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Posts Tagged ‘“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”’

I had the privilege of sitting down with Chip Zien on October 16, 2010 after seeing his show “The History of War” in NYMF, which also starred fellow “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participant Max Von Essen. My first introduction to Chip was watching him on “All My Children” when he played gossip reporter “Donald Steele,” and from that moment on I was hooked. I then got to meet Chip after seeing him in the Broadway production of “The Boys From Syracuse” in 2002. He was so nice and now to have the opportunity to sit down with him personally for an interview with “Adaumbelle’s Quest” is a real honor!

Chip Zien is an award winning actor who has delighted audiences worldwide in theatre, film, and television! Chip created the roles “The Baker” in Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine’s “Into The Woods” as well as the role of “Mendel” in William Finn’s “Falsettos.” His many other Broadway credits include “In Trousers,” “March of the Falsettos,” “Falsettoland,” “The Country Girl,” the revival of “Les Miserables,” “Grand Hotel,” “The Boys From Syracuse,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “All Over Town,” and “The Suicide.” Off-Broadway and regionally, Chip has entertained audiences in “Merrily We Roll Along” (L.A. Drama-Logue Award), “Anonymous,” “An Imaginary Life,” “Isn’t It Romantic” (Drama Desk Nomination), “Split,” “Moonchildren,” “Hot L Baltimore,” “Kaddish,” “A New Brain” (Drama Desk Nomination), “Diamonds,” “Real Life Funnies,” and “Tuscaloosa’s Calling Me.”

Chip has also written several shows for the stage. His one-man show “Death in Ashtabula,” “Travels With My Discontent” (a new musical written with Deborah Abramson, et al), and most recently “The History of War” which was presented at NYMF this past fall.

When not on stage or sometimes at the same time, Chip has been a fixture on television. In addition to being the announcer on “The Caroline Rhea Show,” Chip has appeared in numerous television shows such as “Lipstick Jungle,” “Rescue Me,” “CSI,” “Law and Order,” “Cheers,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Thirty-Something,” “Judging Amy,” “Cosby,” “The Cagney and Lacey Movies,” “Chips”, “Son of the Beach,” “Madigan Men,” “Wings,” “All My Children,” “Almost Perfect,” “Now and Again,” “Deadline,” “Shell Game,” “Love, Sidney,” “Reggie.”

Chip has also lit up the big screen in “The Siege,” “Howard The Duck” (the voice of Howard), “United 93,” “Snake Eyes,” “Breakfast of Champions,” “Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle,” “Grace Quigley,” “So Fine,” “Hello Again,” “House of God,” “and “The Rose.”

Currently, Chip is reworking “The History of War” for future production. Stay tuned to “Adaumbelle’s Quest” to find out when that will be!

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como. I always thought I’d grow up to be like Frank Sinatra, I thought Dean Martin was the greatest actor I’d ever seen, and I wanted to host a variety show like Perry Como. When I first came to NY, it was really my goal to just sing and host a variety show. Danny Kaye was a big influence on me as well…his songs were the first ones I really learned.

2. Who’s the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Geoffrey Rush. I would have liked to work with Sinatra. You know early on in my career, I was very friendly with Henry Winkler and I was very jealous of Henry because he got to meet Sinatra and I never did. Of course, I would have also loved to work with Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau. I’ve said “Hi” to Angela Lansbury, but never worked with her, though I would love to. I’d like to work with all these wonderful actors in my show (“The History Of War”).

3. If you couldn’t be doing what you are doing now, what career would you choose? I was motoring down two paths when I graduated college…one was to be a lawyer and one was performing. I grew up in Milwaukee and as much as you could have a stage mother in Milwaukee, mine was one. She would enter me in these tiny tot talent shows and I would always sing in them. I’d sing “Down Yonder Someone Beckons To Me” and be dressed up like a cowboy with six shooters and a cowboy hat and at the end of the song I would pull my guns out and shoot off caps. So, I was always singing and be in shows, but performing seemed like an odd thing to do as a profession. A lot of my family were lawyers, so my real plan was to go to college, be a history major, go to law school and then be a lawyer or work on a political campaign. I actually ran a guy’s campaign my first year out of college and he lost by 1/2 a percentage point and if he had won, I would have gone to Georgetown Law School at night and work on his staff during the day and then my life would have changed. The reason I ended up acting, not only because I had been doing it my whole life through college, but because my step-sister was running a theatre in Chicago and somebody got sick, this was right after that campaign ended and I had to wait until January to start law school, so my sister said why don’t you come down here and you could play “Little Chap” in “Stop The World.” We are doing these three shows in this repertory theater and after a few months there the theatre burned to the ground, so a bunch of us got in a car and drove to New York and I got work right away in “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.” The rest as they say is history.

