Silverstone on a new project and her choreography for other musical theatre productions include Les Miserables, Fiddler On The Roof, Legally Blonde, Grease, Peter Pan, Shrek: The Musical, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Little Shop of Horrors.
STEVEN APPLEGATE – MUSICAL DIRECTOR
An award-winning musical director, he has worked in almost every theatre and concert hall in the LA area, as well as many prestigious concert halls throughout the United States and in Europe. He has had the honor of performing for Kings and Queens, and United States dignitaries, as well as private celebrity functions, presidential candidate fundraisers, and numerous benefits around the world. Some of his favorite memories include being the guest conductor for the Dallas Symphony and the Denver Symphony in concert with singer John Raitt. Others include working with Christina Aguilera, Sandy Duncan, Cybil Shephard, Maureen McGovern, Sally Struthers, Adrianne Barbeau, Jack Jones, Alexis Gershwin, Frank Gorshen, Lorna Luft, and Christine Ebersole.
DIANNE K. GRAEBNER — COSTUME DESIGNER
Dianne’s costume design and millinery work has been seen on Broadway, regional theatre, film and television both nationally and internationally. She is a long-time collaborator of the Circle X Theatre Co., Ensemble Theatre Company, Colony Theatre Company, and was on the design staff for Center Theatre Group for 14 years as their Milliner, Crafts supervisor, Associate and Assistant Costume designer on many critically acclaimed productions. She received her MFA in Costume and Set Design from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and received her BA in Technical Theatre, Costume Design from California State University Long Beach. Dianne has been nominated for many of her designs over the years, most recently from the NAACP, Ovation and LA Weekly awards. She is also a member of United Scenic Artists local 829
Ricardo Melendez surrenders … to vibes and visions
Ricardo Melendez Interview by Jen Bush
The 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival has fresh picked and delicious offerings for the discerning artistic palates of enthusiastic theatergoers. Angel on Eros written by Ricardo Melendez is one of these delights. In Angel on Eros A gay Hispanic painter immortalizes a young restaurant owner, unleashing more drama than anticipated.
Ricardo Melendez is a gifted actor, dancer and playwright. He is one of the founders and artistic directors of TRDance in Norfolk, VA. TRDance is the most premier dance studio in downtown Norfolk that embraces all who wish to express themselves through dance. Mr. Melendez possessed the skills and the drive to succeed as an entertainer from a young age. New York City seemed to agree, and Mr. Melendez became a working performer in one of the greatest artistic cities in the world. Mr. Melendez kindly took the time to tell us more about his career and this exhilarating piece.
“I am lucky fool! After decades of working in the Arts, I pride myself that I get to spend my days immersed in what I love doing. Whether it’s teaching, coaching, creating, or questioning; I am able to spend my days surrounded by humanity. Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I thrived as a young actor. Fate showed me the path of dance as an art form, and I was lucky to ride that wave landing in NYC as a teenager. One job led to another, and I was fortunate to witness and train with pioneers of modern dance and performed with premiere dance companies. Wanting to further my education, I returned to NYC as an actor and rejoiced in the excitement of the city. Now, I am in an environment that allows me to create and take my humble offerings far beyond my chosen confines. As an artist, I find joy in sharing myself, my ideas and crazy idiosyncrasies. My success is measured by offerings, not accolades; and I pride in sharing my flawed character in stories that encapsulate our time, our points of view and our behavior towards one another.”
Ricardo Montalban might not have said “Welcome to Fantasy Island” to Mr. Melendez but along with other iconic luminaries in the performing arts industry, he inspired Mr. Melendez to make his fantasies come true. “I was inspired by actors like Jose Ferrer, Raul Juliá, Ricardo Montalbán; they paved the way for Hispanic actors today. Their passion and knowledge of the craft made them icons to artists like me. Feeling represented and witnessing the examples that others like me could achieve, inspired me. There have been many mentors, Brian Fonseca, David Hochoy; artists that through their example and creativity afforded me the opportunities to succeed. These individuals opened my eyes to the wonders of storytelling and the joy of sharing my talents openly and honestly.
