Accomplished Actor Don Bernardo Looks Forward to Spoofing Around in ‘Forbidden Broadway’ at Western Reserve Playhouse July 21-August 12

Accomplished actor Don Bernardo has played many leading roles over the course of his theatrical career — everyone from Juan Peron to Ebeneezer Scrooge to Willy Wonka. Now he gets to perform a whole bunch of characters all in a single evening, as one of the ensemble members of the mischievous musical revue Forbidden Broadway, Greatest Hits Vol. 1.

Western Reserve Playhouse is presenting Forbidden Broadway from July 21-August 12. The spoof-filled show is written by Gerard Alessandrini and directed by Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski, with musical direction by John Ebner and choreography by Samantha Woodill. The venue is located at 3326 Everett Road in Bath. For tickets and more information, visit the company website at westernreserveplayhouse.org.

 

LandOfCleve: Describe yourself in 25 words or less.

Don: I’ve been a proud theatre nerd for as long as I can remember.

LandOfCleve: Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

Don: I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, but my family wasn’t there long. I have no memory of it, and I’ve never been back. My family moved around quite a bit as I was growing up, so I’ve lived in a number of places – upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, and even a year in California. My first summer job from college was making pizzas in a beach shop on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, and the following year I was working in the Trust Vault for Chase Manhattan Bank in NYC.

LandOfCleve: Where do you live now, and where do you work?

Don: I live with my wife, Kate, and twin sons Lucas and Victor in Chagrin Falls. Kate teaches and runs the drama program at Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights. I’m currently looking for another employment opportunity, so if anyone in your readership is seeking a great nonprofit administrator and/or fundraiser, give me a call!

LandOfCleve: What are your other Northeast Ohio connections?

Don: We moved to the Cleveland area in 2000, and lived for several years in Cleveland Heights before moving to Chagrin in 2008. My sons are both starting their junior year in college – Luc is transferring to Cleveland State this fall, and Victor attends Kent State. I’ve worked for several nonprofits of various sizes, ranging from Lyric Opera Cleveland (where I was managing director for four seasons) to the Cleveland Clinic.

LandOfCleve: How did your background and education prepare you to work in the theatre?

Don: I majored in Drama at the University of Toronto, and have an MBA in Arts Management from the State University of New York at Binghamton.

But I probably learned the most about acting during a four-week period while I was in Toronto: I had the fortune to serve as stage manager for a small, one-man play being performed at my college’s studio theatre by Nicholas Pennell, one of the Stratford Festival’s leading actors from the mid-’70s until he passed in 1995. He was incredibly generous with his time to a young, undergraduate theatre student. We spent several post-rehearsal evenings at the pub together, talking about theatre, acting and life. He was a brilliant, gifted actor, and a conversation with him was like taking a master class.

The most important lesson he taught me was that you must always find a way to connect with the audience – even if you’re firmly “behind the fourth wall,” you must always feel that energy from them, and give it back to them. Otherwise, you’re just reciting text. I carry that with me each and every time I step onto a stage.

 

Don Bernardo as Juan Peron in “Evita” at Brecksville Theatre on the Square

LandOfCleve: Tell us about a few of your favorite past stage and/or screen experiences.

Don: I’ve been fortunate to play several wonderful characters in the last few years. Some of my favorites include Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone and Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol: The Musical, both at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre. I also loved playing Juan Peron in Brecksville Theatre on the Square’s production of Evita (opposite our Forbidden Broadway director Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski).

Last season I played two great lead characters: the title role in Sweeney Todd for Geauga Lyric Theatre in Chardon, and Oscar Jaffe in On the Twentieth Century for the Hudson Players.

But my “signature role” seems to be King Arthur in Monty Python’s Spamalot – I’ve played that role three times since 2014, first for the Hudson Players, then CVLT, then last season at Weathervane. I’m a huge Python fan, so that role was a true labor of love. I was joined in all three productions by my “brother from another mother,” Brian Diehl, who played my sidekick Patsy. And two of my three Ladies of the Lake, Nina Takacs and Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski, are involved with Forbidden Broadway. I’ve made wonderful friends in Northeast Ohio community theatre, and I cherish the opportunity to play with them, on- and offstage!

I haven’t done much screen work. While I was in Toronto I was an extra in a few crowd scenes for various films and TV shows, but nothing you actually can find me in. I also did an anti-smoking video PSA here in Cleveland a few years ago that ended up getting air play during a newscast in China, of all places! (We found someone to translate the Chinese commentary, and the anchors were talking about how anti-smoking videos don’t really work, so obviously they weren’t very impressed with our performances…)

 

Don and Ryan Davis in the Geauga Lyric Theatre Guild production of “Sweeney Todd”

LandOfCleve: What roles are you playing in Forbidden Broadway, and how are you approaching each character?

Don: I’m having great fun spoofing two of my very favorite characters, Sweeney Todd and King Arthur.

Sweeney was a role I’ve wanted to play for years, so I loved doing Geauga’s production last October. I can’t say that I have a specific “approach” to him in this particular show – “Forbidden Broadway” is a campy spoof of many popular Broadway musicals, so it’s important to have fun with it, and not “overthink” it. I had two fantastic makeup artists working with me in Chardon, so I’m doing a really “bad” and silly approximation of the great makeup they did for me there.

