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Actor Stephen Wallem (Nurse Jackie) discusses playing the lead in the world premiere of Simpsons producer Mike Reiss’ new musical at Ivoryton Playhouse.
Simpsons’ television writer and producer Mike Reiss is back in Ivoryton with his hilarious world premiere! Mix an LA earthquake with a little Sigmund Freud and some nifty dance moves and set it to songs you know and love and you’ve got a musical like nothing you’ve ever seen before!
Will Clark (Jesus/Dad) is delighted to be making his Ivoryton Playhouse debut. Originally hailing from South Eastern Connecticut, Will is a New York based film and theater actor. Will is a Resident Artist and Associate Artistic Director of The CRY HAVOC Company, a new play development company based in Manhattan. With CRY HAVOC, will has taken part in the development of over 150 new plays, musicals, and screen plays, and has performed in dozens of CRY HAVOC’s readings and productions, including his performance in Sabbatical for the Lincoln Center Originals series. Other recent stage credits include Three Sisters (Gowanus Arts), realer than that (CRY HAVOC), Wish You Were Here, My Love (Planet Connections Festival), Ectospasms (New York Fringe), and AVoid2Remembr (Interrobang Festival).
R. Bruce Connelly* (Lee) in his career has worked in burlesque, vaudeville, television, movies, drama, pantomime and musical comedy. Among the roles he has played are J.M. Barrie, P.T. Barnum, Max Bialystock, Max Prince, Paddy Bell, Felix Unger, Pseudolus, Willie Clark, Sheridan Whiteside, Uncle Vanya, Murray Burns, Dr. Einstein, Dr, John Watson, Andrew Wyke, Finian McLonergan, Harold Hill, Guildenstern, Trinculo, Bottom, Puck, Feste, Scapino, Roger Sherman, Snoopy, Barkley, Barney Cashman, the Stage Manager, the Man Going Back, the Reverend Crisparkle, the Reverend Mother, the Mule of La Mancha, eight roles in The Matchmaker, ten roles in Greater Tuna, the Devil, Adam, Jesus, and the Man who played God, George Burns.
Sam Given* (Jerome) is thrilled to perform with Ivoryton Playhouse this season. He’s also currently playing Ziggy Stardust in Rebel Rebel: The Many Lives of David Bowie in Concert all over the country. Past credits include Home Street Home (Jeff Marx/Fat Mike), Rent (Hollywood Bowl), Moses in Egypt (New York City Opera), and Born Blue (dir. Anthony Rapp). Thanks to his husband, Nick!
Amanda Huxtable* (Diane/Brie/Virgin Mary/Mom) was born and raised in Canada, now lives in NYC, and is absolutely delighted to make her Ivoryton debut in gorgeous Connecticut! OFF BROADWAY: Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man, Bunnicula, It’s Just Sex. FAVORITE REGIONAL: Last of the Red Hot Lovers (Bobbi) and The Full Monty (Vicki) at New Harmony Theatre; Motherhood the Musical at Trinity Rep; The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Drood) and You Can’t Take It With You (Essie) at The Barnstormers Theatre; Boeing Boeing (Gretchen) at Greenbrier Valley Theatre; Don’t Dress for Dinner (Suzanne) at Lake Dillon Theatre. BFA in Musical Theatre from Otterbein University. Gratitude and love to my family, Wolf Talent Group, Moo, my new family here at Ivoryton Playhouse, and to my world: Jordan. www.AmandaHuxtable.com
Ryan Knowles* (Devil) As a lifelong “Simpsons” fanatic, Ryan is stoked to be part of this amazing team. On stage, Ryan originated the role of Buddy in the North American tour of We Will Rock You, the Queen musical. Other Tours include How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Todrick Hall’s OZ: The Musical. He has performed with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Off-Broadway shows include NEWSical The Musical, What Do Critics Know?, Caligula Maximus, Tempest: The Musical, and Fools In Love. Most recently, Ryan originated the role of Mister in For The Record’s newest live immersive theatrical event The Brat Pack. On TV, he was the host of Nickelodeon’s daily live program Me:TV. Best of all, Ryan recently got married to his amazing wife, Bogi. He’s a very lucky guy.
