Friday, September 24, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 270, A Review: "Two Jews Walk Into a War" (Playhouse on Park)

By James V. Ruocco

In Seth Rozin's timely two-character play "Two Jews Walk Into a War," the religiously observant Ishaq and the more secular Zeblyan are the last two Jews left in a bombed-out synagogue in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Both men - highly opinioned in their beliefs, ideals and traditions - share a dislike for one another despite the fact that they've been thrown together in shared isolation amidst chaos, war, uncertainty, disappointments, resentments and religious harassment.
As the play opens, both men have different ideas for the future of Jews in Afghanistan. One wants to build a brand new temple designed to attract Jews from all over the world. The other brags about becoming a father by bedding a converted woman who will anxiously bear his children.
But first, there is the question of the Torah  - a scroll containing the laws of God as revealed to Moses  and recorded in the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures - and the plan to dictate it from memory on soiled parchment from an outside garbage bin.
Discussing passages like Talmudic scholars, the two men engage in daily arguments about God (named Hashem, Yahweh or Tetragrammaton in the Hebrew Bible), the Torah's sacred passages, Judaism, rabbis, commandments, masterbation, lesbian women and homosexuality.

At Playhouse on Park, Rozin's work kicks off the theater's exciting 2021-2022 season that includes "Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley," "Five Guys Names Moe," "Divas: Double or Nothing," "The Agitators" and "Pippin."

It is a curious bit of theatre, offset by expressive dialogue, acerbic one-liners and glib, satisfying shtick. Played out through 16 short scenes, "Two Jews Walk Into a War," takes its cue from "Grumpy Old Men," "The Odd Couple" and "Waiting for Godot,." among others. It is funny. It is serious. It is thought-provoking. It is surprising. It is heartfelt. It is edgy. It is dramatic. And the last five minutes are guaranteed to get under your skin and more than likely reduce you to tears.

As playwright, Rozin is an adept storyteller. Everything that happens is carefully constructed and modulated within reason. Like "Waiting for Godot," you have to listen to every single word, line of dialogue and character exchange. It also helps if you are familiar with Judaism, Middle Eastern culture, the Taliban and all those widespread media reports detailing the exodus of Jews from Kabul. If you are not, some of what happens in this 85-minute presentation might confuse you, cause you to lose interest or knock you completely off track. Therefore, suggested research is a must to fully appreciate Rozin's writing, his characterizations and detailed descriptions of the play's main and secondary events.

Staging "Two Jews Walk Into a War," director David Hammond (Artistic Director/Emeritus of PlayMakers Repertory Company) entertains his audience with scenes and important moments that are fast, well-orchestrated and smartly paced. He navigates Ishaq and Zeblyan's story with proper calibration, thus, eliciting the right response for the onstage characters and those theatregoers seated in the audience on all three sides of the Playhouse on Park venue. Given the serious and comedic nature of the piece, at times, the dialogue can be heavy with anchored sadness and information aplenty but Hammond never lets his production stop dead in its tracks. Instead, he dives in with ideas and staging that are both involved and emotional.

Hammond is at his directorial peak during the last five minutes of the play. Here, Rozin brings a twisty, unexpected conclusion to the piece that Hammond invests with sensitivity, beauty and truthfulness. It's one of those stirring moments that should (and will) move you to the edge of your seat fighting back tears as the houselights fade to black and the production is finally over.

In the roles of Ishaq and Zeblyan, Mitch Greenberg ("A Shayna Maidel," "The Diary of Anne Frank") and Bob Ari ("Frost/Nixon," "Art") deliver two moving, personal, authoritative performances that keep the action grounded and truthful. As actors, they are absolutely perfect for their respective roles and share a charismatic camaraderie with each other and the Playhouse audience. From scene to scene, they play off one another with the dash and chutzpah of two vaudevillians, but never go overboard to get a laugh, a tear or a shake of one's head. 

Always at odds, they revel in the play's language, its emotional shifts, its adroitly managed Judaism, its apparent fact-ness and newsworthy canvas. It's a job well done - and then some.

"Two Jews Walk into a War" is being staged at Playhouse on Park ( 244 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT), now through October 10, 2021.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 523-5900.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 269, A Review: "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" (Music Theatre of Connecticut)

By James V. Ruocco

There are lots of reasons why Music Theatre of Connecticut's "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" astonishes, cajoles and delights.

