Stories & Cast Interviews

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Meet Ray DeMattis as Frank Manero

Posted by: Pia Haas on Thursday, October 27, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Ray Plays the disillusioned Italian-American father in Saturday Night Fever. Read on for a fascinating look into this seasoned actor's rise in show business.


 I grew up in Hamden/New Haven, CT. I was the youngest of 3 sons from an Italian family of tailors and spent a lot of time in the tailoring shop.

In 1951, we were the first on our block to own that brand new phenomenon called a television set. I was instantly hooked and loved watching the great vaudevillians. I saw: Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Sid Caesar, Ed Wynn et al. I was lucky to have extraordinary teachers and mentors who saw something in me way before I did.  I was nurtured by the music and drama teachers of my high school. Alice Hahn, a faculty member and one of the first women graduates of The Yale Drama School, mentored me and enabled me to study with Constance Welch, the head of the acting department at Yale. At the Catholic University of America, the head of the drama department, Father Gilbert Hartke, gave me the opportunity to direct all of my class shows, tour the US, performing with The National Players and perform throughout Central America and Mexico for the US State Dept.

When I moved to NY, I was lucky enough to study with Mike Nichols, Austin Pendleton, F. Murray Abraham, Horton Foote, Frances Sternhagen, among others, and work with such extraordinary performers as Zero Mostel, Theodore Bikel, Len Cariou and Jerry Orbach.

I made my Broadway debut in the original Grease which, because it was the only Broadway showcase for young talent, launched a lot of careers, including Richard Gere, Barry Bostwick and Patrick Swayze. I shared a dressing room with a 19-year-old John Travolta. When they were casting the movie Saturday Night Fever, he arranged for me to audition for the role of his priest brother, however, they didn’t think I was “priestly” enough, and I wasn’t.  But John told us wonderful stories about the making of the movie that I treasure to this day. When the first stage version was less than successful on Broadway, it was rewritten by Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti.  They asked me to read for Frank Sr. at the first public presentation of their re-write. Richard Stafford was there and asked me to be in his production at the North Shore Music Theatre and again here at WBT.

This is my first time performing here and I love the way that Victor and the entire stage crew, with hard work, organization, and humor make every performance happen. 

The movie of Saturday Night Fever is, and I think always will be, the definitive representation of the disco era exemplified by the extraordinary Bee Gees score.  It is also a wonderful depiction of Italian-American life in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, at the time.  So, of course, I know the movie well and a lot of actors in it!

I think the success of turning a movie musical into a stage production mostly depends on the ability of the creative team to accommodate the boundless possibilities of the screen to the limitations of the stage.  I toured with Beauty And The Beast, and I think a perfect stage translation. But the most successful adaptation to date has to be Julie Taymor’s Lion King.  Not only is it a paragon of stagecraft and puppetry, it is also an extraordinary celebration of African culture.

The first Broadway musical I saw, when I was a chunky Italian kid, was Fiorello. Seeing that was a revelation.  I realized that there was a part for me in the musical theatre. Years later, I was elated to get to do the role with the New Jersey Choral Society.

I’ve had the good fortune to continue working non-stop for 54 years. I’ve done everything from touring the country performing Shakespeare, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (performing for and meeting 4 presidents along the way). I’ve been so blessed to have done all kinds of roles in all kinds of media and venues. My only unfulfilled wish is to play Friar Lawrence in Romeo And Juliet or his equivalent Doc, in West Side Story.

My favorite hobby is photography. I have studied graphic arts my whole life, and I’ve had some success showing and selling my work. Also, I ain’t bad in the kitchen (my Italian mother would have it no other way)!
I love coaching and teaching young actors and passing on some of the hard learned knowledge I’ve acquired in those 54 years.  Also, I was asked and was delighted to be the founding/Artistic Director of the National Theatre Workshop of the Handicapped.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Raynor Rubel as Gus in Saturday Night Fever

Posted by: Pia Haas on Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 12:00:00 pm Comments (0)

I am a New Jersey native, born and raised in NJ.  I grew up in Pine Brook and Newark. I graduated from Montville Township High School.  I presently attend Montclair State University.  I train in Ballet mostly but I also study tap, jazz, musical theatre, street hip-hop, fosse, acting, singing, and partnering.

