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Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others

Kritzerland celebrates their eleventh anniversary of producing monthly shows with KRITZERLAND’s 115th September 12, 2021 at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others

Kritzerland celebrates their eleventh anniversary of producing monthly shows with KRITZERLAND's 115th September 12, 2021 at Feinstein's at Vitello's. Had the chance to talk to Robert Yacko, a Kritzerland staple on his long relationship with Kritzerland, as well as on fun stuff on his resume.

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

Thank you so much, Gil, for inviting me.

You are on the roster of singing talents for KRITZERLAND's 115th September 12th, celebrating Kritzerland's eleventh anniversary of monthly shows. What cosmic forces first brought you and Bruce Kimmel, the man behind and in front of Kritzerland, together?

Bruce and I met through mutual friends in the late 80's, but we were in different creative circles at the time. When Kritzerland began, I was aware of it, as I often had friends in the shows. Then, in early 2013, I was working on a demo recording with Bruce's associate producer at the time, Adryan Russ, who suggested that I come see one of their shows. I did, and absolutely loved the evening. I chatted with Bruce afterwards, and within a month, Bruce invited me to do my first Kritzerland show, a tribute to the late, great Billy Barnes.

How many of the 114 shows (so far) have you done?

I would have to take a total shot in the dark and guess, maybe 40? Of late, Bruce has said that I hold "the dubious distinction of doing more Kritzerland shows than anyone else." As he would say, "Go know."

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others Do you have a say in choosing the songs you sing?

I do at times. Bruce has grown to trust me enough that, when he is stuck for ideas (which is rare), or needs something he hasn't thought of, he will ask me for suggestions. Bruce has a great overall sense of building the arc of a musical evening, and he is a walking encyclopedia of an enormous cross section of music, most especially from theater and film, which includes many rarities that few others know. Hence, it is always an honor to have one of my suggestions in the show.

Do you know what you'll be singing September 12th?

I do, though I don't want to spill the beans. The surprise is half the fun. I will simply say that I am singing a rare Gershwin tune from PARDON MY ENGLISH, a delicious number that Chevalier sang in GIGI, and a delightful, somewhat unsung standard these days. The mix of songs I get to do is always fun at Kritzerland.

I've seen various editions of Kritzerland shows online during the past pandemic months. Was KRITZERLAND's 114th show July 28, the first time you performed before a LIVE audience since the lockdown?

Yes, it was.

How did it feel to be back onstage singing in front of the live Feinstein's at Vitello's audience?

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others The rush of singing live again was incredibly exciting. At the same time, it felt quite surreal to be back after so long, as our last live show was March 1st, 2020. It was a bit scary as well, to be out of the live performance groove for that length of time, wondering if you'll be as 'on your game' as you hope to be. The online shows did keep us in shape, but getting out there again in that lovely, familiar venue turned out to be quite the lift for our creative spirits. The audience that night was both thrilling and thrilled to be seeing live performance again. It was indeed a return to magic.

You just completed THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC!, a two-night fundraiser for Group Rep. How did you like Group Rep's new outdoor space The Yard?

The Yard is a great outdoor space, with a very nice stage and very good sound, and they wisely begin their shows in perfect timing, which keeps the lighting on point, and the airport traffic noise to a very quiet minimum.

What songs did you sing?

I sang "I Won't Send Roses", from my favorite Jerry Herman score, MACK & MABEL. And Daniel Bellusci and I sang both "Agony": and the "Agony Reprise" as the two Princes from INTO THE WOODS.

I see in your resume you've gone back to a couple of shows: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF twice (playing Perchik and Fyedka) and PARADE three times (playing Dorsey, Judge and Governor Slaton). Do you learn the whole show again from scratch for the perspectives of your different characters?

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others When I return to a show in a different character, yes, I have to take an entirely fresh look at the piece from that character's viewpoint. But having an overall feel and context for the piece already does help to streamline that process. When repeating a role, I try, with each subsequent production, to rediscover, deepen and simplify what I am doing to tell the story. My second run as George in SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (with the brilliant Pamela Myers) was another kind of gift to me, as George is such a complex and nuanced character to digest in a short rehearsal period. The L.A. premiere set the bar for me, but the second production gave me four more weeks of rehearsal to mine the depths of that intense character, via the text, music, lyrics and interactions, and truly make the role my own. With us in that second cast in Portland, Oregon, by the way, was a 9-year-old budding force-of-nature named Shoshana Bean, who played our Louise, in her very first show.

Do you prefer performing as yourself? Or as a scripted character?

In truth, the only differing factor for me in "performing as yourself" comes when you are doing a solo cabaret act, as you hold the ceiling up for 70 to 90 minutes alone, sharing personal stories between songs. That is something that feels somewhat alien and a little daunting at first. But as you enter each song, it is very much the same work you do as a scripted character. In my view, the star of any show or of any song you sing is the story that you are telling through it, either alone or with a cast of others. You enter that story at a specific emotional place, to bring the audience along with you on that leg of the journey. The challenge in cabaret is entering that story with much less of a running start, having to find a way to get to the necessary jump point without the lead-up that a script gives your character. I love both the scripted arc of a character and the improvisational feel of cabaret, and not being locked into one keeps both ventures very fresh.

If I name one of your past co-stars, would you give us a short memorable exchange you shared with each?

