NW Dance Project’s Carmen: Be Still, My Heart!

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

Let’s be honest.  I’m a very small time blogger, who happens to adore all things performing arts, but as of yet, this blog is not read by zillions of followers, nor am I a well known force in the arts world.  So with all of that, I don’t expect any perks from this gig.  It’s just an outlet for me to express my feelings on shows I see.  So, imagine my surprise that when I reached out to NW Dance Project and asked if I could come watch a rehearsal as the unbelievably brilliant Ihsan Rustem began creating his latest work, they said yes! The ultimate perk!!

Now, this ‘yes’ is so exciting and important to me because it means one thing: they trust me!  They trust me enough to let me into their world as they work out the steps to their latest program, and I literally got to watch brand new, original steps being created out of the mind of the always brilliant Ihsan Rustem and on to the agile, lithe, powerful beings that are the NW Dance Project Dancers!

As I don’t live in Portland, I only know NW Dance Project by the wonderful productions I’ve been blessed to attend, and through the generosity of Sarah Slipper, Artistic Director, Scott Lewis, Executive Director, and Katie Holliday, Company Manager in sharing the reviews I have written about their company.  And while I had connected with a few of the dancers via the magicks of social media, I had never had the chance to meet them face to face and get to know them personally.  So to be allowed to come into their space and watch them all work, meet them, and get to know them was an opportunity I was not going to pass up!  So I packed up the car, and off to Portland I went!  And People, I was not ready for what was waiting for me.

16473596_10210825635531722_4515968238184693784_nFirst of all, let me talk about the amazing space that NW Dance Project has created for their company and choreographers to work within.  It’s gorgeous.  There’s no other word!  It’s luxurious white decor that flows from the lobby to the education studio to the office to the dancers’ locker room, to the main studio, creates an inviting and enveloping canvas that just makes you want to create something colorful to fill it!  The staff were all so wonderful, and just welcomed me in with open arms.  I instantly felt like one of the family!

And as the dancers were just finishing up ballet class, Mr. Rustem and Ms. Holliday escorted me in to the main studio to meet the dancers.  And one by one, they were so gracious and inviting, and I’ve been such a fan of all of them for almost two years, that while I kept my exterior cool, inside I was fan-girling out like you wouldn’t believe.  These artists, these unbelievable artists, were about to literally create art with Mr. Rustem, and I was simply giddy with anticipation.

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Choreographer Ihsan Rustem creating with Carmen, danced by Andrea Parson

And every hope I had of what this experience would be came true within the first few minutes.  Creation. Collaboration. Chemistry.  All of these elements collided and intertwined in a way that only happens when people have worked for years with each other.  So much trust between Mr. Rustem and the dancers, evident in the way they digested and interpreted his movement, and in the way he would step back and watch them move through and past his latest phrase to gain inspiration from them. Ms. Slipper joined rehearsal multiple times, and seamlessly joined in on the collaboration, and it’s one of the most pure, organic moments of creating art I have ever seen.  I had no idea there would be as much collaboration as there was, and it absolutely blew my mind.

For seven glorious hours I watched them work, frantically taking note after note on what I was witnessing.  And if I told you everything I experienced in this blog, you’d be reading for days!  So, I’ll keep it to this: what they are creating for the Spring show of Carmen is something phenomenally exciting, and I am begging you all to find a way to go see it.

The women in this company are collectively some of the strongest dancers I have ever seen, and individually they take my breath away.  And the men, as technically brilliant as they are powerful are the perfect compliments to these ladies.  And in those 7 hours, I was able to learn more about each dancer’s personality as well as their tenacious work ethics.  Mr. Rustem knows these dancers so well, and that knowledge is utilized to perfection in the roles he has created in his version of Carmen.  I am not going to give away too much now, because I will be gushing about them in my review, I’ve no doubt, but I do want to tell you about Carmen, herself. (The pic below of her…those eyes, though!  Right?!?  People!  She’s the physical embodiment of ‘fierce’!)

NW Dance Project,"Carmen" studio rehearsal,Ihsan Rustem choreography

NW Dance Project,”Carmen” studio rehearsal,Ihsan Rustem choreography

Carmen, a story you’re all very familiar with if you love dance, is not a new story.  However, Mr. Rustem’s twist on it is genius, and the promo pics give a hint to the time and setting, but I won’t give it away if you haven’t figured it out.  Anyway, Carmen, placing herself purposefully between two lovers, causing havoc wherever she goes, leaving angst and devastation in her wake is going to be danced by the beautiful and powerful Andrea Parson.  You’ll remember how Miss Parson moved my heart and soul when she danced the lead in Ms. Slipper’s piece in last year’s Louder than Words, well she is back with a vengeance as Mr. Rustem’s Carmen.  Her commitment to this role, her depth of character development on day 8 of creation has me all in a frenzy over how much deeper she will go with this character between now and performance.  I swear, watching her work this part, her majestic ability to embrace everything being thrown at her, to play this very dynamic character so fully is the stuff that makes me think Shakespeare was describing her when he wrote “Though she be but little, she is fierce!”

And the two men tangled in her web are danced by the incomparable Franco Nieto and Elijah Labay.  Mr. Nieto, dancing Don Jose in the heartbreakingly emotional way that only he can.  Any day I get to watch this brilliant artist dance is a wonderful day, but to get to watch him explore his journey, find nuance after delicious nuance as his character’s story is pushed and pulled by the two antagonists danced by Ms. Parson and Mr. Labay is something I’ll never forget.

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Franco Nieto and Andrea Parson

And then there is Mr. Labay, in case you’ve forgotten is my beloved dancer in the purple shirt who I adore more than words can say, so to get to meet him, and to get to watch him work was something I was looking forward to more than anything!  Like Mr. Nieto, watching Mr. Labay discover the layers and dimensions of the swaggering character of Eli was something I was very much looking forward to, and I was not disappointed.  Something about the way Mr. Labay dances just speaks to me, and I could watch him dance all day long!

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Andrea Parson and Elijah Labay

And then, oh you guys, there’s a scene, this heavenly, steamy, sultry scene danced by Mr. Labay and Ms. Parson, and people you are not ready!  I wasn’t ready, and I should have been ready, but I was NOT ready, and it was just rehearsal!  By performance that scene, lord honey, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to handle it!  Mr. Rustem, you fantastically devilish man, I am so excited to see how this evolves!  And in tandem to this steamy scene is a solo danced by Mr. Nieto that brought tears to my eyes.  He’s going to make you feel all the feelings you’ve ever felt, and probably a few you didn’t know you could feel.  It’s going to be glorious!  GO SEE THIS SHOW!

Both ferocious in their movements, both exquisite in their roles of protagonist and antagonist respectively, Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay create a trio with Ms. Parson that had me clutching my chest, for be still, my beating heart, they’re so good in this piece!  I mean it, damnit, go see this show!

Carmen is not just a story, it’s a journey.  It’s emotional for the choreographer, it’s emotional for the dancers, and the audience will be pulled into the fray, trust me, and you will be being tossed and jostled amidst the emotional waves that this piece generates, and you’ll thank them for the delicious torture of it all, I promise you!

This company was born to dance this piece, and every single dancer brings exactly what is needed to create the many layers of the story.  When you come see this show you’ll be dazzled by solos, mesmerized by duos and trios, knocked to your core by wolf packs, and forever impacted by secrecy, seduction and murder.  And all of that will be performed by dancers so brave, so willing to open themselves up emotionally that you feel everything they are feeling, and I don’t want any of you to miss this!

This gift of getting to spend not one, but two days with NW Dance Project makes me so happy because I am able do share this show with you before it happens for the first time, because sadly, NW Dance Project only performs their masterpieces for one weekend each season.  And I am going to do everything I can to continue to promote this phenomenal company to hopefully increase attendance at their shows so that they are able to add performances to their schedule because as hard as these dancers work, as amazing as their seasons are, they deserve to have more than three performances for each program!

15895382_1212524365499060_4991593005079827235_n.jpgSo please join me in coming to see Carmen at NW Dance Project in March.  Shows will be Mar 16-18, I myself will be there on Mar 18, and really hope to see you all there! Show times and ticket info can be found on NW Dance Project’s website.

Thank you so much to the entire NW Dance Project family for making this dance lover’s heart soar by allowing me behind the curtain to watch you work.  I am so grateful for the opportunity and forever changed by the experience.

Ciao for now,

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Photo Credit to Blaine Truitt Covert & NW Dance Project’s Facebook Page 

Whim W’Him Gave Me Life with Sensation

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

16194886_10158070312345035_8100611831711689121_nJanuary 20, 2017 is one of the darkest days in American history for anyone with a conscience and a soul.  And both the Whim W’Him family, and those of us that support them are full of both, so it warmed my heart to be in a theatre with these people reminding ourselves what is truly important after a day full of nonsensical political propaganda.  As Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, said in his curtain speech, “At Whim W’Him, we don’t build walls,” and he broke down as he started this speech, but you know what happened next?  The audience jumped to thunderous applause to remind him that we are all behind him and all right there with him!  We, the Whimmers, are a loving, supportive family, and we are going to always come together to enjoy the beauty and light that Whim W’Him always provides to its audience.  I’m so proud to be a Whimmer, and Friday night, that pride expanded to the rest of the folks sitting around me.  What was a very hard, emotional day, one where I just wanted to go home and pull the covers over my head, I’m so glad I made it to the Cornish Theatre because the show that waited for me was everything I needed to remind me what is good in this world.  So, let’s get to talking about Sensation, shall we?

