Richard O'Donnell (playwright)

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Richard “R.” O'Donnell
Born (1956-06-17) June 17, 1956 (age 58)
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Occupation Actor, Producer, Writer and Stand-up Comic
Years active 1976–present
Notable work New Age Vaudeville, TV Dinner Hour, One & One, Elmore & Gwendolyn Putts, New Variety, R. Rated, The Kreep

Richard O'Donnell (born June 17, 1956 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania) is an American playwright, poet, journalist, producer, actor, and stand-up comic. He has worked and lived in New York City and Chicago where he has written and performed for the stage and television. O'Donnell wrote the award-winning Off Broadway show One & One, Radio City Music Hall's Manhattan Showboat, and co-founded the New Age Vaudeville theatre company, the New Variety cabaret, and the R. Rated Chicago television show.


Early life[edit]

Richard O'Donnell began in the entertainment industry as a professional ventriloquist.[1] He ran away with the Sells & Gray 3-ring tent circus at the age of 15,[2] sleeping in the back of the elephant truck that transported their sole elephant, Bessie. O'Donnell was eventually forced to return home to finish high school, earning a scholarship to attend the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts[3] where he studied theatre alongside classmate Kevin Bacon.

New York City[edit]

In 1978, at 22 years-old, Richard O'Donnell co-authored the book (with Fred Bennett) and the music and lyrics[4] (with Dianne Adams) for One & One (musical comedy) that played The Carter Theatre, in the Carter Hotel, 250 West 43rd street. It opened Off Broadway, November 15, 1978[5] received three ASCAP Awards, and was later recorded by actor Nathan Lane (The Producers) for the Broadway Backers Audition.

For Showplace of the Nation, Radio City Music Hall, O'Donnell co-wrote their hit mega-review entitled, Manhattan Showboat produced by Robert Yani in 1979 that celebrated over 100 years of American entertainment.[6] The Manhattan Showboat extravaganza, musical direction and arrangements by Tony award-winning conductor Donald Pippin (A Chorus Line, Cabaret, La Cage aux Folles), and received critical and public acclaim.[7]

He was invited to participate in the American Film Institute's "New Directors" program based on the merits of an original screenplay Closet Lovers, directed by stage and film choreographer Miriam Nelson (Cat Ballou, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Cactus Flower) and scored by Henry Mancini.

In the 1980s, billed as "The Double R" comedy duo, in collaboration with writer Richard LaGravenese, O'Donnell co-penned and consecutively performed in several Off-Off-Broadway productions including Spare Parts, Blood-brothers, and Entrees at The 78th Street Theatre Lab, The Lion Theatre, and West Bank Cafe. The Double R were regular guests on the Linda Lichtman Comedy hour, WNBC Radio, 30 Rockefeller Plaza.[8] On the college circuit they opened for Leon Redbone and further developed their work in stand-up comedy clubs such as New York's Comedy Cellar and Yuk Yuk's in Toronto. While working with O'Donnell, LaGravenese discovered he had a knack for writing dialogue.[9]

Fish Creek, Wisconsin[edit]

In 1983 Richard O'Donnell was contracted by Tony Award-winning producer James B. McKenzie to create an after-show review to complement evening performances of the Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. The Comedy Cabaret, as it came to be known, produced by Amy McKenzie, was an immediate success and returned to Door County for a follow-up season in 1984 as New Age Vaudeville in its own 100-seat theater in Baileys Harbor. O'Donnell also took to the main stage at Peninsula Players, starring in two highly acclaimed title roles[10] in Larry Shue's The Nerd and The Foreigner, O'Donnell was featured on the cover of the Chicago Tribune Arts Section, The Summer Stock Life.[11]

In 1998, O'Donnell was commissioned to write the book, music, and lyrics for a new musical play entitled Wish Wisconsin, to celebrate the state's 150th birthday. Directed and produced by Amy McKenzie, it opened Friday January 2, in the Fish Creek Town Hall Auditorium. Songs of merit included Wish, So Blessed, and the show-stopper Oh!, Wisconsin.[12]

