Monthly Archives: February 2016

Meet the Magical Man of Invention — Kevin James, The Inventor

By Evan Henerson

He may share his name with a certain film and TV sitcom star, but Kevin James the illusionist would hardly content himself with being a mere King of Queens. Not when the whole world is his playground.

Sporting colorful Yoko Ono glasses and with a goatee and mustache that call to mind a cleaned up Colonel Sanders, James is a member of The Illusionists. Eight shows a week, the man whose alter ego is The Inventor takes the stage and saws people in half.

Let me repeat that. Kevin James saws people in half…with a chain saw…in full view of an audience. “The operation,” as it is called, is but one of the many macabre feats made famous by the Inventor whose website holds plaudits from celebrities ranging from Nicolas Cage to Barack Obama to Woody Allen.

Kevin James, The Inventor. "Operation"

Kevin James, The Inventor. “Operation”

“With knowledge comes great responsibility,” James says with a soft laugh. “That feeling is very elusive to me these days. So when I get fooled by a trick or routine or a method or just some piece of magic that just amazes me, I cherish it. Because that’s the feeling that I remember.”

James was born in France, the son of a U.S. Air Force helicopter and jet pilot. He initially held dual citizenship, but when Charles de Gaule declared that all French citizens could be drafted into the foreign legion, James’s mother said, “you can have that one back.”

As is the case with many future magicians, James got the magic spark when he was a kid growing up in a small town in southern Michigan. The library in Jonesville (population about 2,000) had six books on magic which James checked out repeatedly. An hour away, in the town of Colon sat Abbott’s Magic Company which, every year, would hold a week long magic convention out in the cornfields.

While his parents would camp, James would spend the day developing what would become his future profession. In fact, fellow Illusionists cast member Jeff Hobson (AKA The Trickster) was a fellow attendee when both he and James were in their teens.

“There were no hotels out in the middle of cornfields, so you either had to camp and go in or stay and rent a room in somebody’s house,” James said of the Abbott’s Magic Get-Together. “It’s not a big city convention. It’s a down home great magic convention and they hired big stars to come perform and do seminars.”

“That was a great place for me,” he continued. “Once a year I saved up and spent a week there, and I made lifelong friends.  You could buy books, videos and all your supplies. That was kind of the foundation of my upbringing in magic.”

Kevin James, The Inventor.

Kevin James, The Inventor.

James moved to California in the early 1980s, joining the Long Beach Mystics where he continued to hone his performance. He eventually become a junior at the Magic Castle, earning honors such as Parlour Magician of the Year and Stage Magician of the Year.

According to James, Southern California was the “magic capital of the world” during the 10 years he lived in Anaheim. But as a small prestidigitating fish in a large pond, James knew he needed to be unique.

He draws the comparison to an aspiring rock star arriving on the scene and unleashing a killer rendition of a Stevie Wonder hit. The tune may sound great, but where does it get you?

“You’re not starting at a very high level. Stevie Wonder wrote that song already,” James said. “Now you have to write the song and perform it great. I worked really hard trying to do something that other people were not doing, trying to be as original as possible. Sometimes it’s not so easy. It’s extra work, but I think it’s worth every minute of it.”

Ultimately James went back to France where he performed on the variety show “Sebastian C’est Foux” and as a headliner at the Crazy Horse in Paris. He spent three more years in Korea and moved back to Las Vegas where he is currently based.

Not that he’s home much these days. Since joining The Illusionists, James has traveled to Sydney Australia, to Broadway to London’s West End and across North America, breaking box office records at every stop. When he joined the company, James developed and embraced a new professional identity: the Inventor was born.

Kevin James, The Inventor, on the red carpet. Credit: Chelsea Lauren

Kevin James, The Inventor, on the red carpet. Credit: Chelsea Lauren

“Our producer, Simon Painter asked us all to find a moniker that we could use in the show and hook our specialty onto,” James said. “He said, ‘try to imagine if you were a superhero, who would you be? What would your power be?’ I decided the Inventor would be a nice big playground to play in and not box me in too much.”