People, people, people, this show, I can honestly say, is breathtakingly moving.  Aptly named, it created Sensations within me that were wonderful, dynamic, and powerful.  You’ll recall that I wrote a promotional piece about Penny Saunders’ piece: play-by-play when I was gifted the wonderful experience of watching her rehearsal a few weeks ago, and you guys, it evolved into one of the most beautiful dances I’ve ever seen.  Gorgeously costumed, brilliantly staged, the journey of this piece transcended beauty for me into something I don’t even have a word to describe.  It was ethereal, dark and light at the same time, and so technically and physically challenging!  Ms. Saunders did not take it easy on the dancers, and pushed them to their physical exhaustion.  From my seat in the fifth row, I could see sweat flinging off of the dancers as they turned and launched themselves around the stage. And that pas de deux with Patrick Kilbane and Liane Aung was as mind blowing as I knew it was going to be!  The lines, the extension, the core strength, the intensity, and the beauty by which these two dancers connect in their section took every breath from me!  I believe the word “Wow” came out of my mouth as a shocked whisper at some of the movement these two dancers are able to bring to life.  It was amazing!

91afe50c-e04a-11e6-a303-e49f56b5b765-1020x680The canons, the delicious, delectable canons were, as I knew they would be, unbelievably exquisite from a distance.  Absolutely mesmerized me.  And also as expected, the growth in the journey that my beloved Justin Reiter moved through in this piece brought me to tears, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he was on stage.  So plugged in to his fellow dancers, so expertly pushed his body through each phrase after challenging phrase, zapping his strength and pushing his emotions, I think this is the best I’ve ever seen Mr. Reiter dance.  Two people just up behind me put it perfectly, when Mr. Reiter began to move before the music joined him and one said “Oh my god!” with complete wonderment in her voice and her friend said, “Exactly.  That’s Justin.  Just wait,”and oh was she right.  Bravo, Justin, for taking on this powerful journey and sharing it with all of us.  The light you bring to the stage, even in dark moments, is the stuff that gives me life! Thank you!!

The second piece the dancers took on was called Line Dance by Larry Keigwin, and people, this was everything I needed on this dark day!  This beautiful, pure piece was the physical embodiment of joy!  The dancers, all dressed in white, shifting and moving from straight line to cluster, from full company phrases, to single dancers moving, it all felt like a stunning kaleidoscope that brought joyful tears to my eyes!  Let me try to explain what happened while I watched this dance – I felt complete elation.  I felt hope and happiness.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  The dancers watched each other’s solos and duets they weren’t in, and it created this bridge between performer and audience.  And they were enjoying watching their fellow dancers dance.  And the joy of that alone was infectious and just filled the room with light and joy.  Did I say joy?  Cuz there was just joy dripping from the stage, and I was so moved by it!

16142219_10158071168780035_6800517553139421950_nSo many favorite moments from this piece, but there are two I’ll share that just brought sheer ecstasy to my wounded heart.  First, Miss Tory Peil, we all know I love me some Miss Tory, and it’s because in addition to being an exquisite dancer, she is a phenomenal actress as well, and there’s this bit where she’s drawing lines and squiggles in the air with her finger, playing with Jim Kent and with Patrick Kilbane, and for all of her long, lithe frame, she was so playful, so adorable, it was just fantastic to watch.  Took you back to playing with friends as a child, and transported me back to moments of that childlike innocence.  And the second is during a super-quick moment where it was just Mr. Reiter and Mr. Kilbane dancing side by side, and they shared a look of complete friendship and happiness to be dancing together, and happy tears fell from my eyes at that moment.  I don’t know if it was part of the choreography, or just a real organic moment that happened between these two, but it was so beautiful to behold.  Mr. Kilbane dances with such serious expression, the technical genius that he is, so to see him let go and just dance with abandon next to Mr. Reiter is a moment I will never forget.  I jumped to my feet the minute the dancers lined up for their curtain call on this, because this!  This amazingly beautiful piece full of joy and light is what everyone needs right now.  It was my favorite piece of the night.  Thank you all for this!  I just love you for this experience, and thank you Mr. Keigwin for reminding us what joy looks like, because we all need to cling to it as we struggle with these terrifying times.

Lastly, the Maestro brought us another of his masterpieces, this one titled Catch & Release, although I must say, I’d love to rename this piece to be called Fractured, because that was what I got from this very deep, very poignant piece by Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers. Between the fractured light dispersing light and shade at harsh angles, as only the brilliant Michael Mazzola can do, and the way those light patterns were splayed across the costumes of the dancers, all I felt throughout this piece was Fracture.  Darkness fractured to just let a bit of light through.  And depending on your perspective, it’s either the light cracking through the dark, or the dark almost shutting out the light.  Either way, this piece was absolutely brilliant.

This piece centered around Ms. Peil, tortured again in a way reminiscent from last Spring’s show, where the object of her affection treats her so cruelly.  Mr. Wevers expertly uses his dancers to push and pull on Ms. Peil, both physically and emotionally depending on their presence or absence from the stage.  Ms. Peil’s ability to be emotionally open on stage is one of my favorite things about a Whim W’Him show.  She is not afraid of any emotion, she does not close off the audience, but instead just opens her heart and lets us all the way in, and my heart broke with hers in this piece.  Her breath, her beautiful breath, always present, always driving her through her journeys, caught so many times in this piece, and it was haunting and heartbreaking at the same time.

1-7-768x576There’s a major music change at the end, after Ms. Peil has been jerked around by her antagonists, fantastically danced by Mr. Kilbane and Karl Watson, and the company are all on the floor and randomly they get up and slow dance with Ms. Peil.  It was heart wrenching.  Gave me the sensation of when we’ve all been searching for something to fill the void left by someone who was in our life, but hasn’t fully gone away.  You know that sensation i’m talking about where, you start to move on, but then they show back up again and get in the way.  Every time Mr. Kilbane came back in to the scene to interject himself into a moment she was having with another dancer, I wanted to scream “OMG, just let her be, ugh!”

This piece was danced beautifully, and everyone played their part brilliantly.  And like Ms. Peil, Mr. Wevers is not afraid to open himself up to his audience and share his emotions and experiences, and i’m always so moved by his art.  And this one really rang true on a personal note for me, and I just loved it!14993564_10157676467865035_242998834512113789_n
Overall, this is one hell of a show!  And I urge everyone to make time to go see it while it runs through Jan 28.  Show and ticket information can be found here.

I give this a thunderous standing ovation!  Bravo!!

Ciao for now,

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Images from Bamberg Fine Art and Whim W’Him’s Facebook Page

 

Canon in P: Brilliant Creativity by Penny Saunders on Whim W’Him

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

14993564_10157676467865035_242998834512113789_nIn addition to having a few days off of work, the other thing I love about winter vacation is that I have time to get to go do one of my favorite things: watch a Whim W’Him rehearsal! And this year, I got to watch the company work with the choreographer Penny Saunders, and I must say, it was a mesmerizing experience.

In the new rehearsal space, which is much smaller than the studios in the old space, I found Ms. Saunders’ choreography to take up all the space in the room, in the best way possible.  This piece centers around my beloved Justin Reiter, and I can’t tell you how good it was to see him at the heart of this piece. I missed his presence terribly in the Choreographic Shindig, as he was on the periphery for so much of it, and I missed his beautiful lines and powerful breath.

And speaking of breath, you’ve read numerous times how much I love how breath plays a strong part in the success of a WWDC performance.  The company finds a way to breathe together in a rhythmic way that does, in fact, mesmerize me, and Ms. Saunders uses their collective breath to her advantage with this piece.

Mr. Reiter sets the pace and timing of much of the movement with his breath, and the rest of the company follows beautifully.  Whether the only one moving, or whether immersed amidst his fellow dancers, his breath can be seen and heard as he takes the journey Ms. Saunders has created for him.  His complete control of his powerful, yet lithe body to isolate and flow through Ms. Saunders’ choreography is going to take your breath away, I promise you.  It’s everything I love about the way Justin moves, and can’t wait for the actual performance to see the growth he will have between now and then.

I’ve called this piece Canon in P, because Ms. Saunders utilized numerous canons throughout the piece, each more unique and interesting than the one before.  And the company, lined up differently each time, elevates something as simple as a canon to a level of art in that, they are doing the same movement, however, they manage to subtly insert their individuality to each movement creating a soft, yet dynamic symmetry.  Sitting in the small rehearsal room, I was completely entranced by all the canons, and I can’t wait to see how beautiful they will look when I’m up in the house watching this piece from a distance. When I said as much to Ms. Saunders, she smiled and said, “Me, too!”

