Friday, April 4, 2014

An interview with Rick Pendzich!

Rick Pendzich returns to the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre stage in LEND ME A TENOR. His past MCT appearances include JEEVES INTERVENES, THE FOURTH WALL, BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS and HAY FEVER.

Tell us a bit about your character, Max:

To use Mr. Saunders' words, Max is the "factotum, gopher, and all-purpose dogsbody" for the Cleveland Grand Opera Company.  Basically, it's his job to do whatever Mr. Saunders tells him to do.  Max is quite suited for this job, because he's kind of a doormat.  Even though he has dreams of singing professionally and marrying his girlfriend, he doesn't have the confidence to make things happen for himself.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of performing in a farce/comedy?

The great part about this play is that it's so well-written.  Ken Ludwig writes in a way that not only gives you great dialogue and jokes, but almost gives you a built in rhythm that makes it all land.  This is also what makes it difficult; it's all so rhythmic.  If you space out for a second and drop the ball, you have to build the rhythm back up.

Anything fun you’d like to share with readers about LEND ME A TENOR, rehearsals, etc?

Everyone is hilarious, but I must say that I've probably laughed the most in my scenes with Drew Brhel.  We have similar senses of humor, so we crack each other up a lot.  When we can keep it together, though, it's a great thing.  Sometimes, I feel like we're two volleyball players setting the ball for one another, so the other one can spike it.  I must also say, singing the duet with Steve Koehler has been a joy.  It's such a sweet, pure moment in the show.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?

I really learn something new from each show.  Sometimes it's about the craft; sometimes it's about life.  The cool thing about being an actor is that I get to go through a bunch of different situations (most of which, I would never have the chance to in real life) and take away a lesson.  From comedies to dramas, children's theatre to Shakespeare: they all leave you with something new.  The bonus is that I get to share that with a room full of people and other actors.

What do you like about being a theatre artist in Milwaukee?

I really feel that Milwaukee theatre is a community.  We see each other around all the time, and we all support each other.  Milwaukee audiences are part of it too.  We're all proud of our city's art scene and the local artists that contribute to it.  I love when people come from out-of-town and say, "I had no idea Milwaukee had so much going on."  It's such a blessing to be a part of that.

Thanks Rick! We can wait to see you and the rest of the cast April 10-27.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

An interview with MU student Hannah Klapperich-Mueller

Hannah Klapperich-Mueller
A junior at Marquette University, Milwaukee native Hannah Klapperich-Mueller is making her Milwaukee Chamber Theatre debut. MCT and MU are collaborating on this production of LEND ME A TENOR and Hannah is one of two Marquette students in the cast.


Tell us a bit about your character, Maggie:

Maggie is a young woman with a very vivid imagination and has spent her life in the upper crust of Cleveland's social circle. She's been more sheltered than she would have liked and wants to experience something rather more exciting. Cue global celebrity Tito Merelli, and her search for romance goes a little haywire.


LEND ME A TENOR is a collaboration with Marquette University and you are one of several current students and alumni involved with the show. Any thoughts you’d like to share about your experience as a MU student here at MCT?

Primarily, I just spend every day feeling really excited and lucky to be here. One of the first things I learned in any of my acting classes at Marquette was that watching your fellow actors in rehearsal is the best way to learn, and every moment of this rehearsal process has been a great opportunity to observe and learn from the other people who I'm onstage with. I feel really grateful to have this opportunity to work with so many actors I really admire, and to spend 6 days a week laughing with them.


What are some of the benefits and challenges of performing in a farce/comedy?

The greatest thing about this particular farce is that it has a very specific rhythm that sets up the humor for you. And the show is so funny that it makes every rehearsal zoom by. The biggest challenge is actually keeping a straight face whenever someone adds some brilliant new, humorous wrinkle.


Anything fun you’d like to share with readers about LEND ME A TENOR, rehearsals, etc.
One of my favorite parts of the rehearsals is something that will be lost when we're actually on the set-- to compensate for not having the doors, which are staples for the comedy, we've all been saying "Open" or "Close" or "Slam!" when necessary. Everyone has come up with a way to say these in character, and they've become some of the funniest lines.


What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today? ​

One of the clearest moments I had watching a show and actively thinking "This is going to change my life" was during my senior year of high school when I was on a class trip to the Broadway Theatre Center to see Jim DeVita's one man show IN ACTING SHAKESPEARE (at Renaissance Theaterworks). This was a time when I was really nervous about the prospect of college and studying theatre and the fear that I would fail. But I remember sitting in the Studio Theatre and starting to feel that those worries weren't as important as doing work that I really loved. I still have my program, and sometimes it serves as a good reminder of those same lessons.

