Friday, October 16, 2009

Rock n' Roll - ACT

Rock n’ Roll

ACT – A Contemporary Theatre

October 15 – November 8, 2009

Tickets and Information

As an American city born and bred for musical explosions and dissension, Seattle holds the torch high for her citizens who understand the sentiment of the sixties and seventies. The anti-war demonstrations, the concerts in any available space, the free love and rebellion wave that crashed on the shores of the west coast and soaked every city in one way or another from Seattle to Nantucket. However, take Czechoslovakia and England at the same time and you might tend to overlook the surf of the American wave in the tsunami crashing down on Europe. Total social upheaval, the founding of a politically and socially new way of thinking, let alone living, and all of it encapsulated in some way by the music. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Stoppard’s Rock n’ Roll.

Matthew Floyd Miller and Jessica Martin. Photo by Chris Bennion, 2009.

Kurt Beattie’s production of Stoppard’s astoundingly philosophical and political drama is a thick production that ought to be seen, read, seen again and discussed if at all possible. The play spans thirty years in the lives of several rebels and philosophers in Europe from the sixties to the early nineties in just ten minutes shy of three hours. Make no mistake: this is a challenging play that cannot be taken lightly and, incidentally, should not be missed.

Rock n’ Roll, as the title suggests, is driven by the music that drove the thinkers in their time. Matthew Floyd Miller brilliantly embodies the character Jan (pronounced like YAWN) in this essential manner. On the other side of the coin, Anne Allgood plays Eleanor and the adult Esme (pronounced like S-MET) with such heartbreaking passion as would make the stones weep. Along with Miller and Allgood is an absolutely outstanding cast of some of Seattle’s finest actors.

Behind the scenes, much work must be done on a show such as this. With a full half-page of the program dedicated to music credits, Brendan Patrick Hogan (sound design) had his work cut out for him and excels beyond expectation. Similarly, Kurt Beattie had no easy task laid out for him in directing such an ambitious piece. Not to put too fine a point on it, the script can easily read as an historical account of opposing philosophies that happens to be written in intensely passionate and clever dialogue. It takes a strong director with an energetic, intelligent and intensely dedicated cast to take a piece like Rock n’ Roll and bring it to life as Beattie and the cast and crew of this production do.

Rock n’ Roll truly is a spectacular show that will not come around often. Its relevance to our current political and socio-economic situation is irrefutable and, therefore, lends itself well to the zeitgeist we all currently share. Brush up on your Marx and Pink Floyd and put your thinking caps on because it is, very much so, a wild ride.

Review by Andrew J. Perez

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat--5th Ave

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
The 5th Avenue Theatre
October 10-November 1, 2009
Tickets and Information

The 5th Ave offers a night of care-free entertainment with the opening of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the musical brainchild of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Though the story is straight from the Bible it is told quite untraditionally through a pastiche of musical styles and references, with everything from western hoedowns to reggae.

Photo by Christ Bennion.

Joseph is clearly the favorite son of Jacob, much to the chagrin of his 11 brothers. Born with the gift of interpreting dreams, Joseph is lavished with gifts and praise by his blissfully oblivious father. The brothers have had enough, so they sell Joseph into slavery and tell Jacob his favorite is dead. Through a series of unfortunate events, Joseph ends up imprisoned by the Egyptian Pharaoh, but Joseph successfully interprets the Pharaoh's dreams and quickly rises to second in command. When his 11 brothers unknowingly come begging for mercy and food, Joseph works his way arounf to forgiveness.

Anthony Federov, a former American Idol finalist, does respectably as the ever-optimistic dreamer Joseph (singing is clearly his gift; acting, not so much). Jennifer Paz commands attention as the Narrator with crystal-clear vocals and personality galore. But the stand-out performances go to Joseph's 11 brothers (too many to name--just go see them!) who strike the perfect balance between comedy and earnestness, especially in the cigarette-filled wails of "Those Canaan Days". Rounding out the cast is a chorus of children (finely tuned and obviously excited to be onstage--Seattle theatre is in no short supply of young talent).

Photo by Christ Bennion.

A show as technically heavy as this one takes a production team with lots of skill and drive. The set, designed by Martin Christoffel, provides an efficient use of space that serves all the action and foot traffic well. mark Thompson's costumes sparkle with appropriately bright colors and are rightly influenced by the endless party that was the 1970s (or so I'm told). Tom Sturge's lights are a powerful force, gently and not-so-gently coaxing the audience into the dance party atmosphere. At the helm of this technical disco extravaganze is James Rocco, the director. Rocco showcases the performers' heart and effort, which makes the cheesiness and good-natured fun worthwhile. Jayme McDaniel's choreography is creative and entertaining.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is much like cotton candy. There isn't much need for it all the time, but it is a fun and welcome addition to any diet--not to mention its's kid-friendly. Word to the wise: those who are sensitive to strobe lights should be wary!!!