And without giving away too much, I do quickly want to tantalize you with the promise of something ridiculously special waiting for you in this piece if you are wise enough to buy a ticket and come see this show.  And that special gift is in the form of a duet danced by the 004-bamberg-fine-art-1200x1800incomparable Patrick Kilbane, and new company member Liane Aung.  Mr. Kilbane, one of most stunning dancers I’ve ever had the privilege to watch dance live, has lines and feet that bring tears to my eyes, they are so beautiful.  And in Ms. Aung, he has met his 007-bamberg-fine-art-1200x1800match on that front.  Ms. Aung’s lines, sweet baby Jesus, and her extension are the stuffs that dance lovers’ dreams are made of, and her feet are so gorgeous, that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.  I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about them, they are that spectacular as she finishes movements with her long, graceful fingers, or the exquisite point of her toe.  These two technical masters, these two emotionally open artists, these two breath-taking dancers have a section in this piece that absolutely transported and affected me.  I won’t tell you which feelings I felt, or where their beautiful moment took me, as I don’t want to color your experience, but trust me, people, you want to see this!  You need to see this!

Whim W’Him’s next show, Sensation opens on Jan 20, and runs through Jan 28.  Please 14962572_10157676466410035_9115623630654052940_nstart your 2017 off right by indulging your senses in this show.  I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!  I’ll be there opening night showing my support for my favorite Seattle Based dance company, and I do wish you’d join me. 

Ciao for now,

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Photos from Whim W’Him’s website and Facebook Page

Broadway Bound’s Elf: Perfect Mix of Adorable & Professional

Entertainment Review

I wouldn’t normally review a children’s theatre show because, well, I’m me, and we know how judgy I am, and contrary to popular belief, I would not enjoy making small children cry.  So, when I headed to SMT’s theatre space in Magnusson Park on Saturday night to support the daughter of a colleague of mine who is performing in Broadway Bound Children’s Theatre’s production of Elf, I was off duty, and just there as a patron to watch some kids have some fun on stage.  However, I was so impressed by the professionalism of this adorable cast that I had to put fingers to keys and tell you about it.

First of all, I applaud Broadway Bound for taking on 3 casts of kids, because as someone who spent almost a decade working on a summer teen musical program, I know how hard it is to put a show together with just one cast!  And they do it with three.  I had the privilege of seeing Cast 2 perform, and the things you’d expect in a children’s show were all there.  Cute kids, check. Adorable elf costumes, check. Simple blocking and choreography they can all manage, check. Opening night nerves, check. Proud families, a supportive audience, and children running in the aisles, check, check, check.  The entire cast maneuvered through the well-known story of Elf with super cute enthusiasm, and looked great in their outstanding costumes whether as elves, Santa, businessmen and women, or  as family members.  However, a few shining stars stood out.

Tatum Poirrier, who played Charlie the Elf absolutely stole the show for me.  This little one is not only tiny and adorable, but is very talented.  She worked those tap shoes like nobody’s business, delivered her snappy, sarcastic lines with impeccable timing, and managed to be very much in the moment of each scene she was in.  She made choices, good choices, from character to character that she played, and I was highly impressed. Good job, little one!

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Also Rose Hunksor who played Mr. Hobb’s assistant, Deb, was fantastic!  She had wonderful comedic timing!  She understood the role beautifully and brought a depth to each scene she was in that showed craft and talent well beyond her years. Bravo!

Lastly, I really enjoyed Ryan Musehl, who played Santa.  His dry line delivery cracked me up and was such a fun choice.  Kudos to him for pulling that off with a consistent performance all throughout the show, even when he was having serious issues with Santa’s hat in the final sleigh scene.  He didn’t break character at all, just worked through the struggle and stayed in character the whole time.  Well done, you!

But the main reason I wanted to write this review was because I wanted to publicly applaud the entire cast, especially Max Zorn who played Buddy, for managing to masterfully maneuver through the myriad of technical problems that were rampant through this show.  Buddy’s mic went out multiple times, and while Mr. Zorn didn’t project as much as he needed to for me to hear him back where I was sitting in row N, he didn’t break character or get thrown or stop.  He pushed through, showing poise and gumption well beyond his years.

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Additionally, when the paper shredder didn’t work, he again didn’t falter, didn’t break, didn’t stop, he just improvised and it was brilliant.  He set a great example for the rest of the cast, and they all followed suit.  The lead of a show should be a leader, and young Mr. Zorn was definitely that on Saturday night.  I don’t know this child, but I was so proud of him for performing with the utmost professionalism.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Mia Kunins, who is the child I came to see, and thought her colorful elf, and sassy businesswoman were well done!  Also, I found out that Ms. Kunins was given new lines early that morning, and with such a short turnaround time, she delivered them so well!  She was also in quite a few scenes where there were technical difficulties, and she never broke, once!  Not even when another actor wasn’t where they needed to be and she stumbled on stage.  She didn’t break character, just got back up and kept singing.  Bravo!

The tech issues didn’t stop there.  There were lighting/blackout timing issues, mic issues where the sound tech left mics hot for cast members who were backstage and you could hear the little ones whispering and chattering away in the house distracting from what was going on during the scene on stage, and Santa’s sleigh got set wrong and when they tried to pull it off it got caught on the set.  Sigh.

While this was opening night for cast 2, it was the second night for the production team, so I’m hoping they get things fixed and work out the kinks because these kids are working really hard on stage, doing really good stuff, and they deserve to have a clean tech.

Elf runs two more weekends, and if you’ve got little ones in your household, andelfposter you want something fun to do with them this holiday season, take them to see Elf.  It’s really cute and a lot of fun to watch.

I give this a big Bravo to the kids, and thunderous applause  for their outstanding professionalism in the face of major technical difficulties!

Ciao for now,

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Mind Blown at NW Dance Project’s Bolero +! Ps, I’m Baaaaaack!

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Hello, people, did you miss me?  I know its been a long time since I posted a review of anything, but that’s because things like day jobs and bill paying took over all my time I had allocated for seeing shows and writing about them.  So, I retired in the spring, thinking my writing days were behind me.  But after what I experienced on Saturday night, there was absolutely no way I could refrain from putting fingers on keys and sharing it with all of you.

So where was I, might you ask?  Well, I was in Portland, OR, seeing the fall show at NW Dance Project titled Bolero +.  And while that + might seem like a tiny little symbol, trust me, there is sooooooo very much involved in that +.  And it all began with the amazing movement of Felix Landerer.

You may remember my review of Mr. Landerer’s work at last year’s fall show at NW Dance Project, New Now Wow,  where in addition for professing my love for Mr. Landerer’s exquisite choreography, I may or may not have mentioned how much I wanted to be a purple shirt (that piece was so fantastically powerful!), in this show, Mr. Landerer brought us another powerful piece, this one entitled: Post-Traumatic Monster which followed a dark and twisty journey of two people fighting their way to each other.

NW Dance Project,dress rehearsal,"Post-Traumatic-Monster",Felix Landerer

Cody Jauron (in gray) and Franco Nieto, with Ching Ching Wong in background, in “Post-Traumatic-Monster” by Felix Landerer Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The monster, or obstacle was anchored by the beautiful and talented Ching Ching Wong who gave one of the most mind-blowing performances I have ever seen!  Ms. Wong, often positioned on top of her fellow dancers, shifting positions in the dark, twisting and contorting, holding intricate positions for beat after delicious beat, managed to transition from phrase to phrase with the most effortless grace I have ever seen!  She was so aware of her surroundings, of her fellow dancers, of her light, that I swear the woman has eyes in the back of her head!  Every time she placed a foot, a hand, a hip, or anything that another dancer needed to grab on to in order to hoist her into the air was perfectly placed!  She was magnificent, and haunting, and delicately stunning all at the same time.

And her protagonist to antagonize in this piece was expertly danced by Franco Nieto, who moved me to tears with this performance!  He literally took my breath away with the level of emotion he put into this performance.  Mr. Nieto’s lines are so stunning, the fluidity of his movement so superb, and his acting so on point that watching him go on this journey in this piece is something that I will never forget.  Mr. Nieto danced every count, every moment in this piece with everything he had, so much so that his gorgeous gold shirt was drenched with sweat and the willowy, lithe bow of his body at the end of the piece as the audience thunderously applauded for him showed that he left everything on that floor, and we were blessed to have been witness to it.

The rest of the dancers also played their parts well, creating the foundation for Ms. Wong, pushing Mr. Nieto around the stage, rippling and cannoning through Mr. Landerer’s gorgeous choreography, filling the stage with unique, compelling and dynamic pictures, so expertly performed, that at times I forgot they weren’t one being.  They filled every space between Mr. Nieto and Ms. Wong until they all faded into the wings leaving Ms. Wong and Mr. Nieto to finally have nothing between them except the space of their own making.  I yearned for them to find peace at finally being together, and Mr. Landerer tormented me by creating so much angst through his phrases, and the dancers embraced every nuance with almost obsessive emotion, that my heart broke as they never fully embraced each other in the way I wanted them to, but I’ve no doubt that is part of what Mr. Landerer wanted me to experience, and it was fantastic, albeit painful.  I’m such a fan of Mr. Landerer, and this piece just reinforced all the reasons why.  Bravo to the dancers for bringing this piece so hauntingly to life, and to Mr. Landerer for the magic he makes.

The second part of the + was a piece by a new choreographer to me, Lucas Crandall, which featured three dancers, and was titled Salt.  Oh, people, this piece spoke to me!  A trio danced by Samantha Campbell, Lindsey McGill, and Elijah Labay took me on an emotional rollercoaster that left my heart fluttering and my mind blown.

