I Left My Heart in Portland! A Review: NW Dance Project’s NEW NOW WOW

Dance Review

559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

What do you get when you take a company of phenomenally talented dancers, add three brilliant choreographers, and a visionary artistic director?  Why, you get art, in it’s purest, most beautiful form.  And art this elegant, this radiant, and this exquisite simply took my breath away from the first isolation to the final stunning pose. Where, might you wonder, can one experience such art?  Why a quick three hours or so drive south, in Portland, Oregon, at NW Dance Project!

My incentive to make the trek to Portland to see this company perform was solely based on my desire to see more of the masterful maestro of dance, Ihsan Rustem’s choreography.  You’ll remember I saw Mr. Rustem’s work on Whim W’Him for their Choreographic Shindig back in September, and was so enamored with his movement, I simply had to see what else he’d been up to since I saw him last.  We’ll get to Mr. Rustem’s piece in a moment, but first, let me talk about this company of dancers.

Under the Artistic Direction of Sarah Slipper, this company is made up of power and beauty and grace all blending together within each stunning dancer.  The control on these dancers to move, contort, and stretch their bodies was mesmerizing to behold.  Each uniquely different than the next, they somehow compliment each other as if they’d spent their entire lives dancing together.  This being my first experience with NW Dance Project, I instantly felt connected to their vision, their work, because this company of dancers have a magnetism that draws you in, and delicately, yet passionately invites you to stay.

Company in Jiří Pokorný's

Company in Jiří Pokorný’s “The Presence of Absence” (minus Samantha Campbell and Franco Nieto) (World Premiere)
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert

The first piece in this trio of brilliance was created by Choreographer,  Jiří Pokorný, and is titled The Presence of Absence.  This was the world premier of this piece and it captivated me from the first move.  One solo dancer in a warm golden spot light began isolations, so smooth and precise, I felt each of her movements.  In her own world, oblivious to the group of dancers just off to her right, moving and shifting as one, creating picture after picture, each filled with nuance and humor.  This piece explored all elements of absence, from company members entering and exiting the piece, to light shining and dimming over this eclectic movement, to the music blasting and going silent, leaving only the dancers breath as their rhythmic guide.  It was haunting and stunning at the same time, and it set the tone for a very grand and creative night of performance art.

Ching Ching Wong, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Kody Jauron in Felix Landerer's

Ching Ching Wong, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Kody Jauron in Felix Landerer’s “What We’ve Lost on the Way” (World Premiere)
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert

After a brief pause, and a breath for the company, they came out with a fire and command of their stage in a piece titled What We’ve Lost on the Way by the ingenious choreographer, Felix Landerer.  Mr. Landerer’s piece featured four dancers: Kody Jauron, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill and Ching Ching Wong. These four, just through walking a straight, powerful path downstage, then upstage, then downstage again, all in their own lanes, slowly converge on each other, and the audience isn’t sure if this is competition or cooperation, and I loved it!  The sheer force of the commitment to movement as simple as walking elevated it to an art form full of complexity that blew my mind!  With the pulsating music by Christof Littmann daring your heart to beat along with it, the company splits off into enigmatic duos and solos that simply stole my breath!  Mr. Labay, in particular, had a solo, dancing right on the edge of the light, draped in a muted jewel toned purple shirt that reflected and hid Mr. Landerer’s stunning movement with a sensuality and quiet power that captured my heart, enflamed my soul, and well, I’ve never wanted to be a purple shirt so badly in my life!  This powerful world premier physically embodied a graceful power like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The ability of the company to commit to this movement so completely, had me on the edge of my seat watching each individual journey of the dancers to find their place in this emulous world, so when the fifth company member, Julia Radick, joined the dance moments before the end, literally replacing Ms. McGill, showing her as what they lost along the way, I was shocked and awed, and then the blackout happened and it was over!  What?!?!  No!  What happens next?!?!  Pure drama!  Loved it!  Bravo!

Insan Rustem, Resident Choreographer, NW Dance Project

Insan Rustem, Resident Choreographer, NW Dance Project

Now, finally, after a very delicious first two acts, the piece I drove 3.5 hours for was finally here!  Mother Tongue by the beautiful and brilliant Ihsan Rustem began, and from the first breath of the dancer before the first movement in the opening phrase, Mr. Rustem ignited the flame within my dancer’s heart. One of my favorite things about Mr. Rustem’s choreography is that, good lord, can he fill a count of music! No beat or nuance of music is left unexplored or unused, and I adore the complex grace of his movement, and Mother Tongue had this in spades!

Viktor Usov (Kody Jauron in back) in Ihsan Rustem's

Viktor Usov (Kody Jauron in back) in Ihsan Rustem’s “Mother Tongue”
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert

Viktor Usov, in an epic opening solo, commanded the floor and took possession of all of my senses with his controlled, yet exquisitely organic-feeling interpretation of Mr. Rustem’s choreography. A combination of air and ground, Mr. Rustem’s opening phrase took his dancer on a powerful journey. As the rest of the company joined Mr. Usov, they all entered from various places behind the mid-curtain, which had a stunning light orange/golden light hiding behind it.  When revealed, it created silhouettes of the dancers entering or exiting Mr. Usov’s journey, and it gave hints of a warmth to come.

Mr. Rustem has a ridiculous talent for utilizing the entire space he choreographs within, not limiting himself to the dance space we can see.  The beauty of this is that elements like curtains, lighting, and effects elevate from elements of a piece to an additional character within the piece.  The curtain, this dark veil, hiding the warmth of the light from the dancers created an ache in me for the dancers.  I so badly wanted the curtain to lift and shed light on the gorgeous journey Mr. Usov was taking.  And when my wish was granted, and the curtain did lift, it revealed a ethereal ice-white and golden glow, that gave way to the company dancing in silhouette, finally blending Mr. Usov with the rest of the company. As the conclusion of this moving story drew near, a shower of black confetti rained down as Mr. Usov danced the final phrase with his company looking on.  Dressed in simple black pants and nothing else, the confetti stuck to Mr. Usov in a way that brought tears to my eyes.  It was as if this world he’d been struggling with finally became a part of him, as he allowed it to embody him while he danced.  The final moment of this piece, this breathtakingly beautiful piece, will forever hold a place in my heart.  Thank you, Mr. Rustem, and the NW Dance Project Company for the experience of Mother Tongue.  I will never forget it, and am so much the better for having experienced it.  Thank you!

