Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA is changing, with exciting new features and an all new look by debuting August 12.

In the meantime, thank you for visiting this temporary site, on which you will find reviews of all currently running productions, as well as some which have closed recently.

Visit the new StageSceneLA starting August 12 and the first thing you’ll find will be all the latest reviews and interviews, beginning with the most recent.

All reviews will now be “tagged,” allowing StageSceneLA readers to make a quick list of each and every “Now Playing” production as well as those tagged with a “WOW!.” You will also be able to find reviews by “genre,” “location,” and other tags. Interviews will be tagged as well, allowing for quick accessing of all StageSceneLA interviews.

A brand new search function will allow readers to find any play or musical by name, as well as any reviews in which a particular actor performed, which a particular director directed, or which a particular designer designed, etc.

The new StageSceneLA will continue to feature complete lists of all StageSceneLA Award winners over the past six years—with our 2010-12 Awards to be announced mid-September. StageSceneLA will no longer feature listings of upcoming and unreviewed productions, the better to concentrate on its forte: Spotlighting The Best In Southern California Theater in its reviews and interviews.

Review archives will be restored gradually—hopefully by the end of September 2011. In the meantime, please feel free to send an email request for a PDF file of any previous StageSceneLA review to

Thanks as always for visiting Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA: Spotlighting The Best In Southern California Theater. And thanks especially for your patience during this exciting period of transition.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Dennis Moench Interview

Mary Poppins has arrived at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center For The Arts, bringing with her all the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious fun you remember from the classic Walt Disney film. The role of Robertson Ay offers National Tour cast member Dennis Moench the chance to pay a return visit to the Center, having previously appeared on its stage in the National Tour of All Shook Up. Dennis sat down recently to talk with us about his busy life in musical theater.

As a child growing up in the Adirondack region of Upstate New York, what sparked your interest in theater and set you on the path towards becoming a performer?

I began in music. I started singing at a very young age, thanks to the encouragement of my Grandmother. When I got to middle school a few choir friends of mine said they needed some extra townspeople for the school play. It was a western called Pecos Bill And Slue Foot Sue Meet The Dirty Dan Gang. I played the banker, and from then on I was hooked.

You got your BFA from New York University Tisch School Of The Arts, which says a lot for the talent you must have displayed in high school and earlier. Are there any pre-NYU acting gigs that stand out for you particularly?

I didn’t really get paid as an actor until after I started at NYU, but I was very involved in the community theater scene where I grew up. The defining one for me, the one that made me realize that this was something I could do for a living, was when I played Seymour in Little Shop Of Horrors. Until then I didn’t think there were many roles for funny, skinny, nerdy guys who could sing. After that production I realized what my place was in musical theater. To this day, those are the roles that I tend to fit in to.

So how did your NYU experience prepare you for the professional career that has followed your graduation?

It gave me the tools I needed to be a versatile performer and to sustain an eight-show week. It takes more than talent to be successful in theater. You need technique so that you don’t lose your voice after the second show of the week, or injure yourself during a dance. Some days you have lot of things going on in your personal life and you have to learn how leave everything behind when you walk out onto the stage in front of an audience. Those are some of many things I learned at NYU. I wouldn’t have been as successful without that training.

You made your off-Broadway debut as Abraham in Altar Boyz, one of my very favorite musicals of the past decade. What was that particular experience like for you?

It was very exciting and nervy. The show had only been open for about six months when I was cast to replace one of the original actors, so there still was a lot of hype surrounding it and a lot of pressure to succeed. I had two weeks to learn the show and only one rehearsal with all of the other actors who had been doing it for that past six months before I was put on stage in front of an audience.

It’s amazing how little rehearsal time replacements and understudies are given! You must have been especially nervous on Opening Night.

I think what made me even more nervous was the fact that all of the “Altar-holics” were there at my first show. Those were the groupies. They knew every line, every lyric, every dance move... and they loved the guy that I was replacing... But it was still one of the best experiences of my professional career. That show is awesome and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I got to see you a few years back playing funny, skinny, nerdy Dennis in the National Tour of All Shook Up, and doing a fabulous job at it. I understand that after that you had the opportunity to recreate the role in a Chicago production of the same show. What was it like to go back to the role in an all new staging?

