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Posts Tagged ‘Dick Van Dyke’

Photo credit: Bill Westmoreland

I first interviewed Jim Caruso in 2009 when “Adaumbelle’s Quest” was just starting and Jim just finished starring in Liza Minnelli’s “Liza At The Palace.” Two years later, it’s a real honor to be able to interview Jim again and dedicating this interview to Cast Party on the heels of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party Benefit at Town Hall on Thursday, February 17 at 8pm, benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Produced by Scott Siegel, this very special edition of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party will be featuring a host of talent! Joining Jim Caruso, will be Liza Minnelli, Chita Rivera, Billy Stritch, Lucie Arnaz, Larry Gatlin, Marilyn Maye, YouTube sensation “Miranda Sings,” Tony nominee Christopher Sieber, two-time Tony nominee Sally Mayes, jazz singer Hilary Kole, R&B tenor William Blake, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, Natalie Douglas, Klea Blackhurst, acrobat and comedian Rudi Macaggi and the Dueling Fiddlers.

Photo credit: Bill Westmoreland

Jim Caruso recently made his Broadway debut alongside Liza Minnelli in the Tony Award-winning smash hit Liza’s At The Palace!, singing, dancing and celebrating the music and arrangements of the late, great Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers. For his nightclub work, Caruso has won six MAC and two BackStage Bistro Awards for his sold-out New York shows at Birdland, the Algonquin Hotel, and Arci’s Place; and has also performed in runs at the Gardenia and Cinegrill in Los Angeles, The Vic Theater in Chicago, Libby’s in Atlanta, the Colony Palm Beach Hotel and the Connaught Room in London. He sang with the New York Pops in an all-star tribute to Kander & Ebb at Carnegie Hall, and returned to “The Hall” in a tribute to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, hosted by Michael Feinstein. On the small screen, Jim was seen co-starring with Kathie Lee Gifford on Showtime Television in “Personal Assistant,” and co-starred on the Nostalgia Network variety sit-com, “Café DuArt” for two seasons. Jim and his vocal trio, Wiseguys, were invited to sing at President Clinton’s First State Dinner at the White House, and celebrated Bing Crosby in concert at Carnegie Hall with Rosemary Clooney. He guest-hosted “Broadway On Broadway 2000” in Times Square for a crowd of 100,000 theater fans, hosted the 2000 MAC Awards at Town Hall in Manhattan and has co-hosted the Drama Desk Awards webcasts for four years. For the past eight years, he has hosted a Monday night showbiz bash called “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party,” which was honored with a New York Nightlife Award, as was his Broadway at Birdland concert series. His new cd, “The Swing Set,” was released on January 11, 2011.

1. What made you originally start “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” and how did you originally come up with the concept for it? I was doing PR for a nightclub that didn’t have much going on, busying myself writing press releases about drink specials. To entertain myself, I threw a Christmas party in the club for my pals. Everyone sang around the piano, and stayed till 3am. The next day, the manager, Lionel Casseroux, asked if I’d do it every Monday. I said no. A few clubs and eight years later, we’re still packing ‘em in and meeting some of the most brilliant, shocking talent in the world!

2. How do you come up with the line-up of talent for each week’s “Cast Party?” Cast Party is an open mic! I don’t come up with the talent at this point…they just show up! Every single week, I have about 30 folks wanting to perform for a packed house! I’m so lucky to be able to do it at Birdland, which is right in the theater district, and certainly one of the premiere music rooms in the world!

3. What made you decide to bring “Cast Party” out to Los Angeles? The Hollywood Cast Party has been a complete gift to Billy and me. I’d heard that The Magic Castle was planning to open one of their rooms for musical entertainment, so I called Matt Patton, who does the booking. He immediately signed onto the idea, and we were off and running! Now, we make the schlep out west every other month!

4. Do you plan on expanding “Cast Party” to any other cities? Yes! It looks like we’ll be taking Cast Party to Chicago and Las Vegas – and there’s a bit of talk about London. Can you imagine? We’re like the Ice Capades! The Jim Capades? I love a capade!

