Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Indefinite Suspension of Operations

Dear Readers,

It is with sadness and regret that I write to inform you of an indefinite suspension of operations of BROADWAYHOUR.COM.

I moved back to California in March for familial reasons and have since found the added work of maintaining broadwayhour.com too much. I knew it would be a challenge to manage the website and team from eight hundred miles away, but when it became apparent that even keeping up with news stories and updating the news blog was too much for me to handle, I realized that it is no longer fair to you, the readers, or myself to continue to stretch the limited time I have only to post information late and miss shows. I had hoped that, perhaps, someone on the current team may have the time amidst full class-loads or full-time work to take on the managing of broadwahour.com, but unfortunately it does not seem to be the case.

Perhaps, sometime in the future, broadwayhour.com could be relaunched. But who knows? For now, I write to thank you all for your support and comments through the last four years. I started this website as a Sophomore Theatre major at Seattle University and it blossomed into something I never could have imagined at the time: a full team of reviewers, our own ".com," several blogs as well as a homepage. It has been a privilege and an honor to review the shows and update you readers on news about the Seattle Theatre scene. This has truly been a defining endeavor for me and I hope that you have enjoyed reading our reviews at least half as much as we've enjoyed writing them.

Thank you, Seattle.

Happy Holidays,
Andrew J. Perez (aka. Nigel Andrews)

Saturday, October 30, 2010


Seattle Shakespeare Company
October 27-December 5, 2010
tickets and information

No other play better depicts the calamitous downfall to insanity than William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. To understand the emotions that follow treachery, loss, and vengeance, is difficult enough,but to perform Shakespeare’s poetically tragic story of Hamlet is a challenge on its own. Seattle Shakespeare Company was no fault to the task however. The theater performed the play with such tenacity, it was a stupendous performance to celebrate their 20th year anniversary.

Cast of Hamlet. Photo by John Ulman

Hamlet (Darragh Kennan) is the young prince of Denmark who is trying to cope with the recent death of his father, King Hamlet (Charles Leggett). Not only has his father just died, but within a few months after his fathers death his mother, Queen Gertrude (Mary Ewald), marries his uncle Claudius (Richard Ziman) who becomes the next king of Denmark. Hamlet is both in a state of depression of his father’s death and deeply disturbed at his mother’s hasty marriage to his uncle. It isn't until Hamlet sees the ghost of his late father that he begins to quickly plummet into madness; especially after the ghost reveals that he was murdered by Hamlet’s own kin. The rest of the story slowly unravels as Hamlet plots a number of schemes to avenge his father’s death. It doesn't take long for Hamlet’s dark state to deepen as he attempts to both process his revenge and the many calamities in his life.

Hamlet is considered one of the best tragedies written in the English language. At the Seattle Shakespeare Company, director John Langs intensified Shakespeare’s dramatic tale even more with loud, booming sound effects that made the seats shake. The use of lighting was also a creative touch to the performance.The lighting was used to shift the scenes between Hamlet's crazed soliloquies and back to the play. What also gave epic depth to the play was the cast who performed phenomenally. Each line was spoken with such passion and diligence that the audience forgot to breathe or even shift in their seats.

Although Shakespeare did write Hamlet as a tragedy, it doesn't hold a solum tone for the entire performance. It also maintains Shakespeare’s famous, witty humor. Darragh Kennan, who plays Hamlet, is one actor in particular who received a standing ovation for his performance. His portrayal of Hamlet’s sinking depression was heartbreaking as he gave emotional insight to his character, but also revealed the humorously, intelligent madness that Shakespeare holds within the character of Hamlet.

Darragh Kennan as Hamlet and Mike Dooly as Horatio. Photo by: John Ulman

If the performance and the dramatizing effects are not enough to make this play impressive, so is the hidden symbology.The Seattle Shakespeare Company’s costume designer, Pete Rush, had the cast wear black and white clothing. White symbolized happiness or innocence and black symbolized depression or madness. Hamlet was decked in black throughout the play while the rest of the cast wore brightly white clothing. As the story unfolds however, some of the character's clothing begins to change color. Apart from the clothing, Shakespeare has symbology in his words alone. If you listen carefully, the characters will foreshadow some of the future events that occur within the storyline.

