Beginning his career as a child star with memorable roles in “Full House” and “The Little Rascals” reboot, this actor / writer / producer / director / singer / songwriter / ex-gogo boy has definitely sashayed his way into our hearts and minds. New Yorkers can enjoy a pair of performances from him this week at the Laurie Beechman Theatre: first covering a legend’s songbook in a solo show, then as a supporting player of a drag queen’s showcase that he’s directed. It’s the charming and talented Blake McIver Ewing!
Thotyssey: Hi Blake, thanks for talking to us! So, are you mad busy now with rehearsals and finishing touches on your two shows (Blake Sings Barbra and I Dream of Jackie), or are you comfortable with what you have down now for both of them?
Blake McIver: Well, I am admittedly a rehearsal addict, but I had to come back to LA for another show. So, we’ll do a couple quick clean-ups before next weekend!
You’ve certainly been performing for nearly all of your life… have producing, writing and directing always been part of the equation as well?
I’ve actually been directing for over a decade! I started a theatre company in Southern California at 19, and cut my teeth as a producing major during my time at UCLA. Writing came shortly thereafter, first with songwriting, and then it expanded from there!
So are you pretty much open to a variety of projects, or do you have a pretty specific wheelhouse?
I like wearing many different hats. It keeps my passion alive, and keeps me learning and constantly refining my skill set.
Are you still basically based out of California?
I am still based out of LA. As much as I love my time in NYC, the West Coast is always home. I was born and raised in the heart of LA, which is very rare. I consider myself a unicorn, haha!
Unicorn indeed! You’ve had a long and amazing career as an actor, beginning with some choice gigs as a child star… including Derek from Full House, Michelle’s adorable friend who slayed “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in his debut episode! When you’re that young and that famous/successful, can you even fully understand what is going on… or is it just normal because that’s all you know?
For me, it was just going into the family business at a young age. Both my parents have lifelong careers in entertainment, which meant that many of their friends were in the business as well. I went to regular school, with non-working kids in between gigs, so I was aware that my life wasn’t exactly typical. But I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Nor would your fans! I understand Derek was meant to be a one-time-only appearance, but that evolved into a beloved recurring role for several seasons.
You’re right! Derek was supposed to be a one episode thing, that turned out to be three seasons of the show until it ended. It was a joy to be on that set every single time. It really was a cohesive family by the time I entered the cast, and they all made me feel right at home.
One fun part of Fuller House is seeing many of these supporting characters and their actors from the original show return as adults for cute cameos. It would be difficult without the Olsen Twins on board for this version, but would Derek stop by Fuller House if it were up to you?
YES! If it were up to me, Derek would definitely be the flamboyant show choir director at the School of the “new generation” kids!
Have you noticed the show is so gay now? DJ and Stephanie are hitting on gay guys, and Kimmy’s ex-husband is basically the New Trade. It’s wonderful!
Haha! That’s awesome to hear. I have to be totally honest and tell you I haven’t actually watched any of the reboot past the first episode! I know, sacrilegious!
There’s just only so many hours in the day, and I have so many Real Housewives franchises to keep up with!
But I’m so glad people are loving it, and I hope it goes on and on.
Speaking of Housewives, you made appearances on a Bravo show a few years ago, “The People’s Couch!” What was that experience like?
Well I have to say, when they pitched the show to us I thought, “Okay, we’ve officially reached the end of entertainment! You’re making a show about people watching other shows on TV.” Of course I hadn’t yet seen the brilliant original British version, Gogglebox. And then when I saw the rough cut of the pilot, I was blown away with how fresh and funny it was.
We really had the opportunity to engage in social commentary in a way I couldn’t have predicted. Of course there was plenty of silliness along the way, but we did get to talk about some real issues on Bravo primetime, which I’m proud of.
Your album The Time Manipulator was such a diverse collection of songs and styles.
Indeed! The Time Manipulator was intentionally stylistically diverse. It wasn’t until I began writing music that I realized the diversity of my musical influences. Each track on that album represents a story from a moment in my life; some happy, painful, frustrating, etc. The narrative is quite dramatic, and I felt the genres really needed to serve the narrative.
Of course, that’s the last thing any record label wants to hear… which is why it was important for me to self produce / release the first one so that my un-diluted musical story is there.
That’s the way to do it! Who would you consider some musical influences?
I’m inspired by everyone from The Beatles and Queen to Diana Ross, Carole King, Elton John, Antonio Carlos Jobim, to Gaga and Beyonce. I’m a real music nerd so if the melody and lyric meet a pure emotional intention, I’M IN!
Do you have any plans for another recording?
I do! I’m in the middle of a (much more musically cohesive) new EP that is inspired by my love of Motown, Blues, and Soul.