Sadly, this beautiful trio of dance perfection closed last Saturday.  However, Mr. Rustem is the resident choreographer for NW Dance Project, so you can bet your ass I will be driving to Portland for the rest of their season, and I think you should all join me!  I’ll keep you posted as new shows are coming up, but please, go check out NW Dance Project’s website for more information on the artistic team, choreographers, and dancers, as well as upcoming show information.

While I had to return to Seattle, I left my heart in Portland with this stunning dance company, and will be counting the days until I get to see them perform again.  Bravo to the entire company, creative teams, choreographers and crew.  This truly was New, Now and WOW!

I give this a thunderous standing ovation!  Thank you!! BRAVO!!559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of NW Dance Project and Ihsan Rustem.

Does Reefer Cause Madness at SMT? Meh.

Musical Theatre Review

Ok, let me start this post by saying that I saw Seattle Musical Theatre’s Reefer Madness on opening night, and it’s taken me this long to write the review because it’s taken this long for me to process what it was that I saw.

Some shows are great, some shows are awful, and then there are shows with so much wrong with them that they are downright laughable, and sadly the latter was my experience with this production of Reefer Madness.

This show, this opening night show, was no where near ready for an audience.  I kept checking my program throughout the show and even checked in with friends at intermission to make sure we weren’t watching a preview.  But nope, it was opening night.  The tech for this show was the worst offense.  Mic levels all over the place, running the gamut between mics completely going out on actors to screeching and hissing at us when actors were belting out notes.  Lights were a hot holy mess, many actors left to sing or act in complete darkness while specials gleamed brightly over empty stage space.  Not sure if it was a bad call or a bad cue, but it was friggin irritating.

The music sounded great.  Let me clarify, the band sounded great, but led by Josh Zimmerman, we know to expect nothing less.  But the voices of the cast on the other hand, yeah, not so great with the exception of two performers:  Larissa Schmitz as Sally and Benjamin Cournoyer as Ralph.  Ms. Schmitz has pipes for days, and Mr. Cournoyer’s character came right through his songs, and I thoroughly enjoyed both of their voices. Everyone else, pretty much forgettable, with one voice that just grated on me throughout the show: Mary Lane (eventually Mary Sunshine), played by Allyson Jacobs-Lake.

Ms. Jacobs-Lake has the voice of a 5 year old child, and I have no idea if this is actually her speaking voice, of if she chose this affectation, but either way it is completely wrong for the character of Mary Lane.  It was just not ok.  It might work for characters like Little Sally in Urinetown, but unless the character is supposed to be a little girl, which Mary Lane is not, and Mary Sunshine is definitely not, this vocal choice just gave the character a creepy-pedophilic-feel to it all and it just icked me out to no end.  It also didn’t translate to her songs, because some she kept the baby voice, and others she tried to belt out.  High pitched voices with a harsh edge can work, a la Ellen Greene or Kristin Chenoweth, but they still sound like grown women.  Not the case in this show, so it just didn’t work.

Acting wise, the narrator couldn’t keep his character voices straight, the on-stage slaps were laughably bad, and…ya know what, I’m not even going to go into this any further, because I could write for days about how weak the acting was, but why bother? Because honestly, this is my third show at SMT, and it seems to be the way of things to have one or two solid performances surrounded by people phoning it in, so I’ll just say the acting lined up with the music.  Kudos again to Mr. Cournoyer and Ms. Schmitz for complete character development and commitment to those characters. Thank you for being shining stars in this otherwise mediocre production.

Perhaps the tech issues threw the cast.  Perhaps the cast was under-rehearsed.  Perhaps they just were poorly directed.  I don’t know what the driver was, but what I do know is that this production was not ready for an audience, and I cannot believe a director would allow that amount of mess to go up as an opening night show, so I lay that responsibility at the feet of director, Steven Fogell.  There were so many moments where actors were set up to fail during this performance, and I was seriously disappointed for the cast.

I’ve heard that the shows have gotten better as opening weekend continued, so maybe by second weekend all will be ok.  Reefer Madness is a fun show, for those of you who don’t know, based on early 20th century American propaganda about the dangers of marijuana.  It follows a good, young christian man, Jimmy, on his fall from grace into a hell, taking those he loves with him, all thanks to the demonic power that marijuana unleashes on him.  This musical pokes fun at it in a clever, wisecracking way, complete with snappy/catchy tunes that will stick in your head, whether you want them to or not.  It should be a light, whimsical, fun night of theatre.  For me, it was a technical mess with surface-level acting, and strange casting that left me really only enjoying the voices of the people around me who were singing along.  And that’s not ok.

I give this an eye roll, and an unenthusiastic ‘meh’ instead of applause, because there really wasn’t much to clap for on the night I saw this.  I should have left at intermission.

Reefer Madness plays through October 30th, and ticket and show information can be found on Seattle Musical Theatre’s website.

Ciao for now,

M lg

To Hair or Not to Hair, That is the Question.

Musical Theatre Review
Bainbridge Performing Arts Full Cast of Hair

Bainbridge Performing Arts Full Cast of Hair

There are a few shows that I just truly enjoy listening to for the sheer joy of the music, and the jubilance of the cast, and Hair is one of those for me.  A huge fan of the movie as well as the stage play, I really enjoy the story, the tribe, and the message.  So, when I was invited to go out to Bainbridge Island to see a production of it, I jumped at the chance.

Sadly, due to an emergency, I was only able to stay for the first half of the show, and as much as I’m hoping to get back to see the second half, given other Lady M commitments, I’m not sure I’ll be able to go. So, I will review the half that I saw, which for me, was a mix of great and really not great.  So, it truly is a Hamlet-esque moment of, to Hair or not to Hair, so I will lob up my opinion, and let my fantastic readers decide for themselves whether or not to make the trek out to see this show.

