Saturday, December 05, 2009

Black Nativity - Intiman

Black Nativity


December 1 – 30, 2009

Tickets and Information

Choir with Sanjaya Malakar. Photo by Chris Bennion, 2009.

Ladies and gentlemen it is time to stand up and give thanks to the Intiman Theater and the people who make it what it is! For those who join the celebration that is Black Nativity this year, and every year, there is no choice but to stand up and praise whatever it is you choose. It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic, Baptist, Jewish, Hindi or you “ain’t got none” denomination or creed, Black Nativity is a moving and exciting choral event to kick off the holiday season right.

For those who have seen the show before, it is much the same as it has been in past years. Perhaps the current eco-political situations that we find ourselves in currently have made more of an impact than we imagined on the arts community, though. It seems to me that Black Nativity at the Intiman Theater hits home a little more-so this year than in the past. Something about Jacqueline Moscou’s direction and the collaboration of the performers and directors has led this production into a whole new world of joy and celebration in a time when we truly need to take a step out of ourselves in order to find any strength left to celebrate.

Not to detract from the uplifting mood thus far, but there are some rumors that must be squashed immediately. We have all heard that after twelve seasons of Black Nativity Intiman will no longer be hosting this holiday tradition. This is true in one regard and untrue in another. Though Black Nativity will conclude its twelve year run in the Intiman’s space at the end of this production’s run, Intiman will continue to produce the show in a new space yet to be determined. It has become apparent to those who bring us such wonderful shows as this that the capacity of Intiman’s space is not grand enough to host a show like Black Nativity year after year. There needs to be a larger space. One that is able to accommodate those families who realize halfway through the run that they will, in fact, be able to see it. As of now, those families are turned away because tickets are already nearly sold out for at least half of the run. However, with the plans that are in the works according to Brian Colburn, Managing Director, space will be secured for next year’s production with much more seating accommodations. And as Jacqueline Moscou said, “there isn’t another theater who could host this show.”

As far as this year’s production goes, it was fantastic. I have never had the opportunity to see Black Nativity and I can’t express enough how much fun this show is as long as you keep an open mind and a full and receptive heart. Absorbing the message of love from this show is not hard. With such fantastic soloists as – but not limited to – Sanjaya Malakar (of American Idol 2007 fame), this show is a festival of song and celebration from start to finish. The Total Experience Gospel Choir truly brings to life the heart of the celebration that is the holiday season and gives that gift of love and excitement to every person in the audience.

Through song and community, we can overcome any difference and overreach the boundaries that keep us apart. Black Nativity is the perfect way to start our quest for understanding and love in a world that desperately needs a prescription-sized dose of compassion.

Review by Andrew J. Perez

Twelfth Night - Seattle Shakespeare Company

Twelfth Night, Or What You Will
Seattle Shakespeare Company
December 3-27, 2009
Tickets and Information

Jose A. Rufino (Orsino) and Chris Ensweiler (Feste). Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

In the vast array of Shakespeare plays, Twelfth Night is many a person's favorite; the comedy contains witty scenes, a satisfying romance, and a comic subplot that nearly always takes over the main story. This newest incarnation of the play picks up on Twelfth Night's holiday theme (it was originally performed for Queen Elizabeth on the twelfth night of Christmas), and turns the play into a joy-filled holiday play, a Seattle Shakes version of the Christmas classics playing everywhere in Seattle.

The audience is greeted before they even enter the theater proper, by the actors (bedecked in splendid semi-Dickensian costumes designed by Melanie Taylor Burgess) joining them in the lobby to sing Christmas carols and play party games. They bring this festive atmosphere onto the stage, where they teach the audience to sing a “catch” (a song in a round) and play games for Christmas prizes—until they are interrupted by a lost and disheveled Viola (Susannah Millonzi), and the story begins.

Director Stephanie Shine emphasizes the optimistic and fun-filled interpretations of this play, keeping the tone light and the humor overflowing. Her staging glides easily through the space with a good balance of swift pacing and momentary pauses between text, where unspoken motivations are made crystal clear for the audience. As is often the case, Shine's direction is intertwined with live music to great success; Sean Patrick Taylor directs the music (as well as playing Curio), and he and Carter Rodriguez (Valentine) fill in moments or counterpoint longer scenes with impressive guitar and lively singing. Feste the fool (Chris Ensweiler) also plays music, though his main instrument is his versatile singing voice and his physical comedy, both of which he employs to great effect.

