Greetings from The Pasadena Playhouse – Dressing Room 3

by Loren Lester on February 4, 2013

Pasadena-Playhouse-Courtyard

I grew up in Glendale and graduated from nearby Occidental College. In between is the historic Pasadena Playhouse, and it’s always been my dream to work there. Or should I say, work here.

I’ve just opened in Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels, running now through February 24th.

Loren-Lester-in-Fallen-Angels

This a “rarely seen” Noel Coward play that was described by the critics when it debuted as “a disgusting sex romp… about two suburban sluts.” No spoiler alert here – that’s all I’m going to say.

We’ve been named “Critic’s Choice” with a rave review in the Los Angeles Times.

(In addition, here’s a  nice article about the show in the LA Stage Times.)

Sheldon Epps, the artistic director of The Pasadena Playhouse, as well as his incredible staff and crew, go out of their way to make this one of the best places for theatre professionals to thrive. I’m having an absolutely wonderful time working with director Art Manke and hilarious cast-mates Mary Pat GreenPamela GrayKatie MacNichol, Mike Ryan and Elijah Alexander.

Mike Ryan, Art Manke, Loren Lester

To get into character (I play “Willy”) and into the mood and style of the show, I went back through and re-read just about all of Mr. Coward’s plays and rediscovered what an absolute comic genius he was. I also loved listening to a lot of his compositions – specifically, a wonderful album of his songs sung by my friend Christine Ebersole.

You may already be familiar with Coward’s masterpieces – Private Lives and Blithe Spirit, but he wrote many other plays, a number of which are worth reviving (like Fallen Angels!) I also recommend Relative ValuesNude with ViolinSuite in Three Keys and Tonight at 8:30.

One more note about working at The Pasadena Playhouse being “a dream come true”: my father was an actor in the 1950’s and my mother recently told me, after I’d been cast, that it was his dream to work here, too.

I’ve hung up his picture, and we’re sharing Dressing Room #3.

Dad and I, dressing room 3

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Onstage with a comedy legend – Jack Carter

by Loren Lester on September 24, 2012

That’s Entertainment!

When I was growing up there was a rare breed of performer who could go onstage, “kill” with some jokes, do a few impersonations and finish with a song and dance – then go to his or her dressing room, take a hot shower, put on a white terrycloth robe and have a little something “on the rocks” until the next show.  That’s Entertainment!  Or rather, it used to be. And not just in Vegas, but in nightclubs all around the world, like the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles.

Well, I had the pleasure this last weekend of working with just such an entertainer from my youth – the legendary Jack Carter.  For those too young (or too old) to remember him, here’s a CLIP  from a routine he did with another legend.  You may remember her – she became very famous after she changed her name from Frances Gumm.

I had the privilege of working with Jack and my dear friend actor Stephen Macht (who directed) in a playreading this last weekend of a rediscovered gem from Oscar-winning writer Paddy Chayefsky, called HOLIDAY SONG.  The play (actually an early teleplay adapted for the stage) is about a cantor who loses his faith in G-d on the eve of the holiest of holidays. (The cantor was played beautifully by Barry Gordon.)  Jack Carter, of course, was the comic relief in this story and he can still deliver the funny “like nobody’s business.” In fact, during rehearsals, Jack spoke up a couple of times to make suggestions –  “You know it would be funnier if…” – and he was exactly right each time.  And of course, he did a fantastic 5 minute “set” after the playreading and “brought down the house” (as they used to say.)

Playreadings almost never get reviewed but a member of the audience was inspired enough to write one.  Also in the wonderful cast: Bruck Nozick, Edith Fields, Jessica Blair Herman, Howard Krupnick, Jesse Macht, Monica Piper, Nolan Porter, Arnold Wise, and my frequent co-star on stage (and constant co-star in life) Kelly Lester.

