Archive for the ‘theater’ Category

Charley’s Aunt charms at Taproot

Josh Smyth, Eric Riedmann , Emily Fairbrook and Steve West in Charley’s Aunt at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug

Jack Chesney and his Oxford schoolmate Charles Wykeham have a problem: they’re in love. Jack (Eric Reidmann) longs for the love of the charming Kitty Verdun (Anne Kennedy) while Charley (Josh Smyth) pines for pretty Amy Spettigue (Emily Fairbrook). Standing in their way is the complicated etiquette of Victorian England’s middle class morality – they can’t even invite the young ladies to lunch without a proper chaperon in attendance. Hope rises when the millionaire aunt supporting his education telegraphs Charley to announce her imminent arrival. Hope falls when a second telegram announces her cancellation.

What are the lovelorn lads to do? Why, convince their pal Lord Fancourt Babberly (Steve West) to put on the costume he bought for his theatrical group and impersonate the aunt no one’s ever seen, of course. Thus begins a madcap afternoon of mistaken identity, romantic confusion and the riotously funny results of well-intentioned lies in Charley’s Aunt, now playing at Taproot Theater.

Lord Fancourt – “Babbs”, to his pals – makes a spectacularly awful Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, the widow from Brazil, “where the nuts come from”, but people see what they want to see to great comic effect.

Jack’s father, Sir Francis (Andrew Litzky), finds “Donna Lucia” appalling, but attempts to woo her for the sake of his son who will be forced to work for a living after graduation since their family title comes with no money attached. Misses Verdun and Spettigue seem far more interested in fussing over Charley’s “aunt” than being wooed by their would-be suitors, much to Babbs’ delight and his friends’ great dismay. Stern Stephen Spettigue (Nolan Palmer), uncle of Amy and guardian of Kitty, first disdains then desires “Donna Lucia”. Just when it seems things can’t possibly get any more out of hand, the real Donna Lucia (Llysa Holland) arrives with a young woman (Samie Dietzer) who has a history tied to more than one “Charley’s Aunt”.

First performed in 1892, Charley’s Aunt delighted its early audiences with its gentle satire of stuffy manners; while modern theatergoers will find the antiquated ettiquette even more ridiculous, the romantic comedy has aged very well by being at its heart a simple spoof of the silly lengths people to go for the sake of love, a theme that never really gets old. Director Karen Lund keeps the three-act play moving at an energetic pace and, as always, the Taproot production staff does an excellent job of transforming a simple stage into a thoroughly convincing set.

Among the cast, Steve West deserves special praise for making Charley’s false aunt so convincingly unconvincing. Don Brady is delightful as Jack’s put upon valet Brassett whose disbelieving asides at the madness going around him are uniformly amusing.

Charley’s Aunt continues at Taproot Theater through June 12. Tickets available in person at the box office, over the phone at 206.781.9707 or online.

As a special bonus, Taproot Improv Comedy returns to the stage on Friday nights following mainstage performances. Tickets are $10 or $8 with a ticket to Charley’s Aunt.

Fiddler on the Roof comes to Seattle May 25

Harvey Fierstein in Fiddler on the Roof, photo c. 2010 Carol Rosegg

Fiddler on the Roof is a Broadway classic. Opening in 1964, it was the first run of a musical to break the 3000 performance mark on the Great White Way and was the longest-running musical in Broadway history until Grease came along a decade later. It’s still the fourteenth longest running show in history, no small potatoes. The original production won an astonishing nine Tony awards; a mark of the show’s enduring appeal is that all its major revivals have been acclaimed as well.

Based on a book published in 1894, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, a poor milkman in 1905 Russia, his sharp-tongued wife, Golde, and their five daughters. Tevye struggles to keep his family together and the cultural traditions alive as each of his three oldest daughters insists on choosing her own path while all the while their entire village is threatened by the Tsar’s campaign of pogroms and expulsions.

The much loved musical’s best known numbers include “Matchmaker”, “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Miracle of Miracles” and “Sunrise, Sunset”.

Fiddler on the Roof comes to Seattle’s Paramount Theater for eight shows starting May 25 with Harvey Fierstein, a multiple Tony winner himself, in the pivotal lead role. Fierstein won praise for his performance as Tevye in the most recent Broadway production and considers it one of his favorite roles.

