Monday, March 31, 2014

Run! See "Gidion’s Knot" untangled at SPT!

Rebecca Olson and Heather Hawkins in Gidion's Knot (photo by Paul Bestock)
Gidion's Knot by Johnna Adams
Seattle Public Theater
through April 20

It is kind of ironic that children under age 13 are discouraged from coming to Seattle Public Theater’s gritty production of Gidion’s Knot, though they really shouldn’t. The irony is due to the subject matter of this two-hander that every parent and teacher and person who cares about children should see! Gidion is a ten year old boy. It is his mystery that needs untangling.

This is an intense 70 minute “real time” play about a parent-teacher meeting no one you know should ever want to be a part of. Directed with a sure hand by Shana Bestock, the two actors, Rebecca Olson and Heather  Hawkins go toe to toe with a welter of emotions and justifications. Rarely will you see such bald emotions on stage, and if you do, not often will those emotions be as well-deserved as these.

Johnna Adams has written a taut and intense drama. The word that keeps leaping to mind is “proportionate.” The emotions are proportionate to the issues, the discussion is proportionate to the mystery, the women are balanced one with the other in strengths and weaknesses, the length of the play is also proportionate to what needs to be said. Everything is measured to the exact amount needed. That in itself is quite a brilliant success.

Capitol Hill ensemble’s latest acting challenge: Stand on stage by yourself while channeling a 16-year-old

Samie Spring Detzer (photo courtesy of Washington Ensemble Theatre)
The next play up at Capitol Hill’s Washington Ensemble Theatre is The Edge of Our Bodies by Adam Rapp. It will perform from March 28 to April 14, a relatively short run, but as usual with WET, there are Monday evening performances you can attend.
This play is a one-character show and focuses on a 16-year-old girl, Bernadette, as she boards a train to New York City to see her boyfriend. Samie Spring Detzer is the performer and CHS spoke to her about her journey to becoming Bernadette.
“The narration of this incredibly smart and honest sixteen year old is very intriguing to me,” Detzer said. “We don’t often give young women the chance to tell their story with such clarity. There’s also something about the idea of one performer in a space telling a story that is very exciting to me.”
Detzer said that she was sent the Rapp script by a director friend as an idea for her to perform, and she brought it for consideration to WET’s retreat in December of 2012. Their egalitarian-styled ensemble votes on their seasons. “I read the script out loud to everyone,” she said. “It’s about 16 year old Bernadette who goes to New York to tell her boyfriend that she is pregnant. It’s about mixing the power of wanting to be seen with the desire to disappear.”

Saturday, March 29, 2014

New "Uncle Vanya" succeeds and fails but tries admirably

Uncle Vanya's added music with Zhenya Lavy and Sean Patrick Taylor (photo by Annie Paladino)

UNCLE VANYA
AKROPOLIS PERFORMANCE LAB
(AT WASHINGTON GARDEN HOUSE)
Through April 5


Zhenya Lavy and Joseph Lavy are consummate theater practitioners. They demonstrate that in so many ways in their new production of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya. They have chosen an unconventional venue to mount the production. It's an old home in the Beacon Hill area that is now the headquarters for the Washington State Federation of Garden Clubs. It also is an admirable choice as a stand-in for the Russian estate of the Serebryakov family.


Zhenya Lavy has made a new adaptation of Chekhov's Russian play, being a Russian speaker herself. It is quite faithful, in presentation, to what you might expect, if you have already read or seen a production. One of the most successful aspects of this production is her addition of multiple Russian folk songs with most of the actors singing and providing delicate harmonies. (While that addition is a delicious texture adding to the ambiance, Lavy might temper her desire for more than three verses of any given song.)


In the first moments of the play, while singing a folk song, Joseph Lavy enters with heavy chests and begins to meticulously unpack them into what had been a rather empty playing space. It's a riveting and theatrical moment that provides a shiver of anticipation of what is to come. Then, the play unfolds, but so does some fairly uneven acting and choices.


Joseph Lavy directs and is also cast as Uncle Vanya. One has to assume that there was no one to help him realize where his own acting choices could have been more measured, especially at the beginning, so that later on there would be more ability to ramp up the tensions to fit with the climactic moments at the end. Some in the cast are also far less used to acting, and in material as intricate as this, and in a 30-seat space more like a living room, it's easy to know that quickly.


Still, veteran actor Carter Rodriguez, as Doctor Astrov, does as good work as this reviewer has ever seen from him. Also, Sean Patrick Taylor, as a servant, is on hand, to provide some of the wonderful music, as he has in multiple other shows like at Seattle Shakespeare Company.


Zhenya Lavy, as the other servant, also provides texture via spinning real wool into real yarn on a real spinning wheel and knitting real socks. The spinning wheel provides some rhythmic sound effects that can become a kind of ticking clock or the beat of time or the syncopation of a beating heart.


They provide flashes of humor here, but much more could be wrung from the production when dialogue falters. One important addition in direction is that people in the play actually do things from time to time: real work. This amplifies the impression of a real household with normal activities to do, like taking tea.
This is not an easy play to understand or to perform. It has many layers and this production honors and provides layers and textures. While more could be done, it is still an enjoyable and theatrical evening with touches of brilliance, and gifts to the audience of Russian food and song. They give you Russian treats at intermission. But do yourself a favor: bring a cushion to pad your seat.



