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BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

This year Santa's bringing something special to leave under the tree.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialKenn Boisinger has staked out a claim as the new voice in the music industry, and the fans have spoken: they love him. Well... they love the laughs, they love the character, they love the comedy. Actually, what they love is Michael West.

Mr. West, a comedic actor with a long-standing relationship with the New York stages and the New York audiences, is a creator of characters on the stage, off the stage, in the dressing room, in his home, on camera, and now on the internet. With a mind that moves fast and flourishes with flair, West has an aptitude for creating the kind of characters and comedy that people have looked to for laughter in shows like SCTV and SNL (are you listening, Lorne Michaels?) for years, and Kenn Boisinger is just his latest creation. Truth be told, West created Kenn years ago - it was only recently that he unleashed him on the unsuspecting cabaret crowds of New York City.

Well... why don't we let Michael West tell you the story himself?

This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced with minimal edits.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialMichael West, welcome to Broadway World! I've been longing to have you chat with us for a while.

Thanks Stephen! I'm happy to get to talk to you.

I had considered talking to you today as Kenn Boisinger, which would have been fun, but I am more interested in hearing from Michael about his process. How did you come to create the character of Kenn Boisinger?

But would it have been fun? Really? Kenn's a lousy interview. Talks WAY too much. Well, let's see. I guess Kenn was born, or hatched, or whatever it was, almost ten years ago, in the NEWSical dressing room. This was in the early days of NEWSical - Rory O'Malley, Tommy Walker and I shared one little dressing room at the 47th Street Theatre. I started doing this character that sang all of songs we were rehearsing in his odd, semi-operatic, semi-legit, very loud voice, and his character kind of grew from there.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

You have a particular knack for the creation of characters like Kenn. Have you ever counted how many you are responsible for having brought to life?

Oh jeez. A lot. I think my first was a character named Beulah Dove. I was around eight of nine, I guess. She was a cantankerous old school teacher. What the hell?? Anyway, my mother and brother were HUGE Beulah Dove fans. I was always drawn to doing old and eccentric characters. I actually went out as Beulah Dove for Halloween one year. Pretty sure I was the only Beulah Dove trick or treating, at least in my neighborhood. Oh, I have no idea how many. Dozens? At least? I did one character - never in public, only with a friend - named Mike West. He was a florist - a "centerpiece designer" he would have said, and he had pretty much no redeeming qualities. I remember telling my friend "there must be something psychological in the fact that I gave the most odious character I ever created MY NAME."

It's an extremely particular gift to have at one's fingertips. How did you discover that you had this niche talent, and did you start entertaining people with it right away?

Oh, it's particular alright. Well, like I said, I started coming up with odd characters by the time I was eight. Early on, when I first started auditioning for things - I was still living in Atlanta at that point - I most often was cast in multiple character roles. I always felt most comfortable with slipping into roles that were unlike myself - well, I say they were unlike myself - I know there's a lot of me in all of the characters I do - but I guess I was never that comfortable playing myself. I've also spent a lot of time playing characters that were parodies of famous people - impersonations, to an extent, but my own odd take on these people. I remember asking a director friend once - I was early twenties at the time, and I felt a little perplexed and maybe a little frustrated because I had always thought of myself as more of a singer. She told me "sure - you've got a great voice. But you're funny. Singers are a dime a dozen - there are very few genuinely funny people. That's a commodity. That's always gonna overshadow your singing." To take nothing from singers, of course. I guess we all want to do the other thing. Singers want to be funny, funny people want to be singers.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

We live in an age of digital creation, with TikTok and YouTube allowing people to express themselves in more ways than ever before. You have been at this kind of work for a while now. Do you have any thoughts on the creativity that modern technology has given artists, and what it would have been like for you, had it been available to you twenty or so years sooner?