Salt opens with the three dancers, dressed in white from neck to ankle moving in slow motion towards the audience in front of a bright blue-white backdrop.  The movement was uncomfortable on Mr. Labay, yet Ms. Campbell and Ms. McGill seemed to frolic with abandon so slowly towards the audience, even sharing a blissful smile, when I suddenly realized, Mr. Labay did not share their bliss.  From moment one, there was a pull towards sad that Mr. Labay subtly conveyed, and as the piece sped up to tempo, and then stopped at a screeching halt, I knew what we were in for next was going to be intense.

What was last year’s purple shirt was this year’s white long sleeve shirt. (And, Mr. Crandall, I almost died when you teased us with the potential of the shirtless Mr. Labay, only to bring him back on fully clothed!  Such torment!) But then all that torment made sense as Mr. Labay did not discard the shirt, but instead kept the weight of it on him as he glided all around the stage back and forth from one woman to the next, and the shirt became part of the journey he was on.  He was the pillar and safeguard of this piece while at the same time being caught up in the storm that surrounded him, and the costume, so clingy and yet flowy, stretched around him in an intoxicating way that made my heart break for his struggle. (and also had me thinking this year that I’d never wanted to be a white long sleeve shirt so badly in my life! Wow!)

But back to Salt, I interpreted this as a story of a man stuck between two amazing women, where at the start they both seemed equally alluring, yet, as the piece went on, Mr. Labay gravitated towards Ms. McGill, and yet Ms. Campbell was still a driving force, constantly involved, now starting to appear to be in the way of the other two being together.  Mr. Crandall’s brilliant way to keep the women coming and going around Mr. Labay, who was forced to slide them and shift them to keep them away from each other, just made me ache for them all.  For anyone who has experienced unrequited love, longed for someone who belonged to another, found themselves in love with two people at once or desperately worked to hold on to someone they feel slipping away would relate to the journey of one of these dancers.  I just love pieces that tap into primal human emotion, and this is what the piece did for me.

I had friends with me at this performance, and they all had different interpretations of the story, but it was fascinating to see how much they were all impacted.  While we all had different experiences watching, we all had the exact same reaction to the ending.  Twice during the piece, gorgeous footage of ocean waves crashing down onto white sand created a wild juxtaposition to the storm raging amongst the three dancers.  And for me specifically, the ocean is where I go to relax, where I go to reclaim my center, where I go to breathe, so having that sound be the piece of music this journey was created upon rocked me to my core.  And in the end, when Mr. Labay and Ms. McGill found their way fully to each other, and hand in hand walked towards the crashing waves, leaving Ms. McGill behind in their wake, I held my breath to see how she would react.  And the ridiculously brave Mr. Crandall chose to not have her drown in that wake, but instead let her just lay on the sand, and peacefully watch them go.

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Lindsey McGill, Elijah Labay, and Samantha Campbell in “Salt” by Lucas Crandall Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 

Mr. Crandall has a way of driving this audience member to the edge of a storm, and then gently laying me down with a soft landing and a peaceful ending that brought tears to my eyes.  He put a quote in the program from Karen Blixen that said “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the salt sea.”  And Mr. Crandall gave us all three in this peace, and I am the better for having experienced it!  I’m an instant fan and can’t wait until I can see one of his creations again.  Thank for telling this story, Mr. Crandall, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Bravo!

The finale was where we finally get to the Bolero part of the program choreographed by my beloved Ihsan Rustem, and to say I was excited for this piece is the understatement of the year!  The promotion art showed the dancers painted, and I was just sure that was going to be the costume for Bolero, and oh was I right! From the first move to the final prop drop, Bolero entertained, excited and enthralled me in only the way Mr. Rustem’s wit and genius can do!

This piece to this amazingly challenging music was full of whimsical sensuality.  All of the dancers, clad in black pants and body paint and nothing else were provocative and sexy throughout this piece.  Shifting between duos, trios, and full company synchronicity, a signature of Mr. Rustem’s that I have come to adore, was so brilliantly done that I found myself on the edge of my seat to find out who was going to come out and dance next!

With a music so repetitive, the test comes in finding new, interesting phrases to fill an entire piece, and Mr. Rustem did this with epic creativity!  No two phrases the same, no two counts repetitive, I didn’t dare blink for fear of missing one delectable moment!  No one fills an 8 count like Mr. Rustem, and Bolero had so many for him to fill and he did each one more masterfully than the one before it!  Loved it!

Always a brilliant master of light and space, Mr. Rustem created a second plane of performance utilizing backlighting, raised raked platforms, and black curtains that gave the dancers the ability to tantalize and tittilate in silhouette and shadow!  And utilizing a rose in a deliciously phallic accoutrement/through-line to the entire piece showed off Mr. Rustem’s dazzling ability to play with an audience!

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“Boléro” by Ihsan Rustem Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The entire company was brilliant in Bolero, and the new faces in the company held their own with the veterans who already have my heart.  The women in this piece were a lovely combination of flirty and strong, enticing and teasing the men every chance they got!  The men, all of whom were a delicious mix of sexuality and humor took center stage in this piece for me!  Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay, specifically, enflamed the stage, yet again, with their heavenly bodies contorting around Mr. Rustem’s movement, and man did the paint look fantastic on them!  You, two, I swear, I’d travel around the world to watch you dance!  You just simply take my breath away no matter what story you are telling!

However, Kody Jauron, who I fell in love with during Mr. Rustem’s piece from last spring’s show, Le Fil Rouge, was the one my eye went to most often, enticing little sprite that he is!  Mr. Jauron danced with so much abandon, so much flair, so much fierce energy that he pulled my focus whenever he was on stage, entertaining me all the way through! (although there was one phrase where the full company was to be dancing in unison, and Mr. Jauron was doing juuuuuuust a bit more than the rest, and I became Zach from a Chorus Line in my head for a moment, where I silently shouted to myself, “Cassie, there’s no head release with that kick!” but when a dancer is dancing with such joy, it’s easy to overlook.)  Mr. Jauron kicked off the show with his Puck-like mischief, and carried that level of fun all the way to the final bow.  Bravo, Sir!  I simply adore you!

Bolero is now in the books for me as one of my all time favorite performances I’ve seen.  I love wit, I love sensuality, I love innuendo, I love confidence, and I absolutely love brave, creative movement, and Mr. Rustem just gave me everything I loved, complete with a troupe of painted, gorgeous dancers bringing his imaginations to life!  It’s this level of passion that makes it so easy to drive the three hours to see a NW Dance Project show.  And should you be anywhere near there where you can get to Portland to see one of their shows, you absolutely should!  Guaranteed your mind will be blown!  Come with me to the next one, won’t you?

I’m so sorry that there aren’t more performances of this wonderful program for you to go see, but sadly it closed on Saturday night.  But please believe me when I say the best gift you can give yourself, if you love dance even a little bit, is to go see a NW Dance Project production.  Not only did Bolero + give me an epic experience, but it inspired me to get my ass back to writing this blog, because I really have missed it.  Thank you, NWDP for that gift!

I give this entire show a thunderous applause and a Bravo +!559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

Ciao for now,

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Hey Guys, Wanna See Some Raw Emotion?

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

I’ve been given the gift of getting to know the Whim W’Him Dance Company on an intimate level.  They have been gracious enough to invite me into their rehearsal space, and been brave enough to let me watch them create, explore and inspire, and every time I go, I am never quite ready for how profoundly they move me.

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Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers works with Tory Peil and Patrick Kilbane   

The rehearsal I saw was for Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers’new creation: A Disagreeable Tale of Duplicity.  People, the Maestro has outdone himself with this piece, and I was blown away by what I saw, because what he has created is 100% pure raw emotion.  It’s haunting and stunning at the same time, and that was before it was fully cleaned, fully developed, and fully ready for an audience.  I can’t even imagine how breathtaking and heartbreaking the final work will be, but I can’t wait to find out.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I really want to talk to you about the bravery of The Maestro and his dancers.  This piece feels very personal, as it takes on the theme of love, both found and lost, and the impact both can have on a person as they wander, both happily and torturously through the garden that love grows.  The Maestro has cut himself open with his choreography, and is bleeding all over the stage with complete artistic abandon.  His characters beautifully and fully developed, his story hauntingly clear, his genius alive and all encompassing…you do not want to miss this!

But a choreographer’s vision can only go so far if he or she does not have dancers willing to go there as well. And by there, I mean complete and utter vulnerability and courage.  And for this story to work, it needs a brave and charismatic anchor, and The Maestro has that in the beautiful, powerful and brilliant Tory Peil.  This artist, because that is what she is!  This artist physically embodies dance, and on top of her impeccable technique and stunning lines, this chick has the ability to sink so deeply into a character that you completely lose the dancer and just, quite literally feel the dance.   Without a doubt you will see and feel whatever she desires that you see and feel because she has your very soul in the palm of her hand, and with every flick of her gorgeous feet, every deep exhale of her powerful breath, and every nuance of her body, you will be pushed to your emotional limits.  And in this piece, she takes you on an emotional journey so raw, so real, vulgar at times and excruciatingly tender at others, that I guarantee you will not be the same person you were when you walked in to the Cornish Playhouse to see this show.  She brought tears to my eyes during a rehearsal and I had to fight to keep from ugly girl crying right there, and I fear that she is going to make me sob come opening night, and I eagerly anticipate the cleansing!