Tickets are available online and at the Paramount box office.

FMA invades Laff Hole tonight

Another first Wednesday of the month means another Laff Hole via the fine folks at the People’s Republic of Komedy.

This month’s Laff Hole features as special guest The Famous Mysterious Actor Show, all the way from Portland, OR. FMA is the creation of Portland sketch comedian Joe Frice who was performing a routine spoofing a late night talk show when a loud drunk in the audience started throwing beer at the stage. Instead of freaking out, the cast saw this as their golden chance to return the favor and FMA was born. (Want to know more before you get involved? Check out Portland Mercury.)

Also on the bill: the spontaneous and absurd Rory Scovel and DJ Barbarella spinning the tunes.

Laff Hole starts at 9pm at Chop Suey. Cover is $10, 21+.

Dreamgirls dazzle the Paramount

Moya Angela as Effie in a photo by Joan Marcus

The challenge all established plays face is keeping the story fresh when it’s too well known for surprise. Simply sticking to the script isn’t enough but make too many alterations and you lose your audience. Broadway Across America‘s current production of Dreamgirls, now on stage at the Paramount incorporates two new songs, including one created specifically for the movie version but otherwise stays true to the original play, relying on its cast to keep the show current.

It’s a wise choice. Moya Angela is stunning as Effie White. It must be intimidating stepping into a role that made the careers of Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson, but Angela manages to find a way to make it her own. Naturally, she has the superb voice this part requires – indeed, her rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is every bit the show-stopper it’s meant to be – but she deserves praise for her acting skill, too. Brash, headstrong and temperamental Effie is strong-voiced in more than one way but underneath the would-be diva’s ego is a vulnerable woman whose talent seems to be her only chance to be “somebody”. When she’s pushed away from her slot in the spotlight by the man she thought loved her and the friends she thought would always be behind her, her wounded pride turns her venomous. And yet, even when Effie’s at her worst, Angela never lets you forget that there’s a complicated person behind that brilliant voice.

The absolute standout member of the cast, however, is Chester Gregory whose James “Thunder” Early gives the Dreamettes (the “dreamgirls” of the title, whose name will later become “The Dreams”) their first shot at musical success, only to become overshadowed by them no matter how many style changes he acquiesces to at the behest of Curtis Taylor (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), car salesman-turned-promoter extraordinaire who wastes no time in working to push “Jimmy”‘s existing manager, Marty (Milton Craig Nealy) into the same corner he shoves anyone who interferes with his dream. Jimmy Early is every bit as crass as Taylor, hardly a model of exemplary behavior himself, calls him, but despite his moral failings, you can’t help but like him. Credit Gregory’s charisma for that; credit his great musical talent for the way he effortlessly slips between the spirited soul he loves and the blander pop Taylor insists he perform. His fall from fame is mostly his own fault, but it’s touching nonetheless.

Syesha Mercado is an appropriately lovely Deena Jones, the back-up singer pushed into the role of frontwoman not being because she’s the best singer, but because she’s the best looking. Trevon Davis and Margaret Hoffman are good as CC White and Michelle Morris, respectively. Rounding out the cast is Adrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson, the third of the original Dreamettes. She spends much of the show being the go along to get along girl who stands in the shadows of the primary players but when the time comes for Lorrell to finally stand up for herself, Warren makes you see that she’s had her own reserve of strength all along and it’s glorious to see her fully put it to use.

Dreamgirls continues through April 11; buy tickets online or call the box office at 1.877.784.4849.

Dreamgirls opens Tuesday at the Paramount

Adrienne Warren (Lorrell), Syesha Mercado (Deena) and Margaret Hoffman (Michelle) in a photo by Joan Marcus

Dreamgirls is the story of an all-girl singing group in the 1960s whose rise to the top brings them heartbreak and pain instead of the simple stardom they imagined at the start. Deena, Lorrell and Effie begin their careers together but are soon torn apart by the complex manipulations swirling around them – will success bring them all their dreams or hand them nightmares instead?

