Monday, November 14, 2022

Elf the Musical—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


The BIGGEST little Miracle

    This heart-warming musical is directed by Thomas C. Graff, songs by Matthew Skylar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin (based on the film, Elf, by David Berenbaum).  Musical direction and conducting by Cyndy Ramsey-Rier and choreography by Terry Brock and Cherie Price.  It is playing through December18th at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (free parking lot in the rear).  For more information on the show and Covid policies, go to their website www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    Tis the Season for stories of hope and good cheer…and, boy, do we need that now!  There are basically two perspectives:  The Biblical view, with the birth of Christ, and the Santa Claus slant, with merry, ole St. Nick.  But the three most popular films deal with Redemption, as in, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Dickens’s, “A Christmas Carol,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”  Also, they all have one more thing in common:  The importance of Family, whether Holy, Jolly or, in the case of, Elf, perhaps, the meaning of the ancient philosophy, it takes a whole village to raise a child…thus, Family, in the most Universal sense of the word!

    Once upon a time, on Christmas Eve, while jolly Santa (Mark Pierce) was delivering presents at one household, a baby climbed into his toy sack and was inadvertently whisked off to the North Pole.  Thirty years later, cheerful but na├»ve, Buddy (Jeremy Anderson-Sloan), the human elf, has a yearning to find his real family and walks thousands of miles to New York City to find his father, Walter Hobbs (Jeremy Southard), who is a rather grumpy executive of a Children’s book publishing company, Greenway.

     He has a rude awaking, though, when he discovers people do not believe in Santa, or Christmas, other than in the “commercial” sense.  Walter’s wife, Emily (Sophie MacKay) is a pleasant enough lady and her daughter, Michael (Stella MacKay), is a nerd with no thought of the magic of Christmas.  The employees at Walter’s business including Deb (Aurora C. Gooch), an executive assistant, and the big honcho himself, Greenway (Michael Streeter), have little regard for Christmas, other than the monies it generates for them.  Even Buddy’s new love interest, Jovie (Camille Trinka), is rather a glum young lady.

    But don’t you all know, this will just change dramatically with the entrance of innocence in the guise of Buddy, Santa and his elves, and the changed hearts of citizens via dance, music and songs.  Yes, this seems like a familiar, feel-good, seasonal story (and it is) but the cast, musicians, dancers, crew, all dust off this familiar tale and through their own Magic, give it a Life that goes well beyond the pages of a bedtime story, which bursts through that fourth wall and permeates the audience with warmth and good will and seems to say, “God Bless Us Every One!”

    The MacKay’s are real, as mother and daughter, and you can sense the true family ties within them.  Southard plays just the right balance between a grouchy old man and the inner life of a lonely soul, just waiting to have his bubble burst.  Trinka waffles between being a hardened urbanite and the waifish child beneath, just waiting to be discovered.  And Gooch’s Deb, becomes transformed, but you sense, Streeter’s Greenway never will, as Corporate Greed will, unfortunately, always have its oily hands around the throat of Middle America.

    But Anderson-Sloan is Amazing!  In my opinion, better than the film, Buddy.  He actually oozes charm, goodness and the child-like innocence that is too often lost in adults and much too soon, as well.  If he is this year’s poster child for the Christmas Spirit on stage, we have much to be thankful for!  Also, Terry Brock (co-choreographer) as the Macy’s store manager, almost steals the show with her tap-dancing number, with the ensemble.  And a special shout-out to the chorus/ensemble, they are truly the heart of a production, as they are here, too!

    Ramsey-Rier and her band of renown are splendid and they do Not make the fatal flaw that often orchestras do in a musical, they do NOT over power the actors/singers…Bravo!  and Brock and Price as choreographers have some terrific numbers and an ensemble of dancers to match.  And Graff as chief magic maker on this production, out does himself.  A long-time teacher/director/performer in the Portland area, his obvious talent shows brilliantly here (they couldn’t have chosen a better director for this project),  “May he Live Long and Prosper!”

