Stories & Cast Interviews

Friday, November 1, 2019

Meet Erika Amato as Mme Baurel In An American In Paris

Posted by: Pia Haas on Friday, November 1, 2019 at 4:00:00 pm Comments (0)

I was born in Plainfield, NJ and grew up an only child in the neighboring town of Mountainside. I attended a private girls' school in Summit, NJ called Kent Place School, and then went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, where I was a drama major. I moved to LA right after college, where I did some TV and film acting and fronted a successful indie rock band called Velvet Chain before circling back around to theatre and moving back to the NY metropolitan area about 10 years ago.

I've wanted to be an actor since I was very little. I started acting in school plays in kindergarten and never stopped. I was heavily influenced by Katharine Hepburn when I was young, and then later I became quite enamored with Meryl Streep and Maggie Smith, as well as Gary Oldman and Ed Harris. My greatest mentor was my drama teacher, Robert Pridham, who cast me in roles as diverse as the Mother Superior in AGNES OF GOD and Eva Peron in EVITA. He also gave me my first professional acting job at age 17 - in a production of TO GILLIAN ON HER 37TH BIRTHDAY. He continued to support me and see me in as many shows as possible until his untimely death from brain cancer a couple of years ago.

I've known the movie, An American In Paris, since I was little, being both a huge fan of Gene Kelly and the Gershwins. (And Leslie Caron, too!) I saw the original Broadway production, as well. The plot of the stage adaptation differs quite a bit from the film, but it retains a lot of the magic that made the movie a classic.

My favorite scene in the show is when my character, Madame Baurel, finally drops her facade for a moment and shares a sincere moment of warmth and connection with her son, Henri, after his performance at the nightclub. I'm sure it's not anything most audiences even register, but it's the fulfillment of my character arc, and that's why it's my favorite.

I've been fortunate enough to play a few of my dream roles already - the Witch in INTO THE WOODS, Reno in ANYTHING GOES, Maria in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to name a few - but I would really love to play Diana in NEXT TO NORMAL, Mama Rose in GYPSY, or Margaret in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA.

I watch a lot of movies, read books, hang out with my husband, and play with our dog. I also ADORE going to the beach, but obviously that's just a seasonal thing.

Believe it or not, I have quite a bit of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Arlen, etc. on my playlist. A lot of Great American Songbook stuff, sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Bing Crosby and the like. As for pop/rock, I mostly listen to the old stuff. David Bowie, the Police, the Cure, Tears for Fears...a lot of New Wave from the 80s. Grunge from the 90s. I've loved Radiohead since forever. As for newer bands, I think the 1975 and Cage the Elephant are pretty good. And of course my own band, Velvet Chain. We put out 5 albums between 1995 and 2004.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Tommaso Antico Takes the stage in An American in Paris

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, October 31, 2019 at 11:00:00 am Comments (1)

I grew up in a small town called New Baltimore, MI. One of those “if you blink, you’ll miss it” towns. I grew up with a family of 6 and we all worked in our dad's Italian bakery. I was never good at hard labor and knew there was more in store for me that didn’t involve making bread.

I never wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a conductor for the orchestra (I was a huge band nerd.). But in high school, I joined the drama department (because my sister did) and I got bit by the theatre bug. So, I changed gears and pursued musical theatre cause it incorporated music and theatre.  

To be honest, it wasn’t until I got cast in this role that I learned that An American In Paris was a movie first. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. I then started my research and watched the original movie and the Broadway show. Movies being made into musicals are S’wonderful and I hope it’s a tradition that continues to inspire and educate future generations. 

Lately, I’ve really been enjoying my scene with Henri in the second act. The writing is informative but emotional, and it challenges me as an actor to just listen, be present, and respond. 

Waitress and Beautiful are two shows I truly adore. I’m attracted to honest real-life stories with contemporary music. I’m itching to see Hadestown. Something tells me that may be added to my favorites. 

I have a few side hustle/hobbies that inspire my artistic brain. Before this show, I had a residency playing my guitar and singing for this high-end hotel on governors island called Collective Retreat. I also love Interior design, yoga and all things, dogs. 

My music taste is all of the place. I love all genres and it all depends on my mood but I guess my go-to is anything emotional/singer-songwriter. Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz are a huge go-to. In the dressing room, Brandon and I like to play anything from Beyoncé to Motown. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

THE PIANO MEN

Posted by: Pia Haas on Monday, October 14, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Jeff Scott is Elton John. Jeff Brewer is Billy Joel. 

The tribute-band industry is a booming one. People flock to the experience for any number of reasons. Perhaps your favorite artist has died —  think David Bowie or Michael Jackson. Maybe the tickets to hear the real artist are too expensive. Or perhaps your absolute favorite never tours your neck of the woods.

For the tribute artist, touring the work of others offers positive performing possibilities.

“I had my own recording studio and I played the bar circuit and that was okay,” said Toronto-based Brewer. “Like so many others, I had preconceived notions about tribute artists. But then, the first time I stepped on stage to do my Billy Joel tribute it was in front of 3,000 people. You get to play some pretty big stages.”

Elton John and Billy Joel have collaborated for decades, selling out wherever they went.

Their music continues to tap into the hearts and minds of baby boomers. Brewer knows what the audience wants to hear, so the two play all the hits all the time.

Brewer auditioned for the tribute gig after seeing an ad in Toronto’s NOW magazine. He was told to prepare three songs — Only the Good Die Young, Piano Man and Big Shot.