Ms. Peil is surrounded by the rest of the WWDC dancers, and the company all play a part in her journey, some driving her story, some affecting it, some torturing it, and others helping her through it.  But regardless of their role, each and every one of them provide a foundation by which Ms. Peil can fully let go, fully immerse herself into this story the Maestro has created on her, because her company fully has her supported and the trust between them all is simply beautiful to behold.  I’d love to go into details, but trust me, you don’t want me to spoil it.  You want to experience this brilliance and bravery for yourself.

I will be at Whim W’Him’s OUT-spoken to not only see The Maestro’s genius, but to also see the wonderful works I’ve no doubt are waiting for me from James Gregg and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (who I hope to meet this time around, not only to see her amazing work because I’m a huge fan, but also to find out what it was like to work on Intensio, because Daniil Simkin is my spirit animal!)

This show is not one to be missed, so please, please, please join me for this performance!  Me and my darling +1 will be there on June 3rd, opening night, and I would very much like to experience it with all of you as well!!  Won’t you join us??!!?!!?!  Show time and ticket information can be found on Whim W’Him’s website, so please give yourself the gift of pure art, and join me in celebrating dance in Seattle!

I wish Mr. Gregg, Ms. Lopez Ochoa, the Maestro, the dancers, and the entire Whim W’Him

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Tory Peil and Patrick Kilbane

family a gigantic Merde!  I will be there cheering you on opening night, and look forward to the art that only you can create!

Ciao for now,

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All Photos by Bamberg Fine Art

Assassins at ACT Theatre: Kill Me Now!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review, Theatre Review

I used to think I was a Stephen Sondheim fan through and through, but there a few of his shows that I encounter that make me wonder what the hell he was smoking when he wrote it, and Assassins is one of those shows for me.  Now, much like Sweeney Todd, I realize I just don’t like this show’s concept or story (and I use the term story loosely as the plot for this show is nonexistent), and the music doesn’t do enough for me to make the weak book worth sitting through.

Perhaps it was because, at the request of my +1, I sat in the first row of the balcony, so I wasn’t able to see the acting head on, or perhaps it was because everyone else who I know saw this show raved about it so my expectations were too high, or maybe it was just an off night for this clearly talented cast as it was a Thursday night…I don’t know, all I know is I was no where near entertained; in fact I was bored out of my mind the entire time. So bored, I just felt like Cumberbatch in that one episode of Sherlock, you know the one where he shoots the wall out of boredom.  Sadly, with all the guns in the room, none were available to me to put myself out of my misery with having to sit through Assassins.

There is no intermission in this show, which is a bummer, cuz trust me, I would not have stayed for a second act.  And never one to be shy about leaving in a blackout, but again, as I was my +1s ride, I couldn’t just walk out like I wanted to, so I suffered through the entire show, and here are my thoughts in quick and dirty form, as I don’t really want to relive that experience too vividly:

1. Most of the characters are forgettable, their stories told through one scene into one song, and then on to the next assassin.

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The standout acting chops for me go to Kendra Kassebaum, who played Sara Jane Moore.  Ms. Kassebaum was so committed to her character, so consistent in her choices, I was impressed with her performance

I also thoroughly enjoyed Brandon O’Neill as Leon Czolgosz.  Mr. O’Neill’s monologue
delivery tugged on my heartstrings, and his confession of love to Emma Goldman was hauntingly beautiful.

2. On the flip side, the worst performance of the night for me went to Laura Griffith, playing Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, as she was NOT in good voice that night.  Off pitch, off key, and offensive to my ears, I literally cringed as she sang, and as her commitment to her character was so strong, she practically screamed every note when she sang and it was excruciating.  Louder isn’t better, just FYI.

I also really didn’t enjoy Louis Hobson’s John Wilkes Booth.  There was an awful accent problem going on…sometimes British, sometimes Southern, sometimes PNW non-accent…it was annoying.  Hard to pay attention to the songs sung by Mr. Hobson when you don’t believe his character at all.

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3. Vocally the cast was on point (save Ms. Griffith), and there’s one 4 part harmony section sung by Mr. Hobson (Booth), Mr. O’Neill (Czolgosz), Ms. Kassebaum (Moore), and Richard Gray, who played Charles Guiteau.  Great vocal number, Ms. Kassebaum stole the scene with her impeccable acting score.

4. With a minimal set, and singular costume choices for the cast, shined a light on the performances, and all elements were just kind of meh.

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5. That theatre is entirely too small for the loudness of the gunshots going on, so rather than have a realistic impact, it just added to the overdone/trying-too-hard feel of this performance.

6. You know a show is boring when the biggest reaction from the audience is when Lee Harvey Oswald’s windows came up out of the floor.  That theatre magic got more oohs and ahhs than any number performed.  And the actors could tell, cuz most of them were just trying too hard to get reactions, which just perpetuated the problem.

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7. When a show happens on a night where at 8pm it’s 60 degrees outside, would be great if the theatre would kick on the air conditioning, cuz it was like watching a show from a theatre in hell.  It was so effing hot in the balcony, which definitely didn’t help how much I loathed this experience!

Maybe I just saw a bad night of this show, because the friends who told me it was good are theatre lovers, so they should know if it sucks.  But for me, this show sucked, was a waste of my time, and I am seriously sad about the two hours of my life I’ll never get back.

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On the other hand, good to know that now Assassins is just a show I don’t enjoy.  The music is dull, the plot is non-existent, and the ridiculously long drawn out monologues drag you along with them at the pace of molasses in January, that I was literally counting the minutes until I could get out of there!  And musically there were many moments that sounded so very familiar, meaning they were basically a poor-man’s Into The Woods when it comes to rhythm and message.  And I’d have given anything for a witch to come out and zap them all in the groin just to add a little action and plot depth to this dull show.

I love ACT Theatre, and this is the first time I’ve ever not enjoyed a show there, although it’s also the first time I’ve ever seen a musical there.  I have come to know ACT as one of, if not the best straight playhouse in Seattle, and even though I didn’t enjoy Assassins, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Stupid F*cking Bird there in a few weeks.  I never avoid a theatre due to a bad production here and there, but I will avoid Assassins in the future no matter what!

And if perhaps I just happened to attend on an off night, well then shame on those actors, because those of us who paid on Thursday should get as quality of a show as those who paid on a Saturday.  Get it together, people!

Based on my experience, I’d skip this one if I were you, because clearly I can’t guarantee you’ll get a good show.  However, if you do go, and have a totally different experience than I did, I’d love to hear about it.

I give this a should-have-left-in-a-blackout disappointed glare.  200_s-2.gif

Assassins plays through May 8, and ticket and showtime information can be found on ACT’s website.

Ciao for now,

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Weird Romance at STAGEright Was…Well…Weird. In a Really Wonderful Way!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

Ok, so we all know I love me some STAGEright goodness, because they always bring either a new twist on a classic show like with their Gregory Award winning Into the Woods, or a new crazy show I’ve never heard of before like Are You There God? It’s me, Karen Carpenter.  So whenever a new show is on the horizon at this fun and whimsical theatre company, I am excited to attend and see what they have in store for me this time.  And for this go round, they brought Weird Romance.

This is story I’ve never heard of before, with book by Alan Brenner and Music by Alan Menken.  Yes, you read that right, Alan friggin Menken!!!!  And with the music at the hands of my favorite Music Director, Josh Zimmerman, I was seriously stoked to see what this show was all about, because if nothing else, I knew the band would be rockin’!

Ok, so as with the Romeo et Juliette review, for those of you planning to see this show and want to be surprised by every little element, well stop reading, buy a ticket and go see it.  However, I feel I must divulge details for my readers who want to be in the know about the ups and downs of this very interesting show.

The program calls this show ‘Two one act musicals of speculative fiction’ and that is a fantastic description, although the show starts long before the lights go down and the music starts.  Upon entry, you are told to select your seat, leave your coat and walk through the curtain to the Act 1 area where you are only to sit in certain spots around the stage, and after quickly doing the math, only about 10 people or so could sit, which means the rest of the audience were to just stand around and be part of the show.  Ugh, I haaaaaaaate interactive theatre!

I do, I really hate it, and this production shows exactly why: I can’t fully immerse in the watching of the story when I’m being pushed around the acting space by the snarky characters.  When special lights are showing right above you, blinding you and melting the non-actor makeup down my face, it distracts from seeing what is happening with this story.  Which is sad, cuz it’s actually a really interesting story, which I’ll get to in a moment.  Also, even those who sit, don’t get to stay in their seats, because actors force you to move to the other side of the room, demand that you ‘get out of the way’ every time you turn around, and often you’re in the dark so you end up stepping on your fellow audience members.  It felt like STAGEright was trying to recreate their own version of ArtsWest’s American Idiot experience, but it didn’t work for me.  Most of the audience seemed distracted and that’s not what you want at a show.  Immersion is a privilege, not a right, and I didn’t get anything special from standing the entire time, often in the way of an actor, and my +1 felt the same way.