It feels fresh, timely and important.
Its mix of song classics from yesteryear is absolutely sublime.
It's the perfect tonic to escape these very troubled, uncertain times.
It comes gift wrapped with a nostalgic glimmer that is hard to resist.
It contains a story that is primed and ready to pull at your heartstrings.
And lastly, there is the magnificent, expressive performance of Susan Haefner as the troubled, broken songstress.  

The production, directed by Kevin Connors, jump starts the venue's 2021-2022 season, an ambitious, eclectic mix up of hand-picked plays and musicals that include "Falsettoland," "Who's Holiday!," "The Mountaintop" and "Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story."

You can't help but succumb to its many pleasures.

Written by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman, "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical," retraces the singer's life through therapy sessions (she has been self-admitted to a rehab facility) that take place in 1968 following her well-publicized nervous breakdown. Told  through flashbacks, the production pinpoints pivotal moments from both Clooney's personal and professional life including her marriage to actor Jose Ferrer, her troubled childhood, her depression, her drug addiction, her insecurity, her friendship with Bobby and Ethel Kennedy, her film career ("White Christmas," "Here Comes the Groom"), her early radio days at WLW alongside singer/sister Betty, her rise and fall in the entertainment industry, her fight to survive financially and her many comebacks.

The playscript for this production is both genuine and clever as it looks back at Clooney's life, focusing on important, reflective moments that collectively capture the angst, sentiment, emotion and truthfulness of the singer without ever becoming overly preachy, disruptive or out of sync with the progression of the candid storytelling. This, being a musical entertainment, the songs themselves are formatted seamlessly throughout the two-act presentation and work magnificently in capturing Clooney's thoughts and feelings from scene to scene and act to act. More importantly, nothing happens by accident. It's all beautifully modulated, controlled and timed.

Staging "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical," director Kevin Connors is a versatile showman whose insightful, meaningful approach to musical theatre gives this presentation an importance and timeliness, played out against Lindsay Fuori's moody, atmospheric set design (RJ Romeo's lighting palate is also very effective) with crispness, nuance, grace and vitality. From start to finish, this is a beautifully realized interpretation that replays the lived experience of Clooney and how she wrestled with both success and adversity. 

As the story evolves, the songs, the short scenes, the multiple locations and the time-tripping are efficiently staged by Connors who makes great use of Fuori's scenic surroundings, framing the action creatively throughout and tying it emotionally to the era that was Clooney's lifeline. In terms of pacing, reaction and involvement, he gets it right every time allowing the material -  both song and dialogue - to work its magic, toy with your senses, surprise, entice and shock you and bask in the play's stirring, nostalgic whimsy. Here, as in other MTC productions including "Cabaret," "Ragtime," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Jekyll & Hyde," Connors knows how to let a production breathe, pause, move and connect in ways that are both special and are not easily forgotten. And that's exactly what puts him at the top of his game.

The musical playbook for "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" includes 21 songs from the singer's musical repertoire. They are: "Hey, There," "Come On-A My House," "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings," "Hawaiian War Chant," "It's Only a Paper Moon," "How About You?," "Tenderly," "Straighten Up and Fly Right," "Botch-A-Me," "Are You In Love Again?" "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "Have I Stayed Too Long at the Fair," "Pretty Little Pills," "Tenderly (Reprise)," "I Remember You," "Sway," "Hey There (Reprise)," "Come On-A My House/The Breakdown," "Mambo Italiano" and "This Ole House." It's a celebration of all things Clooney that portrays her rise to fame, her ups and downs, her remarkable talent, her jazz/pop/sentimental sound and lastly, those well-played vintage classics.

Overseeing the musical style and sentiment of the actual story, musical director David Wolfson is the perfect choice to bring Rosemary Clooney's popular song repertoire to the stage. His deft and creative reign of the music moves freely from sweet and dreamy to nostalgic and energetic with the bravura of concert and radio show intimacy. All of this is smartly captured by the maestro (he conducts and plays the piano) and his small but driven orchestra (Steve Taylor/Rich Zurkowsky (bass), Steve Musitano (drums), all of whom bring a melodious quality to the proceedings in terms of exposition, presentation and pacing. The venue's intimate, one-on-one connection with the band, the performers and the in-house audience heightens this feeling, often stirring up fond memories of the supper clubs and showcases of yesteryear. 