Chicago, Illinois[edit]

Following the summer-stock season in 1983 Richard O'Donnell co-founded (with Amy McKenzie) the highly acclaimed Chicago theater company New Age Vaudeville (1984–1987). Throughout its run, O'Donnell produced, wrote, composed, choreographed, and acted in numerous productions with actors Megan Cavanagh, Amy McKenzie, Todd Erickson, Bobby McGuire, Peter Neville, Michael Dempsey, Lisa Keefe, Caroline Schless and Tom Purcell (head writer The Colbert Report). Productions included the cult-hits An Evening with Elmore & Gwendolyn Putts - The Neighbors Next Door and The TV Dinner Hour (the later featured iO, formerly ImrovOlympic, founder Del Close). Rick Kogan of the Chicago Tribune hailed both productions as "Among the most polished and clever productions of the season, a pair of devilishly inventive and challenging shows that won over critics and audiences."[13]

Stand-up and variety[edit]

As a stand-up comic billed as R. O'Donnell, he played numerous clubs[1] including Zanies, The Chicago Improv, the Funny Firm, Catch A Rising Star, as well as featuring for celebrated comics Chris Rock, Bill Maher, Brian Regan, Rick Overton and Bill Hicks.

O'Donnell co-produced the New Variety, which played, among other venues, at the 500-seat Chicago Improv Comedy Club[14] for over 2 years. He was responsible for changing a faltering 3-ring comedy presentation into a successful variety format.[15] The New Variety, which was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as "A cabaret for the 90's!"[6] was a fast-paced, ever-changing volley of acts that included award-winning jugglers, fire-eaters, comics, and sketch comedy groups including the all-girl Nude Coffee, the all-gay The Boys in the Bathroom, and the all-improv Upright Citizens Brigade. Dr. Boom (who literally blew things up on stage) was the highlight of the evening.[16]

Fox TV shows[edit]

O'Donnell produced and directed comedy segments for the 1998 New Year's Eve special Twisted,[17] which aired on Fox TV, Chicago featuring Matt Besser (Comedy Central's Upright Citizens Brigade) as well as writing and directing commercials for McDonald's, Toyota, Jiffy Lube, and Ameritech starring Besser and stand-up comic Michelle Garb in a stylistic homage to the works of Ernie Kovacs.

In 1999, O'Donnell went on to Executive Produce and host R. Rated which also aired on Fox TV, Chicago, a comedy anthology featuring short works by The Annoyance Theatre featuring Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live), Mick Napier (The Second City), and Stephnie Weir (MADtv), along with Tim Kazurinsky (Saturday Night Live), among many other independent film and video makers. It is said that O'Donnell hoped his new comedy series would shift the LA and NYC comedy spotlights to Chicago talent.[1]


R. O’Donnell has written for such national publications as Entertainment Weekly and Stop Smiling as well as serving as Editor-at-Large for the latter, and for cultural ezine Static Multimedia where he has a daily blog entitled The Horror. He has a popular Gothic blog entitled The Kreep. The Kreep, according to Robert K. Elder of the Chicago Tribune, is, “…a Gothic poet and illustrator in the tradition of Edward Gorey.”[18]

In 2008, O’Donnell’s blog The Kreep received a Coraline handmade box numbered 46/50 assembled by the stop-motion animation team at Laika films, honoring their favorite bloggers.[19]

Poetry Scream[edit]

O’Donnell went on to create and host (sometimes as The Kreep) the Poetry Scream on July 30. 2010. Now an ongoing event, the Poetry Scream features five poets on stage, Thursdays at the Boiler Room in Port Townsend, Washington.[20]

Black Pearl Cabaret[edit]