Stephen Wallem* (Alvin) is a SAG Award-nominated actor best known as Thor Lundgren for seven seasons on the Emmy-winning Showtime series Nurse Jackie. He worked as a stage actor and After Dark Award-winning cabaret singer in Chicago before moving to New York to make his television debut on Nurse Jackie. Other television appearances include Randall on Louis CK’s surprise limited series Horace and Pete and Chad on Difficult People. He was recently seen as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz at The Muny in St. Louis, following appearances there as Horton the Elephant in Seussical and Shrek in Shrek the Musical. At the Williamstown Theater Festival, he appeared in the world premiere of Craig Carnelia’s Poster Boy. He made his professional opera debut in New York City Opera’s Anna Nicole. Manhattan theater and cabaret credits include A Burly Night Music at Birdland, Off the Wallem at Don’t Tell Mama, the Sondheim, Unplugged series at 54 Below and playing Hazel in the Encores! production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream at New York City Center. His performance in Bedroom Secrets earned him the 2014 FringeNYC Overall Excellence in Acting Award. He also teamed with Edie Falco for a sold-out run of the original cabaret The Other Steve and Edie at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Chicago Cabaret Professionals named Stephen their National Honoree for 2014. National tours include Forever Plaid, Into the Woods, and Scrooge starring Richard Chamberlain. Stephen has accrued nearly 2500 performances as both Jinx and Sparky in various companies of Forever Plaid including Chicago (Royal George Cabaret), Las Vegas, (Flamingo Hilton and Gold Coast Hotel), Denver Center for Performing Arts, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and the first national tour. He portrayed Judas/Padre in Court Theatre’s acclaimed production of Man of La Mancha (Joseph Jefferson Award, After Dark Award) and reprised his performance at Long Wharf Theatre. At the Ravinia Festival, he appeared with Patti LuPone, Audra McDonald, and Michael Cerveris in A Little Night Music, Passion, and Sunday in the Park with George.
Director: James Valletti
Musical Director: Michael Morris
Stage Manager: James Joseph Clark*
Scenic Designer: Daniel Nischan
Lighting Designer: Marcus Abbott
Sound Designer: Tate R. Burmeister
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Cipollina
* member of Actors Equity
Michael “Mike” L. Reiss is an American television comedy writer. He served as a show-runner, writer and producer for the animated series The Simpsons and co-created the animated series The Critic. He created and wrote the webtoon Queer Duck and has also worked on screenplays including: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Horton Hears a Who!, The Simpsons Movie and My Life in Ruins.
Reiss was born to a Jewish family in Bristol, Connecticut, United States. The middle child of five, his mother was a local journalist and his father was a doctor. He attended Memorial Boulevard Public School, Thomas Patterson School and Bristol Eastern High School and has stated that he felt like an “outsider” in these places.
Reiss studied at Harvard University. Reiss has stated that, as an institution, he hates Harvard, explaining that “I had an epiphany on my third day there: This place would be just as good as a summer camp where you met other people, networked, and learned from them. I feel the education I got there was distant and useless and uncaring. I feel they sort of squandered my youth and my father’s savings.” Reiss studied English, but disliked the course and was rejected from a creative writing class. Reiss focused his attention on comedy, performing in talent shows and writing. In Holworthy Hall at Harvard, Reiss met fellow freshman Al Jean; they befriended one another and collaborated their writing efforts for the humor publication Harvard Lampoon. Reiss became co-president of the Harvard Lampoon, alongside Jon Vitti. Jeff Martin, another writer for the Lampoon, said Reiss and Jean “definitely loomed large around the magazine. They were very funny guys and unusually polished comedy writers for that age. We were never surprised that they went on to success.” Jean has also stated that the duo spent most of their time at the Lampoon, adding that “it was practically my second dorm room.”
The humor magazine National Lampoon, hired Jean and Reiss after they graduated in 1981. In the 1980s, the duo began collaborating on various television projects. During this period Reiss and Jean worked as writers and producers on television shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1984–1986), ALF, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.
In 1989, Reiss was hired along with Jean as the first members of the original writing staff of the Fox network animated series The Simpsons. He worked on the thirteen episodes of the show’s first season (1989). They became executive producers and show runners of The Simpsons at the start of the third season (1991). A show runner has the ultimate responsibility of all the processes that an episode goes through before completion, including the writing, the animation, the voice acting, and the music. The first episode Jean and Reiss produced was “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” (aired September 19, 1991), and they felt a lot of pressure on them to make it good. They were so pressured that they did six to seven rewrites of the script to make it funnier. Jean said “one reason for doing all these rewrites is because I kept thinking ‘It’s not good enough. It’s not good enough.” Reiss added that “we were definitely scared. We had never run anything before, and they dumped us on this.” Jean and Reiss served as show runners until the end of the fourth season (1993). Since the show had already established itself in the first two seasons, they were able to give it more depth during their tenure. Jean believes this is one of the reasons that many fans regard season three and four as the best seasons of The Simpsons. Sam Simon has stated “The Simpsons wouldn’t have been The Simpsons without [Reiss].” Reiss has won four Primetime Emmy Awards for his work on the show.
They left after season four to create The Critic, an animated show about film critic Jay Sherman (voiced by Jon Lovitz); the show was executive produced by The Simpsons co-developer James L. Brooks. It was first broadcast on ABC in January 1994 and was well received by critics, but did not catch on with viewers and was put on hiatus after six weeks. It returned in June 1994 and completed airing its initial production run. For the second season of The Critic, Brooks cut a deal with the Fox network to have the series switch over.