“We look like The Avengers,” he continued. “Everyone has their unique style, their unique specialty, and that’s another thing that makes the show delightful. Instead of one person performing for two hours with the same point of view, the same voice, here if you don’t like something, three minutes later there’s going to be something you’re going to like.”

James has spent enough time with his fellow Aveng…er…Illusionists that he knows many of their secrets, just as they know his. But he says one of the great secrets to magic is knowing the secrets is beside the point.

“Penn and Teller will show you how something’s done and then immediately fool you with the same method a second later because they’re that good,” James said. “The most amazing parts are all the little details for the artistic interpretation of an effect. The trick doesn’t really matter. The secret doesn’t matter. What are you going to wear? What’s your music going to be? What’s your lighting going to be? What’s your dialog going to be? Where are you going to pause for that dramatic tension? How long does that pause have to be? All those minute little details make a piece great.”

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Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

P. Swayze

If you have been to a performance of Dirty Dancing over the last three weeks you may have noticed a familiar face in the lobby. On loan from Madame Tussauds Hollywood, the Patrick Swayze wax figure draws a huge crowd, giving patrons the opportunity to share that magical moment on the log. See some of our favorite photos and some interesting facts about the Madame Tussauds wax figures below.

Did You Know?

  •  Each strand of hair is inserted individually, taking approximately five weeks to complete each head.
  •  Two maintenance teams inspect and primp each figure daily before the attraction opens.
  • To add authenticity to the figures at Madame Tussauds, many artifacts have been donated from the celebrity or purchased from auctions.
  •  All figures have their hair washed and make-up retouched regularly.
  •  From the first private sitting with a celebrity to completion, it takes approximately four months to create a figure. 
  • More than 250 precise measurements and photographs of a subject are taken to accurately create a wax figure.
  • If the subject is unavailable for these measurements and photographs, Madame Tussauds studio artists study hundreds of photos and watch hours of video to create the figure.
  •  All celebrities’ vital statistics are kept confidential – despite repeated requests from the public and media. 
  • Because wax shrinks, wax figures are made two percent larger than the real life subjects they portray. 
  • Red silk thread is used to create the veins on each eyeball.
  •  Knotted rope is used to create the look of veins on the bodies.
  •  Each figure costs approximately $125,000 to make.

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For more information about Madame Tussauds CLICK HERE

Hollywood History, On Hollywood’s Biggest Night

By Alyssa Appleton

Living in Los Angeles, the hotbed of the entertainment industry, one cannot make it through the beginning of the year without being privy to multiple conversations about The Golden Globes®, The SAG Awards®, The Critics’ Choice Awards®…and the one night often thought to be at the pinnacle, The Academy Awards®. For a number of months, the entertainment industry buckles down and three words are uttered over and over again: FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION. And whether the murmurs on Hollywood’s lips are regarding the significant, continual lack of diversity in the Oscars® race, to Jennifer Lawrence’s newest role, to who’s-wearing-whom, the conversations are always surrounding one topic: Award Season.

The 1954 Academy Awards® Presentations. George Silk/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images

The 1954 Academy Awards® Presentations. George Silk/The Life Picture Collection/Getty Images.

If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Hollywood Pantages, you may be asking yourself why this live theatre has a blog post up about the film industry’s biggest time of the year. But this theatre was not always a stage for touring Broadway shows and live events. The Hollywood Pantages was once both a Vaudeville house and a movie theater—one of the most popular in all of Hollywood—showing the hottest films, sometimes with live orchestras, to eager, excited audiences. And since the Oscars® are mere weeks away, a little history about the Awards in relation to our wonderful 2703 seemed fitting.

In the early 1950s, the Academy Awards® decided to call the Hollywood Pantages home. Yes, for nearly a decade, Oscar® knew the Hollywood Pantages as his inner sanctum. On March 19, 1953, when the Awards turned a quarter of a century old, they were televised for the first time. Cecil B. DeMille took home the Oscar® that night not only for best film of the year (The Greatest Show on Earth), but also the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Award. The following year, From Here to Eternity swept with eight awards, including one for its Best Supporting Actor, the incomparable Frank Sinatra. Yul Brynner was awarded for The King and I in 1957, a story well-loved both by film and stage audiences. The Hollywood Pantages will have the pleasure of hosting the Lincoln Center Theater’s production of The King and I in our upcoming season.

