Stories & Cast Interviews

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Meet Amy Jo Phillips in Ain't Misbehavin'

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan, I was bi-racial before it was popular.

I attended the high school of Music & Art.  Though I auditioned as a pianist for both M & A and The High School for Performing Arts and chose M & A so that I could become a vocal major. I first started doing theatre at Ithaca College, specifically with Kuumba Repertory Theatre, where I performed as well as served as Musical Director for 3 years. 

My mentor was my late acting teacher Robert Elston. I first studied with him at HB studios (during summer breaks from college) and continued with him when he opened his own studio/theatre (American Renaissance Theatre). 

Aside from making my Broadway debut in Hal Prince's Show Boat, one of my fondest memories was the process of being cast as Bloody Mary in national tour of South Pacific (starring Robert Goulet) at the age of 27. I vividly remember not going to the Equity principal auditions because they were looking for someone between the ages 35-50. I finally went to an open understudy call for the role of Liat, thinking I might be able to understudy both Liat (not knowing she was a dancer) and Bloody Mary. I was requested to sing “Bali H'ai” by the casting director (Stuart Howard) and then asked where I had been and what made me finally come in. My response was "Little Shop of Horrors" (I was a vacation swing for the off-Broadway show at the time) and that I thought I could be an understudy. Stuart said that they already had a Bloody Mary understudy, but they were still looking for their Bloody Mary. I was given a callback to sing/read for the producers and director (the late Ron Fields). After singing and reading for the powers that be, I was asked how old I thought Bloody Mary was. All I can say, is that God gave me my answer, 32 with an explanation as to why. It must have been good enough, because by the time I got home from the callback, there was a message on my answering machine telling me that I had the job!

I saw the original Ain’t Misbehavin’ on Broadway while I was still in school. I fell in love with it and saw that there was a place for me in theatre (specifically Armelia McQueen), if nothing else, I could do this show.  I’ve done the show with several companies. The last full production was in 2003 at Papermill Playhouse in NJ.

I did South Pacific here at WBT in 1997 as Bloody Mary. The staff is wonderful, they do wonderful productions, and it is close to home (NYC). 

Favorite shows? Ain't Misbehavin’, South Pacific, Little Shop Of Horrors, and new favorite, In The Heights. I have been blessed to do a lot of my dream roles, but one that I haven't done yet is Serena in Porgy & Bess.

When not on stage, I love going to see friends perform, theatre, cabaret etc... just being supportive. I love film, and currently taxes (I also do tax preparation/consulting) I listen to R&B, Jazz, Gospel, and theatre music… like many, I'm a Hamilton junkie!



Thursday, January 17, 2019

This Joint Is Jumpin' with The Music Of Fats Waller!

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, January 17, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz, the musical revue Ain't Misbehavin' premiered in 1978 on Broadway as a tribute to the Harlem Renaissance, when black musicians played at Manhattan clubs frequented by members of high society.
Thomas “Fats” Waller rose to international fame during the Golden Age of the Cotton Club and that jumpin’ new beat, swing music. He was a legendary composer, singer and comedian, picking up the nickname “Fats” because of his girth, Waller was famous for his Harlem stride piano style — alternating bass notes with the left hand and melody with the right — which laid the groundwork for jazz piano.

Waller made is first recording in 1922 and was a prolific songwriter, composing many familiar songs such as “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” both with his most frequent lyricist Andy Razaf.
By 1926, he was so popular that while at an engagement in Chicago he was kidnapped to appear at Al Capone’s birthday party. He wrote for the early all-black Broadway shows Keep Shufflin' (1926), Load of Coal (1928), and Hot Chocolates (1929). Waller headlined several radio shows, most notably “Rhythm Club,” which featured Fats Waller and his Rhythm Sextet. Later he composed Early to Bed (1943), the first non-black Broadway show composed by an African American. Over the course of his lifetime, Waller published more than 400 original songs.

One day in the Dayton, Ohio Public Library, A teenaged boy by the name of Murray Horwitz, checked out Fats Waller's album Valentine Stomp. He realized Waller was the greatest jazz pianist who ever tried to make people laugh, and the greatest comedian who ever played jazz.
He partnered with lyricist and director Richard Maltby Jr., and helped to create Ain’t Misbehavin’. The show combines songs that Fats Waller composed, collaborated on, or recorded in his signature style. The reason for the success of the show, Murray Horwitz insists, "was overwhelmingly the excellence and universal appeal of Fats Waller.”