That being said, when I wasn’t being distracted by getting out of the way of an actor entering or exiting, I saw some absolutely amazing performances.  Let’s start with my favorite: Noah Duffy!  This bitch, and by bitch I mean the character he played in Act I titled The Girl Who Was Plugged In.  The character was called Zanth, and holy motherfucking hell!  And apologies for the vulgarity, but there are no other words for how absolutely brilliantly this character was played.  Over the top, working a pair of platform boots and sparkled thong codpiece like he wears one every damn day blew my mind!  Completely in every single moment, I was not ready for this level of acting, but Mr. Duffy is a genius!  His voice was on point, his dancing was epic (the high kicks on this boy!), and his acting was flawless.  Yes people, I said flawless!  His performance of Zanth alone should have you running to Brown Paper Tickets to purchase your seats for this experience.  He was almost good enough to make me forget about how irritated I was at having to stand for 90mins for the first act, that’s how unbelievably good he was!

unspecifiedAnd then Act 2 rolls around titled Her Pilgrim Soul where he switches gears to be Dan, a computer scientist/assistant to a doctor where he strips down to a modest button down shirt and pants, the makeup and glitter gone, and transitions seamlessly into the happy, curious, amazing character of Dan.  A chameleon in our midst, showing even larger range of voice and acting than I was ready for, so yeah, I’m an instant fan of this amazing artist.  Thank you, Mr. Duffy for the performances you gave in this show.  You’re absolutely phenomenal.  Bravo!

12728986_1071569456198235_8485375698718407884_nThe perfect chameleon counterpart to Mr. Duffy’s performance was one of my all time favs doing what she does best which is 100% commit to whatever outrageous character anyone throws at her and kills it every time!  I’m talking of course about the incomparable, brilliant, fucking amazing Olivia Lee!  You’ll remember my raving about her in shows like Hair, Into the Woods, and Are You There, God?  It’s me, Karen Carpenter.  She is so good, people, I can’t even with how good she is!  In Act I, draped in crimson goddess Gaga-esque fabrics, she’s all sparkles and lashes, and belting voice, and embodying some epic diva known as Shannara.  And I adored her as always!  She steals my focus whenever she is on stage with that ridiculously amazing voice and stage presence of hers, and the chemistry between Ms. Lee and Mr. Duffy was off the effing charts!  Boom!  Go see them in this show!  Just don’t wear your heels, cuz you won’t wear them as well as Ms. Lee, mmmmkay!?!?!?

Now, on to Act 2 where, just like Mr. Duffy, Ms. Lee strips out of her fabulous getup down to a dowdy, make-up less (yes, you read that right!  No make up on her gorgeous face!) snack-loving Rebecca, where I finally got my fix of Ms. Lee’s brilliant comedic timing.  I’ve said before, Ms. Lee must be the love child of Cher and Cherie Oteri, because damn can this chick crack me up!  And why? Because she’s so committed to her characters.  A true actor, who fully develops a character and bravely brings her out for the audience to enjoy.  As much as I adored Shannara, Rebecca is what I left thinking about because Ms. Lee is superb in this role.  Even when singing with a mouth full of cookies, the performance took my breath away and brought me to happy tears because I was laughing so hard.  Thank you, Ms. Lee for you consummate professionalism and commitment to the art of acting.  J’adore you!  Brava, Diva!

Other actors in the show had some decent elements.  Let’s talk about the women first.  I enjoyed Linnea Ingalls in both acts, but more for her acting than anything else.  She really is a stellar actress, was absolutely delightful in Act 2, especially, but her voice was just so-so for me throughout the show.  I also really enjoyed Tiffany Chancey in both acts both vocally and acting wise.  And Jasmine Joshua and Varsha Raghavan play the same character, well sort of (I’ll get to that in a moment), and together they really were one perfect performer. Ms. Joshua’s acting chops were outstanding, but her voice wasn’t quite on pitch a lot of the time, whereas Ms. Raghavan had a lovely voice, but her acting felt very one note through both roles from Act 1 to Act 2.  They weren’t bad notes, mind you, but would like to have seen a bit more range from her given the characters she was playing.

As for the men in the ensemble, Samuel Jarius Pettit gave a sweet performance in Act 1, and did well in the very minor part he had in Act 2.  Andrew Murray has a nice voice, but lacked chemistry with Ms. Raghavan in Act 1, as he played Ms. Raghavan’s love interest.  I didn’t buy that relationship at all.  However, in Act 2, he’s quite delicious as a seductive lounge singer splitting his attention between an angel played by Ms. Joshua and the devis played by Ms. Raghavan.  The strength of his voice came through in this act, and I finally saw a fully developed character!  The sultry lounge singer definitely sits better on his abilities than the sweet boss’s son fawning after a pop star (I know you’re prob confused, just hang with me).

And along with the ups also come a few downs.  Dan Posluns seriously disappointed in Act 1 with a voice rarely on pitch, and a very one-dimensional, dry acting performance.  However, in Act 2, his jewish business man character was rather well done and likable, so no idea why there was such an inconsistency in performance from one act to the other.

And finally, Matthew Lang, who you’ll remember I reviewed in Sweeney Todd had the same problems in this show that he’s had in every other show I’ve seen him in, only this one was worse as in addition to another one-dimensional performance where I saw him trying  so hard to ‘play’ the various roles he was cast in, he stumbled over line after line, and I’m not sure if it was nerves or lack of knowing his lines, but man he couldn’t get a sentence out smoothly to save his life.  His voice was weak throughout the entire show, more noticeable in Act 1 than Act 2.  Mr. Lang has more of a voice for classical musicals, so rock opera style just doesn’t sound good when he sings it.  And for all the honest, amazing performances going on around him from Mr. Duffy and Ms. Ingalls, both of whom gave him buckets of amazing stuff to work with, the light shone very brightly on how weak and flat Mr. Lang’s performance was as he awkwardly stumbles through this show.  Once again, I didn’t see one real moment from him, and he left me very disappointed.

Now, what do all these performances combine to make?  Well, Act 1 tells the tale of a unspecified-1world where advertising is against the law, and a creepy business man and sweet scientist have created a way for one average person to inhabit the robotic body of a superstar.  This is tested on homeless people, and this story focuses on a homeless woman named P. Burke who allows the sweet scientist to send her mind, heart and soul to transport into a stunning beauty named Delphi where she can have the world at her feet.  The goal is these robots wear a body lift bracelet that will entice consumers to want one and create profit for the company without actually advertising.  The boss’s son falls in love with the robot Delphi, and she falls in love back and tells him the truth and the entire secret robot embodiment/Avatar business is brought to a very ugly head.  For all the standing around of the audience, and all the running around of the cast, I felt that director Brendan Mack, assisted by Josh Moore pulled off an interesting concept, creative design and fantastic casting.  The costumes by Cherelle Ashby and Jonelle Cornwell were amazing!  The choreography left me a bit bored, but the dancing was minimal, so I wasn’t so worried about it.

unspecified-3Act 2 switches gears and tells the story of Kevin, a doctor working with his assistant Dan on virtual reality where suddenly a baby they didn’t create appears on the screen, and this baby grows into a young girl named Nola who can see and interact with Kevin and Dan.  She’s virtual, but can see, talk, and eventually touch them.  She ages by the hour and we follow Nola’s memories from young girl to teenager to young collegiate to wife and mother, to eventually learn she dies in a very painful childbirth.  As she grows, Kevin bonds on a deeper and deeper level with her, so much so that he begins neglecting his wife, Carol, in order to spend more time with Nola.  There’s a twist in this story where it turns our that Kevin in the reincarnated husband of Nola, and she’s come back from the afterlife to help him see that he needs to live his life more fully.  He needs to have children, cherish Carol, and be happy.  It’s a very lovely, touching story, and man, Ms. Ingalls is amazing as Nola.

My main complaint about this act is that randomly, suddenly, when Nola is a collegiate girl, Kevin is able to touch her.  He’s able to physically touch a hologram, and I don’t understand this choice.  I asked director Brendan Mack if that was part of the script, and he said no, it was a choice they made to allow the actors to fully interact.  Personally, it bugged me, because I think it would have been so much more impactful if, as the connection between Kevin and Nola deepens, the fact that they can’t touch would have increased the tension and raised the stakes.  And, given how good Ms. Ingalls was at depicting a few of her memories, if Mr. Lang wasn’t able to touch her, his strange reactions to her wouldn’t have muddied up the scene so much because he wouldn’t have been allowed to infiltrate her hauntingly beautiful moments with his mediocrity.

Other than that element though, this act was wonderful.  The story is heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.  It had the feel of Menken, with a Disney-esque happy ending after a few obstacles, and a few toe tapping songs that make you smile.

Overall, this was a really fun night of theatre, and I highly encourage you all to go see for yourself if you enjoy a bit of interactive theatre and don’t mind sort of being part of the show, because the stories are really interesting and the music is really good.

I give this a solid applause with a note to self to bust out my Ben Nye makeup for any 12366300_1040988085923039_8095817807704081999_nfuture STAGEright performances just in case I find myself part of the show!

Weird Romance plays through Feb 20 at the Hugo House on Capital Hill.  Tickets and showtimes can be found on STAGEright’s website.

