It’s not every day that producer Michael Shavel receives a phone call from a superstar. However, a few weeks ago, he received an incoming call with the caller identification listed as “Restricted.” Thinking how unusual that was, he almost didn’t answer the call. Nonetheless, his curiosity won and he answered the call.
“Hi, this is Carol Burnett,” said the voice on the other end.
“Really? This is really Carol Burnett?” asked Shavel, the producer of Milford’s Eastbound Theatre’s current production of Hollywood Arms. Carol Burnett and her late daughter Carrie Hamilton wrote the play based on Burnett’s memoir.
“She called to wish us the best of luck with the production and how happy her daughter would have been to know that the play is being produced in Connecticut,” said Shavel, adding that it was a short conversation.
“I was stunned,” he said. “I had sent out an invitation to her and her representatives, but the call was totally unexpected. I had read that sometimes she does respond to people who write her. When I got off the phone, I told everyone that I had just spoken with Carol Burnett and no one believed me,” he said with a laugh.
For those who don’t know much about Brunett, she grew up in a dysfunctional family and in pretty poor circumstances. Director Chris Peterson said that on opening weekend, a woman approached him who had read all about Carol Burnett. “She said even though she read the memoir, seeing it live onstage was far more real.” Peterson, who has directed shows at Eastbound before, calls the theater his number one choice for directing shows. “It’s a great theater and everything is provided so that my job as director is to do exactly that – direct. It’s also like a second home to me.”
While he found his biggest challenge in getting the highs and lows of Burnett’s life to be relatable to the audience, he was especially pleased with the outcome. He said as soon as the grandmother and mother start arguing, the audience starts making connections. “The cast is doing a great job and we have some very talented actors and children in the cast. This show has a lot of laughs and a lot of gasps as well.” He is most proud of how the actors were able to perform so naturally and believably and how they came together as a cast.
Emma Cenholt-Haulund of Trumbull plays Carol Burnett as a youngster. The articulate 11-year-old said that she is really enjoying this production. She is onstage quite a bit, especially throughout the first act. When asked if she knew who Carol Burnett was before getting this role, she said she did not know anything about her. “I’ve heard of her name before, but I really never knew who she was,” said Emma. Describing her scenes as sometimes funny, but mostly sad, her favorite scene as young Helen (aka Carol Burnett) is when she sits on top of the roof. “I’m all alone and it’s in her spot – Carol Burnett’s favorite spot.”
Emma has quite a background in theater and she’s only 11 years old. Still, she has performed in numerous productions, including the Downtown Cabaret, Town Players of New Canaan, The Bijou Theatre, Curtain Call and other theaters as well. “I really do think I could make a career in theater,” she said, adding that her parents are most supportive of her theater interests. She said as a backup, she could also be a chef. Emma is getting accolades from the producer and director as are the other children in the cast. Featured actors include: Cassie Gerace, Jean Marie Warncke, Andrea Snow Garmun, Nora Watsun, Barry Hatrick, Nick Priscott, Dena Ciprut Lagonigro, Michael Maurati, and Matthew Casey. The play runs through Feb. 21. Box office: 203-878-6647.