Dreamgirls first opened on Broadway back in 1981 with a successful four year run; it’s gone on tour and been revived several times since then and even got a well-known movie production. Now it’s back on the road as part of the Broadway Across America tour and it’s here in Seattle from April 6 through April 11 at the Paramount Theater.

Dreamgirls stars Moya Angela as Effie and features Syesha Mercado as Deena Jones, Adrienne Warren as Lorrell Robinson, Margaret Hoffman as Michelle Morris, with Chaz Lamar Shepherd as Curtis Taylor, Jr., Chester Gregory as James “Thunder” Early, Trevon Davis as C.C. White, and Milton Craig Nealy as Marty Madison.

Tickets range from $27 to $70 and can be purchased online at Tickets.com, STG Presents.com or Broadway Across America, or by phone at 877-STG-4TIX (4849) or in person at the Paramount Box Office.

Brooklyn Boy at Taproot Theater

Jesse Notehelfer and Jeff Berryman in “Brooklyn Boy”, photo by Erik Stuhaug”

The question of “Can we go home again?” has already been asked and answered, but what about “Do we want to?” This question is at the heart of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies play Brooklyn Boy making its regional premier in a show directed by Karen Lund at the Taproot Theater in Greenwood.

Eric Weiss (Jeff Berryman) is a literary sort whose third novel, a semi-autobiographical story about a Brooklyn family, has finally brought him the success he’s always wanted but his joy is somewhat tampered by his dying father’s lack of enthusiasm. Robert Weiss is perfect as curmudgeonly Manny Weiss who just doesn’t “get” his son’s career and seems almost indifferent to “Ricky’s” need for validation. Eric Weiss is further unsettled by a chance encounter with childhood chum Ira Zimmerman (Alex Robertson) and he snarls out a rejection of Ira’s attempt to reconnect. Soon after, Eric is the one being rejected himself as his wife Nina (Lisa Peretti) makes it clear to him that she’s not kidding about wanting a divorce.

Eric’s trip to LA to work on the movie adaptation of his novel isn’t quite the victory lap he’s imagined either. Jesse Notehelfer turns in a finely nuanced performance as the pretty young thing he brings back to his hotel after a book signing; her mixture of bravado and insecurity perfectly echoes his own, forcing him to take a look at himself that he’s been desperately trying to avoid. A visit to film producer Mealanie Fine (Nikki Visel) begins as a satirically comical poke at the way “Hollywood” views the way the world looks at its product and becomes even funnier when Eric is introduced to teen idol Tyler Shaw (Nicholas Beach) who insists that he’ll be perfect for the lead role just as soon as he gets a new hairstyle. Reluctant Eric is badgered into reading the script along with Tyler and it is then that he is finally driven to his emotional breaking point. Finally back in his childhood home, Eric puts up one last fight but his defenses are destroyed and he must now, at last, open up the baggage he’s been carrying around with him the whole time.

As always, Taproot gets maximum impact from a minimalist set; sound and light make for rich, genuine environments. Brooklyn Boy is both serious and funny, often within the same scene, and the cast does an excellent job of balancing both drama and comedy without slighting either. Eric Weiss isn’t always likable, but Jeff Berryman does a great job of keeping him a sympathetic character throughout. Even at his most frustrating, you can’t help but keep pulling for him.

Brooklyn Boy continues through April 17, stick around after Wednesday shows for a post-play discussion. Advance tickets through the box office at 206.781.9708.

Sustainable theater at SU

Seattle University‘s greenSquat program in a new way of producing theater – two or more productions share a stage – the second production “squats” on the set and production design of the first, reducing materials used, and reducing the environmental impact of the shows, which can often be substantial.

The first greenSquat production is a new play called WRITER 1272, a comedy by local playwright Vincent Delaney about plagiarism, ghost writing, and the complex conditions of college admissions. WRITER 1272 is “squatting” on SU’s recent staging of Island of Slaves, reusing the set, production materials and even posters from the previous play to create an eco-friendly production. Any added materials are themselves found, recycled, or repurposed – nothing new. greenSquat creator Steve Galatro says says, “Theatre is wasteful. In terms of time, money, energy, and physical resources, we have not yet done our best as a theatre community to embrace the trend of sustainability that is now present all around us. In greenSquat, we are challenging students to examine their responsibility as eco-conscious artists: examining the wide array of materials that make a production and imagining their potential to make another production entirely.”

