Sunday, July 29, 2012

Eric Kunze Cabaret in Palm Springs August 11th

Broadway leading man Eric Kunze will kick off the all new “Broadway At The Cascade” Cabaret Series at the Spa Resort and Casino in downtown Palm Springs with a one night only concert on August 11 at 8:00 pm. Kunze will reminisce and perform sings from his many Broadway, touring  and regional shows including Les Miserables, Miss Siagon and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down The Wind. The Cabaret Series is produced by The Dr. Carol Channing – Harry Kullijian Foundation For The Arts and all proceeds benefit the Foundation’s mission to restore the arts to Americas public schools. The “Broadway At The Cascade” Cabaret Series is produced and directed by The Channing-Kullijian Foundation’s Executive Director, David Green. A different Broadway or Cabaret Artist will be featured once a month in the intimate Cascade Showroom from August  2012 through June 2013. For tickets, priced at $25.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Little Mermaid Afterglow

(To see a full screen slideshow, click on the left hand corner icon.)

The production of Little Mermaid in the theater in the round at Wells Fargo Pavilion in Sacramento was one of the best cast and tightest shows I have seen. This show could tour for years and pull in audiences all over the world. It’s amazing that a Disney show about a mermaid could appeal to men, women and children of all ages. But that is what I found in talking to audience members around me. The storyline of the love between a father and daughter, her rebellion, consequences and repentance touches all of our hearts. The love story between Ariel and Prince Eric appeals to females young and old and the witch Ursula’s Faustian scheme adds tension to the plot.

Comic relief is added by the brilliantly played characters Sebastian (Kevin Smith Kirkwood), Scuttle (Jack Doyle), the love-struck, skateboarding teenager Flounder (Henry Hodges), and Chef Louis (Eric Gunhus), hysterical in the impeccably staged “Les Poissons”. I was so impressed with the voices, characterizations and timing of each of these men. Jessica Grove couldn’t have been more perfect as the Mermaid. She totally looked and sounded the part and was able to portray the conflict between her dedication to her father and her desire to see more of the world above the sea. Merwin Foard, as an almost Shakespearean King Triton was regal and commanding and the theater echoed with his booming baritone.

It wouldn’t be a Disney story without an evil character to threaten the hero and Vicki Lewis couldn’t have been a better villainess as Ursula. Her costume was almost a character in itself, an amazing creation of long squid tentacles that had a life of their own. The slimy cronies, Flotsom and Jetson, (impeccably played by Scott Leiendecker and Ben Roseberry as the electric eels) had sparkling green bodysuits that lit up when they talked. In fact, every single costume was a work of art. Ariel and her mermaid sisters with their gowns made of silk gave the impression of movement as they undulated their bodies to mimic the motion of the water.

Director Glenn Casale reworked the show and the script tirelessly up to the last minute, tweaking and tightening it into a seamless production. The set design and blocking, a challenge for theater in the round, was minimal, efficient and effective, with the help of the rotating platform. At the end of the first act, Ariel’s transformation from a mermaid into a woman was thrilling to behold, as she was swimming (flown) up toward the surface, her tail dropping off and she suddenly had legs. Glenn’s use of the aisles to stage scenes brought the show into the audience, much to the delight of the little girl sitting to my right. She gasped as she saw Ariel up close. The clever script had the audience in stitches. Prince Eric was trying to guess the mute Ariel’s name: “Jasmine? Mulan? Belle?” King Triton: “As long as you live under my reef you’ll abide by my rules”. Sebastian: “The seaweed is always greener on the other side”.

Even the music was being reworked practically until opening night. The Broadway score was being combined with the existing book and the orchestra and performers didn’t work together until a few days before. The songs were so memorable I still find myself humming them now, days later. “Her Voice”, Eric’s solo, was heartrending and haunting. I especially loved the quartet “If Only” between Triton, Ariel, Prince Eric and Sebastian, each singer holding their own as they poignantly sang about their feelings.

