BY CARY GINELL
The West Coast premiere of That Lovin’ Feelin’, new biographical musical about the ’60s group the Righteous Brothers, takes place at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood tonight and in the cast is a Ventura County theater graduate. Brenden MacDonald got his degree in theater arts from California Lutheran University recently and has also completed a summer intensive at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Brenden will be playing the part of young Bobby Hatfield and we had a chance to speak to him this week about the show and his part.
VCOS: Were you familiar with the Righteous Brothers when you got this part?
BRENDEN: I was a little bit. I grew up listening to “Unchained Melody,” “Soul and Inspiration,” and, of course, “You’ve Got That Lovin’ Feelin'” which were always playing on the oldies stations.
VCOS: How much did you know about their personal lives together?
BRENDEN: I knew nothing about that aspect. On the surface, the word “typical” came to mind, you know, those classic band stories about break-ups, getting back together, and that kind of thing. So in that sense, it was typical band drama. But after going through it and getting the concept of their personal struggles, I guess you could say that I was surprised as to how close they were, and I think it’s because of that closeness that a lot of their struggles came about because they knew each other so well and they had so much invested in each other that the little things started to eat away at them.
VCOS: Do you kind of get the sense that Bobby and Bill did have a brother relationship, even though they weren’t related?
BRENDEN: You really do. There is a definite brotherly relationship there and that was something that I didn’t really think about, especially when you consider their performing name, the Righteous Brothers. There was a real love that they had for each other.
VCOS: Was there a control issue between them?
BRENDEN: Yes. As the story unfolds, that’s where a lot of their problems started. Bill Medley tried to control things and Bobby started to feel like he was a lesser part of the group.
VCOS: How did you go about researching Bobby Hatfield’s life and personality?
BRENDEN: It was kind of difficult. There isn’t a whole lot about Bobby, but I found some things on YouTube, which was a big help for me, because I could see the footage, although it was from the later stages of their career. There wasn’t too much of the earlier stuff. There was an interview that Morgan Lauff, who is playing Bill Medley, shared with me after a lot of searching. It was an interview with Bobby and Bill and you really get to see Bobby’s way of really being obnoxious. What really fed their feuds was because Bobby was kind of a smartass.
VCOS: Could this have stemmed from an insecurity issue that Bobby might have had?
BRENDEN: Oh, definitely. The script shows a little of that but he had a very serious stage fright issue, so his brashness and jokes came from where he wouldn’t know what to say. So he could be rude or misleading and it came out of his insecurity for sure.
VCOS: In this show, you get to define the Bobby Hatfield role, since you’re the first to play it. What is that like? Does that make you feel like you have to be even more devoted to the part than if you were just doing another role that has been performed for years?
BRENDEN: I was terrified about that in the beginning. Normally, you have a soundtrack to listen to and someone to emulate or draw from or get inspiration from, so there was a lot of pressure that I put on myself to be the first person to do that. It’s fun, though. I get to draw aspects from myself about choices I’ve made and how I can represent a real person who lived. Another thing that was kind of terrifying was that this was someone who a lot of people know. Bobby’s no longer around, so you have to kind of find that balance of how to pretend to be this person and do it in a pure fashion, but to do it in my own way. So that was fun and terrifying.
VCOS: If you had a chance to talk to Bobby, what would you have asked him?
BRENDEN: I would love to know how he took care of his voice. He had such a gift that I would love to know how that came about and how he grew with it. He seemed to keep it through his whole life and that’s artistry, to me. He drank a helluva lot and drugs were a question that came up in his life, so for him dealing with all of that, I feel like he was really special to have his voice never change.
VCOS: Do you think he struggled to live up to his potential?
BRENDEN: Yes. I would definitely agree with that. He wanted so much and there was potential for him to be so much more, and that insecurity, unfortunately, got the best of him.
VCOS: Has Bill Medley been involved in the production at all, and have you gotten the chance to meet and to talk with him?
BRENDEN: From what I understand, the playwright, James Zimmerman, has a professional relationship with Bill and he first wrote the show for a dinner theater in Wisconsin. I know that Bill wrote an autobiography and Zimmerman used that as a source and also did interviews to create this story. So there was some involvement with him and Bill, but not with us. There has been some talk about him seeing the show, if he gets the chance to, but that is something we’ve only heard through the grapevine thus far.
VCOS: You studied at CLU and Moorpark College here in Ventura County. What things did you take away from your studies there?
BRENDEN: My first acting class at CLU was really “by the book.” I remember that our teacher would give us a list of things to really work through, like circumstances and objectives, and those are things that I shall keep with me when I go though scripts.
VCOS: What shows did you do there?
BRENDEN: Sweet Charity was a lot of fun. I did that at Moorpark College. I played Vittorio Vidal, a character who was completely different than who I am – John Loprieno was our director and he was so great, so that was one of my favorites. Rent was also a lot of fun. I did Spring Awakening at CLU and that was challenging in a lot of ways. I would also have to say Pippin, which I did at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. I played the lead and it was the first big role that I did and I have a lot gratitude toward them for that, because that gave me the chance to step up for the first time.
VCOS: Do you see yourself moving East if That Lovin’ Feelin’ gets picked up on Broadway?
BRENDEN: I hadn’t really thought about that, but that would be so insane to happen that I can’t even think about it. If it did, and if I had a chance to follow this to Broadway, of course!
That Lovin’ Feelin’ opens at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood on Friday, December 11 and runs through January 24, 2016. For tickets, visit www.thegrouprep.com