SU hopes that greenSquat will inspire other theater artists to reduce their environmental impact as well and has partnered with a number of local businesses to promote the idea and will offer raffles and green product giveaways at all shows.

WRITER 1272 runs through March 13 at SU’s Lee Center for the Arts; tickets are available at the door or in advance through the box office which is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1:30 to 6:00 pm; call 206.296.2244 for ticket details.

Taproot Theater returns with The Great Divorce

greatdivorce
Nolan Palmer and David Dorrian in The Great Divorce. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

If getting into Heaven was as simple as leaving Hell behind, who would choose to stay in Hell? That’s the question at the heart of The Great Divorce, on stage at Taproot Theater through February 27. Based on a story by C.S. Lewis, the play is a fitting choice for the first production at the newly restored theater that was severely damaged in a fire set by the arsonist who plagued the Greenwood neighborhood three months ago. Lewis’s religious views were a major influence on his writing career, but the story is equally accessible to the non-theologically inclined who can substitute being one’s best self or worse in place of Heaven and Hell. Beset by trauma, one can choose to wallow in the familiar discomfort of one’s own misery or strike out into the challenging unknown in search of joy.

Getting into Heaven, as George MacDonald (Nolan Palmer) explains to C.S. Lewis (David Dorrian), is simple, but it isn’t easy.

The story begins with C.S. Lewis finding himself in a vague grey town which we soon realize is Hell. Lewis joins a motley group of characters standing in line for a bus which delivers them to the foothills of Heaven. There they discover that although it’s the most beautiful place any of them have seen, it’s also a difficult place as they soon discover themselves to be ghosts who have to struggle even to stand on the grass since everything around them is much more solid.

Lewis observes as various solid beings approach the passengers one at a time, people they knew in life who have come to show them the path to the mountains where they will live in eternal peace. Each of the prospective coaches promises that although the journey will be difficult at first, as it progresses it will become easier and easier as the ghosts become more solid themselves.

Among the encounters Lewis observes are an artist who would rather stay in Hell than go to a Heaven where nobody is famous because everyone is on equal ground, a Bishop more interested in debating the notion of Heaven than actually seeing it and several others who cling to their pain even knowing that it is their doom. Ten actors play 25 characters in the play, quickly and marvelously shedding one skin for a new one. It is a credit to the cast that even when their scenes were close together, each character was fresh and new. While all of the cast deserve praise, Faith Russell and Sam Vance were particularly outstanding in keeping characters fully human who could easily slide into cliche. Compassion is one of the hardest emotions to portray, but Vance nails it as the brother of a mother whom he must order to let go of the grief that has come to define her. Russell moves smoothly from the ultimate shrew to the essence of pure light.

David Dorrian, whose Lewis both narrates the tale and propels the plot, is superb, using his voice and body to transform a minimalist stage design into a richly textured world.

Last Friday’s opening night performance began with a pre-show presentation by Artistic Director Scott Nolte of the theater’s thanks to Seattle Fire Department Assistant Chief A.D. Vickery and onsite foreman Steve Timian for their efforts on behalf of the theater and the Greenwood neighborhood.

Review: Mr. Angelo

It’s easy to do the right thing when the right thing is obvious and easy, but how do you know what the right thing to do is when all of your choices seem evil and the best that you can do is to choose the least of them? This is the dilemma faced by Isabelle Stephens, a Methodist pastor at the center of Theatre Verity’s production of Mr. Angelo, a contemporary reworking of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure written by Daniel A. Tarker and directed by M.E. Graham.

The story begins in a jail cell where Isabelle (Emmatrice Devan) confronts her brother Clay (Aaron Key), who has just been arrested for statutory rape after impregnating his 16 year old girlfriend, Julie. Clay is dismissive of the charges against him–he’s only four years older than Julie, after all, and they are in love–and Isabelle’s first task is to convince him of the seriousness of his situation. Once she succeeds, she faces the first of an unending series of tough choices: should she use her influence to help her brother try to avoid prosecution or should she leave him to face a fate she seems to think he deserves?