Playing the late, great Rosemary Clooney, the mesmeric Susan Haefner is both poignant and powerful in her portrayal of the singer's personal struggles, demons, breakdowns and continual fight for survival. It's the performance of the season and one that the actress embraces with the style, personality, magic and cheeriness that once was Clooney.  As the story unfolds, there is real honesty, verve and spunk to her portrayal - natural, intuitive, gifted and personal. It's also a character turn that comes from the heart without any form of hesitation or calculation. Haefner is so tremendously gifted, you never doubt for a moment that she is Rosemary Clooney.

Vocally, she recreates the singer's musical repertoire - "Hey, There," "Come On-A My House," "Mambo Italiano," "This Ole House," among others - with form, seasoning, confidence, emotion and kick. It's a connection like no other, but without any form of copycatting. Here, she puts her own personal spin on the vocals, making every one of Clooney's songs stand out individually with shading, style and personality reflective of the late singer herself, but, at the same time, very much her own.  No matter what she sings, her voice comes shining through with great dimension, feeling and individuality.  

As the Doctor, the psychiatrist who attempts to understand and access Clooney's mental breakdown, John Treacy Egan offers a Freudian-like interpretation fraught with genuine empathy, forcefulness, drive and sensitivity. It's a weighty, important part that the actor invests with considerable range and emotion alongside Haefner.

He too, is asked to play multiple roles, both dramatically and musically, all of which he tosses off effortlessly, flanked by the actress, the on-stage band and the cozy performance space. Perfectly cast opposite Haefner, Egan and his co-star share a remarkable, innate chemistry and showmanship, which in a musical of this size, goes a very long way.

A fascinating, complex musical portrait of a woman whose success often toyed with her emotions, "Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" creates the right sense of wonderment and pain with riveting, blunt emotion. Susan Haefner crafts a feverish, blazing performance under Kevin Connors' winning, intimate direction as does the equally charismatic John Treacy Egan.

Musically, it's all here - staged, performed and sung - with thrilling remembrance and shimmering musicality. The show itself is a privilege to behold and one that is fresh, truthful and so much fun. So much so, you'll more than likely want to see it again or break out your favorite recordings of Clooney's work for an at-home concert of one hit after another including "Come On-A My House," "Hey There" and "Mambo Italiano."

"Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical" is being staged at Music Theatre of Connecticut (509 Westport Ave., Norwalk, CT.), now through October 3, 2021.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 454-3883.

Monday, September 6, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 268, A Review: "The Last Five Years" (Legacy Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

A two-person cast.
A set of appealing, colorful, ambitious songs.
An evolving love story.
Smiles, tears, kisses.
Two different timelines.
And so, it begins.

In "The Last Five Years," Jason Robert Brown's exhilarating romantic musical about the passionate and conflicted relationship of Cathy Hyatt and Jamie Wellerstein, the actual story and its music are positioned and lensed through two very different time perspectives. Cathy's story is purposely told in reverse beginning at the end of their marriage. Jamie's reenactment is portrayed in chronological order. Only intermittently in the middle of their respective timelines, do they reunite and interact. (their wedding, for example).

This creative concept, impressively staged with bracing energy, directness and harmony, pinpoints the couple's success, disappointments, tensions, viewpoints, breakdowns and career choices with collective analysis, pulse and seamless navigation. It's all pretty much easy to follow and understand (Cathy wants to an actress, but is plagued by weight problems, insecurity, rejections and audition mishaps); Jamie is an aspiring, self -obsessed novelist waiting for his big break) and happily, nothing gets lost in the musical's  translation.

But just is case you're confused,  all of this is explained in a completely witty voice over - told backwards and forwards by Keely Baisden Knudsen - as the houselights dim. It's a delightful piece of whimsy that sets the mood for what's to follow. And yes, it produces chuckles (that's the point) by both novice and experienced theatergoers and members of the press. 