Of course, my focus was on Eric Kunze, the embodiment of royalty as Prince Eric. One arm behind his back and the other in a regal wave, I almost forgot he was Eric from San Diego. One review said of him, “finally a Prince Eric who can actually act as well as sing”, and he did both with perfection. My only complaint would be that, while he sang with other people, he didn’t have enough solos. The one he did have (Her Voice) was beautiful. Vocally, this show wasn’t as challenging as, say, Jesus Christ Superstar or Miss Saigon, but it was great to see him do something on a lighter note. He looked fantastic in his billowing white shirt and knee high boots. I had to chuckle when Ariel saw him and said “he’s so beautiful, so perfect in every way.” I’m sure every woman in the audience felt the same way.

After the shows there were throngs of little girls, many in their Little Mermaid costumes and some even in red wigs, waiting for his and Jessica’s autographs. Eric patiently signed everyone’s programs and tirelessly posed for photographs. One night he met a special girl named Riley who has been battling three bouts of leukemia. She was thrilled to meet him and especially thrilled with the tiara and Prince Eric doll she received from him. She slept with the Prince Eric doll that night and hasn’t left it far from her sight since.

Eric also took time out of his demanding schedule to come to our fanclub meeting at Cafeteria restaurant. We were thrilled and honored to spend time with him.  He was gracious to answer our questions and pose for pictures before he had to go to the theater. Several of the fanclub had traveled long distances to attend; some from Michigan and another from Pennsylvania, as well as driving into Sacramento from outside the city. We all felt it was well worth the time, expense and effort to get there. Eric’s kindness, humbleness and talent is what draws people to him like bees to honey. I have never heard him say an unkind word about anyone and, in turn, I have never had anyone make a negative comment about him. That is very rare in today’s world. Thank you, Eric, for every thrilling moment!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Little Mermaid Review from Sacramento Press

Hi fans,
Here is an excerpt from today's review (pertaining to Eric) in the Sacramento Press:
Prince Eric (the heroic and sensitive Eric Kunze) is being groomed by his father to take over his kingdom, though – as he tells his crew – “I’d rather be a sailor than a prince any day.”
In an effort to distance himself from daddy’s expectations, he spends as much time at sea as possible, though royal mentor Grimsby (the properly officious Ron Wisniski) is always in tow.
When a squall lands Eric in the drink, Ariel swims to his rescue.
Prince Eric’s back-story is more fully explored in this expanded (and darker) stage version that also features two new songs (with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater): “Daddy’s Little Angel” (Ursula) and “If Only” (Ariel).
It’s impossible to talk about the show’s songs, without bestowing kudos to the entire cast for their Ariel-like vocal talents.
Words like “passionate,” “flawless,” and “simply perfect” come to mind when attempting to ascribe adjectives to their performances.

Read more HERE.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Interview with Eric Kunze on JCS Zone

While in Ottawa doing "Do You Hear the People Sing" recently, Eric did a phone interview with Andrew Simpson, of the Jesus Christ Superstar Zone, a website devoted to everything about that musical. With his permission, here is the article in full. You can also access the article on their website to make comments. (Registration is required.) The interview can be found here under "Database", "Interviews", "Fresh Blood". Thanks, Andy!

Photo is from the Jesus Christ Superstar National Tour 2003 (with Lawrence Clayton)

JCS Zone -- Eric Kunze Interview
Summary: Conducted by Simpson, following a performance of "Do You Hear the People Sing," a celebration of the music of Boublil and Schonberg consisting largely of selections from "Les Mis" and "Miss Saigon," featuring Kunze, Lea Salonga and Terrence Mann. Special thanks to Maggi, Eric's webmaster, for setting up this interview!

Q: When did you first hear JCS? What did you think?
A: I first heard of it... I can't remember how old I was but I was a young boy. My family used to watch the movie around Easter time. So, I grew up with Ted Neeley singing it in my head. We weren't a theatrical family. We didn't go to a lot of shows. I grew up on the beach -- being from San Diego. But that music was in our living room quite a bit. So, that was my introduction to musical theater.