Ciao for now,

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Le Sigh – Romeo et Juliette at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Ok, so I went to the ballet on Friday night.  The classical ballet company here in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Ballet, to see the ballet version of one of my favorite stories of all time: Romeo and Juliet.  Although, when purchasing tickets, I was quite surprised to see the title written in a French version of Romeo et Juliette, and that should have been my first clue that this would not be the story I know and love.  But my dumbass ignored that sign, and went to McCaw Hall expecting to be taken on an emotion filled journey of love and tragedy as only the two young lovers conjured out of Shakespeare’s imagination could take me.  And oh, how disappointed I was.

This piece takes place in two acts, with one intermission and a pause halfway through the second act.  FYI, there will be spoiler alerts to both story and design, so if you plan to go see this monstrosity to form your own opinion and want to be surprised, then stop reading now.

Anyway, back to this show, so the first act started out all kinds of weird.  Friar Laurence, danced by Miles Pertl starts the show with two acolytes dancing with him and starts the show as if remembering the story of Romeo et Juliette, with odd, jarring choreography that didn’t sit well on Mr. Pertl’s body.  One of the acolytes danced much stronger than him, so the casting seemed off right out the gate.

Then we move in to the street scene to introduce our hero, his two buddies Mercutio and Benvolio, as well as the antagonist, Tybalt.  This scene followed the standard story with the Capulets and Montagues picking at each other and provoking each other.  Although, in the dance world this was shown mostly through sad, pathetic shoving of each other.  Whether it was women shoving women, or men shoving men, the force of the shoves was laughable, the overacting of the ones being shoved made my eyes roll every time they ‘fell’ or ‘stumbled’, and yes I’m using quotes because it was that poorly acted.  There were no weapons to be seen on any of the men, no daggers or swords, which given the amount of falling down from everyone, I get that choice, but definitely foreshadowed problems to come within the story.

Romeo, danced by James Moore is introduced straight away, and while a beautiful man and a stunning dancer, I didn’t really feel a connection between him and his mates, although he did a nice job fawning over Rosaline, danced by Kylee Kitchens.  Although, Mercutio also seemed besotted with her, which isn’t part of the story, so that was odd to see. There was lots of shoving to get her attention, including from Tybalt who also seemed to be both protective of Rosaline as well as wanting her.  The choreography was uninteresting, repeats of steps over and over, and the energy seemed low for an opening night.  Ugh, just boring.

Eventually all the girl slapping and play fighting in the street ends, and we land in Juliette’s bedchamber where the Nurse, delightfully danced by Margaret Mullin was draped in the ugliest costume I’ve ever seen!  Ms. Mullin had wonderful acting chops, so she was somehow able to tell the story through this mammoth dress she was wearing, so good on her for that!  Couldn’t have been easy.

Here we meet the one who is supposed to be the leading lady of this show, Juliette, danced by the lovely Noelani Pantastico, and the actual leading lady of this show, Lady Capulet, danced by Laura Tisserand.  Seriously, Ms. Pantastico danced mere minutes in this entire scene compared to Lady Capulet, who had solo after solo in the opening scene.  Mama C slinked and slithered her sexy self around the stage, and I’m telling you, girlfriend didn’t know this show ain’t about her!

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Clearly the choreographer didn’t either, because the phrases created by Jean-Christophe Maillot let Ms. Tisserand dance foreeeeever throughout this scene, so I think he thinks this show is about Lady C as well.  Ugh.  Perhaps if they called it Lady Capulet, instead of Romeo et Juliette, I’d have liked it more!

Moving on, we get to the ball, the young lovers see each other, fall instantly in love, and try to continue to spend time together while party goers twist and turn about the stage getting in their way.  Tybalt, danced by Seth Orza, constantly interrupting, Mercutio, danced by Jonathan Porretta, constantly interrupting, and Rosaline just always kind of there creates the tension.  And how do they interrupt?  More shoving of course.  Bored!  So friggin bored!  And it went on forever!

And just when you think ok, we’re about to move on, nope Mama C is back on stage working her program with another solo.

Additionally, there were a lot of comedic moments in the whole first act, and it’s like, um, this is not a comedy.  It’s a tragic love story.  But there was a lot of sexual humor, the Nurse got it the worst.  A lot of groping of her breasts by Mercutio and Benvolio that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  There was similar behavior towards the women in the street scenes.  I didn’t get it, it just didn’t fit.

So enter the famous balcony scene, and by balcony I mean ramp.  There was a ramp that they elevated one end to create the ‘balcony’.  I didn’t hate this choice, but Romeo could actually reach Juliette, so it definitely didn’t create the feel that moment is supposed to have.  And finally the tragedy of the show reveals itself in the chemistry between Mr. Moore and Ms. Pantastico.  They had none.  Zero. Zilch.  I mean, both danced the show beautifully but I didn’t buy the relationship at all and could not connect to their journey at all.  Juliette had more chemistry with the Friar during their pas de deux than she did with Romeo.  Also, there was a lot more push and pull with these two, and in order for them to even get to the first kiss Juliette had to grab Romeo’s face and plant one on him, and even then he pulls away at first.  It was just weird all around.

We need to get to the wedding, and I can’t remember if this next part happened before or after the wedding, but I think before, but anyway, some genius decided to toss a puppet show in the middle of the ballet.  So, all the dancers in the street take a seat and watch a puppet show that literally tells the entire story of Romeo and Juliette all the way to everyone being dead.  Why?  Why was this necessary?  Why take up about 10mins or more on this stupid puppet show.  By this point, I’m so irritated, I can’t even tell you.

We eventually get to the wedding, and the Friar and acolytes are back, and the lack of chemistry still abounds between the young lovers.  They marry secretly, end up in the finally going to have some sex scene, and again, rather than let the audience into an honest, innocent moment of passion and connection, right as the young lovers sit on the triangular platform this is to be their marriage bed, they both sit up straight stare out at the audience, gasp as if they can see us, and quickly pull the covers up over their heads like a pair of 6 year olds at a slumber party.  Kill me now.

So the wedding has happened, and the dance goes on, blah blah blah, and we come to the scene where Mercutio and Tybalt die.  I’m thinking, how is this going to happen because again, there are no weapons anywhere in sight. Is Tybalt going to shove Mercutio to death?  The puppet show had a blunt bat like object, but that has yet to appear.  And just like that, the cast starts moving slow motion.  A random Capulet tosses Tybalt a blunt bat like object, and he hits Mercutio on the side of the head, killing him instantly.  Mmmmmkay, yeah, tough to suspend my disbelief on that one.  We continue in slow motion.  Romeo collapses onto Mercutio, giving silent scream after silent scream.  Seriously, there’s more passion in those screams from Romeo as he cradles Mercutio in his arms than any kiss he gave Juliette, just sayin’.

Eventually the silent screaming stops, and Romeo rushes for Tybalt.  And by rushes I mean moves in slow motion to chase him across the stage and up the ramp that used to be Juliette’s balcony.  He catches him mid-ramp, and gets him on his back and as his hands wrap around Tybalt’s neck, everything speeds up to normal speed and Romeo chokes the life out of Tybalt.  This is the most brutal, violent slaying of Tybalt I’ve ever seen in any production of R&J I’ve ever seen either as a play or as a ballet.  It was raw and gruesome, and given how boring the rest of the show was up to this point, I was ecstatic!  I truly believed Mr. Moore in that moment of passionate rage.  It was well staged and beautifully acted by both men, and it was great.  It is also the last of my compliments.

Guess who arrives on the scene to have her own set of silent screams?  Yep, Mama C is back, stealing any spotlight possible, and she was so in her moment, that when the music stopped, and she’s being dragged away from Tybalt’s body, you could hear her wailing.  And people, I was in the first balcony and could hear her.  It’s a ballet, girl, everything is supposed to be silent.  I applaud being in the moment, but get it together!

Let’s fast forward through a bit: Juliet finds out about Tybalt’s death, she’s mad at Romeo, he gets banished blah blah blah, she goes to the Friar for help, yadda yadda yadda, Friar has a plan, should include poison, it doesn’t, just some magic flick of his wrist or something, I don’t know, and poof! Juliette is ‘dead’ in the tomb.  And by tomb I mean another triangle shaped platform that is black, and she’s lying on it with her feet towards the bottom point.

Funeral processions starts, and Mama C arrives for another friggin solo.  Whipping her hair back and forth, milking the beautiful choreography, kicking her long stunning legs all over the place, without much acknowledgement of her daughter until the end.  She finally exits, and Romeo enters thinking Juliette’s dead.

Now, what should happen next , if they followed the story, is that Juliette appears dead, Romeo drinks potion to join her in death not knowing she’s only faking.  She wakes up, finds his ass dead, takes his dagger and stabs herself to join him in death.  That. Is. Not. What. Happened. Next.

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Instead, after more silent screaming by Romeo (Mr. Moore is quite good at these by the way), he eventually slowly backs away from Juliette all the way to the very corner of the downstage right side of the stage.  He’s so far down, he’s standing in the dark.  The music stops, and I’m thinking, “What the fuck is he doing?”  And suddenly the timpani drums begin to beat and this boy, with all the grace of a gazelle takes off running towards Juliette’s platform grave and friggin slides, penguin style sliding into the point of the triangle of the platform and impales himself and dies instantly on impact.