Ronny performed by Olivia Lee

Ronny performed by Olivia Lee

I’d like to start with the gems in this show, because there are some sparklers!  The first was from the woman who opened the show with the best Age of Aquarius I have EVER seen!  Ronny, played by the incomparable Olivia Lee (who you’ll remember I gushed about both in my review of StageRIGHT’s Into the Woods, and then again in their Are You There God? It’s me, Karen Carpenter), who was just as epic and amazing as I knew she would be.  Actually, no, that’s not accurate.  She was even better!  Her opening number set the bar high for the rest of the cast, by belting out the notes which were pitch perfect, with an intention so clear, and an energy and bravery that the hippies of the 60s would have been so very proud of and would have cheered through their drug dazed haze.  To me, Ms. Lee is somehow the love child of Cher and Cheri Oteri, with Cher’s beauty and power combined with Cheri’s hysterical comedic timing.  She’s stunning and goddess-like in this opening number, and then has some hilarious, scene stealing comedic moments throughout the show, and I was truly mesmerized by her.  I will do everything I can to see any show she is in, because I am seriously one of her biggest fans.  Bravo, Miss Olivia!  You killed it out there!

Dionne performed by Michelle Lorenz Odell

Dionne performed by Michelle Lorenz Odell

The next jewel in this production played two characters in this show.  One moment, hippie Dionne, Tribe member, and the next Margaret Mead, inquisitive, seems-to-be conservative out-of-towner.  These two roles could not be further apart from each other, but both require amazing commitment to character, and strong acting chops.  And Michelle Lorenz Odell’s cup overfloweth with both!  Ms. Lorenz Odell was absolutely exquisite in her character development and commitment to these zany roles.  Vocally on point with a physical comedic genius, and ability to be so in the moment, she absolutely entertained in every possible way.  Her number as Margaret Mead almost stopped the show, the audience just kept on clapping, it was THAT good.  I’m an instant fan, and can’t wait to see Ms. Lorenz Odell on stage again!  Bravo!

I thought the set designer used the space well, although I hope they put better anchors on the rolling boxes, because there were numerous times a cast member got on or off of one and their weight almost flipped the thing over.  I also really enjoyed most of the costumes, they definitely got the look of the late 60s absolutely correct.

unnamed-16There were also a few tribe members I truly adored.  Madison Jade Jones was delightful in every nuance of her moments, Melanie Curran was a perfect flower child, and Kali Ponzo was adorable as sweet Jeanie.  Overall, it’s the actors that fully committed to their characters, were vocally accurate, and physically embodied the movement of the time that caught my eye.  I wish I could say the whole cast was that for me, but it was just these few.

And with that, as I move into the elements of this show that left me disappointed, and worse off confused at points, let me start with my biggest gripe first:  Script Analysis.  As a writer, words are my everything.  As an actor, my training is grounded and anchored in script analysis.  I learned early that it’s the script that a informs your choices, and it’s not only memorizing lines, but knowing WHAT you are saying.  As a director/choreographer, casting is also driven by the script, or should be, and while out of the box casting works sometimes, it’s not always successful, and for me, there were some casting choices that didn’t make sense to me at all.

The worst offense of this, for me, sadly, was Berger, played by Ted Dowling.  Not only is Mr. Dowling much too long in the tooth to play Berger, his singing was terribly flat the entire first act, and he seemed more interested in dropping his pants than creating real acting moments.  His performance was so off from what is should be (and the costumer didn’t help him out by fitting him with a loincloth that was too big so it drooped off his ass like a burnt sienna colored diaper, and a vest that cut him at the worst possible place for his body type), that I was actually uncomfortable watching him in this role.  The lines delivered by Berger and about Berger weren’t believable at all with this actor in the role.  I see from his bio that Mr. Dowling does a lot of film and television work, and I could see him working quite well in those mediums.  But in the theatre, a performance has to be much bigger, much more committed, and much more real, as there are no editors to make it better in post-production, so I truly did not enjoy his performance at all.

Most of the music seemed off from the cast, and I don’t know if it was a mic problem, or a tempo change problem, but the music was less than stellar, evident most in the ensemble numbers.  With it being second weekend, those harmonies and tempos should be set, but they were all over the place, which was quite disappointing.

And while not disappointing, my biggest confusion in this production comes in the form of the other two leads Claude and Sheila played by Jesse Smith and Alison Monda respectively.  I was so confused by these two young actors because their acting was great, their physicality and commitment to character was right on point, and both clearly have vocal chops, yet they sang so softly, almost weakly, that I have no idea what was going on.  Mr. Smith, especially seems to have a strong voice in there, and appeared to be holding back.  There was one moment during I Got Life, I wanted so badly for him to let go and belt it out, because the notes are there!  I just craved more power because I think it’s there.  So, not sure if Mr. Smith was sick the night I was there, or if it’s a musical direction choice, but with a talent like that, I’m not sure why he was singing so softly.

On the flip side, Ms. Monda was given a gargantuan task of singing Easy to Be Hard like the movie, instead of how it is usually done in the play.  For those of you unfamiliar, Sheila is in love with Berger who has just humiliated her in front of their whole tribe and storms off like a petulant child leaving her to sing Easy to Be Hard as a sad Carol King-esque ballad.  In the movie, however, it is sung by the wife of another tribe member who has been deserted by her husband, leaving her to raise their son alone so that he can be a rambling hippie, which makes the movie version of this song a heart wrenching gospel power ballad.  Ms. Monda did belt it out, and had some wonderful acting moments in that, but the rest of her singing mirrored Mr. Smith’s with appearing to be holding back.  A friend of mine describes Ms. Monda as the best Maureen (from RENT) that he’s ever seen, and he’s a tougher critic than I am, so clearly she has some pipes.  And I’m not sure why she only let us enjoy them in one number.  It was just really confusing.

