2005 Interview Eric Anzalone

In 2005, Eric Anzalone from the Village People took time to be interviewed for his work he did with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here on Cowabunga Corner we’d like to share this interview for the first time, as a lead in to our 12th episode for season two, a video interview with Eric.

Cowabunga Corner:
How did you first hear of the Ninja Turtles?

Eric:
That would have to be the 1st Movie?

CC:
Did you watch the cartoons or movies?

Eric:
I watched the movies. By the time the second film came out, I was already involved with the TMNT, so I would try to catch the cartoons as well- you know character work; trying to make everything consistent.

CC:
Before being a Turtle did you have a favorite Turtle, if so did it change after being in the Tour?

Eric:
Pre-Tour: Mikey Post-tour: Raph

CC:
Did you see the Tour Live at all before joining the show?

Eric:
Nope. I was in Europe doing a tour of HAIR. I came home and joined the tour 5 months later. Before I went into rehearsals they flew me out to watch the show though.

CC:
How did you get the job as Donatello for the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour?

Eric:
The choreographer for the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour was Patty Columbo and I had worked with her in a couple of other stage productions including all of my cruise ship contracts. We had a good working relationship and personal friendship. When Coming Out Of Their Shells was first cast, Patty immediately thought of me, but I was already in Europe doing HAIR. When a position opened up she called again and this time I was available!

CC:
Have you done any previous jobs wearing Full Body costumes?

Eric:
I was the mascot of my high school… a big old lion costume which was ALMOST as hot as those torture suits we wore as the Turtles! Now, of course I’m covered in leather and chains which can get very warm and heavy! Hmmm, I see a pattern here.

CC:
When you took the part of Donatello, did they have to do anything to the costume? Resize, or make any new stuff for it? If so, what did they do for the costume?

Eric:
Nope! One size fits all. They made sure they hired people who fit the costume.. that old adage REALLY applied to be a Turtle, “If you fit the costume…” The one thing they did for each of us was take a mold of our heads and make a fiberglass skull cap which could be switched out in every Turtle Head. It made the heads, which weighed like 8-10 lbs, more secure and comfortable to wear.

CC:
What was it like the first time you tried on the costume?

Eric:
Kind of scary. All I could think was, “I have to dance in this thing for an hour; sometimes in the heat of a summer day? WHAT DID I JUST GET MYSELF INTO?

CC:
Was there more than one costume that traveled with the show for each turtle? If yes, how many?

Eric:
We had a couple spare body suits, and heads. Everything else from hands, to chests, to calf pieces was separate. Come to think of it, we traveled with extra everything. Of course, when we filmed Turtle Tunes and Christmas, they built fiberglass shells and breast plates for us… man, those things sucked! They never made extra shells.

CC:
Was there any cooling systems built into help prevent over heating? If so, what was the cooling system used?

Eric:
For the big studio releases, I believe a few specialized costumes did. You know there were different costumes, i.e. close-up costumes, fighting/stunt costumes, ect, BUT WE HAD NO SUCH THING! What they did was design costumes from the same secret foam formula as the films, leaving breaks at the joints where fabric costume pieces were attached, cuffs, keep-pads. That allowed a little air in. They built fans into the sets for Coming Out of Their Shells and Getting Down In Your Town, and we would often lean on them, or stick our faces in them. Right next to the stage they would have a tent, with 4 lawn chairs, buckets of ice and water, gallons of Gator-Ade, and electric fans. We would come off stage, assistants would immediately strip us down to the body suit, lay towels that were soaked in the ice and water over our faces and bodies, and direct the fans on us. Of course, in Coming Out Of Our Shells the big tour, of which I did 7 USA shows and the European Tour, there was an intermission, and it was always awful to have to get back into those costumes that were wet, and you were wet, and you would begin to sweat almost instantly. In the beginning we had a doctor travel with us to monitor our body temperatures which were running at dangerous levels.

CC:
Was any of the original actors from the beginning of the tour still with the show? If so, who and what did they do?

Eric:
Well, I did a couple of different things with the Turtles. When I joined Coming Out of Their Shells, it was the Six Flags Tour, but when they had our cast finish up the Big Tour when everybody’s contract ended. Alfredo Miller, original cast member who eventually became Leonardo, stayed behind and he continued to play Leonardo, I took over for Ronn Smith, original, as Raphael. Then a few months later they sent us to Europe, and David Shatraw, original, came back as Mikey, Ronn Smith came back as Raph, Alfredo Miller was Leonardo, and I was Donatello. Then we filmed Turtle Tunes and A Turtles’ Christmas, for these I was Raphael, Ronn became Leonardo, Alfredo switched to Michaelangelo, and Florence Reymond, who was a swing for all the shows since the European Coming Out of Their Shells Tour and who had also appeared as Leonardo in the Getting Down In Your Town Video, was Donatello.