5. Who’s the most interesting person you’ve had perform at “Cast Party” in NY & LA? Who is the one person you were most surprised by showing up at “Cast Party?” Who is the one person who hasn’t done “Cast Party” that you would like to? Well – there’s interesting, and there’s ‘interesting!’ Betty Comden made one of her last public appearances at Cast Party, and sang “One Hundred Easy Ways To Lose A Man,” from Wonderful Town, which she wrote with Adolph Green and Leonard Bernstein. Carol Channing spoke of her commitment to arts education, then did the “Ephraim, let me go” monologue from Hello Dolly, and launched into “Before The Parade Passes By.” Last week, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek”)discussed her friend and mentor, Martin Luther King, on the night of his birthday – then sang a stunning “Summertime.” There have also been memorable performances of a different kind – the man who yodeled Elvis tunes comes to mind, as does the woman who sang an original song about pollution. They were showstoppers in every sense of the word. I’m desperate to have my two heros – Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke – join us. I just know they’d have a swell time, and I’d be in heaven to finally be able to entertain them!

6. When you first started “Cast Party,” did you ever think it would turn into what it has become? I’m in shock and awe that Cast Party has become the entity that it has! I’m thrilled and proud and dazzled by the fun we’re allowed to have every week!

7. What has been the best and most difficult part about “Cast Party?” The best part of it all has been the friendships that have been forged, due to Cast Party. What did I do before? It’s a wonderful meeting-place for theater and music buffs and the people who love them! I’m not sure there IS a bad part, other than having to hear “Orange Colored Sky” a skrajillion times.

8. You’ve been doing “Cast Party” for almost 8 years, what made now the time to do a special benefit show for it? How did you decide which performers would participate? Scott Siegel, who produces a fabulous series of events at Town Hall, called me and asked if we’d like to do a Very Special Cast Party as a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to take our event to a huge stage, raise money for one of my all-time favorite organizations, and have some fun with my friends! It’s a big theater, and I knew we’d have to score some big names to sell tickets, so I just started calling my most fancy friends – and was thrilled that they said ‘yes!’

9. Liza Minnelli and Billy Stritch are two performers that will be performing at your Feb. 17 “Cast Party” benefit. How did you first come to work with them and what has been the best part of working together throughout your career and what have you learned from them? Billy Stritch and I have been best friends for about 30 years, which is shocking, considering we’re both in our late twenties. We met when we were both singing in clubs and living in Texas. We moved to New York around the same time, and have been hanging out, singing and making each other laugh ever since! One night, he met Liza while he was playing piano at a wonderful place called “Bobo’s.” He invited her to his show the next night, and stationed me next to her table, so that I could hear what she thought. That was the beginning of a friendship that changed both of our lives! He started arranging, playing and conducting for Liza, she asked me to open for her, assist her on Minnelli On Minnelli, and finally dance and sing in Liza’s At The Palace! What have I learned from Liza Minnelli? Are you kidding? We don’t have that kind of time! She’s a genius at what she does. Her work ethic is amazing – she will rehearse for eight hours non-stop. Her urge to please her audience is beyond compare. And her musical knowledge is something that might surprise a lot of people. If a clarinet is playing the wrong note in a chord, she hears it. Not surprisingly, she has a huge over-view of how showbiz works, and I love that.

10. What are you most excited for about the Feb. 17 “Cast Party” benefit? I’m most excited to get all of those brilliantly talented people into one room and tell them how much I love them for making this dream come true. We’re going to blow the roof off of Town Hall!

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On November 4, 2010, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with real-life married couple Jonathan Walker and Jennifer Van Dyck after seeing them in hilarious new Charles Busch show “The Divine Sister” at the SoHo Playhouse. This was my very first joint couple interview (Thank You James Valletti for the idea!) and it was thrilling! With impeccable comedic timing, Jonathan and Jennifer bring the house down while on stage both together and separately.