We'll see Hannah and her fellow LEND ME A TENOR cast members, April 10-27 in the Cabot Theatre.

Insights from Linda Loving

Linda Loving
Linda Loving makes her MCT debut in LEND ME A TENOR. She recently returned to both her hometown of Milwaukee and her acting career! Here are a few more insights from Linda...

Tell us a bit about your character, Julia:



Julia Leverett, Chairman of the Cleveland Opera Guild, is an absolutely delicious character! She floats and fawns and fearlessly charges in and out of peoples' lives. She is used to "getting her way," whether through feminine wiles (even at sixty!) or blatant threats. Just when you think she has the personal power and style to run an entire industry...her flakiness and gullibility emerge. Over-the-top charming and exasperating, yet you can't help but love her. I do.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of performing in a farce/comedy?


Performing farce is such a beautiful challenge. Even the slamming doors become characters to reckon with! An actor has permission to "overdo" a tad in farce which is always fun. And OH - the timing! Challenges of electric, perfect timing - your mind can't wander for an instant! And I think actors have to trust each other and rely on one another in a very particular way in farce. This makes for a unique cast connection. In early rehearsals we could hardly get through the script, we were all laughing so hard at one another. Pure joy! 


What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?

My favorite theatre moment was early in my career when I played Stella in "Streetcar." It was opening night and my parents were in the front row. When I came sliding down a winding staircase in blue light and a black slip (responding to Stanley's "STELLA!!!), I actually heard my mother gasp. She came to my dressing room afterwards saying "when I loaned you that black slip I assumed you were going to wear something OVER it!". Ah the surprise of theatre, of becoming someone else. I have been trying to "take people aback" ever since!

What do you like about being a theatre artist in Milwaukee?

Two years ago when I decided to return to my acting career, I was ready to move anywhere in the country. I considered several cities, but honestly Milwaukee won hands down. What a well kept secret Milwaukee is! I love all the various theatre groups and the generous spirit of the arts community here. Plus, I have ALWAYS loved the Milwaukee Brewers!!! Great to be "home"!

Thanks Linda! We can't wait to see you in TENOR, April 10-27.

Monday, March 31, 2014

An Interview with Marquette alum Alexandra Bonesho

Alexandra Bonesho
Alexandra Bonesho returns to MCT in LEND ME A TENOR. She made her debut here in THE LION IN WINTER in 2011 - while she was still a theatre student at Marquette University. Both "TENOR" and "LION" are MCT/MU collaborations - and she brings her past experience to this new collaborative production.

Tell us a bit about your character, Diana:


Diana is a fierce, driven, diva soprano who knows how to “work her assets” and use her sexuality in order to get what she wants. She has a distinct way of maneuvering her way through space while keeping her eyes on the target of making it to New York City.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of performing in a farce/comedy?

Performing a farce allows an actor to stretch his/her comedic instincts…one has to take risks in order to find a happy medium and moments that will play humorously to the audience. The challenge of farce lies in keeping characters rooted in reality. As performers, it is our goal to create real moments of vulnerability within our interactions on stage. Despite the fast-paced dialogue and movement, we have to discipline ourselves to move and interact realistically.

LEND ME A TENOR is a collaboration with Marquette University and you are one of several alumni involved with the show. When you were a Marquette student, you participated in a similar MCT / MU collaboration in 2011 with THE LION IN WINTER. Any thoughts you’d like to share about that experience? What is it like to be back at MCT?
Alexandra Bonesho & Brian Mani
in THE LION IN WINTER (2011)
Photo by Mark Frohna


Returning to MCT in another collaboration with Marquette University means a lot…THE LION IN WINTER was a wonderful experience that made it possible for me to interact and perform with actors I had admired for a long time. The experience furthered my aspirations and determination to pursue acting professionally. MCT creates such a welcoming, professional, and fun environment that it is really great to be back and introduce more Marquette performers to the MCT family!

Anything fun you’d like to share with readers about LEND ME A TENOR, rehearsals, etc?



I don’t want to give too much away…so I will just say this…get ready to laugh like crazy!


Thanks Allie! Looking forward to your return to MCT, April 10-27-

Sunday, March 30, 2014

An Interview with Peter Sisto!

