Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Conversation with Johanna Carlisle about her upcoming cabaret show "I Hate Musicals"

by Gil Benbrook

Johanna Carlisle is a well-known staple on stages in Phoenix. She's appeared in dozens of shows across the Valley - musicals, comedies and dramas - including last season delivering a stellar portrayal of Diane in Nearly Naked Theatre's Next to Normal. She's won accolades, awards and glowing notices and just finished appearing as the Widow Corney in Oliver! at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

But this coming Friday she is doing something she's never done before, headlining her first every one woman cabaret show entitled "I Hate Musicals - an Evening of Song with Johanna Carlisle," with Jeff Kennedy as her musical director and accompanist.

This special event is a fundraiser for Light Walker Theatrical, a live event services company founded last year by Justyn Walker and Colin Carter. These two Phoenix based theatre technicians decided to combine their skills, and years of experience between them, in order to better partner with local artists and theatre companies to bring new works and provocative content to the stage. Light Walker has worked with several companies in town and will be back on stage in September, designing  a show around a previously derogatory word.

Carlisle was thrilled to help Light Walker with their fund raising event and she sat down to answer some questions about her concert and her career.

First let’s get the facts straight on the title of your upcoming cabaret. “I Hate Musicals” is a comic song from the musical Ruthless and clearly not the way you feel, right?  I know you sang that song when you appeared in that show at Phoenix Theatre but what made you go with such an ironic title for your solo cabaret show?

"Clearly I love Musicals, and yes that is Lita Encore's song from Ruthless.  I got to play her in 2013 when Ruthless was the grand opening show for Phoenix Theatre's Hormel Theatre! The beauty of that song is the irony in it.  The last thing I hate are musicals!  As for the naming of the show, the actual messenger conversation between Justyn and I went like this:

Justyn -
What about "I got Rhythm"
Oh wait I've got it, " let me sing and I'm happy"

Johanna -
Still not quite right.

Justyn -

Johanna -
"I Hate Musicals an evening of song with Johanna Carlisle"

Justyn -

Johanna -
It just hit me

Justyn -
lol I like it

How did this cabaret come about? 

"Justyn and Colin approached me to see if I would be interested in helping them raise money for their new theatre.  I was so happy to help out!  They know I am working with Michael Barnard and Jeff Kennedy on an Ethel Merman cabaret.  I told them that was not ready yet but I could put something together just for them and here we are!"

I know this show is a kick off for the new theatre company, Light Walker Theatrical, have you worked with Justyn Walker, the co-founder of the company, before?  

Justyn and I worked together at Phoenix Theatre when he was an intern there.

Is this concert more a review of songs you’ve performed in shows in the past, sorta a journey through the roles you’ve played in your career, or songs from shows you’d like to appear in? 

It's a small look at my past and a glimpse at what my next cabaret will feature.  I have had an amazing career over the past 40+ years so do to a full journey would be far too long of a show.  Ha!  I would have loved to have done songs I would like to sing in the future but since I was putting this together while also performing in two shows, Oliver! and Cinderella Cinderella (both at ABT), I felt it was better to not try and learn too much new stuff.

as Miss Hannigan with Gabby Vatistas
in Annie
photo courtesy Arizona Broadway Theatre
What are some of the songs we can expect to hear you sing?

I have a nice mix of what I call my "hits" from Annie, In The HeightsToxic Avenger, etc and then great tunes from Gershwin, Porter and Berlin.  I don't want to give away the songs. <wink>  Sorry the Toxic song is not my Act 1 finale.  Too hard to do without costumes and set!

What do you like most about performing this sort of music in front of a live audience, where you are basically playing yourself, and not a character?

This is my first time doing a full cabaret.  I'll be able to answer this better after the show!  I do think the characters still shine through when I sing.  It's hard to not let them come through.

A year ago at this time you were playing Diane in Next to Normal at Nearly Naked Theatre. You’d go on to win an ariZoni award for your performance. Earlier in that season you played the dual role of the wicked Mayor and the lovable mom in The Toxic Avenger at Phoenix Theatre, which also won you a Zoni. Those are very different women which you played expertly, which shows how adept you are in playing both comic and dramatic parts. How difficult is it to go from comedy to drama and back again, and do you prefer one over the other? 

 I do not prefer one over the other although I am mostly cast in comedy roles. Robrt Pela has often referred to me as a young Kaye Ballard, although I bet now he might not use the word young.  Comedy roles are more common in musical theatre for character actors like me however when I am given the opportunity to do drama, I am all over it.  Some of my favourite roles have been dramatic ones.  I also flip flop between musicals and plays because I love both so much!!

in In The Heights - Phoenix Theatre
photo by Reg Madison Photography
You’ve appeared in dozens of shows across the Valley, regularly working at both Phoenix Theatre and Arizona Broadway Theatre, in both lead roles and supporting parts. What were some of your favorite roles you’ve played? 

"In no particular order:
Abuela Claudia in In The Heights (Phoenix Theatre)
Mary in The Whale (Stray Cat Theatre)
Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers (Nearly Naked Theatre)
Madam Thernardier in Les Miserables (Az Broadway Theatre)
Sarraghina in Nine (PT)
Diana in Next To Normal (NNT)
Mary/Calcetina in Learn to be Latina (SCT)
Miss Hannigan in Annie (ABT)
Miss Andrew in Mary Poppins (PT)
I need to stop before I list most of my resume!  HAHA!"

And dream roles you still wish to play one day? 

I would love to be Audrey II, Mrs Lovett, Margaret White, Dolly Levi, The Duchess in Nice Work, oh and would someone produce American Psycho so I can be Patrick's mom?  Please and Thank you!

"I Hate Musicals" plays on Friday, June 2, 2017, 7:30 pm at the Tempe Center for the Arts Studio, CLICK HERE to order tickets now!

1 comment:

  1. I would love to see you as Mrs. Lovett Johanna! I think the production can be done here as it is in NY right now... with a small cast in an old restaurant in downtown where the action is all around you. Halloween time
    Would be perfect - I would love to brainstorm with someone about that and share the experience I had in NY. Congrats on your show and your generousity supporting other artists - I wish I was in town this weekend!