Stories & Cast Interviews

Friday, May 6, 2016

Meet Mrs. Cunningham, Lori Hammel

Posted by: Jake White on Friday, May 6, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Lori Hammel plays Mrs. Cunningham in our production of Happy Days. 

 I grew up in North Dakota. I started competing in talent shows when I was 12 and I was in a country-western band by the time I was 15. It was a great place to grow up. We lived in New Salem (population 1,000) during some of those years – a small town where people all knew each other. I wanted to be in every group I could join. 

 I always liked entertaining other people. When I was in first grade, I put on my snowsuit when it was hot outside and made my mom laugh. Then I walked down the block and knocked on the door of our neighbors so they would see it and laugh too. I continued performing - my mom would have me sing in the living room for relatives. I did the school plays and had a fabulous junior high teacher, Mrs. Beckman, who let me act and write and be myself. She was so encouraging and I really felt seen and heard, and she gave me hope that I could do it all.  We moved back to the big town of Bismarck, North Dakota late in my high school years and they had a lovely new theater. Again, I dove in and did the shows. It felt like home to me. Eventually, I wanted to legitimize my passion for acting by going to college to learn more about it. 

 Being in this show has been a great experience. I loved watching Happy Days as a kid, so I can say that it is the greatest show and so much fun. The values and the true heart felt relationships made me want to be a part of that family.

 It has been a blast to play these wonderful TV characters. I was always such a TV junkie and still am. I loved playing Mrs. Brady from The Brady Bunch because she handles having so many kids with such grace and wisdom and she is the perfect wife who still has ideas of her own.  Ethel Mertz from I Love Lucy is so fabulous to play because she is the voice of reason - always trying to help Lucy be wise to the trouble she is getting into – yet in spite of it all, Ethel goes along with her best friend and usually gets in trouble too. Mrs. Cunningham is the voice of reason and such a loving soul – she is someone I would love to be able to get comfort and advice from. 

I am totally into “Last Tango in Halifax” – a British TV show that has multi-generational families dealing with life’s problems and challenges. It is ultimately about loving people for who they are, no matter what they are going through. It has the fabulous stage actor Derek Jacobi and the ever graceful Anne Reid – two characters in their 70’s who find love again.  It’s a current TV family.  My dream role is to play a beloved series regular on a hit TV show.  Maybe that’s why I like playing them so much on stage! Speaking of television shows, be sure to watch for me on the upcoming season two of "Difficult People" on Hulu!  

I love getting together with my friends and talking about life and art and creating. I love to write, and I co-authored a guidebook for young actors called “Minding the Edge – Strategies for a Fulfilling, Successful Career as an Actor”.  Another actor friend and I are writing a new web series, so I like to keep busy! 

I like fun 1970’s music that makes me feel good! 

as Carol Brady                       as Ethel Mertz        

as Ethel Mertz

Meet Potsie, Michael Linden

Posted by: Jake White on Friday, May 6, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

We got the chance to ask Michael Linden some questions, who plays Potsie in our production of Happy Days...

 I grew up on Long Island, New York. I have a twin brother and an older brother who do not partake in the performing arts at all. My mom is the health office administrator for a high school on Long Island. I come from a supportive family and it was a privilege being in the shadow of the greatest city in the world as a young person.

 I always loved to sing; I grew up listening to Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston (my mom has a video of me singing her cover of "I'm Every Woman" at age four somewhere. That is, until I find it and burn it). I started doing the middle school musicals, but it was my freshman year of high school when I realized what a powerful community theater can create, and I was hooked ever since. 

 I loved Happy Days growing up; I watched it on Nick at Nite whenever it was on and was actually drawn to Potsie because he sang. Who knew?!

 As for being able to play Potsie; what an honor! Despite the fact that they are held so near and dear to the viewing public, I find it important to remind myself that people haven't seen them in THIS situation before, and Jonathan (our director) has stressed that he does not want impersonations, and that we have to approach things from an honest place.

 I was fortunate enough to do "Can Can" at WBT in 2012 with a wonderful cast. I love working here because everyone who works at the theater is so fantastic and kind. It's also very special to be able to perform in a show while still living in the city. I'm happy to be back!

 I love "Little Shop", and Seymour is a dream role that I've been fortunate enough to play twice, but a few more times couldn't hurt, right? I also love quirky shows with unexpected protagonists, such as "Bat Boy The Musical" and I recently fell in love with "Dear Evan Hansen" at Second Stage.

