Stories & Cast Interviews

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Meet LA CARLOTTA, Sandy Rosenberg!

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

 I grew up in Brooklyn, NY and am a product of the NYC Public School system.    I attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. My parents always loved going to Broadway shows and I inherited that love

 I believe I always wanted to perform…from singing ‘RED RED ROBIN’ on top of a piano in the Catskills at age 5 to imitating TV commercials, to school plays….At synagogue, around 6th grade, I moved into the role of Tevye from Yente in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF when Tevye had too much homework.  I was also the Fiddler as I took 50 cent violin lessons every Tuesday at school. But I never got accepted into the grade school talent shows. Hmmmm.
I’ve been aware of PHANTOM since 1994 when I performed the role of Carlotta at La Mirada Civic Light Opera, the Southern California premiere of the show. I reprised the role right here at WBT in 2007.  I love this version. I feel the audience gets to know and understand the Phantom without all the spectacle. 
 This is my fifth show at WBT.  First was Carlotta in PHANTOM, next HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, the Christmas show,  Flo Manero in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER last year and most recently Sister Mary Lazarus in SISTER ACT. Love the people who work at WBT. It feels like a family after all these years.

I’ve been going to the theatre since I was 5….too many favorite shows to mention or even think about.  Would love to play Mrs. Lovett in SWEENEY of my favorite shows, along with CANDIDE, HAMILTON, DEAR EVAN HANSEN, the current production of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND and of course PHANTOM 

When not on stage, I love to cook, travel, do photography…hang out with the husband and the dog.

    with Kilty Reidy (as Alain Cholet)

6 Questions for Kayleen Seidl

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

 Kayleen is the Beautiful Christine in PHANTOM! Here she tells us a few interesting tidbits!

Where are you from? Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing?
I was born in Iowa but grew up from the age of 7 in Joplin, Missouri. Just your typical smaller Midwest town upbringing. I was a busy kid always involved in a bunch of extracurricular activities: dance, piano, sports, church youth group. I also spent lots of time at our community theatre while my mom was rehearsing shows. I then began performing in my school productions from 6th grade on and that’s when theatre and music started to really be a big part of my life. 

What influenced you to become an Actor? 
I definitely wasn’t one of those kids that knew from age 3 that they were going to be a performer. I always loved singing though and really enjoyed music and theatre. As I mentioned, my mom does theatre so I was around it a lot, and I think it was definitely in my blood. I wore out many CDs in the car...Footloose and Wicked just to name a few. My family took a trip to NYC when I was in 7th grade. I had a total Mary Tyler Moore moment stepping out of the car into Times Square between the two jumbotrons. I think I was hooked from that moment. On that trip, I saw my first Broadway show, Wicked and sobbed through all of “For Good” as a 12-year-old. But when I went to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I knew I loved singing and Spanish, so I decided I’d study those things and see what happened.

Were you aware there was another "Phantom" musical out there prior to signing on? 
I knew this “other” version of Phantom existed and was somewhat familiar with a couple of Christine’s numbers, but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge. Before this production, I hadn’t performed in either version. I don’t know Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera as intimately as I now know this version, but I’m partial to this one for sure. I think Yeston’s take on the character of the Phantom makes much more sense than the Webber version. The Phantom shouldn’t be sexy because he’s been isolated his whole life. He wouldn’t know how to be. It makes much more sense for him to be less experienced socially as Yeston depicts him. It’s much more realistic and makes you feel for him so much more. 

What are some of your favorite shows? What is your dream role?
Oh gosh. I’m the worst at picking favorites. Fill out your favorites surveys are my nightmare. Too many options to choose from. Some shows I’ve seen lately that I really love are Songs for a New World, Bright Star, Dear Evan Hansen, and A Play that’s Goes Wrong. The current revival of Once on This Island was also incredible. I also love the classic golden age shows like Guys and Dolls, Fiddler On The Roof (especially after my most recent experience with the Yiddish production), and everything Sondheim! 

