Stories & Cast Interviews

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Meet Devon Perry (Dorothy)

Posted by: Pia Haas on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 12:00:00 am Comments (2)

Devon Perry, who plays our Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz.... answers some of our questions....     

 I am from Pickerington, Ohio - a suburb of Columbus. I was singing as soon as I could talk, dancing as soon as I could walk. I used to give my own performances in my living room, dressed in my favorite pink tutu.

 I actually was training to become a ballerina throughout my childhood. I did theatre as well, but my main passion was ballet. After a serious injury that left me unable to dance anymore, my mom suggested I go to Interlochen Arts Camp for musical theatre and my life changed forever. I had found a new passion.

I've known  The Wizard of Oz since a very young age - I've always been in love with the film. I love the Golden Age movie musicals. The first time I was in the show, I was 11 and I was a munchkin. Several years later, I played Dorothy. This is one of my favorite shows, and I am so honored to be doing it again at Westchester Broadway Theatre.

My favorite show isSouth Pacific - someday I'd really love to play Nellie. I think the score is extraordinary.

When I'm not onstage, I enjoy making music - I've played piano for 15 years. I also love yoga and nature and playing with Nigel and Snickers (our Totos).

There's quite a wide range of stuff on my iPod. I love music, and I'm exploring new stuff constantly. Lately, I've been into Laura Mvula - check her out!

Devon Perry (as Dorothy) with Nigel (as Toto.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Meet Nicole Tori (The Wicked Witch!)

Posted by: PIa Haas on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)

We asked Nicole Tori, who plays Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West, to give us some insights into what drives her as an actress/singer.. She is pictured below with her flying Monkeys!

 I grew up in suffolk County Long Island and am the daughter of two extremely hard working parents. My childhood left little to be desired with extended family less than a mile away, the ocean ten minutes away and the city only one hour away. Life consisted of Sunday family dinners, church gatherings, youth group, and lots and lots of singing. At nine years old my mother's parents came to live with us. Grandpa and mom sang harmonies innately and grandpa played piano and guitar by ear. My aunt was an untrained opera singer and my cousin, her daughter, was my very first voice teacher. As a child I spent weekends cleaning my room while listening to Barbra Streisand. I frequently sang pop music at church and at twelve years old began studying classical voice. When I wasn't doing homework or singing, you could find me shopping at the mall, swimming in the ocean or playing hide and seek at family picnics.

I never really set out to become an actor until later in life. My passion was always singing but I was always too embarrassed to perform in front of people. I never really liked the lime light. I did, however, love watching the Lawrence Welk Show, the Osmonds, the Muppets and the Patridge family, as well as movie musicals. After many years of studying classical voice and pursuing an opera career, I decided to try my hand at musical theatre and fell in love with the experience. Sondheim certainly played a big part in this falling as his works are very operatic in style but after performing other works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Schwartz and Menken, I knew theatre was for me. Four years ago I was offered a small role with a regional company which allowed me to join Actors Equity. I've not looked back since.

"The Wizard of Oz" is one of those movie musicals I spoke of earlier. As a child, I watched it all the time. I would practice the munchkins' voices, making sure each was distinguishable from one the next. I, of course, would practice speaking like Margaret Hamilton's portrayal of Ms. Gulch and the Wicked Witch. Oddly enough, I never was interested in Dorothy, just her song "Over the Rainbow." I guess I was more fascinated with sound and inflection rather than a good or bad character. Somehow, I just knew I wasn't Dorothy, but the Wicked Witch and Ms. Gulch's musical motifs resonated with me. I have a strong musical connection to both villains, which is odd because neither sings in this production. Now, that I've been given the opportunity to play this iconic role, I feel called to go beyond her theme music. I must go into her head and heart. I actually do believe she has a heart, just not a very nice one. She's broken and bitter. Making these connections allows me to explore her motives and her desires for the infamous ruby slippers.

This is my first experience working for WBT and it has been incredible. The family atmosphere and sincerity I've received from producers, directors, stage managers, crew and actors has been awesome.
I love movie musicals. The medium is a great tool to introduce people to the art form. It was one of the initial opportunities I had to get to know and love the classics. That's not to say though that movies should be the primary way for people to experience the form. There's really nothing in the world like seeing and hearing live theatre. Each performance takes on its own life, its own rhythm and if you're fortunate enough to see the same show several times, you can walk away having learned and experienced something or someone in a new way. It's human and flawed and that's what makes it magical.

