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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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

Review: Bootycandy at Intiman Theatre in Seattle, WA

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the Alhadeff Studio behind the Cornish Theatre for Industry Night of The Intiman Theatre’s production of  Bootycandy.  There is not a bad seat in the intimate black box space, the small cast has names I already know and am impressed with, and coming off of how good the last show was that I saw at the Intiman (Orpheus Descending, and it was glorious!), I had high hopes for a good night of theatre.  And, oh, was I right!

11178355_10153708631987578_1616562143855765840_nBootycandy follows a cast of characters, held together by the journey of Sutter, played by the ridiculously talented Tyler Trerise, as they shift back and forth through a conglomeration of multi-faceted, multi-dimensional scenes, one more scintillating than the next.  This ensemble, these brilliant masters of the stage, these actors brought to life so many amazingly real, complex, and honest characters, navigating real, complex and honest moments, that my actor’s heart was so full by the end, I jumped to my feet and cheered for their success!  I laughed, I cried, I laughed so hard I cried, I was shocked, and I was awed, and as the show goes on, so does the brave choices of this phenomenal ensemble.  You must go see this show.

In addition to Mr. Trerise, the rest of the ensemble play so many characters, there are too many to list in the program.  Cited in the program as simply Actor One, Actor Two, Actor Three, Actor Four, Angel Brice, Rebecca M. Davis, Chris Ensweiler, and Isaiah Johnson friggin blew my mind with every new character they brought to life.  I don’t want to go into detail, because I don’t want to ruin even one moment of discovery for any of you who have the privilege of seeing this amazing show!  I will just congratulate all the artists bringing this story to life for their honesty, their commitment to every character, and their bravery to sink so selflessly into these relationships.  What they were able to do with this sensational script, well frankly, there are just not enough words for how beautifully they performed it.  Let’s just say that I am forever changed after seeing this show.

Malika Oyetimein, Director

Malika Oyetimein, Director

A show this complex, this authentically open, needs a strong hand at the helm, guiding it towards excellence, and director Malika Oyetimein’s grip was firm and steady on this production.  I came in to this a fan of Ms. Oyetimein’s, as I saw her directing project of Bus Stop at the University of Washington, and was spellbound by her direction of that show.  As a proud alumni of the University of Washington’s acting program, to see the talent that is still coming out of my alma mater makes me so happy, because she is killing it out there!  Her strong concepts and ability to pull performances from performers, as well as her ability to perfectly cast shows are quickly becoming her trademarks.  I cannot wait to see her next project.  She’s a director to watch!  Bravo!

Brilliantly costumed, stunningly lit, and perfectly staged, the design team was on point!  They created a simplistic, yet accurate world for this amazing ensemble to play upon, and all elements came together perfectly!

When it comes to good theatre, the Intiman was my go-to back in the day, and I have always had immense respect for this theatre, especially when they paused for a moment to take a breath and regroup in 2011.  I must say, after the last two shows I’ve seen, clearly that was the right decision, because under the Producing Artistic Direction of Andrew Russell, all I can say is, The Intiman is back, y’all!!!  His ability to bring artists together to create great art is a wonder to behold.  And you really should go see this show to fully experience the sheer brilliance that is happening in a little black box theatre in the Seattle Center.

BC_600x315_WebBootycandy runs through October 3rd, and tickets and show information
can be found on the Intiman’s Website.  Please go support this wonderful local theatre, because the art they are putting out is fantastic!

I give Bootycandy a resounding standing ovation and a Yassssss, honey!  Bravo!!!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos from the Intiman’s Facebook page and the University of Washington School of Drama website.  

Review: Sweeney Todd at Renton Civic Theatre

Entertainment Review, play review, Theatre Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao for now

M lg

A YETI Takes on a Bat Boy…Hmmmmmm

play review, Theatre Review

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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

Legally Blonde at SecondStory Repertory Theatre in Redmond, WA

Entertainment Review, Theatre Review

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I have taken about six deep breaths and exasperatingly let them out before starting to type this review.  Why, you might ask?  Well, because I really wanted to love this show.  I really enjoy this theatre, and for the most part have enjoyed shows I’ve seen there.  I also love a few of the leads, and had high expectations for this show.  Perhaps they were too high, because I was nothing but disappointed by this show.