Jonathan has delighted audiences on Broadway in “20th Century” and “After the Fall,” while Off-Broadway audiences saw him in Charles Busch’s “The Third Story,” “The Divine Sister” at Theater for a New City as well as numerous productions at The Public Theater, MCC, MTC, Women’s Project, The New Group, Playwrights Horizons, Roudabout Theatre Company, La MaMa, and P.S. 122. Jonathan has lit up the big screen in such feature films as “Far From Heaven,” “People I Know,” “Heights,” “Michael Clayton,” and “Malevolence 2.” Television audiences have seen Jonathan in “The Big C,” “The Good Wife,” “Eli Stone,” “Sex and the City,” “Chapelle’s Show,” and lots of “Law & Order.”

Jennifer has dazzled Broadway audiences in “Hedda Gabbler,” “Dancing at Lughnasa,” “Two Shakespearean Actors,” and “The Secret Rapture.” Her many Off-Broadway credits include Charles Busch’s “The Third Story” and “The Divine Sister” at Theater for a New City as well as plays by Austin Pendleton, Bathsheba Doran, Suzan-Lori Parks, and Douglas Post. Film/TV audiences have seen Jennifer in “Across the Universe,” “Michael Clayton,” “Stealing Martin Lane,” “Series 7,” “States of Control,” numerous “Law & Order” episodes, “Fringe,” and “New Amsterdam.”

Now you can see both Jonathan and Jennifer shine in “The Divine Sister” at SoHo Playhouse (15 Van Dam Street) along with fellow Adaubmelle’s Quest participants Charles Busch, Julie Halston, Alison Fraser, and upcoming participant Amy Rutberg! This show is a MUST SEE, so click here for tickets and enjoy an afternoon or evening in heaven…

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer?

Jennifer: I always wanted to be an actress. There was never any question. It really began growing up…my friend and I would always put on productions of “The Wizard of Oz” and she played “Dorothy,” of course, and I played “The Scarecrow.” As far as people who inspired me, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. I was completely mesmerized by “I Love Lucy” reruns growing up.

Jonathan: A number of the guys I gleaned for this show, and I mean this in a good way, the cheesy leading men in the 60s/70s who I admired growing up, like Chad Everett who was on a show called “Medical Center” (who was actually in the “Singing Nun”), Charlton Heston, Dick Van Dyke, and Dick York. Also as a child, we were church going (look how it all blends with this show) and a troupe came to our church called the Alpha and Omega Players (who still exist today) and they travel around in a van and put on religious-themed (but not evangelical) shows. They came into our church, I must have been 6, and they transformed it into a performance space. They did a shortened version of “St. Joan” and I was undone. To see that space I was in three days a week turned into this thing and I have a distinct memory of standing out front of the church as the van pulled away, bursting into tears and saying to my father “I wanna go with them,” (you know instead of running away to the circus). So from “Bewitched” to “St. Joan” was the real early inspirations for me.

Jennifer: The other side of that for me was The Paperbag Players. My parents took me to that when I was very young and they terrified me. I remember they were doing Grimm’s Fairytales and people’s fingers were being cut off and people were being locked in cellars, but I was utterly transported to another world. I remember being both terrified and thrilled by the whole thing and remember saying “I want to do that.”

2. Who’s the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to?

Jennifer: Mike Leigh, the filmmaker (he’s directed “Topsy Turvy,” “Happy-Go-Lucky,” “Vera Drake,” etc), who comes from a theatre background. I just read his book and I’m just so in awe of him. I love his films. He does like six months of rehearsal with his actors, so by the time they shoot the film, the actors really know their characters inside and out. It sounds like a terrifying prospect, but I’ve always been fascinated by rehearsing as if you were living a character. Then getting to do it for film, which normally has no rehearsal, but his way you seem like you get the best of both worlds with theatre and film combined.

Jonathan: I would have to say it’s always been Vanessa Redgrave. I put out feelers for “Driving Miss Daisy” you know when they were casting it and I heard with in two days that Boyd (Gaines) was getting it and I was like “Yes, of course he is.”