Review by Kacey Shiflet.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Abe Lincoln in Illinois - INTIMAN

Abe Lincoln in Illinois


Tickets and Information

October 2 – November 15, 2009

When American citizens think of common men, Abraham Lincoln is probably the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. As the sixteenth president of our country, the man who ended slavery and a man who was gunned down by a disgruntled actor who, to this day, no one is quite sure of all of his motives, Lincoln is, by all accounts, a true American Hero. However, what of the man behind the beard? What struggles did he have as a young man and how on earth did he end up in the White House? Robert E. Sherwood answers the call in this fantastically engaging epic play.

Erik Lochtefeld and R. Hamilton Wright. Photo by Chris Bennion 2009.

No smoke and mirrors here: Abe Lincoln in Illinois is a long play. With three acts, two intermissions and clocking in as (with intermissions included) a three hour adventure, it’s a long play. However, never once does it drag and never once does it bore. Sherwood’s script is highly entertaining and, though we all know how the story will eventually end, the bumps along the way keep the audience engaged every minute of the show.

Sheila Daniels takes this seventy-year old, Pulitzer Prize winning play and runs with it. Her direction and staging with her nineteen-member cast is very effective and the vaguely-metatheatrical script lends itself well to Daniels’ somewhat presentational staging tactics. Along with Daniels is a creative team to make any theatre veteran swoon. From the highly evocative set design (Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams) to the moving original compositions (Gretta Harley, Music Direction by John Ackermann) to the gentle suggestions from the lighting design (L.B. Morse), the creative team is, in and of itself, an all star cast.

Similarly, the knock-out cast of performers is one to get any Seattle theatre-goer giddy with recognition. R. Hamilton Wright as Stephan A. Douglas, Mary Jane Gibson as Mary Todd Lincoln (the Todd with two D’s), and other outstanding performances from Hans Altwies, Kate Wisniewski and many more create a every exciting world. Erik Lochtefeld, not unfamiliar to Seattle’s theatre scene (Seattle Rep’s Metamorphoses and The Secret in the Wings) presents Abe Lincoln as no one knows him: simply a man. Born at the bottom of the barrel and working his way up, mostly against his will, from private lessons with a generous school teacher in the wee hours of the night to the front steps of the White House, Lochtefeld’s Lincoln is the kind of guy with whom no one is unfamiliar. He has no trouble entertaining a crowd but is deeply troubled by challenges with women. He is a great pacifist but will lay a man out if the need arises. He’s the kind of guy you want to have a beer with but if he gets going, you may need to find a new table. He’s fully human.

In an age when our African-American President – who is trying desperately to get our country back on track with what is important to us all, who is presented with an extremely generous Nobel Peace Prize and who is swimming completely against the wake left by his predecessor – is in office during Lincoln’s Bicentennial year, Sherwood’s play could not come at a better time.

Review by Andrew J. Perez

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The 39 Steps--Seattle Rep

The 39 Steps
Seattle Repertory Theatre
September 25-October 24, 2009
Tickets and Information

The first impression is everything. As far as theatre goes, the first production in a season sets the tone for the rest of the year. This considered, Seattle audiences are in good hands this year at the Seattle Rep who began their season tonight with The 39 Steps.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Brought to the stage in conjunction with the La Jolla Playhouse, The 39 Steps is a fast-paced comedy based on Alfred Hitchcock’s film and the book, both of the same name. Richard Hannay (Ted Deasy) is a lonely yet charmingly handsome type who suddenly finds himself accused of a murder, on the run from police and in pursuit of unknown foreign spies who have “the answers”. Along the way he meets Irish farmers, possible love interests, and curious men standing under lampposts in trench coats, all played hilariously by Claire Brownell, Eric Hissom and Scott Parkinson. As if that weren’t recipe enough for mayhem, the play embraces every single characteristic of Hitchcock’s filmmaking in a refreshingly self-deprecating and yet reverent way.

The stellar cast of four (with a special cameo by a ninth hand in the final scene) has obvious fun blasting through this whirlwind of a play. With so much going on non-stop, it takes a lot of chemistry and trust to pull it off. Deasy is schmoozy, charismatic and daring in all the right ways as Richard Hannay. Brownell is captivating as Hanney’s various love crossings. Working in tandem, Hissom and Parkinson steal every scene with lightning-fast quick changes (some you see, some you don’t) and endless bursts of energy.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

For all of the accents and grand gestures, the ensemble would be nothing without the support of a spot-on technical team. Peter McKintosh’s sets and costumes stand up to the beating they take through the course of the production in a stylish, 1930s fashion. The lighting, done by Kevin Adams, is a creative homage to classic noir cinema. Mic Pool’s sound design uses only period and Hitchcock film music in a soundtrack that quickly takes the audience back to another time. In the center of the controlled chaos is director Maria Aitken. Every moment is choreographed and shaped perfectly to garner maximum laughs.

The 39 Steps is a golly good choice for an evening out on the town, especially during this time where laughs are much needed. It will entertain and thrill even those who live under a rock and have never enjoyed a classic suspense thriller. Hitchcock would be pleased.

Review by Kacey Shiflet.