In 2012, O'Donnell founded the Black Pearl Cabaret with the mission to recruit a professional troupe of actors, variety artists and musicians to perform original works of a Gothic and macabre nature.[21] For their first show, Black Pearl Cabaret presented "An Evening With The Kreep", a 60 minute theatrical with book, music, and lyrics accredited to O'Donnell's nom de plume Brazillia R. Kreep. It was presented by the Black Pearl Cabaret on October 25–27, at the Undertown, located in the heart of the Victorian Seaport of Port Townsend, Washington. The "Kreep" show features poetry and song and summons a variety of haunting characters from the Kreep’s darkest dreams.[22] Characters included The Kreep performed by O'Donnell, Parthenia Goste performed by Alanna Dailey, Jack Frost performed by Jason Altamirano, Ms. Autumn performed by Holly Stone-Cabe, and Kreepy H. Krawler performed by cellist Aidan McClave. Songs included Welcome To My Lighthouse, See Me, Wish Myself, I'm Lamenting, and Halloween. The production was directed by Amanda Steurer.

For their second show, Black Pearl Cabaret presented "Kreepmas," a Gothic, macabre twist on Charles Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol" with book, music, and lyrics also accredited to O'Donnell's nom de plume Brazillia R. Kreep. It was presented on December 20–23, 2012 at the Undertown in Port Townsend, WA. Characters included The Kreep performed by O'Donnell, Albert T. Krumb performed by Jason "Ares" Altamirano, Kreepy H. Krawler performed by cellist Aidan McClave, Thaddeus Plum performed by Joey Ripely, Matilda Pift performed by Misha Cassella-blackburn and the two-headed Twipple Twins, Twinkle & Dinkle, performed by Cassella-blackburn and Ripley. Costumes where by Mara Palmen, Songs included Kreepmas Celebration, Drink Up For Kreepmas, I'm the Ghost of Been There Done That, The Bells, Why Not For Me, and We Wish You a Merry Kreepmas. The production was produced and directed by O'Donnell.[23]

For their third show, Black Pearl Cabaret presented "Bite me," a musical spoof on the vampire film “Twilight” with book, music, and lyrics by O’Donnell. It was presented on February 14, 15, 16, 2013 at the Pope Marine Building on the pier in Port Townsend, WA.[24] Characters included Joey Ripley as Willy White, Misha Cassella-Blackburn as Ella Bran, Thomas Overman as Otis Bran, Ares Altamirano as Billy Sullen, Aidan McClave as Brody Sullen, R O’Donnell as Dr. Sullen, and Marla Overman as Asthma Sullen. Costumes were by Lynne Cassella-Blackburn, Set by Thomas Overman, stage managed by DJ Adams, and directed by O’Donnell. Songs included Dear Diary, Sparkly, Like Me, So Very Hard To Be, and Bite Me.

For their fourth show, Black Pearl Cabaret presents "Kreepshow," a 60 minute musical comedy cabaret with book, music, and lyrics accredited to O'Donnell's nom de plume Brazillia R. Kreep. It opened for an open-ended run on March 29, 2013 at the historic Manresa Castle in Port Townsend, WA.[25] Characters include The Kreep performed by O'Donnell, Parthenia Goste performed by Misha Cassella-blackburn, Jack Frost performed by Jason Altamirano, and Kreepy H. Krawler performed by cellist Aidan McClave. Songs include Welcome to My Castle, See Me, How I Miss the Circus, I'm Lamenting, and Kreepy Things. The production is directed by O’Donnell, costumes and props by Lynne Cassella-blackburn, and stage managed by DJ Adams.

Steve Treacy, contributing theater critic to the Port Townsend Leader wrote of the troupe’s skills that, “Overall the group’s singing and dancing numbers, including “I’m Lamenting” and “Creepy Things,” round out one’s “good to be alive” evening.”[26] He went on to praise O'Donnell, saying, “His writing, directing, acting and warbling abilities conspire to make him a quadruple threat. Even his spoken poems, especially “Little Annie Orkle,” are sparkling (no mean feat for that musty old art form).”[26]


He is the identical twin brother of best-selling author and award-winning columnist Michael A. O'Donnell.


