Sunday, December 22, 2013

Beauty and the Beast—Pixie Dust Productions at the Newmark Theatre—SW Portland

The Magic of Love

This classic Disney musical is written by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice.  It is directed by Greg Tamblyn, choreography by Amy Beth Frankel and music direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is presented by Hasson Company Realtors and is playing at the Newmark Theatre in downtown Portland at 1111 SW Broadway through December 29th.  For more information go to or call 503-704-8991.

The tale is based on a short story by a French writer, which is not very good.  Disney has enhanced it a hundred-fold.  There was also a non-musical TV version on Shelley Duvall’s Story Theatre.  But the classic straight version was a French adaptation in a film of the 1930’s by poet Jean Cocteau.  In fact Disney freely borrowed some of that film’s ideas into their animated version, such as portions of the castle actually being alive.  And then came the stage musical, which is almost a twin of the animated film.

The musical is a lot more complicated than the original tale.  Belle (Erin Charles), an eligible young lady of a village is being pursued by the biggest braggart in town, Gaston (Stacey Murdock).  He and his stooge, Le Fou (Joey Cote) pretty well have the town under their thumbs.  That is except for Maurice (Dan Murphy), an eccentric inventor and his lovely daughter, Belle.

But one day, on his way to the market, Maurice gets lost and is trapped in a castle by the Beast (Leif Norby) who was once a Prince but has been turned into a animal because he lacks compassion.  The only way to break the spell is to find someone who will love him just as he is.  If not, the transformation will be irreversible and he and his staff will fully become the objects they resemble.  When Beauty tracks her father down, she offers herself in exchange for him.

Now a prisoner herself she must deal with the Beast and, with the help of his staff, she slowly changes his animalistic ways.  In the end, Love wins out and the lesson may be, not to judge others by their outward appearance but look at what’s beneath.  The lyrics of the music enhance the story to an enormous degree, giving all the characters a full view of their feelings.

At the outset I have to say, I could not find anything to fault, in any aspect, of this complicated production (and that may be a first).  In other words, everything works.  The Magic of Love and Tolerance is elevated to new heights with this enchanting and enchanted production!  So one must bow to the Master Magician, the director himself, Tamblyn, for creating such a special world for us.  He has assembled a crew and cast that is first–rate.

This would rival, and surpass, many imported touring productions that come through town.  Which goes to show you, that one need not go to Broadway to see class, for we have engendered that here, in our own backyard, and this is a fine example of it.  Talent does not reign “out there” in some netherworld but can be found right next door.  All we have to do to find it is to open our eyes…and our hearts…for it is truly…here.

The dances by Frankel are super—I especially like the tap number and, of course, “Be Our Guest.”  And the orchestra, conducted by Lytle, is spot on.  The costumes by Deanne Middleton and the Marriot Theatre are extraordinary, very colorful and expressive.  And the design of the set by Alex Berry, lighting by Mark LaPierre and sound by Timothy Richey are perfect.  And it was nice to her the narration by Sam Mowry, so well delivered by Portland’s own Radio Theatre expert.

Charles is a lovely Belle, both in looks, acting and voice.  She appears to have actually walked off the screen of the animated persona to give us the flesh-and-blood version.  Well done.  And Norby (a very familiar Portland actor) is convincing as both the raging beast and the vulnerable man beneath.  He handles both the acting and singing chores with aplomb, both being very touching and powerful.  And Murdock is the babbling, boring, braggart you love to hate.  He has a powerful voice and is so convincing as the villain that I would have expected to hear boos at his curtain call.

Dale Johannes as Lumiere, the candlestick, is fantastic, giving a wonderful interpretation of the constant lover.  He shines in the musical numbers.  And Joe Theissen as Cogswortrh, the clock, is equally effective as the somewhat stiff, befuddled servant, trying his best to please.  Amy Jo Halliday is an enchanting Mrs. Potts, the teapot, singing beautifully the signature title song (she also shone last year as Maria Callas in the musical, Ari-Maria, at Triangle).  And Aida Valentine as her son, Chip, a teacup, is easily up to the talent of any of the grown-ups in the show.