Ok, there were a few high points.  First, the cast as a whole sounded great. The vocals were on point, especially the voice of Kristin Burch, who played Elle, the voice of Nicholas Tarabini, who played Warner, and the voice of Brynne Geiszler who played Vivienne.  The chorus was spot on as well, anchored by the voices of Sarah Russell as Pilar, Tatum Ludlum as Serena and Krista Johnson as Margot.

Second, some of the acting was done quite well.  I really enjoyed Mr. Tarabini’s performance as Elle’s ex-boyfriend/classmate at Harvard.  He is the antagonist of the show, his actions being what drive the story, and Mr. Tarabini did not disappoint.  I saw Mr. Tarabini in SecondStory Rep’s Next to Normal  and was thrilled to see that he was cast in this show.  However, his talent was truly wasted in the role of Warner, and he really should have been Emmett, but we’ll get to that.  Again, the main trio of sorority girls, Ms. Russell, Ms. Ludlum and Ms. Johnson were all very believable in their characters.  One chorus member, Devon Allen, who played Nikos and various ensemble parts was the star of the show!  He stole every scene he was in, and had the best bend and snap on the stage!  I give a huge Bravo to these fine performers.  And that is where the compliments end!

The main failure of this show was the concept.  Director Matt Wolfe missed the mark so badly it actually physically hurt to sit through this show!  He set it in the 80s!  The friggin 80s!  You can’t set Legally Blonde in the 80s because there are so many references that are so key to the 90s, and are necessary to the story!  The writer in me was seething because of all the line and lyric changes that were made to make this stupid concept ‘work’.  And what killed me was they didn’t remove all the references to the 90s.  They left in lines like “Aren’t there girls going wild somewhere without you?”  Newsflash, that is a 90s reference!  Or, “I don’t speak MTV”.  That’s a 90s reference, because MTV was still so new in the early 80s, no one spoke it yet!  It was so unbelievably irritating.

11209594_990287764337961_8987067345717679489_nAnd, to make matters a million times worse, let’s talk about the epic failure that were the costumes of this show!  I mean…I don’t know who Jocelyn Fowler is, but there was not an outfit on that stage that fit well or made sense!  Poor Mr. Tarabini had to look like some Don Johnson reject from Miami Vice.  1485080_990286844338053_2319785655602937654_nPaulette’s clothes looked like something a bad Madonna impersonator threw out because they were too tacky, and the sorority girls (I use the term loosely because half of them were young girls and the others looked old enough to be house mothers), were in an Omega Moo color schemed legging/tunic getup that wasn’t flattering on any of them!  And the poor UPS Guy, Kyle, never had a chance in the awful outfit he 11218055_990286871004717_2995818722343091613_nwas forced to wear, not to mention the Irishman of Paulette’s dream coming out dressed like an Outlander extra, complete with a Scottish hat with a red pom on the top of it.  Not cute.  Not appropriate.  And most importantly, NOT CORRECT!

But the worst part for me was the direction of Elle.  I’ve seen Ms. Burch in other productions at other theatres and she is talented as hell, so imagine my surprise when I watched her play Elle as a bitchy, unlikable, know-it-all from the get go!  The beauty of the character of Elle is that she’s likable!  She’s sweet, and beautiful, and has no idea that she has more to offer than those two qualities.  The whole effing point of this show is that Elle takes a journey to understanding that she’s smart!  She’s got more to offer than just her looks, and has to, let me repeat that: has to, figure that out on her journey.  But from the first scene in the dress shop where Elle is schooling the sales girl, to Elle dealing with Vivienne and Professor Callahan, all I saw was smart Elle who had already figured it all out.  I wasn’t invested at all.  I didn’t care if she got what she deserved. And my guess is this is how Ms. Burch was directed to play Elle.  Either way, it was not fun to watch.

And as if completely missing the mark on who Elle is wasn’t bad enough, the casting of this show made no sense to me based on the acting and singing skills I saw on that stage.  Mr. Tarabini should have been Emmett, as I said, because he sang and acted rings around Tadd Morgan who was cast as Emmett. Mr. Morgan was the weakest one on the stage.  He and Ms. Burch had zero chemistry, he messed up lines left, ride and sideways, and sang at her and not to her, and it was miserable to watch.