4. What’s your most embarrassing on-stage moment? I’ve had a few…but one of the worst was when I was doing “Grand Hotel” and I took over for Michael Jeter, who was fantastic. My wife was a dancer in the NYC Ballet and now she teaches at the School of American Ballet and she said to me, you know when you kick your leg up to do those big fan kicks, you’re leg is just not going anywhere. She said what really makes it terrible is that you keep looking at it. So don’t look at your leg, look up instead. I was determined to be a better dancer, so when I went on stage that night I looked up and fell backwards on my head (like doing a back flip) and everyone on stage just gasped. The first thought I had was I hope that I’m still standing, and that everyone else had fallen and turned upside down, so I was momentarily convinced that I was okay and the rest of the cast had fallen. Eventually the cast was hysterical laughing and dancing around me. Another time in “Into The Woods,” the fog machines wouldn’t turn off. The stage became so filled up that we couldn’t see anything and we all had to grope our ways out of the stage door onto 45th Street. We stood on the street hysterically laughing. The orchestra was stuck in the pit, the actors are out on the street, and the audience was trying to get out. Oh that night was a complete disaster. I’ve had a bunch of them…

5. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? It was actually from James Lapine who said to me: “Stay focused on what you are doing. Just do your job. Don’t project too far ahead. Try not worry.” It’s the old cliche of “Staying in the moment.” My mom told me years ago when I was at camp, which I think she heard someone had said to James Cagney (I played all the great female roles in summer camp shows, I was “Lola” in “Damn Yankees,” I was “Liza Doolittle” in “My Fair Lady”), “You know you’re wandering all over the place. Stand still until you have a reason to move.” Wynn Handman, a great acting teacher in New York once said to me “Go to LA and make lots of money, then come back here and I’ll fix you.”

6. What’s your proudest moment? The birth of my children is probably the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me. I also have to say driving by the Martin-Beck Theatre (now the Hirschfeld) when the big boot from “Into The Woods” went up on the marquee. I stood on the corner with Joanna Gleason and I never thought this would happen to me. We stood there together and thought “Wow, this was awesome.” It was this realization that something I wanted to do my whole life had happened and it happened at a very high level which I probably would have never imagined. One of the really cool things was when we taped that show for “Great Performances,” I had a moment with Sondheim after it was over, and we had a really great audience that night. It was one of those audiences who knew every line in the show and Sondheim said to me, “This is as good as it can get” and I just started to cry.

7. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about? Not really, but I think the one thing that is different is that I build my own computers. I’m technically pretty sophisticated. I was president of my high school AV squad and I mean old school when you had to thread the 16mm film. As the years have gone by, I was thinking, the things that interested me when I was 12 are the same things that interest me today. I’m also really good at Photoshop…I think it’s the 8th wonder of the world. It’s amazing what you can do. I’m also an excellent Yo-Yoist. I can do really complicated Yo-Yo tricks and that is because there was a Yo-Yo champion in “Grand Hotel” who used to practice back stage.

8. Favorite play/musical? My favorite musical is “Sweeney Todd.” My favorite play I’m stumped on, but I would have to say “Death of a Salesman.” I would love to do that show. I’m old enough to do it. I know they are doing it again, but it’s not with me. Me: Well that’s a mistake. Chip: I also love “Waiting for Godot.” The army scenes in this show are kind of modeled after “Waiting for Godot” at least in my head.

9. Favorite website? I’m a political junkie. I would say The Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and I sneak onto some of the theatrical websites.

10. Mary or Rhoda? Mary.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I used to have a recurring dream where I would drink coffee around a camp fire with John Wayne and he would say “Kid, it’s gonna be okay.” Then that dream mutated to Jack Gilford as I got older. It’s kind of really funny because they are opposite ends of the spectrum. I crossed paths with John Wayne at one moment in my career because at one point we had the same agent, obviously it was late in his career and early in mine, and I was sitting in a lobby across from John Wayne and I thought to myself “Wow, this is really the yin and yang of show business right here.” I said, “Hi” and he said, “Hi, how are you doing kid?”

I would also love to dream about having dinner with Bill and Hillary or President Obama. I liked to dream about being at some of those big meetings they have, like health care. Those dreams can be exciting because you can’t be at them in real life.

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On Saturday, November 27, 2010, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, direct from the pit of “A Little Night Music.” What makes this interview so special to me is that I’ve known Mairi since I was 15, when we met at Buck’s Rock Camp in New Milford, CT, at which time her kindness and friendship meant a lot to a boy trying to find his way. It was quite exciting for me when we reconnected in 2002 as I saw her exit the stage door at “The Boy From Oz.” And now to be able add this kind of dynamic to our friendship is a real treat for me. Mairi has been a fixture in Broadway orchestra pits since her debut in “The Boy From Oz.” She has played in the orchestra pits of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “LoveMusik,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and currently “A Little Night Music” which is running through January 9 at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 West 48th Street, between Broadway & 8th Ave).

