John Cusumano is currently directing “You Can’t Take It With You” at the Laurel Mill Playhouse.
John Cusumano had his own theatre company for 7 years. His directing credits include “Dracula The Musical,” “Canterville Ghost,” “A Christmas Story” (First in USA to do the play.), and “The Carl Burnett Show.” On stage, he has appeared as Lieutenant Rooney in “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Laurel Mill Playhouse, Oscar in “The Odd Couple” at Rob Ramos Theater Company, and Bill Sykes in “Oliver!” at Hope Players.
For more information and tickets, click here.
What is it about the script “You Can’t Take it With You?” that made you want to direct the play?
I’ve always liked Kaufman & Hart’s work. “You Can’t Take It With You” & “The Man Who Came to Dinner” are two of my favorite plays. What I like about “YCTIWY” and why I loved directing it is the way they take us on a rollercoaster ride with this nutty family. I love plays that have that wacky humor and the audience never knows what’s going to happen next. I was able to do things with the set and certain props in the show that was never done before. One is the painting. Penny Sycamore use to paint. She has this unfinished painting of Mr. De Pinna as a discus thrower. I knew I wanted to show the painting but how to make it funny. I took a headshot of the actor and found an unfinished painting of a discus thrower and cut the picture a put it over the face in the painting. It is just one of the reasons I loved directing this show. I really got to show my creative side.
What was the audition process like for “You Can’t Take it With You?”
When I auditioned the actors I had them read every part. I also knew I needed a cast of people that would gel and work as one unit. The auditions at LMP are usually 2 hours. Mine were two and a half to three hours. I wanted to hear them read for every roll. I really lucked out that I found the right crazies to go on this journey with me. The one thing that I did differently was cast a woman as the ballet teacher Kolenkhov. No man came close to her in the auditions. In casting the show, I picked three people who have never been on stage before. We all bonded and became a family. Meeting for lunch on Saturdays before rehearsal and going to Karaoke on Fridays after the show. This has truly been one of the best times I’ve had directing a play.
Please talk about some of the actors in “You Can’t Take it With You?” and why theatergoers should come out to see their performance.
John D’Amato and Mary Guay Kramer play Martin Vanderhof and Penny Sycamore. They are both veterans of the stage. It’s Mary’s first time at LMP. When I talked about that perfect fit with the cast, Mary was the perfect piece to this puzzle. Mary and John do an amazing job as the heads of the house. John is having a grand time playing the Grandfather and him and Mary play off each other as if they were Father and Daughter.
Then there’s the Lovers; Alice played by Miranda Synder and Tony Kirby played by Nick Russo. The two of them have built a magical chemistry on stage that is sweet and innocent. You actually feel the love between them.
New to the stage are Ann Henry as Countess Orga Katrina, Lenny Dinerman as Mr. De Pinna and Talia Washington as Gay Wellington. All three of them do unbelievable work with their characters. When you see them on stage you would think they were acting for years.
Terri Laurino is an acting dynamo in the role as Kolenkhof. She took the part of Kolenkhof and ran with it. Terri steals the shows with her nutty Russian counterpart. When Terri auditioned I knew she was the right actor for the part.
Mark T Allen & Penni Barnett play Mr. and Mrs. Kirby. Mark and Penni play the perfect rick snobs. Penni’s facial expressions are classic and Mark’s deep voice is the best for the rich Kirby.
Cate Mumford and Anwar Al Mallah play Essie and Ed Carmichael. Cate is another actor new to LMP and danced her way into the heart of us all. When she auditioned I knew was the right fit to be Alice’s sister. Anwar plays Ed with a likable simpleness. Thank God he knew how to play the xylophone.
Dana Fleischer and Shawn Fournier play Rheba & Donald the maid and her boyfriend. Dana is very funny as Rheba using a southern accent to enhance the charm she brings to the part. Dana’s quick wit and timing make Rheba very funny and lovable. Shawn plays Donald with that likable dumbness.
James Berard plays Paul Sycamore. Jim was the last piece of the puzzle and connected with the part of Paul. You could see the love he has for his family.
Theatergoers should come to see this play for the nonstop laughs and the amazing performances by these actors who have become a true family. This is a once in a lifetime experience in the theatre where you can see a small woman take down a really big man in a wrestling match. Like I always say; “there is nothing like live theatre.”
Why is Laurel Mill Playhouse important to the community?
From the first time I set foot in the playhouse, you see that they make every patron feel like part of the LMP family. In mine opinion, community theatre brings strangers and families together to share in an take part in creating a memorable evening to escape from reality for a couple of hours. LMP is that place. LMP is open to everyone who wants to try their hand at acting. Actors keep coming back to LMP for that sense of family and Patrons come back to see the shows because of the intimacy of the sixty seat theater.
Besides directing, you also like to act on stage and screen. What has been your most challenging role and why?
When I first started acting I played nothing but bad, evil man, from Bill Sykes in “Oliver!” to Judge Hathorne in “The Crucible.” The first time I was cast in a comedy/drama was “Lost in Yonkers” in the role as Uncle Louie. I’ve never done a comedy before but knew the timing was key. In preparing for the part I wanted to be off book right away to work on the character. I studied the Meisner Method and did one of the things I love doing. I wrote down all the lines with no question marks, commas, just the words. It helped me put my own feeling into the lines. There was one scene where Louie faces off against his German Mother. I thought he should cry in the scene and the director didn’t. I asked to try it and if at the end she still felt the same I wouldn’t do it. The whole cast was crying. It was hard emotionally and draining but to date is still one of my favorite parts.