I Want to be a Yee!! ACT Theatre’s King of the Yees is a Downright, Fantastic Night of Theatre

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

Ok, People, we gotta talk right now about the current show going up at ACT Theatre:  King of the Yees.  This show, oh, this gloriously hilarious show is filled with outstanding writing, phenomenal acting, and wonderful design.  It was downright fun from the ‘turn off your cell phone’ message to the last blackout.  I cannot recommend you go see this show strongly enough!  GO SEE IT!

And let me get into a little more detail as to why you should go see it without giving too much away.  Let’s start with the design.  Set in the wonderful Allen Theatre, this show is done in the round.  And I love shows in the round, it’s such a fun challenge for Actors and Creative Team Members alike, and the Creative Team killed it for this production.  Carey Wong’s (I love that he’s a Wong, and you will have to go see the show to know why!) smart and simple set design used not only the stage beautifully, but the entire theatre with finesse.  Brilliantly done props and expertly using the space’s fly system, Mr. Wong created a some-what black box space for the actors to simply act without a lot of things in their way, and it definitely added to the complexity of this play.  Mr. Wong understands space in the most beautiful way, and I really loved what he did with this show.

Ancestor1Christine Tschirgi’s costumes were in a word, epic!  From her modern dress to her outlandish creative pieces, she dressed each character perfectly!  Each new character who joined the show had a look and style all their own, each so clearly defined, that you really did lose the actor playing, and just saw the character.  And is there any better compliment to give?  I could gush about the brilliance of Ms. Tschirgi’s work, but if I did, I’d give too much away, and I really want you to go see this show.  Ok, one teaser – Miami Vice meets Bubble Tea!  GO!

Sound and lighting also played a big part in this show, and both were expertly designed, and my kudos go out to Brendan Patrick Hogan and Jessica Trundy for the wonderful job!  All in all the tech was just outstanding in this show, and any actor will tell you, without good tech as your foundation, an actor can’t relax and be in the moment, and the tech in this show was stellar from start to finish!  Bravo!

Now, let’s talk about this cast, shall we?  A small cast of only five actors, these artists take character development to new heights.  Each one so nuanced and clear, I was mesmerized by the transitions from one to the next from every actor in this cast.

Lauren Yee, played by Khanh Doan, was so wonderful and dynamic in the way she seamlessly anchors this play.  The only actor to only play one character, her performance in this show was both uplifting and inspiring.  She takes a journey that any child who struggles with finding balance between the life you want for yourself and the life your parents’ want for you has had, and she did so with outstanding grace and respect.

Larry YeeStan Egl as Larry Yee, the title character, gave us so much fun loving dad stuff, that he had me and my friends in the palm of his hand.  He was goofy and delightful, and gave both my funny bone and my heart strings a workout during his performance.

Rounding out the cast are Actors 1, 2, and 3, with 2 and 3 played by Annelih GH Hamilton and Joseph Ngo respectfully and both had some epic characters to play!  Ms. Hamilton, fearless in her attack of the numerous characters she plays in this show, I found her charisma addictively hysterical.  She really took all the good stuff her fellow actors were doing and played off of them beautifully.  Mr. Ngo had extremely dynamic shifts from one character to the next, and had one of my most favorite moments of the night with some footwear that, honey, I don’t know how he did it, but he did the damn thing in those! No two characters for these two actors were anywhere near each other, and I applaud them both for their impeccable character development and commitment to seamlessly transitioning from one to the next.  Bravo!

But let me just talk to you, right quick, about the genius that is Ray Tagavilla, Actor 1, in this show.  Now, some might call me biased, as I went to UW with Ray, and have been witness to his genius for sometime (you’ll remember me gushing about him in my review of Four Dogs and a Bone at Theatre Schmeater a few years ago), and to those people I say, ‘If you think I’m biased, you’ve clearly never seen Mr. Tagavilla on stage, because if you had, you’d know, I’m not biased, I just speak the truth.’  Cuz, oooooooooooooooo, did he kill it in this show!  Mr. Tagavilla’s comedic timing is something that has always blown my mind, and in this show, oh my god, it’s on a whole new level.  The way that he is able to sink so deeply into the character he is playing, that every small gesture specific to that character, and that character alone, is absolutely mesmerizing.  I brought five friends with me to this, and at both intermission and after the show, they just kept asking me, “How does he do that?  How does he just shift so quickly from one character to another like that?”  Answer: Training and Talent!  And Mr. Tagavilla has both running through his veins.  He gained five new fans with this performance, and nothing warmed my heart more than when my friends said “Let us know the next time Ray is in a show, because we are there!”

I’m always proud of Ray when I have the joy of watching him on stage, am always mesmerized by what a truly phenomenal actor he is, and love him in comedic roles more than anything because his timing is absolute perfection, but this show in particular, these characters that he brought to life, really impressed the hell out of me.  Bravo, my amazing friend!!  Thank you for bringing the thunder with this performance, for your epic character development, and for pulling audiences into the story in the way that only you can.  You know, through talent, and training, and bedazzling prop work, and most of all through the delicious, yet arduous task of sipping on some bubble tea.  Oh, those chewy bubbles!

Lauren Yee1Seriously, though, these actors are no joke, and are expertly directed by Desdemona Chiang.  She truly created a space for actors to play, and the way she brought the real Lauren Yee’s words to life was delightful and thought provoking.  Her staging in the challenging round theatre was fantastically simple, and allowed for the actors to just listen to each other and lean in to each other, and create real, powerful moments on stage.  Some will leave you dying laughing.  Some will leave you thinking about your relationships with your own heritage.  And for this theatre lover, it left me so damn proud that I live in a city filled with such talented people, and theatres that invest in such good work, where my talented friends can share their gifts with the world.  But I guarantee, whoever you are, this show will leave you wanting to be a Yee!

This is not a show to miss, I’m telling you.  Go see it!  Take friends.  Take family.  Take everybody!  But there isn’t much time left, as the show closes on Oct 1, so go get tickets now.  RIGHT NOW!

Tickets and show information can be found on ACT Theatre’s Website.

Thank  you all for an amazing night of theatre that I’ll not soon forget!  Bravo to everyone involved in this show, you really have created something special!

Ciao for now,

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UW’s Loot Let Me Down

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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I don’t know if it’s the fact that the last few shows I’ve seen at UW were spectacular; I don’t know if it’s that I’ve been so impressed with the acting chops of the current grad students at UW; but either my expectations were too high for this show or I caught the cast on a bad night, because I was absolutely underwhelmed by the opening night performance of Loot at the University of Washington.