For more information, go to www.akropolisperformancelab.com or Brown Paper Tickets or call 206-856-6925.

Royal Blood: The heart of the play is Love

ROYAL BLOOD
ONWARD HO PRODUCTIONS
(AT WEST OF LENIN)
Through April 4


Cast of "Royal Blood": Merat and Love front, Hsieh in tie, Nelson and Moore on upper step (photo by Chris Bennion)
 
Royal Blood is a new play by local Seattle playwright Sonya Schneider and she believes in it so deeply that she and her husband have self-produced it in grand style. Directed by capable director, Laurel Pilar Garcia, with a terrific and accomplished cast, they have also invested in a marvelous set by Jennifer Zeyl, beautifully rendered costumes by Anastasia Armes, exquisite sound and music design by Robertson Witmer and well-crafted lighting by Evan Anderson.

Overall, this is a highly successful production. It focuses on a pretty dysfunctional family and an unfolding of some secrets, but almost all the revelations are earned, and the relationships and choices are clear and ones we might identify with in our own families. The members of this family deeply want to feel 'special.'

As the play begins, a woman we will realize is somewhat mentally challenged digs a hole in the wonderfully detailed backyard set, in real sod, to bury her dog, Lady Di. Deb (Amy Love) looks up from her labors to find her sister, Dorothy (Mari Nelson), has come home from Europe and Deb thinks Dorothy has been brought home due to the dog's death. In fact, Dorothy has come to bury their brother Leo, but their father Cliff (Todd Jefferson Moore) has not yet told Deb of Leo's death.

It's easy to identify with Dorothy's desire to be independent of a challenged little sister, to have tried to leave and make a successful life on her own. It's a little less easy to accept that Dorothy might be on the verge of leaving behind her 16 year-old daughter, Cassiopeia (Nicole Merat), though her ex-husband is apparently a decent father. But then Dorothy learns that her father has cancer and the stakes become much higher.

We also learn that Leo committed suicide and that he had a lover, Adam (David Hsieh), though his homosexuality lies uneasily with Cliff. Cliff is an uncomfortable, though believable, character who is also racist and loves to sarcastically tease his family. Moore handles all of that thoroughly and well, not letting us like him as he struggles to deal with how to manage this new illness.

Nelson, an assured veteran of stages such as the Rep and ACT, holds everything together just like the older sister should, and makes it clear how burdened and uncertain she is, though never displaying her vulnerability to her family. Merat is terrific as the headstrong and difficult and brilliant young girl, ably portraying the know-it-all attitudes and emotional outbursts of that age. Hsieh is restrained and formal in a role that is the least well-rounded of the play.

But the heart of the play is Love in a beautiful portrayal of an older woman who has been sheltered and protected from life while longing to be 'normal.' The title comes from the family's supposed descent from the British Spencer Family, the one that Princess Di came from, and Deb lives out the fantasies of their dead mother, dressing in clothing that would be appropriate on Jackie Kennedy or movie stars. Her quirky obsession with movies provides a unifying through-line and some of the best laughs.

A mentally-challenged character still rarely shows up on stage, and this is a great character. Her fate, with her father sick, is definitely a problem anyone can relate to. The dialogue of the play is smart and virtually all the issues raised in the play are wrapped up by the end. In fact, there are almost too many issues and almost too much neat wrapping up! The second act could be strengthened by judicious pruning of a few problems and maybe even leaving one or two unsolved for now.

It's definitely a solid work and an absorbing evening of storytelling. Sometimes around here, you just have to do it yourself, if it's going to get done. Do yourself and Sonya a favor and go see her show. You'll be glad you did!

For more information, go to Brown Paper Tickets or http://www.onwardhoproductions.com/ or call 800-838-3006.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Time to saddle up for Moisture Festival’s annual appearance on Capitol Hill

(courtesy Buckaroos USA)

(As posted on Capitol Hill Seattle Blog)

It’s time for the Moisture Festival, Seattle’s annual cabaret of comedy, dance and burlesque that spread its wings to include Capitol Hill in 2012 and has been coming back ever since. Since 2004, the Festival has presented a month of events around town in the early spring. This year, the venues include the Festival’s “home” site of Hale’s Palladium, a performance at Teatro Zinzanni, and a solid block of performances at the Broadway Performance Hall, March 28-April 13. This year, there’s a new show in town on the Hill and some big screen action you might want to check out.

“I’m a straight football player who started dancing later in life,”  Jonathan Betchtel tells CHS about Buckaroos USA, a new addition to the Moisture lineup. “I started dancing late in high school and went to Cornish for modern and ballet training. I’m kind of obsessed with masculinity on stage and how to make it comedic, and it can be nude and fun and outrageous at the same time.”

Most of the performances at BPH will be of the 18+ burlesque, um, variete — though, there will be two all-ages Sunday afternoon performances that also will include fundraisers for The Backbone Campaign and The School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts.