Q: And since then you've played the role of Jesus so many times all over the country, both regionally and on tour. Does it ever get boring for you?
A: No. Not at all. I think I credit that to the material. I love it. It's challenging, but not overwhelmingly taxing on you. It's challenging, but when you hear the first chord of the show, you just go, you know? No matter how tired or sick you might be on any night, you just go out and do it.

Q: While we're on the subject, what's the most challenging part of playing Jesus of Nazareth?
A: That's a very hard question! I don't really know what the answer is. I mean it's... Jesus, you know? It can be a very taxing role vocally, if you're under the weather. But if you're healthy and ready to go, it's probably the most fun show you can do. It's just so fun to do.

Q: What's your favorite song from the show?
A: (Pauses in thought, then starts to sing) "I think you've made your point now..." "Could We Start Again, Please" is my favorite. It's a great song. It's underrated. It's sort of the alternative to "I Don't Know How to Love Him."

Q: Your thoughts on this -- why do you think JCS is still relevant and presented today?
A: I think it's because it's the greatest story ever told. I think that's it, really. It's the story, then the music and the lyrics. You know, even if there's a bad production of it, you can still get some good out of it. (Laughs) It's sort of like pizza in a way.

Q: Have you been influenced by the performances of previous actors, or do you generally try more to make the role your own?
A: Oh, I stole a lot of things from Ted Neeley. (Laughs) And I told him that when I met him on tour when we were in Nashville, I think it was. He came to see us for a day or two. Wonderful man, as everyone who has met him knows. When you hear something like that when you're young and impressionable, you tend to imitate that or borrow things. The first time I did the role, I think I was 25 and in St. Louis. I was worried about the short rehearsal process. So, learning the music, I just imitated what I remembered hearing. Eventually, I would make things my own. It has since grown and evolved. But that was my base. I think I still use some phrasing and inflections based on him. Why not?

Q: Wonderful that you brought up the St. Louis production. As Barry Dennen told us in a previous interview, he actually directed you in that production. What was it like working with him as a director?
A: As a director, he had a very special perspective. (Laughs) Not just as a director or just a director, but the history he has with the piece, not to mention the great stories he would share with you. So, we had the benefit of a director with a personal history with the piece, rather than a director who had to go and research everything. I remember one thing: We were rehearsing in these outdoor pavilions. And we were rehearsing, and I'm doing this song, and a thunderstorm started up! And leaves were blowing everywhere, and I thought that was cool. But he's a wonderful man to work with. Later on, as you know, I got to actually share the stage with him. Now, he didn't play Pilate to my Jesus. Of course, he had played that part on stage, but that's another story.

Q: Of course, you also starred in a national tour of the show from 2003-05 that is very familiar to JCS fans all over the U.S. and Canada. You must have been very surprised to get called in to replace the name draw on the revival tour. Were you informed of any of the circumstances, and if so, can you share what you heard with us here?
A: Yeah. I had a history with those producers. I had actually gone and auditioned for it, so they knew me and I was very lucky. I was also a temporary replacement until they got another "name" person in the role. Eventually, it turned out to me keeping the role. They liked what I was doing. About the circumstances... no, I didn't know a lot about what was going on. Things happened so fast. I think I had only a few days to get packed and ready to go. I had four days of rehearsal. I flew into Baltimore for a few days of rehearsal, then I opened in Boston. You know, I know the show so well that it was just a matter of learning the blocking, and a lot of it is -- with Jesus -- you just stand around, and the apostles are around you, and they just kind of move you around. (Laughs)

Q: How structured was the tour? Some reports have it that Really Useful was very strict about how the show should be performed.
A: Yeah... okay... I learned it the original way, I guess, so I really didn't stray too much from that. That show had a few different things that were specifically written for that -- you know, the ending of "Gethsemane" is different; there are a few other things that were, quote, "updated"; but those were done when the New York show went out. The whole thing where it drops down in "Gethsemane," that was a change our musical director made in the tour, you know, the part where Jesus goes: (Sings, in Balsamo style) "Alright...! I'll die...!" The little drop out was made on that tour.