Hamlet is a famous play that has been successfully re-produced for hundreds of years all over the globe. The Seattle Shakespeare Company has now taken a chance for their own unique production of Hamlet. The theater has again proved that through their creative talent they have the ability to turn any Shakespeare play into their very own.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

God of Carnage

God of Carnage

Seattle Repertory Theater

October 1-24, 2010

tickets and information

God of Carnage. The title of the play explains it all. No matter how hard people try to behave civilly something is always bound to set them off. For the Novaks and the Raleighs, it happened to be simply meeting each other.

(L-R) Hans Altwies, Amy Thone, Bhama Roget, and Denis Arndt in God of Carnage. Photo by Keri Kellerman.

God of Carnage (directed by Wilson Milam) is the sophistically humorous play that takes place when Michael (played by Hans Altwies) and Veronica Novak (played by Amy Thone) invite Alan (played by Denis Arndt) and Annette Raleigh (played by Bhama Roget) to their home for a parent meeting regarding a fight between their children. Annette and Alan’s 11-year-old son had hit Michael and Veronica’s son with a stick while they were playing in the neighborhood park. Both parents meet to discuss the fight, but it is apparent that no one is concerned about the brawl and neither want to be in each other’s presence. Everyone acts in a civil manner though; awkwardly polite while sipping espresso and discussing art. Alan, however, who is a workaholic lawyer, doesn’t play along and continuously answers business calls and speaks bluntly. It doesn’t take long for the rest of the characters to join in on their true feelings as they begin to make snarky comments about who’s son was a “snitch” and which boy really started the brawl. Finally, the animalistic nature is released! One argument about their children turns into a huge uproar of marital disputes, an argument regarding the ethical murder of a hamster, and a philosophical quarrel regarding the nature of human emotions and actions.

Written by French playwright Yasmina Reza, this Tony Award winning comedy deserves its award for best play. Reza created an outstanding play that is cold, but hilarious. The key to her comedic talent is that there is no over-exaggeration. She simply bases her characters and script off of true human nature and circumstances, making it something that everyone can relate to.

As for the cast, its pure pleasure watching amazing actors behaving absolutely horrible towards one another. The chemistry between the actors is so well played I had to keep on reminding myself that its just a play and no one is really going to tear each other to pieces (even though things get pretty heated during each debate).

What also made this theatrical masterpiece so creative and well produced is how the play was slightly arranged to be set in Seattle. God of Carnage has been produced by many theaters all over the globe so interestingly, tiny changes are made according to what country or city the play is produced in. While gazing out the window in the Novak home, Alan declares that he can “see the Space Needle” and there are even a few Northwestern terms and Seattle neighborhood names hidden in the dialogue.

God of Carnage is a great opener for the Seattle Repertory Theater this 2010-2011 season. Its wildly entertaining to watch how Reza managed to write parts that ravenous actors can sink their claws into. The play will have you realize that your family might actually be human.

Friday, October 01, 2010

In the Heights - 5th Ave

The 5th Avenue Theatre
September 28-October 17, 2010
Tickets and Information

Catharsis: an experience or feeling of spiritual release and purification brought about by an intense emotional experience. This word could be the alternate title to In the Heights, of which the national tour remiered tonight at the 5th Avenue Theatre. This fairly new musical, with music and lyrics by the up-and-coming genius Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, snatched up four Tony Awards in 2008 for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.

In the Heights revolves around the lives and events of a community of Latin Americans in Washington Heights, New York City during the hottest days of summer. There is a lot of struggle toward goals, a lot of celebration of culture, and a lot of dancing. We are led through it all by Usnavi, a twenty-something bodega owner who raps to us about his people and their stories. What threatens to break them apart—and what saves them in the end—is everyone’s dream to find home and happiness.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

What this show does well is showcase a culture and population traditionally ignored or marginalized by musical theatre by tweaking and revamping standard musical theatre conventions to fit the hip-hop and Latino beats. Much like the characters within, it praises its background and identity while recognizing and embracing its predecessors. Just look for yourself at the similarities between the opening number “In the Heights” and “Anatevka” from Fiddler on the Roof.

Thomas Kail’s direction, along with Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, was inspiring and unrivalled in attention to detail. Every moment and every movement was carefully and tenderly crafted toward the message of the piece. Extensive light effects and intense dance sequences only served to elaborate on the vulnerability and talent being showcased in performance. Each actor performed as if nothing else mattered, which is a quality highly sought after and rarely achieved.