The schedule of performances can be found here.

The one-night performance by Buckaroos USA is Thursday April 3, at Broadway Performance Hall. The Buckaroos were formed last summer after Betchtel, a dancer at the Can Can, mulled how the venue had become an unintentional destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties. He thought that “there could be something bigger and more spectacle-based that fit that genre and that need.”

It was out of that exploration of comedy and masculinity that he came up with the idea of cowboy strippers. While, perhaps, not the first time anybody had thought of that, Betchtel thought it could be done funny and not too raunchy.

“It’s always my intention to make it a really fun night and never shock someone passed enjoying themselves,” Betchtel said.

“There’s a lot of trial and error as we try to learn the moves. Kind of a cliché sports montage mixed with a male stripping group.”

(See a video of their act: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scR71MrSc5Y)

“We’re very honored to be included in the Festival. We’re very new to the scene in this entity and so we’re excited to be a part of it,” Betchtel said.

Another special event is the showing of Burlesque Assassins at Central Cinema, April 10 at 8:00 pm. You can get tickets here.

The film showing, which has played around the world, will feature star Armitage Shanks in attendance. “A trio of femme fatales and Superspies, led by hero Johnny Valentine are a beautiful, deadly, and vital weapon in the war against tyranny, injustice and freedom. The Burlesque Assassins use the feminine charms of the dancehall to lure their way within striking distance of top ranking members of the evil regime. Witness the carnage and the cleavage as they embark on a mission to save the world from the brink of destruction. Their mission: SEDUCE AND DESTROY.” Sign us up.

You can learn more at moisturefestival.com.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SHOWTUNES showcases the music with Cole Porter’s ‘High Society’

Matt Giles, Danielle Barnum, Jared Michael Brown in "High Society" (photo Chris Bennion)

SHOWTUNES is coming! Yup, their next production is at Benaroya Hall, March 29 at 8:00pm and March 30 at 2:00pm. You only have two chances to participate in the fun. They are the folks that choose older musicals no one is likely to fully stage any time soon, and they put on a concert version. They love to choose musicals with great music and High Society is definitely one that fits that bill.

David Hunter Koch directs and Mark Rabe music directs with a young, energetic cast including Danielle Barnum (Tracy Lord), Jared Michael Brown (Dexter Haven), Matt Giles (Mike Connor), John X. Deveney (Uncle Willy), Katherine Strohmaier (Liz Imbrie), Matthew Posner (George Kittredge), Analiese Guettinger (Dinah Lord), Valerie Piacenti (Margaret Lord), and Paul Klein (Seth Lord) with Mallory King, Marissa Ryder and Mike Spee rounding out the Ensemble.

High Society is based on the play The Philadelphia Story by Philip Barry. There was a 1956 MGM movie musical made starring Grace Kelly, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. A stage musical version of High Society opened on Broadway in 1998 with a book by Arthur Kopit. Some of Cole Porter songs you might know are: Just One of Those Things, Let’s Misbehave, and It’s All Right With Me.

It’s the 1930s and Long Island socialite Tracy Lord is planning a summer wedding to new beau George when her ex-husband Dexter turns up and disrupts the proceedings.  Similar to society/celebrity weddings today, a nosey magazine reporter and photographer are trying to get an exclusive scoop. 

I think we all know what “high society” meant in the ‘30s, with the focus being on the East Coast and the rich who party. Does is mean the same thing today? It seems like today, the focus has shifted toward celebrities, only, though a few rich young people turn into celebrities (think Paris and Nicki Hilton). Usually we mean movie and television stars, and sometimes sports stars.

Wikipedia tells us that “Cole Albert Porter (June 9, 1891 – October 15, 1964) was an American composer and songwriter. Born to a wealthy family in Indiana, he defied the wishes of his domineering grandfather and took up music as a profession. Classically trained, he was drawn towards musical theatre. After a slow start, he began to achieve success in the 1920s, and by the 1930s he was one of the major songwriters for the Broadway musical stage.” In the 1930s, then, he would have been part of “high society” and his musical would reflect some insider knowledge.

After a very bad horseback riding accident, he wasn’t able to continue his string of hits, until finally giving us Kiss Me Kate in 1948. In fact, Kiss Me Kate won the very first Tony Award for a musical!

Cole’s mother, Kate Cole, had been raised as a wealthy child of the richest man in Indiana, with the best of everything, and her father expected her to marry wealth. Instead, she married a druggist, Sam Porter! Luckily, Kate’s father still thought Kate deserved the best and supported her and her family as it expanded to include Cole.

Cole went to Yale, where he even wrote some “fight” songs for their sport teams that are still used today. He also wrote full scale musical productions for the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and the Yale Dramatic Association.

Defying his grandfather, after Cole enrolled at Harvard Law, he switched to an arts and music focus. His mother always fully supported his music career, and often covered for him to distract his grandfather from his activities. Eventually he abandoned Harvard and moved to New York City to continue writing musicals.

After college, Porter was well known as a gay man and, similarly to many others of that time (Moms Mabley made her lesbianism part of her comedy act without much controversy), that aspect didn’t appear to derail his successes. He was a wealthy young man who attended all the highest society parties.

