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

play review, Theatre Review, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now,

M sm

Photos courtesy of STAGEright and their Facebook page.