In the Heights is the perfect way to start off a stellar season—the exuberant “paciencia y fe” reflecting these hopeful and forward-looking times. It is the catharsis that we all need from time to time to connect us to what is truly important: family, friends and embracing who you are. No wonder it won the Tony for Best Musical.

Review by Kacey Shiflet.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wedding Belles - Taproot Theatre

Wedding Belles
Taproot Theatre
September 24 – October 25 2010
Tickets and Information

In 1942 Texas, the four ladies of the Eufala Spri

ngs Garden Club are coming together for a meeting in one member's somewhat bedraggled backyard. From the very beginning, it is clear that these women have a long history of friendship and bickering, and also that there are some subjects too sore to be spoken of.

Their plans for the day are entirely interrupted, however, when Laura Lee (Karen Nelsen) arrives bringing Ima Jean (Charissa Adams) from the bus stop—a young woman waiting to meet her solider fiance to get married, and immediately the four women jump into creating the perfect wedding. The action of the play revolves around these five women: the four elder have stagnated in their lives and relationships with each other, but the fresh Ima Jean, despite being an orphan, brings a new hopefulness and openness to them and their relationships.

L to R: Karen Nelsen, Charissa Adams and Kim Morris. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Director Karen Lund has pulled together a sweet and warm regional premiere. The acting ensemble solidly highlights the long-term relationship among the four women, and all five actors bring out unique characters, including Kim Morris' Violet, who has many of the funniest moments of the show, and particularly Karen Nelsen, who carries both humor and melancholy with grace. The show is supported by satisfying technical elements, especially Richard Lorig's scenic design, which plants a back porch and garden onto the stage with a burst of color and brilliant use of space. Sarah Burch Gordon's costumes vividly recreate wartime dresses and smocks, and Mark Lund's sound design pipes in the crooning tunes of the 1940s.

The script itself, by Alan Bailey and Ronnie Claire Edwards, is light; there is not much substance beyond the immediate events onstage, and the war effort, while mentioned often, doesn't have the impact that it seems it should on these five lives. However, it is well-produced at Taproot with plenty of heart, and if you are looking for a sweet confection of a play with humor and fun, then Wedding Belles is for you.

(Photo coming soon!)

Review by Kenna M Kettrick

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Yankee Tavern

Yankee Tavern
ACT Theater
July 30-August 5, 2010

Shawn Telford (Adam), Charles Leggett (Ray), R. Hamilton Wright (Palmer), and Jennifer Lee Taylor (Janet) photo by: Chris Bennion

We all have questions about the horrific events that took place on that early morning of September 11, 2001. Who is truly responsible? Why was this act of terror committed? Could we have prevented it? In Steven Dietz's play, Yankee Tavern, Dietz is able to answer all of these questions about the conspiracies surrounding 9/11 by creating a few of his own.

The Yankee Tavern (both directed and written by Steven Dietz) is set in a bar in New York City in the year 2006; five years after the 9/11. The play is surrounded by the near college graduate Adam (Shawn Telford), young owner of the Yankee Tavern Bar, his fiancée Janet (Jennifer Lee Taylor) and two Tavern locals-the radical, but hilarious Ray (Charles Leggett) and the mysterious Palmer (R. Hamilton Wright). Ray, who is also an old family friend of Adam's, if filled with extreme conspiracy theories about America and he expresses them comically each night in the bar where the other three characters tease and ignore his crazy ideas. One topic in particular though, strikes everyone's interest. The terrorist attacks of 9/11. Ray has a theory that the American government committed these malicious attacks and, surprisingly, has evidence and a strong case to prove it. While this conspiracy is discussed, night after night in the bar not only are secrets of the American nation revealed, but secrets each character's life as well.
Dietz (Becky's New Car, Fiction) is a playwright that has, yet again, brought the ACT theater another play that is both outstanding and mind boggling. The research that was done for the play is impressive, considering the fact that each claim the character, Ray, makes to back up his 9/11 theories are all true. Also, the dark humor and intellectual depth inside the script provokes the mind of each audience member and provides plenty of moments for great, comic relief.

