Friday, August 29, 2014

Seattle Musical Theater Starts New Season Liberated From Ugly Past

The cast of Man of La Mancha rehearsing at Seattle Musical Theatre (Photo: Roy Arauz)
(As printed in Seattle Gay News)

Seattle Musical Theatre is launching their 37th season in a few weeks. They’re starting with Man of La Mancha and the lead role of Cervantes/Don Quixote is being played by Jeff Church. In many ways, that signifies enormous change for the somewhere-between-high-school-and-community-and-professional theater company.

SMT, renamed from the long-known CLO (Civic Light Opera), has been a very important presence in the Seattle musical community. Many of our veteran musical theater performers got their first out-of-school productions at this company. Many performers who went on to gain their Equity cards and perform at Village Theatre and the 5th Avenue Theatre trod the boards at SMT first.

SMT has had a lot of struggles over the years, but last year’s credibility fiasco nearly succeeded in destroying the company altogether. Some of you who love musical theater might know what happened, but it is worth discussing what happened because the aftermath has produced some very very good changes. However, they are by no means out of the woods financially, so it’s important that you know you should definitely now start supporting this company. That’s especially true if you felt like you should stop supporting it last year.

Coming Up: Dream Role for Actor Jeff Church as Don Quixote at Seattle Musical Theatre

Don Quixote (Jeff Church) pledges his loyalty to Aldonza (Cherisse Martinelli) (Photo: Jeff Carpenter)

Jeff Church is finally getting to perform a dream role as Cervantes/Don Quixote in Seattle Musical Theatre’s production of Man of La Mancha (September 12-28th tickets at . He’s been performing in Seattle for some years, at Village Theatre and the 5th Avenue, and started his Seattle career performing at Civic Light Opera.

Jeff says about Man of La Mancha, “I did the show years ago in Wichita (Kansas) as Pedro, one of the muleteers. (With Cervantes/Don Quixote) you’re playing two characters in a show within a show. The clarity of each character is really important: finding the comedy in Don Quixote without making fun of him. There is a lot of comedy in his madness, (but) know that it’s a serious story he’s telling. I love the language, as well.

“(I’m performing with) a bigger voice than I use most of the time. Working with John Allman, music director, a person I trust to tell me what he’s hearing, is really great. The songs are such big baritone songs, but you don’t really get a chance to perform them until you’re at the right age for the role. It’s amazing to finally get the chance to do that. I’m 52 and I’m the perfect age.

“It’s a show many people know and being true to the story is hard, because people want a fresh take or a new version. It doesn’t need to be new, it just needs to be true.”

Friday, August 15, 2014

Exiting Managing Director Charlotte Tiencken addresses bringing new audience to Theater

Charlotte Tiencken, Myra Platt & Jane Jones accepting the Governor’s Arts Award (photo courtesy of Book-It Repertory Theatre)
We have a few unsung arts heroes in our community that join boards, serve on commissions, and support multiple artistic efforts in quiet and prolific ways. One of those is Charlotte Tiencken, and she is leaving us! She’s not just leaving her post as Managing Director of Book-It Repertory Theatre, but her bio says she also has, “taught at Seattle Pacific University, the University of Washington, The Evergreen State College, and the University of Puget Sound. She has been an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. for ten years. Charlotte is past president of the Board of Arts Northwest. She has served on the Board of the Pat Graney Dance Company, on granting panels for the Washington State Arts Commission and 4 Culture, and was president of the Board of Theatre Puget Sound. Her most recent directing credits include Into the Woods for Vashon Drama Dock, Eugene Onegin for Vashon Opera, and Rashomon for Seattle Pacific University.”

That is just part of the effort she has poured into the Pacific Northwest artistic community over the past twenty years! She has been at Book-It for seven years. She is moving to Charleston, South Carolina to teach arts management at the College of Charleston. They will be very lucky to have her, because there is no doubt that she will busy herself becoming invaluable there, too.

Charlotte and I had a conversation, recently, discussing her tenure at Book-It. She describes some of what she found when she got there and found a much smaller (than present) organization with a high turnover in staffing and an unclear future plan. “When I took over in 2007 the budget was half what it is now. I asked, ‘What do you want?’ And we determined a direction. Part of that vision was being sustainable, having staff that was committed and not going anywhere.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sparkly – if long – comedy, “Balconies” bubbles at Annex

Katherine Karaus, Drew Highlands, Evelyn DeHais in Balconies (photo Dangerpants Photography)
Written by Scotto Moore
Through August 30, 2014

Opposites attract premises, particularly the conservative/liberal variety could be kind of eye-rolling, but at the hands of playwright Scotto Moore, it turns out to be a whole lot more fun than hackneyed. His newest work, Balconies, at Annex Theatre, has many of his signature elements: fast-paced dialogue, high tech speak, agile plot devices.

Instead of a just-ahead-of-its-time future fantasy (Moore’s previous works), this play stays rooted in 2014, but makes fun of a Scientology-type cult and lets the geeks win. Characters who, at first glance, seem stereotypically boring turn out to be a whole lot quirkier than their book-cover.

Cameron (Drew Highlands) is having a best-launch-ever party in his condo for Sparkle Dungeon 5. (I would love for that game to become a reality!) He’s invited dozens of geek friends in costume. But just next condo over, Annalise (Katherine Karaus) is hosting a fund-raiser for her politician mother (Laura Hanson), politicians including the Chief of Police, and a key funder, Lonso (Jason Sharp), a creepy world-thought-dominator.

Monday, August 04, 2014

"Time Stands Still" at ReAct Theatre

Brian Pucheu and Maria Knox in Time Stands Still (Photo David Hsieh)
Time Stands Still
Starring Maria Knox, Brian Pucheu, John Bianchi and Mona Leach
Through August 24, 2014

Two war correspondents, a writer and photographer, are forced by injury to come home, heal, and figure out if that life is still theirs. Donald Margulies has written an absorbing play, with interesting characters, in Time Stands Still. Of course time doesn’t stand still for anyone, but James and Sarah stand in a moment of transition. ReACT Theatre is producing this play at the Ethnic Cultural Theater in the U. District.

If casting is 75% of the effort, director David Hsieh cast well. Each of the four players here is well positioned to perform each role. While opening night turned out to be “first audience,” and therefore, the timing and rhythm of performing to others wasn’t settled in, I’m certain that each will deepen into “the pocket” in short order.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Next Week: 2014 Village Originals’ Festival of New Musicals

The 2013 developmental production of Watt?!? (starring Hugh Hastings - front) during Festival of New Musicals (photo by Sam Freeman)
The annual musical development party is almost here. Village Theatre’s robust Festival of New Musicals is a well-established, nationally and internationally known, incubator of musicals, many of which move on to more development. Often, one of the festival’s musicals makes it to Village’s next Main Stage season. Once in a while, excitingly, one makes it to Broadway! Two were next to normal and Million Dollar Quartet. That hope fuels everyone’s ambitions.

The format, now, is five draft musical “readings” (unmemorized, but rehearsed, with music stands and zero to rudimentary costuming) and one musical that gets a “developmental” production, with full staging and memorization, though only a two weekend run.

The developmental production this year had its debut last summer as a reading: The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes is created by book and lyrics writer Christopher Dimond and composer Michael Kooman. This is a delightful story that will tickle the funnybone of musical theater lovers, with some inside jokes. Why? Well, the press release says, “Howard Barnes is a perfectly average American guy; he likes baseball and grilling things. That is, until he wakes up to discover that his life has become a musical.” It’s actually not so fun to have your life be a musical and Howard has to go on a quest to find the person who knows how to escape from Musical Land.