As for Arthur, the script calls for a Tim Curry impression, so I’m trying to do my best “Rocky Horror” Tim Curry while dressed as Arthur. When I played the role “for real,” I had Python’s Graham Chapman (who played the role in the Holy Grail film) sitting on one shoulder, and Curry (who originated it in Spamalot) on the other, so it’s not a huge acting stretch with those guys as inspirations.

I’m also playing Tevye in the Fiddler on the Roof sequence, and several castmates have asked if I’ve played that role before (I haven’t), so maybe it’s something I should try one day. I’m not really shooting for a Zero Mostel or Chaim Topol “Tevye,” though – I’m kinda doing a stereotypical “New York Jew,” which makes it funny with the lyrics (not to mention the beard…).

But where I think this show really allows performers to shine are the ensemble numbers. There are some truly amazing voices in this group, and it’s a honor to share the stage with them.

 

Don as King Arthur in “Monty Python’s Spamalot” for Hudson Players

 

LandOfCleve: How are the director, cast and crew at Western Reserve Playhouse collaborating to bring the show to life?

Don: Any good director will tell you that casting is at least 75% of the work, and Dawn has done a fabulous job casting everyone in their individual/solo roles, and helping us shape our performances. I get chills listening to Kimberly Sullivan sing Elphaba from Wicked (Kim, honey, if they ever release the amateur rights to that thing, you need to jump all over that… seriously, Kim is doing an Idina Menzel that would make Travolta remember her name!), as well as Nina Takacs sing Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand.

One of the fun things about Forbidden Broadway is that it gives each performer an opportunity to be featured, while also providing some great ensemble numbers. And of course, we’re all stretching our comic chops.

But I would say the collaboration has really blossomed during our tech rehearsals – there are more than 100 costumes in this show, and figuring out the timing and logistics of quick-changes, prop placement, entrances, exits, etc. has been a real challenge on this show. It’s been fun watching everyone pitch in and help each other. We’re constantly ripping clothes off each other backstage, and throwing others on – it’s like some sort of bizarre, platonic orgy. Total organized chaos. It’s stressful, but we’re having a ball.

LandOfCleve: What can audiences expect when they come to see the show?

Don: Come prepared to laugh and be entertained by some of the best musical theatre talent in the area doing some very silly things. We’ve all been laughing at each other’s performances, and we’re looking forward to making our audiences laugh. A working knowledge of musical theatre will help you “get” many of the jokes, but it’s absolutely not required – you’ll have just as much fun watching the performances, or seeing the wacky costumes. It’s just a simple evening of pure entertainment.

LandOfCleve: What are your other dream roles or types of characters you’d like to play in the future?

Don: I’ve been mainly doing musicals lately, so I’m starting to get the itch to do a serious straight play. Henry in A Lion in Winter comes to immediate mind — I played John in college. I haven’t done any Shakespeare since college, so I’d love to delve back into that material.

One of my very favorite plays is Ronald Harewood’s The Dresser, and I’d enjoy playing either Sir or Norman — or maybe directing it somewhere.

There are a lot of dream roles that I’ve aged out of (for example, the Baker in Into the Woods) so my “bucket list” is getting shorter and shorter. I’d like a shot at Max Bialystock in The Producers – that one has slipped by me a couple of times.

If the amateur rights to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder ever become available, I’m dying (pun intended) to play the eight D’Ysquith roles. I caught the tour at Playhouse Square last season, and was in awe of the guy who did it there.

There are a few roles I’d enjoy doing again – I’d play either Man in Chair or Sweeney Todd again in a heartbeat. I’m a Sondheim fan (actually, it’s kind of a “love/hate” relationship…), and there are lots of shows in his canon that I haven’t done yet.

Don in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre

 

LandOfCleve: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and actresses?

Don: Just perform, anywhere and everywhere you can. Acting is a muscle, and you need to exercise it in order to improve. Community theatre is one of the best places to learn, because you are “allowed” (and sometimes “expected”) to fail. Don’t worry about that. Just have fun, because that’s what it’s all about. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

LandOfCleve: Anything else you would like to add or promote?

Don: As Western Reserve Playhouse’s new artistic directors, Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski and Brian Westerley are doing a wonderful job transforming both the space and the organization. I’m going to be watching their progress with great interest, and hoping for many future opportunities to perform on their stage.

 

SHOW DETAILS

 

WHO: Western Reserve Playhouse

WHAT: Forbidden Broadway, Greatest Hits Vol. 1 by Gerard Alessandrini; directed by Dawn Sniadak-Yamokoski, musical direction by John Ebner, choreography by Samantha Woodill

WHEN: July 21, 22, 28 & 29, August 4, 5, 11 & 12 at 8PM

WHERE: Western Reserve Playhouse, 3326 Everett Road in Bath

HOW: Make your reservations on the company website: www.westernreserveplayhouse.org

 

In this long-running Off-Broadway hit musical revue, Broadway’s greatest musical legends meet Broadway’s greatest satirist in this hilarious, loving & endlessly entertaining tribute to some of the theatre’s greatest stars & songwriters.

The original version of the revue opened on January 15, 1982, at Palsson’s Supper Club in New York City and ran for 2,332 performances. Alessandrini has rewritten the show more than a dozen times over the years to include parodies of newer shows. The show, in its various editions, has received over 10,000 performances & has been seen in more than 200 U.S. cities, as well as playing in London, Tokyo, Singapore & Sydney.