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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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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The Hills are Very Much Alive at the 5th in Seattle!!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review, Theatre Review

People, people, people, let me start by saying I am a devoted fan of the Sound of Music film starring the phenomenal Julie Andrews, and my beloved Christopher Plummer, so I have purposefully stayed away from stage versions of the show for fear of it not living up to the beauty of the film I adore with every fiber of my being.

However, when I found out that Kirsten DeLohr Helland was playing Maria, I decided it was time to face my fears, because if anyone could make me fall just as in love with the stage version as I am with the film, it would be the ridiculously amazing talent of Ms. DeLohr Helland.  And I was not wrong!

I’m actually going to start with the design of this show, because the set was stunning, the costumes were perfection, and the lighting was inspired!  The set was marvelously constructed, utilizing the stage so beautifully, and from my seat in the balcony, I could still see every detail, and it truly brought Austria to life.  Small details pushed it over the edge of perfection into mesmerizing beauty from the intricate work on the Abbey gates, to the perfectly rounded staircase, to the trampoline of a bed for the thunder and lightening scene.  Each scene so perfectly design, so brilliantly built, and so expertly crewed, the scene transitions were seamless.  Glorious!  Thank you, Phillip Lienau for your stunning design, and congratulations on a highly successful debut  at the 5th Avenue! I look forward to seeing more of your work in shows to come.

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Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

 

The costumes, oh you guys, the costumes were absolutely stunning.  Again, the details made all the difference.  Things like the transition of vivid/bright colors on Frau Schraeder at the top of the show, to her muted subtle final outfit before she chooses to leave Austria showed her journey through her wardrobe!  Oh, and the delicious hot pink/purple hued tie on Uncle Max adding whimsy to his perfectly tailored suit that fit his character beautifully.  The perfectly constructed uniforms the children wear, and the absolutely menacing accuracy of the Nazi uniforms all enhanced the world of 1930s Austria on the verge of invasion, and I loved it.  My favorite piece is Maria’s wedding dress, it actually took my breath away.  That dress alone should have you all running to see this show!  Bravo to the entire costume team for bringing to life the sensational costume design by Melanie Taylor Burgess.

Lighting by Mary Louise Geiger, and sound design by Christopher Walker were spectacular throughout the show, especially during the thunder and lightening scene.  And through all the long belty numbers in this show, the sound was perfectly balanced, and even in the balcony, the sound was crisp and clean.  Well done to both of you and your board ops for a flawless tech of Wednesday night’s show.

Now, on to the performances!  People, this, THIS is a musical!  And it is anchored by Ms. DeLohr Helland so beautifully, I can’t EVEN with how good this chick is on stage!  A true chameleon she can literally play anything.  You’ll remember I raved about her amazing ability to bring a role to life in my review on American Idiot at ArtsWest, and she brought it even harder as Maria!  To take on an 5thSOM4iconic role like Maria, a role made so famous and so well known, Ms. DeLohr Helland literally made it her own!  She found nuances as Maria that were delightful and playful and while vastly different than the film, it was still so honest and true to the character.  I was worried she was too young for the role, but I was so very wrong.  Her youthful exuberance, her whimsical way of bonding and playing with the children was absolutely delightful to watch.  She was downright sprightly as she brought life and music back into the von Trapp family.  Her vocals, always on point, this chick can hold a note like you wouldn’t believe. She just floats in on out there and subtly and slowly pushes power to it and it just hooks your heart and makes you feel everything she’s feeling.  And then in the next breath she is playfully running down a scale to a low note that just, I mean, I can’t!  I just can’t!  She’s absolute musical theatre perfection!  I’m so impressed by this young actor, and am so excited for the future she has ahead of her.  Bravo!!!

And for all Ms. DeLohr Helland’s vivacious love of life as Maria, Hans Altwies’ straight laced, zero-fun-having, super-strict Captain von Trapp was her perfect match.  The chemistry between Ms. DeLohr Helland and Mr. Altwies was absolutely delicious, and let’s just say there’s a hot, steamy, unexpectedly hot and steamy, moment between these two that was so hot, I felt like I should look away because I truly felt like I was invading on a real, private moment!  Lawd!  I mean, honestly!  LOVED IT!  Like a moment out of a romance novel come to life!  Delicious!  Good on you both!  Ha!  Ok, sorry, I digress.