    One more thing, just as an exercise in Imagination, before too long, sit down and write a letter to Santa of hopes and dreams for Christmas--that you can do for others in the coming year.  And write them in long-hand, too, (if you still remember how to do that).  Then send it off to Santa at the North Pole, but keep a list for yourself, and next year at this time, see how much of it came true.

    I highly recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS


Monday, October 31, 2022

Pestilence: Wow!—Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

 

Survival of the…Wittiest

The Y/P Company of the Oregon Children’s Theatre presents this dark comedy by Savannah Reich and directed by Dani Baldwin (OCT’s Education Director).  It is playing at the Alberta House, 5131 NE 23rd Ave., through Nov. 13th (only street parking, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information on tickets and Covid restrictions, go to their website at www.octc.org or call 503-228-9571.

The best description I could come up with for this piece is from the director’s mouth herself (Dani Baldwin): "This show is described as a 'psychedelic feaver dream-...Monty Python mixed with social/political commentary. What happens to humanity when a crisis occurs? Even though it was written pre-Covid it's CRAZY how much you can draw connections."

It is an ensemble group, part Vaudeville troupe, part Reality TV, part Game show, with a dash of human contradictions.  The Host (Max Young) for this event will give some contestants, from the Middle Ages, a chance to escape The Black Plague.  But it means they have to come up with answers to such things as, How did it start…who is responsible, etc.  Among the contestants are some peasants including Raoul (Oliver Chally), Simone (Emma Fonseca Halverson), Agnes (Alli Jaffe), Alphonse (Aiden Shafiuzzanman), Georgette (Ryder Thompson) and other villagers including a couple of monks…Jason Nuesa, Ruth Siviglia, and David Stephens.

The tales of the participants, of this dreaded period in Europe, are played out in skits, tableaus, dance/movement and even roller skates…you really have to see it to believe it!  It is also welcome training exercises for young thespians to be able to play in the difference mediums of theatre, including video.  The young folks are excellent, each creating a unique character ranging in types who just want to be a star, who are not bright enough to know what’s going on, and bitterness toward whoever started this whole damn thing in the first place! 

And Baldin is the Master of bringing out the best in raw talent.  If I were a parent and had a child, who dreamed of being in the Arts, there is no better place, bar none, than OCT and the Y/P programs with Baldwin at its helm!

For references in this type of genre, you might check out Marat/Sade, the Dance of Death sequence in Bergman’s, The Seventh Seal, or the excellent Roger Corman film, The Masque of Red Death.

If there is a point to this outrageous story, it might be that put in dire circumstances for all Mankind…such as a Virus or Climate Change…Man may Not be the Noble Beast that we perceive, but instead, even though in all the Animal Kingdom, we have Free Will and Reasoning Powers, and yet we still behave very poorly, greedily and selfishly when the chips are down.  Consider the current situation in the world of today!?

(A side note, during the Middle Ages, the Black Plague wiped out much of Europe.  But, surprisingly, a familiar, children’s ditty came from this event:

The virus first appeared as reddish spots on the body.  Then, when it advanced, a circle would form around these marks.  Since it was very contagious, bodies which had died from this disease, were placed outside of homes, and flowers were put in their pockets.  Their bodies then were hauled to pits outside of town and burned…eventually the disease was wiped out.  The song…?:

“Ring around the Rosy…Pocketful of Posies…Ashes, Ashes, All Fall Down!”).

I highly recommend this play but it does have language and situations that are adult in nature.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, October 10, 2022

Little Shop of Horrors—Stumptown Stages—Downtown Portland



Seedy Botanical Beast

This dark comedic, musical has book and lyrics by Howard Ashman,music by Alan Menken, choreography by Jamie Langton, music direction by Adam Young and directed & designed by Steve Coker.  It is playing at The Winningstad Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through October30th.  For more information, go to their site at www.stumptownstages.org

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, a lone seeding was starving to death, as his planet’s life’s blood was diminished.  So, he took his chances and threw his fates to a passing meteor shower and eventually fell to earth onto Skid Row on the planet, Earth.  This seemed like a happy place to him, as the talented street urchins of the village, Crystal (Lydia Fleming), Ronnette (Kristin Robinson and Chiffon (Olivia Spohn) were always singing.

