Saturday, June 28, 2014

Successful debut for Seattle Mainstreet Festival of New Musicals

Some of the cast of Pride and Prejudice in performance (courtesy Seattle/Mainstreet Musicals)

The week of June 18-23, a very new event pushed its new green shoots from the fertile ground of Seattle’s musical theater community and with the indomitable Billie Wildrick at the helm, Seattle’s “chapter” of the Mainstreet Festival of New Musicals became a reality.  

The idea of Mainstreet Musicals, as stated on their reflections page, is to allow draft musicals to be performed in readings all over the country to get exposure and get a chance to move forward to becoming fully produced. Launched in 2010, they evaluate musicals as submitted to them for eventual inclusion in these nationwide festivals. They choose three musicals to be produced as concert readings (the performers use scripts and music stands with a pianist and your imagination).

Thirteen localities chose to produce this year’s festival, one being Seattle. Seattle chose to do the three musicals provided, Under Fire, Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice and Merton of the Movies. In addition, they spiced up the events by adding a late nite cabaret and another local draft musical focused event, Pitch Sessions.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Hurry, before "Passing Strange" passes away

Andrew Creech as Youth (photo Martin Christoffel)

Passing Strange
Starring LeRoy Bell, Andrew Creech
Through 6/29/14

You still have this weekend to catch the entertaining and groovy musical, Passing Strange. Written as an autobiography and originally starring Stew, the Seattle version of a black man’s journey to manhood stars local celebrity and amiable rocker, LeRoy Bell.

Though it’s a story about rock and roll, most of the musical composition don’t get that loud (no earplugs needed). Bell tells the story through narration about his youth (Youth is played by Andrew Creech) in a boring lower middle class Los Angeles neighborhood straining to be someone unique. Through minimal staging, dance, and storytelling techniques, a quartet of talented actors (DeSean Halley, Yesenia Iglesias, J Reese, Shontina Vernon) morph from teenage church friends to European footloose, drug-inspired young adults, as Youth tries to find himself and “the real.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Raucous “The Hunchback of Seville” fits the WET audience taste to a “V”

Maria Knox and Samie Detzer (photo by Cassandra Bell)
The Hunchback of Seville
By Charise Castro Smith
Directed by Jen Wineman
Starring Samie Detzer, Libby Barnard, Rose Cano, Maria Knox
Through June 30, 2014

Washington Ensemble Theatre doesn’t do plays most other companies would do very often. Their tastes run to bizarre, outlandish, boundary-stretching, unconventional, fantastical, and other such adjectives that denote unusual theater choices. Their world-premiere presentation of The Hunchback of Seville by Charise Castro Smith fits them very well (the “V” in the header).

Castro Smith and director Jen Wineman brought their baby to WET via the outreach that former Ensemble member and Yale graduate Michael Place enabled. They brought their project as a team and agreed that they would both come and be resident during a development process that resulted in Castro Smith being present for a month of rehearsals. Devin Bannon, an Ensemble member, says that is “unprecedented” in their history of developing scripts.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Gorgeous, Gorgeous, Gorgeous voices in “Porgy and Bess” and some diction problems

Alicia Hall Moran and Kingsley Leggs in Porgy and Bess (photo by Michael J. Lutch)

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
Starring Alicia Hall Moran, Nathaniel Stampley, Alvin Crawford, Kingsley Leggs
Through June 29

The touring production of Porgy and Bess is at The 5th Avenue Theatre now and if you have never, like me, seen it before, you owe yourself a trip to see this production. The singers are, without fail, completely gorgeous to listen to. Every song and every singer.

The only thing I’d suggest is to prepare by looking online for song lyrics because whether it is the singers’ diction (not that likely), the bounce in the 5th Avenue, a sound mixing issue, an over-loud orchestra – which also sounds great, but needn’t be quite that loud, it will be hard to understand some of the songs and some of the singers. However, there is no issue with understanding what the story is. That comes in loud and clear, too.

Friday, June 13, 2014

CTP addresses two current theater discussions: Original voices and Women with “Starling”

Cast of "Starling" (photo Danielle Barnum)

Next up for Confrontational TheaterProject: Starling by Julia Nardin and Samm Murphy. This relatively new company started out with two guys who wanted to put on a particular play. Beau Prichard and Baron Von Oldenburg did Proof in 2012. Beau says, “It sold out and worked the way we wanted and Baron suggested we just keep going. He gave the company the money to continue. I made a short list of projects I wanted to do, (but first) found three local playwrights who had one acts they wanted to have done and called it Lifelines and produced that in 2012, as well.”