And it’s these confusing, odd moments that I lay at the feet of director Teresa Thuman.  According to her bio, Ms. Thuman has a theatre pedigree that is enviable and respectable, so these weird, odd, confusing moments are even more glaring for me.  There was such a huge chasm between the failures and successes in this show, and that inconsistency seems odd in the hands of such a skilled, seasoned director.

unnamed-15

I’ve been told by some creative people in the community theatre world that audiences who see community theatre shouldn’t hold them to the same standards as an Equity house and I completely disagree.  I think audiences who appreciate art at all levels deserve a consistently good show.  Some of the best things I’ve seen have been small/fringe/community theatre, and I think the audiences of those shows are intelligent and deserve the best possible.  And there were some elements of this production of Hair that did that!  They were delightful and thoughtful and out and out wonderful.  And there were some elements that were incorrect, off-key, and inauthentic, and fell very short of what I think this very capable theatre can produce.  I will say this, though, in all sincerity, the entire cast looks like they are having a blast performing this show, and that joy, that jubilation, might just be enough to get me back over the sound to see the rest of this show that I missed, because the happiness of the cast is quite electric.

I give BPA’s Hair a solid applause for the good, and a shrug of confused and disappointed shoulders for the bad.

Hair Plays at Bainbridge Performing Arts through October 25th, and showtime and ticket information can be found on BPA’s website.

Hair-poster-w-photo4It was a beautiful ferry ride over from Seattle, and they did let some sunshine in, so you should maybe head over to Bainbridge Island and experience it for yourself.  Ms. Lee’s opening number is truly brilliant enough that you probably should go.

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of Bainbridge Performing Arts and Facebook

Theatre Review: The Addams Family at Burien Actors Theatre

Theatre Review

12088184_10153661836334287_6464612614941897892_n

It seems to be the year of The Addams Family, as this is the second production I’ve seen in a few short months, which is so crazy, since up to now, I didn’t know anything about the show at all.  I must say, I’m a fan of the music, the story is delightful, and the humor is a modern variation of the show I remember from when I was little.

12112484_10153654555829287_4738399019327371791_nFor those of you not familiar, The Addams Family is a creepy, cooky family made up of Gomez and his wife Morticia, their two dark, dangerous children, Wednesday and Pugsley, and Uncle Fester, Grandmama, and servant Lurch round out the family portrait.  In this musical version, Wednesday, all grown up, has found love in the form of a young boy named Lucas, and they’ve decided to get married, so the whole show revolves around Wednesday trying to bring both families together to tell everyone, and thus everyone’s reaction to this news, some more happy about the idea than others.  This is the story that the Burien Actors Theatre took on for their current show, and for me, it was mostly blasé, with a few moments of sheer brilliance.

Let’s start with the brilliance, shall we, because I can’t contain myself, I’m so

Uncle Fester played by John Kelleher

Uncle Fester played by John Kelleher

excited to write about one particular performance.  Uncle Fester, performed by John Kelleher, was absolutely phenomenal!  Fester’s delightful mischief in helping Miss Wednesday find true love drives the play, and in the hands of a less skilled actor, this role can seem manipulative and cheesy, but in Mr. Kelleher’s ridiculously, brilliantly talented hands, Fester was filled with a whimsy and commitment to this captivating character, that had me smiling every time he stepped on stage.  Mr. Kelleher stole every scene he was in with his adorable physicality, his spritely energy, and his clear character choices.  This is how you create comedic moments, people!  You simply sink into the character, trust the script, and commit to your choices!  The best voice in the cast, Mr. Kelleher didn’t miss a note, and never once did he drop this very specific character; it’s this performance alone that you should rush to the Burien Actors Theatre to experience because you’ll be smiling and giggling the whole wonderful time!  Well done, Sir!

Wednesday Addams, played by Taylor Davis and Pugsley Addams played by Izzi Ferdico

Wednesday Addams, played by Taylor Davis and Pugsley Addams played by Izzi Ferdico

Additionally, I really enjoyed Pugsley Addams, played by Izzy Ferdico.  She was dark and delightful all at the same time, and when Ms. Ferdico sang the very melancholy ‘What If’ towards the end of the first act, my heart just broke for poor Pugsley’s plight.  I always applaud young actors in adult productions, especially girls who play boys’ parts, and Ms. Ferdico plays Pugsley perfectly.  I was highly impressed with her ability to listen in each scene, and react to the choices given to her, which is a skill not usually done so naturally on such a young actor, but she did it brilliantly!  Based on the performance in this show, I’d say Ms. Ferdico has a very bright future, and I look forward to seeing this youngster in more productions!  Bravo, young lady!

Lastly, I was highly impressed with the ensemble.  12079113_10153661133479287_3222455102360233928_nThey have a lot to do in this spooky, cooky tale, and they were all used really well, both vocally, and in staging.  They handled the simple choreography, and eclectic acting moments with lovely synchronicity, as well as were a lovely chorus for Uncle Fester to work off of for his solos.  In a show with such strongly written leads, it’s tough for a chorus to stand out, but this one definitely did in a very wonderful way.

Sadly for me, that’s where the praise ends.  I found the main trio of leads to be overly acted, and just shy of believable, mostly due to inconsistencies in their character development and acting choices.  It felt as if they were trying too hard, which was a shame, because there is clearly talent amongst these three.

Gomez Addams, played by Nathaniel Jones had a strong grasp on the lovable family patriarch, but sadly his inconsistent accent was so distracting, it drove me nuts.  It was mostly British, sometimes Spanish, and

Gomez Addams played by Nathaniel Jones and Morticia Addams played by Daniela Isabella Ferdico

Gomez Addams played by Nathaniel Jones and Morticia Addams played by Daniela Isabella Ferdico

always just not quite, well, for lack of a better descriptor, not quite Gomez. I found myself jarred out of believing the character in numerous scenes.  On the flip side, his physicality as Gomez was spot on, and I applaud his ability to drop a double entendre so I really wish his vocal choices matched his physicality, but sadly, it did not.