In 1917, he moved to Paris and while continuing his social exuberance, he was able to claim “war hero” status on this side of the water, making up stories of working with the French Foreign Legion. The parties could be said to be pre-cursors to those of rock-and-roll bands: sex (of many varieties), drugs, and music.

By 1919, he began a long association with divorced American, Linda Thomas. They became great friends and a useful partnership when he married her as a kind of business arrangement. They remained married until her death in 1954. The marriage helped protect his reputation when cultural shifts made his gay lifestyle less palatable to the public.

Other Cole Porter musicals include Anything Goes, Can-Can and Silk Stockings. Songs we know, even if we have never seen his musicals, include popular singles Night and Day, I Get a Kick Out of You, I've Got You Under My Skin, My Heart Belongs to Daddy, You're the Top and You'd Be So Easy to Love.

For tickets or more information, go to www.showtunestheatre.org/ or here or call (206) 215-4747.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater coming to town in April ~ Dancers Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd discuss getting married

 
Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd at their wedding (courtesy the Douthit-Boyds)

One of Seattle's favorite dance companies is the celebrated Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Next month, April 11-13, you can see them at The Paramount Theatre. (Friday/Saturday 8:00p.m., Sunday 2:00p.m.) And yes, they will be performing their extraordinary signature piece, Revelations, at each of their three performances.


On Friday and Sunday, they will also perform The River, a dance that came out of Alvin Ailey's collaboration with Duke Ellington. This is the only symphonic score Ellington wrote for dance. It has been returned to repertory after a gap of about seven years. Also on Friday and Sunday, the company presents D-Man in the Waters (Part 1), a company premiere, created by choreographer Bill T. Jones in 1989 for his company The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. New artistic director Robert Battle is excited to have Jones work with the Ailey dancers again. The piece is a modern dance classic inspired by the AIDS crisis and a dancer struggling with his health during the creation of the work.


On Saturday, they will perform Ronald K. Brown's Grace, which begins and ends with Duke Ellington's 'Come Sunday' and includes Fela Kuti's music and Roy Davis, among others. The other piece will be Minus 16 by acclaimed Israeli choreographer, Ohad Naharin, described as a roller coaster ride, changing dramatically from section to section and involving improvisation. Music in the piece includes everything from 'Hooray for Hollywood' to Vivaldi and 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.'


30 dancers are in the company. Including the artistic director, associate director, rehearsal director, stage management, a physical therapist, lighting people, etc., 45-48 people travel together on the road. Dancers Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd are two company members who got married last year in New York City.


Antonio said, in an interview with me, "We were together eight years before we got married. It was kind of funny because we woke up one morning on tour and thought, 'Hey, we want to get married.' So we just did it, and we didn't think about DOMA. It was just because we loved each other and thought it was the next step."


Kirven added, "We got married in New York at the City Clerk's office and threw a big party at the (Ailey) Studio afterwards. We didn't have to second guess if it was legal or not."


Antonio described their family relations. "His family is an amazing group of people and I love them. His family and my family spent the last three holiday seasons together, and my mom calls Kirven more than she calls me. So, it's been a good year."


Describing their wedding day, he added, "The day was more than I wanted it to be. You know how if it rains, it's good luck? We had a tropical storm on our wedding day. My mother was travelling in (to New York) that day, and everyone made it, but we were worried people might not make it. If that was good luck, we're blessed!" he laughs.


Antonio acknowledged, "I still know people in Missouri who want to get married, but they have to go to a different state or not get married because the laws say you can't marry the same sex." Antonio and Kirven were happy to be able to take the next step in their relationship without worrying whether they could do it on their timetable or not.


Antonio Douthit-Boyd grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and began his dance training at 
age 16. He trained at North Carolina School of the Arts, the Joffrey Ballet School, San Francisco Ballet, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem School. Mr. Douthit-Boyd became a member of Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1999 and joined the Ailey company in 2004.


Kirven Douthit-Boyd is from Boston, Massachusetts. Kirven said, "I saw Ailey for the first time when I was in high school in Boston. I was 13. And right away I knew I wanted to dance Ailey." Antonio said that one of the highlights for him of being a part of Ailey is the outreach they do to schools. Kirven clearly was the beneficiary of that outreach in earlier years.


Kirven described, "It was literally a dream come true. I never thought that dance like that was possible. I didn't know how to access it and tried to learn as many areas of dance so I could collect as many skills as I needed to be able to audition for Ailey." He joined Boston Youth Moves in 1999 and also trained at the Boston Conservatory and at The Ailey School. He joined the Ailey company in 2004.


Kirven said, "I got into the company when I was 19. I still had things to learn and was very receptive to all of it and I'm still here, learning. I love the challenge in the diversity of the repertoire. That's one of the greatest things. I've had so many experiences with so many choreographers that I know who I would love to work with in the future. I've also learned about myself as a part of dance and reflect on what I'm able to achieve now and what I was able to achieve when I got into the company (and the change) is incredible to me."