Given that two of my current favorite young actors, Skye Edwards and Zack Virden, both of whom I have raved about in my reviews of Bus Stop and Pippin, I was so excited to see them back on stage together again, and in a farce, no less!

I’m a big fan of British Farce, and of the Playwright, Joe Orton, so to me, this was a match made in heaven, given the chameleon-esque quality of the current talent within the PATP at UW.  But sadly, the night I saw the show, it was flop after flop.

For those of you who don’t know Loot, it’s a whimsical, albeit dark farce set in the home of Mr. McLeavy, who has just lost his wife, and is a pillar in the Catholic community.  The play opens between the time of viewing the body of the late Mrs. McLeavy, and getting her to the burial site.  While this should be a time of mourning, Orton throws his audience into a whirlwind of over the top ridiculousness by way of Hal (son of Mr. & Mrs. McLeavy) and Dennis (Hal’s friend/lover) who have recently robbed a bank, and have to find a way to hide their loot, all while under the skeptical/investigative gaze of Nurse Fay (former nurse of Mrs. McLeavy, hoping to become the next Mrs. McLeavy) and Inspector Truscott (claims to be from the water board, but is clearly a police detective from, I think, Scotland?).  Let the mayhem ensue.

AUW - Loot 3

While there was mayhem, the direction was so spazzy, the blocking so unnecessary in so many places, and the poor actors trying to commit so fully to it, there was very little entertainment.  I was completely bored out of my mind, actually.  I also reviewed Director, Sean Ryan’s work on Bus Stop, and was less than thrilled by his work there.  I had hoped he had improved since then, but I found the same faults with his concept of this show as I did with Bus Stop:  strange blocking, awkward character choices, laughable/unrealistic fight scenes, and overall weak concept. For all his love of farce called out in the director’s notes in the program, the superficial-one-note characters that I watched awkwardly move around that stage told me doesn’t truly understand farce.  To like farce is not enough to successfully bring one to life, and Mr. Ryan did not successfully pull one off, in my opinion, the night I saw Loot.

My biggest complaint is twofold: character development and accents.  I didn’t believe one relationship on that stage, it was so bizarre!  And with the awkward blocking, there were many times where it felt like the actors 1) didn’t know where they were supposed to be and 2) were not even remotely connected to what they were saying, let alone each other.  And for the latter, I’m wondering if it’s because they were all focusing on their accents, only one of which felt natural.

Mr. McLeavy, played by John Murray had a very convincing easy British accent.  Nurse Fay’s (played by Jess Moss) and Hal McLeavy’s (played by Zach Virden) accents went in and out quite a bit, and shifted from different versions of British (cockney one moment, high brow London the next, etc.), and it was quite tough to listen throughout the first act.  And Inspector Truscott (played by Skye Edwards) was, I think, supposed to be Scottish, although at times he sounded Russian and then would slide up into Irish now and again.  And unfortunately for Mr. Edwards, I’ve been watching a lot of Outlander lately, so I have Scottish accents burned into my brain right now, and his was nowhere near consistently correct.

Character development also left me disappointed, especially for the roles of Hal and Nurse Fay.  Ms. Moss was Maria in Twelfth Night, and was brilliant!  And we all know Mr. Virden was my favorite thing in Pippin!  So I know these two actors are phenomenal at character development and commitment, but they both left me underwhelmed in this show.  Mr. Virden’s Hal was clearly a gay character, and he was playing him sporadically over the top.  So, there were flouncing moments that looked forced and fake, which puzzled me, because trust me, Mr. Virden is a brilliant physical actor!  But this role did not showcase his talent well at all.  Ms. Moss’s Nurse Fay, who is supposed to be the object of desire of a few men in this show had the most one note performance I’ve seen in a while, which again, goes seriously against the layers of depth I know Ms. Moss is capable of as an actor.  Based on what I know of the talent of these two young actors, I can only lay the blame at the feet of their director.  Were they under rehearsed?  Were they not clear on the characters?  Did they not dig deep into these relationships during rehearsal?  I don’t know, it just didn’t work. And it was quite telling by the very few laughs the audience dolled out during this show, the most obvious and awkward of which was a scene where Ms. Moss is undressing the corpse of Mrs. McLeavy behind a screen, tossing her clothes over to Mr. Virden who is doing a ridiculously long monologue while holding up the female garments to himself and acting effeminate in a completely unrealistic way that just left the audience silent because it was so odd.

I will give major kudos to the designers on this show, however, as the set and costumes were fantastic!  I also really enjoyed the lighting, although the tech was a bit wonky, what with lights coming on prior to the actor’s actually getting to the light switch.  I’m guessing a newbie board op had an itchy go-button finger on opening night.

I was so bored and irritated, that I left at intermission.  However, I’ve seen that some folks are raving about the show, so perhaps I just caught Loot on a bad night.

I give this a blah, underwhelmed sigh that would have had me leaving in a blackout, had there been one at all in the first act. Since there wasn’t I suffered until intermission.

Loot plays for one more weekend, and show times and ticket information can be found on the UW School of Drama’s website.

Ciao for now,

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Photos from UW School of Drama Website

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

Review: Bootycandy at Intiman Theatre in Seattle, WA

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the Alhadeff Studio behind the Cornish Theatre for Industry Night of The Intiman Theatre’s production of  Bootycandy.  There is not a bad seat in the intimate black box space, the small cast has names I already know and am impressed with, and coming off of how good the last show was that I saw at the Intiman (Orpheus Descending, and it was glorious!), I had high hopes for a good night of theatre.  And, oh, was I right!

11178355_10153708631987578_1616562143855765840_nBootycandy follows a cast of characters, held together by the journey of Sutter, played by the ridiculously talented Tyler Trerise, as they shift back and forth through a conglomeration of multi-faceted, multi-dimensional scenes, one more scintillating than the next.  This ensemble, these brilliant masters of the stage, these actors brought to life so many amazingly real, complex, and honest characters, navigating real, complex and honest moments, that my actor’s heart was so full by the end, I jumped to my feet and cheered for their success!  I laughed, I cried, I laughed so hard I cried, I was shocked, and I was awed, and as the show goes on, so does the brave choices of this phenomenal ensemble.  You must go see this show.

In addition to Mr. Trerise, the rest of the ensemble play so many characters, there are too many to list in the program.  Cited in the program as simply Actor One, Actor Two, Actor Three, Actor Four, Angel Brice, Rebecca M. Davis, Chris Ensweiler, and Isaiah Johnson friggin blew my mind with every new character they brought to life.  I don’t want to go into detail, because I don’t want to ruin even one moment of discovery for any of you who have the privilege of seeing this amazing show!  I will just congratulate all the artists bringing this story to life for their honesty, their commitment to every character, and their bravery to sink so selflessly into these relationships.  What they were able to do with this sensational script, well frankly, there are just not enough words for how beautifully they performed it.  Let’s just say that I am forever changed after seeing this show.