Q: You worked with a line of extremely talented people on that tour. Can you give us some of your impressions of your fellow cast members, with special attention, of course, paid to Carl Anderson, Barry Dennen, and Danny Zolli?
A: Danny and I worked together a couple of times before that. We'd done Superstar twice before this one, so we were so excited to see each other again. I was excited to hear him sing Judas again. That was cool! And, of course, Carl -- going eye-to-eye with him... it still doesn't seem real to me. Looking into his eyes every night was a big thrill. You know, being a fan of the movie, it was like, "Did I really do that?" (Laughs) He was just a wonderful man and actor. He really raised the bar on the show. Also, Lawrence Clayton was great when he came in. We'd also done the show together before. We had a nickname -- a sort of inside thing -- for the tour. We called it the Love Tour. It was one of those things with that group of people... especially on the road, so much drama can happen. But here it was a very loving group of people. It was a very special time.

Q: Now you had the advantage of working with three very different men as Judas. Playing against Danny, Lawrence, or Carl, did your approach to the role of Jesus ever change?
A: The way the show is written, the roles of Judas, Mary, and Jesus are pretty well set, but all three were very different in how they played the role. That's the great thing about acting is that you get to work off of what gets thrown at you and that's fun. Natalie Toro was Mary throughout the tour. Carl was very... fatherly to us, I suppose you could say. He was like our "papa" on the tour, you know? And there was the little spitfire, Danny Zolli. So yeah, it definitely was an effective group of people to work with.

Q: Of course, the tour had its dark days as well. Do you remember where you were when you got the news that Carl had passed away?
A: Yeah, we were in Seattle. I believe he was doing less and less shows each week. It was a tough loss. We were his last cast. He was very proud of that show. I'm sure he was that way in the others he did, but he was open arms with us, and well-being, and wonderful.

Q: At the risk of asking a very loaded question, which productions did you enjoy more -- regional or the tour? Did you feel you had more freedom in one than in the other?
A: Wow! That is a loaded question. I think the last one I did -- the Love Tour -- would be my favorite. That group of people! Amazing.

Q: Speaking of tours, on an off-topic note, you worked on the U.S. tour of Whistle Down the Wind. One of our moderators wants to know, did Jim Steinman ever show up? If so, did you meet him and can you tell us what that was like?
A: Oh yes. Yes. He came to Hartford and let us know he was out there, so that was exciting. He also came backstage. I had no idea what to expect. He looked like your typical artist slash rock star. Very eccentric and cool. He said that he enjoyed the show, you know, the whole "good job" stuff.

Q: Well, that about wraps it up. Thank you for talking to us.
A: Thank you, Andy. It was my pleasure. It was good to see you again! [Simpson, who has been lucky enough to befriend Barry Dennen, was privileged to meet Barry, Danny Zolli (who was filling in for Carl Anderson), and Eric Kunze in person backstage when the tour passed through Ontario in 2003.--ed.] Thanks for coming to the show last night, and I look forward to talking to you again. I look forward to seeing this on the website, too. I have to say, honestly, I haven't thought about the show for years now, so this is kind of a cool trip back. I hope to do it again at some point. As you know, the rights are tied up with Broadway.

Q: Have you seen the Broadway revival? (NOTE: This interview was conducted in early May 2012. At this point, the Tony Awards appearance and the show's closure were not on the cards.--ed.)
A: No. I was in New York recently, but I went to see Porgy and Bess. If it's there throughout the summer, I'll definitely go and see it.

Q: You know, it's funny you mention the rights being tied up. I recently came very close to directing a concert version of JCS in my hometown with the Mississippi MUDDS [a local theater troupe], but I couldn't find a producer, so I had to pull the plug.
A: Well Andy, there's still lots of time in your life. You'll do it.