Other than having an outstanding director/playwright, the actors deserve a stupendous round of applause as well for the creation of The Yankee Tavern. Charles Leggett is one actor in particular who really takes the stage with his radical character Ray. He delivers each line with comedic genius, but also manages to reveal the emotional depth underneath his character's "funny man" persona. Of course, the rest of the cast is a group of extremely talented individuals who worked together in perfect chemistry on stage. So well played it feels as if you are actually an observer in the Yankee Tavern Bar instead of watching a theatrical performance.

Yankee Tavern is a play full of entertaining twists and facts that will give it's audience members something to contemplate long after the play is over. Even though it is a politically filled "dramedy" (mixture of comedy and drama), the play is open to all interests and view points; making it enjoyable for all. Whether you want to take part in the political mysteries or sit back and appreciate the wonderful art of theater, it is entirely up to you and definitely a play worth seeing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Yellow Wood - Contemporary Classics

The Yellow Wood
Contemporary Classics
July 23 – August 1, 2010
Tickets and Information

It could be said that the new musical The Yellow Wood has a very simple plot: Adam Davies (Daniel Berryman)'s one goal for the day at highschool is to memorize Robert Frost's “The Road Not Taken” before 7th period English class. But Adam forgoes his Ritalin that morning, in hopes of proving that he can function like a normal kid all day and manage to understand the poem—and without his drugs, Adam's day spirals into a surreal daydream-laden journey through his own bizarre mind, his heritage and his relationships with friends and family.

Daniel Berryman & ensemble. Photo by Victoria Lahti.

Michelle Elliott (book and lyrics) and Danny Larsen (lyrics and music) have written a show that uses the fantastic possibilities of the musical genre to full effect; the songs mirror Adam's mental journey and allow the story to stretch much further than it might otherwise. Larsen and Elliott pull influences from not only Frost's poem but from musical genres across the spectrum, from 60s girl groups to traditional Korean music to classic Broadway tunes, which they somehow spin into a consistent and engaging confection of earnest, genuine storytelling.

Every actor and singer onstage is a boon to the show, both leads and ensemble alike. Berryman carries Adam's journey with just the right balance of endearing and awkward. Sarah Davies plays Willis, the girl who identifies with Adam's strange ADD brain, with an ardent enthusiasm; her song “Yellow” is a joyful anthem to creativity and difference. Diana Huey is a standout as Adam's little sister Gwen; she mixes bratty know-it-all moments with a genuine desperation for her distracted older brother's attention, and her songs, especially “Debris” and “Wall,” are among the most powerful of the show.

The technical elements are as solid as every other aspect of the show. Andrea Bush's set design is classrooms, hallways, and homes all in one, with clever use of windows and blinds, and Annie Murphy has costumed highschool students and teachers alike in stylish and fitting outfits. Robert J Aguilar's lighting design is nothing short of gorgeous, washing the stage in color and shade and heightening the story perfectly.

Brandon Ivie's production of this new musical is compact musical storytelling—an imaginative adventure of one individual boy's quest to, ultimately, come to terms with himself. It's an old story, but one that is given a fresh and fantastical twist here; The Yellow Wood is contemporary musical theater at its best, and a show well worth seeing.

Review by Kenna Kettrick

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - Contemporary Classics and RK Productions

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Contemporary Classics and RK Productions
(at the Ballard Underground Theatre)
July 14 – August 14, 2010
Tickets and Information

The popular Tony award-winning musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a quirky, off-beat story of six spellers competing for the chance to move on to Nationals, in a small county spelling bee run by a former champion. While the story is simple, the show is not: the book and score (William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin) are complex and lively, revolving around wordplay the entire time; the misfit characters are all hilarious and affecting—and the show itself changes each night with the input of (willing) extra spellers pulled from the audience to join in the fight for the championship, which is sometimes the best fodder for the comic improv that the show is peppered with.

The show is based on ensemble work, with no featured leads, each character and voice adding to the whole, and as such demands a good deal from any group of actors. Never fear, though: this production has assembled an excellent cast. Each character is crisply and touchingly drawn, and every actor onstage shines during their solo turns while blending beautifully during the many ensemble numbers. This includes several actors who step out of their kid-characters to play parents during flashbacks and other small moments, each time making the transition clearly and without fuss. With such a tight and talented group of actors it is hard to pick standouts—though Olive Ostrovsky (Ashley FitzSimmons)’s heartbreaking ballad yearning for her parents’ love is particularly memorable.