Malika Oyetimein, Director

Malika Oyetimein, Director

A show this complex, this authentically open, needs a strong hand at the helm, guiding it towards excellence, and director Malika Oyetimein’s grip was firm and steady on this production.  I came in to this a fan of Ms. Oyetimein’s, as I saw her directing project of Bus Stop at the University of Washington, and was spellbound by her direction of that show.  As a proud alumni of the University of Washington’s acting program, to see the talent that is still coming out of my alma mater makes me so happy, because she is killing it out there!  Her strong concepts and ability to pull performances from performers, as well as her ability to perfectly cast shows are quickly becoming her trademarks.  I cannot wait to see her next project.  She’s a director to watch!  Bravo!

Brilliantly costumed, stunningly lit, and perfectly staged, the design team was on point!  They created a simplistic, yet accurate world for this amazing ensemble to play upon, and all elements came together perfectly!

When it comes to good theatre, the Intiman was my go-to back in the day, and I have always had immense respect for this theatre, especially when they paused for a moment to take a breath and regroup in 2011.  I must say, after the last two shows I’ve seen, clearly that was the right decision, because under the Producing Artistic Direction of Andrew Russell, all I can say is, The Intiman is back, y’all!!!  His ability to bring artists together to create great art is a wonder to behold.  And you really should go see this show to fully experience the sheer brilliance that is happening in a little black box theatre in the Seattle Center.

BC_600x315_WebBootycandy runs through October 3rd, and tickets and show information
can be found on the Intiman’s Website.  Please go support this wonderful local theatre, because the art they are putting out is fantastic!

I give Bootycandy a resounding standing ovation and a Yassssss, honey!  Bravo!!!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos from the Intiman’s Facebook page and the University of Washington School of Drama website.  

Review: Sweeney Todd at Renton Civic Theatre

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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In going to see Sweeney Todd at Renton Civic Theatre, I was already at a disadvantage because the only exposure I’d ever had to this show was the Johnny Depp movie that I neither enjoyed, nor finished.  I knew the story well enough, had heard the hits from the show, but it is just not the type of musical I enjoy, and I think it’s because in order to really enjoy Sweeney, one must enjoy an operatic sound, and I do not.  So, to review it is tough, because I now know it’s just not a show I enjoy, so I think I’ll focus on the elements of the show and look at it with a technical eye.

Let’s start with the successes first.  There is some serious talent in this cast, primarily the three main adult characters in the show.  Let’s start with the title character, shall we?  Sweeney Todd, played by the fantastic Brian Lange was absolutely stellar.  Mr. Lange’s voice is perfect for this role, and his physicality and ability to create dark and vengeful moments made him the perfect Sweeney.  Costumed to look very much like the Johnny Depp movie version, Mr. Lange’s tall, slim frame really added to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’s edge.  He was menacing and wounded at the same time, and was the absolute anchor of this show.  His presence and ability to sink his teeth into this tortured soul made everyone in scenes with him better, and I was extremely impressed by his performance.

And the yin to Sweeney Todd’s yang, is of course Mrs. Lovett, played by Rachel Wilkie.  Cunning, manipulative, and quirky, Ms. Wilkie brought to life a delightful Mrs. Lovett.  She had wonderful chemistry with Mr. Lange, and gave a vibrant zest for life which beautifully juxtaposed Mr. Lange’s constant melancholy.  A little sprite of a thing, Ms. Wilkie flitted and floated around the stage with a Puck-esque mischief state at all times, and I really enjoyed her.  Spot on cockney accent, on-point comedic timing, and a wonderful energy on stage, she was definitely the life of the show.

Lastly, the third point to the main adult character triangle is Judge Turpin, played by the delicious Brian Pucheu.  Judge Turpin is a despicable human being, one who made this reviewer’s face grimace with disgust on numerous occasions, because Mr. Pucheu pulls absolutely no punches.  He doesn’t hold back, he commits fully to the many dimensions of this character, making every moment from fawning over Johanna to self deprecating flogging real and tactile, so much that you feel it all, even from the back row where I sat. (And honestly, even if you don’t like opera, you should check out this show just for the flogging scene because, good God is it breath taking!)  Mr. Pucheu unapologetically travels through the Judge’s journey, and is so phenomenal at making him human, that I had moments of really liking the Judge and almost, not quite, but almost understanding and sympathizing with his side of things.  Judge Turpin is the law in all the land, both inside and outside his home, so when that control starts to crumble around him, Mr. Pucheu’s ability to take us on that journey was sensational to watch.  To constantly flirt with the line between judge and deviant so seamlessly, with so much humanity simply made my actor’s heart soar.  This is one brave actor, and I am very much looking forward to seeing him on stage in the future.  Bravo!

Mirroring the trio of adults is a trio of young adult characters, and sadly these three weren’t as strong.  The best performance of the three, in my opinion, was Tobias Ragg, played by Nick Hyett-Schnell.  Mr. Hyett-Schnell’s Toby was adorably sweet and naive, with strong physicality and a lovely voice.  Mr. Hyett-Shnell’s ‘Not While I’m Around’ was so perfect, it brought tears to my eyes it was so honest and touching.  Mr. Hyett-Schnell’s performance only fell short for me in two areas, the first of which is that his cockney accent went in and out, and was jarringly noticeable.  Secondly, there are few panic moments for Toby, and only one of them felt honest and true and big enough for the circumstances of the scenes.  You’ll remember that Mr. Hyett-Schnell is a former acting student of mine, as I reviewed his directorial debut of The Addams Family back in July.  So, I have higher expectations of this kid than everyone else up on that stage, and not only did he not disappoint, he made me so very proud.

The other two children are the young lovers of Johanna and Anthony, played by Shelly Traverse and Matt Lang, and I didn’t care for the performances from either of these actors.  While they were both vocally strong, and sang well, their acting was no where near the level of the rest of the cast around them.  Ms. Traverse had a very strange smile on her face the entire first act that didn’t make any sense based on the lines she was delivering.  The smile had no connection to the acting moments, as if her voice and her face were in two different moments, and it was really disappointing because it made it difficult to watch her.  There’s a moment where the Judge tells her he’s going to marry her, and against Mr. Pucheu’s ridiculous ability to be authentic and terrifyingly creepy, Ms. Traverse’s Stepford wife smile as she realized what he was doing made no sense.