Brooks wanted to have Sherman crossover on to The Simpsons, as a way to promote The Critic’s move to Fox. Sherman appeared in the episode “A Star is Burns”, which Reiss and Jean returned to produce. The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening was not fond of the crossover and complained publicly that it was just a thirty-minute advert for The Critic. Brooks said, “for years, Al and Mike were two guys who worked their hearts out on this show, staying up until 4 in the morning to get it right. The point is, Matt’s name has been on Mike’s and Al’s scripts and he has taken plenty of credit for a lot of their great work. In fact, he is the direct beneficiary of their work. The Critic is their shot and he should be giving them his support.” Reiss stated that he was a “little upset” by Groening’s actions and that “this taints everything at the last minute. […] This episode doesn’t say ‘Watch The Critic’ all over it.” Jean added “What bothers me about all of this, is that now people may get the impression that this Simpsons episode is less than good. It stands on its own even if ‘The Critic’ never existed.” On Fox, The Critic was again short-lived, broadcasting ten episodes before its cancellation. A total of 23 episodes were produced, and it returned briefly in 2000 with a series of ten internet broadcast webisodes. The series has since developed a cult following thanks to reruns on Comedy Central and its complete series release on DVD.
In 1994, Reiss and Jean signed a three-year deal with The Walt Disney Company to produce other TV shows for ABC. The duo created and executive produced Teen Angel, which was canceled in its first season in 1997. Reiss said “It was so compromised and overworked. I had 11 executives full-time telling me how to do my job.” This was the only project created under their contract which was broadcast.
The pair periodically returned to work on The Simpsons. In addition to “A Star is Burns”, they produced “‘Round Springfield” for season six; both episodes were written with the aid of their fellow writers from The Critic. While under contract at Disney they produced two episodes of season eight: “The Springfield Files” and “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious”, and two of season nine: “Lisa’s Sax” and “Simpson Tide”. When Jean returned to The Simpsons permanently as showrunner from season thirteen, Reiss returned part-time as a consultant and producer, flying to Los Angeles one day a week to attend story meetings and contribute to the writing process. He also co-wrote the screenplay for The Simpsons Movie in 2007.
Join us for an opening night reception following the 8:00pm performance on Friday, September 29th. Light refreshments will be served.
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The Joke’s On Us: Mike Reiss Really Likes Musicals
By Frank Rizzo writing for the Hartford Courant – Hartford magazine.
“Nurse Jackie’s” Stephen Wallem to lead cast in new play by Mike Reiss
I HATE MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL
at the Ivoryton Playhouse
New York/Ivoryton – Simpsons’ television writer and producer Mike Reiss is back in Ivoryton with his hilarious world premiere of I HATE MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL! It’s the story of a cranky comedy writer trapped in the rubble of an LA earthquake. His life is playing out before his eyes in the form of a musical — and he hates musicals! With numbers sung by everyone from Sigmund Freud and Satan, will he learn to be less cranky?
Previews begin September 27th – the play opens on September 29th and runs through October 15th.
Stephen Wallem*, a SAG Award-nominated actor best known as Thor Lundgren for seven seasons on the Emmy-winning Showtime series “Nurse Jackie”, will lead the cast as Alvin, the comedy writer. Stephen worked as a stage actor and After Dark Award-winning cabaret singer in Chicago before moving to New York to make his television debut on “Nurse Jackie.” Other television appearances include Randall on Louis CK’s surprise limited series “Horace and Pete” and Chad on “Difficult People.”
I HATE MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL features new music composed by Walter Murphy, composer of the 70’s classic A Fifth of Beethoven (which was included in the soundtrack of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER!)The play is one man’s zany ride through relationships with mothers and fathers, analysts and wives and with a host of surprising characters making unexpected appearances. Ultimately, the story is a traditional one about life, love, show business, and the importance of being kind.
Reiss, who is writer and producer for the long running TV show, The Simpsons, also created the animated series The Critic; the webtoon Queer Duck and worked on the screenplays for Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs; Horton Hears a Who!; The Simpsons: The Movies; and, My Life In Ruins. Ivoryton audiences turned out in droves in the June 2013 for his hilarious play, I’M CONNECTICUT, which was a huge popular and critical success and COMEDY IS HARD in September of 2014 with Micky Dolenz and Joyce DeWitt.
I HATE MUSICALS: THE MUSICAL opens at the Ivoryton Playhouse on September 27 and runs through October 15, 2017. Directed by James Valletti, the cast includes Playhouse favorite R. Bruce Connelly*, and Will Clark, Sam Given*, Amanda Huxtable*, Ryan Knowles*. The set design is by Dan Nischan, lighting by Marcus Abbott and costumes by Elizabeth Cipollina.
Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.
Tickets are $50 for adults, $45 for seniors, $22 for students and $17 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting our website at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton.
*denotes member of Actors Equity
Members of the press are welcome after September 28th. Please call ahead for tickets.
Looking for something to do? Ivoryton Playhouse has been voted best place to see live theatre by readers of The Shoreline Times for three years in a row. Come to Essex and visit our historic, professional theatre – a Connecticut treasure!