So, let's get to the point.
In a debut season that has included Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" and "Oedipus Rex" by Sophocles, "The Last Five Years" is the fourth production of Legacy Theatre's inspirational five-play rota. It will be followed this December by Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."


The production  - fast, fluid and to-the-point - is a time-tripping collage of life and memory that recalls the well-versed reverse narrative of Stephen Sondheim's 1981 musical "Merrily We Roll Along" and at times, - depending on the song or situation - the angst and irony of Jonathan Larson's 1996 Broadway musical "Rent." It also dances to its own decidedly organic musical beat with plenty of dramatic spine, identity, edge and complexity. 

"The Last Five Years" comes gift wrapped with 16 individual musical numbers sung by Cathy and Jamie. They are: "Still Hurting," "Shiksa Goddess," "See I'm Smiling," "Moving Too Fast," "A Party of That,"  "The Schmuel Song," "A Summer in Ohio," "The Next Ten Minutes," "A Miracle Would Happen/When You Come Home to Me," "Climbing Uphill," "If I Didn't Believe You," "I Can Do Better Than That," "Nobody Needs to Know," "Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You." The song cycle, balanced perfectly with aesthetically pleasing and strong storytelling moments is rife with intricate, diverse musical styles, ranging from pop, jazz, folk and classical to blues, rock, klezmer and Latino. Its contrasting blocks of musicality are bold, lyrical, rasping and structurally dynamic.

Setting the musical in motion is Tony Award-winning composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown whose theatrical credits include "The Bridges of Madison County," "Songs for a New World," "Parade," "13" and "Honeymoon in Vegas."  Here, his definitive use of very different rhythms, styles, patterns and musical elements gives the the unfolding romance of "The Last Five Years" a confident freshness and slickness which complements its aesthetic evolution. The positioning of the show's songs within the framework of the 90-minute musical is a win-win situation that Brown realizes with depth and purpose as Cathy and Jamie's personal love story shifts seamlessly backwards and forward in time, showcasing the point-of-view moments in both their lives.

As "The Last Five Years" evolves, Brown pulls no punches. He knows exactly what he wants and he runs with it. There is no hesitation, guesswork or compositional awkwardness. What you see and hear onstage is all very alluring, flowing and marvelously cinematic. Here, as in "Parade" and "The Bridges of Madison County," the songs themselves reflect Brown's formidable cheekiness, his deft lyrical phrasing, his inspired orchestral flourishes, his percolating clarity and his collective, well-positioned swells. It's all very original stuff with moments that remind one of  the already mentioned Jonathan Larson ("Rent," "Tick, Tick...Boom!") and Stephen Sondheim ("Company," "Merrily We Roll Along," "Evening Primrose").

At Legacy Theatre, "The Last Five Years" is being staged by Keely Baisden Knudsen (Artistic Director and Co-Founder), a passionate theatre auteur who recently directed the exhilarating and edgy "Oedipus Rex" at the Branford-based venue. Here, she moves from Greek tragedy to romantic musical conflict using a simplistic and casual mindset fueled by savvy, detailed and direct staging techniques that gives her reenactment definitive control, connection and inspiration.
Asking her two-member cast to move casually about the indoor and outdoor setting (handsomely designed by Jamie Burnett who also doubles as lighting designer), she keeps the musical grounded and positioned most comfortably with both performers completely lost in the moment of their two different stories, a directorial choice that vividly reflects the original conceit and backbone of the show's creator.
Better yet, there is no shortage of emotion or truth as the story pinpoints the dichotomy of courtship, sexual attraction, marriage and divorce under Knudsen's watchful eye. The tone, the style and the mood of the piece are assessed with natural intention and thematic thrust, offset by a shared experience of individuality and expression that moves the ongoing action toward its justifiable conclusion.

Expression - free and easy - is key to musical director Matthew Harrison's elemental treatment of Brown's musical score for "The Last Five Years." Song by song and scene by scene, Harrison is front and center giving the production a strong sense of purpose and musicality that never falters for a second. Throughout the musical, he brings a remarkably layered emergence and ambition to the material with nary a hiccup, a pause, a hesitation or a misstep. More importantly, no two scenes are alike.
As the musical evolves, Harrison is perfectly at home with Brown's musical showpiece, displaying clarity, delicacy and passion as both Cathy and Jamie step forth to tell their sides of their intertwined story. Keen attention is paid to the different shifts of the musical's songbook, its varied nuance and colors, its documented bite and irony and its quirky humor and openness. From start to finish, it's delivered with a contagious energy and clearness that is both immediate and immersive.

