Saturday, August 08, 2009

Das Barbecu--ACT

Das Barbecü
July 31st-September 6th, 2009
Tickets and Information

When Richard Wagner created his operatic masterpiece The Ring series, the last thing he could have imagined was his tale of grandiose gods, heroic mortals, and mythical creatures being reincarnated into a honky-tonk Country Western soap opera, chalk full of catchy tunes and dance numbers. Alas, such a show not only exists but succeeds in entertaining audiences for the second time at ACT since its commissioning 18 years ago: Das Barbecü.

Don’t know the synopsis of The Ring? That’s alright; it’s too lengthy and involved to describe here, and it’s all laid out for you within the first minute and a half of the show. Basically, intertwined families and lovers struggle with getting what they want, whether that be love, peace and quiet, or a gold ring that has both great power and a great curse attached to whoever possesses it. All this is set somewhere in Texas where dwarves are conniving criminals, giants are kind general contractors, and barbecue is roasted in a six foot deep pit.

Photo by Chris Bennion.

The mood is quickly put in place by the uncompromisingly outrageous costumes and innovative set, both (amazingly) designed by David Zinn. Every vom is used and every inch of stage space is milked; not to mention the mechanical trapdoor is cleverly used for maximum efficiency and effect. Alex Berry's lighting design has its epic moments worthy of an operatic production.The costumes enhance the exaggerated characters but never steal the spotlight from the wonderful performances of the actors.

The dozens of characters that flitter across the stage are played amusingly by a cast of just five: Anne Allgood, Carter J. Davis, Jennifer Sue Johnson, Billie Wildrick, and Richard Ziman. All five manage to give a distinct flair to the handful of personas they each inhabit through the course of the evening (the costume changes and acting choices are so crisp, it’ll take you half of Act 1 to realize the people don’t just happen to look alike).

Photo by Chris Bennion.

With a show so jam-packed with harried costume switches and hurried exits and entrances, it takes a grounded director to keep the production train from going off the rails; Stephen Terrell (who also serves double duty as the choreographer) fits the bill impressively. For all the cheesiness that comes along with a slapstick country opera, Terrell exposes the heart and humanity lying just beneath the layers of tulle and teased hair.

Das Barbecü takes Wagner’s fifteen hour behemoth of an opera and affectionately molds it into an accessible, laugh-filled production that connects with its audience—even those who know little about The Ring, or opera in general.

Review by Kacey Shiflet

Friday, August 07, 2009

Catch Me if You Can--5th Ave

Catch Me if You Can
5th Avenue Theatre
July 23rd-August 16th
Tickets and Information

There’s something special about the opening night of a new show. Neither the waiting audience nor the frantic theater employees quite know what will happen. They bustle around in anticipation of the night’s surprises; hoping and dreaming about the possibilities. Tonight, the 5th Ave brought us this energy outside and inside the theater with the world premiere of Catch Me if You Can.

This new musical takes its story from the true life accounts of one Frank Abagnale Jr. who by the age of 21 had swindled over $2 million by impersonating a Pan Am pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer. After his parents’ divorce, Frank runs away from home in the hopes of finding the resources to reunite his family. In the process of pretending to be someone else he ends up discovering love, acceptance, and purpose. This show puts a new spin on a plot that has been told in Abagnale’s own words and a movie of the same name.

The whole production is built around the idea that the world is Frank’s own personal variety show. All the theatrical elements recreate the essence of the classic, all-out productions that peppered television in the 1960s and 70s. Though accurate in its homage to that era, the production never lost connection to its modern audience. David Rockwell’s cleverly simplistic set seamlessly propelled the audience along with Frank on his adventures. Bob Mackie, being a legend in himself, created costumes with flair and pizzazz. Holding it all together onstage, the band, under the direction of John McDaniel, becomes a supporting character in its own right.

The entire ensemble electrifies. It doesn’t matter if steps are missed or lines are lost due to microphone malfunctions; the energy vibrated through the theater. Aaron Tveit plays a captivating and honest Frank Jr., effectively balancing both the charismatic and troubled sides of a complicated teenager. As FBI agent Carl Hanratty, Norbert Leo Butz breathes charm and life into the character that brings reality to Frank’s fantasy. Kerry Butler shines as the sweet young nurse who finally slows Frank down long enough to see what is really important in his life.

Under the skilled direction of Jack O’Brien, the show dazzles and entertains while still maintaining a purposeful focus on Frank’s story. Jerry Mitchell’s inventive choreography shapes many of the memorable moments of the show. The artistic styling of both the directing and choreography, along with all other production elements, works cohesively to enhance the night’s experience.

In short, Catch Me if You Can is one of the best shows you will see all year. Buy your ticket now, and “catch” this premiere event in Seattle before it flies away to Broadway.

Review by Kacey Shiflet and Andrew Swanson