Oh, I wish I could show you what we tried to do twenty - longer ago than that! - years ago with the most limited of technology. It was the construction paper and scotch tape version of video. No technology. I did an entire parody of We Are The World without green screen technology. It was kind of We Are The World meets Las Vegas. I did Liberace, Steve and Eydie, Liza... We did it. I mean in the final generation video some of the people looked a little like ghosts, but the joke was more important to me than the technology. Having the technology at hand now is a huge gift. All those weird ideas I dreamed up back then and did as best as I could are now really possible! Oddly, people thought it was advanced, even as primitive as it was. I mean, people weren't really even trying to do stuff like that in the late 80s! My buddy (NEWSical producer) Tom D'Angora has told me "you were YouTube before there was a YouTube."

How often do people want to talk to you about Door To Door Dolly?

Haha - well, it does come up from time to time. More than a few times I've been out and had someone yell to me "Carol Channing! Get out of my yard before I call the police!" I owe a lot of that to my pal Mark Sendroff - (the legendary entertainment lawyer) - Mark used to put out yearly compilation tapes of odd or rare performances - mostly things like epic Ed Sullivan or Hollywood Palace clips - they were amazing, and this was pre-youtube so these clips were really hard to come by - and one year he asked if I had something he could include on the tape he was putting together, and I sent him Door To Door Dolly. That's when it became somewhat well-known. I remember when I was doing When Pigs Fly, and Mark would bring one of his friends - somebody like Rosemary Clooney or Mimi Hines - with him, and he would introduce me by saying "You know who this is? This is Door to Door Dolly!"

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

Do you know if Carol Channing ever saw the Door To Door Dolly video?

I don't know that she did - but I don't know that she didn't! It's highly possible - Door to Door Dolly actually started as a monologue in which Carol told about the tour - "We've cut over two hours out of 'Hello, Dolly' and it really doesn't lose a thing!" - and we did the video several years later. I auditioned once for Jerry Herman and Lee Roy Reams in Jerry's townhouse on the east side, and I did the monologue for him! I guess he liked it, because I got the job. Unfortunately, the show never happened.

Your work as an actor has landed you in revues and sketch comedy shows that lean heavily on the presence of other actors and other characters. What's your experience of creating a character like Kenn Boisinger in shows where he has nobody to throw him a 'Yes, and..."?

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialI love working onstage with other actors, but in truth, I think I'm most comfortable when I'm there all by myself. When the "yes, and" comes from me! I love the flyng-by-the-seat-of-my-pants feeling, and I guess I love being responsible for all of it, good or bad. I do remember one time early on - still in Atlanta - and I was doing a really elaborate one man show - video, interactive video, more than a dozen characters - that I had written myself. We were doing the final dress rehearsal, which, as sometimes happens, was the ONLY full rehearsal for the show, just hours before the first audience - and I was performing the show to the empty theatre and having the feeling "oh god. NONE of this is funny. Let me finish my part and let the next person come on." Then I realized that "oh f**k - there is no next person. When I finish this section, it's me again." Fortunately, it ended up ok, and the show that night was when I realized I had found my niche.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialKenn Boisinger has taken to the internet with live streaming shows. Did you already have the tech savvy for this, or did you teach yourself in preparation for going online?

Oh, I'm really not tech savvy. So not. I wish I were. I'm working with the brilliant Michael D'Angora, who has both the technical knowhow and an unending supply of creativity and wit - and he really "gets" Kenn. Sorry, Michael, it's true. You get Kenn.

You have a new online show on December 20th - how are you preparing Kenn for his Christmas special?

Well, Kenn is wearing his jeweled red Christmas sweater as we speak. That sweater - no joke - belonged to Liberace. I went to the auction of his estate and bid on it and a bunch of other Liberace clothes - including a huge lot of jeweled bow ties - and Kenn ended up with the sweater. He tells a different story of how he acquired it. I'll let you judge for yourself.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

We've spent a good deal of the last few days shooting video footage for the show. Most of the show will be streaming live, but there are a few segments - featuring some special guests - that are being shot in advance.

Comedy like that which you create with Kenn and in the shows for which you are most known seems to come very naturally to you. What does the work side of being a comedic virtuoso look like?

