Interview: Entertainment Reporter Nelson Aspen Comes 'Full Circle' with Cabaret Act
By A.D. AMOROSI
Nelson Aspen isn’t just an entertainment reporter with nice teeth and a sunny disposition. The one-time Hollywood-based producer/reporter for TV GUIDE Television, occasional on-air contributor to syndicated programs such as Access Hollywood, Extra, Inside Edition (in America), NEW with NELSON! (Ireland) and Sunrise (Australia) is a singer and storyteller as well. Nelson has traveled the cabarets of Manhattan, Los Angeles and Chicago with Full Circle, a music-filled, comedy-rich, gossip-laden cabaret showcase in which he partners with his favorite actresses. At Philadelphia’s Rrazz Room at the Prince Theater, Sunday, April 30 at 5 PM, he’ll be performing with Monica Horan from TV's Everybody Loves Raymond. We spoke to Aspen about television assignments, musical favorites and more.
A.D. Amorosi: First off, all I hear about you is how charming you are, how much of a bon vivant you’ve become since your start. No-one is a bon vivant anymore, or at least no-one BECOMES one. Usually it’s to the manor born, so bully for you. How did you achieve such bon vivant-ness? What’s so charming about you?
Nelson Aspen: If I'm charming, it's probably because I was raised to believe that manners and courtesy count for a lot. I got extremely lucky in the parent department. And I'm especially blessed that Mother and Dad, ages 88 and 92, will both be at Full Circle. As for being a "bon vivant," I've always been adventurous and naturally curious, so saying "yes" to opportunities paid big dividends for me personally and professionally. Of course, timing and luck factor in, and I've been surrounded by show business my entire life which has made for some very glamorous experiences, unique yarns and hilarious anecdotes. I guess that makes me a bon vivant. It's flattering to think so, makes me feel very Merv Griffin!
A.D.: What made you go into entertainment reporting in the first place? For me, it was the chance to be bitchy and eloquent in print.
Nelson: Honestly, I was an out-of-work actor in Hollywood paying the bills by teaching step aerobics, back when it was a hot, new trend. I never do anything half-way, so I ended up being a VERY popular step instructor which led to my being commissioned to train Lady Di. Off I went to the UK where I ended up training her trainer and gym staff – not the Princess herself – and appearing on a British breakfast TV program, demonstrating and discussing celebrity fitness trends in Hollywood. That led to a broadcasting career and I've been saying "Good Morning" to audiences almost every day for over a quarter century!
A.D.: On-air and in print, who were the first stars you interviewed? Were they what you hoped for? I think mine was Spike Lee for his first film.
Nelson: My very first celebrity interview was with Betty White in the early 1990s for a "Fitness for Pets" segment. What a good sport and gracious Golden Girl she was and is. There have been literally thousands of interviews since then and, as a showbiz nerd and fanboy, I never cease to be star struck. Having great stars specifically request me for interviews is beyond flattering. I mean, eight times with Dame Julie Andrews! I was singing the soundtrack to Sound of Music before I could talk!
A.D.: Which do you enjoy more - print or on-air reporting?
Nelson: Like a stage performance, I love the immediacy of live television, which suits my short attention span. No retakes! That's not to say I don't appreciate the skills of a good editor when I pre-record an interview. I'm not a "gotcha" journalist, so I want my subjects to come off their very best.
A.D.: How are you putting all of this into the act that you are bringing to Philadelphia? What was the deep seeded motivation to get this on stage? What will you do out there?
Nelson: I rediscovered my love of cabaret several years ago after interviewing Kristin Chenoweth, who had just gone to Australia for the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.I called my agent and convinced them to book me in for a gig, which turned into two...which led me to perform a concert at (pinch me!) the Sydney Opera House. Of course, by then, I had a whole show put together and wanted to do it for everyone back home in the USA. That led to the current version of Full Circle which I'm proud to say has had sold out runs in NYC, LA and now Philly. Having grown up in Chester County, this is "Full Circle" in the truest sense. My second grade school teacher, Mrs. Gibson, is planning to be there with my parents. Does it get more "Full Circle" than that?
A.D.: How do you choose your Full Circle co-stars? I know you had Anita Gillette at the club called Don’t Tell Mama in Manhattan, and you’ll have Monica Horan in Philadelphia.
Nelson: My lifelong pal Monica Horan turned me on to the Rrazz Room at the Prince. She too is a Philly native. I knew she'd be in town at the same time, so we both have to jump on stage together. We first performed together in 1981 or 82, if you can believe it! Spoiler alert: Mommie Dearest figures into all this. I have so many dear, talented friends, and it's fun to share the stage with them as guest stars. Like an old Andy Williams special.
A.D.: So who and what composers do you like to sing most?
Nelson: I'm a devotee of the American Songbook. That said, there's a lot of pop culture musical content in "Full Circle" that represents the impact that TV and motion picture themes and soundtracks have had on me. In this era of reality TV singing competition, amazing voices abound, but I pride myself more on performing songs that require storytelling, personality and comic timing over a pitch-perfect baritone. Anyone that sees Full Circle will probably find him/herself singing along, and smiles are 100% guaranteed.
A.D.: Where are you going after this gig?
Nelson: I have to head to Miami and help Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron launch their new Baywatch movie. Tough work, eh? I wish Zac would sing more. I'll have to ask him about that. Then I plan to continue my regular TV commitments over the summer while I work on an all-new cabaret show to launch in NYC this Fall. Keep an eye on my Twitter and Instagram feeds for those announcements. Hopefully, I'll be invited to perform it at the Rrazz Room at the Prince in 2018 and we can make this an annual affair.
A.D.: Hey, why is this show at 5 PM?
Nelson: Happy hour!
Full Circle with Nelson Aspen and Monica Horan will be at The Rrazz Room at The Prince (1412 Chestnut St., Phila PA) on Sunday, April 30 at 5:00 PM; tickets range from $25 to $40. For more info visit PrinceTheater.org/TheRrazzRoom or call 215.422.4580.
Photo courtesy of Nelson Aspen
Posted on Thursday, April 27, 2017