The Douthit-Boyds reported that there are two other couples in the company, currently, and they might be the luckiest of the company. The company spends four months a year travelling in the United States (roughly January through May) and another four travelling around Europe (in the fall). So, those who can stay together in the company might be less lonely than the ones who have to leave loved ones for so much of a year.


While they are focused on being the best dancers they can be, they are aware that dance has an inevitable end date. Antonio said, "Part of the reason we made the decision to get married was because of the other decisions we were planning on 'life after dance' and there's something to be said for loving someone so much that has the same life plan. We're either staying in New York or moving to St. Louis where I am from. We both want to run a dance institution and that's in our heads, but we're working on being the best dancers we can be while we're under contract with Ailey."


Having traveled to so many places, they must have their favorites and Antonio immediately said, "Seattle is one of my favorite stops. The city is amazing. It's laid back and progressive at the same time. It's not so hustle, hustle like New York."
For more information on the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and their upcoming appearance in Seattle, go to www.stgpresents.org or www.alvinailey.org or call 206-682-1414. 


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Bill T. Jones' D-Man in the Waters (Part 1) (Photo by Paul Kolnik)

Friday, March 21, 2014

'Forbidden Broadway: Alive and Kicking' a great one-night show at ECA

Courtesy "Forbidden Broadway"



If you haven’t yet been out to Edmonds and attended any of the multitude of entertainments at their now 6-year-old revamped performance venue, Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA), you can get on their mailing list. It’s at 401 4th Avenue North, just north of Main Street in downtown Edmonds. They claim that they’ve hosted over 1,000 events there in the last six years!



A recent event at ECA was a one-night presentation of Forbidden Broadway. Forbidden Broadway has been around in various spoofy variations for some years. This particular iteration is subtitled: Alive and Kicking.



Creator Gerard Alessandrini keeps it updated, adding new jokes and newly skewered musicals as they debut on Broadway. It’s won a number of award from New York-centric award organizations, like Drama Critics’ Circle, and the Obie. Some of the actors cast in it have gone on to star in other Broadway shows or television and movies. Alessandrini started the whole thing off in 1982.



The production at ECA on March 15th starred Gina Kreiezmar, Kevin B. McGlynn, Craig Laurie, and Jeanne Montano. The pianist/music director was Catherine Stornetta. Kreiezmar has been part of the fun since 1992. She showed amazing versatility as a mimic when she sang like Patti Lupone, Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli and Mary Poppins.



Montano, another veteran of FB versions, also had some great moments of mimicry as she took on Sarah Brightman and Fantine from Les Miserables – in an extended funny skit about Les Miz where they pretended they were whirled around the stage on the circling set. Laurie and McGlynn also amped up the fun with spoofs of The Lion King (the circle of mice), Beauty and the Beast, Oklahoma, Yoko Ono, Mandy Patinkin, Avenue Q puppets, Chicago, Jersey Boys, the Book of Mormon and Once.



Each of the two short acts was full of jokes about banal storylines, producers focused more on making money than on making good shows, and creating jokes that musical theater insiders could love to laugh at. Stornetta kept the music coming as the one-person band.



It was a top-notch production and a shame that it was only resident for the one evening. That is often the case with performances at ECA, so if this is the kind of fare you like, you’d do well to attend to the calendar of events or the emails to make sure you get to see those one-night offerings.



For more information, go to www.ec4arts.org or call 425-275-9595.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Remember Milli Vanilli? If you see Girl You Know It's True, you will!

Andrew Lee Creech and Corey Spruill as Rob and Fab (photo by Ian Johnston)

Girl You Know It’s True
Theatre Off Jackson
Through April 5

Warning: If you see this show, Milli Vanilli songs WILL get stuck in your head! Especially if you grew up with them. The Stay Up Late Show and Theatre Off Jackson are co-producing Girl You Know It’s True by Bixby Elliot. If you’ve seen Milli Vanilli, Rob and Fab will make you die laughing. If you have never seen them, this production will introduce you to why it’s so funny that they are intertwined in this play.

The play focuses on a playwright trying desperately to get some recognition for his writing (suspiciously named Bixby) and his husband who really thinks the writing is a “hobby” but doesn’t want to hurt Bixby’s feelings. Bixby gets desperate enough that he starts submitting his work with different personas, and the one of Sid, an African-American lesbian, gets the attention from a prominent New York company that Bixby has been craving.

So, Bixby hires an African-American actress to play the part of his alter-ego playwright Sid to meet the theater-folk and get him the contract. She is so successful at the charade that her own ego gets involved and she thinks she can write the next play herself!

It’s very easy to understand that frustration, and an award-winning movie encapsulates that same idea. Tootsie walks very similar pathways toward lying to get ahead and what happens when it actually works. The production, here, is very fun, with some major talent, though the script is a bit over-written and a good slimming spa treatment would do it a world of good.

Along with the basic story, we get the real history of Milli Vanilli from their unmasking, backward through their winning of the Grammy, back to how they started lip-syncing songs in the first place. Andrew Lee Creech and Corey Spruill do fantastic work as the duo, though Creech (Rob) gets the most personality. They are called upon to recreate period choreography (with help from Diana Cardiff) to great effect. And are costumed outrageously well by Scarlett O’Hairdye.