Clark Gable and Grace Kelly during the 1954 Academy Awards®.

Clark Gable and Grace Kelly during the 1954 Academy Awards®.

Just like people crowd the Kodak Theatre today on the afternoon of the Academy Awards®, thousands of people surrounded the Hollywood Pantages on “The Biggest Night in Hollywood,” hoping to catch a glimpse of Clark Gable, Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and many more beloved celebrities of the time.

Glistening gowns, handsome tuxes, the echo of heels, the clamor of fans, the whispers of filmmakers…the Hollywood Pantages has seen it all. And oh, if that marquee could tell us the stories of what it is she’s seen.

Backstage at the first televised Academy Awards® in 1953.

Backstage at the first televised Academy Awards® in 1953.

 

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things in nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: www.twitter.com/alyssaappleton.

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things in nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

Dance Pro Alex Scolari Plays Her Lisa Card

By Evan Henerson

How much talent does one have to possess to convincingly pull off a talentless performer? Why not ask a young lady who has been dancing since the age of 5 and who nabbed her first national tour mere weeks after her graduation from the University of Michigan, the ink barely dry on her BFA in musical theater.

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Christopher Tierney (Johnny), Jenny Winton (Penny) and the company of the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

 

As fate – and a little irony – would have it, that first role for Los Angeles native Alex Scolari is Lisa Houseman in the national tour of “Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage.” The sister to “Dancing” heroine Frances “Baby” Houseman, Lisa is fashion conscious and very much thinking about husbands and children unlike her more rebellious and politically minded sister, Baby. Baby’s got moves while Lisa is no star-in-the-making as her talent show audition piece “Hula Hana” rather demonstrably proves.

So while she didn’t have to exactly un-learn her years of training, the Sherman Oaks native needed to expertly portray ineptness.

“People who weren’t trained as dancers when they were kids didn’t have ballet teachers telling them, ‘suck in your stomach, hold your abs,’ muses Scolari. “When I first got [to rehearsals], I had to work really hard with the associate choreographer. They kept telling me ‘You look like a good dancer who is dancing bad. You just have to naturally be this bad, kooky dancer because we won’t buy it unless it’s very genuine.’ I was dancing badly on the beat, and Lisa wouldn’t necessarily be on the beat. She’s slightly off with everything she does.”

“For everyone who has ever played Lisa…I think people underestimate that character because she is supposed to be bad,” she continues. “If you’re an audience member and you don’t know much about musical theater, you walk away thinking the performer is bad. I’ve sung everything from ‘Oklahoma!’ to ‘Next to Normal’ to a wide range of everything. It’s really challenging having to kind of throw all that to the side.”

Talking to Scolari, you get the sense the actress is ever-so-slightly defending a character that she has come to love, a character she has been living with for eight performances a week in theaters all over the country and in Canada since last summer. But whatever their opinions of Lisa Houseman – and to use a couple of “Dirty Dancing’s” most quotable catch phrases – nobody is putting Alex Scolari in a corner. She’s having…wait for it…the time of her life.

Scolari is especially jazzed at being back in her neighborhood during “Dirty Dancing’s” three week engagement at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre where friends, family and teachers aplenty will get to see her work.

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Christopher Tierney (Johnny) and the company of the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy

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“When I first booked the tour and I looked at the schedule, I saw the Pantages for three weeks and I screamed,” says Scolari. “I grew up going to the Pantages. I even saw the first tour of ‘Dirty Dancing’ at the Pantages when I was 14. For an L.A. girl to be able to perform on that stage in front of an audience is really going to be crazy for me.”

Scolari certainly knows the neighborhood. She trained in ballet, hip hop and modern dance at the Millennium Jr. Company in North Hollywood as well as with EDGE and Visions Dance Company. The dance training soon led to musical theater, and Scolari estimates that she has performed in easily 25 musicals in school and community theaters.

