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/

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