There were 2 influences that inspired me to become an actor.  One is the movie "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise.  I admired Tom's work ethic and how he gets into character.  The other is my sister Nicolette Rubel.  She was taking dancing lessons and when we went  to register her, they told us that they were having a boys combo class that year being taught by Jim Raposa from the broadway show Cats.  I joined the class at age 9.  From there I took acting, singing, jazz and ballet. I eventually took intensive classes at New Jersey Ballet. (I have performed in 6 seasons of NJ Ballet Company's The Nutcracker in soloist roles.)

After awhile at a young age, I found what I wanted to do with my life.  There are others that have inspired me through the years.  Bruce Lee is one of them for his work ethic, artistry in film, his philosophies, his projects, and his presence.  I also admire old time dancers like Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, and the Nicholas Brothers.

I heard about the casting call for Saturday Night Fever through Actor's Equity.  I have never done the show but always loved the movie.  This is my debut at WBT.  I really enjoy working with the cast and crew.  It is a great environment, very relaxed.  They really push you as an artist.

 Yes, I know the movie.  I think it is a great idea to make it into a musical because people of that generation and all generations can relive the movie and rehear the music of The Bee Gees.

Some of my favorite shows are Finding Neverland, West Side Story, American in Paris, and Singing in the Rain.  My dream role would be whatever job that can hire me because in different shows you can play different roles and express yourself in different characters.  I would love to play Tommy DeVito in Jersey Boys.

I enjoy training in ballet, tap, partnering, fosse, and street hip-hop.  I go to the gym, stretch, and do flexibility exercises.  I keep a very strict training schedule so I can improve myself.  I love to go to the movies, restaurants, the beach, and taking ballet classes. I also teach Dance, Drama, and martial Arts to Children with special needs for Pathways For Exceptional Children, a nationally funded non-profit organization.  

I have many things on my Ipod.  I listen to Elvis Presley,  Earth, Wind and Fire, Hans Zimmer, Gershwin, Chuck Berry, Newsboys, Frank Sinatra, James Brown, and Miles Davis 

Raynor Rubel as Gus (Left,  withChristopher Hlinka)
Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Meet Chris Collins- Pisano as Bobby

Posted by: Pia Haas on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Chris Collins-Pisano Plays Bobby in Our Production of Saturday Night Fever.. .. Check out his Interview!

With Audrey Tesserot as Pauline.

 I grew up in Westwood, MA, about thirty minutes south of Boston. My dad's from there, and my mom (she's 100% Italian) actually grew up in Jersey around the time of this show, so I've been able to get a lot of nice insight from her! I'm the oldest kid in a family of five, I went to a classic New England prep school, and spent college in Cincinnati at CCM studying Musical Theatre. I graduated this past April, and now I'm here!

I grew up watching a ton of movies and cartoons, so I guess that kind of stuff got me started. I started in music before I moved to theater, playing violin in orchestras and taking lessons. Actors, especially Robin Williams, had a really big influence on my childhood and start in performing. 

I've never done the show before, nor have I worked here at WBT before this production! I actually hadn't even seen the movie until I auditioned for this show...I've really enjoyed working here and on this show, though! It's a really cool space, and the whole production staff and cast are wonderful. 

I really like the movie! I think that there's a bit of a balance to be looked for with films being made into musicals; some films lend themselves to that transformation, but some don't. Films with an iconic soundtrack (like this one) can work well, but sometimes it's also nice to separate from that and create an original sound for the show (like in hairspray, dirty rotten scoundrels, the producers, etc.).  

I'm a huge Sondheim fan, so all of his shows are among my favorites. My all-time favorite is Sunday in the Park with George, and I'd love to play George some day. I'm also a big ole fan of Little Shop of Horrors (Seymour's another dream role), as well as other comedies that I've mentioned before, like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Producers, or The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

I'm a huge movie buff so I go to the movies a lot, but I also like piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. I'm not into health food, I AM into champagne.

Right now I've been starting to really get into David Bowie and Meat Loaf, actually. I'm a big old timer when it comes to music, so stuff like Springsteen or The Rolling Stones are usually on my playlist. Nothing calms me down like some Sinatra or old big band music though. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Meet Jacob Tischler as Tony Manero.

Posted by: pia on Thursday, September 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (6)

Jacob Tischler plays Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. We caught up with him between rehearsals.

I grew up in the circus. Circus Smirkus is America’s only traveling youth circus, featuring kids ages 10-18 in a completely professional tented spectacle. “In the ring”, as it were, I was featured as a clown, juggler, and novice acrobat. To this day, I cherish the respect and unity of this idiosyncratic and loving community and hope to bring a little Smirkus mentality to every job I undertake. 