Morticia Addams, played by Daniela Isabella Ferdico, fell into the same traps that the last Morticia I saw fell into, in that the subtle, cold emotionless beauty that is the dark matriarch of this family was lost.  There was an over animation, an over emotionality that, if it was reigned in and controlled, with a clearer understanding of how powerfully stoic she must be to play off of Gomez’s silliness, I think Ms. Ferdico would blow my mind!  Sadly, these two didn’t have the chemistry I was expecting from Gomez and Morticia, so I didn’t quite believe the relationship, even though the physicality of both actors, individually, was quite good.  I missed that push and pull I’ve come to love from Mr. and Mrs. Addams.

And lastly, Wednesday Addams, played by Taylor Davis followed in the same footsteps as Ms. Ferdico with an over animation that doesn’t fit who Wednesday is supposed to be in this story.  Ms. Davis had a strange, wide eyed look on her face, where she was ‘trying’ to be dark and edgy, rather than just ‘being’ dark and edgy.  There were moments of ease for Ms. Davis’ performance, usually when she was singing, so the ability is there.  From the neck down, Ms. Davis stomped across the stage like an angst-riddled teenager, but sadly her awkward facial expression had me feeling like her face was in a different moment than her body.  It was very strange.

Not sure if it was the exhaustion of a Sunday show on opening weekend, or if this is the level of their character development, but sadly for me, the inconsistencies of these three performances just left me a little disappointed.

Design elements of this show are fantastic, however!  Costumes and make-up were great, set was beautifully designed, and other than one lighting cue that was muddy (which bugged me because it was when Fester is singing when the Beinekes come through the park and I could not see Fester’s face hardly at all), the lighting was very well done.

12105946_10153655499529287_3561086230439168237_n

Overall, the direction by Mark “Mok” Moser was clear and crisp.  He staged some beautiful pictures, gave homage to the classic television show style, and committed to the creepy, cooky, mysterious and spooky world of The Addams Family.  My only criticism of his direction was the inconsistencies of the main leads, in that I think more character development was needed to elevate those performances to more believable ones, but that is just my humble opinion.

Overall, it’s not a bad show, and as I said above, Mr. Kelleher as Uncle Fester is amazing enough for me to tell you to please go see this show and let him entertain you!  Shows are selling out, though, so get your tickets early if you want to go!

I give this a soft applause, and appreciate the effort, but it just fell a little bit 12063539_10153656333109287_6657582131769794688_nshort of really good for me.

The Addams Family plays through November 1st, and show time and ticket information can be found on Burien Actors Theatre’s website.

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos from Burien Actors Theatre’s Facebook Page 

Olivier Wevers’ Midsummer: A Magical Combination of Wit, Whimsy and Wonder

Dance Review

When art transcends one medium into another, it’s always a wonder to behold.  Tonight, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was reinvented as a contemporary ballet choreographed by the incomparable Olivier Wevers on the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, and it truly was a vision to behold.

Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W'Him Dance Company

Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W’Him Dance Company

The Bard’s complex comedy has been done in dance form before, but never like this.  Never with the wit and whimsy that Mr. Wevers brought to this story, taking, as he said in the post-show talk-back panel, a very personal approach to the concept.  As a boy, Mr. Wevers was a dreamer, a lover of books, and would escape into his imagination.  He parlayed that youth, that innocence, into this story through the eyes of the little changeling boy who the Fairy King and Queen fight over in the story.

“Olivier is classically trained, but he has his eye on the future of dance.”

~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

As I stated in my promotional piece on Grand Rapids Ballet’s arrival in Seattle under the direction of Artistic Director, Patricia Barker, this changeling boy is often lost in the stage productions of this show, as he has no lines and minimal presence, other than as a possession the King and Queen of the Fairies want for themselves.  It would be very difficult to give him any more depth, let alone a voice, without rewriting the Bard, and who would dare to do such a thing?  However, with dance, you could give him an identity, a name, and most importantly, a perspective on this lovable, fun-filled story, and it’s that creative vision that Mr. Wevers used to take the audience on a mischievous journey through a dream on a midsummer’s night told through the eyes of an eight year old boy.

These characters are all exquisitely brought to life by the amazing talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers, all equally brilliant in the way they interpret Mr. Wevers’ choreography.  In a style I’ve come to love from watching Mr. Wevers’ Seattle based dance company Whim W’Him perform his work, there is a lot of movement filling each count, combining to make dynamic and fluid phrases that are simply breathtaking in their complexity and beauty.  These dancers made each movement from the flick of a wrist, to a complicated lift look effortless, and embraced the choreography as if they were born to dance it.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Mr. Wevers played with shapes, specifically lines and circles, both in his formations as well as specific movement with the fairies, and it was a whirling dervish regale that left my mind spun in the most delicious way. His partner work created on the four lovers was like watching a kaleidoscope of colors, weaving and twisting, challenging the dancers with a mosaic of direction changes, which all four danced with expert grace.  The corps of fairies and the lovers were
absolutely stunning to watch, and did a beautiful job creating, shifting, and changing this dream land of the young boy.  I was awed and impressed.

The lead roles of Fairy King Oberon and Fairy Queen Titania were danced beautifully by Nicholas Schultz and Yuka Oba, respectively.  Not only are these two impeccably gorgeous dancers with a skill and precision that are the perfect canvas for Mr. Wevers’ choreography, but they are fantastic actors as well!  Mr. Schultz, so laser focused on Oberon’s goal of getting what he wants, unwavering in his mission to take the boy from Titania, was a superb mix of control freak and master manipulator.  He truly ruled the stage, and every time he hit, what I will forever call the Oberon Vogue Pose, I got goosebumps from the power he threw out over the footlights.

Titania, performed by Yuka Oba and Oberon, performed by Nicholas Schultz

Titania, performed by Yuka Oba and Oberon, performed by Nicholas Schultz                                    Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

And for all of Oberon’s power, Titania’s fire and sass are the perfect match for him.  Ms. Oba is one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve seen dance in years!  She’s so committed to her character, so natural in her movement, and her ability to shift from doting mother to aroused lover was done seamlessly and yet with a quiet power all her own.  She’s one fierce dancer who went step for step with Mr. Schultz, and I can’t imagine how wonderful it was for Mr. Wevers to have these two anchor his story in such a magnificent way!