It was a process of putting Fats Waller's music, his wit and his gargantuan personality on the stage -- it was a kind of play-writing all the way through, using those five characters to represent Waller.” Said Richard Matlby Jr. “It's all about dealing with an unfair world. This is a world in which black artists had to use the back stairs rather than the lobby. They never complain about it, they deal with it with language.”

The original Broadway production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ opened on May 9, 1978 and ran for 1604 performances. It won that year’s Tony Award, Outer Critics’ Circle Award and Drama Desk Award, all for Best Musical. Nell Carter, Ken Page, Andre DeShields, Charlaine Woodard, and Armelia McQueen starred in the original production. Richard Maltby Jr. was the director, Arthur Faria, an expert on 1930s dance, choreographed the show and Luther Henderson, who adapted Waller's music for the revue, was the production's original pianist. 

Today, Ain’t Misbehavin’ retains its popularity as an energetic, musically rich show. Over sixty years after Fats Waller’s last performance, new audiences are meeting and falling in love with him again.

“Fats gives us a way to make sense of modern life. What is even more astonishing is that he makes us smile – and often laugh – as he does it,” said Murray Horowitz.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A CHRISTMAS CAROL The Musical returns for 2018 Holiday Season

Posted by: pia on Friday, December 7, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

 A wonderful Holiday treat to delight all ages! This new musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens Classic features an original score as well as many of the traditional carols we love to sing! See Scrooge and Tiny Tim and all of the timeless characters we’ve all grown to know & love. And this version includes a surprising new twist! With a large cast, look for colorful production numbers and lots of dancing! An uplifting evening of holiday cheer!

Starring David Edwards as Mr. Scrooge!


Book by John Fanelli  And Original Music and Lyrics by George Puello

David Edwards will star as Ebenezer Scrooge. Emma Barishman, Sarah Colt, Joseph Cullinane, Courtney Lynn Curry, Jackson Fanelli, Rachel Gifford, Alex John Johnson, Alexandra Milbrath, Joey Sanzaro, Brandon Shockey, Edward Simon, Daniel Walstad, will star as the other memorable Dickens characters.

Guest starring is a local group of musically talented performers ages 10 – 17, who are trained in Voice, Dance, and Theater.

Directed by John Fanelli, Musical Direction by Julianne Merrill, Musical Staging by Joseph Cullinane, Lighting Design by Andrew Gmoser, Set Design & Technical Direction by Steve Loftus, Sound Design by Mark Zuckerman, Costume Design by Keith Nielsen, Victor Lukas Is the PSM, Props by Grumpy's Props.

DAVID EDWARDS (Scrooge) returns to the stage at the Westchester Broadway Theatre has appeared in 12 productions including as Albin in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Don Quixote in MAN OF LA MANCHA, and as Scrooge in several versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  He also directed THE PRODUCERS and HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS at WBT.  Broadway and National Tour credits include THE ROTHSCHILDS, THE PRODUCERS, and BY JEEVES.   He starred Off-Broadway in ROOM SERVICE, BITTERSUITE, and IONESCOPADE among others, and was the final “El Gallo” in the history-making original run of THE FANTASTICKS.  Regionally he has played everything from Moliere to Stoppard, Porter to Sondheim.  His film and TV appearances include BELLY, THE FANTASTICKS: TRY TO REMEMBER, and MESHUGGAH-NUNS.  David is also an award-winning theatre director and can be heard on many cast albums and a solo CD “David Edwards Giving Voice…” available on iTunes and Amazon.

JOHN J. FANELLI is thrilled to be returning to Westchester Broadway Theatre to direct A Christmas Carol. John holds a degree in Theatre Arts from the University of California, San Diego. Mr. Fanelli has had more than twenty successful years directing, teaching and creating programs for thousands of young people in theatre arts from California to New York. John is the Founder/Artistic Director of Lighthouse Youth Theatre and Standing Ovations Studios in Armonk NY.



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Original Cast recording of PHANTOM!

Posted by: Pia Haas on Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Many of our cast members of the 1992 production are in this recording, singing the glorious Yeston score! Check it out!