Dream roles are always hard for me to choose because I always love a new experience and many roles tend to become favorites after I’ve really explored them. Some roles I would really love to play would be Glinda in Wicked, Marian in Music Man, Cinderella in Into the Woods, and Lily in Kiss Me Kate, Clara in Light in the Piazza, Julie in Carousel...the list goes on. There are just so many great roles out there! I had my first crack at a contemporary show recently (It Shoulda Been You) and loved it, so I’m excited to start sinking my teeth into some more contemporary roles as well! I’m sure there are more of my “favorites” out there waiting to be discovered! 

What do you enjoy doing when you're not on stage?
I love having game nights, whether it’s a night in with friends or my husband and I spending an evening at the board game bar, The Uncommons, down in the Lower East Side. Bananagrams is definitely one of my favorite go-to games, but there are just so many fun games ones out there!! 

 The biggest treat is when I have a chance to sneak home to my parents' lake house in Arkansas for some quality family time and R&R. It’s the perfect getaway! 

What music do you listen to?
Some days I’m in a Sara Bareilles mood. Some days call for Paramore. Rainy weather often leads me to Paolo Nutini or John Mayer, but honestly 9 times out of 10 it’s Y2K era country music. That’s what I grew up on, so that’s my happy place. 


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Behind The Mask. Matthew Billman is The Phantom.

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, September 13, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

We asked Matthew Billman to give us a glimpse of the actor behind his mask... Here is what he shared with us!

To fully credit everyone who led me to where I am would fill a novel (this is probably true for the rest of the cast, as well), and claiming the record to be comprehensive would probably be a lie. I'll do the best I can to keep things short, but IN short - I'm the product of one heck of a village. 

I moved around a bit. I was born in San Diego, CA, and lived both there and in La Mesa until my 12th birthday. Then my family moved to Minnesota, where I spent Middle School and the first two years of High School, at which point we moved to Poway, a small city just north of San Diego. College was at Stanford University in Northern California, then I moved to NY!

My mother is a harpist and speech therapist, and my father is the director of medical safety for Rady Children's Hospital and a pediatric pathologist. I was raised with a dual passion for art and science, and have always been actively involved in both. My parents were and are the chief supporters and inspiration behind everything I do. 

I began singing at 4 years old as a boy soprano and joined the St. Paul's Cathedral Choristers just before 7 (they had to bend the rules to let me in - thanks Mr. Billups!) - St. Paul's got me involved in the San Diego Opera Children's Chorus, where I got to see what music on a large scale looked like (though honestly at that age I was more interested in the card games we played backstage, and the giant sword the executioner used in Turandot). 

When we moved to Minnesota, I joined the Minnesota Boychoir, which toured and collaborated with professional orchestras and choruses around the world. By the time we'd sung in the Lord of the Rings Symphony, I was completely hooked. Around this time I started doing the school musicals, and by the time I moved to Poway I had started singing solo; the musical population in Poway really supported me, and I started singing everywhere around the city - national anthems, graduation, competitions, fireworks displays. The public support there planted the seed that would ultimately lead me to do music in NYC.

At Stanford, I studied Human Biology (concentrating in Bioinformatics and Applied Stem Cell Science); outside of my studies, I joined the A Cappella group Fleet Street. Fleet Street focuses on writing and performing original a cappella music, usually comedic (but not always), as well as performing sketch comedy and producing short films to go with our twice-annual shows. The Fleet Street creative ethos massively transformed the way I saw art, music, and the obligations of creative individuals - I cannot overstate how much they informed who I am as an artist today. I joined the Stanford Ram's Head Theatrical Society, where I was lucky enough to play two awesome roles (Jean Valjean and Che - both under the direction of the incredible Sammi Cannold, who's now doing stuff on- and off-broadway). Sammi's family encouraged me to make the jump cross country to NYC, and... I did!

