LETTERS FROM THE FRONT

The Broadway-style production that honors US troops, their families & veterans

CREATORS & STARS

MEET KATHLEEN HOGAN AND TIM ROSS, THE NEWEST STARS OF LETTERS FROM THE FRONT

2015J&K&Letters

We are very excited to announce that Kathleen Hogan has been chosen to play the indomitable but big-hearted Katharine Hartgrove in Letters From The Front opening at the Theatre In The Square in trendy Marietta, GA on Nov. 4, 2015. She will be joined by Tim Ross as manic wild man Johnny Chastain, America’s favorite radio comic.

“These two just clicked when they stepped on stage together during auditions,” says Producer Marsha Roberts. “Not only are they very talented actors but their chemistry was apparent to everybody.”

Playwright/Director Robert Rector commented, “When I saw these two together there was a spark of magic between them that was unmistakable. I think they’re going to be a great Katharine and Johnny and I look forward to working with them.”

Kathleen has worked extensively on New York and regional stages playing a diversity of roles from Lady Macbeth to Truvy in Steel Magnolias. She has also appeared in a number of movies and TV shows and was directed by Robert Redford for his film The Conspirator, playing the role of Mrs. Mountchessington.

Tim also has a long resume of stage and film work – including the popular TV soap Days Of Our Lives. His lead roles on TV include Saved By The Bell and The Mecklenburgers. On stage he has appeared as Tybalt in Romeo And Juliet and Joe Farkus in The Last Night Of Ballyhoo.

MARSHA ROBERTS, Producer

Producer Marsha Roberts shortly before the doors open at the Andrews AFB theater just outside Washington, DC.

Producer Marsha Roberts shortly before the doors open at the Andrews AFB theater just outside Washington, DC.

Marsha spent years learning how to entertain an audience, first as an award winning film editor and eventually as a producer.  The more she became involved in show business, the greater the pull toward theater.  She formed Produced By Marsha Roberts and created unique “Corporate Theatre” presentations both in the U.S. and abroad for companies such as Coca-Cola, IBM, and Domino’s Pizza. 

Marsha Roberts (standing) during rehearsals for Georgia Pacific corp. theater show. The other lady is Della Cole,  the actor who would soon become the original Katharine Hartgrove in Letters From the Front.

Marsha Roberts (standing) during rehearsals for Georgia Pacific corp. theater show. The other lady is Della Cole, the actor who would soon become the original Katharine Hartgrove in Letters From the Front.

These productions whetted her appetite for the real thing, which came in the middle of the night on September 13, 1990 when she awoke with a clear vision for Letters from the Front.  Luckily her husband and business partner Robert Rector was a writer.  Six months later, on March 6, 1991, Letters from the Front opened at the 14th Street Playhouse in Atlanta. 

Theater poster for Letters From the Front

Theater poster for Letters From the Front

Since then, through her skill, determination and considerable powers of persuasion, Marsha has taken the production to hundreds of venues across the world.

Marsha says that people are usually surprised by how entertaining Letters from the Front is. “I love to tell the story about a VIP who was backstage with me before the show because he was going to introduce us. As we were talking, he laughed and said, ‘I hate to tell you but my wife drags me to these things and I always fall asleep in the first 15 minutes.’ After the show, he came up to me, slapped me on the back and said, ‘You got me! Ten minutes into the thing and I was hooked! I loved every minute of it!”

Standing-Os are common for our show, and always appreciated.

Standing-Os are common for our show, and always appreciated.

It’s this kind of response that keeps Marsha dedicated to Letters from the Front. “We know what we’re doing is significant,” she says. “People come up to us after the show and tell us that our play had a healing effect on them — especially those who are in, or have been in, the military. Others remark about how the sentiments expressed by Americans 100 or 200 years ago are strikingly similar to those they feel today. But the comment we hear most is that our show ‘hits close to home, close to the heart.’ When you’re having that kind of effect on people, you know you’re doing something right.”

Playwright/Director Robert Rector and Producer Marsha Roberts while performing Letters From the Front in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.  It's a long way from home - any home!

Playwright/Director Robert Rector and Producer Marsha Roberts while performing Letters From the Front in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. It’s a long way from home – any home!

Being able to combine her love of theatre with traveling all over the world is a dream come true for Marsha. So after all these years what does she see next for Letters from the Front? “That’s easy,” she says: “Broadway.”

Marsha is also a published writer. Her book Confessions of a Mutinous Baby Boomer receives 5-star reviews and is available in paperback and e-books through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ibooks, and other outlets. It’s also available as an audiobook.

ROBERT RECTOR, Playwright, Director

Robert Rector behind the camera at Camp Pendleton, CA.

Robert Rector behind the camera at Camp Pendleton, CA.

Robert came to theatre after years in film production as a writer, director, cinematographer, editor and animator. He was one of the pioneers of music videos, making films for Bob Whitney’s groundbreaking TV show The Now Explosion — continuous top-40 TV programming ten years before MTV. 

Still from Robert Rector's music video for the Beatles 'The Long and Winding Road.'