When I'm not on stage, I'm cooking..and eating. I love to cook and try new restaurants. I am always thinking about food, or watching the Food Network.

As far as music is concerned, I have few musicals, but in my leisure time I'm a singer/songwriter fanatic; James Morrison, Billy Joel, Adele, Sara Bareilles, Johnnyswim,  and of course the Beatles and Motown. If they are sangin', I'm listenin'.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Meet Mr. Cunningham, Peter Davenport

Posted by: Pia Haas on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)

Peter Davenport Plays Mr. Cunningham In our production of Happy Days. We caught him between rehearsals...

I grew up in the late 60s, 70’s and early 80’s in Flint, MI at the height of the US auto industry. I was the youngest by seven years of 4 children, so I grew up like an only child but with the benefits of older siblings. My best friend was our brindle boxer named Tiger who died at age 15 when I was in high school. My parents were one of the first couples to divorce in our neighborhood and both remarried. I used to go to the florist near my elementary school after classes and they would let me dig through the garbage to pick flowers out to make corsages for my mother and our housekeeper. I was the youngest company apprentice to the Flint Ballet Company at age 13, and was in far better shape than all the other boys on the football team freshman year of high school because of ballet.

My mother always told bedtime stories in character accents. She was a story time reader on Bozo the Clown a few times and did children’s reading time at the Flint Public Library, so she was a big influence. She and my father also were host to a neighborhood Shakespeare Club that did readings of Shakespeare’s plays every six weeks. They even used one of my donut frisbees as a crown for a king in one play, and I got to stay up to listen to them read. I also grew up attending the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario from age 6, which I still attend with my mother and my own sons today. My mother was also on the board of the short-lived Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, CT and we were the host house for visiting theatre artists at Whiting Auditorium in Flint. The biggest impressions made upon me as a child were Geoffrey Holder, who was like some exotic gentle giant, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Plummer. And, of course, all the great slapstick comics like Carol Burnett and variety shows. I wrote a letter to the producers of Bewitched when I was 10 telling them that I was a straight A student and that I would be a very good addition to their show. It was never sent.

I grew up watching Happy Days, and Laverne and Shirley, and All In the Family and all the family shows of the 70’s and earlier, including Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters. When I got my script and score, I had to take a picture of the score and text it to a friend of mine who happened to have orchestrated the music and was the original music director, John McDaniel. He responded with thumbs up and hearts.

Playing Mr. Cunningham is funny because, for me, it’s like playing my own father. And being from the Midwest, I grew up visiting Cassville, WI where my grandfather was from, and Madison, where my grandfather and my sister went to University, and of course Milwaukee! I have such fond memories of the show and the nostalgic feeling it instilled in me that getting to play Howard Cunningham is nothing but a pleasure to me. It's like wearing an old favorite worn-in baseball glove.

The first show I did at WBT - "Phil McKinnley’s Christmas Spectacular", directed by Tony Stevens - was one of the best experiences of my career and made a wonderful and positive impression on me as a young actor. I also made some of my longest lasting friendships in the business were from that time at WBT. The best thing about working here is being treated well and feeling so welcome to the theatre from both the theatre staff and the service staff. If you ask most performers, we all  have worked in food service at one time or another, so working in a dinner theater is a funny, strange and wonderful moment of convergence and familiarity, unique from any other theatre job. The second best thing is, of course, its proximity to NYC, which makes commuting to work very easy, and returning to everyday city life undisturbed.

I really love all the classic musicals. They are so concise and economic with story and song lyrics, and they all, for the most part, make you feel good. I’ve been blessed to have been in several of those and played lead roles like Captain Georg von Trapp in "The Sound of Music" (and actually got a support phone call on the road from Julie Andrews herself!), Fred Graham in "Kiss Me Kate" (for which I was honored with a Best Actor IRNE nomination in 2009), the villainous Doctor Carrasco in "Man of La Mancha" with Judy McClane, Tom Hewitt, and a high schooler Laura Benanti. Roles in musicals that I’d still love to sink my chops into are Bobby from "Company", Guido from "NINE", Emile De Becque in "South Pacific", and Dan in "Next To Normal", to name a few.

