How long have you been collaborating with Mark Vogel, David Burnham, and Paul Stancato. How did you meet? Mark Vogel and I have known each other since I was in high school. Then, we both worked at Knotts Berry Farm together doing a show where I was the lead emcee/singer and Mark was the piano player. We then were roommates for a couple years and worked several shows together. We both went different directions from there. Mark got married and I started traveling for shows. We got back in touch in early 2011 when I reached out to him to see if he’d like to collaborate with me on Happy 50ish. Mark and I started writing the show in February of 2011 and we brought David into the mix in April. It was David’s brilliant eye and knack for musical theater that made this show into its first successful rendition. We brought on Paul Stancato for this run in NYC. Paul has put a brilliant spin on our show and we couldn’t be more excited to present his vision. Women are going to love bringing their man to this show…and then the tables will turn: it’s the men who’ll be telling their friends and brothers and uncles and dads, ‘you’ve got to go see this show.” This is a musical that men love…it’s very close to home for them.
What was your mid-life crisis at turning 50? What happened? How did it manifest itself? A flashy Ferrari? My mid-life crisis started when one of my very best friends, passed away from a sudden massive heart attack, at the age of 52. We were life long friends in theater, studio work, tennis, golf, and more. His sudden passing sent me into a tailspin thinking about mortality, and had I accomplished all I wanted to do. Also, what would be my legacy? I already had a flashy car, so I wanted a very personal goal…I wanted to write and perform a show, and take it to New York. Writing and performing this show was the manifestation of my mid-life crisis.
What was your life plan when you were starting your career and how true to that vision has the reality been? I started performing in high school. What I found early on was that I was a good singer, who could act, and wasn’t afraid of improv, comedy or looking stupid. I was also good at making speeches or announcing; I knew I wanted to perform and be in front of people. Because of that, I never focused in any one area. I did comedy, theater, television, emceeing, dancing, sports, etc. So, if that was my life plan, I’ve accomplished that. However, all of those differing performance skills helped me to build the character of Bob.
I read that you do voice-overs for commercials. Do you vary your pitch and tone for each or is your voice pretty recognizable from commercial to commercial? How did you start doing this? I change my voice for whatever the director needs for the commercial. I got started in high schools being part of a group singing on an airline commercial. From there, I knew I loved being in the studio. When I was working as a singer in Los Angeles one year, a woman approached me about doing a voice over for the Biltmore Hotel. I ended up doing several commercials for them, all as a young newly wed husband. That same director then hired me for other commercials, each a little different from the next. And then again, that same producer hired me to perform 7 different characters for Sony’s English version of Gun Parade March and Demon Lord Dante…the most fun I’ve ever had in the studio.
What do you feel are the unintended hilarities of middle age? Your body changes and everyone handles it differently. That, and the fact that I was given a senior discount the other day at the grocery store. Sure, I like discounts but I read the sign and it said the senior discount starts at 65! Are you kidding me…I’m 54!
What were the challenges you faced writing this musical? How long from workshop until now has the development taken? It’s taken a little more than 4 years. The challenges were finding topics and subjects that everyone in the audience is able to relate with. That’s what this show is about. Bob is having issues, and we can all relate and commiserate together. We wanted it to be funny and inclusive of the audience. In fact, our audience members serve as guests to this surprise birthday party. Because of my time performing comedy at The Improv, I wanted the audience to be included. That was challenging. How do we write a musical that is fun, and funny, and touching to watch, yet make the “guests” feel inclusive? We did it, and managed to make sure we included the touching and agonizing elements of aging as well. My wife, Teresa really helped us add the female touch to the story, and wrote a few of the really touching moments.
Who are your musical and performing inspirations / mentors? I love comedy. I love Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, and some of the newer guys too, like Jim Gaffigan. The ability to make people laugh is such a wonderful trait. And if you can move that into an acting career and show people other sides of yourself as well I think that’s gold. (“Gold, Jerry…gold I tell you.”)
Is there anyone that helped you get your first big break that deserves a shout out? Pat Boone! I know that’s out of left field, but Pat saw me singing at Knott’s Berry Farm and had me on his show as a guest. That helped me immensely. In fact, it wasn’t too long after that when I was cast on General Hospital.
Is the show plot fully autobiographical or are their additions that you made from suggestions from others? I would say it’s a really good mix of being autobiographical and additions we needed to address certain topics. We held three focus groups in my living room so that we could learn from others in this age group what their pressing, funny, heartbreaking, touching stories were that we could try to include in our story.
What else are you working on that our readers should know about? This is a big focus of time right now. Our goal is to have several casts doing this show globally over the next few years. However, I can say that I’ve started working on a new story that’s a take off an old story. Yeah, I’m purposely being covert.
HAPPY 50ish!, the mid-life crisis musical comedy will have its Off-Broadway premiere beginning Wednesday, July 15 at The Beckett Theatre (410 West 42nd Street) on Theatre Row. Created by Lynn Shore, Mark Vogel and David Burnham, and directed and choreographed by Paul Stancato, HAPPY 50ish! opens Sunday, July 26. Previews run from July 15 through July 25 and the show will play a limited engagement through August 30. Performances are scheduled for Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with matinees on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $69.50 – $99.50 and are available through Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or http://www.Telecharge.com.