Still from Robert Rector’s music video for the Beatles ‘The Long and Winding Road.’

He has won national and international awards for his documentaries, TV shows, corporate films and corporate theater. He also wrote and directed an outdoor-adventure feature, Don’t Change My World, which played in theaters, HBO, CineMax, BBC, and on home video.

Still from Robert Rector's outdoor-adventure feature 'Don't Change My World.'

Still from Robert Rector’s outdoor-adventure feature ‘Don’t Change My World.’

When approached about Letters From the Front, Robert was skeptical of the project at first, but became a believer when he first held a Civil War letter still stained with mud from the battlefield, written by a young war weary soldier pouring his heart out to his bride back home. “These letters really do peel away the layers of who we are as Americans,” he says, “while at the same time defining what our priorities should be — not just as a society, but as human beings.”

The script at the beginning of production. It doesn't look this nice by the end of a tour.

The script at the beginning of production. It doesn’t look this nice by the end of a tour.

Letters from the Front is Bob’s first play and he admits that he came into the world of theatre kicking and screaming.  “I had no background in theatre,” he says. “No training. I was accustomed to the rough and tumble world of filmmaking. Fortunately the people I worked with were very patient with me. Everybody believed in this project from the git-go and I just wanted to live up to their expectations. Its been gratifying to see how well Letters from the Front has been received.”

Recently Bob has turned his talents to novel writing. His romantic thriller Unthinkable Consequences, set in S. Florida in 1959, is available in both print and ebook through most online book sellers.

STARS

Since Letters From the Front first premiered at Atlanta’s 14th Street Playhouse on March 6, 1991, 14 actors have played the lead roles of Katharine Hartgrove and Johnny Chastain. The six listed below racked up the most stage time both at home and abroad and were enormously popular with audiences.

DELLA COLE

Della Cole originated the lead role of Katharine Hartgrove and also directed two seasons of the show

Della Cole originated the lead role of Katharine Hartgrove and also directed two seasons of the show

Della Cole originated, and more importantly, defined, the role of Katharine Hartgrove when Letters From the Front first opened in Atlanta in the spring of 1991. Since then she has endeared herself to military personnel all across America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim, celebrating her 150th performance on Veterans’ Day 1997 at Soldiers’ Theatre in Vicenza, Italy. 

Della  starred in the play from 1991 through 1997, then returned to christen the WWII edition for the 1999 Pacific Rim Tour. For the 2001 10th anniversary tour, Della served as director on the Spring leg, then pulled double duty as both star and director for the Fall leg.

Those who have worked with Della know her to be a consummate professional dedicated to her craft. Off stage she is known for her cackling laughter, her wacky, sometimes bawdy, sense of humor, and her ready hugs. On stage she is sheer magic.

Della Cole's Katharine Hartgrove became the surrogate mom for countless troops around the world

Della Cole’s Katharine Hartgrove became the surrogate mom for countless troops around the world

Coming from a solid background of theatrical films, network TV shows, and years on the boards in a diversity of productions from Streetcar Named Desire to Pirates of Penzance, Della brings a level of skill to her acting that moves drill sergeants to tears. During her six tours of Letters from the Front Della played at more than 100 military installations around the world.

Della also owns and operates the Southeast’s premiere acting school, YourAct, located in Atlanta.

NEAL MATTHEWS

Neal Matthews' interpretation of  Johnny Chastain was both madcap and soulful

Neal Matthews’ interpretation of Johnny Chastain was both madcap and soulful

Neal Matthews charmed audiences with his exasperatingly lovable rendition of Johnny Chastain for longer than any other actor who has played the role — 121 shows — an impressive number considering that a touring play can only stage two or three shows a week.

Neal’s portrayal of Johnny Chastain was in equal parts comic, soulfully chilling, and heartwarming. That he succeeded brilliantly in the role has been confirmed by the enthusiastic response of audiences both stateside and overseas. Standing ovations were common occurrences, often accompanied by cheers and requests for autographs. 

After a performance, Neal meets with a group of young women who clearly enjoyed his Johnny Chastain

After a performance, Neal meets with a group of young women who clearly enjoyed his Johnny Chastain

To prepare for his role as Johnny Chastain in Letters from the Front, Neal drew on his experience playing the extravagant Harold Hill in The Music Man, his favorite role in musical theatre. “There’s a lot of him in Johnny Chastain,” Neal says.  “Both are charming, manipulative, funny, and in your face.  And both are scoundrels, until they meet the woman who makes them realize that beneath their callused hides they do have a heart after all.”

Touring the world allowed Neal to pursue his passion for mountain climbing — from Pike’s Peak in Colorado to Mt. Etna in Sicily.  Being a true son of the Shamrock, Neal made a point of locating an Irish pub in each city he visited — whether in Chicago, Illinois or Rota, Spain — and sharing a brew (or two) with his kinsmen.

MICHELLE ROSEN

Michelle Rossen played Katharine Hartgrove both stateside and overseas.

Michelle Rosen played Katharine Hartgrove both stateside and overseas.