Just to hammer home the point, various frauds are introduced, like Christophe Rocancourt who claimed to be a Rockefeller and scammed his way into millions of dollars, Laura Albert who wrote as a man, JT LeRoy, and was sued for signing her pen name to a contract, and celebrated jazz musician Billy Tipton (Dorothy Lucille Tipton). Barbi Beckett, back on stage, thankfully, after a hiatus to “produce people,” gets the job of portraying multiple characters who are not as they seem.

The strong cast is headed by Ian Bell, who plays the somewhat hapless Bixby, with Andrew Tasakos as his almost-caring husband. Rebecca M. Davis plays the down-on-her-luck actor who lets success go to her head. Josh List and Daniel Christensen do some hilarious work as various characters and Michael Blaylock and Scott Shoemaker have an unfortunate role that wastes their time and confuses the ending. Many of these fine folks work with Ian and his Brown Derby movie spoofs.

A terrific minimalist set by Robin Macartney takes curtains to a whole new level of utility. Burlap with a few pops of color and we can go around the world. Sound support by Ed Hawkins and lights by Patti West provide the rest of the transformations. Directing honors are also by Ed Hawkins.

The overall effect, especially with interludes about Milli Vanilli, is a very fun evening. You might want to avail yourself of the specialized drinks they’ve prepared at TOJ to make it even funnier. They can help you forget that the script is heavy-handed, and maybe encourage you to just sing along.

For more information, go to www.theatreoffjackson.org or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/518052 or call 800-838-3006. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

It would be "Horror"ble if you didn't go to "Little Shop of Horrors"

Audrey (Jessica Skerrit, center) and the trio (l-r) Crystal (Naomi Morgan), Chiffon (Alexandria Henderson), and Ronette (Nicole Rashida Prothro) in Little Shop of Horrors (photo: Tracy Martin)

Little Shop of Horrors
ACT Theatre (in co-production with 5th Avenue Theatre)
through June 15

Little Shop of Horrors may have been around for more than thirty years, but time hasn't dimmed its wacky appeal. Sure, there are stock characters: the brusk boss, the nerdy store clerk, the unassuming but beautiful store clerk, the bad-boy boyfriend. But each of them has enough unique characteristics to give them plenty to play with.  

The newly opened co-production at ACT Theatre (with 5th Avenue) has a kick-ass cast and is so intimate that the audience is pulled right into the middle of the action immediately. The Greek Chorus trio, Ronnette (Nicole Rashida Prothro), Chiffon (Alexandria Henderson) and Crystal (Naomi Morgan) walk in with powerhouse belting that stirs everyone up and gets the energy going. Their doo-wop sound instantly lets us know we're back in the 1950s.

Joshua Carter as Seymour, the rescued orphan boy who has grown up to expect little from life, is humble and nerdily appealing. Jeff Steitzer as his unlikely rescuer-boss, Mushnik, is irrascible and a bit calculating, even when he does nice things. When it's his turn to "go," we don't feel sooo badly about it.

Jessica Skerritt does what seems like her "usual" job of playing the bombshell with the heart of gold, and convinces us that she doesn't think she deserves being treated well. Her turn as Audrey is fully believable. She makes us all want her to realize that she is better off with Seymour than her current masochistic dentist bad-boy.

David Anthony Lewis as the bad-boy and then multiple others handles all those duties excellently. Lewis has been many musical bad-boys recently and can switch on a dime from that portrayal to "everyone elses" of varying niceness. But Dentist, the signature song of torture is hysterical, and he certainly makes us hate the dentist. 

Apparently, you can rent the entire Audrey 2 contraption, which this production did. It's an elaborate piece of work, and it's easy to see why they would rather just do that and avoid recreating it. The man who sits inside and sweats out the puppetry is Eric Esteb. He does everything he has to perfectly. So does the man who has to sing for the monster: Ekello J. Harrid, Jr. Harrid's voice is the mellow, seductive, Barry-White-substitute that can also roar his hunger and nasty threats.

Bill Berry's direction and R.J. Tancioco's music directing combine to bring out the fun, the fantasy and the feeling of the show. The technical support is stellar, with a fabulous and intricate set design that pushes the action far toward the audience (by Martin Christoffel), colorful costuming (by Pete Rush), complicated lighting - including aspects of sci-fi storytelling (by Robert Aguilar) and additional soundscaping (by Justin Stasiw). 

The Howard Ashman/Alan Menken songs remind us what an award-winning duo they have been all these years. Also, this is the REAL story, not the movie story. This has the ending that played Off-Broadway, rather than the altered ending that came about when focus groups said they were displeased with an ending that involves every main character dying. But it all adds up to them reminding us: Don't Feed the Plants!

For more information, go to http://www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/LittleShopofHorrors or call 206-292-7676. 


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Third" demonstrates Wasserstein's power to ignite, illuminate, challenge

Kate Witt and Marti Mukhalian in Third (photo Michael Brunk)


Third
ArtsWest
Through March 22

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein died far too early (of cancer when she was 55 years old). Third was her last play, which played Off-Broadway in 2005, just before her death. It is now performing at ArtsWest with a tight cast of five, directed by actor/director Peggy Gannon.