And the young nerdy fellow, Seymour (Jason Hays) who found him and cared for him and even named him, Audrey II (Kimo Camat, Liz Ghiz & Tim Giugni) was a nice enough fellow.  Seymour even was sweet on a not-so-bright co-worker, Audrey (Tawni Peterson).  But she was hung up on this “semi-sadist,” laughing dentist, Orin (Dustin Fuentes),who was not so nice to her.  And the shop’s owner, Mr. Mushnick (David Mitchum Brown), was a stogy old tightwad who seemed to care for no one.

But that was all soon to change, as there was a new character in town from out of this world and he was taking no guff off anyone!  And one more little thing…he had had found the …nourishment he needed for life but getting it was going to require some clever manipulations on his part.  Does this lead to a happy ending...depends on who’s telling the tale and it would be delicious talking with you in person sometime about it…yum!  --A/II

This story originally had its origin in the Roger Corman school of B-movies (notably for introducing Jack Nicholson to the film-going public in a small role).  It then went onto becoming a very successful Broadway play and movie and added music to its tawdry tale.  Margie Boule and Randall Stuart  had a couple notably revivals of this show some years ago and now we have Stumptown with Stever Coker at the helm and this genre fits him to a tee, having,in the past, very successful productions of a stage version of Queen’s, Flash Gordon, and an original film noir detective story about werewolves, and also a musical about werewolf cheerleaders from outer space (I kid you not) and all very well done!

All the versions I’ve seen of this play, my favorites have always been the Greek Chorus, the urchins, in this case,Fleming, Robinson and Spohn, who are a smash.  And the two leads, Hays and Peterson, are in terrific form, especially with the show-stopping, “Suddenly, Seymour.”  And the outrageous character of Orin (Fuentes) is over the top as the maniacal dentist.  And Camat as the voice of the plant gives just the right creepiness to the role.  And a special shout-out to the two set changers, Isaac Elmore & Genevieve Hildebrand-Chupp, who are kept very busy during the show of changing the scenes and “dislodging” the plant food.

This is a perfect show for the Halloween season and I highly recommend it.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Friday, September 9, 2022

The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong—Triangle Productions—NE Portland

 

“The Play’s the Thing…”

    This Live comedy is written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields, directed by Angela McKennie and produced by Donald Horn.  It is playing at their space at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot next to the building) through September 24th.  Be advised that full Covid protocols are in place…vaccine cards, masks, etc.  For more information, go to their site at www.trianglepro.org or call 503-239-5919.

    According to the quote above from Hamlet, the story is the crux of the play, which will reveal all.  But it can also be taken in another sense, using “play” the way a child might interpret it, as fun and games, where anything can happen…and that is exactly what occurs here, as an inept, community theatre group attempts to put on a murder mystery.

    This type of plot has been done before, as in Tom Stoppard’s, The Real Inspector Hound (which I have directed); or the movie and play from the board game, Clue (which Bag & Baggage is doing in the Spring).  Or the excellent Christopher Guest film, Waiting For Guffman.  But this is, by far, the most madcap, merry, mix-up of mayhem I’ve ever seen.!  And it’s presented by an array of many former actors from Triangle’s past shows, to celebrate its 33rd Season (yay)!