Additionally, Mr. Lang, while a lovely tenor, moves awkwardly on stage, creating a kind of characature rather than a real person making it almost impossible to connect with Anthony.  There’s a tension, and uncertainty to his movement around the stage, and he appears to be trying so hard to ‘play’ Anthony, that I never believed anything Anthony had to say in this show.  Like Mr. Hyett-Schnell, Mr. Lang’s British accent goes in and out and doesn’t sound natural.  There’s a duet with Anthony and Johanna, where his accent was absolutely non-existent, and the lack of chemistry between these two actors made the scene simply painful to watch.  The adult leads in this show effortlessly created very real multi-dimensional characters having real moments throughout the show, and sadly for these two young actors, that contrast really shined a light on how one-dimensional and weak their acting performances were, making it tough to care about their journey to each other.

The concept of the show by director, Vincent Orduña was a strong one.  He definitely created a fun playground for his actors to run around on (and I do mean run around, these actors are up and down staircases constantly!). He had quite a challenging show to do in a small community theatre, as well as the challenge of how difficult this show is musically.  There was a lot of just standing and singing, which I appreciate!  Mr. Orduña understands the beauty of a still picture to just let actors be and sing, the most successful for of which was during Pretty Women, where Mr. Lange and Mr. Pucheu were in a tableau with Sweeney standing behind the Judge, who was seated in the Barber’s chair; a stunning moment, both visually and vocally.  My only criticism was the varied use of British accents, cockney or otherwise, when they clearly weren’t working.  Mr. Lange never used an accent as Sweeney, Mrs. Lovett’s accent was perfection, and so I wish all accents had been pulled from everyone except for those who could do it consistently and naturally.

And speaking of vocally, I was extremely impressed by the vocals on the entire cast.  Music Director, Aimee Hong did a fantastic job of utilizing the voices in her ensemble to make the sound of this highly complicated score full and strong. I especially enjoyed the opening Ballad of Sweeney Todd, as it set the tone for the rest of the show.  The pacing was quite good, especially given a show this long and complicated. As I said, that operatic sound doesn’t resonate with me as something I enjoy, but I can very much respect the caliber of the vocal performances of this show, led by Ms. Hong. Well done.

Design elements were also strong!  While the set design was a bit clunky, it was built beautifully, the star of which was the barber’s chair!  OH!  This piece of brilliance was clearly constructed for this show and this set, and I give a huge congratulations to Scott Shaver for creating this masterpiece!  Bravo!  Loved it!  Mr. Lange had to have just been thrilled to use it!

The costumes were fantastic as well.  The show had the feel of Tim Burton’s film with both costumes and make-up, but I’m not mad about it, because it worked!  My one confusion was at the end, the wig Toby suddenly has on didn’t make sense to me.  I understood it in the beginning of the show, but it made no sense at the end.

My favorite costumes, however, were Mrs. Lovett’s, especially her opening number skirt that looked like a crocheted blanked my grandmother had when I was little.  Bustled beautifully, full of rusty colors of oranges and golds, it just popped against the dreary grey of Mr. Todd.  The entire cast was costumed and made up exactly as folks in 19th Century London would look.  Some of the best costuming I’ve seen in a while, so I give congratulations to Courtney Kessler for her vision.

Overall, Sweeney Todd is a good show, and it’s heads and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen at Renton Civic Theatre, well, ever.  They should be very grateful that Mr. Orduña upped the level of production for their space, because it truly was a 180 from The Boy Friend, and I chalk that up to a better vision and direction, as well as an understanding of utilizing performers strengths so that every actor up on that stage was set up for success.  I was worried about coming back to RCT after the Boy Friend experience, but given how well this production was done, I will definitely be back, especially when Mr. Orduña is at the helm.

If you’re a fan of Sweeney Todd, like operatic-style musical theatre, or just appreciate strong vocals, you should definitely see this show.  It’s very well done from start to finish.  You know it has to be a quality of show for me to recommend seeing it even though I don’t like the style.

11053513_10153587882668708_570959848608434253_oSweeney Todd runs at Renton Civic Theatre through October 3rd, and ticket and show time information can be found on RCT’s website.

I give this an appreciative applause for a job well done.

Ciao for now

M lg

A YETI Takes on a Bat Boy…Hmmmmmm

play review, Theatre Review

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I love youth theatre, let’s start there.  I, myself, worked on a summer teen musical program for a decade, coaching and mentoring young actors to explore life on the stage, so I was highly intrigued to check out a new youth theatre in Seattle with an interesting acronym: YETI.  The Youth Experimental Theatre Institute was taking on a production of Bat Boy, The Musical, and that combo seemed like an interesting undertaking by young people, as the themes of this show are quite mature.

If you don’t know the show, the premise is based off a story from 1992 about a half bat/half human child who grew up in a cave.  The musical, written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with music by Laurence O’Keefe takes the story to the small town of Hope Falls, West Virginia where the bat boy is found, taken in by the family of the town veterinarian and has the conflicting experience of being welcomed with open arms by the vet’s family and yet scorned and hated by the rest of the town to the point of being blamed for all that is wrong with their lives.  This contradiction in existence is compounded by the fact that bat boy bit a local girl when she and her siblings cornered him in his cave and that the wife of the vet seems to love bat boy more than she loves her husband breeding hate and hostility from the only man who truly understands the needs of this boy.

It’s a complex story, that also includes the themes of discrimination, prejudice and accepting the ‘beast that lives inside of us all.’  It also brings into play majorly mature elements such as loss of virginity and rape (not in the same scene, thankfully), however, it is told with weak music, and an even weaker book.  The writers attempt to mask these mature themes with humor, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing.  So with a less than stellar script and score, it would take a seriously strong production to make this show tolerable, let alone successful.  And I would say YETI fell somewhere in between the two.

I understood what director Kyle Marshall was going for with his bare bones 11731673_958128057581922_796787948496479087_oproduction. There was minimal set, basic costumes, and limited blocking and movement.  He was clearly trying to put the audience’s focus on the actual story.  This was not a successful choice when it came to the ensemble portion of the cast, as these kids were all varying levels of talent, especially vocal talent, so without strong design elements around them, it shone a spotlight onto the struggles of certain cast members and that was tough to watch.

