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BWW Interview: Joseph Leo Bwarie Celebrates HOLIDAZE & Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall Theatre & Dark Blue Mondaze presents HOLIDAZE HARMONY, a virtual concert featuring recording artists and Broadway stars Terron Brooks and Kamilah Marshall

BWW Interview: Joseph Leo Bwarie Celebrates HOLIDAZE & Garry Marshall

For this socially-distanced holiday season, the Garry Marshall Theatre and Dark Blue Mondaze presents HOLIDAZE HARMONY, a virtual concert featuring recording artists and Broadway stars Terron Brooks and Kamilah Marshall, world premiering December 16, 2020. Filmed with multi-cameras on the Garry Marshall Theatre stage, Terron and Kamilah fills an entertaining sixty minutes with their holiday vocals. HOLIDAZE HARMONY's director/producer Joseph Leo Bwarie shares some backstory in creating HOLIDAZE HARMONY, playing Frankie Valli in JERSEY BOYS, and his journey with Garry Marshall - the man and the theatre.

Thank you for taking time for this interview, Joseph!

Thanks for taking an interest in the Garry Marshall Theatre and HOLIDAZE HARMONY and me!

Hope you are well and safe in your house.

How have you been keeping healthy, creative and sane during these last eight months?

Eight months. Hearing that is still shocking. I think all three go hand in hand. I have been at the Garry Marshall Theatre almost every day since we entered pandemic times. Like all theatres and businesses, we had so much to address with the sudden shift of any planned programming or standard way of operating. I really spent the first couple months outside working on the property - gardening. "Hands in dirt" therapy. It turned into a massive project and we now have created The Marshall Gardens. @TheMarshallGardens on Instagram.

What cosmic forces brought you together with Dark Blue Mondaze for HOLIDAZE HARMONY?

This dates back to the 1980s when I was a kid, and Kamilah and Terron were singing with my cousins at the Orange County High School of the Arts. And I went and saw shows. I think that's the beginning of my thinking that singing was more than a hobby for myself. It was Kamilah and Terron and Stephanie J. Block when they were in high school. Kamilah married... wait for it... Gary Marshall, with one R in Gary. And Gary is Dark Blue Mondaze, and so much more. He's a big deal in the theatre world in upstate New York (and beyond), and he is the one who invented HOLIDAZE HARMONY thirteen years ago.

BWW Interview: Joseph Leo Bwarie Celebrates HOLIDAZE & Garry MarshallHave you worked before with the HOLIDAZE HARMONY musicians Peter Smith, Nate Light, and Peter Buck?

You know it's a small world in L.A. In some form or another, I have had the pleasure of working with all but Peter Buck (until now), and this guy is an uber-talented jazz drummer. All three musicians are off the charts. I can't wait for people to hear!

You directed many stage productions before. Did you have to switch mindsets to direct HOLIDAZE HARMONY to be videoed?

Capturing the essence of Kamilah and Terron as a duo was paramount in the creation of this filmed version. The three of us agreed that what mattered more than anything was for people to experience the friendship and the joy that happens when they hit the stage. With that goal in sight, my task was to figure out how we shift gears and pivot to film. And I think people are going to love what we came up by taking the passion and dynamics on stage and seeing it all through the lens of a camera (multiple cameras, in fact).

You have a long history with the Garry Marshall Theatre - acting, directing, being one of their artistic directors and now producer. Was playing Chachi Arcola in the 2006 HAPPY DAYS your first creative dealings with them (then known as Falcon Theatre)?

This relationship with the Marshalls and Garry starts many years before. I like to think it all started when I saw Soapdish in the movie theatre, and I thought the best thing ever was Garry at his desk eating messy crackers and saying "peppy and cheap." (I could talk about him in that movie for a long time - but I won't). The reality is that I started working for his production company and his daughter Kathleen in the year 2000. And it has now been 20 years of collaborating and learning and creating.

What led you to taking on your current position as producer?

I think people who know me, know that I have a great affection for this theatre. It goes beyond a job or a position at times. I have been known to wear many, and all hats. When I was away in NYC with JERSEY BOYS, I would still be working remotely on projects (before working remotely was such a thing). Sometimes at intermission, I would be stretching to do the splits for Act Two, and texting notes on a press release that needed to go out at the (then) Falcon Theatre.

BWW Interview: Joseph Leo Bwarie Celebrates HOLIDAZE & Garry MarshallWould you share a most memorable experience you had with the late Garry Marshall?

There are too many things and too many times. He was an incredible person. And no matter what, he was funny. Directing BILLY & RAY at the Vineyard in New York was maybe the last theatre project we worked on together. The cast was Sophie von Haselberg, Drew Gehling (a JERSEY BOYS partner in crime), Larry Pine and Vincent Kartheiser. They all were incredible. And Garry loved being in NYC. He also loved a short commute. So his hotel was across the street and for those many weeks of tech and previews, every night Garry and I would sit at the W bar and go over notes and changes and we would have meetings with Mike Bencivenga, who wrote the play. And Sophie and Drew would make guest appearances. I still have all those yellow pads of notes and ideas. But it was not all work. It was just hanging out with Garry Marshall. And there were snacks.