CC:
Where was rehearsal and how long did you all rehearse before performing live?

Eric:
I originally rehearsed as we toured around the USA at various Six Flags parks. Than we sat down in Buffalo, NY and rehearsed all the extra numbers for the Big Tour that weren’t in the Six Flags shows for about a week. For the European Tour, we rehearsed in New York City for two weeks, we had to relearn the show in French, and Swedish! For the Getting Down Tour, we rehearsed somewhere in New Jersey for two weeks.

CC:
What was the hardest thing about wearing the costumes? And was there any costumes easier to wear than the other?

 

Eric:
All the costumes were exactly alike, except for the filming of Tunes and Christmas where we had to deal with the SHELL. The hardest thing was probably how damn hot they were.

CC:
How was the mouth and eyes on the costume controlled on stage?

Eric:
Radio controlled by a crew member and the swing from backstage or the lighting booth.

CC:
How long would it take to put on and take off the costume? Was it easy? Was there a process you had to go through? If so what was the process?

Eric:
You really couldn’t do it yourself. On all the tours they hired assistants for each of us. With a good assistant, you could get ready in 10 minutes. First you would put on a t-shirt and special sweat absorbing lycra leotard, then the body suit, calves, battery pack/belt, chest piece, shoes, knee pads, elbow pads, jacket, hands, wrist guards, then you’d run the cable for the battery pack up your back and connect it to the head, put your head on, check the radio eyes/mouth and it’s show time.

CC:
Any clue what happened to the costumes? The movie costumes are now popping up on Ebay here and there.

Eric:
I have no idea; they were property of Mirage Studios. A lot of them were falling apart. I would guess they’re sitting in a warehouse somewhere. I don’t want to sound bitter, The TMNT was a fabulous 3 years period of my life filled with a lot of good times andd good people who’ve become close friends of mine.. great memories. BUT I’d be MORE than fine if I never had to see or think about those costumes again. Of course, every time I get out of bed and try to stand up in the morning I have a painful reminder of my days as a Turtle. My chiropractor is becoming a wealthy man thanks to Mike, Raph, Don and Leo!

CC:
Where and when was the first live show you did as Raphael?

Eric:

That would have been on the Big Coming Out of Their Shells Tour at an arena in Buffalo, September 1991.

 

CC:
How many shows were done at each six Flags? Was there a set amount?

Eric:
It was so long ago, but I would guess 2 shows a day for 10-12 days. No, there was no set amount.

CC:
Any of the cities you went to stand out above the others by the size or excitement in the crowd?

Eric:
Again, it’s all kind of a blur now. I just remember how freakin’ hot it was in Georgia.

CC:
Any of the songs from the show that really stood out as a favorite to you, for the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour?

Eric:
You know, I can’t even remember the songs!!! Wait, I remember Pizza Power, so I would have to say that one.

CC:
In the original run of the Tour, the Turtles would throw pizza from Pizza Power out to the kids at the end of the song, was there ever a time where you would’ve like to do that at any of the Six Flag shows?

Eric:
During Getting’ Down In Your Town we did NOT throw the pizzas. However, when the Six Flags Coming Out of Their Shells Tour began we did. That lasted about a month or so until Six Flags told us we couldn’t. I think we snuck a few out from time to time regardless.

CC:
Did you get to talk or pose for pictures with fans a lot?

Eric:
We rarely talked… they used to tell the kids that we were saving our voices for the show. But yes, we met fans all the time. Every now and then they would set up a microphones and a curtain, Since I was good at character voices, my understudy would put on the costumes, and I would sit behind the curtain with the head controller and a microphone and talk to the press and/or fans. Whoever was wearing the costume, usually Flo, would have to wing it and listen carefully to what I was saying so she could move appropriately. We got really good at it. She could almost read my mind… of course, we were dating and spending every waking and sleeping moment together… maybe that’s why we were so tuned in to each other!

CC:
Any event that happened during the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour that will always stand out to you?