“I love Nicholas and Yuka, I would choreograph them all the time if I could!”

~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company

1293_7718These two phenomenal dancers do a pas de deux towards the end of the ballet, and people, it took my breath away, it was so stunning.  The push and pull that Mr. Wevers created between these two was art in its purest form.  There was grace, there was beauty, there was power, and there was discovery.  It was as if this royal couple were dancing this dance for the first time, reminding each other what they loved about each other, even reminding each other what frustrates them about the other, and yet refusing to give up.  They fight through the moments, that I’m guessing any set of soul mates face in a complicated relationship.  All of that raw emotional discovery was rolled into this dance.  Thank you, Mr. Wevers, for being brave enough to create this moment, and thank you Mr. Schultz and Ms. Oba for bringing this exquisitely real moment to life.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Lastly, I must mention the mischief-making comic apex of this story that everyone knows: Puck.  The curious, ornery fairy who rarely follows direction correctly, and whose playfulness drives the play along, was delightfully played by Matt Wenckowski.  He fully committed to the character, jumped and hopped all over the set, slipping and sliding through the world leaving chaotic humor in his wake.  Dancing along the veil between the fairy world and the human world, Mr. Wenckowski was a delightful sprite who had me giggling at his merriment throughout the show.  And what this boy can do with a fog gun, I’m just saying, that alone should make you go see this!  Hysterical!

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Mr. Wevers’ full concept, including the design elements, created a beautiful white world for which the fairies and humans could play upon, giving me the feel of being inside the pages of one of the boy’s books.  Ingenious set pieces that move and slide around the stage, morphing and changing like a live game of Tetris, stunning costumes designed by Patricia Barker, Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet, and the brilliant lighting of Michael Mazzola (Seriously, his lighting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and I hope he continues to light Mr. Wevers dances for years to come!) came together as the perfect trifecta of creative genius.

Although, my favorite design element was the variety of footwear on the entire company for this piece.  The Fairies, all dancing in socks, the human lovers in ballet shoes (the girls in toe shoes), and the silly characters in street shoes (adult Nick Bottom and his political entourage in dress shoes and Puck in white Keds looking tennis shoes).  This variety added a depth and complexity that heightened the hilarious pandemonium going on in this world, and I found the choices absolutely inspired.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Visually stunning, brilliantly choreographed, and beautifully danced, this Midsummer is a witty, whimsical, and wonderful contemporary twist on a beloved tale.  Please give yourself the gift of seeing this show.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays for two more nights at the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center.  Tickets and show information can be found here.

I give this a thunderous applause, and a resounding Bravo!

Congratulations to Mr. Wevers on his first full length, story-driven ballet created on Grand Rapids Ballet.  I have a feeling we’ll see this pairing again in the future, and I for one, can’t wait to see what they do next!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy of Olivier Wevers

Seattle Ballet Legend, Patricia Barker, Is Back!

Dance Show Promotional
Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

When you think of ballet in Seattle, one name is sure to immediately jump into your mind: Patricia Barker.  Seattleites were blessed with the gift of having Ms. Barker on the stage at the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 27 glorious years, reveling in her journey as a fast rising star from her early days with the company to growing into an iconic ballet goddess. I’m sure I speak for all of her fans when I say our hearts broke a bit when we had to say goodbye to her in 2007 when she hung up her toe shoes and retired from performing.  Well, let the healing begin, because the legend is back, people! Patricia Barker is coming back to Seattle next week with Grand Rapids Ballet in a role we’ve never seen from her before in the Northwest: Artistic Director!

At Grand Rapids Ballet, Ms. Barker found a new home, and a new stage to wow audiences on, only this time from the director’s chair where, for the past five years, she has brought together dancers and choreographers to create mesmerizing movement out of innovative concepts.  Any ballet company would have been lucky to have Ms. Barker at the helm, so when asked what it was about Grand Rapids Ballet that made her want to call it home for this next chapter of her career she said, “There is a hunger here for new and innovative art.  Because of the support from our audience and the community, I have been able to push my own boundaries as an Artistic Director by continually challenging myself to find and bring in the best talent that there is out there.”

APB-GRB2She not only found amazing talent within her company (I’m speaking of course, of the exquisite dancers she works with every season), but she also shares her stage with choreographers from all over the world. These brilliantly creative people come to Michigan to collaborate with her dancers to, in her own words,“…build a breathtaking repertory full of innovation, passion and humor that is both bold and daring.”

Collaboration was always evident with Ms. Barker as a performer, bringing to life one captivating role after another, so I’m not surprised at all that she continues this tradition of bar raising excellence as an Artistic Director. You would see Ms. Barker dance iconic roles like Odette or Titania, and know that you’d never see it quite like that on any other dancer. There was a consistent strength, connection, and unique sense of style in her movement that could never be replicated. Patricia Barker had a resounding voice as a performer, and I’ve no doubt she’s instructing and inspiring the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers to find their own voices within their movement and to, if you’ll indulge the metaphor, harmonize beautifully with all the choreographers who show up to create new works with them.

“The success of these choreographers is largely due to the dedication and passion and talents of my dancers, who work with them to bring inspiration and ideas to life on stage.”

~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

It’s those collaborations that Seattle audiences are finally going to get to see when Grand Rapids Ballet arrives next week to perform works by five internationally renowned choreographers, in two parts, over a five-day extravaganza of creativity and passion.

11866340_10207918983959393_9221530741689023822_nFirst up will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director of my favorite Seattle-based Dance Company, Whim W’Him. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wevers, and a proud ‘Whimmer’ (which is the name they have adorably given us supporters of their company), but I have been a fan since I saw him dance, alongside Ms. Barker, in many ballets at the Pacific Northwest Ballet.  Knowing that he is a part of Ms. Barker’s return to Seattle just makes me all the more excited for her production to arrive!