Sara Catherine Wheatley as the flirtatious duster, Babette, is delicious; Pam Mahon as the operatic Vanity is hilarious; Claire Slyman as the acrobatic carpet is fun; and Cote as the stooge and Murphy as the father give ample support to the show.  And the ensemble is just fine, very flexible in all their incarnations and even the Jefferson Dancers lend showy support in the dance numbers.  And all terrific in the elaborate show-stopper, “Be Our Guest.”

This is one not to be missed folks and a perfect Holiday show.  I highly recommend it.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective, please go to:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Christmas Carol—Post 5 Theatre—NE Portland

Everyone has a Story…

This one-person rendering, of Charles Dickens’s classic, is playing at the Post 5 Theatre, 900 NE 81st St. through December 23rd.  It stars Philip J. Berns, with musical accompaniment by Christopher Beatty, and is directed by Cassandra Boice.  Check their website for further information at  There is also a dinner-theatre version at The Picnic House at 723 SW Salmon St.  For information on that, call 503-227-0705 or view their site at  Be warned, though, tickets are selling out for the dinner show.

This immortal tale has been rendered countless times in movies, TV, animated versions, on stage, and as a musical, but rarely in a one-man show.  Alaister Sim (the best), George C. Scott, Reginald Owens, Jim Backus (Mr. Magoo), Henry Winkler, Sterling Hayden, Albert Finney, Bill Murray, et. al. have all played various incarnations of the infamous Mr. Scrooge.  And now we have Mr. Berns, weighing in on his multi-faceted take on this famous, eccentric fellow.

Everyone has a story…of who they were…who they are now…and who they might become.  Scrooge has the enviable task of being able to go back and relive highlights of his life in a brief span of time and then makes changes accordingly.  Make no doubt about it, he is a mean, miserly, spoiled, spiteful old man who needs a good spanking rather than a second chance.  But this is not a tale of revenge and punishment but of forgiveness and redemption.  It is, by all accounts, a true Christmas story, about the birth of Hope.  Not unlike the original, true story, of 2,000 years ago, or even the old myth of Pandora’s Box, where she released all the evils unto the earth but managed to keep Hope contained.

When we first visit Scrooge he has spurned some charity seekers, his own nephew and even his sole clerk, Cratchit.  His place in society is locked, until a visit from old partner, Marley, now a ghost, who warns him of dire consequences in the afterlife if he doesn’t change his ways.  He then is visited by three spirits.  The first one gives him a peek at his past with his loving sister, Fan, now deceased, and old Fezziwig, a generous employer.  And, of course, his true love, dear Belle, who he cast aside for the pursuit of wealth.

The second spirit shows him the present, with the joy of the Cratchit family and the gayness of his nephew and kin, at this festive season of the year.  The third, from a time yet-to-come, points to doom and gloom for Tiny Tim, the youngest of Bob’s children, and Scrooge’s own forgotten demise.  He vows then to keep Christmas in his heart all year round and make use of his wealth for the good of others.  Of course, one wonders what has happened to Belle after all these years and why his hatred of Fred, his nephew, who is, after all, his beloved Fan’s son. 
But, perhaps, these are stories for another time.

Why this show works so well (and it does) is not only because of the brilliance of the performer, Berns, but of the simplicity of the production.  It reintroduces us to the marvelous, descriptive writing of Dickens himself.  Other productions may contain much of his dialogue but it is in the narrative parts of Dickens writing that much of the power of his creative style lies.  And when you gussy it up with pounds of elaborate sets and lathers of special effects, the beauty of the language and simplicity of the story tends to get lost.

Another important point, this is presented in a story-telling style.  It is not unlike the aging grandparent, sitting on the bed with their grandchildren and reading a bedtime story from a fairy tale.  They play all the characters, doing various voices, and the kids conjure up in their imagination all the trimmings necessary for the tale to work for them.  A person’s imagination (especially a child’s) can create a beauty (or horror) greater than any special effect a person can on film or video game.  An advice to parents, give your child the gift of a bedtime story this Holiday, as it is a gift that will truly keep on giving, and multiplying.