Olive Ostrovsky (Ashley FitzSimmons) and William Barfee (Robert Scherzer).
Photo credit: Danielle Barnum/dbinspiredarts.com.

Stage direction (Kate Jaeger, who also plays Rona) and music direction (Kimberly Dare) are incredibly precise in both quiet and comic moments, and the choreography manages to showcase the spellers’ child characters while never becoming cheesy or condescending; all aspects of the performance—the singing, speech, acting, movement and the tiny but first-rate band—work together with no trouble and quite a bit of polish.

Colin Connors’ scenic design transplants the corner of a school gym into the small underground space, complete with gleaming gym floors, championship pennants and a working climbing rope. Kathryn Dawson’s heightened costume design (along with Michael Ledezma’s hair styling) accentuates each misfit student and offbeat adult, helping the actors to portray fully realized and often bizarre characters. Robert Aguilar makes full use of the color palette, crisp transitions, and judicious spotlights to make the stage feel larger than it really is, and to take us along on each character’s internal journey.

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a solid show in itself, and one enjoyed by theatergoers across the country. Seattle’s premiere is an admirable, heartfelt and polished production of this show, and one entirely worth seeing if you enjoy musicals, wordplay or simply a well-told story.

Review by Kenna Kettrick

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Man of La Mancha - Taproot Theatre Company

July 7th - August 7th
Tickets and Information: Call 206-781-9707 or online at Taproot's Main Site

Step into the theatre, step into the story, step into the tale and listen to the words and wisdom of the story teller. That is the atmosphere that Taproot creates with this production of The Man of La Mancha, a classic tale of honor, chivalry and passion. The characters on stage may be the active players in the story being told by Cervantes (Jeff Berryman) but the audience becomes part of the story circle in the way they are positioned around the stage, in the small intimate space they are seated in, and in the artful direction (Scott Nolte) that includes them in the story. Ultimately, that is one of theatre art’s main missions, to have effect on the viewer, to illusion the dreamer, and to create a world in search of meaning, and Taproo

t does a great job of envisioning this mission, which is also written into their mission as a company.

This musical takes the audience to a prison in late 16th century Spain during the Spanish Inquisition and follows the defense of Miguel de Cervantes as he proves to his fellow prisoners the strength of hope, vision and value on life. He does this through a play enacted in the prison cell with the help of the prison mates. His method is song, and his leading character is Don Quixote de La Mancha, an individual whose technically medical insanity teaches those around him the lessons mentioned above, and the power of following one’s most passionate dreams.

Left to right: Faith Russell, Don Darryl Rivera, Mike Oliver, Jeff Berryman.

Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The tale is told with acute skill in this production, with the story telling motif translating into the use of common props in the prison cell, and versatile costumes (Sarah Burch Gordon) that transition effortlessly from the clothes of prisoners in the cell to the outfits of priests, peasants and soldiers in Cervantes’ play. This coupled with effective light changes (Andrew Duff) on a simplistic, yet realistic, stone prison set (Mark Lund), increases the ability of the audience to dive into the multiple stories being presented on one set. Throw in a dash of humor, especially portrayed through Sancho Panza (Don Darryl Rivera), and you have an entrancing tale.

Besides some timing problems during fight sequences, the ensemble work of the production was dynamic, well rehearsed and well executed. The precision with which the team worked together really allows the audience permission to get lost in the action, and make their own place in the story. Each number had a very strong blocking sequence and artfully executed each line.

I would like to present this opportunity to you as a reader; come see this show, get lost in the tale as I did. It is a beautiful work that has been executed with such strong vision and understanding of the musical’s mission. Catch The Man of La Mancha running through August 7th at Taproot Theatre in Greenwood.