Yep, you read that right, I’ll give you a second to reread it to make sure you weren’t hallucinating.  The boy impaled himself on the set, people!!  Penguin style slide suicide! On the corner of that triangle in the pic above!  It happened!  And it was so stupid!  WTF?!?!?

And when that happened I though to myself, “Self…if he died by triangle platform set piece, how the hell is she going to die?  Cuz boyfriend does not have a dagger for her to have her ‘oh, happy dagger’ moment.”  Careful what you ask.

This chick wakes up, sees Romeo there on his face, impaled on the platform, rolls him off of it, pulls a piece of red fabric from what i can only guess is his dance belt, and pulls it up and away from him only to go upstage of him on the triangle platform, and strangle herself with the red fabric that, where it’s strategically placed looks like she’s choking herself out with Romeo’s lower intestine.  And the curtain drops.

I can’t.

I don’t know what I saw, but it was not good.  I was not entertained.  I was confused most of the time.  I was irritated by the costumes, the hideous, god awful costumes.  The set was creative and I didn’t mind the simplicity of it, but when Romeo impaled himself, penguin style, on to it, I just lost all respect for the creative team with the liberties they took with a pretty straight forward, hauntingly beautiful story.

My +1 for the night, not my beloved Random, but another friend said “I thought Romeo and Juliet was supposed to be sad.  That was trying to be funny, and instead was just laughably bad.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Shakespeare’s masterpiece ends with this line:  Never was there a tale of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo.  Well, for this ballet, I rewrite to say: Never was there a bigger miss and lie than PNB’s Romeo et Juliette…Le Sigh.

I give this a don’t even bother unless you want to see the story of Lady Capulet’s fantastic kicks, and laugh at the ridiculousness of Romeo impaling himself on a set piece and Juliette strangling herself with his lower intestine.  Other than those three moments, it was a waste of my time.

Ciao for now,

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How to Succeed in Theatre: The 5th Avenue’s How to Succeed in Business Has What It Takes

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

It has been a very long time since I went to the theatre and smiled the entire time!  I’ve always been a fan of the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, but given its 1960s campy nature and goofy storyline, it can be a cheesy mess from the first note if not done well.  And people, the 5th Avenue not only did this show well, they knocked it out of the friggin park!

Let’s start with the music, shall we?  I’ve said in numerous of my reviews of musicals, if you’re going to do a musical, the music better be good, and the music in this show is impeccable!  The orchestra is so on point, I even loved the overture!  And I hate overtures!  And the cast, every voice up there on an even keel of excellence, I don’t even know where to start.

Oh yes, I do, let’s start with the show’s leading character, J. Pierrepont Finch played by the delightful and adorable Eric Ankrim.  This kid!  This ridiculously talented kid stole my heart right out the gate.  He brings to life the ambitious Finch in the most captivating way.  The protagonist in this story, Finch is a window washer hellbent on climbing his way up the corporate ladder by following the rules of a book called How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the show follows his journey from the mailroom to the boardroom, and all the steps in between.  He’s cunning, calculating, creative, and downright charming all the way through.  You root for him whether you want to or not, whether he deserves it or not, you just want him to get everything he desires because he’s so damn likable!  Outstanding acting, the perfect tenor voice, and wonderful dancing, Mr. Ankrim is a triple threat, the likes of which I haven’t seen on a young male actor since I moved back to Seattle.  I loved him so much, that his performance alone has me already planning another trip to the 5th Avenue to see this again.  Bravo, Mr. Ankrim, I’m a huge fan of yours!  Bravo!

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Sarah Rose Davis and Eric Ankrin                                                                          Photo by Tracy Martin

The leading lady to our leading man is a lovely secretary named Rosemary Pilkington, played by the incomparable Sarah Rose Davis.  I’ve been watching Ms. David on stage since her Issaquah Kidstage days, and to this day she is my favorite Eponine I’ve ever seen live.  But I digress, Ms. Davis has blossomed into one hell of a performer, and everything she did on that stage blew me away!  Her voice, as angelic as ever, but with a grown up strength and professional finesse.  Her acting, perfectly on point with stupendous comedic timing, matching Mr. Ankrim beat for delicious beat.  Her dancing, delightful and playful, and also just downright likable.  You root for Rosemary as much as you root for Finch, and the emotional journey Ms. Davis takes us on through this show will have you giggling along with her, pining along with her, and hoping and praying she gets all that her heart desires.  There are actors, and then there are stars, and Ms. Davis is definitely a star.  Broadway better get ready, because I’ve no doubt that is where she is headed, and it will be so amazing to watch the journey.  Well done, young lady!  Bravo, and thank you for an amazing night of theatre!

I could gush about each individual cast member in this show, which would keep you reading forever, so let me just say that all around the cast was phenomenal.  Each character fully developed from the CEO to mailroom boy to the left and everyone in between, each dance step perfectly danced, each note right on pitch.  They all worked together beautifully to bring this world to life.  I had so much fun!  Bravo to the entire ensemble!

 

But before I move on to the design and direction, I do have to call out one other performance that blew my friggin mind!  Hedy LaRue played by Jessica Skerritt.  People!

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Jessica Skerritt (center  in green) as Hedy LaRue        Photo by Tracy Martin

People!  People!  This chick’s acting chops, I can’t!  I just can’t!  She’s soooooooooo friggin good!  And I apologize for not being more eloquent, but there aren’t words for how amazing she is in this role.  And having just seen Ms. Skerritt in the Sound of Music in December, well, seeing her go from an Austrian Baroness to a mistress-extraordinaire both played beautifully, the range on this superb actress is just astounding.  She’s a true chameleon, and she stole this show for me.  Good on her for taking the risks she took with this role, for her commitment to this wonderful character, and for making me long to be tall with legs for days!  I’m such a fan of Ms. Skerritt’s and will go see anything and everything she is in, cuz wow!  Just simply wow!

Now, on to the design…every element was as impeccable and perfect as the cast!  The How_to_Succeed_06_Sarah_Rose_Davis_Eric_Ankrim_and_Sarah_Rudinoff_credit_Tracy_Martin-600x400costumes, so period perfect, so wonderfully constructed, each new piece was better than the ones before.  The specifics that costumer Rose Pederson created in these pieces, from the specific color choices per character (Rosemary’s pink dresses were absolutely stunning), to the uniformity of the executives, to the flirtatious frocks of Ms. LaRue were absolutely dazzling.

The set design was a-maz-ing!  Color blocks of panels moving through the space as if choreographed along with the cast created a kaleidoscope of a world that kept me on the edge of my seat.  How would it move next?  Oh my god, that panel opens!?!?  What?  No it did not just slide that way!  Yeah, that’s how my brain went throughout this show overtime there was a scene shift.  I am so impressed with what scenic designers Tom Sturge and David Sumner pulled off for this show.  Bravo, fellas, bravo!

A show this big needs a solid director at the helm, and Mr. Bill Berry did a brilliant job with this show.  He cast it perfectly, staged it brilliantly, and clearly spent quite a bit of time on character development with each actor, because no matter if the stage only held Finch and Rosemary or if the entire cast was dancing and singing about the Brotherhood of Man, each actor on that stage was so clear in their intentions and character choices, that I was highly, highly impressed.  Mr. Berry’s concept for the show was crystal clear, he didn’t fudge with the script or try to make it something it wasn’t.  He embraced this Mad Men-esque world, and brought to life a fun-filled, lively show that anyone who sees it will leave with a smile on their face, and a song in their heart.  I know I was randomly just singing “Roooooooosemary” for at least a week afterwards.  Wonderful!  Outstanding!  Well done, Sir!

And much like Mr. Ankrim and Ms. Davis complimenting each other, so Mr. Berry’s perfect counterpart was music director Dan Pardo.  As stated above, Mr. Pardo’s music direction was fantastic!  Everything musical was perfect, every single note!

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How to Succeed in Business Ensemble                      Photo by Mark Kitaoka

And I save the best for last, because the choreography!  OH!  The wonderful, beautiful, fun, feisty, fantastic choreography done by Bob Richard!  I. LOVED. IT!  Mr. Richard did the one thing I’ve been yearning for in a show: a choreographer who uses the talent of his dancers to the best of their ability.  Were there tap sequences?  Yes! But only by the dancers who could tap his combinations.  Were there complicated jazz sequences? Yes! But the strong jazz dancers.  And when the whole cast was moving on the stage, the choreography was perfectly suited for every dancer up there!  My favorite numbers were both in Act II.  Cinderella, Darling and Brotherhood of Man took a tie for gold for the best in the show.  Thank you for a wonderful show, Mr. Richard!

This show had so many ups, and the few down weren’t really downs, but perhaps nerves at the top of the show that fizzled and died quickly as this highly skilled cast leaned into each other to pull off one of the best night’s of theatre I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Congratulations to the cast, crew, and creative team of How to Succeed!  You earned the rousing standing ovation you got the night I was there by the entire audience, and will enjoy, I’ve no doubt a standing ovation every night for the rest of the run.  Bravo!

I give this a thunderous applause and a very stern direction to all who read this to get thee1516_H2S_PageHeader_783x340 to the 5th Avenue Theatre and see this show before it closes on Feb 21!

Tickets and showtimes can be found on the 5th Avenue’s Website.

Ciao for now,

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