Is there one performance out of the 2,000+ performances as Frankie Valli in JERSEY BOYS that still resonates with you?

Do you want a scary story? Or a wild story? Or a funny story? Or a Vegas story? Or a tour story? Or a Broadway story? I've got 'em. I love, love, love everything about JERSEY BOYS and the 2000+ performances. As the Tommy DeVito character says, "hand to God" (now back to JLB) there is not a day that I do not speak to, or email, or text with someone from that epic experience. I think I have four families: My real family, my Garry Marshall/Falcon family, my Troubadour Theater Company family, and my JERSEY BOYS family. It will always be my great honor to have worked with every single individual involved with that beautiful show. And we all still celebrate the weddings and the babies and the milestones, and we come together in the saddest of moments, too. And those are the hardest.

BWW Interview: Joseph Leo Bwarie Celebrates HOLIDAZE & Garry MarshallI've listened to your debut CD Nothing But Love. Did you have to 're-train' your voice to sing in Frankie's falsetto night after night?

That's an interesting question. I look at it like this - I have one voice and what I do to manipulate that sound for an acting role is the character work. The notes are the notes - but the style and the approach and the "voice" of that specific character are choices that I make with a director and musical director. When it comes to the albums - that's Joe singing.

You started singing and acting professionally when you were just nine years old living in Sherman Oaks. What were your aspirations then? Singer? Actor? Director? Studio mogul?

Some Garry advice was, "always be a hyphenate." And I am liking that philosophy. And even before Garry's wisdom, I remember being nine and thinking that I liked the business of entertainment. And I didn't know where I could fit into the mix. But I knew I could add something. Now, speaking of Sherman Oaks, I am enjoying my distanced, outdoor hikes with my friend Christine Lakin (who played Joanie opposite my Chachi, and is the most impressive "hyphenate" I know - now directing shows like The Goldbergs on ABC). The routine is that we climb a mountain and talk about directing and producing now. Where as, when we were in HAPPY DAYS in 2006, the conversation was more about auditions, and the pancakes at The Good Earth. You know who would love to be on these hikes? Garry. But he would like them better if we were... sitting... in his office... talking about directing.

What gives you the most satisfaction - singing in a recording studio, performing on stage, being off-stage watching the actors you've directed?

I am most comfortable in a recording studio. But given the chance to act on screen or on stage, count me in. And I really enjoy the work involved in directing. That process is intense, and it's in my nature to navigate a full production team heading for the vision we set out to achieve. In the case of HOLIDAZE HARMONY, it has been a true gift during a pandemic. The workload has been rewarding mostly because Kamilah, Terron and I looked at this at an opportunity to give the world an hour of complete joy. The overachiever in me has been in full force. And watching Terron and Kamilah do their magnificent thing - I am in awe and it makes me so happy.

BWW Interview: Joseph Leo Bwarie Celebrates HOLIDAZE & Garry MarshallWhat projects for the Garry Marshall Theatre do you have planned for 2021?

We are looking for HOLIDAZE HARMONY to be the first in a series of concerts filmed on the Garry Marshall Theatre stage. And we will continue to adjust with the times. This coming spring we will be launching an outdoor program for families in The Marshall Gardens. We will be back with in person productions when that time is right. But for now, we are thrilled with the collaboration with Kamilah and Terron and Dark Blue Mondaze to bring this exciting concert to people across the country and the world.

What undertakings are in Joseph Leo Bwarie's near future?

The hyphenate I didn't' mention before was Joe Bwarie: the writer. Part of my job on HOLIDAZE HARMONY was laying out the script, and of course, there is freestyle from Terron and Kamliah that is gold. But that element of writing alongside directing is helpful for my process. Maybe I picked that up from Garry's mentorship. Last year I was fortunate enough to work with five actors who brought a musical script to life that I wrote with Lori Marshall. THE ROOTBEER BANDITS is one of my most favorite creations, and those five actors are Grace Yoo, Clayton Snyder, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Kelly Brandeburg, Josey Montana McCoy. It's coming back as soon as we are able. And it's begging to be a movie on Netfilx. I can say that, right? And maybe... an album - including a duet with Terron and a duet with Kamilah. That would be a dream. And if my near future is simply full of gardening, that's a good thing too.

Thank you again, Joseph! I look forward to viewing your directorial prowess on HOLIDAZE HARMONY.

Thank YOU! SO MUCH!

For virtual tickets for the streaming of HOLIDAZE HARMONY December 16 (world premiere) through December 20; log onto www.garrymarshalltheatre.org

For a sneak peek at Terron and Kamilah, click here.



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From This Author Gil Kaan