Reviewed by: Andy Swanson

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Female of the Species-ACT Theater

The Female of the Species
ACT Theater
June 18th-July18th, 2010

Pride is such a destructive characteristic. It can make you arrogant, unable to admit to your own mistakes, it can cost you the love of your closest friends and family members, and it can even ruin your career. The characters in The Female of the Species, a play directed by Allison Narver, are the perfect example of what pride can do to a person. Joanne Murray-Smith, the Australian author of this play, sets the audience in to the life of Margot Mason (played by Suzy Hunt). Mason is a famous author, extremely well known for her feminist writings and ideas. Mason is a strong, but stubborn woman that believes in no other point of view, but her own, until she meets Molly Rivers (played by Renata Friedman)

Margot Mason (Suzy Hunt) and Molly Rivers (Renata Friedman)

photo by: Chris Bennion

Rivers is a deranged college dropout that shows up at Mason’s house one day while the author is desperately trying to finish her latest book. Rivers has been obsessed with Mason since she was a child; studying her books and taking college writing courses that Mason had taught. Rivers obsession is odd though and not like Mason’s typical fans. Rivers doesn’t admire Mason’s works, she obsessively despises it. Rivers believes that Mason’s feminist advice leads women astray so she shows up at Mason’s house so that she could hold Mason hostage in her own home. Throughout the play, Mason is pressured to apologize to Rivers, in which she is too proud to do. On the other hand, River’s is too prideful to accept herself and instead, blames others why she had a tough childhood. With more characters that come in to play throughout this scandalous farce, including Mason’s unappreciated daughter Tess Thorton (played by Morgan Rowe) and an overly sensitive taxi driver named Frank (played by Tim Hyland) this play contains characters that are full of destructive, but comical pride.

Molly Rivers (Renata Friedman), Tess Thorton (Morgan Rowe), Paul Morgan Stetler (Bryan Thorton), and Margot Mason (Suzy Hunt)

Photo by: Chris Bennion

The Female of the Species is a sassy and outrageous comedy that pokes humor at the Feminist movement. The Feminist movement, which has been growing since it began to flourish in the 1960’s, strives for all women to be treated as equals to men. The humor in this play is ironic though, because it stands for equality among the sexes, but contains both over exaggerated feministic and masculinist jokes. The various genres in humor, however, make the play enjoyable and understandable for everyone. Also, while poking fun at the battle between the sexes, it also shows the truth in humanity. Like stated above, pride is a characteristic in which every human holds and this play shows how damaging it can be if one doesn’t learn how to accept their mistakes and admit to their true identity. The actors throughout the show give an amazing performance that is very funny, but also reveals the emotional depth in each of Smith’s characters. Even though The Female of the Species is considered a comedy, it is very impressive that the cast maintained the main theme of the play, but also revealed the emotional and psychological depth within the story. This is what brings a play to life; it expresses reality. Bravo to the cast of the The Female of the Species and the ACT Theater for bringing such a great show to the community of Seattle.

Review by: Darsha Squartsoff

Friday, May 28, 2010

Candide - The 5th Avenue Theatre

5th Avenue Theatre
May 25 – June 13, 2010
Tickets and Information

Leonard Bernstein's musical version of Voltaire's satire has had a long and varied history; its book has been written, re-written, revised and updated since its 1956 debut, in myriad attempts to make a book that matches Bernstein's witty and soaring score. This version is the 1999 adaptation with a book by John Caird, which director David Armstrong believes is the best balance of each part of the show; and indeed, watching the 5th Ave's production, it is easy to agree.

Armstrong's direction lets Bernstein's score lead the way, and in the capable voices of the cast the story unfolds. Veteran Seattle actor David Pichette portrays Voltaire himself, narrating and shaping Candide's story throughout the musical, with a spry sense of humor and unflagging energy. Candide (played with boyish charm and sincerity by Stanley Bahorek) lives in the “best of all possible castles” in the province of Westphalia, in love with the princess Cunegonde (the liquid-voiced Laura Griffith) and tutored in the philosophy of Optimism by Dr. Pangloss (also David Pichette, who easily slips in and out of the two roles).

Cunegonde (Laura Griffith), Voltaire (David Pichette) and Candide (Stanley Bahorek.)
Photo by Curt Doughty.