I loved doing it again! It’s always great to revisit a role, and I’ve done it twice now. I think it’s more fun the second time. You already know all the lines and have thought in great detail about the character, so you’re already several steps ahead. The fun part is trying to strip away all of your pre-conceived notions and start from scratch with a new set, new director, new choreographer, and new actors. I had a lot of fun.

What was it like being part of the theater scene in The Windy City?

The Chicago theater scene is a great big family of creative people who were very supportive. It’s different from New York where you kind of feel like every man is for themselves. I was a nice change and I would love to do a show in Chicago again.

Mary Poppins isn’t your first time touring the U.S. Traveling across the country for the first time in All Shook Up and performing in so many different cities, does any one tour stop particularly stand out in your memory?

Oh they all do in some way. I really like the West Coast. I spent my whole life East of the Mississippi, so going west was huge for me. That’s what is so great about being on tour. You get to see so many places for the first time—and you’re getting paid to do it!

How familiar were you with Mary Poppins when you auditioned for the role? Was it something you’d grown up loving?

Yes! Mary Poppins was actually one of the first VHS tapes we owned, so I watched it over and over again. I wanted to be Michael Banks as a kid! I used to draw chalk paintings in the driveway and pretend that I was jumping into them like they did in the movie.

What is it like being part of something that strikes so many nostalgic chords in theatergoers of all ages?

Just the other day I was walking to the show and I saw two girls dressed like princesses going to the theater with their Mom. They were so excited that they ran down the sidewalk! This was about forty-five minutes before the show even started. The idea that I was going to be on stage in front of this family made me really enthusiastic about going to work that night. Mary Poppins means so much to people of every age. To be part of a show that strikes a chord with every generation is really a blessing.

Unlike your previous shows, I’d guess that Mary Poppins has a much larger percentage of kids in the audience. How does performing in front of this younger crowd feel?

I love it when kids laugh! It’s so free and uninhibited. Sometimes I can hear one stick out in particular—a kid who is really hollering with laughter. That’s the best.

How do the kids react when they meet you after the show?

After the show they tend to be quieter, like they’re in awe, especially the young ones. They can’t really understand that what they see at the stage door is the same person that they saw on stage a few minutes ago. When they see Steffanie Leigh at the stage door with her blonde hair, that is even more shocking for them. I have even heard some kids say, “What? Mary Poppins is blonde???”

Having now done two major national tours, how does the Mary Poppins experience compare with your previous one?

Well, Mary Poppins is a huge show. It’s maybe one of the biggest tours out there right now. The magnitude of the whole thing is just jaw-dropping. So yeah, it is pretty special to be a part of something as big as this ... literally!

What’s your very favorite moment in the show?

As an audience member, definitely Step in Time. It’s a big tap number in the second act that takes place on the rooftops of London and it is very impressive! As a performer, my biggest moment in the show is the “Spoonful of Sugar” scene. I actually get to drink some of it and it does some spectacular things to my voice! You’ll have to see for yourself!

How do you feel about being back in Southern California? Are there any places you’re planning to visit or hang out in while in the area?

Well, definitely Disneyland. The beach is a must at some point, and I have a lot of friends in Los Angeles so I’ll be hanging out there as well... Oh, and that huge mall by the Performing Arts Center. I’m sure I’ll be spending some time there too.

I’ll bet South Coast Plaza does a lot of extra business whenever National Tours perform across the street! Thanks so much Dennis for taking time to talk with StageSceneLA.

Dennis Moench’s credits include:
Broadway: Mary Poppins (Valentine/Robertson Ay us). National Tour: All Shook Up (Dennis). Off-Broadway: Altar Boyz (Abraham), Fame (Schlomo). Regional Theatre: All Shook Up (Dennis, Jeff Award Nom.), Fiddler... (Motel), Hair (Woof). BFA: NYU/Tisch.
Mary Poppins photo by Joan Marcus.