I'm a huge Stephen Sondheim fan and I adore classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals but I really appreciate contemporary musicals as well and since I'm not a dancer, I really love the dance numbers of a show. My very first Broadway show was "42nd Street". The clicks and tricks just blew me away. So you can imagine how I feel when I get to watch my cast mates dance the Jitterbug. As for dream roles, I'd love to play Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" some day as well as Nettie Fowler in "Carousel," Gooch in "Mame,", and Carlotta in "The Phantom of the Opera."

I really love exploring. One of my favorite things to do is to drive or walk around without a destination in mind. I just love finding new places and meeting new people. Even though NYC is a huge part of my life, I thrive in the country. A little farm cottage with nearby antique stores, trails, and water sports would do me just fine.

On my Ipod? I have no idea. I actually sit in silence a lot and I still adore old fashioned radio. There's nothing like not knowing what's coming on the radio next. It's kind of like the time when people would call your house phone and you didn't know who it was. The element of surprise. I guess that's why theatre is so magical. It helps our instant gratification, always in the know society just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chris Guzman awarded Bob Fitzsimmons Memorial Scholarship

Posted by: pia haas on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

  The  Bob Fitzsimmons Memorial Scholarship is given annually to a college-bound senior who has excelled in the theatre arts programs while attending Stepinac High School. The prestigious Arts Scholarship is named after Bob Fitzsimmons, a graduate of Stepinac High School, who died suddenly at the age of 37 in March of 1992. He was the Public Relations Director of the Westchester Broadway Theatre, as well as a gifted actor, producer, writer and a director of shows at WBT and at numerous theatres throughout the County. 

This year's recipient, of the Bob Fitzsimmons Scholarship is Christopher Guzman, a 2014 graduate of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. 

His love for the theater began at the tender age of 7 when he attended theater summer camp at the Westchester Music Conservatory and later at the White Plains Performing Arts Center.  However, it was at Stepinac where he blossomed as an actor and realized he wanted to pursue acting as a career. 

Christopher Guzman's name has become synonymous with Stepinac theatre since his freshman year. He started off his tenure in the program by playing Rudolfo in Miller's A View From the Bridge. (Talk about commitment - He even dyed his hair blonde!) He then went on to portray Monsieur Darque in Beauty and the Beast. In his sophomore year, he earned his first Metropolitan Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actor as Raoul in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. Chris continued his theatrical journey by playing Scrooge in Stepinac's first ever fall musical - Alan Menken's A Christmas Carol and then followed that with his second Metropolitan Award - this time for Best Actor in a leading role as Che in Evita. His senior year marked a foray into classical drama as Dr. Stockman in Ibsen's An Enemy of the People and his final show as a member of the Stepinac Drama Club was Mary Poppins. His portrayal of George Banks earned him a Metropolitan Award nomination as well. This summer, Chris, now an alumnus, joined the Stepinac Alumni theatre and portrayed Young Ben in Follies

His dedication has not only been reflected on stage but in the classroom, where he also excelled graduating at the top 5% of his class with a GPA of 95.2, which earned him numerous merit awards including the prestigious Order of the Crusaders  medal for his dedication and to the school.  Chris will enter NYU's Tisch School of Arts in the fall. 

Chris most definitely continues in the Bob Fitzsimmons' tradition of theatre.His prodigious talent is matched by his huge heart and generosity of spirit.  So, we are pleased to present the Bob Fitzsimmons' Memorial Scholarship to Christopher Guzman.

          

  A view From The Bridge                                     Evita                                      Phantom Of The Opera

 

 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Show Must Go On-- for 40 Years!

Posted by: pia on Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Forty years ago, on July 9th, 1974, Bob Funking and Bill Stutler brought dinner theater to an office park in Elmsford, NY.

  When they opened, the theatre was then known as "An Evening Dinner Theatre", and Kiss Me, Kate was their first production. At the time, there were 94 professional dinner theaters in the U.S. Although this number has since decreased drastically, according to Bill Stutler.

“An Evening Dinner Theatre” was renamed “Westchester Broadway Theatre” when it moved locations down the street to a specially designed new venue in 1991. The reason for the move was the need for a bigger facility and added state-of-the-art technologies. 

The Westchester Broadway Theatre is still a huge success, keeping audiences entertained for 40 years now.