This is not the first time Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated on this story as they danced it many times together at Pacific Northwest Ballet.  So, for Ms. Barker to commission Mr. Wevers to choreograph a completely new version on her company seems like a match made in heaven.  Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated during her time at Grand Rapids Ballet twice before Midsummer, but this is the first full length piece Mr. Wevers has done for her.

Patricia and I constantly exchange ideas with each other.  She is willing to take risks, and I love working with her because she truly sees the future of dance.

~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company

Two of my favorite PNB dancers of all time joining forces again, this time as the creative genius team reinventing one of my favorite stories makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you! Barker meets Wevers meets Shakespeare?  A holy trinity of creativity, if ever there was one, and my jubilation level of anticipation is through the roof!  So, what can we expect with this modern Midsummer? From Ms. Barker herself, we can expect mesmerizing movement and sophisticated humor.

APB-GRB3“Olivier and I have a special relationship that stretches back to our days of dancing together at PNB. Creating a contemporary twist on something as classic as Shakespeare with my close friend has been exhilarating. Olivier’s choreography is truly mesmerizing and his ability to tell a story with sophisticated humor is exceptional. My dancers have unique perspective now on this story which I know will carry over the footlights into the audience.”

I had the pleasure of discussing this piece with Mr. Wevers tonight, and the concept and design are so fascinating, so intriguing and new, I cannot wait to see his vision come to life! I don’t want to say too much, because spoiler alerts are never fun, but one view of the teaser video, reinforces that this ain’t your grandmother’s Midsummer! No, this is, in fact, a modern, whimsical spin told from the perspective of the young changeling boy Oberon and Titania fight over throughout the story.  A character, if you have never seen the play staged, that often gets overlooked and ignored based on the way Shakespeare wrote it.  Mr. Wevers, however, has merged the changeling boy with the character of Nick Bottom giving this character a new voice and a unique journey from inside the imagination of a young child as his dreams of his adult self come to life.  Mind already blown, and I havne’t even seen it yet!

Set on the backdrop of America politics with lighting by the brilliant Michael Mazzola (Wevers and Mazzola are a dream team as you’ll recall from my review of Whim W’him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig), this is going to be an extraordinary piece you will not want to miss! This audience member cannot wait to have the energy and creativity spill over the footlights into the Cornish Theatre, and you should all join me!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Oct 7-9, 2015 at the Cornish Playhouse, and you can get tickets on Brownpaper Tickets.

Movemedia-smallAnd if that is not enough to have you heading over to Brownpaper Tickets to get your seats, then how about part two of Ms. Barker’s triumphant return to Seattle? It comes in the form of a mixed rep production called MOVEMEDIA | Seattle, and it features works by four internationally renowned choreographers. To tantalize your dance loving taste buds, here is how Ms. Barker describes each work and why she chose this show as the first one to bring to the Pacific Northwest:

“It was important to me to not only pick ballets that Seattle will enjoy but also ballets that represent our inventiveness as a company.

Slight-242x300The first ballet in the program is Slight by Penny Saunders. Coming from Hubbard Street, Penny had a lot of fun experimenting with light and shadows, creating a fully immersive experience.

Beethoven-Web-242x300Our next ballet, Mario Radacovsky’s Beethoven, premiered on our stage last season to audience acclaim. In the middle of the ballet, there is a powerful orchestra section, interpreted through dance, which speaks volumes to the genius of Beethoven.

Written-Forgotten-Web-242x300Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a star in the dance world. When WRITTEN & FORGOTTEN premiered in Grand Rapids, audience members left the theatre dancing down the aisles. Her ability to discuss the human journey through dance is something I feel privileged to share with audiences in Seattle.

APB-GRB5Lastly, David Parsons’ The Envelope is a modern masterpiece that has been performed by ballet companies all over the world… but never in Seattle. I feel honored to bring this humorous and creative work to the West Coast.”

This will be my first exposure to these four choreographers, but based on the delicious way Ms. Barker described these pieces, I think my fellow Seattle dance enthusiasts and I are in for quite a treat!

MOVEMEDIA | Seattle plays Oct 10-11, also at the Cornish Playhouse, and tickets can be purchased at Brownpaper Tickets. Take a look at the teaser video of this amazing body of work!

Born and raised in Washington State, Seattle was Ms. Barker’s home for a long time and it holds a special place in her heart. She returns to Seattle to share with us the work she’s done with Grand Rapids Ballet, and also seems quite excited to share Seattle with her company of dancers. I have absolutely no doubt that this will not only be a successful introduction, but will be the start of a beautiful, life-long friendship between our great city and the exquisite ballet company of Grand Rapids, all thanks to the legendary creativity and vision of Ms. Patricia Barker who so graciously and enthusiastically is bringing her passion to share with us. And I, for one, am humbled and honored to be a part of it.

APB-GRB6Please don’t miss this incredible opportunity to watch Grand Rapids Ballet perform in Seattle for the very first time.  Welcome home, Ms. Barker. We’ve missed you!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet and grballet.com

American Idiot at ArtsWest Playhouse is is F*cking Amazing. Period.

play review, Theatre Review

Let’s start with the title of this piece, because it really says it all.  American Idiot is f*cking amazing.  And what’s odd about it is I am not even sure what it is. Is it a rock opera?  Is it a punk concert with spoken word layered in?  Is it a movement piece?  I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what I saw, I don’t know what label to put on it, and perhaps that is the point.

From L-R: Justin Huertas, Frederick Hagreen, and Michael Coale Grey

From L-R: Justin Huertas, Frederick Hagreen, and Michael Coale Grey

Created by, and set to the music of the 90s punk band, Green Day, American Idiot is a show that follows the story of three suburban boys, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, all fed up with their boring, middle class lives, and decide they want to head to the big city to find more excitement, more fun, more of whatever they feel their lives lack. Will’s dreams are dashed before he can even enjoy the idea with news that his girlfriend’s eggo is preggo, but the other two boys head off with fervor.  Both derailed barely a month after they arrive, Tunny abandons Johnny for the military, and Johnny turns to drugs.  The stories of these three intertwine and interweave, overlapping in a dynamic, rush of energy and intensity until the final moment that brings them all full circle back to the suburb they abandoned, a little more battered, but hopefully a little wiser.  And that is where the typical theatre experience ends.

