BWW Interview: Director Richard Israel Talks VIOLET an Extraordinary Musical at Actors Co-op

BWW Interview: Director Richard Israel Talks VIOLET an Extraordinary Musical at Actors Co-op

Director Richard Israel is returning to Actors Co-op to helm the musical Violet. At the Co-op he has previously directed Our Town, The Baker's Wife and 110 In The Shade (LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award Winner for Outstanding Musical in an Intimate Venue), among others. Most recently, Richard was the Theatrical Coordinator for the multiple Emmy-award winning HBO series Big Little Lies, directing all of the Avenue Q sequences in the series. Regional theatre credits include West Side Story, Rent and Floyd Collins (LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards for Direction and Outstanding Musical in a Large Venue) for McCoy-Rigby Ent.; Kiss Me Kate and Once Upon A Mattress for Cabrillo Music Theatre; the multiple Ovation award-nominated Having It All for the Laguna Playhouse; and Meet Me In St. Louis for MTW. Intimate theatre productions include Bronies The Musical, The Burnt Part Boys, The Full Monty, Avenue Q, Gypsy, Assassins, Big The Musical and the world premiere of Anita Bryant Died For Your Sins. As a resident director for the Musical Theatre Guild, he has directed Women On The Verge, Do I Hear A Waltz, Road Show, High Fidelity and many others. He is recipient of the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Career Achievement in Directing.

Tell our readers about the musical Violet.

Set in 1964, Violet is the story of a young woman who is profoundly disfigured by a facial scar, the result of a childhood accident. She embarks on a quest to have the scar healed by a televangelist, traveling on a Greyhound bus from North Carolina to Tulsa. The show is really a journey to self-realization as Violet discovers that the search for healing starts with ourselves.

How different is Violet from most American musicals? What is special about the character and her relationships?

Violet is a very gentle musical - it's a small story that takes place over 48 hours, mostly on a Greyhound bus. It doesn't come at the audience with flash and splash - it assumes that an audience is going to sit forward, be present, and listen to the story. There is something about the tone of the musical that invites the audience to lean in.

Violet is a flawed and damaged woman, trying to find answers in the best way she knows how. As her relationships unfold, she is indelibly changed by the people she encounters - her relationships with the other characters change her view of herself, and the way she defines herself.

What challenges do you anticipate as director?

We've chosen to perform the show in 3/4 thrust, which is tricky for a show in which much of the action takes place on a bus. So ... figuring out how to keep the focus where the focus needs to be is a challenge. And because the material assumes a certain willingness on the part of the audience to engage and actively listen, clarity of storytelling becomes that much more important.

Do you have a favorite show you have directed? Why this choice?

I don't really have a favorite show that I've directed - I guess I love all of my children equally. Floyd Collins will always have a special place in my heart, because the material is so beautiful and I connect with it so strongly. It was also the musical that really launched my directing career, so I owe it a lot.

Do you prefer directing musicals to plays? If so, why?

I do prefer musicals to plays. In a musical, you are always driving forward to the next song - it's easier for me to plot the peaks and valleys of the storytelling because the songs act as a "safety valve" for the dramatic propulsion. If the song is doing what it's supposed to do, it tops out the dramatic action; then we "reset" and push forward into the next song. In a play, you need to be pushing forward all the way through to the end of the act, which feels more challenging to me.

What is your favorite musical of all time? Why?

Merrily We Roll Along is actually my go-to favorite musical of all time. It's one of the few musicals that will land on you differently at different ages, but with equal resonance. It's a complicated show that requires attention from the audience, but it's worth the effort and it's a show that, if done right, creates a change in the audience and how they conduct their lives.

Tell us about your cast of Violet.

We have a beautiful cast of 12, and each one of them brings an openness and honesty to the show that is really gratifying to watch. While the characters of Violet, Flick and Monty do a lot of the heavy lifting in the show, it's truly an ensemble piece, and watching these unbelievably talented performers bring their hearts to this story makes my job really joyful.

What's up next for you?

I am in pre-production for Victor/Victoria, which will be presented as part of Reprise 2.0's inaugural season. I am so honored to be working on this piece - it's another tricky show, but we're assembling an incredible cast and I consider myself lucky to be a part of it.

Violet opens Friday, May 11 at 8:00 pm. Runs May 11 - June 17, 2018. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sunday matinees at 2:30 pm. Additional Saturday matinees May 19 and May 26 at 2:30 pm.To buy tickets or make reservations please visit www.ActorsCo-op.org or call (323) 462-8460. For more about Student Rush Tickets or Group Rates call (323) 462-8460. Actors Co-op Crossley Theater, 1760 N. Gower St. 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.

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