As I said, I was really upset because I really wanted to like this show, but Mr. Wolfe’s concept was so bad that I literally hated this production.  Please, anyone reading this who wants to direct a production of Legally Blonde, leave it in the 90s where it belongs!  Don’t change lines.  Don’t change lyrics.  Don’t mess with the project!  If you want to do an 80s show, do the friggin Wedding Singer!

The show does play for two more weekends, but I wouldn’t bother if I were you.  If I had it to do all over again, I’d have left at intermission and saved myself the agony.

I’m a fan of SecondStory Rep, and have high hopes for future productions, and will definitely be back.  Everyone slips now and again, and this was a major slip, in my opinion.  But it won’t keep me from seeing shows in the future. Unless, of course, I see that Mr. Wolfe is the director, then I might skip it.

Hated it.

Ciao for now,

M sm

Variety @ Second Story Hideaway in Redmond, WA

Entertainment Review, Theatre Review, Variety Show Review

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Ok, let’s start this one off by saying I have never seen a variety show before.  I’ve also never seen a burlesque show, in the traditional sense.  Therefore, I have no basis for comparison as to how the Variety Show at Second Story Hideaway stacks up against its competitors.  However, we all know that I do know what I like, and dahlings, I loooooved this show!  And the main reason is summed up in two fabulous words:  Sparkle Leigh!!

10409198_386598768200474_5005535972894238037_nThis amazing Diva was the hostess with the absolute mostest and kicked off the night with a performance of her own before Emcee-ing the rest of the event.  She was hysterical, fabulous, witty, and super stylish!  Loved the hair, loved the boots, loved the outfits, loved it all!  And when the costume change happened at intermission, the fashion just got more fabulous!  And the timing!  Oh, Miss Leigh has comedic timing of the genius level! Her ability to hold the crowd’s attention, roll with whatever crazy thing the performers did, and single handedly elevated that show to the fabulous level that only she could do!  I will be looking forward to future events hosted by Sparkle Leigh, because I know even if every act is ridiculous, she will entertain me like no body’s business, dahlings!  Yaasssssss!

Now, the rest of the show was filled with varying acts of drag performers, boylesque performers, and even an opera diva!!!  All the drag performers were fantastic!  11108953_481749911977715_3666404095272185812_nRuby Bouche was stunning and hysterical in her performance.  Sparkle Leigh’s sister, Patient Leigh did a stunning rendition of Memories from Cats, I 10488240_1484026081838030_8977053885322947596_nmean, she is a song bird if ever there was one!  And Biore Bang rounded out the cast with an amazingly emotional performance! I was thoroughly impressed with every single friggin one of them!

The Opera Diva, Ms. 10366078_10152111499578461_1853597970888780156_nBecky Peterson was a surprise for me, never expecting to see legit opera in a variety show.  But, sweet lawd, Ms. Peterson killed it!  Now, I’m not a fan of the opera, you will never see reviews of it here, because frankly, I have no desire to listen to that style of music.  However….I really enjoyed the performance that Ms. Peterson gave!  Loved the song choice, loved the props, loved the acting that came through the song.  She was beautiful, and wonderful, and I am honored to have heard her sing!  I wish her all the luck in the world in the vocal competition she’s embarking on later this year!

Now, the main acts of the night were boylesque performers, some better than others.  These men performed to everything from 80s rock to classic show tunes that they sang live!  One danced with a blowup doll, and then later pulled glitter out of his teeeeeeeeeny tiny g-string!  Another tied up two audience members in an odd way, while the yet another started out as Fred Astaire and ended up looking like a stripped down Sampson!

But the highlight for me, performance wise, was Butch Alice as the screaming goat in the Taylor Swift Trouble/Screaming Goat mash-up!  OMG!!  It was friggin hysterical!  I wish I had a photo to show you, because it was so brilliant!

All in all, it was a very entertaining and fun way to spend a Friday evening!  I hope to see more shows at the Hideway soon!  And I will definitely be on the lookout for future performances of the Queens of the night, because they were all fabulous with a capital Fabulous!

Loved it!

Ciao for now,

M sm