Back in August…

…I went to LA to see Luca Ellis perform.

Dinner that night at Il Pastaio was crazy good; Bar Nineteen 12 at the Beverley Hills Hotel was classy, cool and Luca’s performance was awesome (full VS review here).

All in all it was a great trip … the only thing that didn’t go right was Luca and my plan to sit down for a face-to-face interview.

We rectified that missed opportunity with a phone interview a couple of weeks later. While not as fun as chatting in person, we got on great and actually spent about 90 minutes on the phone covering a wide range of topics.

It was all on the table…

Everything from Luca’s upcoming gig in the Christmas My Way show at the El Portal Theatre next month, to his other stage gigs, his start in the business, deep appreciation for the music and the writers of the Great American Song Book … even how Luca’s life philosophy of taking things as they come impacts his performance planning and execution.

Interesting stuff…

…and lots of it. With that in mind I’m breaking the interview into two (possibly three) topical segments to accommodate a more reasonable web consumption experience.

Part 1 is focused on Luca’s brief but very influential musical stage career that included stints in Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara, Sandy Hackett’s The Rat Pack Show in Vegas, and ultimately a show Luca conceived, wrote and headlined in — Hoboken to Hollywood … all leading to Christmas My Way which is running the last two weeks of December at the El Portal in North Hollywood.

So without further ado …

A conversation with Luca Ellis — Part One: Show Biz…

Steve: So what’s next for Luca Ellis?

Luca: What am I doing now? I am officially cast for a show called Christmas My Way.

Steve: Oh cool.

Luca: It’s at El Portal Theater in north Hollywood. That’s the theater where I actually played Frank Sinatra the first time … in and Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara. That’s where I met Paul Litteral. Through Paul Litteral is how I met Jeremy Aldridge who directed and co-wrote Hoboken to Hollywood with me.

So El Portal is a dear place to me because it’s where the chain reaction started that got me my musical; and I’m excited to be doing something directly with Jay Erwin, the guy who runs the theater, and he pushed for my casting in this thing.

Steve: Is that the theater that you posted on… the picture of the theater that you posted on Facebook the other day?

Luca: I checked in at a theater that may have had a picture … You know what though, here is a funny thing, if you go to my website.

Steve: Right.

Luca: Go under and click on press kit and download the press kit for the show.

Steve: Got it.

Luca: If you look at the concept images, the El Portal was the original concept for Hoboken to Hollywood … it was drawn on the El Portal stage. We were planning on going to El Portal before we even knew anything about the Edgemar Theater in Santa Monica. Before we thought about going to the Matrix Theater in Hollywood. El Portal is really the place we were thinking. The main reason was the presidium seating; it’s like stadium seating. When you look down at the stage from the very back row it really feels like a studio.

Steve: Right.

Luca: Hoboken to Hollywood was the re-creation of shooting a TV special in the 1960s. We wanted to use that theater and it’s funny now that that they’re going to use me for this Sinatra … well it’s not really Sinatra, they can’t use the “Sinatra” name … but the Christmas My Way show. [VSguy – They must have ultimately received permission to use the name after all as “Sinatra” does appear on the handbill.]

Luca: It’s also hopefully going to open the door for Hoboken to Hollywood… Jay and I are planning on meeting and discussing the possibility of [doing] Hoboken to Hollywood at the El Portal.

Steve: That’s really exciting.

Luca: Like a co-production. I am hoping that this Christmas My Way show is going to lead to that sometime next year maybe. If not 2013 maybe early 2014. I don’t know but that’s kind of… I am very excited about that because I would love to do El Portal because that’s where it all began for me.

Steve: Oh yeah?

Luca: So it was a chain reaction, and its funny because after I played Frank at EL Portal in Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara… it was a Christmas show, where they were supposedly doing a Christmas show at the Sahara. Three months later Sandy Hackett — Buddy Hackett’s son — ends up hiring me to play Frank at the Sahara in Las Vegas.

Photo credit and © – James W. Thompson

Luca: It was just very serendipitous how that happened and the fact that I pretended to be at the Sahara, and then I actually played the main room — the main stage at the Sahara — with Sandy Hackett and his gang of cronies, but through all that…

Steve: How long were you in the Rat Pack Show?

Luca: Two maybe three months. I subbed for a guy named David De’Costa who looked a lot more like Frank. Not necessarily in his face but in his build but a young Frank, really skinny.

Steve: Right.