Right before recording The Time Manipulator, the internet-browsing public was alerted (thanks to Perez Hilton, I think) to the fact that you–a former child star!–were gogo dancing to fund its production, and the Thirst Pics were abound. You’ve already talked a lot about that experience with honest candor and charm, but I was wondering.. does being a stage and screen performer prepare you for gogo dancing at all, or is it a completely different animal?
The performative aspect of it definitely felt familiar to me. Performing for an audience has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. But does anything truly prepare you for shaking your moneymaker in a jock on a box? Not sure, lol!
It was like playing a role to a degree. I had a character / persona in my head. He had a name and a personality that was admittedly bolder than my own. So I guess it kind of was like a fun acting gig.
Def, and it paid! Is that also how you got to know people in nightlife, like promoters and drag queens, or did you already kinda know that crowd from just being a gay entertainer in LA?
It all sort of happened simultaneously, in a beautiful way. Just as I was becoming more comfortable and free in my queer identity and expression, I was meeting wonderful queer artists and brilliant performers who challenged me artistically and mentally, which was really wonderful.
What’s been your history as a stage performer in NYC?
Well, my NYC stage debut was as an honorary member of “The Broadway Kids” in the early 90s. I believe a Gavroche got sick before one of their big shows, and my friend Kathryn Zaremba (who was Lisa on Full House) was Annie Warbucks on Broadway. She said to the director, “my friend can learn this show in four days.” Before I knew it, I was singing and dancing alongside all these young Broadway vets who were very gracious to let the TV / Film brat come play with them!
What’s a dream role for you, as far as Broadway is concerned?
Deena Jones in Dreamgirls. Which I realize is extremely problematic on every level, and will never and should NEVER, EVER happen.
I wish that Disney could get it together and put Hunchback on Broadway. I would do just about anything to bring Quasi to the Broadway stage.
Oh God that would be incredible!
So I saw I Dream of Jackie during its initial run at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, starring NYC queen Jackie Cox, which you directed and also co-starred in. I absolutely loved it, it was cute and very funny, and even had sincere moments! How did you get involved with that show, which I’m happy to see returns to the Beechman on Sunday, August 20th?
I’m so glad you enjoyed IDOJ! It was such a joy bringing it to life. Jackie (aka Darius) has been my best friend since we met on day one of college at UCLA. We actually came up with the character of Jackie together, which is why I am referred to as her “Drag Father,” hahaha!
It worked out that my schedule opened up enough for me to be in NYC for the month of July, and I jumped at the chance to direct and choreograph the show. Can’t wait to do it again next Sunday!
Amazing! Have you / would you ever try drag yourself, by the way?
I have very strong, angular features. Me in drag just looks like Idina MANzel.
Ha! Well, the night before IDOJ returns, the Beechman will see you solo on the stage for the return of your own hit cabaret revue, Blake Sings Barbra: The Concert! What role does Barbra Streisand’s music play in your life, and what made you want to bring this show to the stage?
I’ve been captivated by Barbra since I first saw Funny Girl at 7 years old. But it wasn’t until her 1994 comeback concert that I became completely obsessed. It was a crazy year for me: I was in my second season of Full House, I filmed The Little Rascals, and my parents’ house was destroyed in the Northridge earthquake. In the show, I take you through all these things via The Concert, which basically taught me everything I know about being a performer.
I’ve wanted to do this tribute show for many years, and finally sat down one day last year, during the tumult of election season, and wrote it all down.
Now that you mentioned The Little Rascals–where you play spoiled villain Waldo–and the election, I have to quickly ask about how surreal it is that Donald Trump plays your Dad on the other end of a phone conversation in a brief cameo. That must be so bizarre to make sense of.
It really is! And I tell the extended version of the story in my show. It becomes relevant at a certain point in the concert!
Intriguing! What’s your favorite song to do in the show?
I love the setlist from the concert so much, so it really changes with every audience. Last month I had some true 94 concert superfans in the audience, so during “The Way We Were” they were quoting her ad libs at me, then I quoted some back at them during the interlude, and we all screamed and it was a fabulous moment. I explained it all to the rest of the crowd after the song, haha!
Sounds like a remarkable experience, congratulations! Anything else coming up for you?
Yes, in September I am directing and choreographing a tour for the wonderful cabaret and burlesque artist Ariana Savalas (of Postmodern Jukebox fame). I built the first version of her show last summer, and now it’s expanding into a full Caburlesque extravaganza, which is so fun! And then I’ll be back at the Beechman in October with two more shows!
Excellent! So, lastly: what do you think The Little Rascals’ Waldo would be doing today, as an adult?
I feel like he’d be on a yacht in the South of France, spending his father’s money as rapidly as humanly possible!
Sounds about right. Thanks, Blake!