Q: Well, when I do, I'll be sure to invite some of the wonderful people whom I've met through the show to come and see my production of it -- you know, as a "thank you."
A: Yes, that would be cool. Keep me posted!

Little Mermaid Video Montage

Posted by California Musical Theater:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Eric Answers Your Questions

(From Maggi) Thanks to everyone who submitted questions for Eric recently.  I will begin posting his answers as he gets to them.  Here are the ones we have so far (in the order they were received):

Questions Part I:

What do you do for fun when you are not working on a show?
I go boating and spend time in Palm Springs

Are you planning to do another CD? If so, when can we hope to see it? We are wearing out the last one.
Yes - its in the works!

Will it be a Christmas CD?
No, but maybe in the next year or two

Have you ever wanted to write a musical?
No - not my thing.... maybe if I had an amazing idea.

Out of all your shows, which is your favorite song, and why?
Dont have one!

Do you hear us screaming after you finish a song, or should we scream louder? :-)  Louder is always good. LOL No, I usually dont get to hear what is heard in the audience. But its nice to know you are out there!

I have tried to imagine what it's like to step out on stage and see a few thousand people waiting to hear you speak or sing. Could you describe what that feels like for you? Depends how prepared you are. The more prepared - the more fun and relaxed

When you perform in a small theater and the audience is close, is it hard to keep focused when someone is doing something distracting?
Yes - but its always good to keep us on our toes and concentrate

Questions Part II:

Are you and Gina (Feliccia) planning any more concerts together?
We are planning workshops, but no concerts at this time.

Have you ever considered doing Jekyl and Hyde? I think you'd be really great in the lead of that musical.
I'm not really familiar with it, but it is going on tour in the coming months with McCoy/Rigby productions starring Constantine Maroulis from American Idol. Its should be a great production.

You'd make a fabulous Phantom. Do you hope to do that someday?
Yes - I DO hope to play Phantom some day. Its in my 5 year plan  ;-)

Between shows, do you still vocalize every day at home to keep in practice?
No, i try to rest vocally when Im not working and gear up a few weeks before I have the next show.

How do you feel about fans waiting for you at the stage door after performances?
I think its great - I just feel bad when I cant spend as much time as I would like!

What role that you have not played would you like to play?
Billy in "Carousel" is on my list...

Would you like someone to create an original musical theater role for you and what kind of role would you like it to be? That is in the works - its called "Brindlebeast" and its in the next phase of its development. More to come...

If you were not a performer, would you ever want to do a behind-the-scenes job--such as directing?
I have directed two pieces and it was very enjoyable. I like working with actors on that level as well as the technical aspect of putting together a show.

Where would you love to perform that you have not already been to?
Anywhere in Europe!!

What is your favorite food? Drink?
I have too many favorites - but I love Japanese food

What is the most unique and/or beautiful venue where you have performed?
The St Louis FOX theater is amazing, as well as The Kennedy Center in DC with Miss Saigon when I first joined the tour.

Where is your favorite place in the world?
St Barths Caribbean Island

When did you realize that you wanted to make singing/acting your career? Are you surprised at your success?
My senior year of High School. I'm constantly surprised and grateful to be working.

How do you keep balanced/grounded with all of your fame and success?
Easy - I don't have fame, and I have some success. ;-)

Will you be making more CDs??
(YES!! YES!!! YES!!!!)

What are some of your passions?
Architecture and the art of Real Estate

Do you ever get tired of doing the same show over and over again? How do you keep it fresh each night?
No - the pieces that I get to repeat often are ones that are GREAT pieces and very gratifying to do. I'm lucky that way.

Which role has been the most difficult for you to find access to or to play and why?
That would be "Whistle Down The Wind".  The character of The Man is very tormented, mysterious to the audience, and under extreme circumstances -personally, mentally and physically. (sounds like the "other" Jesus character)  ;-)
He only interacts with one character in the show, and that relationship is very delicate and complex. It was a very challenging, but ultimately rewarding piece on all levels - typical of Andrew Lloyd Weber!

Monday, July 9, 2012