Luca: He was about to right the height and everything he was about five seven and I was six one … actually, I am still six one … I was six one, and am still six one I hope! I hope I am not growing anymore. I’m not supposed to be growing … [laughs out of both of us here]

But it [The Rat Pack Show] was like two, three months and it was great. It was fun and a lot of ad-libbing … there is room for that sure. Not too much but it’s different when it’s not your show; but it was definitely a great tool for me to do that show and have that under my belt before doing Hoboken to Hollywood. In Hoboken to Hollywood I was pretty much carrying all by myself.

Steve: Yeah that’s what I was going to ask.

Luca: I was the front man of this production [The Rat Pack Show] and it helped my own production a lot to work with obviously Sandy Hackett and to work in Vegas and do that kind of thing.

Steve: How was it working in Vegas in Frank’s old stomping ground?

Luca: It was…

Steve: Did you have any sense of being in the place where…

© L.A. Times

Luca: When I was in the Sahara I felt yes, like there is a lot of history there. I felt that … honestly I’ve actually felt more history at the Beverly Hills hotel than I have… because the turn around on these casinos is pretty quick. I don’t think the Sahara is up anymore I don’t know if they have demolished it or not, that would have been cool to go watch if they were going to blow it up, for me to go see that because… but then you think asbestos and you don’t really want to be around a building coming down.

Steve: Yeah exactly.

Luca: That it’s possibly made of asbestos … it’s not worth it! [More laughs!]

Steve: I saw Robert Davi at the Venetian Show Room earlier this year which I think is built on top of the old Copa Room.

Luca: Oh cool.

Steve: Where the Rat Pack did a lot of their stuff. You really get the sense… It has that same stadium seating, small venue 300-350, something like that. There’s no bad seat in the house and it’s a beautiful stage. You really get the sense of being in a historic place. It was kind of cool.

Luca: Yeah. No of course, of course you are going to feel like you’re channeling something or you are going to feel a closeness to those people because you are where they used to hang out. Who knows how many times Frank had been there. Who knows how many times anybody — not just the performers — but even the audience had been there.

Steve: Hey, back to you. The Sandy Hackett experience, The Rat Pack Show experience … even though it was only a couple of months, were you already thinking about Hoboken to Hollywood when you were out in Vegas, … did that show experience kick the Hoboken to Hollywood notion off in your brain there?

Luca: Not really. It was really … I guess, subconsciously, maybe I fantasized about doing something like that. I had already seen Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music [TV special], — one of my favorite, all-time favorite Sinatra specials ever … that one in 1965 — and I suppose that it [Hoboken to Hollywood] was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t consider myself a writer. I am not a writer. I didn’t train as a writer. I wrote a hit play, and the concept was mine, and the core idea was there, but it’s funny … I think the desire was always there, but it hadn’t really materialized yet and …

Steve: So it really goes back to the ’60s … Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music as the real inspiration for Hoboken to Hollywood then?

Luca: Absolutely. Because I remember watching it and just thinking, what I wouldn’t do to be in his shoes, to experience that … how cool would it be to be shooting that TV special and have a live studio audience there; having good writing and working with all those elements … how amazing that would be. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about how cool would it be to recreate a musical at that point. I was just thinking about the actual experience itself and how amazing it would be, to maybe someday have enough of a body of work recorded that I could do a “Luca Ellis TV special”… and maybe it airs on PBS or whatever, you know what I mean?

Steve: Yes, absolutely.

Luca: And produce it. Frank, essentially he produced that himself, and then, obviously, sold it to the networks and wherever it was aired, NBC or ABC or … in 1965, I’m not sure. I don’t think Frank’s special was on NBC, but we ended up doing the “NBC tour Hoboken to Hollywood”, pretending that it was an NBC soundstage.

Steve: That’s cool.

Luca: Yes, … it was familiar to people that were there. What was cool was we had people that had actually been to the taping of Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music complimenting us on the authenticity of it. We just got a kick of that, because we were never [actually] behind the scenes … we just imagined what might be going on behind the scenes, and then we wrote all that in.

Again, what was cool about that show, though … things would happen that were not written … be it technical issues or timing issues, or whatever, something unplanned would happen that we could play off of, and pretend that it’s just a mishap on a set; that we were shooting the scene again. We’d have a second take, or a third take because something kept going wrong … maybe the microphone wasn’t working. Things like that played into the organic nature of the show.

Steve: I have read a lot of the reviews and they are all very glowing, and I am glad that the Christmas My Way show at least has some runway that it looks like it might lead towards getting Hoboken to Hollywood back in production.

Luca: Absolutely.

Steve: That would be very cool.

Stop back by next Monday for Part 2…

…of my conversation with Luca Ellis. Next week Luca talks about his start as a singer, shares his perspective on paying tribute to the guys that wrote the great songs he gets to sing … and his interesting “organic” philosophy about performing (and life).