Leading the Pack

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com October 02 2010 5:45 PM ET

Michael Anthony might just be one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. When he's not plugging away at his day job in entertainment news (or one of his side gigs as a lifestyle reporter and publicist) he's co-producing The Village Variety Pack (think Sonny and Cher, but gayer). He and producing partner/co-host Dennis Hensley have made Monday nights in Hollywood a little more vibrant, thanks to their ability to attract a revolving crew of talented singers, actors, dancers, comics and more. As The Village Variety Pack prepares to celebrate its one year anniversary, Anthony talked with The Advocate about the highs, the lows, channeling his inner Gaga and what he and Hensley have in store for year two.

The Advocate: One year is a huge milestone in the theater. How do you plan to celebrate?
Michael Anthony: A huge milestone — you're not kidding. Getting people to see theater in LA is hard enough, yet alone a $15 show on a Monday night that doesn't serve alcohol or feature porn stars. But we've made it 18 shows (one year) and counting. The cast is always amazing, the money goes to a great cause and it really is a great way to kick off your week. As for celebrating, we're going to do what we do each month — put on a great show! We've got indie music acts, TV comedians, off-Broadway singers and a few special surprises... big one. I know I always say it, but our October 4th show really is our best yet — and playing an eclectic, jam-packed 90-minute show is truly how I'm excited to celebrate.

Looking back at your first show, what do you remember most?

I remember... nothing. You see, it's insanity backstage. We have no rehearsals for the show -- just two hours before the doors open to set all the tech, lighting and sound... for 20 people. Working out costume changes, practicing dance routines, checking the mics, building props and rehearsing sketches; everyone wants their time and everyone wants it now. That first show was chaos on steroids, but so exciting. At that moment, I was just so, so, so, so stoked to have a project come to life on the LA stage — it's a hard thing to do.

Over the years, you’ve had many a notable face join you on stage for the Village Variety Pack. Who has been the most memorable?
Jenifer Lewis and Leslie Jordan were both highlights -- they've done so much in their career and really gave the audience (and me) a very memorable, touching, hysterical night. But my favorite thing is to watch artists grow. Singer Matt Alber, comedian/actor Drew Droege, the drag-tastic Willam Belli, the cast of Chico's Angels... I love seeing them on our stage at one point in their career and then, a year later, explode with success!

Any moments you wish you could go back and take back something that was said on stage?
Something that was said? No, not really. But visuals, yes! Me in a toddler's baby doll dress as Hilary Swank. Me in see-through garbage bags as Lady Gaga. Me in an old school girl's uniform as Britney Spears. Sad but true; yes, those are all visuals that I (and the entire audience, I'm sure) wish I could take back.

Who is your dream guest performer?
I've said it before and I'll say it again — Adam Lambert, are you listening?













VILLAGE VARIETY PACK MAIN X390You and your producing partner both have full time gigs. Where do you find the time?
I
am so blessed in this city. I work full-time in entertainment news,
work consistently as a lifestyles writer/reporter, produce this show
monthly and also run my own PR side business. Every single thing I do
brings me joy. 10 years ago, I couldn't get a paycheck in this town. And
now... I get four! Just amazing!

I know you also write and produce a number of the skits. How do you know when one’s successful?

Determining
success on stage is hard, especially when it comes to comedy. Sometimes
the audience loves it... yet are politely silent. And other times, the
audience is horrified and yet they pretend to enjoy it. I truly believe
that it's the product, not the process. If my actors and producers are
cracking up non-stop through rehearsal, even after the 40th time, then I
know we've got something funny on our hands. If they're taking it too
seriously, then I know we've got a problem... Once in a sketch, an actor
once asked me what his motivation was for accepting a job at Hot Dog on a
Stick. I knew we had a problem!

With a rotating lineup of performers, what does it take for someone to get up on that stage?

At
first, Dennis and I pulled from our friends in order to cast the show
-- the people we've long worked with or performers that we've always
thought were insanely talented...and some that we just plain had crushes
on. Slowly, as word got out, the casting spread beyond our "inner
circle" to a friends of friends thing...and now we're actually getting
pitched from people -- something like 10 submissions a month. We just
added a new segment where we feature a "community newbie", someone
that's written in to us and pitched themselves. Last month we had this
guy named Jonny. He'd never sang before a theater audience before and it
was his dream. He did a diva-wailing version of "I Am Changing" from Dreamgirls
and he was... amazing! I love seeing new talent like that flourish on
our stage — for the first time, as well as the million-th!


Looking forward, what happens when you outgrow the Village. Do you have an alternate name already in place?

I'll sell us to the highest bidder! Staples? Kodak? Verizon? Any takers? We're not picky!