Her first professional gig was also the experience that cemented Scolari’s desire to pursue this profession. In 2007, Scolari was cast in the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown’s musical “13” at the Mark Taper Forum, joining a company of performers all of whom were 12 or in their very early teens.

An 8th grader at the time, Scolari temporarily left school to do the run of the play. She received tutoring and packets of homework and would work into the night rehearsing a brand new musical by the Tony Award-winning composer, Brown.

Scolari was cast as a swing, requiring her to learn and be able to cover the dancing, dialog, songs and harmonies of two ensemble members. She also understudied the lead role of Kendra meaning she had to learn that character’s role and songs. The experience was new, the work was demanding and Scolari, who was getting an education in the art of “swing-dom” was in paradise.

“I had never worked in my life. I was 12 at the time like the kids in the show were supposed to be,” Scolari recalls. “Every single day going to work, it wasn’t a chore. To this day, it was literally one of the best experiences of my life.”

“That was really when I realized, oh my god I actually want to do this,” she continues. “I started looking into this. I talked to my mom and I realized you could actually study this in school — go to school for musical theater. That experience is what made me realize I have to do this with my life, and I haven’t stopped since then.”

By the time “13” was gearing up for its 2008-09 Broadway run, Scolari – like all of her Taper cast mates – had aged out of eligibility to do the new production. In her junior year at the Buckley School, Scolari started investigating musical theater programs, a process that would involve submitting auditions as well as applications. Scolari applied to 25 programs with the school of Music, Theatre and Dance at the University of Michigan topping the list as her dream School.

Scolari was accepted to Michigan, and headed off to Ann Arbor. During her time in the program under Musical Theater Chair Brent Wagner, Scolari had roles in productions ranging from “Crazy for You,” “Hairspray,” “Into the Woods”, to “Cabaret.” She also spent a portion of her junior year in London studying Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA).

At the end of their senior year, Scolari’s class took their solo showcases to New York for auditions. Scolari, who had been apartment hunting with the intention of moving to New York, booked “Dirty Dancing” and quickly packed a suitcase. After a brief sojourn back in Los Angeles, she joined the company in Dallas for rehearsals and opened as Lisa in Fort Worth in June of 2015. Then she went on to Las Vegas, and a month-long break before picking up the tour again in Chicago.

Road life agrees with Scolari who finds that even during one week sit downs, she is able to catch up with friends in places as varied as Omaha, Nebraska or Nashville, Tennessee. She has been all over Canada and visited Mt. Rushmore during the stay in South Dakota.

Everywhere she journeys, Scolari seeks out a hot yoga class and dining options to suit her vegetarian lifestyle. In addition to their suitcases, company members are given a trunk which stays in the theater in which they can carry special belongings. Scolari’s invariably contains her other “obsession”: candles.

“Sometimes I’m living out of my suitcase,” she says. “Unlike being in a Broadway show, we still have eight performances a week except Monday which is the day we’re traveling. It can definitely be exhausting and hard on the body, but in my opinion, it’s the best job in the world getting to do what you love and also seeing the country.”

For the next three weeks, Scolari can unpack her suitcase. She’ll be rooming once again with her mother Kim who helps broker private jet flights for celebrity clients. Having grown up as the only child in a single parent household, Scolari says she and her mother are “the L.A. version of ‘The Gilmore Girls.’”

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Adam Roberts, Rashaan James II, Gary Lynch (Max) and Christopher Tierney (Johnny) in the North American tour of DIRTY DANCING – THE CLASSIC STORY ON STAGE. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Back in front of her hometown instructors and friends, Scolari – as Lisa – will be hiding her talent and demonstrate just how, er, clunky and kooky she can be. So if you find yourself cringing during the rendering of that goofy “Hula Hana,” that means Scolari is doing her job.

“Once I put the costume on and the wig and her heels which are already a little wobbly, it’s incredible how much that helps,” Scolari says. “I felt like I was transformed into Lisa, and stepping into her shoes literally because they’re these little clunky heels, it just did the trick for sure.”

 

For tickets to Dirty Dancing visit: www.hollywoodpantages.com/dirtydancing

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Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.