Pangloss' philosophy of Optimism holds that this world, by logic, must be the best of all possible worlds, and nothing could be better than what it is already. Nearly instantly, this philosophy is tested when the Baron of Westphalia kicks Candide out of the castle to wander in the snow. Candide's harsh entry to the world outside Westphalia, his madcap adventures across the globe, his over-the-top encounters with suffering and everyone he meets eventually cause him to create his own philosophy, a surprisingly uplifting ending to Voltaire's snappy satire. However, that satire is present throughout and offers fodder for both beautiful music—such as Griffith's operatic turn in “Glitter and be Gay”—and comic acting, such as Anne Allgood's darkly hilarious story of her character's long and completely ridiculous suffering. Every actor takes on Bernstein's notoriously difficult music and masters it beautifully, particularly in the large ensemble choral moments, as well as giving Caird's book the justice it deserves.

Matthew Smucker's set provides strong lines and simple but versatile spaces, framing the story well for the actors and for Tom Sturge's light design. Ken Travis' sound design meshed easily with the orchestration, and Lynda L Salsbury's costumes managed to portray myriad countries and styles while staying consistent throughout.

Candide is not a fluffy, easy show—either for the performers, or the audience. Bernstein's score is full of clever lyrics and twisting music, and the subject matter as well as the storyline demands intellectual participation from the listeners. However, this production is well worth it; an audience member who offers time and attention to this sparkling and legendary musical will be well rewarded.

Review by Kenna M Kettrick

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Thin Place - Intiman Theatre

The Thin Place
Intiman Theatre
May 21 – June 13, 2010
Tickets and Information

Intiman's new play, The Thin Place, was created deliberately as an exploration of both Seattle and faith. Artistic Director Kate Whoriskey and Associate Producer Andrew Russell commissioned KUOW reporter Marcie Sillman to interview Seattle residents about God, religion and faith. Interviewees included a young Muslim girl, a gay Christian man from South Africa, a priest defrocked for being both Christian and Muslim, and a survivor of the shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation, among many others. Playwright Sonya Schneider shaped the interviews into a theatrical narrative following one fictionalized character and involving ten others.

The result is a surprisingly compelling play that offers relatable moments for everyone, regardless of your beliefs. The Thin Place revolves around Isaac, the son of a Pentecostal minister, and his personal discovery and questioning of faith. Isaac is played by Gbenga Akinnagbe, who also portrays the ten other characters—lightly (if at all) fictionalized versions of people Sillman interviewed. Each character is unique, each has something different to say about faith and their relationship with God, and each one opens Isaac's eyes a little further, or gives him a new direction to take.
Gbenga Akinnagbe. Photo by Chris Bennion.

Although one or two transitions are a little confusing, overall Akinnagbe proves adept at embodying each of the ten other people he meets, both as characters in their own right and as they relate to Isaac's spiritual journey. Akinnagbe, with movement/choreography help from Donald Byrd, has precise control over his physicality; he uses it, and his voice, to great effect, in both humorous and touching moments.

Andrew Russell's direction keeps the pace steady and the story clear, and uses Etta Lillienthal's open, breezy set well. Ben Zamora's precise lighting assists the story indispensably, and Matt Starritt's sound design offers aural atmosphere as well as incorporating the real voices of the original interviewees into the play itself.

In the final piece, Seattle initally seems almost incidental. Isaac arrives in the city about halfway through his story, and although we hear about it several times, the play is really more about a spiritual journey, and the beliefs of people who happen to live in Seattle, rather than about the city itself. However, Seattle, and the Seattleites this play was based on, underlie the entire narrative of The Thin Place. Intiman deserves much credit for cultivating locally-based theatrical work, for involving so many local writers, journalists, and citizens, and for boldy creating a world premiere that reaches out to its hometown.

Review by Kenna M. Kettrick

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Charley's Aunt - Taproot Theatre Company

Charley's Aunt

Taproot Theatre Company

May 12 - June 12, 2010

Tickets and Information

Steve West, Eric Riedmann, Nolan Palmer and Anne Kenned. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

It’s an age old story. Two boys try to get girls. Girls won’t meet boys without a chaperone. One boy’s aunt, who is to chaperone, cancels at the last minute. Third boy happens to be playing an old woman in some amateur theatricals, puts on his costume, and assumes the role of chaperone. Hilarity ensues.

Well, it’s an age old story in British farce, anyway. Charley’s Aunt, by Brandon Thomas, debuted in 1892 and has been produced countless times since then, including its original London run of more than 1,400 performances. This incarnation, produced by Greenwood’s Taproot Theatre Company, is directed by TTC Associate Artistic Director Karen Lund. She writes in her director’s notes that “[Taproot] chose this play because we wanted to give you an evening of lighthearted fun and full-throttle laughs”. There is no doubt that they succeed in that goal. Despite clocking in at 2 ½ hours including two intermissions, the evening doesn’t feel long, and you will leave the theatre with a smile on your face.