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Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

 

Back to Mr. Altwies, who absolutely commanded every scene he was in and his transformation from heartbroken, shut down widower, to doting father and husband was wonderful.  A lovely voice, quite alike in tone and power to Christopher Plummer’s, his Edelweiss brought me to tears.  A dynamic actor, a strong stage presence, and a lovely voice makes Mr. Altwies the perfect leading man.  Thank you for keeping true to all the layers of one of my most beloved, favorite characters, Mr. Altwies, I’m so much the better for having seen you play this role.  Bravo!

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Photo Credit: Tracy Martin

Now, can we talk about these children, please, because I mean, they were all fantastic, each and every one of them!  Little miss Gretl, played by Kendall Bonham is absolutely darling.  Marta, played by Isabel Menna was simply adorable.  Aubrey Thomas as Brigitta was sassy and smart and kept the adults on their toes!  Kurt, played by Coleman Hunter, was delightful and whimsical.  Victoria Ames Smith as Louisa was deliciously mischievous and lovable at the same time.  Mark Jeffrey James Weber was absolutely wonderful as Friedrich.  And Shaye Hodgins who played Liesl absolutely stole my heart.

 

Ms. Hodgins, who reminds me very much of another young actress I mentored once upon a time, who unfortunately was taken from us too soon. So watching Ms. Hodgins flit and float across the stage as a girl on the cusp of womanhood, I couldn’t help but remember, and I thank Ms. Hodgins for that.  Her portrayal of Liesl was delicate and honest.  She didn’t force any moments, and even carried her scenes with Rolf (played by Kody Bringman), who I found to be the most underwhelming performance in the show.  But honestly, it was hard to even care about that, or notice him, because Ms. Hodigns is so good in this role.  Her voice is angelic, her dancing filled with beauty and grace, and her acting chops completely on point to be a simply stunning Liesl von Trapp.  This one is one to watch for sure!

My hat is off to all seven children who brought the von Trapp children to life for Seattle audiences.  I just loved them all!  So much fun to watch!  Bravo!

Rounding out this cast were a mix of talent like I haven’t seen on a stage in a while!  Anne Allgood as Mother Abbess was sheer and complete brilliance!  Jessica Skerritt as Elsa Schraeder was stunning and powerfully confident.  David Pichette’s Max Detweiler was irresistibly delightful with genius comedic timing and delivery.  Frau Schmidt, played by Lori Larsen was a lovely combination of sass and strength.  And I was so excited to see Darragh Kennan on stage again (you might remember him from my review where I raved about him as Iago in Othello at Seattle Shakespeare), and he was brilliantly menacing and bone chilling as the Nazi Herr Zeller.  Any chance I get to see Mr. Kennan perform is a good day!

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A strong ensemble balanced this show perfectly from the waltzers at the party to the nuns at the Abbey.  Speaking of, the collection of voices on the group of nuns cast in this show was stupendous to behold!  Perfect harmonies, perfect pitch, they were wonderful!

This is my first David Bennett production, and I must say, what a wonderful director he must be to work with given the caliber of each performance on that stage from ensemble to lead and everything in between.  Mr. Bennett understands the beauty that comes from just letting actors stop moving and stand still and perform!  He put together such a lovely kaleidoscope of pictures that had me mesmerized from the first note to the last, and I was quite sad when it was over.  And the very last moment, the moment that happens before the lights go out revealed a secret in the set that was the perfect stage for one of the most stunning closing moments I have ever seen on stage, and it reminded me why I love this thing called musical theatre so friggin much!  A perfectly directed moment performed perfectly by the actors, yeah, this is not a show to miss, people.  Bravo, Mr. Bennett!  Thank you for this wonderful experience!

The last thing, and I know this post was long, but I had so much to share, was the music in this show was simply wonderful.  Every voice on stage, every instrument in the pit worked in perfect harmony without one glitch.  I’ve said it in so many posts, that if you’re going to do a musical, the music needs to be good.  Well this music transcended good right into epic! Thank you to Music Director Kat Sherrell for a wonderful night of music.

I give this a thunderous, tear-filled standing ovation!

The Sound of Music Plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through January 3rd, and I highly recommend you see this show.  Tickets and show information can be found on The 5th Avenue Theatre’s website.

Congrats and Bravo to all involved with this wonderful production.  It truly brightened up my holiday spirit!  5thSOM1

Ciao for now,

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Photos provided by The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Press Page

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.

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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

Theatre Review: The Addams Family at Burien Actors Theatre

Theatre Review

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

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

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

Uncle Fester played by John Kelleher

Uncle Fester played by John Kelleher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos from Burien Actors Theatre’s Facebook Page 

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

YETI+Logo+Large
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