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

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UW PATP Brilliantly Found Their Corner of the Sky!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

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It’s no secret I am a very proud alumni of the University of Washington School of Drama, and my favorite thing about moving back to Seattle is that I get to go back to my alma mater and watch outstanding productions.  Whether it’s a MainStage show put on by the UW Professional Actors Training Program students or a black box production in the Cab by the Undergraduate Theatre Society, it just warms my heart with pride to see the latest generation of actors holding it down for all of us old folks who haven’t stepped on stage in years!  And my latest experience, Pippin, is my favorite so far!

It all started with an email letting me know that the UW PATP were taking on one of my favorite shows, that often comes with a complicated design, and a challenging vocal score.  I mean, the current broadway version is set in a circus tent, for god’s sake.  So, when the email said the kids were going to produce this show in Hutch 201, I was like Whaaaaaaa?  But then I saw a few names involved in the project that I had seen, and gushed about before, so I knew I had to check this out!

I’m not going to lie, I hadn’t been in Hutch 201 since my final as an advanced acting student in Mark Jenkins’ class, so stepping into that room brought back so many wonderful memories.  And imagine my surprise to see Mark, and a few of my other former teachers in the audience, along with as many students as the room could hold!  A very good sign for the performers when the director is frantically carrying in chairs to create new rows based on the line of people outside the room hoping to get a seat.  There was a full pit, back up singers (as it said in the email that this show had a much smaller cast than usual) and an empty stage with only two floor lights ready to illuminate the stage.  There was an electricity humming through the room in the form of anticipation from the audience.  And when the lights went down, the company took their places and got set for a bit of magic to do.  And oh, how magical it was.

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Aaron Cammack as Pippin and the ensemble behind him.                           Photo by: Mike Hipple

 

While Pippin is the title character, this show truly is an ensemble piece, where the push and pull of the relationships are essential to the success of the production, and this cast of actors worked together beautifully!  I first saw many of these actors in Twelfth Night last year at UW, and then again in Bus Stop last spring, so my expectations of their performance level was extremely high, and none of them disappointed.

cammackLet’s start with Pippin, shall we?  Played by the ridiculously handsome Aaron Cammack, this Pippin quickly became my favorite that I’ve ever seen for one reason:  Mr. Cammack found so much truth within Pippin’s journey, devoid of any judgment or prejudice, and instead just sunk into this character’s need to find his purpose in life, no matter the cost.  With every new experience, the hope that Mr. Cammack brought to Prince Pippin, expecting it to finally be his purpose, only to find disappointment when he didn’t find it, and then moving forward to continue his search was phenomenally played.  Clear intentions, outstanding actions, and so perfectly present in each moment, I believed every moment Mr. Cammack created.  He took me on his journey so brilliantly, that I was moved to tears at the final scene and the final notes because Mr. Cammack touched my actor’s heart with his performance.  A stunning voice, impeccable acting chops, and mesmerizing presence on stage, Mr. Cammack is a true chameleon, and I have no doubt has a very bright career ahead of him.  Bravo!

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Skye Edwards as the Lead Player and Aaron Cammack as Pippin                      Photo by: Mike Hipple

Pippin’s antagonist, well the main one anyway, the Lead Player, was played by the equally mesmerizing Skye Edwards.  This cat, I can’t even with him!  Tall drink of strawberry blonde water, a chameleon in his own right, I swear, the kid can play anything.  I first saw Mr. Edwards as Sir Andrew in Twelfth Night, and his performance was deliciously hysterical!  Then, in Bus Stop, well, the second half anyway, his portrayal of Beau wasedwards absolutely brilliant!  And now, as the Lead Player, people, he was fantastic!  Charismatic, ornery, and fiery all at once.  He expertly rolled this play
along and set the tone for the show, creating a clash of historic, medieval times with a modern twist.  Doing double duty as Lead Player and Choreographer, Mr. Edwards had the flash of Ben Vereen with the subtle stylings and moves of Justin Timberlake.  The level of acting and truth that this young man brings to every role I’ve seen him play is something to behold, and I look forward to seeing many more performances from Mr. Edwards.