3 ASCAP (1978) Music Awards – Music & Lyrics, Off Broadway Musical One & One (shared with Dianne Adams)


  1. ^ a b c Johnson, Allan (August 13, 1999), "R. O'Donnell hopes his new comedy series will shift spotlight to Chicago", Chicago Tribune, Friday, page 1, section 5 Tempo 
  2. ^ O'Donnell, R. (2004), "My Summer With Del", Stop Smiling, Issue 17, page 48-51 
  3. ^ Faulkner, Mary (April 1974), "Governor's Talent School Names Penncrest Five", Reporter, pg. 3, Rose Tree Media School District, VOL IX, No. 9 
  4. ^ Buonarabo, Anthony (November 28, 1978), "One And One", Entertainment - East Coast Edition – Vol 1, No. 3 
  5. ^ "Off-Broadway", New York Times Theatre Directory, November 15, 1978 
  6. ^ a b Sawyers, June (May 15, 1992), "New Variety a cabaret for the '90s", Chicago Tribune, Friday, Page 2 - Section 7 
  7. ^ SHEPARD, RICHARD F. (August 8, 1989). "Robert F. Jani, 54, a Producer". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Santarelli, Vince (1984), "WNBC Lineups", Rock Radio Scrapbook 
  9. ^ Panek, Richard (May 1991), "A Writer's Dream", Premiere, pages 86-92 
  10. ^ Gerds, Warren (October 6, 1985), "Shue's death is felt deeply at Peninsula Players", Green Bay Press Gazette, TV & The Arts – Page 4 
  11. ^ Davis, Robert (August 19, 1984), "Theatre in the Rough", Chicago Tribune Magazine, Section 10, pg. 12 
  12. ^ Gast, Jon (January 2, 1998), "A Fitting 150th Birthday Salute, New Play Finishing up at Fish Creek", Resorter Reporter, Pg. 2 
  13. ^ Kogan, Rick (May 3, 1987), "VAUDEVILLE TROUPE TAKES LEAVE OF CITY", Chicago Tribune 
  14. ^ Tucker, Ernest (August 6, 1993), "Improv Adds Some Variety To Its Stage", Chicago Sun-times, Arts & Show, Section 2 
  15. ^ Spitznagel, Eric (October 11, 1993), "Sex, Drugs, & Cabaret - The New Variety Cabaret Just Might Make Comedy Dangerous Again", The Third Word, Sept/Oct issue, pg 10-12, 
  16. ^ Adler, Tony (May 27, 1993). "New Variety Offers Slicker Mix in New Digs". Chicago Tribune, Overnight. 
  17. ^ Feder, Robert (August 4, 1999), "Ch. 32 Comedy Show keeps the talent local", Chicago Sun Times, pg 53, TV & Radio 
  18. ^ Elder, Robert K. (October 31, 2008), ""Kreep"ing along Poetically", Chicago Tribune, Friday, page 6, section 3 Movies 
  19. ^ Struan, John. "Coraline Boxes". Super Punch. Retrieved 27 November 2008. 
  20. ^ Chew, Jeff. "Poetry Scream Event". Peninsula Daily News. Retrieved 14 June 2012. 
  21. ^ Claflin, Megan (2012-10-17). "Black Pearl Cabaret presents The Kreep". Port Townsend Leader, Arts & Entertainment. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  22. ^ Claflin, Megan (2012-10-17). "Black Pearl Cabaret presents the Kreep". Port Townsend Leader, arts & entertainment. Retrieved 13 November 2012. 
  23. ^ Claflin, Megan (19 December 2012). "A Very Merry Kreepmas". Port Townsend Leader. Retrieved 4 January 2013. 
  24. ^ Claflin, Megan (2/6/2013). "'Bite Me' this Valentine's Day". Port Townsend Leader.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  25. ^ Diane, Urbani de la Paz (March 29, 2013). "Cabaret brings 'Kreepshow' to Port Townsend stage". Peninsula Daily News. 
  26. ^ a b Treacy, Steve (May 29, 2013). "'Kreepshow': Macabre with a pinch of improvisation". Port Townsend Leader, Arts Section. 

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