The creative process for Mr. Melendez is amorphic and almost cosmic. He gives up control and surrenders to the imaginative vibes and visions that compel him to create. “A piece of music, a painting, a feeling, a thought. Whether it is writing, choreographing, drawing… I begin without clear destination; stream of consciousness. I try never to judge the flow; I surrender to my imagination, my intuition. At times I veer from the spark; but at times the lightning is so strong I can’t help but let it strike. Then, I step away. Next day, I read it and let it tell me where IT wants to go. The process repeats until I reach the end, the final thought. Only then do I begin the process of cleaning, sharpening, adding and subtracting. Once satisfied, I usually share it with honest friends whose suggestions are invaluable. It is at this time that the work usually shows me my present state of mind. (SCARYYY!) There have been times in which I put away the new work for a long time preventing my present mood to hurt the story. And then someone will say something, or I will hear a piece of music; some outside stimulus will bring the work back to mind; that’s the time for me to pick it back up.”
“I (secretly) collect people’s reactions to events, or circumstances and try to understand, from an empathetic point of view, the root of the behavior. I feed my characters with these reactions which eventually reveal character. I tend to their journeys as protagonists of their own life and respect the final thought without regard for decorum or morality. Then I share the work; with the understanding that I cannot control how it will be received, but yet certain that the work is honest, therefore beautiful; at least to me.”
In a post pandemic world, performing artists are thriving again as people are learning to interact on a personal level again. Fortunately for Mr. Melendez, he found some positives during the lockdown time. “We are working again! I am an introvert, so for me, quarantine was a time to reflect, to enjoy solitary and family walks, to try to catch up with the still endless list of books I want to read. Masks heightened physical traits, but diminished language. People feared each other, their neighbors, and family members. The intimacy of touch was repressed. How has the world changed? We are relearning to share, to listen; to show up. How has it changed for the gay community? Less Jerk Mate and more Grinder?????”
Mr. Melendez is hoping that the audience has a positive reaction to the show sparking thoughtful conversations and an ongoing appreciation and support of the gay arts. “First and foremost, I hope the audience enjoy themselves. I hope they see themselves represented in the story. I wish for the audience to laugh with these characters and listen to their story. I hope for the audience to go home and have an honest talk with their friends and loved ones and perhaps share their views on thoughts or ideas that the play might have sparked. I hope for the audience to smile as they thank the performers for their generous effort. I wish for the audience to continue their support for gay arts and artists because representation is imperative to the wellbeing of our community.”
Angel on Eros is a fascinating depiction of a rare piece of the LGBTQ landscape. This play took a journey from an idea to conversations to production. “There comes a moment in every artist’s journey in which we ask ourselves how did we get here? How many compromises have we made in the pursuit of our passion? How much have we deafened our voices in order to keep working? This play finds the protagonist in that space. Sometime ago, I shared ideas with a friend ( a straight married friend) whose circumstances, though very different, seemed as constricting. While sitting with friends, in alcohol enhanced conversations, talking about what they gave, what they got, what they gain from various relationships, I was fascinated by the sense of transaction in their personal interactions. I set out to write a play that explores the mindset that chants: “We all pay to play and play to win”. Perhaps a very somber look at human interactions which, voided of romantic ideals, sums up our “encounters” into a transaction of give and get.
As I shared the early drafts with friends, both gay and straight, the opinions and desired outcomes for the characters were truly polarized. I knew then I had found a story that challenges our ideas of interpersonal play. Further drafts attempted to crystalize the conflicts and create an arc for each character based on the ideas of wins and losses. Beyond moral standards, the play speaks about our need to succeed regardless of who becomes the obstacle, the collateral victim. The play also explores the self-discoveries we make along the journey.”
“Angel on Eros is a LGBTQ+ story because the playwright is part of that community, but I believe it transcends labels because it speaks about the strife of our flawed humanity regardless of our sexual orientation.”
Irish eyes will be smiling upon Angel on Eros because the next stop is Dublin. For Mr. Melendez there are more festivals, more projects, more dancing, more teaching, and full-on embracing f of the artistic life that fuels his passion for living. “Fortunately, after the Fresh Fruit Festival, we travel to Ireland to performed at the International Dublin Gay Theater Festival. After that, a well-earned time in my little Island of Puerto Rico. Then back on the road to various Fringe and Gay Theater Festivals. A few more projects in the burner, a script waiting to be revisited, students, classes, lectures… the Life!”
Angel on Eros
Part of the 2023 Fresh Fruit Festival
April 28 @ 6:30 p.m., April 29 @ 3:30 p.m., April 30 @ 7:30 p.m.
The Wild Project, 195 E 3rd St, New York City
The Doctor is in … North America
DOCTOR WHO AM I
Winner, Best Documentary Film, Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival.