However, Mr. Marshall’s concept did work well during scenes with bat boy, played by Will Hamilton, and the women in Dr. Parker’s (the vet) family.  His wife, Meredith, played by Sarah Fairchild, and daughter, Shelley, played by Hannah Conradt, were able to really thrive in this type of minimalist production. The voices on all three of these performers were strong and stunning.  Ms. Fairchild has one of the best young voices I’ve heard in a long time.  And her line delivery and ability to take us on Mrs. Parker’s journey was refreshing and fantastic, given that she has some of the most ridiculous lines to say.  From her bio, it appears she is a UW student, and as an alumni of the UW’s School of Drama, I have to say, she is doing my alma mater proud!  Bravo!

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Additionally, Ms. Conradt was adorable and vocally brilliant in this show.  She is the innocence in the show, and her chemistry with Mr. Hamilton was lovely to see.  She’s a very talented musician with strong acting chops.  She is also credited as the costume designer, and I must say her simple costumes were spot on with Mr. Marshall’s direction concept and they worked brilliantly!

The star of this show was also my favorite performance of the night.  Mr. Hamilton was absolutely delightful and heartbreaking as bat boy.  His physicality and ability to stay in 11036213_954717627922965_6472735534035482448_oeach moment as if it were the first time he experienced it showed a maturity in his craft that I wasn’t expecting from a recent high school graduate.  I see he is attending Cornish in the fall, and they are lucky to have him!  I can’t wait to see future performances from Mr. Hamilton, as based on this wonderful performance in a silly show that kept this judgmental reviewer both engaged and impressed, well, that’s rare, and you all know it!  I expect to see great things from this young man!  Well done, Sir!

For all of the success of Mr. Marshall’s direction, sadly there was as much failure with the music.  Music direction by Alex Sanchez needed some serious tightening up.  The program cited Mr. Sanchez as the keyboard player, and I’m wondering if there was someone new playing last night, because the keyboard was late and behind the singer on numerous occasions, making me wonder if it was his first night with the music.  At two specific moments the actor just started singing a cappella, and from my seat, I could see the rest of the band staring at the keyboardist, silently urging him to start accompanying.  And if this was Mr. Sanchez, well that is really quite disappointing as he’s the music director.  It was distracting and frustrating for the audience.  Can’t imagine how it was for the cast.

Additionally, the vocals of the cast were inconsistent and flat most of the time.  Certain cast members were singing so loud, it messed up the arrangements of the group numbers, and others sang so softly during their solos that I couldn’t hear them from my back row seat.  And that’s sad when there are only 4 rows of seats.  Mr. Hamilton’s voice was quite raw and weak, telling me he’d pushed too hard during tech week, and other than a few ensemble members, most of the cast seemed unsure about the music. This was especially painful during certain rap-esque songs, as the cast member was off the music, and I honestly couldn’t tell you who was off (the singer or the band) because it was so messy.

I applaud young people wanting to make their own art.  I encourage it and will support it, and I’m excited to have found YETI.  Overall, I enjoyed this production, and enjoyed my experience with YETI.  I would encourage the leadership of YETI, however, to seek out mentors for ambitious projects like this.  Had there been a conductor for the band, it would have helped the issues a lot.  Had there been a seasoned music director, he/she may have been able to teach the music to the cast more successfully, which would raise the production value of the show.  If you’re going to do a musical, the music HAS to be good.  Period.

Also, a more experienced director could have helped Mr. Marshall tighten up the inconsistencies in performances so that the entire cast gave strong performances, and not just his leads.  And they may have also strongly suggested that the gender-flipping of certain characters wouldn’t work.  The only place this worked was the character of Mrs. Taylor, played by Michael Lacker.  That was a great choice by Mr. Marshall.  But the others, no, they didn’t work well at all.  I realize it’s the new hip thing to do/try in productions, but I wish Mr. Marshall had pulled back this idea, and streamlined it to only Mrs. Taylor. And lastly, the mature concepts of sex and rape were done innocently and tastefully, by Mr. Marshall.  However, the impact of those scenes came off quite lame and weak, which was painful because the script around those moments calls for something with more of a punch, and I think working with an older director with more life and directing experience would have helped Mr. Marshall stretch his director’s eye a bit, as well as would have challenged his actors to create a stronger, more impactful moment of truth for the story. The same is true for the fight choreography in the show.  Just needs stronger knowledge behind those moments to help bring them to life more successfully.

11692660_952666518128076_8381874806195803565_nOverall, these kids should be proud of themselves for a fun production, and hopefully learn from the things that didn’t quite work to make their next endeavor that much more successful.  YETI’s Bat Boy, the Musical only plays this weekend, closing on Sunday.  Show and ticket information can be found on their website.

This one gets a quick applause, and then head to the bar for a drink.

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos from YETI’s website and Facebook Page

I got Dirty at ACT and It Was Glorious!

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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Dirty, Co-Presented by A Contemporary Theatre and Washington Ensemble Theatre, in Seattle, WA was a night of theatre I will not soon forget!  It was brave and bold, and the impact of the story sneaks up on you in the most subtle and seductive way, and when it finally hits you, you are rocked to your core!

This play tells the story of Matt Barnes, an investment guy who transitions his life from elevated loan shark to owner of his own porn website all in the name of bringing some ‘good’ morality to the porn industry.  Matt’s goal is to provide an option to porn lovers that neither degrades women, nor exploits violence against women, but instead uses age appropriate actors in passionate scenes.  In addition to providing a good clean sex option in a sea of barely legal girls in pigtails performing in a rape fantasies, Matt wants to take his good works one step further: give 90% of the profits to organizations who help survivors of human trafficking.  In order to accomplish this, he needs his wife’s buy off, his ex-boss’s financial backing and the right ‘face’ of his website.  The story explores whether one can stick to the high standards one sets for themself when money and livelihood is on the line.  And this production explores it with the most deliciously talented cast I have seen in a long time.

Let’s start with Matt Barnes, played by the ridiculously talented Anthony 11403072_10152820021720855_8992621476496183308_nDarnell.  This man is an actor, ladies and gentlemen!  He’s pure genius in this role.  His delivery of monologue after monologue just got better with each speech and as the protagonist of this show, Mr. Darnell anchors the show brilliantly.  The journey that Matt Barnes takes is raw, emotional, and while funny at times, is really a dark look at the struggle we all face between morality and money.  This was my first time seeing Mr. Darnell on stage, and I look forward to many more performances from him because his acting was exquisite!

