April 29, 2012

Ulriches welcomed in Modesto as Hometown Heroes

Casting director Robert Ulrich and his wife, actress Kim Johnston Ulrich, were welcomed as Hometown Heroes in the sold-out Foster Family Theater of the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday night.

Casting director Robert Ulrich and his wife, actress Kim Johnston Ulrich, were welcomed as Hometown Heroes in the sold-out Foster Family Theater of the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday night.

The couple — he a Modesto native, she from Ripon — brought with them the winners of "The Glee Project" TV show and the local Valley's Got Talent contest.

The Ulriches were interviewed by Gallo Center arts education coordinator Jim Johnson and shared stories from their careers and their private lives. Ulrich is the Emmy Award-winning casting director of the Fox hit series "Glee" and is host, mentor and a judge on the Oxygen network competition series "The Glee Project," which was created to help find actor/singers for parts on "Glee." (Lindsey Pearce, the 2010 Valley's Got Talent winner, was a runner-up on the first season of "Glee Project.")

Johnston Ulrich may be best known for her several-year run as Ivy Winthrop on the daytime drama "Passions," but also was on "As the World Turns" and has worked steadily in movies and in gues roles on TV series including "The Mentalist," NCIS," "Third Rock From the Sun" and "Diagnosis Murder." Her husband noted that she perhaps has had more roles than anyone he's known. Robert reminisced about his growing-up years in Modesto, producing backyard plays with friends such as the neighboring O'Brien kids - all 14 of them - and Melanee Wyatt, who's now director of the Youth Entertainment Stage (YES) company. He fondly recalled staging a production of "Cleopatra" in which Wyatt played the Egyptian queen and he was her Marc Antony. The one-time actor talked of the many local people who shaped his life. In talking of his time with Modesto Youth Theater, he said that director Paul Tischer "was a huge influence in my life."

Among the many stories the Ulriches — married more than 30 years — related was their "meet cute" tale. Both were in college. He was playing Lancelot in a production of "Camelot" and she was the beautiful young lady doing makeup for the show. Unfortunately for Robert, she also had a boyfriend. Fortunately for Robert, he was away at military boot camp. The two bonded and did much together as "just friends," but Robert warned Kim that he would grow on her.

Long story short, the boyfriend came home for a while, so Robert didn't get to see Kim during that time. When the friends were reunited around Christmastime, Kim gave him a key chain. He gave her a stocking packed with the things they didn't get to do together during their time apart - movie tickets and such.

At the bottom of the stocking was a diamond pendant, which led Kim to proclaim, "You're growing on me." Not long after, she broke up with the boyfriend, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Ulriches kept the audience laughing frequently during the two-hour-plus show, which included photos and video clips from their careers. Clips included a commercial for the service-station company Amoco in which Johnston Ulrich played a glamorous chauffeur who bantered with passenger George Burns. She also told of the unusual situation of performing on a hit series that was cancelled despite regularly beating rival show "China Beach" in its time slot.

The show, "Nightingales," was about nursing-student roommates who, strangely, often were running around the apartment in their underwear and other provocative attire, she joked. She always wondered where her character, busy in nursing school, found time to keep running off to an aerobics class.

The Aaron Spelling production, which also starred Suzanne Pleshette, was cancelled under heavy protest by nurses over its sexy tone. The next season, though, the network began airing the notorious slow-motion-jogging-in-swimsuits series "Baywatch." They figured, 'Who's going to complain? Lifeguards?" Johnston Ulrich said. The couple's guests provided the musical accompaniment, with Bavaro opening the show with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," Pearce leading the audience in a singalong of Katy Perry's "Firework," McGinty singing Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" and drawing Kim Johnston Ulrich into a dance with him, and Samuel Larson playing guitar and singing Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine."

The show closed with a surprise: an exclusive sneak-preview clip of the season-two cast of "The Glee Project" singing Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" and Robert Ulrich asking that the lights be raised so that he could point out a couple of the cast members in the audience, along with first-season cast members Hanna Mclalwain and Bryce Ross-Johnson.

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