ArtsWest has taken a huge gamble with the way they supported and produced director Eric Ankrim’s concept for American Idiot. From the minute you purchase your ticket, it’s a new experience because you have to make a choice:  observation or immersion?  Observers sit in 11813253_10153559739351108_8862268061890390599_nassigned seats for the show, while immersed get to choose one of three tracks to take where they follow cast members around the theatre space throughout the show.  I myself chose observation, because I am too old to be trapsing up and down stairs, being bossed around by angst-ridden kids, sitting on the floor or coming up through trap doors in the floor.  The immersion folks ran around a lot!  So, if you choose immersion, wear comfy shoes, because there was a chick there in cheetah print pointy toed stilettos and girlfriend was NOT having a good time!

12033032_10153711836296108_8879026066039862570_nSo, you’ve chosen your adventure, you arrive at the theatre, check in for your adventure and then eventually land on the ArtsWest stage, only it looks so very different than it ever has before.  t’s been completely blown into an unorthodox seating set up, some seats practically on the stage, others under platforms where people are stomping around above you, and an amazing band tucked away, yet close enough so you can get lost in how much they are kicking ass with this music!  The energy is electric from the minute you step into the room, and with every new place you look, something exciting is going on.

I truly don’t want to give away too much, I’m just telling you, you must go see this show for the following reasons:

  1. 12074722_10153706523621108_8785778192242715565_nThe entire ensemble is made up of the fantastic voices of 90s clad, young actors who commit to this punk rock world created by Mr. Ankrim, and they are so good, and so strong, you will be blown away from the first note to the last.
Chelsea LeValley as Heather and Michael Coale Grey as Will

Chelsea LeValley as Heather and Michael Coale Grey as Will

2. The three lead male characters: Johnny played bye Frederick Hagreen, Will played by Michael Coale Grey and Tunny played by Justin Huertas are phenomenal all the way around!  Mr. Grey, especially, was acting his ass off, pulling my focus every time he was on stage.

3. The three romantic interests of these men are a voltaic trio that blew my mind!  Johnny’s Whatshername, played by the incomparable Kirsten Delohr Helland,

Kirsten Delohr Helland as Whatshername and Frederick Hagreen as Johnny

Kirsten Delohr Helland as Whatshername and Frederick Hagreen as Johnny

Will’s Heather, played by the powerful Chelsea Levalley, and Tunny’s Extraordinary Girl, played by the magnificent Jimmie Herrod elevated this show to a level that I have no words for, and yet anchored the performance at the same time in the most mind-blowing way.

4. The ensemble, this ridiculously talented ensemble, ran and jumped, and flew across the stage creating moment after moment, each more forceful and impressive than the one before!  Some familiar faces need to be acknowledged, because they absolutely dazzled me:  Nicholas James Tarabini and Ann Cornelius (both of whom you’ll remember I gushed about as Gabe and Diana in Next to Normal), Sheady Manning (one of my former kids all grown up and killing it out there), and Jordan Taylor (a new face for me, but I hope to see him on stage in many more shows to come!)

5. The music!  Sweet mother of the baby Jesus, the music!  Not just the powerful singers, but the friggin band!  Conducted expertly by Chris Ranney, the band was unbelievably on point!  The music direction, some of the best I’ve heard since I moved back to Seattle, so I hope Mr. Ranney and RJ Tancioco collaborate on more projects, cuz wow!

6. Lastly, the experience, because that is what this was.  It wasn’t a show.  It wasn’t a musical.  It wasn’t a play.  It was an experience.  Even as an observer, it’s an experience not to be missed.  Like I said, I don’t know what to call it, but it was f*cking amazing. Period.

My two small points of criticism of this show both happened in the first half.  The distracting element of the immersion audience in the first half of the show was overwhelming and irritating at first.  The people aren’t quite sure what to do, there’s a frantic uncomfortable energy from them that was jarring at first.  But once they settled in to running around, it definitely got better and I stopped even noticing when they came and went.

The other element is that this cast, these young 2010s generation don’t seem to fully understand the 90s vibe of the need to get out of suburbia that the music of Green Day demands.  As a child of the 90s who grew up in a small suburban town, I remember feeling so stifled.  I loved Green Day’s music because they were singing about the crap I dealt with every day!.  There was no internet, no Facebook, no smart phones.  Television was the escape to the outside world and created an intense need to get out and away from boring mundane suburbia into anywhere else that would bring something new and exciting.  These kids in this cast have no frame of reference for that, given they can escape at the touch of a finger to the latest device in their pocket, so I didn’t fully buy the angst in the first part of the show.  But once the boys split off into their journeys, they locked in, and the rest of the cast followed, and I bought every real, electric moment from that moment until the last note rang out.

Bottom line, this show is worth the price of admission and then some.  12043151_10153684024301108_6409531240228204304_nIt’s an electrifying journey full of passion, and power that will amp your pulse to match the emphatic and enigmatic rhythm like nothing I’ve ever experienced in all my years of seeing theatre.  I feel like this must have been how audiences of RENT must have felt back in 1996 when it hit the New York stage, and was played by passionate, powerful young actors.  ArtsWest has transcended American Idiot from a 90s story to a post 9/11 world, and did so with gusto!  My hat is off to the entire creative team for bringing the thunder with this one!  Bravo!

Trust me, get in your car, brave the West Seattle Bridge traffic, and let the brilliant cast of ArtsWest’s American Idiot take you on this journey that you won’t soon forget.

11923229_10153635521746108_766384664851013265_nI give this a resounding, vigorous, applause followed by an enthusiastic
middle finger in the air! (PS, for this show, that’s a good thing!)
American Idiot just added more shows to the last part of their run because show after show is selling out.  Don’t miss out!  Go get your tickets, people!  Show time and ticket information can be found at ArtsWest’s website.

Ciao for now,

M lg

Pictures from ArtsWest’s Facebook Page