"The Last Five Years" stars Tess Adams as Cathy and Emmett Cassidy as Jamie. As Cathy, Adams delivers a fresh, vibrant and spunky portrait of a twenty-something woman forced to cope with the break-up of her five year relationship with Jamie and the growing discontent and unhappiness of an acting career that is going absolutely nowhere. Through song, she  acquires a voice and position that is exactly right for her character. Vocally, she knows how to sell a song using a pleasant-sounding spirit, directness and playful abandon all carefully regulated under Harrison's tutelage. Jamie, as portrayed by Cassidy, is obsessed, cocky, egotistical and quite the charming and seductive charmer. It's a powerful performance that allows the actor/singer to connect wholeheartedly with Brown's varied musical styles and musical numbers. Both he and Adams are completely likeable in their respective roles - a must in order for the material to resonate with the audience. They also share an obvious love and compassion for their roles that brings a certain honesty and freshness to the production.

"The Last Five Years" is one of those rare, eclectic musicals that is timeless, poignant and simplistic. Its portrayal of the rocky relationship between a man and a woman fighting to save their once-happy marriage comes gift wrapped with music and lyrics that are catchy, upbeat and remarkably profound.
The performances are smartly conceived and realized under Knudsen's purposeful, full-bodied direction. And Harrison's exhilarating musical direction gives it a life-enhancing truthfulness that allows one to be swept away by it all when Cathy and Jamie's story finally comes to an end.

(Photos of  "The Last Five Years" by Jamie Burnett) 

"The Last Five Years" is being staged at Legacy Theatre (128 Thimble Island Rd., Stony Creek, CT.), now through September 26. It is performed without and intermission.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 315-1901.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 267: An Interview with James V. Ruocco (That's Me), Part One

By James V. Ruocco

"Tell me about yourself."
'Am I hearing this right?'
"You are."

In truth, the idea to actually interview myself was no fluke.
But I can't take credit for it.
Two of my "Facebook" friends from London actually came up with the idea.
I thought it was ridiculous.
They thought it would be fun.
I thought it was lame.
They thought it would very, very entertaining.
I thought the time had come for me to be completely gobsmacked.

Regardless, I wasn't convinced that "From the Desk of Jim R" was the right avenue to pursue such a silly and frivolous notion.
So I created a "Facebook" post asking "What is it that you would like to know about me?"
What followed - to my astonishment - was more than 350 questions from friends, family and loved ones wanting to know everything there was to know about me.
Some, within reason. Others, quite the opposite.

The result of those queries, some of which included questions like "Did I ever have sex with any celebrities I interviewed?" and "What did I hate most about critics?" were the top two questions. 
I will answer both questions honestly, but not just yet.
You'll have to wait for three or four additional columns for those questions to be answered.
Truthfully, of course. No holds barred.
Yes, indeed.

So let's begin:

In no particular order, are the first 35 questions sent to me from my "Facebook" family and friends all over the world including Australia, England, Wales, France, Germany, Russia, Romania and the United States.

If you could travel back in time, what past Broadway performance - play or musical - would you see?

"The 1956 Broadway production of Lerner and Loewe's 'My Fair Lady' at the Mark Hellinger Theatre starring Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Robert Coote and Stanley Holloway.
"As a little kid, it was the first original Broadway cast album I remember hearing. It was played all the time in my house and my grandmother's house by everyone in my family. We'd sing. We'd dance.
And 'The Rain in Spain' was pretty much everyone's favorite."

Which cast recording can you listen to over and over again without skipping one single song?

"Evita." "Company." "Rent." "My Fair Lady." "Aspects of Love." "Les Miserables."

What musical theater song do you know all the words to?

"I know the words to lots of them, but the first one that comes to mind is 'The Sound of Music' by Rodgers and Hammerstein." It's one of my favorites.

What was the first Broadway show you ever saw?