Besides all of the above who are inspirations, Edgar Billups and Martin Green at St. Paul's and Mark Johnson at the Minnesota Boychoir share the credit for solidifying my passion for singing. Without St. Paul's, I'd have never learned music in the first place, nor been exposed to the grandeur of classical and liturgical music; without the Minnesota Boychoir, I would have never experienced just how much modern classical music has to offer the world, nor the sense of community and purpose a single piece of music can engender in literally thousands of people in one moment.

Fleet Street absolutely was the principal influencer in the purely creative aspects of what I do. One of Fleet Street's music directors, who helmed the group in my Sophomore Year, summarized my credo best: 'Don't just consume resources and then die. MAKE something.'

Wendy Hillhouse was my voice teacher at Stanford, and she pushed me to look beyond my interest in Classical Crossover/Popera music and into some truly great modern composers. She pushed me into the world of competitive singing, which definitely helped convince me to give this whole 'professional singing' thing a shot! She's been the driving force at Stanford behind legitimizing and institutionalizing the (heretofore wholly student-led) musical theater scene, and I'm glad to have worked with someone so devoted to keeping music relevant in today's fast-paced, high-tech world. She's brilliant. 

After my Senior year at Stanford, Wendy convinced me to join OperaWorks in LA for their advanced summer program. OperaWorks teaches a hybrid of musical improvisation, classical technique, yoga, and acting. They instilled in me an appreciation for spontaneity in the creative process - in making art, there are no mistakes, just opportunities! Ever since I've incorporated some aspect of improv in what I do - it's amazing how much it can inform pretty much everything.

I was aware that there was another "Phantom" musical out there, yes - because I had accidentally auditioned for the one at Fireside Theatre thinking it was the ALW production! I sang 'Till I Hear You Sing' and everything!

I think both shows are great. I think the music in Yeston's show is much more varied, even more intricate in spots, and on the whole most of the Phantom's numbers (and most of Christine's) hold their own against ALW's, in some cases (here's looking at you, 'My Mother Bore Me') surpassing them. The Operetta format and style (as can be best seen in the opening number(s), the Count's song, the Phantom Fugue, and The Bistro) harken strongly back to older golden age theatre, even Gilbert and Sullivan, which can be refreshing, particularly to my parents' generation. Yet for that same reason, I worried early on that Yeston's Phantom might struggle more than ALW's show to connect with a younger audience. Thus far that's proven unfounded, and I've been surprised how many of my NYC friends already know about the show, and how many have said they even prefer it to other versions, ALW or otherwise!  

On the whole, I think the two shows compliment each other. Go see ALW if you want a more mystical, darker, supernatural Phantom; come to OUR Phantom if you really want to get to know the man behind the mask.

As a newcomer to WBT, I can say that the cast, crew, and production team are all amazing! Seriously, this set - and how quickly it's going up - is incredible. The tech team is KILLING the game. I'm blown away by how integrated all aspects of production are here. It's really amazing, and I appreciate so much the work the backstage crew put into the show every day.

My dream role? Short answer: there's no way I could narrow it down!  Long, incomplete answer: Notre Dame de Paris (the French-Canadian one, not the Disney one); Sunday in the Park With George; though cliché, Dear Evan Hansen (musically interesting AND a popular feel!) and Hamilton (just plain revolutionary); Eric Whitacre's Paradise Lost; The Great Comet, and more. 

I'd love to play ALW's Phantom as well! Also: Gringoire in Notre Dame; Robert Kincaid in Bridges; Pierre in The Great Comet; and if they ever do a Josh Groban Jukebox Musical, I'd like the lead in that. Someday I'll do Sweeney Todd :)

When not on stage, I run an independent production company, CONSTRUCT (@constructnyc), which specializes in producing original music and music videos for up-and-coming artists while eliminating the barrier to creative capital all new artists experience (making art is expensive). I write and perform music through that group, and function as chief technical officer (CTO).

I'm a programmer, and in my spare time (when I have it) I develop machine learning algorithms (popularly known as AI, though the term is misleading) that augment the creative process (currently I'm ideating a project timeline for a music video generating AI). 

