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
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.
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?

 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.