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Posts Tagged ‘“Isn’t It Romantic”’

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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I had the distinct pleasure of getting to interview Michael Feinstein this past June after seeing him perform live at Feinstein’s in his show “Cool Swing.” He was genuine, funny, and excited to answer my questions. Known as one of the greatest preservers and interpreters of The American Song Book, Michael Feinstein is a multi-platinium selling recording artist as well as a five-time Grammy Award nominee. He has performed in some of the most prestigious venues around the world such as Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl as well as the White House and Buckingham Palace. Michael is nationally recognized for his commitment to the American popular song, both celebrating its art and preserving its legacy for the next generation.

Michael’s most recent recordings include “The Sinatra Project” which earned him his fifth Grammy Award Nomination and “The Power of Two” recorded with Broadway’s very own Cheyenne Jackson. His many other recordings include “Remember: Michael Feinstein Sings Irving Berlin,” “Isn’t It Romantic,” “The MGM Album,” “Michael Feinstein Sings The Burton Lane Songbook, Vol. 1,” “Michael Feinstein Sings The Jule Styne Songbook,” “Pure Imagination,” “Michael Feinstein Sings The Burton Lane Songbook, Vol. II,” “Michael Feinstein Sings The Jerry Herman Songbook,” “Forever,” “Michael Feinstein Sings The Hugh Martin Songbook,” “Such Sweet Sorrow,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It: Songs By The Gershwins,” “Michael & George: Feinstein Sings Gershwin,” “Big City Rhythms,” “Romance on Film, Romance on Broadway,” “Michael Feinstein with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra,” “The Michael Feinstein Anthology,” “Livingston And Evans Songbook Featuring Michael Feinstein,” “Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb,” “Hopeless Romantics Michael Feinstein & George Shearing.”

In addition to being a successful recording artist, Michael has also lent his talents to Broadway. This past spring he starred in the new Broadway Show “All About Me” with Dame Edna and he has written the score for two upcoming stage musicals: “The Night They Saved Macy’s Parade” and “The Gold Room.” He is also currently developing “The Thomas Crown Affair” into a Broadway musical with MGM Onstage.

This October be sure to catch Michael’s new three-part documentary series on PBS entitled “Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook” (October 6, 13, and 20). In 2011, Michael will serve as the Artistic Director of the Carmel Performing Arts Center  in Carmel, Indiana. This $160 million, three-theatre performing arts center will host an annual international Great American Songbook festival, along with diverse live programming and a museum to house Michael’s rare memorabilia and manuscripts. For much more on Michael, be sure to visit http://www.michaelfeinstein.com.

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? My early inspirations were Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Al Jolson, and watching variety television such as Carol Burnett, the corny Mitch Miller Show, the Lawrence Welk Show. When I was a kid, my parents always had these music shows on so I was indoctrinated with the music, fell in love with it, and it became such a part of my life that I wanted to make a living doing it. I didn’t necessarily want to become a performer right off the bat, but I wanted to be involved in music.

2. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Well most of the people I would have liked to work with are dead, but of those that are still alive, I would have liked to work with Doris Day. I asked Doris Day to sing with me 20 years ago and she’s well retired and was very, very sweet, but resistant and that would be a dream because I think she is one of the greatest living vocalists.

2a. Who dead would you have liked to work with? I would have loved to work and collaborate with many of idols such as Ethel Waters, George Gershwin (and been accompanied by him), Oscar Levant, and Fred Astaire. I knew Peggy Lee, but I never got to work with her which would have been great to have done. She was a funny, funny lady.

3. What is the highest and lowest note you can sing? That’s a difficult question to answer because early in the morning I’m a basso profundo and I can sing very, very low notes that don’t stay with me during the day. In high school chorus, I was a second tenor and I can sing falsetto up to C’s & D flats, but my range isn’t great. I discovered a lot of singers whose work I admired didn’t necessarily have the biggest range, so I take that as some form of solace.

4. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? It’s funny because most of the dreams I dream about are dreams about old Hollywood, old performers, the old studios, and being part of that, so maybe I had a past life there. Romantically there are probably many movie stars I could dream about, but no one in particular.

5. What’s your proudest moment? I think my proudest moment was buying my parents a house. They had retired and moved to Las Vegas. They had a house and sold it and I persuaded them to come back to California. I was able to buy a house for them near me and that was something that felt wonderful.

6. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that no one knows about? I can make my eyes change color at will. I can make them change from shades of green to shades of blue back and forth. I asked a opthamologist once if it was possible and he said it wasn’t clinically possible, but he’s seen other people do it.

7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Sex would be the favorite, I don’t know if it keeps you in shape, but that’s my favorite. Seriously though, the way I do mainly stay in shape is the treadmill with listening to music or watching television. That’s the primary way, even though when I’m in Los Angeles, I love hiking in the hills of Griffith Park it’s very solitary and the air is so crisp.

8. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs. I don’t think I’ve ever worn boxers, but now you got me thinking I should try them.

9. Favorite website? I go on IMDB a lot.

10. “Mary” or “Rhoda”? Phyllis.

BONUS QUESTION:

11. Favorite hobby? I love going to flea markets. I love archiving music. I love taking old ’78s and ’33s and digitizing them and preserving them.

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