Wasserstein focused resolutely, sometimes, on women’s issues and women’s voices, as she dissected and illuminated specific time periods and encompassed women’s rise to bang against the glass ceilings and find their voices. However, she did not neglect the classics, and in Third, her theme is King Lear.

Laurie Jameson (a vigorous, take-charge, and accomplished Marty Mukhalian) is at the peak of her career, having helped generate change and awareness of women’s issues and political power at a select, small Eastern university. She lectures on literature from a feminist perspective. As the play opens, Professor Jameson lectures the audience on King Lear.

A young man, Woodson Bull III (a convincing, earnest Mark Tyler Miller), presents a paper with his analysis of Lear. However, he is at the school as a wrestler, with dreams of becoming a sports agent. Given his name, legacy number (“the Third”), “jock” status, and white male privilege, Jameson profiles him and decides he doesn’t have the intellect or capacity to have written the analysis himself and accuses him of plagiarism.

The play can be looked at as a metaphor for Shakespeare’s King Lear, itself. Professor Jameson loses everything she worked for after mistaking Third’s honest opinion as stolen analysis, just as King Lear loses everything after rejecting his honest daughter’s expression of love.

 It can also be viewed as what happens when an outsider struggles so long and hard to become an insider that she forgets to be open to another’s viewpoint. So she becomes just exactly like those she supplanted in the first place, who judged her, as a woman, insufficiently intelligent or accomplished to be the professor she aspired to be at the beginning of her career.

Jameson’s portrayal is softened, enhanced, and explained by interactions with three key people: her daughter Emily (Kacey Shiflet), her dementia-increasing father Jack (Bill Higham), and her colleague Nancy (Kate Witt), who is battling cancer. Each of these strong performances and wonderful scene dialogues enlarge who Jameson can be, if she’d let herself, with Third. As we witness her compassion, her trials as a daughter, her difficulties as a mother of a grown child and a friend to a suffering colleague, we can see what she could offer Third as a mentor and teacher, and the tragic blinds she willfully keeps on her eyes.

This may sound like a tragedy, ala King Lear, but it’s far from that! It’s an absorbing, thoughtful play with loads of ideas and ways of examining what Wasserstein is saying. There are funny moments, wry moments, and especially heart-breaking moments where Mukhalian and Higham can move you to tears.

Gannon’s vision of Third is spare. Burton Yuen’s set design has a cloud-strewn backdrop and stately windows hung from the ceiling, implying the grandeur of the college. Costuming by Anastasia Armes is simple, yet effective. Lighting by Tristan Roberson is muted and subtle. Sound design and song choices root the play in 2003 (by Johanna Melamed). The simplicity sets of the complex clash of ideas nicely.

It’s a terrific opportunity to have a Wasserstein play on Seattle stage again. Third proves her power to ignite controversy, discussion, changing perspectives, and even an opportunity to see where feminism might have gone off the rails for some people.

For more information, go to www.artswest.org or call 206-938-0339. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Megan Hilty Comes ‘Home’ to Sing Songs of Stephen Schwartz with SMC

Megan Hilty (courtesy Flying House)

The beautiful musical star, Megan Hilty, locally-grown talent and now gaining increasing fame in television (SMASH, Sean Saves the World) and movies (Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return), is performing with our own Seattle Men’s Chorus for the second time. Hilty and the SMC will do a concert at McCaw Hall entirely focused on the great composer/writer Stephen Schwartz and his songs.

Hilty has been incredibly busy, lately, even though her latest network television show (Sean Saves the World) has been cancelled. She put out her first album, It Happens All the Time. She’s doing the voiceover for the China Princess in Legends of Oz (the movie site says: “the diminutive high ruler of China County, the most eligible bachelorette in all the land, and nowhere near as fragile as you might think”). She joined the second season of what looks like a hilarious web series: It Could Be Worse.

ICBW (the website says) “stars SMASH alum Wesley Taylor (Bobby, Seasons 1 and 2) as Jacob, a Broadway wannabe looking to make it big in a New York minute. Although he was cast in his first big Broadway show, he's often stuck at home tending to a needy long-term boyfriend, or is held back by his overbearing parents.”

And she got married to Brian Gallagher in November. Now, she and Brian are touring in performances together. Megan told SGN, in a phone interview, “It’s so great that we can travel together. He sings and plays guitar and he’s a dreamboat!”

Megan is on record as wanting to “just keep working.” She’s willing to do any kind of performance that comes along, from stage to television to movies to recording studio. She has said she got tired of “workshops and hearing, ‘We need a star,’ (before she became one). I can cry or (work to become) the person they’re going to hire. I’m lucky someone believed in me and took a chance.” Her code for longevity is: diversify.


I asked Megan to take us a little behind the scenes for the big, heart-shocking moment of transition when she walked on to the Broadway stage, after graduating college and becoming the stand-by for Glinda on Broadway in Wicked. The musical had opened just nine months before, and Glinda had been taken over by Jennifer Laura Thompson from originator, Kristin Chenoweth. Megan was cast as stand-by, which meant that she had to be there every performance in case she had to go on.