Once she finally agrees to meet with the prosecutor, the odious Mr. Angelo, Isabelle faces still more difficult decisions and every choice she makes leads to still more choices, each more repugnant to her moral center than the last. There are no easy outs in Mr. Angelo, no simple solutions that neatly cure all ills. As the play progresses and Isabelle responds to the pressures put on her by her brother, by Julie, by Mr. Angelo, by a secret benefactor, and by an unlikely and not entirely willing ally, she finds her initial moral certainty dissipating into anxiety and doubt. Once resolute in her beliefs about good and righteousness, Isabelle finds herself wracked by doubts, pushed in this direction by everyone she encounters, all of whom urge her to compromise her lofty and rigid ideals for the sake of what they each consider a more important cause.

Mr. Angelo’s got an ulterior motive in prosecuting Clay and the deal he offers Isabelle is outrageously wrong, but no one she interacts with has motivations that are entirely pure and selfless. Clay and Julie both point out that their baby’s life will be ruined along with Clay’s if he goes to prison, but neither seems mature enough to ensure that the baby’s life won’t be ruined if he doesn’t go to prison and Julie seems to see her pregnancy as a chance to get away from the parents she thinks are too stern. The shadowy figure who offers Isabelle a shot at gaining an upper hand over Mr. Angelo refuses to identify herself or explain her reasons for getting involved. Marie, whom Isabelle is led to, is another of Mr. Angelo’s machinations whose conflicting emotions make her motivations suspect as well.

Isabelle is a tough character to like, at least at first; Emmatrice Devan deserves applause for the skillful way she slowly, subtly humanizes Isabelle as she navigates her treacherous journey. Her agony as she is forced to confront the notion that sometimes there is no one true path is palpable. Alysha Curry and Jesse Putnam provide standout performances: she as the sometimes awkward but genuinely charming Julie, struggling to cross the divide from child to adult with as much grace as she can muster; and he as the oily Mr. Angelo whose got some deep-set issues of his own. It’s hard work keeping a bad guy as villainous as Mr. Angelo from sliding into characterize but Putnam keeps him on the human side. The cast use the sparse set effectively, convincingly inhabiting a variety of locales with only a few simple props. Some of the scene transitions could be smoother and some of the dialogue (particularly some of Julie’s) comes closer than necessary to being a bit too theatrical, but Mr. Angelo is a thoughtful, engaging play well worth seeing.

With Lyn Coffin as Georgia Duke and Kara Thornes as Maria.

Mr. Angelo continues at Odd Duck Studio (1214 – 10th Ave, on Capitol Hill) Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 2 until February 7. Advance tickets at Brown Paper Tickets.

Upcoming: Mr. Angelo at Theatre Verity

Medieval mystery plays presented Christian bible stories as tableaux in churches and were popular until about the 15th century, replaced by the rise of professional theater. Professional theater troupes in the 15th and 16th centuries furthered the telling of stories by presenting a protagonist who was influenced toward righteousness by his encounters with various embodiments of moral principles in productions that were known as morality plays. By the 17th century, plays had gotten even more abstract; William Shakespeare’s 1603 (or 1604) play Measure for Measure considered issues like mercy, justice and truth by presenting a variety of characters whose complex personalities and interactions gave audience a reason to consider what is right and what is wrong not just as broad concepts but also in how they apply to real life.

Theatre Verity’s Mr. Angelo puts a modern spin on the issues in Shakespeare’s play. Daniel Tarker’s reinterpretation of Measure for Measure asks: “Is there ever a time to compromise our ethics for the greater good?” with the story of Clay Stephens, arrested for statutory rape after getting his sixteen year old girlfriend Julie pregnant. He asks his sister Isabelle, a popular local pastor, to persuade the district attorney, Mr. Angelo, to drop the charges. DA Angelo has his own agenda in mind for Clay and Isabelle, sending Isabelle on a twisted journey through a nightmare.

Mr. Angelo opens January 14 at Odd Duck Studios on Capitol Hill (1214 -10th Ave) and runs through February 7, playing Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. Advance tickets can be found at Brown Paper Tickets.

Edited 01/08/2010 to correct the character names for Isabelle and Julie.

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