Eric:
I got my first Tattoo when we were in Dallas! Danyol, who played Michaelangelo, got one too. God, we were soooo hung over that day! The night before we had all gotten very drunk and broke into the pool at the hotel around 1am to go skinny dipping…all of us…guys and girls. When security kicked us out they didn’t know what to think. Anyway, the tattoo artist who did the work did it for pratically nothing because we gave him autographed pictures to put on his wall. He put the pictures right next to Tommy Lee from Motley Crue! Funny, I can still remember what I wrote on the picture, “Yo, Dude… thanks for the ink! Peace, Raph”

CC: Did you ever have a costume problem during a show, that really stood out? Could you tell us about it?

Eric:
No costume problem except that they were so DAMN HOT! Occasionally the eyes and mouths wouldn’t work, but that’s about it.

CC:
What countries did the show go to during the European Tours?

Eric:
France, Sweden, and I think we did a show in Finland.

 

CC:
How long were you over seas?

Eric:
God, I don’t remember. I was there almost a month longer than anyone else, because there was this huge break between France and Sweden AND they wanted a Turtle to stay behind and do interviews and press. Since I could do the voices, they asked me if I was up for it. If I had to guess, I would say that whole trip was about 2 months altogether.

CC:
Did you guys do promotional stuff while there, like TV shows, news, newspapers, magazines, etc..?

Eric:
Yeah, we did newspapers, talk shows, variety shows, photo shoots, radio, record store signature stuff, ect.

CC:
Were there any real changes to the show, to match the humor or restrictions? Like was it called Hero Turtles?

 

Eric:
Yeah, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. A lot of the jokes had to be rewritten in the specific languages because not all of them translated. Flo used to translate the jokes from the French show for me, she was from Geneva, Switzerland and her firsts language was French – part of the reason she was hired. And the Turtles in France are known as “Tortues Ninja”. In Sweden and Finland I believe they are called “Hero Turtles”, yes; Ninja has a bad connotation.

CC:
Was this your first time over seas, if so did you get to see anything that you’ve always wanted to?

Eric:
No, I had spent a lot of time in Europe before the Turtles. I had actually toured and lived in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria for six months straight in 1990. I played Berger in the European Tour of the Braodway Musical “HAIR”. During HAIR I vacationed in Paris a few times which certainly helped when I found myself living there.

CC:
Did you hear about Getting Down in Your Town while you were still over seas?

Eric:
Good question… hmmm. I’m going to say no, but I’m not sure. I don’t think they told us because I remember Flo and I being worried we would never see each other again after the Tour.

 

CC:
Did you get to perform in any of the big named theaters while there, if so which ones?

Eric:
We played concert venues, no theaters. The Zenith in Paris and the Globe in Stockholm are the only ones that come to mind. Funny thing about The Globe, 4 years later I was on stage there with The Village People and I saw the Turtles poster hanging backstage.

CC:
When you say Full Production does that mean the dancing gators and pizza Delivery guys or just all the songs and all the original lines?

Eric:
Just the songs and lines… in Swedish and French, of course. It costs a lot of money to run an American Tour through Europe, so Bob Bejan and Steve Leber, the producers, decided to cut back on performers. Bob even flew out to Paris to meet with us and tell us 5 or 6 shows were being cancelled because of ticket sales. They were all about making as much money as they could. I think they felt the Mighty Morphing Power Ranger monster starting to breath down our backs. We did have the entire set and pyro, though.

 

CC: When performing in the sewers under the streets of Paris, France was that for a video or what was that done for?

Eric:
That was taped for TV and newspapers did a photo shoot. It was all to promote the shows in Paris. I was a big Les Miserables fan at the time, so I thought it was very cool to be in the actual Paris sewers that had been there for 200 years! They were/are still operational and neon green sewage, “ooze” if you will, was rushing like a river below us. Our choreography was very toned down that day, and Valerie – tour manger, Flo, and the woman playing April watched us closely and were ready to save us from going over the chains and into the drink. Surprisingly, it didn’t smell. Well, it smelled moist and mildewy down there.

CC:
What over all did you enjoy most of the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour?

Eric:
That’s hard to narrow down to one thing. As a performer, I would have to say seeing the looks on kids’ faces. From Aurora, IL to Stockholm, Sweden the reaction of the children was the same, and children’s faces don’t lie. It was very fulfilling. It made the sweating, body-ahes, and occasional injuries worth it. I would also ahve to say that the friendships and relationships that were formed with everybody touring was absolutely awesome. We were all in our 20′s and life was taking off.

Thanks so much Eric for taking the time to reply to all the emails it took to do this one interview!

Everyone who found this an interesting read, please be sure to keep an eye on season 2 of “Cowabunga Corner” where we’ll have an interview with Eric while he was in Detroit, where he talks about a lot of the fun and crazy events that happened while working as a Turtle!

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