Having starred as Christine in Phantom of the Opera in overseas (the Lloyd Webber version) and national productions (the Kopit/Yeston version), Michelle has now added the flinty but big hearted character of Katharine Hartgrove to her repertoire.

During the Letters From the Front Mediterranean Tour and the following Stateside Tour, Michelle received heartfelt accolades from military personnel who had the pleasure of seeing her perform. “Michelle has an extraordinary way of making the audience feel the emotions she is trying to express,” wrote an audience member in Vicenza, Italy. 

As for the character of Katharine Hartgrove, Michelle says, “She’s become something of an icon for military audiences over the past few years. I think the reason is because, even though she’s paid the highest price, she still appreciates and applauds what they stand for.”

During an autograph signing session at the local commissary, Michelle greets a very special guest

During an autograph signing session at the local commissary, Michelle greets a very special guest

Michelle is a seasoned road warrior who has starred in national tours of Carousel, The Mikado, and Pirates of Penzance.  An accomplished vocalist, she has also appeared in numerous New York operas, as well as musical theatre productions in New York and throughout the country. She was even called on to sing the national anthem before a Mets game.

BOB CURREN

Bob Curren's Johnny Chastain was pure NYC wise guy but with a big heart

Bob Curren’s Johnny Chastain was pure NYC wise guy but with a big heart

It has been said that nobody can play a New Yorker like a New Yorker. The character of Johnny Chastain is a true New Yorker and so is Bob Curren, who has resided and worked in the Big Apple all his adult life. Bob brought a street-smart edge to Johnny along with the chutzpa you might expect from a former vaudevillian turned radio star. His Johnny had swagger and flair and a mouth loaded with wise cracks just waiting to be fired. Audiences loved him.

Like all the actors who have starred in Letters From the Front, Bob Curren came to his craft highly trained — and not just from acting school and time on the boards. Before committing to an acting career he opened his own restaurant and bar, “The Red Cadillac,” in Manhattan, where his people skills were honed to a fine edge. “Everybody’s got a story,” Bob says. “Some tragic, some inspiring, some hilarious. It’s an actor’s bedrock.”

One of Bob Curren's favorite activities was the meet-and-greet after each performance

One of Bob Curren’s favorite activities was the meet-and-greet after each performance

During his first stint as the jaunty wild man Johnny Chastain, Bob added even more personal stories to his repertoire, this time of a poignant nature due to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. He was in the middle of rehearsals when news of the terrorist attack shook the nation. A couple of weeks later he was on stage at Ft. Campbell, KY as the 101st Airborne’s “Screaming Eagles” were preparing for deployment to Afghanistan. The night before the war’s first bombing mission was launched from Whiteman AFB, Bob was there entertaining families and comrades of the flight crews.

The meet-and-greet with audience members after each performance, a tradition with Letters From the Front since its beginning, was Bob’s favorite part of each show.

BOBBI KRAVIS

Military moms appreciated and identified with Bobbi Kravis' heartfelt portrayal of Katharine Hartgrove

Military moms appreciated and identified with Bobbi Kravis’ heartfelt portrayal of Katharine Hartgrove

When originally asked why she wanted to play the role of Katharine Hartgrove in Letters From the Front, Bobbi Kravis responded, “I want to be challenged,” noting that there are very few roles today for women that are as meaty and meaningful as that of Katharine Hartgrove. She had also researched the show extensively and was impressed with accounts of the play’s “mission of service to those who serve us.” “I like helping out,” she says, referring specifically to the Worldwide Letter Writing Campaign spawned by the play.

Born in Indiana, raised in Kentucky and a New Yorker for over ten years, Bobbi Kravis’ enthusiasm for being a member of the Letters from the Front family was quite evident. “Being able to work on such a demanding and rewarding role as Katharine Hartgrove is truly a blessing. It’s the chance of a lifetime to play such a strong, vibrant, compassionate woman who goes after what she wants while still maintaining her sense of integrity. Katharine Hartgrove is the definition of a true hero, someone who’s had more than her share of struggles, made the best of them and managed to help others in the process.”

After a performance, Bobbi Kravis signs an autograph for an adoring fan

After a performance, Bobbi Kravis signs an autograph for an adoring fan

Bobbi Kravis’s entrance into theatre was a bit unorthodox. She was originally a sixth grade Language Arts teacher. “Keeping the attention of 11 year olds is the best stage training I’ve ever had!” she says.  Finding herself with some free time on her hands over a summer break, she took the suggestion of a friend who was a member of a local community theatre group in desperate need of “warm bodies” for the chorus of its upcoming production of South Pacific and found herself bitten by the acting bug. A few productions later she was discovered by a local agent, which led to commercial, print and industrial film work in the Cincinnati, OH area before moving to New York City.

No stranger to touring, Bobbi appeared as Ethel McCormick in the 2001 national tour of Footloose. A comedienne as well, Bobbi writes and produces her own one-woman shows when back home in New York.  She weaves song through an array of outrageous characters in productions with titles such as Who Invited the Elephants?! and Midnight At The Rollerdrome.

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