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

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

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Assassins at ACT Theatre: Kill Me Now!

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

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

Entertainment Review, Musical Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

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UW’s Loot Let Me Down

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

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Photos from UW School of Drama Website

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

American Idiot at ArtsWest Playhouse is is F*cking Amazing. Period.

play review, Theatre Review

Let’s start with the title of this piece, because it really says it all.  American Idiot is f*cking amazing.  And what’s odd about it is I am not even sure what it is. Is it a rock opera?  Is it a punk concert with spoken word layered in?  Is it a movement piece?  I don’t know what it is, I don’t know what I saw, I don’t know what label to put on it, and perhaps that is the point.

From L-R: Justin Huertas, Frederick Hagreen, and Michael Coale Grey

From L-R: Justin Huertas, Frederick Hagreen, and Michael Coale Grey

Created by, and set to the music of the 90s punk band, Green Day, American Idiot is a show that follows the story of three suburban boys, Johnny, Will, and Tunny, all fed up with their boring, middle class lives, and decide they want to head to the big city to find more excitement, more fun, more of whatever they feel their lives lack. Will’s dreams are dashed before he can even enjoy the idea with news that his girlfriend’s eggo is preggo, but the other two boys head off with fervor.  Both derailed barely a month after they arrive, Tunny abandons Johnny for the military, and Johnny turns to drugs.  The stories of these three intertwine and interweave, overlapping in a dynamic, rush of energy and intensity until the final moment that brings them all full circle back to the suburb they abandoned, a little more battered, but hopefully a little wiser.  And that is where the typical theatre experience ends.

ArtsWest has taken a huge gamble with the way they supported and produced director Eric Ankrim’s concept for American Idiot. From the minute you purchase your ticket, it’s a new experience because you have to make a choice:  observation or immersion?  Observers sit in 11813253_10153559739351108_8862268061890390599_nassigned seats for the show, while immersed get to choose one of three tracks to take where they follow cast members around the theatre space throughout the show.  I myself chose observation, because I am too old to be trapsing up and down stairs, being bossed around by angst-ridden kids, sitting on the floor or coming up through trap doors in the floor.  The immersion folks ran around a lot!  So, if you choose immersion, wear comfy shoes, because there was a chick there in cheetah print pointy toed stilettos and girlfriend was NOT having a good time!

12033032_10153711836296108_8879026066039862570_nSo, you’ve chosen your adventure, you arrive at the theatre, check in for your adventure and then eventually land on the ArtsWest stage, only it looks so very different than it ever has before.  t’s been completely blown into an unorthodox seating set up, some seats practically on the stage, others under platforms where people are stomping around above you, and an amazing band tucked away, yet close enough so you can get lost in how much they are kicking ass with this music!  The energy is electric from the minute you step into the room, and with every new place you look, something exciting is going on.

I truly don’t want to give away too much, I’m just telling you, you must go see this show for the following reasons:

  1. 12074722_10153706523621108_8785778192242715565_nThe entire ensemble is made up of the fantastic voices of 90s clad, young actors who commit to this punk rock world created by Mr. Ankrim, and they are so good, and so strong, you will be blown away from the first note to the last.
Chelsea LeValley as Heather and Michael Coale Grey as Will

Chelsea LeValley as Heather and Michael Coale Grey as Will

2. The three lead male characters: Johnny played bye Frederick Hagreen, Will played by Michael Coale Grey and Tunny played by Justin Huertas are phenomenal all the way around!  Mr. Grey, especially, was acting his ass off, pulling my focus every time he was on stage.

3. The three romantic interests of these men are a voltaic trio that blew my mind!  Johnny’s Whatshername, played by the incomparable Kirsten Delohr Helland,

Kirsten Delohr Helland as Whatshername and Frederick Hagreen as Johnny

Kirsten Delohr Helland as Whatshername and Frederick Hagreen as Johnny

Will’s Heather, played by the powerful Chelsea Levalley, and Tunny’s Extraordinary Girl, played by the magnificent Jimmie Herrod elevated this show to a level that I have no words for, and yet anchored the performance at the same time in the most mind-blowing way.