Asked where the name of the company came from, Beau says, “(We think) the productions should tackle something important and give the audience something to digest. They should be talking about it on the way home and even have it come up several days later as they continue to think about what it brought up for them.

“We wanted a strong word and the dictionary definition (says ‘confrontation’) can be a debate or discussion. It doesn’t have to be a fight, which is what the word often means to people: conflict, direct antagonism. That’s not what we mean. We mean open discourse about a difficult topic. You know people will have different ideas, but there can be a way to talk about all of them.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Opera trivia is the subplot for an aria about love and loss in Theatre22's "The Lisbon Traviata"

Daniel Christensen and Eric Mulholland in Lisbon Traviata (photo Robert Falk)

The Lisbon Traviata
by Terrence McNally
directed by Gerald B. Browning
starring Daniel Christensen, Eric Mulholland, Sean P. O'Bannon, Kyle James Traver
(at Richard Hugo House)
through June 28

A relationship hitting the very last skids is dressed in operatic clothing in Theatre22's latest production of The Lisbon Traviata by Terrence McNally. Gay men living in 1985 in New York in the shadow of the growing AIDS crisis try to find love or save love.

The cast of four tackle this sometimes humorous, sometimes way-over-the-top fanboy opera arcanity, sometimes soapy relationship script with credibility. Gerald B. Browning has a clear vision as a director and manages the flow of the action with believability and also creates a terrific visual design with huge Maria Callas wall portraits setting the post-modern scene.

The two actors with the most to do are Daniel Christensen as Stephen and his best friend and fellow opera geek Mendy (Eric Mulholland). Much of Act One is their great friendship, full of their history and that of all their friends, and their incredible attachment to Maria Callas, the great opera diva who died before her time in 1977. Even audience members of this play who heard her perform vouch for her greatness.

Stephen and Mendy spend a lot of time debating which of Callas' performances are best on record as they compare her La Traviata of London with that of a Lisbon performance. But their obsession with Callas is how we learn of Stephen's deteriorating relationship with Mike (Sean P. O'Bannon) and that Mike is seeing a new man, Paul (Kyle James Traver).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

ACT's The Price makes good sense to see

Charles Leggett and Peter Silbert and Peter Lohnes in The Price
Photo: Chris Bennion 

The Price
by Arthur Miller
directed by Victor Pappas
starring Anne Allgood, Charles Leggett, Peter Lohnes, Peter Silbert
ACT Theatre
through June 22

Arthur Miller's play The Price is now on ACT Theatre's main stage with four top-notch actors. The play is now a period piece dated 1967, but with a timeless theme: family relationships.

Victor Franz (Charles Leggett), a New York cop, is finally forced to sell the family furniture due to imminent destruction of the building by new owners. A lifetime of "stuff" has been sitting untouched in the sixteen years of Victor's father's passing. He has invited a furniture appraiser (Peter Silbert) to give him a price. Victor wants it all gone and does not wish to sell off only the good pieces to Solomon.

Victor's other dilemma, as he discusses it with his wife Esther (Anne Allgood), is whether to split to proceeds with his unavailable brother, Walter (Peter Lohnes). Walter has refused to answer any phone calls or messages and Esther, who is more concerned about money than Victor is, thinks Victor should just keep all the money he gets for the furniture. Walter is a successful and prosperous doctor and doesn't need it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sound Theatre's "A Small Fire" is a little jewel in a jewelbox

Teri Lazzara and Sara Coates in A Small Fire (photo by Ken Holmes)
A Small Fire
by Adam Bock
directed by Julie Beckman
starring Teri Lazzara, Gordon Carpenter, Sara Coates, Ray Tagavilla
Sound Theatre Company
(at New City Theater, 18th and Union)
through June 21

Sound Theatre Company's season is set to examine the language of love and hate, they say, and their first production, A Small Fire, exhibits both in a searing exploration of family relationships during the height of illness.

The play by Adam Bock creates a brusk, non-nonsense woman (Teri Lazarra) whose feelings are so deeply buried that she doesn't have time to find them. She treats people with a no-nonsense air and a hurried manner that makes them feel like they're in her way. Her daughter (Sara Coates) has a lifetime of hurt from her mother's truth-hurts unboundaried comments, especially about her fiance. Her daughter even thinks that her father (Gordon Carpenter) should leave her mother and be happier without being berated by this demanding woman.

