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

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

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

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

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

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Sarah Rose Davis and Eric Ankrin                                                                          Photo by Tracy Martin

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Succeed in Business Ensemble                      Photo by Mark Kitaoka

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

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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

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

Musical Theatre Review
Bainbridge Performing Arts Full Cast of Hair

Bainbridge Performing Arts Full Cast of Hair

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

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

Ronny performed by Olivia Lee

Ronny performed by Olivia Lee

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

Dionne performed by Michelle Lorenz Odell

Dionne performed by Michelle Lorenz Odell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of Bainbridge Performing Arts and Facebook

Theatre Review: The Addams Family at Burien Actors Theatre

Theatre Review

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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

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.