I'm listening through Anaïs Mitchell's 'Hadestown' and I love it! Other artists on my phone at the moment: Snarky Puppy, Jacob Collier, Becca Stevens, Robert Glasper, BadBadNotGood, Josh Groban, Hiatus Kaiyote, Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Radiohead, Nightwish, and Dream Theater. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Maury Yeston On Phantom

Posted by: Pia Haas on Friday, September 7, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Maury Yeston's version of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera never made it to Broadway, and the legendary composer and musicologist couldn't be happier. For over a decade, the show, which he co-wrote with Arthur Kopit (the duo won two Tony Awards for Nine- Yeston has another two for his work on the Titanic musical), has become an international smash, playing regional theatres across the country and abroad, earning raves everywhere it goes. "They nickname it 'the biggest show never to play Broadway,'" Yeston said proudly,  "It's succeeded both critically and commercially all over the world. The public has taken this show to its heart and that's a far greater experience than being on Broadway." 

Phantom was originally poised to hit the Broadway stage in the late 1980s, but when Andrew Lloyd Webber went public with his intentions for a show of his own (we know how that turned out), financing fell through for Kopit and Yeston's version. While ALW's show became a hit on Broadway, the duo explored other avenues (Yeston went on to make Grand Hotel for Broadway) - that was until 1991 when the show played to raves at Theatre Under the Stars in Houston. That success led to additional productions, notably at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre and the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Chicago.

Westchester Broadway Theatre brought Phantom to its stage for the first time in July 1992. The show broke records and became WBT's longest-running show in its 33-year history. The show returned in 1996 and 2007 and found similar results. With that said, it's no wonder why the production is back at WBT now through Jan 27, 2019.

Maury Yeston on PHANTOM

 Phantom opens at WBT on September 13th. What do you think about The venue?

"It is one of the great jewels in the crown of American Theatre. They draw upon world-class talent from New York and locally. They draw brilliant directors and have a tradition of starting brilliant young people who can say they got their start at Westchester Broadway Theatre. They’re one of the first ones and one of the best in the world. And, I’ve traveled all over the world. They’re right up there with the top: Chicago, Boston, Houston, Silicon Valley…The Westchester community should be extremely honored to have them. I saw all three productions of Phantom [at WBT]. With the combination of their design, use of hydraulics, and use of space, there’s a fluidity and theatricality to it that’s really unparalleled. The cast is just extraordinary."  

Your show is labeled the "other" Phantom, but many critics seem to point out how much better it is than Andrew Lloyd Webber's version. What do you make of the success Phantom has had despite not being on Broadway?

"It's earned its right with audiences all over America. It used to be you'd do a show on Broadway, it gets the attention of the whole world, and maybe you win a Tony Award. [If you couldn't get the show on Broadway], you'd rent it out to regional theatre. Broadway was where you'd see cutting-edge new shows, and
regional theatre was where you'd see yet another Guys and Dolls or Oklahoma. There's been a massive shift. Now, very much what you see on Broadway is - 50-to-75 percent revival and regional theatre is where you see an exciting new show. My show Phantom travels around the country from [large to small venues.] The production of our Phantom had a way of uniting all theatres around the world for what was a massive hit. This is a unique show. Arthur and I worked very hard. We did it out of the love of the subject matter long before Andrew Lloyd Webber."

Have you seen Andrew Lloyd Webber's version on Broadway?

" I've never seen the show, and I'm sure he's never seen mine, but I have tremendous respect for him. The only thing I did the same way Cameron Mackintosh did was, I invested in logo design for the show and made it available. We're also very fortunate to have done an album. Anywhere the show is, people can buy the cast album. It has an all-world marketing effect without having to be on Broadway."

If the opportunity came along for your Phantom to be on Broadway would you consider it?

 "Never say never, but I have no interest in doing it at all. There's already a Phantom on Broadway, why would you want to see two? There's one Phantom on Broadway, but my Phantom's been everywhere - twice in Japan. It wouldn't make sense."