virden_zach_screen_resRounding out the trio of men who anchored this show was King Charlemagne, played by Zach Virden.  Holy mother of the baby jesus, this kid, this freaking talented, brave actor, brought a whole new level to Pippin’s dad that I have never seen done before and it was glorious to experience.  A little good, a little evil, a lot dirty, this King is everything you want in a monarch role in a musical.  Mr. Virden’s performance was just on a whole other level of bravery with the sheer physicality of the King.  They took the role southern, using a simple black cowboy hat as the crown, and Mr. Virden wore it well!  The physicality on this actor, the amazing centered movement, flourished with silliness and a bit of deviance was mind blowing.  He cracked me up throughout this entire show, I can’t even tell you!  He committed to the character that they created for Charlemagne so fully, that I was friggin bummed when the King’s role was done in the play.  A fantastic voice, a comedic timing like no other, and acting chops for days, I think the world better brace itself for Mr. Virden, because the last time I saw an actor with this level of comedic genius perform in Hutch 201, yeah, it was Joel McHale, and we all know how the turned out!  Thank you for bringing this version of Charlemagne to life, Mr. Virden!  I am so much the better for having seen it!

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Zach Varden as King Charlemagne and Rebekah Patti as Festrata               Photo by: Mike Hipple

The women in the cast were equally as wonderful.  Rebekah Patti was sinfully seductive as Festrata, Claire Fort was wonderfully whimsical as Pippin’s grandmother, and Hazel Lozano was lovely as Catherine.  These women rolled in and out of named characters to blend into the chorus, and did so seamlessly.  Strong actors with stronger voices, the entire ensemble as a whole was full of outstanding performers, and they rounded out this production beautifully.

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And speaking of the production, this show was stripped down to its barest bones, shining a strong light on the script and score of this epic, timeless tale.  Directed by a UW PATP actor, Moises Castro, his concept and execution were a powerful, albeit simplistic, combination.  Stripping away all the flash and complicated design elements that are usually present in Pippin, Mr. Castro allowed the light to shine brightly on the story, which elevated the message to a refreshing level.  The ensemble acted as the crew, utilizing ladders and rolling platforms to create a simple world for Pippin to roam through searching for his corner of the sky, and it was the perfect backdrop for these outstanding actors to be allowed to do their jobs, and they did them well.  This simplistic world and magnificent acting had the lesson of the story of Pippin hitting me harder than it ever has before, and I thank the entire production team, creative team, musicians, actors, and crew for this wonderful night of theatre.

This stunning production only had two weeks of rehearsal and one week of tech, so there are definitely places where the show could be tighter (this was mostly musically, as you could hear the exhaustion on a few of the performers as they got to the end of the show) and some wonky props that  weren’t as effective as I’ve no doubt they will be as this show continues to evolve and grow.  And I look forward to future iterations of this version of Pippin.

I am one proud alumni to know that UW is still impeccably training actors, cultivating talent, and supporting projects that their students want to pursue. It restores my faith in my training and the art form that I love with all my heart to see this level of acting on not just a few members of a cast, but on each and every actor on that stage!  Thank you, UW PATP Classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018 for continuing the legacy of well trained, wonderfully talented actors!  GO DAWGS!

Sadly, this show only had three performances, and has already closed.  But trust me, if there’s another run, I will be the first to let you all know!  In the meantime, UW has quite the season planned this year, and if you want to see good acting, and I mean really good acting, then get thee to the UW Campus, and go see a show and support these young actors and let them perform for you.

I give this a thunderous applause and standing ovation!  Bravo!

Ciao for now,

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Headshot from UW School of Drama PATP Website

Does Reefer Cause Madness at SMT? Meh.

Musical Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

M lg

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

Musical Theatre Review
Bainbridge Performing Arts Full Cast of Hair

Bainbridge Performing Arts Full Cast of Hair

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

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

Ronny performed by Olivia Lee

Ronny performed by Olivia Lee

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

Dionne performed by Michelle Lorenz Odell

Dionne performed by Michelle Lorenz Odell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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