3. If you couldn’t be doing what you are doing now, what career would you choose?

Jonathan: We were just talking about that with our friend Matt. You know the actor Matt McGrath, well Matt is always talking about “Drop out dream #whatever, opening a candle shop” because it’s so up and down in our profession. You go through a 2-3 month foul period and you’re like “I stink,” “They stink,” “It all stinks.” Then you go okay, Surfboard shop, masseuse, priest, baker…I always wanted to be a UPS delivery man. They have those lovely brown outfits with the shorts and the socks and I see them on the street and I go “Oh, oh, I’d love to do that, wouldn’t that be fun delivering packages all day.” (no, no that would be terrible). All jobs are difficult, all jobs are hard, that’s why they call it jobs! In all seriousness, I’d like to work with a not-for-profit group. I do a lot of volunteer work and now I’m working with a group called “Transportation Alternatives.” It’s a cycling, pedestrian, and mass transit advocacy group. I worked for the Green Gorillas for a while and God’s Love We Deliver. They’re just great because people are there for a reason. That is something I would probably do because they do good work so if I could get job with one of them full time, I would.

Jennifer: I guess I would be a teacher. I have no experience teaching, I know nothing. My mom’s a teacher and my dad’s a minister, so that’s what I’ve seen (they’ve seen this show many times already and love it, the irreverence and all).

4. How did you guys meet?

Jennifer: Doing a play…we did a production of “Hamlet” at the Old Globe, directed by Jack O’Brien. Jonthan was “Laertes” and I was “Ophelia” and Campbell Scott was our “Hamlet.”

5. What’s it like to work together and live together? How does the whole dynamic work?

Jonathan: We spend 23 hours a day together and that 1 hour apart is if you add up all the bathroom time, okay, so maybe we spend 22 hours out of the day together, if we’re including gym time. (Jennifer laughs)

Jennifer: It’s great. When we worked with Jack at The Globe, we did a couple of seasons there doing plays, but then we didn’t work together, other than readings, for like 15 years, before Charles (Busch) put us both in “The Third Story” by sheer accident…We did that in La Jolla and then that came here and all the while we got to know Charles and then he wrote this play for us…

Jonathan: We’ve been in like four plays together with Charles (2 productions of “The Third Story” and 2 productions of “The Divine Sister” (the previous one being the limited run in March ’10 at Theatre for a New City). So, we really like it. You know, we’re married, we live together, we love each other, but really like each other too and respect each other’s work…

Jennifer: I’m always amazed when actors marry civilians because schedule wise, you have no weekends, you can not plan ahead, you can’t do anything when you’re working because you’re so focused on the show…

Jonathan: (not in reference to Jennifer) But you’re also a nut job, you know, you’re out of your mind, you’ve got opening night and you’re like “Blahhh,” but the other person understands…

Jennifer: Right, so we get it, and it’s been amazing with “The Divine Sister” because it’s not just understanding one of us is in a play, we’re in the same play, so we go home and we’re like “oh that sucked” or “wow, that was great” or “what about that…”

Jonathan: Or we go “oh you had a great show, no I had a rotten show, you had a great show….”

Jennifer: We have some of that.

Jonathan: When we were opening, I was thinking maybe it would be interesting to come home to someone who has no connection to the show, because, it’s hard to come home and just detach. We’re always dissecting the show, but we don’t senor that cause it’s actually nice, even on our night off or on Sunday nights we’ll often go out to dinner and we kind of refrain for 20 minutes or so from talking about the show and then we just give into it…

Me: You guys, the whole cast, work so well together. I really feel like it’s such an ensemble piece.

Jennifer: It’s a great bunch and we all work great together. You know, Charles wrote this show for all of us and we’ve been together since the beginning and there is a real sense of comfort and ease with each other.