Both Funking and Stutler claim that they designed the theater to be as comfortable as possible. “The way we looked at it was that people are going to be here for five hours, from dinner through the end of the show,” Funking says, “So every seat faces the stage and the seating is comfortable.”

The theatre's location is also very important to its success: Being close to New York City has a positive impact on the Westchester Broadway Theatre, since the theatre can audition and rehearse in Manhattan and draw performers from Actor's Equity and Musicians from the NY Musician's union.

In the early years, the schedule alternated between musicals and comedies, but soon, the producers decided to switch to doing only musicals which were more popular.

When it is suggested that two guys who have been at it for 40 years would know exactly what Westchester audiences want, the guys in question laugh out loud. “We like to think that we know what they want, but, we are always surprised! There is no sure way to gauge the popularity of a production beforehand!”

The biggest surprise was the production of Phantom by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, “it was a smash hit and ran at WBT for nine months in our second year at the new theatre!”

“The runs used to be longer by design”, Funking says, “When we closed the old theater in 1991, the last show there, Me and My Girl, ran for 26 weeks, half a year. The show before that, Anything Goes, for 22 weeks. The show before that, Camelot, for 20 weeks and 42nd Street, 23 weeks.” he says.

The runs today average between 6 and 14 weeks. They repeat favorite shows about every 10 years.

Westchester Broadway Theatre has been a starting ground for dozens of stars who went on to Broadway, TV and films, including: John Lloyd Young (Original Jersey Boys and the new movie); Will Swenson (Hair, Les Miserables); Carolee Carmello (Mamma Mia!); Scott Bakula (NCIS New Orleans, Quantum Leap  ); Randy Graff (City of Angels); Estelle Harris (Seinfeld); Bob Cuccioli (Jekyll & Hyde, Spiderman); Faith Prince (Guys & Dolls) and Suzyn Waldman, now a radio voice for the New York Yankees.

Directors and choreographers of note also got early work in Elmsford. Bill Stutler reminds us that “Rob Marshall directed here before going on to direct the Oscar-winning Chicago, and his sister, Kathleen Marshall, performed here and assisted Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie) when he directed A Chorus Line here.” Susan Stroman choreographed Gypsy and Sugar Babies here before racking up Tonys for The Producers, Contact, Show Boat, Crazy for You and Oklahoma!

Over the years, many memorable moments have happened at the the theatre, especially during performance. Funking had a story to share:

“During a performance of Christmas Inn, an actress sat down on a sheet-covered chair and also, inadvertently, sat on the house cat, Charlie. She jumped up and the cat let out a piercing shriek,” Funking says with a laugh. “But the funny part was that the cat got down and was completely indignant. He got down and gave her a look and then paraded off slowly. And people asked us how we trained the cat to do that, because he didn’t run off. He slowly strode off. He never went on the stage again.”

Other mishaps involving animals have occurred during WBT productions: During intermission of a performance of Annie, the dog in the role of Sandy went outside and was sprayed by a skunk! Funking and Stutler recall having to inform the audience that unfortunately, Sandy would not be appearing in the show's second act.

When asked what advice could they give to people who aspire to enter the theater business, Funking replied:

“Stay Out! But I’ll tell you why; when we started there were 99 Equity dinner theaters in the US. Now there are probably 6. So it is incredibly difficult.”

Stutler said, “The biggest reason why they failed was because they were built by people and not managed well by them. The one thing that, I’m convinced, is why we are still here, is the way the architect built the theatre. She designed tables with no legs under them, she said the lighting should not be overhead and that every seat should be facing the stage, so no head would block you. In the space that we utilize here, we could fit in a hundred more seats, but, if we did that, we would be out of business.” By utilizing the space in the best way possible, the Westchester Broadway Theatre has been a huge success for forty years.

“Look at how many restaurants are failing in the US, and then you add theatre, which is its own high interest business, and an expensive business, because it’s all people.  The fact that we have lasted this long is remarkable even to us.” Funking adds. 

Bill and Bob agree that the Westchester Broadway Theatre has changed their lives,

"Changed our lives? It has dominated our lives!" says Bill, "It has taught us how to operate without having other people tell us what to do. The decisions are made here by Bob and I, which changes your life a lot.”

Bob added: “There is also a freedom to it...I think what Bill is saying is that the change in our lives is that it put us in charge of our lives. “