SHOWDOWN PLAYS AND MUSICALS
Music and Lyrics Made in the SCV
By Michele Emerick Buttelman
Signal Features Editor
As a small boy growing up in east Texas, Dennis Poore would often wander out into his family's backyard and stare up at the galaxy of stars that glowed in the obsidian sky. As he gazed into the infinite blackness - scattered with the tiny pin points of light - he dreamed of being on a movie set.
"I didn't know exactly what I would be doing, but I knew I wanted to do that," Poore said.
Across the continent from the Santa Clarita Valley - in Florida - Flip Kobler graduated from high school on a Tuesday. Two days later - on a Thursday - Kobler packed up everything he owned and moved to California. As a child Kobler said he always knew what he wanted to do when he "grew up." "All kids go through that period where they want to be a fireman or a cop or a dentist," Kobler said. "I decided if I was an actor I could be all of those things." Kobler's father also influenced his choice of career. "When I was 7 I knew I wanted to go into show business," Kobler said. "My dad was an actor and he gave up that dream to raise a family and I knew that haunted him."
Poore, who lives in Canyon Country - with wife Wendy, daughter Megan and son Tim - came from a musical family. His first love was music.
"I've always had a musical ear. I used to watch my sister play concerts, she was a concert pianist and I remember being fascinated by watching her hands on the keys," he said. "I took piano lessons from age 4 through my junior year in high school - then like any kid I got tired of it and I quit."
Poore said his attention soon turned to acting."I wanted to be an actor. I was a theater major in college in Louisiana, then one day I sat down at a piano and started writing music," he said. "It just happened, I started playing a tune I made up in my head. On that one day I realized I could write music and that changed my whole direction. All of a sudden I started scoring the plays at the school and at that point I realized I needed to go to Los Angeles and score a movie. That's what I wanted to do."
And that's exactly what Poore did, after paying his dues the Hollywood way. Poore made his living as a professional pianist in nightclubs and as an accompanist during his first five years in L.A., then he got a break, a chance to move to England and produce a record. "It was a dance record that played all the clubs in London," he said. His European hits include "Strange Desire" and "Young Men." "It was a great experience because I got to work with the composer Vangelis," Poore said. Vangelis is best known for his Academy Award winning score for the film "Chariots of Fire," and scores for the films "The Bounty," "Blade Runner" and "1492: Conquest of Paradise." "I worked in his studio and with his engineers. He had just finished 'Chariots of Fire' and was working on the film 'The Bounty,'" Poore said.
After returning to the states Poore worked with the Megaw Theatre in Northridge scoring all of theater's plays. From that experience came "An American
Cantata," a musical that played off-off-Broadway in New York and then premiered at the Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica. The
play is available from theatrical publisher Samuel French.
It was during that time Poore met comedienne Julie Brown. He collaborated with Brown on the movie "Earth Girls Are Easy" (1988) which starred
Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans. Poore's song "Cause I'm a Blonde" the satiric anthem of the "dumb blonde" - received radio airplay throughout the world. "In addition to being featured in the film 'Earth Girls are Easy' they used the song in 'The Simple Life' with Paris Hilt on and it has shown up on 'Hollywood Squares,' too," said Poore. "For me, now, the pinnacle of success is 'Cause I'm a Blonde' is now part of the song catalog for the Sweet Adelines (female barbershop quartet singers)."
In the ensuing years Poore has remained busy scoring television and movies. In addition he has worked with such talent as Liza Minelli, Goldie Hawn, Joe
Cocker, Ren Woods and performance artist Pauletta Pearson (Mrs. Denzel Washington). In October of 2004 he served as music director for the National Gala in Santa Barbara, featuring the legendary actor James Whitmore. As a producer he is back working with Brown where they are currently in the studio cowriting and producing the album "Smell The Glamour." He is also the music director of Brown's one woman stage show. The pair plan to turn "Earth Girls are Easy" into a stage musical.
Kobler, who lives in Valencia with his wife, Cindy Marcus and son Finn, took a long and winding road to becoming a writer. "I struggled as an actor for several years, I could neither succeed or fail," Kobler said. Kobler's acting credits include a feature role in "The Munsters Revenge," a television reunion movie of the popular late 1960s sitcom. In Hollywood he landed a role in the long running revival of "Grease" which starred Fran Drescher, Eve Plumb ("The Brady Bunch") Jerry Mathers ("Leave It To Beaver") Barry Livingston ("My Three Sons") and Gary Lewis. A featured part on "Designing Women" followed, as well as a role in the movie "Ghost" (1990) with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze. "It was a great role, which you can now see if you visit the cutting room floor," Kobler said.
He also did dozens and dozens of Equity-waiver and community theater productions. Kobler met his wife, Cindy, when they did a play together. The play was not a pleasant experience. "We decided that if we could survive that, we could survive anything," he said. Marcus suggested Kobler write a part for hims lf "Stallone did it ("Rocky" 1976), so how hard could it be?" Kobler said, demonstrating his quick wit and sense of humor. "So I did it. Fast forward a year and Paramount bought it, they said, 'We'll buy this screenplay if you promise not to star in it." The film, "White Noise" (not the 2005 horror film), has yet to be made. "It sits on the Paramount shelf gathering dust," Kobler said. However, that's not unusual in a business when only 10 percent of all screenplays are purchased and only 10 percent of those get made into films.