It remains for a co-worker, Billy (Ray Tagavilla) to demonstrate to us how much care is covered up by her brusk manner, as he details how she showed her belief in him by watching over him, yelling at him, and having others make him stick to his work or keep him from straying off the straight and narrow.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Phoenix Theatre knows comedy and does it well

Christine Mosere and Melanie Calderwood in Kimberly Akimbo 
Kimberly Akimbo
by David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Eric Lewis
Starring Melanie Calderwood, Jay Jenkins, Christine Mosere, Carissa Meisner Smit, and Woody Lotts
The Phoenix Theatre
through June 22

If you haven't been out to Edmonds lately, there are two theater companies there and both are well worth paying attention to. Driftwood Players is one, and The Phoenix Theatre is the other. The Phoenix Theatre grew out of the ashes of Edge of the World Theatre which probably felt like the edge of the world if you attended their ramshackled and unamenitied performances. Melanie Calderwood and her crew fixed up the space, painted, made a cute lobby, and turned it into a little piece of escapism.

The Phoenix tends to focus on comedies, and they do them well. But just because they are funny does not make the comedies bland or without societal commentary. Their latest offering is Kimberly Akimbo by David Lindsay-Abaire. The biggest surprise in this play is that the main character, 16 year old Kimberly, suffers from progeria, a condition where a child ages so rapidly that he/she physically appears to be aged and often dies by age 16.

Lindsay-Abaire does not just give Kimberly this condition, he also makes her mother somewhat neglectful, narcissistic, and think she's dying of cancer, and her father an alcoholic, he also adds an aunt that has been in and out of jails and homeless! That description would, by itself, sound more like a tragedy. But if you give it a chance, it's a bittersweet comic take on resourcefulness and family resilience.

The cast does a lovely job of bringing the play to life, centered by the sweet and patient performance of Melanie Calderwood. She is note-perfect as a 16 year-old trapped in an 80ish year old body. She understands her condition, tolerates her parents - mostly, and is marvelously entranced by maybe finally getting a boyfriend. Calderwood is a frequent performer in her theater and I have yet to see her fail to bring each character fully to life.

Friday, June 06, 2014

SPT's "Arcadia" brings past and present together

Trevor Young Marston and Izabel Mar in Arcadia (photo Paul Bestock)
Seattle Public Theater
through June 8 (very close to sold out)

Tom Stoppard is a very, very intellectual playwright. Some of his plays are more accessible than others. For me, Arcadia and Travesties are two of the harder plays to come to grips with. Seattle Public Theater's current production of Arcadia has some strong performances and a very nice set design (by Craig Wollam) that help bring more understanding to a complicated and "heady" play.

A rather large cast is headed, first, by a wonderfully grown-up and arch performance by teen Izabel Mar. She plays Thomasina, a preternaturally smart 1820s gentleteen being tutored by the almost-able-to-keep-up-with-her Septimus (Trevor Young Marston). They start off the play by talking about higher math, physics, and "carnal embrace" which the tutor, embarrassed, passes off as "hugging meat." He's the one who has been hugging the meat of another man's wife in the gazebo, though.

That man, the easily bamboozled Chater (Brandon Ryan), wants to duel with him until Septimus convinces him that Chater's wife was trying to gain Chater a good review of his latest poetry book.

Theater Writers are an integral part of the communal "whole"

It's really frustrating when people in other parts of the theater community treat people who write "about" theater as if they are not part of the same community. I also feel bad when people in other parts of the theater community give off a vibe like people who write "about" theater should not consort with or otherwise involve themselves with the artists who create the theater they watch.

Do you think, you artistic folk, that you are so different from those who write about what you do? Is your background so different? I'm here to tell you that many of us who write about theater have theater backgrounds not much different than yours. In fact, we usually have degrees in and experience with many aspects of the artistic side, as well. 

We love theater as much as you do. We care about the success of the artistic expression as much as you do. 

And we understand our connection to the community of theater, because we see our words about your product co-opted into your advertising and touted by you as "worth" something — that is when you want to use what we have said that is good about your artistic creation. Though, you're not so eager when we say some things didn't work so well or even failed in their intent.