On Sunday, December 19 at 8:30pm at Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Corneila Street, Greenwich Village, NYC) you can catch Mairi playing cello in “Joni and Johannes” (the music of Joni Mitchell and Johannes Brahms) along with Simon Mulligan on piano, and Randy Landau on bass with special guest vocalists Jessica Molaskey (“A Man of No Importance,” “Parade,” “Tommy,” “Crazy For You,” “Les Miserables,” “Cats,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” etc) and Mary Beth Peil (“The Good Wife,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Nine,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” “Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”). For just $15 + one drink minimum, you will get a real opportunity to see accomplished musicians and performers live up close and personal! For reservations call 212-989-9319.

1. Who or what inspired you to become a cellist? It was my cello teacher in high school, Nancy Green, who I also went on to study with in college. I went to a music boarding high school, so I was away from home and lonely, and her style of teaching was so expressive. She taught us about the connection to every note, the vibrato, the tone, what you were trying to say, what the emotion was, what part of your body the note came from – were you trying to sound like an alto voice or a tenor? With all the different types of tones and voices, I often came up with a storyline to go with what I was playing. Discovering what I could do by holding one note on the cello was exciting, and cathartic. I often think about that time in my life when I play “Miller’s Son” here at “A Little Night Music” because that first “B” that you hold for a long time is like yeah, this is what I dug about cello when I was fifteen. I moved to the US for graduate school and had another phenomenal teacher, Judith Glyde, who gave me the confidence to go out and actually work. Then I started playing shows and it all made sense…that emotional story telling feel.

There’s a masterclass of Sondheim teaching “Later” that was filmed at my undergraduate school (some time in the 80s, I think). It’s odd to know that so many years after being there, I’d be trying to express the quality he’s talking to the singer about in “Later” and I’d be trying to bring that to “A Little Night Music.”

1a. What was your first Broadway show that you played here in NYC? “The Boy From Oz” although I moved here to play “The Last Five Years,” which I had played first in Chicago. Me: I had no idea that you played that show, I saw it quite a few times, but it was “Boy From Oz” that I saw you at the stage door and we reconnected. Mairi: Yeah, it’s an amazing community that we are in because we see each other again and again, even though it’s nerve-racking when the shows keep closing… but the energy keeps going!

2. Who’s the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Joni Mitchell, although even saying her name makes me a little breathless so I couldn’t imagine working with her! But that would be incredible. Me: You never know…whenever I ask this question I always put the person’s name in the tag so you never know who from Joni’s team might see this. Mairi: During that time in undergrad it was the music of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Sting that I listened to when I wasn’t practicing. It was such an aggressively competitive classical environment, that I spent my downtime listening to their music. I actually worked with Sting recently and got to tell him that without “Soul Cages” I don’t know that I would be a musician.

3. If you couldn’t be doing what you are doing now, what career would you choose? That’s hard because I really like this. I guess I’ve thought about law every now and then. I was in graduate school for a really, really, really long time and at some point in that process I realized I could have gotten a law degree…hahaha.

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? So much…There was a line in “Cast Away,” which I thought was in the movie, “You never know what the tide is going to wash up tomorrow,” although I’m not sure he ever actually said that! The idea is that you’ve just got to have faith that something good is going to wash up tomorrow. This gig, “A Little Night Music” is a spectacular job and it’s hard not to get depressed that we have only 6 more weeks – to believe that there will be something just as great. You see where we are and how much space we have. It’s such an incredible environment, not to mention playing for Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch every day. I have a little TV screen on my stand so that I can follow Hunter (Ryan Herdlicka) when he’s playing the cello on stage. Plus it’s run for over a year and I’ve never had a show run that long. You just gotta hope that there will be something else!

5. What’s your proudest moment? Anytime I get to play with my husband. He’s a saxophone doubler. Me: Have you ever played a job together? Mairi: Yeah, he’s played here at “Night Music”. We haven’t had a show together, but we’ve played shows together when one of us has been subbing. Outside of shows, we’ve done various gigs together. It’s fun, ’cause he works in the ‘other side’ of the orchestra (reeds/brass), so I’ve gotten to know a lot of those guys through him.

6. Favorite place to rehearse on your own? Somewhere that is cushiony with carpeting and tons of pillows. Anything that soaks up the sounds so I can hear everything, so when I go and play, I won’t be surprised by any little sound. To be honest I don’t like to practice. It’s a necessary evil. There are some people who want to practice every day, but I never felt that way.