This production did that for me.  Philip’s command of his characters, and the simple way that they are presented, gives a natural flow to the story.  And the language of the narrative conjures up many visions that danced in my head.  Especially poignant was the brief scene with his sister, Fan; the fun and lightness of both the scenes with Fred and Cratchit’s families, all quite contagious; and the hilarity of the three businessmen, talking of going to Scrooge’s funeral, was a comic gem.  These were my favorites but there were many more to keep one entertained.

Berns has been in most of the shows I’ve seen a Post 5 and he always shines, whether it’s in a small or leading role.  This is simply the crown on his head of a remarkable series of portrayals.  It ranks up there along side of Tobias Andersen’s one-man show, The Illustrated Bradbury.  And Boice’s direction gives him plenty of movement, to keep the story flowing forward and has a keen eye on honing the characters and making the most of the narratives.  And Beatty gives a fine showing, as the man of many subtle effects that enhance the show.

I recommend this show, especially for Berns’s inexhaustible performance.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.  And check on their website for the schedule for the upcoming season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Living Nativity—Living Hope Church—NE Vancouver

"Tis the Season…”

This hour-long program is presented during the Christmas Season at Living Hope Church, 2711 NE Andresen Rd. (the old K-Mart building).  For more information you can go to their site at

This Christmas time of year is a joyous time for many people.  And the media reflects that as well.  There are the classics, such as It’s A Wonderful Life, a story of Renewal and Belief in the Goodness of Man; Miracle On 34th Street, about the St. Nick, or Santa Claus, the Giver of Love and Happiness; and, of course, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, a tale of Redemption.  But there is also a much older story, The Nativity, which have all the attributes of the former ones I mentioned.  After all, that’s what this Season is about, isn’t it?   So, let’s not forget, “…who made lame beggars walk and blind men see” (Cratchit from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol).

Monday, December 16, 2013

Last Christmas - Audio Story Written By Dennis Sparks

Last Christmas

This is a show I wrote a few years back for Clyde Lewis's show on radio and it has played every Christmas since then. This version is done without all those loud, boring commercials and is about 40+ minutes long.  Hope you enjoy it and have a great Holiday and a super New Year!"

Click link below to hear audio recording of the Last Christmas. This audio recording is hosting on SoundCloud.  Once you click the link click the play symbol or the words "click to play" to hear recording.

Peter Pan—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

"Second Star to the Right…”

This children’s classic by James M. Barrie is adapted for the stage as a musical by Milo Mowery, Rodolfo Ortega and Jeff Sanders and is directed & choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy, NWCT’s Artistic Director.  It will be playing through January 5th, at their location in the Cultural Center at 1819 NW Everett St. in Portland.  For further information, go to their site or call 503-222-4480.

This is, perhaps, the ultimate children’s story.  Many adaptations of it have been presented over the last 100+ years.  Some with music, some without, some animated, some with females playing Pan, and sometimes with the Mermaid and Native Americans sections of the book included.  But all are a tribute to Barrie’s lasting legacy, and profits going to a Home for Orphans.

Maud Adams may have started the tradition of females playing Pan, when she did it in the 1920’s.  It is unclear why a woman (not a girl) has claimed this role much of the time.  It could be because Barrie had a great deal of respect for Women, Mothers and girls (Wendy is definitely the leader amongst the Darlings kids, as well as Tiger Lily in her tribe and Tinkerbelle, the dominant female force in Peter’s life).  He also had a great affinity for orphans.  And he didn’t seem to have much use for adulthood in men.  Mr. Darling is a bit of a whiner and the other adult males are pirates.  Doesn’t bode well for us guys.