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialThat's very kind. I can only tell you about what I do. I guess it comes naturally...I don't know where it else it comes from. Now comedy - I guess you're either funny or you're not - it's not a learned skill - but the technical side of comedy - and comedy really is technical - that is learned, at least in my experience, through blood and sweat and trial and error and failure. In some ways, comedy is like a math problem. The timing - the set-up - all the elements. It can be a tricky equation. I'm still learning. One of my favorite and most maddening parts of comedy is that I can be well into the run of a show - weeks - MONTHS - and finally land a line exactly the way it needs to be to get the laugh. Now why did that take me that long? But it's so exhilarating when you know you hit on it. And I'll keep tinkering with that equation until I figure it out.

I am sure that you have had your share of dramatic roles as well. Put a picture in my head of your relationship with what people call legit theater.

Well, as I said, from early on, I was cast as the multiple character role in mostly quirky shows. One of my first shows was a send-up of Sherlock Holmes - I played his assistant, his housekeeper, Queen Victoria ... the gamut of ages, sexes and accents. It was HEAVEN. In Atlanta, I played Seymour in the first regional production of Little Shop of Horrors, a show and role I dearly loved. I'd love to play Seymour again, but I think he's generally cast UNDER 50.... When I got to New York, I started getting cast in a lot of quirky revues - Whoop-Dee-Doo, which led to two years in When Pigs Fly, followed by 2500 plus performances in Forbidden Broadway, and then nine - count 'em - nine years in NEWSical. I've come to terms with the fact that casting wise, I'm something of a square peg, and I'm ok with that. I mean, in his own way, Kenn is sort of a leading man.....right??

Since creating Kenn Boisinger, have you felt enough support from your fans? Has the Biosinger culture been effectively started?

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialIt's funny. When I first started doing Kenn - backstage at NEWSical - I noticed that when I started talking as Kenn, the loudest person in the room would stop talking and turn focus to Kenn. I thought that was really significant. There was something - whatever it was - that people connected with about Kenn. People have been super supportive. I did my first Kenn performance two years ago at Green Room 42. Sold it out, did an encore, sold that out, and then they booked me for a residency there for spring and summer of 2019. Jim Caruso at Birdland became a fan of Kenn's and asked me to book a show at Birdland Theatre. That was almost exactly a year ago - the show was called "The New Voice of Christmas" - I like the idea that Kenn is audacious enough to consider himself the new voice of whatever he's doing. That show was sold out - oversold - and Jim asked me to book a Broadway at Birdland, which was scheduled for March 30 - that show being called "The New Voice of Jazz". Enter COVID, and everything closed a couple of weeks before that was going to happen. I was hesitant to do a streaming show, for whatever reason, but with Michael D'Angora's direction, I did one called Kenn Boisinger Homebound on July 5. I was really apprehensive - I remember saying I hoped at least 100 people would watch, because I didn't want to be humiliated! I remember at the end of the show we looked and said "What? We had almost 1500 viewers!" I was shocked - thrilled - and shocked. At this point it's been watched be several thousand. I've written a song for Kenn about that called "I'm Turning COVID Into Lemonade" but I haven't had the nerve to sing it yet. I will.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

When you step up on the stage or in front of the camera as Kenn, what percentage would you say is prepared and how much is improvised?

Honestly, it's 90 percent prepared. I spent months before the first show writing songs - lyrics and music - something I've never done before but actually love to do - and those songs are then arranged and orchestrated. It's a long and expensive process! Then there is an actual script - though I take a lot of liberties with it, and am always happy to veer off in a completely different direction if the mood strikes me. Or if the audience strikes me.

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday SpecialPretend I've never heard of Kenn Boisinger and get me to tune in to your Christmas special on December 20th.

Kenn Boisinger - Can't We Put The 'mas Back In Christmas will make you see Christmas in a way you've never experienced. Never. I promise you that. And if you don't love the show, I'll give you your money back. I mean, ok, the show is free, but the thought is still there.

Michael, thank you for sharing your insight and process, and Kenn Boisinger with us today. I'll see you on the 20th!

See Can't We Put the 'mas Back in Christmas HERE

BWW Interview: Michael West of CAN'T WE PUT THE 'MAS BACK IN CHRISTMAS? Online Holiday Special

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