Jonathan: You know it’s not a lie, we really all get along and like each other. It’s really a cooperative thing, like tonight, the audience is really part of the ensemble. It’s not like “Long Days Journey Into Night” which drags you along, but the audience goes through something too and that’s part of Charles’ charm, and talent, and genius. He comes right out and puts you in his hand and he’s kind of taught us to do that a little bit and be there for the audience, and say “Come on, let’s go, let’s go do a dirty nun’s story.” (everyone laughs).

6. Favorite place to rehearse on your own?

Jennifer: In our building, our dear friend Richard Easton lives upstairs from us (as does Julie and her husband) and he was away during the time we were rehearsing “The Divine Sister” for the first time and we would take turns going up to his place to learn our lines because in our one bedroom apartment there is only a door that you can close, which usually isn’t enough to learn the lines separately….

Jonathan: It worked out great, one in his apartment and one in our apartment. The street is another good place to rehearse on your own. John Gielgud who lived in the country, used to talk about walking the roads saying lines to himself and thinking all his neighbors thought he was crazy.

Jennifer: I do learn plays when I run. Once the lines are starting to go in, I do them on the run and then I add on to what I’ve already learned. I make faces and sometimes I think other runners are like what the hell is going on. That is sort of a very meditative time for me to learn my lines.

7. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Jennifer: The first professional job I had was at Trinity Rep and Richard Jenkins was directing me in a production of “The Crucible” and he basically said to me “There is no clear path how one goes through this life (for a career). One step does not lead to another. There are side steps and vertical steps and horizontal steps. Let the unknown be your compass.”

Jonathan: I was working a lot in LA doing television and there’s a famous story that someone asked Estelle Getty “What advice do you have for a young actor trying to make it in LA?” She said, “Take Fountain” (that’s a street in LA that cuts below Sunset Blvd). You know, she’s absolutely right, you were able to get right across town, the lights worked, you were out of traffic. In LA, all you do is drive from audition to audition and I would drive down Fountain and be like, “She’s right, Estelle Getty was right.” But in line with what Jennifer said, Richard Easton gave me a piece of advice “Say, Yes” and he means that in all senses. If someone calls you up and says do you want to do a reading, say yes, because work leads to work.

8. Favorite way to spend your day off?

Jennifer: It would be to be together…

Jonathan: Often. I would say, “There ain’t enough hours in the day for the nothing I want to do.”

Both: Being in Vermont, walking in the woods.

9. Favorite website?

Jennifer: BBC News, Merriam Webster Dictionary (because I do a lot audio books and they have a pronouncing key where you can type in a word and then hear how it’s pronounced.

Jonathan: There’s a website called Chowhound.com which is an amazing resource for food. It’s a place for people who like food and like to talk about food, give recipes, restaurant suggestions, etc. There was also a website called Loronix.com, it’s a Brazilian music website and you can download all this music legally.

10. Superman or Wonder Woman?

Jennifer: Wonder Woman

Jonathan: Superdog, for me, but if I had to answer the question exactly, I would say Superman because I never quite got Wonder Woman with the rope and the bracelets. But I also love Richie Rich, Scrooge McDuck, and Baby Huey.

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about?

Jennifer: I’m a ferocious burper. I don’t know if I’d call that a talent, but I got it from my mother and I can really let ’em rip…

Jonathan: You can really let ’em rip…I think that your portrayal of “Timmy” in “The Divine Sister” was a hidden talent. It wasn’t “Timmy” per say, but she’s very, very silly at home and pulled “Timmy” out of a hat and I’ve never seen anything like that before from her in my life…

Jennifer: (to Jonathan) What’s your secret talent?

Jonathan: I used cage drinks doing this…I can take 2 toothpicks and put them in my mouth, in my lower lip, and actually cross them, and then put them up my nose without touching them and then move my lower lip and make my nose go up and down. I know, it’s totally a stupid human trick. It’s vile and creepy and it’s odd and very few people can do it.

12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be?

Both laughs…

Jennifer: You (meaning Jonathan)

Jonathan: and I’ll have to say Kate Winslet, but seriously the happiest dreams I have are when Jennifer’s in them.

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