Traditionally speaking, I grew up in St. George, Vermont, which is a far cry from the grit of 1970s Brooklyn. There are many more cows, barns, and fields, but the same number of Bernie Sanders. The foundation of my arts education comes from the fantastic public school teachers at Champlain Valley High School, who continue to inspire me well into my professional career: My acting teacher, Robin Fawcett, is still willing to give me notes on new plays I’ve written. My chorus teacher, Carl Recchia, played piano for a musical I wrote in college and is featured on my new album, The January Project (on Spotify!).

And of course, my family: Marc, Sarah, and my brother Ethan (only 13 months younger than me!). Together, we enjoyed the many oddities of taking care of llamas, chickens, horses, ducks, turkeys, rats, mice, fish, dogs, and one very stinky cat. I miss my old address but am happy to call Westchester Broadway Theatre home for the next several months.

There’s nothing unique about my story. At an early age, I recognized that socializing was difficult for me. So I turned to a place where I could express myself without needing to apologize. Young people are smarter than we’d like them to be; 6th grade Jacob knew that navigating a birthday party was a lot more difficult than singing in harmony in a group of like-minded people.

 The first time I really “acted” was as Harold Hill in my 8th grade production of The Music Man. I remember acquiring a sense of spontaneity rather than simply planning and executing my youthful version of reality. I thank that particular director, Charlotte Munson, for introducing me to theater-vocab like “objectives”, “goals”, and “obstacles”.

Circus Smirkus provided abundant opportunities for growth, improvisation, and honing my personal style. For seven weeks every summer, I immersed myself in a performance-based education, playing to sold out houses of 800 people twice a day, 5 times a week. Troy Wunderle, a cast member and the artistic director of the show, was my primary mentor here. He truly captured the essence of “The Show Must Go On.” This is a man who has never missed a show in his life, despite performing while temporarily blind in one eye, with a broken neck, or with two broken ribs. Some call that reckless. I say it’s inspired.

I first heard of the musical Saturday Night Fever when I auditioned for it on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Prior to that, I was unaware of most musicals, having just sunk into the madness of one’s first year as a resident of New York City.

 I have never worked at WBT, but I was lucky enough to attend WBT’s production of Cats back in 2002. Not intending to date our esteemed director, Richard Stafford, but he set this particular show, and I can only call myself fortunate that our paths should cross 14 years later.

I vaguely knew of the movie prior to auditioning for the show and watched it in preparation. What I encountered was a vibrant collage of 1970s society, but I didn’t truly understand the impact it had on its original audience. My mom was part of this audience and related her experience of seeing racial diversity, feminist themes, and the pure awesomeness of dance in a mainstream format for the first time.

I have difficulty thinking of any movie that’s had the same influence on my own generation. Ask my cast-mate, Chris Collins-Pisano. He’s a movie buff.

I haven’t done the show before or worked at WBT. Tony Manero, however, is my first lead role as a member of Actor’s Equity, a huge milestone for my career.

I have a handful of shows that I will always love: Sweeney Todd first and foremost, followed by Ragtime, The Scottsboro Boys, Little Shop of Horrors, and a relatively unknown but heartfelt new work, Dani Girl, by Chris Dimond and Michael Kooman. Check them out if you know what’s good for you.

Also, Forever Plaid, a certified silly musical. To me, it’s magnificently delightful, and I’d love to find my way back into those close harmonies someday.

When I’m not onstage, I’m either writing or fly-fishing. Unfortunately, I live in New York City, where opportunities to drop a line in the water are a little scarce. This means I do a lot more writing these days. A couple big projects are looming on the horizon that I can’t talk about. What I can talk  about is the pleasure I had of working with several Broadway/TV actors on mini-musicals, including Sandy and Inexperienced Love, both of which can be found on YouTube!

Everything you’ll ever need is on my iPod. They are as follows: Alabama Shakes, Jeff Buckley, The Decemberists, Martin Sexton, Anais Mitchell’s “Hadestown”, Jacob and Ethan Tischler’s “The January Project”, available for purchase on iTunes.  

Podcasts: these are the best things. Do you know what these are? They’re the best.  Radiolab, Reply All, Stuff You Should Know, The Tobolowsky Files, The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor,  NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”