Matt’s antagonist through the play is split between two important people in his life:  his wife, Katie (LoraBeth Barr), and his boss Terry (Ali Al-Gasseir).  These two act as the angel and devil on his shoulders, each playing their part perfectly.  Katie raises the stakes of her influence over Matt by being pregnant with their first child, a daughter, who she uses when necessary to apply pressure to keep Matt’s morality in check.  Terry, on the other hand, is the financial backer of Matt’s company, and uses that as leverage as often 11412361_10152820025710855_1280774823823702691_nas possible to keep blurring, and at times, moving the boundary lines that Matt set up for himself and the company in order to maximize profits!  And when push comes to shove, and Katie won’t budge on issues, Matt seems to always point out that the more money they make, the more money they have to give away to the foundations supporting survivors of human trafficking, and that seems to lessen Katie’s resolve to a point.  This relationship triangle ebbs and flows through this story, forcing Matt to be swayed in a new direction every time he turns around because Ms. Barr and Mr. Al-Gasseir are so strong in their performances.  This trio of messed up, volatile characters trying to figure out how to get what they want was absolutely mesmerizing to watch!

The cast is rounded out by the ‘face’ of the website, Mikayla, played by Leah Salcido Pfenning, who will be the leading star of this high morale porn site of Matt’s.  She’s young (younger than Katie would prefer her to be), she’s beautiful, she’s sexy, and most importantly, she’s the daughter of a sex trafficking victim.  She’s perfect.  Except, she has an agenda of getting as much money as she can to help pay for law school and support herself and her younger 15 year old sister.  She agrees to be the website’s star, and is quite happy to be a driving force of the company’s success.  They give her the stage name, America, and inch by inch, the high morality of the company begins to drop as the popularity of America builds.  Ms. Salcido Pfenning is epic in this role!  Every moment she is on stage is full of fire, and her acting intentions so friggin clear, and she is grounded so very much in each and every moment, that the shift her character takes at the end of the play absolutely blind sided me!  And I loved it!  Mikayla is supposed to be the hope of something better, so when she turns out to just be another statistic, this reviewer’s heart was broken, because Ms. Salcido Pfenning’s performance was that good.  Bravo!

The other four roles in the show were of two porn stars (Nik Doner and Heidi Korndorffer), the big porn company CEO, Jacob (John Pyburn), and Mikayla’s little sister April, played by the incomparable Jasmine Sim.  Ms. Sim, the innocence of the show, has the most difficult challenge, in my opinion.  She had to go from being the young, vibrant, full of life 15 year old to the dead-eyed, heartbroken, exploited victim of sexual abuse.  11202068_10152820027015855_7687682021275714382_nThis actress, this unbelievably amazing actress, had a moment on stage that I haven’t seen in a long time.  It’s after she’s been exploited as part of a ploy Mikayla created to leverage Matt to sell his company to the big porn company and make a ton of money for herself, and she is alone in a room with Matt.  Matt has given in to the ploy, Katie has screamed at him and stormed off to the hospital to have their baby alone because she’s so disappointed in Matt selling out, and the bad guys have all won.  April asks Matt where he’s going, and he says to the hospital for the birth of his baby.  April asks him if it’s a boy or a girl, and when Matt says a girl, the moment Ms. Sim creates is absolutely heart wrenching.  The look of shock and fear on her face as she imagines a ruthless man like this being a father to a daughter…a man who would not stand up for her and her sister, who sold away his company to a sick man who will continue to exploit and abuse young women was sheer perfection.  As a classically trained actor, I know what it takes to sink into a moment to create that level of reality and truth, and Ms. Sim was absolutely tremendous and pulled the entire audience into her moment.  Thank you, Ms. Sim, for that experience!  You had many audience members talking about that moment as they left the theatre, myself included.  Bravo!

11406402_10152796207525855_1539692859451891064_nThe production of this show successfully matched the acting perfectly.  Michael Place’s direction was tight and inspired, Ali Rose Panzarella’s costumes were stunning and clarified each character’s journey from clean to dirty (or vice versa), but the most successful element for me was Tommer Peterson’s set design.  This pristinely white set, with varying levels, white furniture jutted out into the audience, allowing a wonderful stage for the actors to play on.  Watching the morality getting more and more muddy and dirty as the play went on, made the set that much more bright, that much more clean.  The juxtaposition was beautiful, and the entire production staff should be very proud of their creation!

This show is so many things, but at its core, it tells the truth! It tells the hard, ugly, frustrating truth of how we, as humans, have choices to make, and we aren’t always perfect in making those choices.  Consequences are real.  The good guys don’t always win.  And there will be days where we go against our moral compasses in order to make a buck.  It happens.  To the best of people, every day, it happens, and I’m so honored to have witnessed the exquisite bravery of Dirty.  This show had grit, this show had honesty, and this show had some of the best acting I’ve seen in a long time!

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Dirty closes tomorrow, but if you have the chance, please go see it’s closing performance!  You won’t be disappointed.  Showtime and ticket information can be found on ACT’s website.

Loved it!  Adored it!  Was absolutely moved by it!

I give it a Standing Ovation!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos from Washington Ensemble’s Facebook Page

Noises Off at SecondStory Repertory in Redmond, WA

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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Noises Off by Michael Frayn is one of my all time favorite plays!  So, to say I am more judgmental of productions of shows I love is a major understatement.  And we all know I’m not shy about letting you know when I hate something.  Well, I’m also ready to shout from the rooftops when I love something, and I absolutely friggin loved SecondStory Rep’s production of Noises Off!!!!  It was sooooooooooooooo good!

Noises Off is a play within a play type of show.  The audience gets the joy of watching a goofy, quirky group of British actors rehearsing a play called Nothing On!  You get a look at all the magic that goes in to getting a play ready for an audience complete with a frustrated director, confused actors, exhausted stage hands, and egos everywhere!  Relationships that form within a tight knit cast is a very real thing, and Mr. Frayn exploits this in the best way possible!

These relationships take you on quite the journey that is a marathon of a show, not a sprint.  When you combine the heavy line load for the actors, the physical decathlon that the director has to create with staging all three parts, and the complication of the turning of the ENTIRE set, you have on hell of a show to pull off.  Well, Executive Artistic Director, Mark Chenovik put together an amazing production staff who then cast one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a long time to more than pull this show off!

Let’s start with the set.  Unbelievable!  Amazing!  Phenomenal!  If you’ve never been to SecondStory, let me tell you this is not a big theatre.  The stage area is not that big, and I had no idea how they were going to manage to create a set large enough to hold this ensemble with all the ‘bathrooms and doors’ necessary for the story, not to mention then turn the sucker around for the second part, and then put it back for part three!  And yet….oh, and yet….it was done beautifully!  It was a masterpiece, and I am so glad I got to witness how it was done!  If you go see this show…or actually, WHEN, when you go see this show, when intermission rolls around, don’t go out to the lobby, instead stay in your seat and watch the magic that Mr. Chenovick and Jen Klos, Managing Director, pull off with just the help of one crew person.  BRAVO!!!