Peter Sisto
A junior at Marquette University, Peter Sisto is making his MCT debut. MCT and MU are collaborating on this production of LEND ME A TENOR and Peter is one of two Marquette students in the cast. Several other MU students, alumni and faculty are serving in various roles both on stage and off.

Tell us a bit about your character, the Bellhop: 


Everyone has that one celebrity they dream about meeting. You idoloize them, follow their career, and sometimes become a bit obsessive. The Bellhop is a good representation of that person who is simply star struck. Being a huge fan and admirer of tenor Tito Merelli, the Bellhop's sole objective is to finally meet his idol. The Bellhop sings, dances, and acts (or at least, he tries) with the hopes that Mr. Merelli will notice his talents. He is persistent, confident, and determined. The Bellhop is willing to face any obstacles head on that come between himself and his favorite Italian opera singer.


LEND ME A TENOR is a collaboration with Marquette University and you are one of several current students and alumni involved with the show. Any thoughts you’d like to share about your experience as a MU student here at MCT?

Working with MCT has been an inspirational experience. Observing experienced actors and my director has given me a good idea of what is expected in a professional setting. Everyone was very welcoming and supportive, which made the experience even more memorable. I've had tons of fun and this experience has only increased my love for the theatre.


What are some of the benefits and challenges of performing in a farce/comedy?

One big challenge of performing in a farce is the timing. You have to be very precise with any actions, bits, and dialogue within this show. There is a rhythm to the script and certain beats that an actor must be aware of in order to make the material POP in the eyes of the audience. You have to keep on your toes and make sure you land any physical comedic jokes at the right moment. It's all in the timing when it comes to a comedy.


Thanks Peter! We look forward to seeing your MCT debut, April 10-27.

A few words from the "General Manager"

Drew Brhel
Drew Brhel returns to the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre stage in LEND ME A TENOR. After making his MCT debut in 1986, his recent appearances include MAURITIUS, CRIME & PUNISHMENT and HAY FEVER. 

Tell us a bit about your character, Saunders:

Henry Saunders is the general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, which is celebrating its 10th Anniversary Season. As a fundraiser, Saunders has arranged to have the world famous tenor, Tito Merelli, give a single performance as Otello. But as the play begins, Merelli is running very late, so Henry is (understandably) a bit on edge.

What are some of the benefits and challenges of performing in a farce/comedy?


I've done a fair number of comedies in my career, but this is my first slamming-door farce, and I'm having a blast. As is often the case, the challenges are the benefits: this kind of play (as opposed to, say, a kitchen sink drama) requires pinpoint accuracy and split-second timing, which I find very appealing. Also, I get to run around and shout a lot, which helps me get my demons out, as it were.

Anything fun you'd like to share with readers about LEND ME A TENOR, rehearsals, etc.
 

Well, I don't know how "fun" it is, but I will say this: The range of experience of the people in this cast is very broad, from old duffers like me to folks who are still in college. But everyone is working at a terrifically high level in this production. It's really great, and I'm proud as hell to be a part of it.

What are some of your favorite moments in theatre that made you who you are today?
Drew in MAURITIUS (2011)
Photo by Mark Frohna

 

I hesitate to answer this, because if I talk about something I did, then I feel like an egotist, and if I talk about something somebody else did, I have to leave out all the other people who I've been lucky enough to work with over the years. Let's put it this way: aside from my daughter - who's name, by the way, happens to be Maggie, just like in the play - nothing has had nearly as much influence on me as my life in the theatre. And I have to say, that's both good and bad!

What do you like about being a theatre artist in Milwaukee?

I love it here. There's a tremendous amount of theatre happening here, and practically no feeling of cutthroat competition. The frequency with which companies seem to spring up, in basements and old warehouses, putting on plays with shoelaces and scotch tape, is truly inspiring.


Don't miss Drew in LEND ME A TENOR, April 10-27!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Indispensable Understudy

by Meghan Randolph, Assistant Director - LEND ME A TENOR

It's the most infamous adage of the theatre: "The Show Must Go On."

And indeed it must, as the characters learn all too well in Ken Ludwig's LEND ME A TENOR, produced by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in the Cabot Theatre from April 10-27. The story, set in 1934, centers on the Cleveland Grand Opera Company and their performance of OTELLO, which is slated to star infamous Italian opera singer Tito Merelli. Unfortunately, a series of bizarre events leads producer Henry Saunders to believe that Merelli is suddenly incapacitated, leaving him with no choice but to disguise his assistant, Max, as the singer so as not to lose the support of their eager audience.
tenorvert
What is a producer to do when a star can't go on? The answer seems simple: hire an understudy, a substitute performer to play the role in circumstances that require it. It is the understudy, however, that can provide an even more complicated problem.

