Interview: Kritzerland's Multi-Talented Bruce Kimmel – A Man Wearing Many Hats

Kritzerland will resume its LIVE presentations at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s with KRITZERLAND’s 114th July 28, 2021

By: Jul. 14, 2021
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Interview: Kritzerland's Multi-Talented Bruce Kimmel – A Man Wearing Many Hats

Kritzerland will resume its LIVE presentations at Feinstein's at Vitello's with KRITZERLAND's 114th July 28, 2021. Bruce Kimmel, the mastermind behind (and front center) of Kritzerland made some time available between his creative multi-taskings to talk about Kritzerland and his various other accomplishments.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Bruce!

You've been keeping creatively productive during these pandemic months with monthly Kritzerland shows online benefiting a host of organizations. Was it easy for you to grasp the new normal medium of Zooming?

In a way, yes, as I was determined to figure out how to do our shows professionally and without any of the awful glitching and tech issues that everyone was struggling with in those early days. So, my partner in crime, Hartley Powers, and I took the time to figure it out and we ruled out Zoom immediately. We came up with a way of doing the shows that really surprised people because there were zero technical issues. We kind of became the poster child on how to do them, and everyone caught on somewhat, but not to everything, which was fun. And even after all the shows, some people still had aspects of what we were doing completely wrong, which was fun, too.

What was the biggest technical challenge in this new normal that you're so proud of mastering?

Again, figuring out the how of it. We looked at every platform and none of them were for us. So, we decided that our live streams would not be live at all. The singers would film their stuff and send in. We did rehearse on Zoom, but the shows were all planned out in advance, and we had the videos well in advance of the air date. But just about everyone thought that my running commentary was live and we were happy to let them think that. I think they literally thought Hartley was sitting in her house with monitors, live switching from me to the performers. The fact is, I filmed all my stuff in advance, and then Hartley edited it all together, and I'd found a wonderful company that took it from there - we'd upload the finished show to their site and tell them when it would air, and they did all the scheduling. And it all worked like a dream.

What inspired you to produce your monthly shows online, as opposed to taking the pandemic months off?

I don't know how to take time off. I never have. I began thinking about the online thing almost immediately. And what the online shows enabled me to do was have a lot of wonderful folks I've worked with over the years in the show, you know, who weren't here in L.A. So, in addition to our brilliant L.A. regulars, we had Petula Clark, Liz Callaway, Debbie Gravitte, Karen Ziemba, Christiane Noll, Brent Barrett, Pamela Myers, Walter Willison, Karen Mason, Liz Larsen, Sal Viviano, Emily Skinner, and other wonderful folks. And then I wrote an original musical for streaming called TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, designed specifically to play into the Zoom world - it appeared to take place on Zoom, but in reality it didn't - like our shows, it was all filmed and edited. That was really successful and has just come out on Blu-ray, starring Eric Petersen and Hartley Powers. And after that, we did a thriller I wrote, again that looked like it was on Zoom but wasn't, about a group of actors on Zoom reading a new thriller. That went really well, too, and is also on the Tonight's the Night Blu-ray. So, it was a very busy year.

Interview: Kritzerland's Multi-Talented Bruce Kimmel – A Man Wearing Many Hats How did you choose the organizations that these monthly shows benefited?

Well, the Group Rep was obvious, as I've directed a few shows there and they're my friends. The Actor's Fund didn't really need us - we're too small potatoes for them - but we did one for them, and a couple of the ALS Golden West chapter, because I'd directed a few all-star benefits for them at The Pasadena Playhouse. There were a couple of others, too.

How did you select your July 28th cast for Kritzerland's first live performance in over a year? You must have had a plethora of singers wanting to be included.

I wanted the online regulars to do it. Kerry O'Malley was slated to do it but as happens with her frequently because she's so damn talented, she got a three-episode TV gig. There's a chance she still might be able to come and at least do a song or two, but we won't know until the last minute. Jason Graae was in the very first Kritzerland show back in 2010, and he's done lots of them since and was in the last one we did before the lockdown, so I definitely wanted him in it. And we have a couple of surprises we can't talk about yet. It's going to be a really fun show, and in addition to the songs people will know well, I really have some rare stuff in this one, and that's kind of what we're about.

Have you started in-person rehearsals at Feinstein's at Vitello's?

We actually don't rehearse there, other than the sound check on the show day. We rehearse at my house - that's always been what we've done. We'll begin those rehearsals about seven days in advance of the show.

How far back do you and Kritzerland's musical director Richard Allen go?

Years now. I met him when he musical directed the ALS benefits, which is probably six or seven years ago now. He then did a few Kritzerland shows and it was very easy with him so eventually I just asked him to do them all - and other than a couple where he had conflicts, he has. He also musical directed several shows I directed - the musical revue L.A. NOW AND THEN, the world premiere of a Sherman Brothers musical called LEVI (the story of Levi Strauss), A CAROL CHRISTMAS, which we did at the Group Rep, and he did the orchestrations (he's a superb orchestrator) for TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT.

An integral part of your emceeing your Kritzerland shows is your in-depth knowledge of musical theatre trivia in your introductions to each upcoming song. How does your brain store and categorize so much knowledge? I have trouble remembering what I ate last week.