Some of the names associated over the years with the role are Mary Martin, Mia Farrow, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby and, of the male variety, Robin Williams (Hook) and Bobby Driscoll (Disney’s animated version).  There was even a 5-act version, encompassing the whole story, by the Royal Shakespeare Company of England (which, I believe, NWCT also did).  The best of the filmed ones was, in my opinion, a little-known, non-musical with no big stars from Australia made a few years back.  And now we have, once again, a Portland-bred one.

The story should be familiar to everyone.  Peter Pan (Martin Tebo) lives in Neverland (looking at the night sky, it’s “the second star to the right and straight on till morning”).  He, as well as the Lost Boys, were orphaned at an early age because they fell out of their prams.  There are no girls in the group because “they’re too smart to fall out of their prams.”  Therefore, they never grow up and inhabit the island with some flirtatious mermaids; a Never-bird and a crocodile called, Tick-Tock (both played by Hailey Tollner), because he swallowed an alarm clock and also has a taste for pirate meat; their arch-enemies, the Pirates (Kevin-Michael Moore, Sam Burns, Andrew C. Stark and Zero Feeney); and a mischievous fairy called, Tinkerbelle.

But, although quite content in their own ways, they do feel the need for a “mother” and of bed-time stories.  So Peter comes to earth to “borrow” Wendy (Carly Cooney) and her two brothers, John (Joshua Harding), and Michael (Skylar Derthick) so they can sample a proper family.  But through a series of adventures and mis-adventures…Tinkerbelle almost dies, they battle pirates, Hook (John Ellingson) gets his comeuppance, and the Lost Boys find a home.  But, defiant to the end, Peter flies off, vowing to never grow up.  (The reason I can’t identify everyone is because many of the roles were double-cast, and no indication as to who played who at any given performance.)

The music is pleasant and my favorite numbers were Don’t be afraid of mermaids and Boys are mean to birds.  The adaptation is quite good but I do miss the Jane segment of the Mary Martin one, which has a bitter-sweet ring to it.  But the interplay between Smee and Hook during the set changes is priceless and the kids ate it up.  The set, props, costumes (Jeff Seats & Shana Targosz) and puppets (John Ellingson) are a great addition to the show, very colorful, and the Flying By Foy (they’ve been doing it since the Martin production in the 50’s) is still the best, as kids are smitten by it.

Hardy’s has another high-flying treat for the audience, as she explores expertly the magic and mystery of childhood!  And those adults that wish to be taken on a journey back in time will appreciate it, too.  She has a winning cast and it is a poignant, romantic view of an era long past…and sorely missed.  One is easily caught up in such an adventurous tale and I found myself applauding loudly when encouraging Tink back to life (and even shed a tear).  This collaborative, spontaneous experience cannot be found on any computer, as it is a product purely of personal and collective imagination.

The children are a few years older than those in the story but the actors are all quite good.  Tebo delivers the right magic for the role, as does Cooney as Wendy.  And Ellingson play does a wonderful balancing act between being menacing as Hook and amusing, being careful not to frighten the young ones.  An expert at work.

My personal favorites were Moore as Smee, Hook’s first-mate.  He has some terrifically funny gestures and whiney voice.  I believe he was the kids’ favorite, overall, for humor.  And once again, to explore that old adage, “there are no small parts…,” Tollner as Nana, the dog, and the Crock and the Neverbird is terrific!  She has a great voice in the song she has with Pan and is a pleasant presence when performing the puppets.  Someone I look forward to seeing again onstage.

You might consider enrolling your kids in classes here (or at OCT), as they shine when onstage and it is certainly a positive influence on their lives as they mature.  I recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Lion In Winter—NW Classical Theatre—SE Portland

“Jungle Creatures”

This black comedy will be playing at the Shoebox Theatre at 2110 SE 10th Ave. through January 5th, 2014.  It is written by James Goldman and directed by Elizabeth Huffman.  For more information go to

The movie of this play, the late, great Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn, was quite successful a number of years ago.  O’Toole was reprising his role of King Henry II from the film Becket.  It is a black comedy in the truest sense, giving us biting wit laced with deadly desires.  To say the least, they are not very nice people.