Kobler and Marcus are among a very small list of writers to sell a spec script to the "Star Trek" franchise. Their episode of "Profit and Loss" aired during the second season of "Star Trek Deep Space Nine." After selling a script to Universal "Kingdom by the Sea" Kobler and Marcus became "hired guns" for other projects.In the mid-1990s the couple was asked by Disney to write the sequel to the only animated film ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, "Beauty and the Beast" (1991). They wrote "Beauty and the Beast, Enchanted Christmas" (1997). Disney quickly signed the pair on as staff writers. During their five year tenure, the couple wrote "Pocahontas II, Journey to a New World" (1998), "Lion King II Simba's Pride" (1998), "Lady and the Tramp II, Scamp's Adventure" (2001) and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame II" (2002). They were dubbed the "sequel kings" because of their uncanny ability to capture the voices, style and texture of original pieces. They also wrote the yet unproduced, Disney's "Frankenstein," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Kim," "Daggy Dogfoot," "Space Mountain," "The Jungle Book II," "Around the World in 80 Days," "Dumbo II," "Gift of the Magi," "Sleeping Beauty II" and many others. They have continued to work with Disney and Avalon Family films. Their latest project - a live action "Jack and the Beanstalk" - is slated to go into production soon. They are also published playwrights with "Ghost of a Chance" available from Samuel French.
From different parts of the country, and different career paths, Poore and Kobler have teamed up in the SCV to write music and lyrics aimed at teens, in
addition to their other projects. The duo has written the music for three teen musicals - "The Argonauts," "Nottingham" and "Quixote."
Their collaboration began after being introduced by a mutual friend. They first collaborated on "Wild Dust: The Musical." However, their interests soon turned to writing for teens and Poore, Marcus and Kobler co-founded the Showdown Stage Company.
Kobler, born in Minnesota, moved to Florida at age 10. He found it difficult to fit in. "It's hard when you're a misfit and a goof ball, like I was," he said. "Then I met this drama teacher and she gave me the confidence and purpose to do this."
The Showdown Stage Company was born out of a need for programs for teens that don't revolve around sports. "We're doing totally teen theater, meaning that teens are playing teenagers," Kobler said. "I don't care how great a performer is - an 18-year-old can't relate to a 65-year-old character. Teens need to play their own age in issues they can relate to."
All of the shows that Kobler, Marcus and Poore have written, which include a few nonmusicals revolve around the classics. "We want to reinvigorate the
classics," Kobler said. "We're reinventing the classics for teens. We're hoping they'll go back and read the classics." Among the shows they've crafted is a
retelling of "Jason and the Golden Fleece" in "The Argonauts," the works of Edgar Allan Poe in "Usher," the story of Robin Hood in "Nottingham" and a
reworking of Cervantes' masterpiece "Don Quixote De La Mancha" with "Quixote."
"When we did 'Usher' in the fall a lot of the kids went and read Poe - and that did my heart a world of good," Kobler said. Kobler said he thinks "Quixote" relates most to modern day high school with its theme of a lone man who felt oppressed by everyone who thought he was insane. "Many themes are a relevant today as they were 400 years ago," Kobler said. "'Quixote' is a musical comedy that takes a serious look at teen angst. The pressures to fit in, the
fragile line of popularity, the thin grasp we all have on sanity."
MUSIC AND LYRICS
To craft their teen musicals Poore and Kobler usually meet one night a week at Poore's Canyon Country home where he has a small studio. Each of their
musicals features a different genre of music. For "Wild Dust" it was Western music; "Nottingham" the music of the 1950s, early 1960s; and "The Argonauts" showcased straight ahead rock 'n roll.
They begin by deciding what each song needs to say, what kind of mood and feel each song should have. "Sometimes it is easier for me to plunk it out on a piano, rather than the computer, because I can hear the parts in my head clearer that way," Poore said.
Poore described how he built one song that will appear in their latest work, "Quixote." "I started with a strong four beat, then I added Latin percussion, then horns, percussive piano to create a whole large rhythm section, the we built a song around the rhythm section," he said. "The melody came after the rhythm section was built."
Before "Wild Dust" - which took the duo six years to complete - Kobler had never written lyrics, but now Poore feels the duo have worked together long
enough that they've finally hit their stride with their new production of "Quixote." "We're now on the same wavelength. It's sort of scary, we're almost at the point of completing each other's sentences," Poore said of their collaboration. Poore said of the musicals they've written "Quixote" is his favorite to date because of his affinity for Latin music. "I love Cuban music and Tejano (also known as Tex-Mex)," Poore said. "'Quixote' allows me to explore all kinds of Latin music including Cuban, Tejano, salsa, tango, cha cha and mariachi. But we also have elements of musical theater, this is a theatrical version of Latin music."
Next up is a show with island music, Hawaiian and Polynesian themes. They also are planning a to do a 1940s era "swing" musical. "I love '40s swing so that should be fun, too," Poore said.
PAYING IT FORWARD
"Working with teens has been important to us," Kobler said. "There's always that one teacher that changes your life. If not for my high school drama teacher I don't know where I'd be. In a very real sense she saved me and I know I can never repay her, so we can only pay it forward."
DREAMS DO COME TRUE
For Poore the journey from east Texas to Hollywood has been like a page from the classic Hollywood story of a small town resident who makes good in
Tinseltown. "I remember standing on the set of 'Earth Girls Are Easy' and they were filming the big dance number, 'Brand New Girl.' I remember thinking back to that moment in my backyard when I dreamed of being on a movie set and thinking, 'Wow! Somehow I had willed this to happen, I had wished this to happen and here I was," he said. "I'm here with Jeff Goldblum and Jim Carrey and they're filming the dance number to my song."
For more information on the Showdown Stage Company's teen theater program and
auditions for "Quixote" call (661) 799 0758, or visit www.showdownstageco.com.
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