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Now, on to the rest of the production team.  Kevin Miller directed this beautifully.  Noises Off is great if one just lets it be what it is supposed to be, which is British farce/comedy, and Mr. Miller did just that.  He also cast a fantastic group of actors to tackle this beast and each actor was cast perfectly!  The costumes were delightful, the dialect was spot on with all of them, and every production element was on point!  Well done!

11390177_1008334859199918_5270324249647657058_nThe ensemble was pure magic.  Every single one of them had specific character development, wonderful line readings, and delicious chemistry.  They listened to each other, leaned in to each other, and played off each other so well, it was wonderful to watch.  Calling out standout performances is like trying to decide who is a better broadway diva, Patti LuPone or Alan Cumming!  But, I did have my favorites.  Sara Trowbridge as Belinda was simply spectacular!  I loved her high brow accent, her nosy nature, and her hilarious ability to manage Selsdon.  Additionally, her husband Freddie, played by Jaryl Draper, was wonderfully understated, deliciously dense, and 11537691_1008335015866569_3664335612755172545_nfantastically lovable.  And Dan Davidson as Tim was simply everything.  He was so brilliantly cast in this part, simply reacting to
all the madness going on around him in the most hilarious way!  He brought to life a character that can often get lost in this sea of dynamic roles, and yet Tim is the one I gushed about with friends after the show because Mr. Davidson committed to that character so completely, I was simply blown away!  Bravo to the entire cast for stellar performances all around!  You should all be very proud to be a part of this show, and I thank you for bringing it to life so beautifully.

Noises Off will continue to make audiences laugh through July 5th.  You should go get tickets now, because once the word is out, this show is going to sell out!  Ticket and show time information can be found on SecondStory’s website.

Loved this! So very much!  Please go see this show and support this wonderful cast and crew!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos from SecondStory Repertory’s Facebook page, credit to Michael Brunk

Are You There, God? It’s Me. Karen Carpenter! at STAGEright Theatre in Seattle, WA.

play review, Theatre Review, Uncategorized

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When one reads a title like Are You There God? It’s Me. Karen Carpenter, one can’t help but go, ummm…WTF?  I had no idea what to expect when I took my seat at the Hugo House on Capital Hill in Seattle, WA for STAGEright’s opening night performance of their 20th show.  The set was painted very 1970’s stripes, the lighting was psychedelic and the music was, obviously, The Carpenters.  The scene was set for a good time, and I was anxious to see what this was all about.  The house lights went out, and the show began, and for the next 90 minutes or so, I laughed my fool ass off, because this show is friggin hysterical!

This play, written by the brilliant Dane Whitlock, takes the beloved children’s story of Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret, and inserts the songs made famous by Karen Carpenter to drive the story along and it is pure genius.  It’s quirky, it’s witty, and it’s 100% fun!

11391524_953995997955582_1204358077450347862_nSo, what has STAGEright done with with hilariously written tale?  Well, they cast seriously talented actors to transport the audience back to the 1970s to follow the story of young Margaret, played expertly by Emily Rose (EmRo) Frasca!  Oh, my, this chick!  This unbelievably talented chick, elevated one of my favorite childhood characters so beautifully, I was in awe.  Ms. Frasca anchored this show perfectly with her impeccable comedic timing, her wonderfully genuine line delivery, and her hilarious physicality that I was completely able to suspend my disbelief in that this grown woman was a pre-teen sensation, and I adored her!

Mr. Whitlock’s script takes us through all the main components of Judy Blume’s book after Margaret moves to New Jersey and meets Nancy, the sassy young lady who 10511117_956742217680960_7899865495744453442_n
lives down the street.  Nancy is the bossy, queen bee of her own universe, and leads a secret club with Margaret and two other girls, Gretchen and Janie.  These four discuss and experience everything from boys to bras to learning the technical jargon surrounding female reproductive system, and are all just longing to grow up as fast as they can, complete with boobs and menst-a-rating, and the four actors who took on this challenge were phenomenal.

Ms. Frasca was in great company with Shermona Mitchell, as the fiery Janie who is 11401163_956742214347627_1368414406373539369_nneither intimidated by the bossy Nancy, nor is afraid to speak her mind, Abbey Roads as the delightful andhysterical Gretchen who stole every scene she was in (OMG!  Her facial expressions were priceless!  I’m a huge fan!), and Olivia Lee as Nancy who so badly wants to just grow up and is inspired by the women in her dad’s Playboy magazine!  All three of these ladies were fantastic in their roles, completely committed to their characters, each vastly different from the others.

Let me take a moment, though, and talk about Ms. Lee and her amazing portrayal asunnamed-2 Nancy.  The nuances that Ms. Lee creates in her characters is absolutely fascinating. She pulls my focus, in the best possible way, whenever she’s on stage, because she so clearly works her intentions.  I recently saw Ms. Lee as the Witch in STAGEright’s Into the Woods (reviewed here), and I was so impressed with her in that production, that I had high expectations of her in this play, and she did not disappoint!  Her bravery in character development, her fearless silliness, and her phenomenal physicality made  an otherwise irritating character (who Nancy would have been in the hands of a less skilled actress) absolutely lovable.  I look forward to seeing Ms. Lee in many more productions!

Another standout performance was of Emily Feliciano who played multiple roles ranging from Nancy’s little brother Evan, to the heartthrob of the class, Phillip Leroy.  Her character transitions were impeccable, her deadpan face added levels to each scene, and her commitment to her gender flipped characters was brilliant!  Although, my favorite of her characters was just her and a can of, I believe, was Aquanet Hairspray.  Trust me people, watching her with that can alone is worth the price of admission!

One other performance I want to point out was Cedric Wright who played 11393045_953996117955570_4457104242582662002_nboth Moose (Margaret’s love interest) and Norman Fishbein, an awkward Jewish boy.  Mr. Wright’s transition from one character to the next was flawless completely with physical changes and speech impediments.  He was adorable and funny, and had the perfect combination of charisma and goofiness that is needed when a grown man plays the part of a teenage boy.  And there was a moment involving spit, that while it was a complete accident, I hope they find a way to effortlessly recreate it every night, because it just elevated the scene to a level of humor that ya just can’t force!  And kudos to the whole cast for regrouping after that!  I LOVE LIVE THEATRE!!!