This family and friends has more in common with George and Martha and company from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? than any historical context.  Their unions are dredged up from the depths of despair, mixed heartily with spit and spices from a moldy cupboard and served exquisitely, hot off the griddle, for our enjoyment, at this festive time of year.

The setting, costuming (Elizabeth Huffman) and dialogue is of our modern times but actually takes place in France a few hundred years ago.  England ruled much of France at that time and, of course, like any spoiled child, wanted to keep its ill-gotten gains.  War was, well…so bloody and people died, so inter-marrying and treaties were devised as an alternate means of holding onto properties.  But, like all such games, the trick was not so much to win, but to win in a classy way.  And so this family and friends are well suited to these kind of matches—they have been raised for years in such sport.

Henry (Victor Mack), England’s King, has imprisoned his wife, Eleanor (Marilyn Stacey), because she won’t give him a rich piece of land that he wants.  He has agreed to release her for the Christmas holidays, hoping to persuade her to let go of her property, which she has given to their oldest son Richard (Ricardy Charles Fabre), a brilliant military officer, who she backs for succession to the throne.  But Henry has other plans for his legacy, backing his youngest son, John (Chip Sherman), a bit of a twit, for this awesome responsibility.

Meanwhile, the middle son, Geoffrey (Joseph Gibson), a schemer, plays both ends against the middle, hoping, that when the smoke clears, he will be the default choice for this role.  But Henry must also cement relationships with the King of France, Philip II (Josh Rice), an eager novice in such games and who has had a dalliance with Richard.  So he agrees to marry off his French mistress, Alais (Clara-Liis Hillier), a fiery vixen, to Richard, so that the alliance will be secured.  Needless to say, this does not set well with her.  And Eleanor simply wants her freedom, probably to start other wars.

Such is life with the filthy rich and bored power-mongers.  As Eleanor so aptly puts it, in probably the most famous line from the play, “what family doesn’t have its up and downs.”  Indeed.  But specters from the long ago, ghosts of Christmas Pasts, also haunt these proceedings.  Henry’s former love, Rosmond; the King and Eleanor’s first-borne, now dead son, Henry; Thomas Becket; the King of France’s father, Louie; Geoffrey, Henry’s father, possible lover of Eleanor, all are proffered as the ideals.  But these warriors charge blindly ahead anyway and woe to the one who cries, “Enough!”

This only scratches the surface of the plot and character twists.  All expertly handled by Huffman, the director.  The modern setting suits very nicely the proceedings of this story, perhaps mimicking a certain Congress we love to hate.  And she has cast and massaged her team well in creating a frightening but memorable experience for the audience.  The suffocating, caged-in space bodes well the intensity of the pent-up feelings of such “jungle creatures” as these.

The acting is first-rate by all.  Mack is steely, manipulative and heartless as this King.  His intensity rarely lets down and then it is only to gain a point or two for his team.  Another powerful performance in his repertory of portrayals.  Stacey, an icon of Portland theatre, is at the top of her game as Eleanor.  She weaves in and out of intrigues, like a snake, leaving nary a track where she has been.  Her acting gives us a woman to feel sorry for but also keep at arm’s length.  Bravo.

And in Hillier you can understand how a man could “launch a thousand ships” to hold her power and beauty.  She is alluring in her bearing and direct in her feelings.  Clara-Liis gives the character a real importance to her portrayal and it telegraphs well to the audience.  A woman who loves not wisely, perhaps, but too well.  And Rice, as her countryman, adds appropriate fuel to the fire.

Fabre is loud and brash as the eldest, presenting us a man to be reckoned with--a staunch warrior.  Gibson, as the middle-heir, plays the role with a quiet power, usually in the background but always listening.  And Sherman, as in previous productions with Post5, is larger than life, playing the youngest.  He portrays this pouty brat, a spoiled child, heartless and brainless, so convincingly, that you tend to miss him when he’s not onstage.  A joy to watch.

I recommend this show.  If you do go, tell them Dennis sent you.