Audiences tend to regard understudies as second best; a cheaper version of "the real thing," for which they are still required to pay full price. Understudies for star performers have it even worse; they are met with disdain and anger when they are called to do their job. In LEND ME A TENOR, Saunders is advised to have the understudy, Albert Rupp, perform in Merelli's place. The producer responds, "Of course!...Stick a note in the program: 'The role of Otello will be sung by Albert Rupp. And then, if there is anyone left in the audience when he takes his bow, they can stone him to death! The ultimate operatic experience." Indeed, Saunders is so hesitant to use the understudy that he would rather have Max perform unrehearsed but disguised as the actual star.

Typically understudies are not asked to directly impersonate stars, but many are required to come as close as possible in their interpretations, mimicking the every move of the headliner they are covering for. They must assume a role so seamlessly that the audience is not aware that anything is out of the ordinary. In covering for a famous performer, this is a virtually impossible task; audiences are often loath to accept an understudy in place of a star.

Carol Channing as Dolly
 In 1964's HELLO, DOLLY!, the title role of Dolly Levi was played by famed Broadway actress Carol Channing. When Channing was ill or on vacation, producers employed a devious tactic: they would make an announcement at the beginning of the performance stating that the role of "Mrs. Levi" would be performed by an understudy. They intentionally neglected to use the character's full name of Dolly Levi and quickly dimmed the lights so that theatergoers would not have time to look at their programs to realize that the character of Mrs. Levi was in fact the "Dolly" of the title. The performance would be underway by the time they realized that Channing would not be appearing.

The producers of 2003's THE BOY FROM OZ made an even bolder choice. Rather than allow an understudy to perform in the place of star Hugh Jackman, they elected to cancel performances when Jackman was unavailable. An understudy was hired and prepared, but never used.

So Saunders' concerns within LEND ME A TENOR are far from unusual. So why would any actor agree to take the terrifying risk of being an understudy?

Shirley MacLaine in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY
 Though it can be truly thankless, actors accept understudy jobs not just for their resumes, but for the thrill and potential that come with the position. Legendary showbiz stories abound in which understudies fill in unexpectedly and are skyrocketed to stardom.Shirley MacLaine was seen by a Paramount Pictures producer when she filled in for Carol Haney in THE PAJAMA GAME on Broadway. Soon after, she appeared in her first feature film, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, and eventually won the Academy Award for Best Actress for TERMS OF ENDEARMENT. Sir Anthony Hopkins owes his fame to Sir Lawrence Olivier coming down with appendicitis during a 1965 production of THE DANCE OF DEATH, in which he was Olivier's understudy. Hopkins went on to create countless memorable roles, most notably Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Catherine Zeta-Jones was first spotted during her appearance in 42nd STREET, where she filled in for the role of Peggy Sawyer after two other actresses fell ill.

Luciano Pavarotti
 A similar story occurred in the glamorous world of opera in which LEND ME A TENOR is set. In 1965, famous coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland was starring in Donizetti's LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Greater Miami Opera. Her leading man fell ill and was without an understudy. She was traveling with a young tenor familiar with the role in question, and he went on for the lead at the last minute. It was the American debut of one of the most legendary opera singers of all time, Luciano Pavarotti.

Such is the paradoxical life of an understudy. Their jobs present them with the opportunity to demonstrate skills and earn fame, cloaked in the possibility that the audience will hate them before they even walk on the stage.

Actress Gina Beck, famous for her starring roles in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and WICKED on London's West End, defends understudies and their place in the theatre. She insists that these unappreciated performers bring "energy, enthusiasm, and a different approach to the part which often enlivens the whole performance." And while the job can be frustrating, many cite it as incredibly rewarding. Former Milwaukee Repertory Theater actor Jeffrey Tambor, now famous for his role as the patriarch on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, recalls, "All my friends said…do not understudy. You'll regret it for the rest of your life…I've never regretted it once."

When their moment comes, the show rises and falls on the understudy, their ability to improvise and their fearlessness. As we learn in LEND ME A TENOR, the understudy, whether cast in advance or implemented at the last minute, is the quiet cornerstone that allows the curtain to rise.