However, Megan describes that it also meant that she had only ever rehearsed with a stage manager saying lines to her, and had never even rehearsed in costume! Megan says, “Stand-by, you’re just in your dressing room until an emergency happens. It’s used for major roles that you need that extra insurance on. A lot of times Elphabas would go on in the middle of the first act. Whoever is playing Elphaba would realize that she couldn’t make it through (second act’s song) Defying Gravity and they would start getting the standby ready. The person playing the role would walk off stage in a scene and the standby would walk on in the next scene… Then during intermission, they would announce the casting change.”

So, that day, Megan had about two hours’ notice. I imagined that she would have been terrified. “I’m always nervous about everything,” Megan says. “I’m always afraid someone is going to figure out I’m not supposed to be there. They’ll find me out. But, I think something’s wrong if you’re not nervous. You have to not let nerves be in your way. You have to use them to your advantage. It keeps you honest, on your toes, and motivated to do the best you can to prove you really belong there.”

Megan describes, “Can you imagine? I made my Broadway debut opposite Idina Menzel having never done the show with other people before! It was a whole lot of new experiences at once. There were times during the show – there’s a rehearsal study in the Gershwin (Theatre) at the top of the building and me and the other standby would go rehearse together so no one would hear us and we’d do the scenes together, but that was about all I had before going on my first time.

“They called me a couple of hours before the show saying Jennifer had called out. Idina walked in the dressing room and asked if I wanted to go over anything. I was so terrified. She said, ‘Let’s just go out and make this show our own. Let’s have fun.’ She could have been particular about where I should stand or what I should do, but she wasn’t like that. She was really wonderful. It totally put me at ease and I was able to have fun. I don’t really remember much about that night, but I was able to relax a little bit.”

Megan describes how people in New York, in particular, feel very comfortable walking up to her on the street to talk about her role as Ivy in SMASH. “People don’t really understand. They think they’re giving a compliment, but it’s really not. ‘Wow! The camera does really add a lot (of weight), because you’re really tiny.’ That one’s a hard one to swallow.”

Currently, Megan and her husband make their home in Los Angeles, though she says she goes back to New York frequently. She also visits her family in Bellevue and was here for the holidays.

She is looking forward to her second visit with SMC. “They’re so much fun. I’m looking forward to working with them again. I pretty much knew, before I worked with them, that I was going to be walking into a fun, talented group of people. “

If you are wondering what her segments of the evening will be, she reports that she is singing Popular and For Good (from Wicked), Corner of the Sky (Pippin), Stranger to the Rain (Children of Eden) (Megan says, “The lyrics say, ‘I’m not a stranger to the rain,’ and that’s hilarious because I’m from Seattle.”), and Beautiful City (Godspell). For Good is being done as a solo. Megan says she sings to the audience as the people who have changed her “for good.”


For information about tickets on March 29 or 30, go to http://www.flyinghouse.org/smc/2013-14/totallywicked.asp or https://tickets.flyinghouse.org/public/show_events_list.asp or call (206)388-1400.

Taproot's "Pretty Fire" is one hot production

Tracy Michelle Hughes in Pretty Fire (Erik Stuhaug)

Pretty Fire
Through March 22

Taproot’s new black box theater space is getting some inaugural productions and ramping up their workload around there. This month’s production is Pretty Fire, originally written and performed by the amazing Charlayne Woodard, who is a past-master at telling stories alone on stage. Ms. Woodard has performed in Seattle, often at Seattle Repertory Theatre, in the past. If she comes again, please make sure you do everything you can to see her work in person.

But Taproot is providing a real treat by allowing the amazing Ms. Tracy Michelle Hughes to perform the piece. Hughes has performed the piece before, some years ago in Los Angeles, so she brings a familiarity to it that is helpful to the overall effect. Her vigor and commitment to the work is completely submersible into the story at hand, and she makes it her own.

This story begins with a description of Charlayne Woodard’s birth as a preemie whose tenacity becomes part of what makes her the unique person she is. The large, involved family and in particular, the bossy, imperious, and loving Grandmother that holds everyone together, provide the atmosphere that Woodard grew up with.

Woodard’s play is not shy about exposing racism, poverty, Jim Crow, political upheaval, and other difficulties of her life. But she is able to do so with a personal reference point that makes it more powerful and identifiable.

She also writes about fun and enjoyable moments in family life and entwines her family’s religious routines and beliefs, as well. In this piece, the focus is on how she developed her love of performing and how she came to be thrust on the stage in the first place. A cheeky description of Grandma’s dying wish creates a clear understanding of how young children are manipulated, sometimes for their own good, into trying things they find they love.

Hughes’ performance is heart-warming and touching as she performs with only a bench and flowy, easy-to-move clothing and a versatile scarf. Director Nathan Jeffrey provides the rest of what is needed and weaves together the great sound design by Jacob Yarborough, and lighting from Roberta Russell in a seamless production.

Pretty Fire is a proven piece of writing with a talented performer. It is a beautiful and moving evening of theater. It deserves to be seen.

For more information, go to www.taproottheatre.org or call 206-781-9707.