“I sang the first two lines of Only the Good Die Young and the guy stopped me,” Brewer said. “He said ‘you’ve got the gig.’ Life is like that sometimes.”

That was 15 years ago.

Brewer, a 49-year-old father of two, tours for almost half the year. He’s covered the United States and Canada, performed on cruise ships, in sprawling retirement enclaves in Florida, in Bermuda and Belize.

He’s also played Oyster Bay, Long Island. Billy Joel is a Long Island native and has been in the neighborhood when Brewer is performing. Brewer has only seen Billy Joel perform once, in New York City, and has never met him. 

“It’s nerve-wracking to think he could walk in while I’m performing,” Brewer said. “I don’t think he minds (the tribute scene). After all, people are listening to his music.”

Brewer said strong male tenors like Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and Sting were allowed the time by their record labels to develop, back in the day. Not every song had to hit a home run. Fans remained loyal and matured with them. 

“I’m a songwriter at heart and Billy Joel is a very skilled songwriter,” Brewer said. “That’s the staying power. It comes down to the quality of the writing.”

Brewer doesn’t think he’ll hang up the tribute mantle any time soon and said his busy schedule is a result of more than his ability to sound and play like Billy Joel.

“There is a difference between being a musician and being an entertainer,” he said. “I’m an entertainer. I love performing for people.”

Excerpts from an interview by kgreenaway@postmedia.com

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Cookie Lady and The Actor (He paints too!)

Posted by: Pia Haas on Friday, September 20, 2019 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Bill Nolte, who plays Gino in our production of MAMBO ITALIANO, created a watercolor painting in his dressing room for his #1 fan, Jeanette. He, finally presented it to her in the WBT LOBBY after the matinee last week.  Here is Jeanette Murawski's accounting: 

"I'm not particularly lucky when it comes to money or love; but when it comes to the theatre...well, you meet the nicest people ever!!
I first met Bill Nolte in 1776.  The show, not the year!  Because the show was initially a limited run, I was reluctant to chat with the cast since I knew I'd wind up missing them when the show closed shortly thereafter.
Once word came down the show was extending, I couldn't wait to talk to this wonderful cast.  It was during the hiatus between theatres that I happened to run into Bill coming out of another show.  I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Hoping I wouldn't appear a stalker, I said, "I don't know who's following who, but I've seen 1776 several times and absolutely love it".  His beaming smile assured me I'd be having many more wonderful little chats once the show reopened.
When 1776 reopened in its new home, I became a regular visitor.  The show was thrilling every time. The more I saw it, the more I appreciated each individual's performance in this glorious ensemble cast.  And my appreciation usually takes the form of baked goods!  This cast deserved more than just my applause, they got cookies as well.  Lots.  Of.  Cookies.

But all good things must come to an end, and it was time to say goodbye, though not without a souvenir I'll always treasure.  There was a board with a painted clock face (working mechanism behind it) in the green room.  Bill had each cast member sign it with their names and the characters they portrayed.  He gave it to me on closing weekend.  Twenty-two years later, it's still up on my bedroom wall and is the first thing I see each morning.

Happily, another musical, Jane Eyre, soon followed for Bill.  More greetings, chats, and hugs - along with cookies. (They don't call me The Cookie Lady for nothing!). Bill was always sweetly appreciative of my support, and I was appreciative of his talents, as well as his tolerance of this enthusiastic (but harmless) theater buff!
Once Jane Eyre ended, Bill landed another terrific role as Franz Liebkind in The Producers.  He was the silliest, sweetest, nuttiest Nazi you could ever hope to fall in love with.  I again went multiple times.
After the Broadway run, Bill "took the show on the road" on the national tour.  I couldn't resist catching the show in Boston (a city I always wanted to visit).  Bill pulled out all the stops.  Not only did he help arrange for tickets and meet for dinner, but he even played tour guide during the day!  Talk about above and beyond the call of duty!  I, in turn, was so grateful I promised to send him a batch of cookies at each stop for the duration of the tour.  And I did!  Even when he signed on for a second year and they changed cities on a weekly basis!  I drove myself nuts, but a promise is a promise!

There were several other shows afterward.  Basically, I tried to get to anything within commuting distance of New York - from his fabulous one man show at Birdland to a few shows in nearby regional theaters, including twice at the Westchester Broadway.  (Tevye in Fiddler and Gino in Mambo Italiano.)


In the interim, Bill and I became Facebook friends and I saw samples of more talents of his - photography and painting.  I had just redecorated my kitchen/dining area and was looking for artwork to complete the decor.  I saw a photograph of a floral arrangement (Bill is an avid gardener) on his Facebook page and thought it would translate wonderfully into a watercolor painting.  So the next time we met, I asked if he would be willing to do a watercolor along those lines.  Happily, he accepted the "commission" and I gave him a sample of my wallpaper.

Now, Bill is a busy man and one of the most peripatetic people I've known, so I was content to wait until he had time to create my masterpiece.  It was a wait.  That large blank space on the wall taunted me for two years until one day during the run of Mambo Italiano (I already had tickets), Bill sent me a sketch of the planned watercolor.  I was delighted, but still figured I wouldn't see a final product for at least a few months down the road.

So, imagine my surprise when I showed up and Bill told me the painting was finished, but then said I'd have to wait till after the show for the "unveiling".  As much as I enjoyed the show, I was going a little crazy muttering to myself "I want to SEE my painting".  Exquisite torture!
Soooo worth it.  It's absolutely stunning, and I'm thrilled and proud to be an owner of an original Bill Nolte, who is quite an original himself!"