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others Herschel Bernardi in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF:

Herschel was incredibly generous, and so real and funny as Tevye. My favorite moment with him onstage was, when a young performer, who was singing the Russian tenor solo in "To Life," passed out while singing the high G, and slid into my lap, literally out cold. As Fyedka, I jumped in to finish the solo, while hanging onto this 6-foot-plus-tall ragdoll by the scruff of his neck. Singing to the jaw-dropping astonishment on Herschel's face in that wild moment was absolutely unforgettable.

Theodore Bikel in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF:

Theo honored me numerous times by personally inviting me to play Perchik with him in subsequent productions of FIDDLER after our first run. We got on very well and had great fun onstage together. No matter where we were, he always threw a party for the entire cast and crew, in the mix entertaining us with folk songs in many of 17 languages he knew. Because of him, I also got to reprise my role at a stellar Benefit Concert of FIDDLER, starring Theo and Lainie Kazan, in which I stood next to (and later chatted with) our narrator for the concert version, the great Carl Reiner.

Cesar Romero in THE MAX FACTOR:

Cesar was a true gentleman, so charming and so gracious. He didn't like to be alone, so I shared a dressing with him for two runs of our play, and thus, heard fascinating stories about his adventures in the Golden Age of Hollywood. I learned to trigger those stories in the right moment by simply asking, for instance, "What was Errol Flynn like?" and out spilled the tales. Now and then, just for fun before the start of our play some evenings, Cesar would launch into his Joker laugh from Batman to get us all going.

Leslie Uggams in INTO THE WOODS:

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others Leslie is a total class act, a warm and giving person, and was absolutely brilliant as the Witch. It was worth the price of admission just to hear her sing "The Last Midnight." It was extraordinary for me to have grown up watching her on Sing Along With Mitch, and then to have the great fortune of sharing the stage with her, while getting to know her personally over two productions.

Rita Rudner in TICKLED PINK & TWO'S A CROWD:

I was already a long-time fan of Rita's stand-up when I did my first play with her, TICKLED PINK, at The Laguna Playhouse. Rita's comic delivery is so unique, and she is an absolute delight to play opposite on stage, which we did in both plays. What very few people know about Rita is that she began her career as a Broadway dancer. At 18, she was the first dancer replacement in FOLLIES on Broadway. The dancer she replaced was Graciela Daniele. She was also in the original cast of MACK & MABEL with Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters.

Rachel York in THE ADDAMS FAMILY:

I was a fan of Rachel's work from her Broadway turn in CITY OF ANGELS. Rachel is a consummate professional and so very warm, witty and personable, even throwing a little cast-bonding party during rehearsals in her out-of-town digs. What I loved about Rachel's Morticia was her flawless comic timing, her sexy bravado, and the unique touch of a vampiress that she brought to the role.

Carol Burnett in COMPANY:

There is so much to love about Carol, both onstage and off. She is one of the kindest, loveliest people you will ever meet. I got to know her well during COMPANY, due in part to having already worked with her daughter Carrie in a funny, short musical film that opened the 1991 Writers Guild Awards. Carol loved being a part of the couples' ensemble in COMPANY, but when she stepped out as Joanne to sing "The Ladies Who Lunch," she held that 3,000-seat theater effortlessly in the palm of her hands. She was truly impressive. During the long hours of tech, she shared with me some hilarious behind-the-scenes anecdotes about Tim Conway from her TV series, and when I made Carol giggle with my own antics, I felt like I'd died and gone to comedy heaven.

Interview: Robert Yacko - Singing With Kritzerland & Many, Many Others I love looking at actors' 'special skills' on their resumes. One that you list is 'dialects.' What's your secret to switching dialects? Do you have a key word for each dialect?

As someone who trained early on in dance and understood "centers" and how to shift them, I discovered that my secret to dialects is finding that regionalism's "center of placement" in my mouth. American tends to be right in the middle, British is forward, Russian is very back of the throat, and Irish, an inch or so in front of the lips. The correct placement of a dialect's center can help you make more than half of the correct sounds, so that is always primary for me. Then you add specific sounds, and factor in the dialect's unique melodic lines and cadences. That's where having a singer's ear helps enormously. Sometimes phrases I've heard and can imitate will get me going as well. The Aussie dialect can be tough to find quickly, but somehow, Crocodile Dundee's "Out of the way, Dobie!" always locks that one in for me. And the sing-song nature of the shopkeepers' "Bonjour!" which I heard often when I was visiting the south of France always places that one just right.

How is the short you executive producing Another Night Out going?

As far as I know, it is going very well. I am less on the creative end of that project, and more a part of the support system for the production. We are anxiously awaiting the early renderings at this point.

What's in the near future for Robert Yacko?

I am ever grateful for my ongoing career work in theater and cabaret. My last big theater piece took me off-Broadway with Rita Rudner in the summer of 2019. Currently, I have a few pending irons in the fire for the near future, but nothing is set in stone just yet. As the world opens slowly and cautiously, no one is exactly sure what will be doable and when. I do know however that, aside from Kritzerland, Bruce has some wonderful new ideas for our nights at Vitello's in 2022. As always, it will be a very welcome surprise for the actors and audiences as well.

Thank you again, Robert! I look forward to seeing you live again at Feinstein's at Vitello's September 12th.

It was my pleasure, Gil. Thank for your kind interest and for the wonderful, thought-provoking questions!

For tickets for the LIVE performance of KRITZERLAND's 115th September 12th, log

onto www.eventbrite.com/e/168616172511

TodayTix


From This Author - Gil Kaan

      Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas of film, television, and stage in... (read more about this author)


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