John Bogar (Malvolio); l-r Darragh Kennan (Aguecheek), Frank Lawler (Fabian), Ray Gonzalez (Toby). Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The cast as a whole is a solid ensemble, all experienced Shakespeareans and all enjoying themselves in this festive show. Among the standouts is John Bogar, whose Malvolio is deep-voiced and both hilariously stuffy and oddly sympathetic; Bogar has a commanding stage presence, making it difficult to tear one's eyes away when he fully takes the stage for himself. Carol Roscoe's Maria is another character of note, especially in the later scenes when her prank on Malvolio comes to fruition; Maria's attempts to hide her un-suppressable laughter from her mistress Olivia (Brenda Joyner) make for some of the funniest moments of the show.

Andrea Bryn Bush's scenic design is simple but versatile, suggesting houses and streets at once, and decked out in boughs and bows of holiday cheer. Andrew D. Smith's lighting design is a beautiful use of the space, bringing gentle washes and specific lights and shadows to each corner of the stage, including lanterns hung cheerily from the ceiling, each decked with ribbons and mistletoe. The design as a whole leans heavily on Dickensian style, but each designer branches out to bring a little flavor of something different and exotic to the plaid-and checkered English winter, adding flair to the overall style of the show in the way that Viola and her twin Sebastian (Tim Gouran) bring spice to the land of Illyria.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare's classics, and this version of it brings out all the joy and cheer that the story has to offer. In a world of repeat holiday shows, Seattle Shakes' Twelfth Night offers a festive, satisfying and buoyant alternative: something old, made bright and new again.

Review by Kenna Kettrick

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sister's Christmas Catechism - ACT

Sister’s Christmas Catechism


November 27, 2009 – January 3, 2010

Tickets and Information

Aubrey Manning as Sister in Sister's Christmas Catechism.

I’m sure that many of our readers have experience Catholic or Parochial school in some capacity or another. Whether you are a public school survivor who ended up at Seattle University for four years, or you were basically raised by ruler-wielding Nuns, most people have had a brush with the Catholic education system in some way. Well, if you are one of those readers who has experienced the trials and tribulations of a Catholic education or if you have never set foot in any remotely Catholic educational establishment (be it Church, school or tree-toting neighbor’s home), Sister’s Christmas Catechism will send you rolling down the aisles with laughter.

Sister (Aubrey Manning – Late Night Catechism at ACT, Seattle longest-running show, for over ten years) takes us on a journey back in time to the night Jesus was born in that little manger in Bethlehem. But not all was silent that night; it seems that her obsessive viewing of Forensic Files has led her to the conclusion that someone has made off with the magi’s gold! It will take a brave lot of audience members to reenact the scene of the crime dressed as the First Family, the Three Kings, the Shepherd and, of course, the sheep, ox and the loveable and fantastically graceful ass (yours truly on December 3 - see below).

Aubrey Manning and founder Andrew J. Perez in 'Sister's Christmas Catechism.' Photo provided by ACT.

As far as productions go, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is a roaring good time. Manning’s performance is unparalleled in improvisational comedy and interactive audience participation. Her presence and poise on stage is an absolute delight to experience and her unending fountain of canonical knowledge would set any Nun straight in regards to just who is the patron saint of what.

ACT’s presentation of Sister’s Christmas Catechism ties in wonderfully with their Allan Theater’s current production, A Christmas Carol. Obviously, both deal with the Christmas season and holiday, but they also touch on the more important topics of love toward our fellow women and men and embracing the holiday spirit. Whether you follow the beliefs of the Catholics, Jews, Hindus or any spiritual path (or none) under the sun, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is a hilarious production that ought not be missed.

The Live Nativity scene from Sister's Christmas Catechism. Photo provided by ACT.

Review by Andrew J. Perez

Irving Berlin's White Christmas - The 5th Avenue Theatre

Irving Berlin's White Christmas
5th Avenue Theatre
November 28th – December 30th
Tickets and Information

Irving Berlin's White Christmas was first shown at the 5th Avenue three years ago, and its newest incarnation is just as popular, sweet, and heart-warming as the first one. The story begins at the 151st division's army camp on Christmas Eve 1944, where pals Phil Davis (Greg McCormick Allen) and Bob Wallace (Michael Gruber) are singing to bring some kind of holiday cheer to their fellow troops. Fast forward ten years later, and Bob and Phil are song-and-dance sensations, bringing their charm and panache to the Ed Sullivan show and then Miami, Florida—or, in fact, Pinetree, Vermont, as the pals meet up with a sister act, Judy and Betty Haynes (Taryn Darr and Christina Saffran Ashford) and their relaxing holiday in the sun becomes anything but.

