Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spotlight On...Rob Lester

Name: Rob Lester.

Hometown: I’m a native New Yorker.

Education: Mostly the School of Hard Knocks and a small college in Little Italy called Whatsamatta U.  Seriously, my college work was in a few stages of fits and starts and stops, some loose ends not tied up when I got tied up in working for a living in my chosen field between semesters and then stopping again and again.  I did take a lot of theatre and music classes in a few different places in New York State. Mostly my education came from work experience.

Favorite Credits: I’m the writer of the story, the script, the lyrics, and the original music for all the shows presented by the theatre company called PLAY NICE! Productions.  I also direct the shows.  We’re finishing up the run of The Half-Ring Circus  March 21 at Room 53 (314 West 53 Street) and March 22 at West End Lounge at 107 Street & West End Avenue in Manhattan with 2:00 matinees. I enjoy working solo, but really love to collaborate, too, especially on songs.  One of my most prestigious partners was a rather famous man whose music I got to write lyrics to.  Unfortunately, he passed away rather young.  His name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  You see, I was commissioned to write English lyrics based loosely on ideas originally in songs of his first  opera.  It would be intimidating to try to set words to Mozart, but this is a little opera he wrote as an adolescent, and is very lighthearted, so I took the dare.  Nowadays, my most satisfying credits and work are in putting together songs and shows that have some meaning and communicate the positive, inclusive messages that our PLAY NICE! company has as its core and to see people be moved by the work.  But my funnybone is never too much hidden.

Why theater?: What else is there?  I mean, it’s the greatest communicator and can include all the other arts and fosters teamwork and common goals.  And it’s fun.

What inspired you to write and direct The Half-Ring Circus?: Originally, in the previous century, it was just one more job I was asked to do in summer theatre.  A company was doing a one-act opera about a circus and wanted an original one-act musical comedy to fill out the bill.  So, I wrote a pretty cartoony piece about another circus, as requested.  Some directors take direction well.  This new version is expanded and more realistic and has a serious side, without giving up the humor.  I attended a benefit—a variety show-- called Robin’s Nest  to raise money for, a group that gives grants to people of all kinds who want to adopt a child, but have exhausted their other sources and roads, but have been approved in home studies.  The singers told their personal stories about adopting or being adopted.  I was very moved and wanted to make adoption the theme of my next production.  I rewrote the play significantly to make it about not a group of unrelated people who worked at a circus and functioned somewhat like a family or team, but made them literally a family--- blended biological relations and adoptees of a few generations.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I like all kinds – as long as it isn’t pretentious and pedantic.  My heart will always be with musical theater.  Since theatre company gives 100% of its ticket sales income to charities and our shows all have themes that are life-affirming and are about integrity and kindness, it attracts people who are willing to volunteer to make that happen and have goals outside themselves.  All our company members who care enough to do that and put in the work for this higher goal inspire me every day to keep going.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: It’s a long, long list.  There is talent and energy that attract me, and fame is seductive.  But I want to work with anyone who shares our goals, whether that be one of our celebrity guest stars in a show or benefit concert --- we raise money for production expenses that way between shows—or a dedicated raw talent just starting out.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: My other job is being a reviewer, so I am regularly on record recommending shows to friends and strangers, as well as suggesting what to avoid.  It’s a way of life.  Writing to unseen people considering attending shows as if those people were friends is a writing style that can work in my head.  And feel more real than Facebook friends.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: I think it would be an animated cartoon and it would be called “The Right Rewrite” because it’s all about revising and learning and finding the ideal blend of elements.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I absolutely love and respect the traditional classic musicals and read about it voraciously and collect every cast album imaginable and unimaginable.  Although I have seen films and revivals of many, I’d love to see the originals with the original casts, like the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows and star-making vehicles, like Ethel Merman stopping the show in her first role in the Gershwins’ Girl Crazy in 1930 and lots of shows there is scant evidence of – no recording, no published songs—associated with later-famous greats.  It would be a long trip in the time machine.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: There is no pun too silly, no novelty song too loopy, no trashy Hollywood movie too campy, and no French fry too crisp.  No ice cream flavor or theatre angel too rich.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I would be unfulfilled with more free time to be filled, and on the outside looking in.  I prefer to be on the inside with things looking up.

What’s up next?:  We’ll do a staged reading of an Easter-related show and then a couple more musicals.  All our shows have intergenerational casts and we are always welcoming new talent.  People who want to know more than that can simply email me at onthejobrob at and we’ll take it from there.  Thanks for asking!