I’m a full time stay at home papa with 8-year-old and 6-month-old sons, so I basically perform nonstop in my life (much to their embarrassment!)  "Papa, please don’t sing or dance" is a common refrain I hear on the street. In my spare time, I also write and have several screenplays in the works - I took my short film "A Family Dinner" to Cannes Short Film Corner in 2012 - as well as a new musical about the coal wars at the turn of the 19th century in West Virginia with my co-creator Katy Blake called "Storming Heaven",  for which we are planning a 29-hour reading in the fall! I love to listen to all kinds of music, especially punk, techno, D&B, and Trap when I need a beat to move to while working out and running, and Classical, jazz, and Brazilian when I’m chilling, relaxing at the beach or gardening. I do enjoy a Peterita (a top shelf margarita named after meand sleep. Sleep is something I enjoy immensely right now in my life, though it's one thing I don’t seem to get nearly enough of! 

I used to say that I would never be one of those dads with a wallet full of pictures of his kids, but then this thing called a mobile phone with a camera was born, so now I am one of those dads with a phone full of more kid pictures than would ever fit in a wallet! I usually don’t tune out the world unless I’m exercising or running, which is when I use my iTunes and Spotify to motivate me with their own in-house mixes to get my jam jumping. Lately, I’ve been listening to Beyonce’s visual album, Rhianna’s new album, Bob Moses, The 1975, Lana Del Rey, Bebel Gilberto, and anything French pop.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Meet Jonathan Stahl, the Director of Happy Days

Posted by: Pia Haas on Monday, April 25, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Jonathan Stahl is a WBT regular having performed, directed, choreographed and even assistant stage managed shows.  He has performed in The Full Monty, Gypsy, Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Singin' In The Rain, Phantom, George M and several Holiday shows to name a few. He has choreographed The Wizard of Oz, and Phantom. And he has proudly directed and choreographed Nine starring Bob Cuccioli (and some amazing women), The Sound of Music, Legally Blonde, The Christmas Inn, and It Happened One Christmas Eve.  

I grew up in south central PA in the valley between the north and south mountains.  NewvillePA to be exact. I lived in the country and had a very enjoyable upbringing that did not have a lot of urban culture. I went to public school and did high school theatre productions. I played in the band, sang in the choir… I did not start dancing till much later and eventually went away to college for musical theatre — somewhat against all odds

I was somewhat influenced by Sunday afternoon movie musicals and movies by Shirley Temple. I had a very supportive teacher in middle school who did one small community review who gave me encouragement.  In high school, I was mesmerized by the movie ALL THAT JAZZ.  I did not see much live theatre, but did go to local regional theatre when the opportunity arose. My own work has been greatly influenced by working with Richard Stafford as his associate the last few years.

When not working on a show, I am continuing my education…either as a performer (dance classes, acting classes and the like), or as a student of life. I recently got  his undergraduate degree after a 25 year hiatus and thoroughly enjoyed the education I received in doing so.  I like traveling, going to the gym and museums.  "Ironically, I have to remind myself I need to go see shows from time to time. I always love the theatre."

Being a WBT veteran, (approaching 20 shows!) I am very used to the quick rehearsal process... but being used to it does not make it easier.   It is always a challenge to budget time wisely and make the best use of the actors time/energy. However, the fast pace can also be invigorating.

I am very HAPPY and have been counting the DAYS that I am getting to work on this musical.  This show presents a unique opportunity to look anew at a 1970s sitcom about growing up in the 1950s.  The differences, as well as the similarities, in the two eras, have made working on this show incredibly interesting and informative.  

Having grown up watching Happy Days, the TV show and having lived in Milwaukee for a few years, I feel a connection to the piece and to these characters.  As I re-watched some of the old episodes from an "adult" perspective, I was taken by the talent of the cast and the often ground-breaking social commentary of the plots.   They truly made an impact on society in the 1970s.  This musical stands as a  reminder of how Richie and the gang influenced us back then. But Happy Days, the musical, is more, in that it also serves to remind us of the timeless values the TV show stood for, values which give it the same impact today: loyalty to family and friends, along with fighting for just causes, not to mention  the gratification we all get from a happy ending.  Asking my cast of talented actors to seek the essence of these iconic characters, and yet find their own truths as actors creating a role, was a welcome challenge. For all of us, the opportunity to bring this special piece of theatre to appreciative audiences makes these days HAPPY DAYS, indeed.  

Westchester Broadway offers a unique experience.  They have a wonderful chef and I enjoy the food very much when I get the opportunity to eat there.  Combine this with top notch productions at a less than Broadway price, I think your readers should make it a priority to experience this great evening of entertainment.