There were some weaknesses in this production, and sadly for me it came in the forms of the ‘grownups’ in the show.  All the children were played beautifully, but the adults were mostly played by either Jay Irwin or Michelle Flowers, and they gender flipped each character having Mr. Irwin play everyone’s mother and Ms. Flowers playing Margaret’s dad and male school teacher.  It just didn’t work.  Mr. Irwin was extremely over the top, and his timing was off, so the jokes rarely worked.  I saw him trying to work levels between normal speech patters and then dropping into his deeper voice, but the transitions were far from smooth and thus, missed the mark. There was a lot of yelling, and I didn’t understand the motivation for that.  And Ms. Flowers was not believable as a man in either role.  She misses the physicality needed to pull off masculine energy.  And there’s a scene between Margaret’s dad and Moose that was so uncomfortable, and not just because of the dialogue, but because the chemistry and read of the role by Ms. Flowers was ineffective.  I saw what director, and Artistic Director of STAGEright, Brendan Mack was going for with these characters, but sadly, they were the weakest performances in the show.

This show was music directed by the brilliant Josh Zimmerman (who I originally expressed my love for in my review of his music direction in Next to Normal at Second Story Rep), and the music truly was fantastic!  There were some sound issues in the beginning where the band overpowered the actors, but the adjustments that were made throughout the show fixed that, and it all came together in the stunning fashion I have come to expect from Mr. Zimmerman.  Ms. Frasca can sing her face off, and every time she sang a solo, my heart soared!  Karen Carpenter would have been proud.  I also enjoyed the voices of most of the “children.”  The weakness of the adults continued on into their vocal performances, including, what I thought was the biggest vocal disappointment of the show:  Karen Carpenter, played by Stephanie Graham.

Ms. Graham’s voice does not have the soft, sweet tone that Karen Carpenter had, and once Ms. Frasca joined in on the one song Karen Carpenter sings in the show, Ms. Graham was completely lost vocally. However, while she may not have had a strong vocal performance, and also completely overdid her performances in the other ensemble roles she played (especially that of Coach Barb Strutts…it was too much on level 10 the entire time of being over the top and overacted, so the impact wasn’t well received by much of the audience, and completely irritated me), Ms. Graham did look EXACTLY like Karen Carpenter!

unnamedWow!  I mean, the costumers, Cherelle and Jonelle Ashby, outdid themselves with the costume for Karen Carpenter.  The white pants, the vest, the wig!  Loved it all!  And Ms. Graham is so tall and thin that when she stepped on stage, she took my breath away with how similar she looked to Karen!  Bravo to the design team on pulling off a doppleganger of that magnitude with such an iconic figure as Karen Carpenter to recreate!

Overall the direction was strong and concise by Mr. Mack, and the design and use of Barbie dolls was inspired! You’ll have to just go see it to know what I’m talking about.

This creative, fun filled, and highly entertaining play runs through June 27th.  I strongly, seriously, and Nancy-level-bossily suggest you go see this show!  Further details and ticket information can be found on STAGEright’s website.

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Loved it! Adored it! Laughed the entire time!  GO SEE IT!  I mean it!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos courtesy of STAGEright and their Facebook page.

Four Dogs and a Bone at Theatre Schmeater in Seattle, WA

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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Saw a new play tonight by one of my favorite playwrights, John Patrick Shanley, at Theater Schmeater in Seattle.  It is called Four Dogs and a Bone and it follows the story of a screenplay being filmed in Hollywood.  I note the screenplay as the focus, because it really was a character in this funny, witty play.  It is the thing that each character wants to control in this play in one way or another.

4 Dogs and a Bone-1There are two actresses (Brenda and Collette played by Brenda Joyner and Elinor Gunn, respectively) who both fashion themselves the star of the show and desperately want the screenplay to feature them as the lead.  There’s a producer (Bradley played by Paul Custodio) who wants the screenplay cut down to something that can be filmed on, or better yet, under budget.  And finally the screen writer (Victor, played by Ray Tagavilla) who just wants this screenplay, his first screenplay, to be a hit and get mass distribution.  The stakes are high for them all, and each actor attacks their intention differently.

Mr. Custodio was appropriately sleazy and skeezy as the penny pinching producer.  Shanley’s dialogue for this character is deliciously raunchy and disgusting, and Mr. Custodio embraces this with gusto!  I believed every pain in the ass moment he created (and you’re just going to have to go see it to understand that reference!).

Both Ms. Joyner and Ms. Gunn went after their intentions with the passion of a desperate actress just trying to be liked by, ya know, the entire world.  Ms. Joyner’s Brenda, a newcomer to the business, was a lovely mixture of naiveté and ruthless moves, all rolled into a lovable neurotic newbie and you can’t help but understand her desperation of trying to break into the business beast of Hollywood as best she can.  Ms. Gunn’s Collette, on the other hand, is the stereotypical stage actress trying to make her career transition to film, and is placing all her chips on this one bet that this movie will make her a leading actress.  Colette is the Ivy to Brenda’s Karen (yes, I just used a Smash reference, deal with it), and both are so ridiculous, I found myself hoping Victor would just write them both out of the film.  Both women committed to their characters beautifully, and the contrast between the two kept me laughing throughout the show!

But the shining star of this production is Mr. Tagavilla.  His Victor had both depth and charisma as the fledgling playwright hoping for a hit with this movie.  Victor is the only character who has a significant arc and takes a journey in this play, and was a pleasure to take that journey with Mr. Tagavilla.  His comedic timing, his line delivery (to quote my friend who went as my +1 tonight, “Saying ‘suck my dick’ that many times and could have gotten really crass and ridiculous, but he just made every time he said it more hilarious 11377388_10153947727538012_4966385185623481930_nthan the time before.” People, this alone should have you rushing to buy tickets right now!), and his ability to stealthily maneuver from moment to moment in every scene he was in showed that Mr. Tagavilla is on a whole other level than the rest of the cast.  While they were good, he was great!  Mr. Shanley’s final lines for Victor could have ended up quite cheesy in the hands of a less skilled actor, but Mr. Tagavilla had me staring up into that bright light of the possibility of success thinking, “Yes, Victor!  You will get everything you want and more!  Johnny lives!!”

Overall, the direction, design, and timing were all tight and effective.  The pacing is perfect, the costumes fantastic, and the soundtrack outstanding!  Watching Ms. Gunn try to seduce Mr. Tagavilla while Big Poppa played in the background was my favorite scene in the show and made my heart soar!  Brilliant choices all around!

This isn’t a groundbreaking play.  It will not leave you with some deep meaningful morale to take away and ponder over late night happy hour drinks.  It will, however, make you laugh and entertain the hell out of you, so I highly recommend you go see this gem.

Four Dogs and a Bone plays through June 27th and show and ticket information can be found on Theater Schmeater’s Website

Highly entertained! Loved it!  Go see it!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos from Theater Schmeater’s Facebook page