The tale is a light-hearted, optimistic and patriotic one, meant for revisiting classic songs and enjoying a spectacle on stage, and the 5th Avenue delivers on both counts. James A. Rocco's choreography highlights each song to perfection, with full use of the talented ensemble and plenty of bang-up tap dancing. The sets (Anna Louizos) and lighting (Tom Sturge) entrance the eyes, and Carrie Robbins' costumes are pitch-perfect post-war stylings, complete with high-waisted hotpants, sparkling nylons and crisp suits. David Armstrong and James A. Rocco's direction moves the story along without a hitch, keeping the style light and the pace engaging.

Greg McCormick Allen and Michael Gruber imitate the sister act. Photo by Chris Bennion.

The leads are all solid in their roles and singing in period style, and clearly having plenty of fun in this rollicking holiday tale. Both pairs of performers have their partnership and patter down well, with Darr (Judy) and McCormick Allen (Phil) joyfully picking up on each other's witty banter, while Ashford (Betty) and Gruber (Bob) move believably from awkward meeting to lover's embrace. But the scene-stealer's award is taken easily by Clayton Corzatte, whose Ezekiel garnered applause and laughter from his first painstakingly slow journey across the stage, on opening night.

White Christmas is a simple story, but a touching one, and is surrounded by 1940's glamor and Berlin's catchy, swinging music. For a charming and lively holiday tale, this one can't be beat—especially with the 5th Avenue's snowy surprise waiting for the audience at the end of the show.

Review by Kenna Kettrick

Thursday, December 03, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play - Taproot Theatre Company

It’s a Wonderful Life: a Live Radio Play

Taproot Theater Company

(at North Seattle Community College, Stage One)

November 27-December 30, 2009

Tickets and Information

As much of Seattle now knows, the Greenwood neighborhood has been hit hard by fires in the past few months, arsons which have gutted some businesses and temporarily closed others. The 85th block was one of the hardest hit, including enough water and smoke damage to the Taproot Theater building to necessitate a massive renovation, and rendering it impossible for Taproot to stage their planned holiday show, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol.

Grant Goodeve, Candace Vance and Eric Riedman. Photo by Erik Stuhaug, 2009.

Instead, Taproot has brought back a holiday show that had a successful run in 2006: their live radio play version of It’s a Wonderful Life, adapted by Joe Landry. This play is set on the Christmas-decorated soundstage of KTTC Studios in 1947, as a small group of actors give a live radio performance of this beloved film. At North Seattle Community College’s Stage One space, a small but cozy atmosphere presides from scenic designer Mark Lund, and the actors are outfitted by Sarah Burch Gordon in period styles with holiday flair—red and green dresses, sweater vests, and holly pinned to lapels.

We are treated as the live studio audience to this radio performance (complete with “on air” and “applause” signs that light up, thanks to lighting designer Jody Briggs). Director Karen Lund uses a fluid style, with her six actors rotating as easily in and out of the standing microphones as they do between their Wonderful Life scripts and their 1947 radio personas. Grant Goodeve plays George Bailey and Candace Vance plays his friend turned wife, Martha, both with a touching balance of humor and pathos. Jesse Notehelfer, Mark Lund, Alex Robertson and Eric Riedman play all the other parts, including the other Baileys, the slimy Mr. Potter and the classic angel Clarence. Special note must be given to Eric Riedman, who as well as playing small vocal parts, presides over an impressive plaid and tinsel-draped foley table behind the microphones, armed with shoes, bells, car horns and even a match – offering a full sensory experience when we hear the sound of the match strike, see and feel the sudden warmth of the fire and smell the wisp of smoke drifting across the scene.

This show is, in fact, a perfect choice for Taproot. Like George Bailey, the theater was put in a terrible situation through no fault of its own, and like Bedford Falls, the Seattle community has – and should continue to – step up to support the theater that has given back to the Greenwood neighborhood and the city as a whole. Look for Sherlock Holmes back again next holiday season, with all the original players from this year, and for Taproot’s new season beginning in January. Like George, this theater has deep roots in the community, and is coming back strong.

(Note: Every Wednesday performance, Taproot holds a talkback with the actors after the show. December 9th is a dinner and theater performance, where you can buy a dinner to go along with your show. For more information, please visit their website here!)

Review by Lia Morgan