7. Favorite way to spend your day off? At home, sleeping, watching TV, knitting, eating, and hanging with my husband.

8. Favorite skin care product? Cetaphil and Shea Butter (in the winter). I sadly don’t use any of those fancy skin care items.

9. Favorite website? Facebook. I’m hooked on it. At this point I have friends all over the world and it’s pretty cool to be able to keep in touch with them so easily and see what they are up to.

10. Superman or Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman of course!

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about? I can be an archer (you know with a bow and arrow). Me: Like Geena Davis. Mairi: Sure, but I don’t know that I have her strength. Those bows are heavy and super tension-filled, and my elbow sticks out a bit so it’s tricky when the string comes back after you release the arrow…

12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Dreaming at all would be great. Last night I watched the PBS Sondheim Gala before I went to sleep and oh my gosh, they had those six incredible women come on stage in those stunning bright red gowns: Elaine Stritch, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, etc. One after another they stood up and sang and after watching that special I was wide awake until 5:30am. I’m looking at 2 shows today on 4 hours of sleep…haha

13. When one of the cast members are out during a show, how does that affect you as a musician in the show? It depends. Sometimes if there’s a different key, we’ll pull out a different part depending on their range, but as to the timing, it’s all up to the conductor because they are the ones leading and making those choices. The great thing about this show, particularly with Elaine Stritch, is that you get a different theatrical performance each time and I love that.

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With the talent and personality, it’s no wonder Jan Maxwell is a 4-time Tony Award nominee, with her two most recent nominations this current season for “The Royal Family” and “Lend Me A Tenor.” She is also a Drama Desk Award winner (updated: Jan won her 2nd award tonight for “The Royal Family”) and 5-time nominee as well as a 2-time Outer Critics Circle Winner & 5-time nominee. Jan is one of the few performers with the most impeccable comedic timing of our times. When Jan is on stage, the audience is paying attention. She can make your theatre experience one you will never forget! Her other Broadway credits include “Coram Boy” (Tony & Drama Desk Nominee), “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (Drama Desk Award Winner, Tony & Outer Critics Circle Nominee), “Sixteen Wounded” (Drama Desk Nominee), “A Doll’s House” (Outer Critics Circle Nominee), “The Sound of Music” (Outer Critics Circle Nominee), “The Dinner Party” (Outer Critics Circle Award Winner), Brian Friel’s “Dancing At Lughnasa” and “City of Angels.” Off-Broadway, Jan has delighted audiences in Howard Barker’s “Scenes From An Execution” (Drama Desk Nominee) and “Camille,” Anton Dudley’s “Substitution,” “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” (Drama Desk & Outer Critics Circle Nominee), Tina Howe’s translation of lonesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” Jules Feiffer’s “A Bad Friend,” Israel Horovitz’s “My Old Lady” (Lortel Award winner, Drama Desk Nominee), “Opening Doors,” Alan Ayckbourn’s “House and Garden,” and “The Seagull.”  Jan’s television credits include PBS’ “AIDS: Changing the Rules,” “Law & Order,” and “Gossip Girl.” Jan can currently be seen in the 2010 Tony Nominated revival of “Lend Me A Tenor.”

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? Both my mother and father. My father is quite the ham. He did community theatre in Fargo, ND, where I was born and also wrote sketches and plays. My mother, though, did the leg work for the few opportunities there were for me to experience the arts in the area. She would find theatre and dance programs and tell me about them; then call, sign me up, and drive me back and forth.

2. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? I don’t know. Christopher Guest, Steve Buscemi, Edward Albee . . . too many to list.

3. Is there ever a time you thought about quitting? If so, what career would you choose? Umm . . . I think this business quits you before you quit it.  But I’ve always wanted to be in a lot of different professions. I think that’s why I act, so I can be all those things I want to be:  marine biologist, veterinarian, junkie . . .

4. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Shakespeare – I like epic dreams.

5. What’s the best advice you’ve given someone, but not taken for yourself? Don’t go into acting.

6. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that no one knows about? I can tie a cherry stem into a knot in less than 15 seconds.

7. Favorite skin care product? I wish I could find one. I keep trying different ones, which is probably the worst thing you can do.

8. Favorite play/musical? Too hard to choose.

9. Favorite website? Google.

10. “Mary” or “Rhoda”? Mary . . . Hartman, though.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? What do you order? Neither. Caffeine is banned after noon. Once, my stage manager, Matthew Melchiorre at Coram Boy, wouldn’t allow me to have it at all. Especially if I have a smaller part. I become a bit obnoxious start trouble backstage.

12. Favorite hobby? Staring at an empty wall (unless I have coffee, and then it’s bouncing off that wall . . . )

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