My first Broadway show was Edward Albee's 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' at the Billy Rose Theatre starring Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, George Grizzard and Melinda Dillon.
"I was a little kid at the time - probably the only youngster in the theater - but I loved every minute of it, especially the fighting and the swearing. My family wanted to start things off with a bang - so to speak - and 'Virginia Woolf?' did just that.
"To this day, it remains my favorite play. And when I was in my twenties, I got to play the part of Nick, who was portrayed in the movie version by George Segal. I was so into the part, one night, during a fight scene, I slammed the liquor bottle so hard down on the bar, it exploded and went all over my khaki pants. The show, of course, went on without any stops, but for the actors on stage and the people in the audience, it looked like Nick really pissed his pants. Surprisingly, no one laughed or broke character and the play continued."

What is your favorite Broadway musical of all time?

"The original Broadway production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice musical 'Evita' starring Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Bob Gunton, Jane Ohringer and Mark Syers.
"To date, I have seen "Evita" 44 times - Broadway, London, Los Angeles, National Tour, Regional, Local.
"And when it comes around again, I'll be the first one in line as either critic, audience member, or both."   

Where do you see yourself in five years?

"I never think ahead. I live in the moment.
"Life is unpredictable. So who's to say, what lies around the corner - today, tomorrow or five years from now. In any case, I'm not sure I would really want to know." 

If you could redo your career, what would you pick?

"I would love to be a fashion designer for a classic men's clothing line similar in style to that of Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. Or, going down a completely different path, be the owner of a posh restaurant in London, Paris or New York City."

If you had a choice of two super powers - being invisible or flying - which one would you choose?

"That's easy. I would love to be invisible. Think of the possibilities and the fun that would come from being able to sneak around and not be noticed by anyone." 

It's a rainy night. You don't want to cook. You call out for 'take away.' What do you order? 

"Chicken Chow Main. Won Ton Soup. Egg Roll. Noodles. Rice. Hot Mustard Sauce."

What was the last gift you gave anyone?

"Two bottles of Cabernet Blanc to my best friend Marianne."

What is your favorite kind of bagel?

"If asked to choose just one, then it would be the 'Everything Bagel,' which I purchase at least three or four times a week. I like it toasted with cream cheese and cut in half." 

What is your favorite chain restaurant?

"I'm not really into chain restaurants so I don't have a particular favorite in mind. I like dining out, but when it comes to picking a place, a chain restaurant never comes up in conversation. But if forced to choose just one that I would enjoy repeatedly, my pick would be the Outback Steakhouse." 

Who is your favorite playwright?

"I have five - Edward Albee, Tennessee Williams, Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward."

If you could play one role in any Broadway show - past or present - what would it be?

"Harold Hill in 'The Music Man.' I have always wanted to do that show ever since I was five or six.
Secondly, it would be an honor to play the same part Robert Preston played on Broadway and in the brilliant motion picture adaptation opposite Shirley Jones.
"I had such a crush on Shirley Jones, I must have seen 'The Music Man' twelve or thirteen times when I was a youngster. Year later, when I finally met Shirley Jones and her husband Jack Cassidy backstage following a matinee performance of 'Maggie Flynn,' my family told her that I 'had wanted to marry her.' She smiled, smirked, looked me up and down and said, 'But he was only eight at the time.'
"It was a moment I will cherish forever."

What book are you reading right now?

"I have about 20 hardcover novels stacked neatly on the floor right by my office bookcase. Currently, I'm reading 'The Paris Hours' by Alex George."  

Have you ever had a nickname?

"Yes, several. All in fun, mind you, my favorite being 'Hollywood,' which was given to me by my best friend Lynn. Other nicknames are Jimbo, Jimmy and Boss."  

How many languages do you speak?

"English and French. I also know certain words and phrases in Spanish and Italian."

If you could have a cameo in any TV show, what would it be?

"Given my training as an actor, I would much prefer a lead or a supporting role. But if it's going to be a cameo, I would choose BBC One's 'Eastenders.' I'd like the scene to take place inside the Queen Vic pub and share the screen with Jessie Wallace who plays Kat on the long running programme.
"When I first started watching 'Eastenders' - December 10, 2002 - to be exact, it was Wallace's Kat who first caught my eye and got me hooked on the popular primetime soap. To date, I haven't missed an episode since." 