4. The ensemble, this ridiculously talented ensemble, ran and jumped, and flew across the stage creating moment after moment, each more forceful and impressive than the one before!  Some familiar faces need to be acknowledged, because they absolutely dazzled me:  Nicholas James Tarabini and Ann Cornelius (both of whom you’ll remember I gushed about as Gabe and Diana in Next to Normal), Sheady Manning (one of my former kids all grown up and killing it out there), and Jordan Taylor (a new face for me, but I hope to see him on stage in many more shows to come!)

5. The music!  Sweet mother of the baby Jesus, the music!  Not just the powerful singers, but the friggin band!  Conducted expertly by Chris Ranney, the band was unbelievably on point!  The music direction, some of the best I’ve heard since I moved back to Seattle, so I hope Mr. Ranney and RJ Tancioco collaborate on more projects, cuz wow!

6. Lastly, the experience, because that is what this was.  It wasn’t a show.  It wasn’t a musical.  It wasn’t a play.  It was an experience.  Even as an observer, it’s an experience not to be missed.  Like I said, I don’t know what to call it, but it was f*cking amazing. Period.

My two small points of criticism of this show both happened in the first half.  The distracting element of the immersion audience in the first half of the show was overwhelming and irritating at first.  The people aren’t quite sure what to do, there’s a frantic uncomfortable energy from them that was jarring at first.  But once they settled in to running around, it definitely got better and I stopped even noticing when they came and went.

The other element is that this cast, these young 2010s generation don’t seem to fully understand the 90s vibe of the need to get out of suburbia that the music of Green Day demands.  As a child of the 90s who grew up in a small suburban town, I remember feeling so stifled.  I loved Green Day’s music because they were singing about the crap I dealt with every day!.  There was no internet, no Facebook, no smart phones.  Television was the escape to the outside world and created an intense need to get out and away from boring mundane suburbia into anywhere else that would bring something new and exciting.  These kids in this cast have no frame of reference for that, given they can escape at the touch of a finger to the latest device in their pocket, so I didn’t fully buy the angst in the first part of the show.  But once the boys split off into their journeys, they locked in, and the rest of the cast followed, and I bought every real, electric moment from that moment until the last note rang out.

Bottom line, this show is worth the price of admission and then some.  12043151_10153684024301108_6409531240228204304_nIt’s an electrifying journey full of passion, and power that will amp your pulse to match the emphatic and enigmatic rhythm like nothing I’ve ever experienced in all my years of seeing theatre.  I feel like this must have been how audiences of RENT must have felt back in 1996 when it hit the New York stage, and was played by passionate, powerful young actors.  ArtsWest has transcended American Idiot from a 90s story to a post 9/11 world, and did so with gusto!  My hat is off to the entire creative team for bringing the thunder with this one!  Bravo!

Trust me, get in your car, brave the West Seattle Bridge traffic, and let the brilliant cast of ArtsWest’s American Idiot take you on this journey that you won’t soon forget.

11923229_10153635521746108_766384664851013265_nI give this a resounding, vigorous, applause followed by an enthusiastic
middle finger in the air! (PS, for this show, that’s a good thing!)
American Idiot just added more shows to the last part of their run because show after show is selling out.  Don’t miss out!  Go get your tickets, people!  Show time and ticket information can be found at ArtsWest’s website.

Ciao for now,

M lg

Pictures from ArtsWest’s Facebook Page

Review: Sweeney Todd at Renton Civic Theatre

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now

M lg

A YETI Takes on a Bat Boy…Hmmmmmm

play review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos from YETI’s website and Facebook Page

I got Dirty at ACT and It Was Glorious!

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give it a Standing Ovation!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos from Washington Ensemble’s Facebook Page