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How Honda and I Surprised Monsters Calling Home

by Loren Lester on September 21, 2012

You’ve been “Punk’d”

They had no idea what was coming and the ad agency paced around the room, worried.  Unlike a regular commercial, where the creatives have total control over the final product, they weren’t certain how this one was going to turn out – it was a big, expensive practical joke, but if it worked, they’d have a golden chance at going viral.

A terrific, albeit unknown band, Monsters Calling Home, had recorded their song “Fight to Keep” while driving around in a Honda and put a music video about it on youtube.  Although the video didn’t have that many hits, through the wonders of the internet, Honda discovered it and together with their ad agency, Rubin Postaer, they hatched a scheme: they would give the band their big break.

They would pretend that Honda was inviting them to perform for Honda executives at a hotel ballroom in Hollywood (which happens to be across the street from  Jimmy Kimmel Live! which was the REAL destination for the band.)  Here’s where I came in – (literally).

My part

I was to play the embarrassed Honda executive who had to convince the band that the day was a disaster – that they were only going to perform for a handful of people, and not the 600 Honda executives they had been promised, and then announce to them that it was all a big joke and that they were actually booked as the musical guests on a national TV show. I loved the whole scenario because I love improv situations. Winning roles these days is more and more dependent on ad-libbing, and two of my favorite roles – Curb Your Enthusiasm and Final Witness were completely improvised. Although there was a script, I improv’d my way through two auditions to get this role, so I was looking forward to the real thing. You can see the results below – it’s funny and also very touching.  The band members are nice, good natured and TALENTED – and deserve all the success they’re now enjoying.  The video has already gotten over 1.3 million views and it was named “Ad of the Day” by AdWeek and became a featured story on The Huffington Post.

Here’s how it all played out. Grab a tissue.

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Starring in a true story – Final Witness – ABC

by Loren Lester on August 1, 2012

Loren Lester starring in Final Witness

So I’m standing on a bridge in St. Petersburg, Russia – the camera is rolling,  it’s about 30 degrees, we’re losing the light, my frozen co-star and I are improvising dialogue for a new plot point that was just added to the script, and the director has a death grip on my jacket sleeve to keep it out of the shot (it’s a tight close-up)…oh, and by the way –  it’s a love scene.

And by the way….I’m having the time of my life.

Click the pic below to watch the full episode:

Loren Lester in final_witness_episode_link

Working on FINAL WITNESS was one of my favorite jobs (ever.)   There were a lot of firsts for me:

  • First time playing a real-life character in a true story (I play convicted murderer Hans Reiser)
  • First time playing the bad guy (the many lawyers I’ve played don’t count)
  • First time shooting in Russia (first time out of the country, as a matter of fact)
  • First time that I can say I’m starring in a network TV show (not just as a guest)

And first audition via Skype! The talented team of Director Rudy Bednar and Producer Lee Beckett work for ABC in New York, so I did my audition and callback “long distance” in the office of casting director Scott David, improvising dialogue with the lovely Zuzana Lova who would also win the role of my wife.

This was the first time, also, that I had to do a lot of research before the audition and then a lot more leading up to the shoot (videos, audio files, court transcripts, etc.)

A silent film with sound

The style of shooting was a first for me, too, and was especially meaningful because I’ve always been a huge silent film fan (wayyyyy before The Artist won the Oscar.)  We shot mostly “on the fly”, the way they did back in the silent days (though we had sound, of course), shooting multiple scenes with quick set-ups on sidewalks, in streets, on bridges, in doorways – the actual real-life locations where the story took place (St. Petersburg, Russia where the couple met and Berkeley, California, where they lived afterward, and where the tragedy took place.)

Everything worked out beautifully in all the locations, even in Hermitage Square where our papers were examined by an army of armed soldiers.

It’s an anthology series and I’ve been watching the other episodes which have already aired – the photography and editing is just something you don’t see in most shows: a stylish hybrid of drama, documentary and cinema verite.

Credit goes to an incredible crew, one of the best I’ve ever worked with.

Oh and one more “first” – this is my first blog post.

Leave me a comment after you’ve seen the show – I’d love to know your thoughts.

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