Interview: Kritzerland's Multi-Talented Bruce Kimmel – A Man Wearing Many Hats I learned a lot of it as a kid, and then when I began producing CDs, I learned a huge amount of stuff, because I frequently recorded albums of songs from flops (the Unsung Musicals series) or cut songs from shows (the Lost in Boston series), and I also did a lot of albums with extremely rare material on it - I was, I think, the first person who got to go through Irving Berlin's trunk for songs for our two-CD set called Unsung Irving Berlin, and stuff like that. I do have a very sharp long-term memory. I always joke with Richard Sherman that neither one of us can remember what happened two minutes ago, but we can remember where we ate in 1954. I've written several books (fiction) about my childhood, and I'm never wrong in the way I remember things. I once went to the downtown library to make sure I was never wrong about where I saw movies back in the 1950s, and I was never wrong.

The July 28th show will be KRITZERLAND's 114th. Can you share all the specifics of KRITZERLAND's 1st in 2010 that you remember? (Date, locale, cast, song list)

Our first show was the first Wednesday in September of 2010 at the Gardenia. Let's see - I think the show was based on the Lost in Boston albums, and we had Jason Graae, Pam Myers, Damon Kirsche, Lesli Margherita, Alet Taylor, and Shelly Markham was the pianist.

You are such a Renaissance man - actor/writer/director/composer/record producer. Does any one of these professions hold an extra special place in your heart? Which gives you the most gratification?

I love them all, but I think the most gratification has come from writing my books - twenty-one of 'em now, mostly fiction, with a couple of memoirs and a book of my lyrics. That's been a real journey and it really does give me the most satisfaction. That said, I love interacting with brilliant people, and writing books is a solo thing. I've loved producing albums, and in the old days, I really did love being an actor.

In your youth, what did you want to be when you grew up?

An actor. I thought there could never come a day when I wouldn't be doing that. And yet, about fifteen years into what was a pretty successful career in TV and film, I just really grew tired of the way the business was changing for actors and I got out at just the right time, I think. I've never really missed it, which is interesting. Still, I get lots of e-mails from folks who liked my work, so if someone wants to offer me a comeback role, I'd think about it, he said smiling disingenuously.

Was 'Guy Haines' your birth name? Or your alter ego named after Farley Granger's character Guy Haines in Strangers on a Train?

I'm very close with dear Guy - couldn't be closer. No, my birth name is my name. Guy was born when I had to replace a vocal on one of the early albums. I didn't want to be accused of anything that reeked of vanity, so we came up with Guy. And yes, I happened to be watching Strangers on a Train when I was trying to come up with the name - and I thought Guy Haines was perfect. Years later, I was doing one of those Hollywood signing shows things and I took a little break from signing and walked the room and ran into Kasey Rogers, who'd been on Bewitched. Unbeknownst to me, she'd started in the business under a different name - Laura Elliot - and she played the estranged wife of Guy Haines in Strangers on a Train and she had a photo of she and Farley Granger. I told her I WAS Guy Haines and she thought that was really funny and she signed a photo, "To my loving husband Guy Haines." I still have it. We became great friends after that.

Interview: Kritzerland's Multi-Talented Bruce Kimmel – A Man Wearing Many Hats Can you share a fun and memorable interaction you had as a regular on Dinah (Shore) and Her New Best Friends in its summer of 1976 run?

The show was a summer replacement for The Carol Burnett Show and aired in her time slot at ten on Saturday nights. My friend Diana Canova was in it. We had the same manager, because my manager had seen Diana in my film, The First Nudie Musical, and snapped her up. So, they were a week away from shooting the first episode and they realized that none of the comics they'd cast could sing or move or even do sketch comedy - that wasn't their thing. So, they were desperate. Diana mentioned me, I came in to meet the producer, Carolyn Raskin, who'd done Laugh-In, she circled me and said, "You're hired," just like that. It was a dream come true to do a variety show at CBS on the same stage where I'd sat in the audience and watched the tapings of The Red Skelton Show and The Danny Kaye Show. Unfortunately, it was a terrible show. They went through four sets of writers for eight shows, several directors. It was a shame. But Diana and Leland Palmer and I had a great time. There were some fun musical guest stars that not one of us ever got to work with. The most fun I had was when my pal Cindy Williams guest-starred. We got to write our own sketch and that was the best thing in the entire series. I put it on YouTube. I'm the only person who has anything from that show, because my manager taped it on three-quarter-inch tape.

What were the challenges of pitching The First Nudie Musical that you wrote and directed back in 1976?

Actually, it was filmed in 1975, May to be exact. We pitched and pitched and pitched, mostly to private investors, some pretty sleazy. When Mark Haggard got involved (we co-directed the film), he found a producer he'd worked with, and once that happened, that producer was able to find us folks to put up the very low budget of the film. I do remember pitching it to director George Sidney, who'd done Showboat at MGM and Annie Get Your Gun and Bye Bye Birdie and The Swinger. I guess he just wanted to work and he loved the script. But Mark and I were determined to keep control of it and make sure it got made the way we wanted it, too. So, we could have had George Sidney! We also had an Oscar-winning editor, who'd won an Oscar for Around the World in Eighty Days. If you've ever seen that uncut, you'll understand that he wasn't a good fit for a film we wanted to zip along at a steady clip - we let him go. It was a time.

Do you already have in the back of your mind what you're planning for KRITZERLAND's 115th show?

Yes, that will be in September and will be our eleventh anniversary show, so loaded with surprises.

What else is in the packed future for Bruce Kimmel?

I think we may be doing my musical revue L.A. NOW AND THEN again, and last year we were supposed to do a revival of APPLAUSE at the Group Rep, and I think that's going to happen next year, too. Looking forward to both of them, and there'll be a new book for 2022. And lots of CD releases.

Thank you again, Bruce! I look forward to experiencing KRITZERLAND's 114th LIVE!

Thanks for asking!

For tickets to the live 114th at Feinstein's at Vitello's July 28, 2021; log onto