This production of Charley’s Aunt is dominated by two women: first, the director Lund, and later, actress Llysa Holland. Lund knows her way around a farce, and the first half of the show is carried by her crisp and energetic staging. The show’s leads are young, and as of opening night were still finding the rhythm of the show with the added element of riotous laughter. But Lund has given them all the tools, and after a few performances they should look like old pros. Speaking of pros, the show reaches a turning point when Llysa Holland, playing Donna Lucia D’Alvadorez, arrives midway through the second act. She sweeps in, takes charge of the show, and guides the cast through to the hilarious finale. Although her character is not necessarily the star of the show, Holland gives by far the outstanding performance of the evening.

The rest of the cast are all capable in their roles, and the obvious fun they are having adds to the audience’s enjoyment of the evening. The designs are also solid, though a period play like this unfortunately does not offer much in the way of boundless creativity for designers. All turned in quality designs that do not detract from the language and the action, which should be and are the stars of this farce. The only difficulty posed to a designer is the complicated set that farce generally requires. Mark Lund, Taproot’s residentscenic designer, is very adept at using Taproot’s unique thrust stage to serve a wide variety of shows, and Charley’s Aunt is no exception.

Plays do not generally last more than a hundred years if they aren’t that good. Taproot’s production of Charley’s Aunt shows why the show is still alive and kicking all these years later. There are not a lot of comedies playing on Seattle stages right now, so for an “evening of lighthearted fun and full-throttle laughs,” you can do no better than Charley’s Aunt at Taproot Theatre Company.

Review by Patrick Lennon

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Trip to Bountiful - ACT

The Trip to Bountiful


May 7 - June 6, 2010

Tickets and Information

ACT’s production of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful is difficult to criticize. Nearly every aspect of the show is spot on. And yet somehow the production as a whole doesn’t feel quite right. It’s almost as if the show is happening in the wrong theatre. This isn’t a show that shows what ACT is all about.

Marianne Owen, Mary Kae Irvin, Paul Morgan Stetler.

Photo by Chris Bennion 2010.

Individually, each part of the show is commendable. The acting ensemble is packed full of Seattle’s best talent, and they rise to the occasion. Standouts are Mary Kae Irvin as Jessie Mae, who brings in a punch of life and energy just when the show needs it (several times), and the fresh-faced Jessica Martin as Thelma. But the true star of the show, deservedly so, is Marianne Owen as Carrie. Ms. Owen turns in a heart wrenchingly beautiful performance, so strong that at times that it almost feels like a one-woman show. It is a difficult journey that Carrie goes on throughout the performance, and we are blessed that Owen is willing to go on that journey with us night after night.

On the technical side, ACT’s usual prowess was in evidence. Christopher Walker’s sound design was sparse but fitting, and Matthew Smucker’s set was clever and effective. Costumes by Frances Kenny capture the period perfectly, especially those worn by Jessie Mae. And special kudos must be given to dialect coach Alyssa Keene; Marianne Owen in particular sounded like she’s lived in Texas her whole life.

So why, if all the individual elements were up to par, did the show not soar? The pace of the production is slow and mellow, but the staging is not to blame. The show’s energy is exactly right for the setting; it ebbs and flows gently like warm air on a lazy Texas afternoon. It is not so much that the energy of the show feels wrong, but that it feels out of place at ACT. This is an old-fashioned show, with a story that slowly unfolds over nearly two hours with no intermission. It doesn’t have the vibrant, youthful quality that has characterized ACT’s recent history.>>>This isn’t to say that the show shouldn’t be produced anymore. On the contrary, Horton Foote’s explorations of longing and the concept of home are gorgeous and timeless. But this American classic would feel more at home at a company like Intiman, or in a larger space where the epic nature of the story and the setting can wash over you. ACT’s theatres are better suited to the work they have been doing the past few years: intimate productions of dynamic contemporary plays. This production of The Trip to Bountiful, although well-done and enjoyable, unfortunately misses that mark.

Review by Patrick Lennon