North American distribution begins March 28th, 2023 Opening the year-long 60th anniversary of Britain’s famed sci-fi series, Doctor Who – proclaimed the longest running science fiction series in the world – DOCTOR WHO AM I had its East Coast Premiere at the 48th Annual Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival in February, garnering the coveted Best Documentary Film award.
Documentary filmmaker, Vanessa Yuille tells the story of her friend (and co-director), Matthew Jacobs, who joined the Who pantheon when he penned the – at that time – controversial 1996 TV movie introducing the “Eighth Doctor.” Jacobs – after battling fans who rejected some of his plot and enhancements to the characters and the lore – is reluctantly pulled back into fandom and the franchise due to the 50th Anniversary and the new twists that have appeared during the tenure of Jodie Whitaker – the first female Doctor Who.
The journey not only becomes hilarious and emotionally perilous for the duo but also reveals a touching and quirky face-off between the American Doctor Who fans and Matthew himself. As they explore the fandom, Matthew unexpectedly finds himself a kindred part of this close-knit, yet vast, family of fans. With appearances by actors Paul McGann, Daphne Ashbrook and Eric Roberts, the documentary deals with the desire to belong to a community, and how people can become nourished and enriched by the experience.
The allure of the character is rooted not only in the vast visionary lore, but in the fact that he does not die – he regenerates. To date – on television, there have been 13 “Doctors” including guest showings by John Hurt as the “War Doctor” and two feature films featuring Peter Cushing as the time traveling Doctor.
Making her feature film debut, Vanessa Yuille (Director/Producer/Editor), also won accolades for the documentary, An American Contradiction, as well as gaining notoriety as an editor on projects for Nike, Michelob, and Volkswagen to name a few. Ms. Yuille edited Dua Lipa’s music video for “Lost in your Light” featuring Miguel. DOCTOR WHO AM I marks Ms. Yuille’s feature debut as director and editor.
British writer, director, producer and actor, Matthew Jacobs (Director/Producer) won extensive praise throughout his writing career for projects including The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Doctor Who among others. He also directed two prize-winning TV movies for BBC films, Hallelujah Anyhow and Mothertime. As an actor, he starred alongside Danny Huston in Boxing Day. As screenwriter, his film credits include Lassie, The Emperor’s New Groove and the cult classic Paperhouse.
DOCTOR WHO AM I has been the darling of film festivals all over the globe after a brilliant UK release in October of 2022 through Kaleidoscope! It was an Official Selection at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Portland Film Festival, the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival and the Omaha Film Festival. DWAI was the Audience Award Winner at the London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film and won the coveted Best Documentary Film Award at the Boston Sci-fi Film Festival, the longest running genre film festival in the U.S.A.
Praise for Doctor WHO AM I from Chris Chibnall, Doctor Who Showrunner:
“Affecting and affectionate, DOCTOR WHO AM I – beautifully directed and edited by Vanessa Yuille and Matthew Jacobs – is a compelling and surprising documentary like no other. It’s a rich and beguiling piece of filmmaking: a revelatory personal odyssey into the heart of fandoms, family and Doctor Who that will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye. I loved it. Packed full of wonderful cameos and contributions from beloved Doctor Who faces, this film explores what it means to put creative work into the world, and how the passage of time affects the work, the creators and the fans. It’s essential viewing for anyone whose pulse quickens at the sight of a battered blue police box.”
From Vanessa Yuille:
“It’s very exciting that my first feature as a director and editor is resonating with audiences in both the UK and US. We’ve poured our souls into it and couldn’t be happier that our film will be released in the same year as the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who. It will be quite a celebration!”
“Winning Best Documentary at Boston SciFi was one of our happiest and proudest moments. We were overjoyed by the warm response and being championed by such an established and iconic festival.” photo: Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival spokesman Jay Michaels awarding Matthew Jacobs and Vanessa Yuille with the Best Documentary Award at the 48th annual fest.
“Our documentary fits into the 60-year canon as a heart-felt celebration of American fandom. We hope that the universal themes of redemption, regeneration and acceptance will touch a wide audience, including those who want a behind-the-scenes insight into what the Doctor Who 60th anniversary excitement is all about.”
From Matthew Jacobs:
“Just as Sci Fi London truly launched our documentary in the UK, Boston SciFi Film Festival has launched us into the public eye here! We’re so grateful!”
“We feel our documentary stands testament to the simple truth that the American Doctor Who fandom kept the franchise alive in the 90s and have constantly picked up the torch ever since. Without them the show would not be celebrating its 60th anniversary this year!”