What was your first role as an actor?

"I've appeared in over 60 plays and musicals. But my stage debut was in a community theater production of 'The Sound of Music.' I played Friedrich von Trapp for eight performances, all of which were sold out.
"Following the opening night performance, I told my parents that I 'was happy that everyone came to see me in the show.
"My mother corrected me immediately. 'They did not come to see just you,' she explained. 'They came to see 'The Sound of Music,' a musical of which you were part of.' It's something I remember to this day." 

What is your favorite color?

"All shades of blue.
"Growing up, my mother thought that wearing the color blue would bring out the blueness in my eyes. And she was right. To this day, people still tell me I have 'beautiful eyes,' even when I am wearing a mask (blue, of course) in accordance with the rules of the ongoing pandemic."

What TV show do you think everyone should watch?

"There are so many, but if forced to pick just one it would be 'The Big Bang Theory' starring Jim Parsons. I can't get enough of that sit-com. And thanks to HBO MAX, I have been able to screen all 12 seasons."

If you could eat only one meal for the rest of your life - breakfast, lunch and dinner - what would it be?

"Sushi. Sushi. And more Sushi. No question about it. I could eat it seven days a week."

What is your favorite kind of pizza?

" I actually have three favorites - sausage with anchovies...sausage with onions...sausage with anchovies, yellow peppers, onions and olives.
"Special instructions - Light on the cheese and tomato sauce and cooked extra crispy and slightly burnt at the bottom."

How long did you live in New York City?

"I lived in New York for 15 years, five of which were spent getting my B.A. degree at New York University where I majored in journalism and theater with a minor in education.
"It was one of the most happiest times in my life. The classes, the kids, the professors were absolutely wonderful. I learned so much and had a really great time.
Today, I am still friends with many of the wonderful people I shared classes with - Roger, Lana, Connie, Loren and Sarah."

What is your favorite thing to do in New York City?

"Dinner for two...Table Joe Allen's"

If the opportunity arises, what country and city that you've been to before, would you choose to live?

"My first choice and only choice would be London. I've been there six times. It's my favorite city in the world. And I'd move there tomorrow if given the opportunity. No question about it."

What movie can you watch over and over again?

"Not an easy question to answer, if only because there are so many. But if I had to choose one, two or three, it would be 'The Sound of Music' and 'Mary Poppins' starring Julie Andrews and 'The Music Man' with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones. I've seen all three dozens and dozens of times and have loved every minute of watching them again and again."

Who would you want to play you in the movie on your life?

"Given my life and all the wonderful and crazy things that have happened to me since I was born on September 9th, a movie about my life would have to feature at least four or five actors playing me at various stages in my life.
"Who would play me? Good question. But I honestly haven't got a clue."

Now that Broadway is back, what shows - plays and musicals - are you looking forward to seeing?

"There are several - 'Company,' 'The Music Man,' 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' 'The Lehman Trilogy,' '1776,' ' Plaza Suite,' 'Six: The Musical,' 'Take Me Out' and  'Diana.' "

What performance on Broadway impacted you the most?

Patti LuPone in "Evita." The power. The voice. The performance. The look. The excitement.
As Eva Peron, LuPone commanded the stage with a jaw-dropping awe that was grounded, emotional and completely mesmerizing, It's a theatrical moment that even today brings tears to my eyes whenever I listen to her sing on the original Broadway cast album of 'Evita' or watch clips from the musical on YouTube. It's a beautiful and important memory that will live on forever."

Do you prefer dogs or cats?

"Cats have always been (and will continue to be) my favorite. But due to my crazy work schedule and lifestyle, I don't own any cats at the moment."

What makes you laugh the most?

"British farce performed by a very English cast."

What is your favorite salad dressing?

"Depending on my mood, it's either blue cheese or salad with oil and vinegar (homemade, not bottled)" 

Which do I prefer, French fires or onion rings?

"French fries from McDonald's doused in ketchup is my favorite. And when I have time, I make my own French fries (on the stove or in the oven) using olive oil and salt."

Eating out or delivery?

"I love eating out with friends, family, loved ones or just by myself. But if I'm not in the mood and I want something in a hurry, I'll order 'take away' and pick it up twenty minutes later."