    The plot (such as it is) revolves around the discovery of a corpse of the Patriarch of Haversham Manor, Charles (Joe Healy), on the eve of his wedding to a socialite, Florence (Lisamarie Harrison), a bit of a ditz.  Among the suspects are Thomas (Dave Cole), his mysterious brother; Cecil (Alex Fox), a questionable associate; Perkins (Gary Wayne Cash), an annoying butler; and a fiercely, dedicated stagehand, Annie (Melissa Whitney).  Into this fray appears Inspector Carter (James Sharinghousen)--not the sharpest knife in the drawer--prepared to solve this infamous crime…but not before another murder victim is discovered, an affair is unveiled, and folks are discovered not to be whom they seem (“curiouser and curiouser”).

    If this all sounds confusing, it is, but the meat of this play is not the plot of the murders, but the inept way the actors go about presenting the show.  And I can tell you, having been involved in over 200 plays myself, these are no exaggerations:  Props that are not there; set pieces that fall apart; actors that write their lines on their costumes or arms; weapons that don’t work; actors that don’t show up on cue; lines that get forgotten or that are repeated; et al.  They are all here in this show and all true, folks.

    The cast is dynamite and it is truly a genius ensemble of some of the best comic talent in the area!  McKennie is a master of creating visual and verbal comedy and is truly a laugh-out-loud presentation (which is sorely needed in these chaotic and morose times in our history).  Thank you, dear cast and director, for giving us this reprieve from our troubled world…it is truly needed.  And thank you, Donald Horn, for choosing this vehicle to celebrate 32 seasons of inspiring theatre…may you have many more to come!

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS

Monday, July 25, 2022

Voiceover—Imago Theatre—SE Portland

 

“The Windmills of Your Mind”

    This World Premiere LIVE production is co-written, directed and choreographed by Jerry Mouawad and co-written by Drew Pisarra and produced by Carol Triffle.  It plays through July 30that Imago’s space, 17 SE 8th Ave. (off E. Burnside).  Parking can be an issue, so come early.  (Covid protocols in place…vaccine cards, masks required and spaced seating).  For more information, contact them at www.imagotheatre.com or 

 call 503-231-9581.

    Some inspirations for this production may be found in Lugi Pirandello’s, “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” in which unwritten or unfinished persona from a play seek out in a theatre, some author/creator to finish their story.  It also recalls from the age of Cinerama film-making, the movie, “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm,” in which Laurence Harvey, as one of the brothers, lies very ill in bed and is visited by all the little characters he has yet to create, begging him not to die, as that means they will never have lived. 

    And, one more reference, an excellent animated film by Pixar some years ago called, “Inside Out,” which illustrates how the many emotions within a person’s brain, all try to interact with each other, in order for an individual to connect with the outside world.  “What a Piece of Work is Man….”

    Existence is a complicated thing.  Just who are we, how did we come into being and just what is our purpose anyhow?!  We, according to one biblical source, have been given free will and reasoning powers, but what do we do with those “gifts,” if they actually do exist?  “Aye, there’s the rub….”

    In this incarnation of some of those dilemmas, eight characters appear on a bare stage:  Fiely Matias, Ariel Puls, Kellie Holway, Index Marcus, Isaac Ellingson, Jessica Curtiss, Emma Holland and Sean Bowie.  They are seemingly controlled by an entity called, Jackie.  He, at times, is their voice, always loud but definitely in charge for those moments.  Otherwise, they only can communicated with each other with a sort of telepathy, and we are able to hear them as ‘Voiceovers,” or a type of asides in theatre-speak.

    They do have one thing in common though, they are all dancers and, thus, express their feelings in stylized movement.  But are they truly expressing their emotions, or is someone else pulling their strings, like a puppeteer would?  And, if so, what to do about this grave situation?  But an even larger question teases our minds, as the audience is thrust into this proposition, too, and then this enigma grows ever wider.  Enter their world, if you dare…!

    Mouawad and Pisarra have charted us into uncertain waters with this presentation and whether we sink or swim is entirely up to us.  If to swim, it means we have to jerk our heads out of the electronic jungle of the internet highway, the all-knowing, all-seeing god for many of us, and actually examine, for ourselves, who and what we are…and what is real and not.  If to sink, it means, with eyes wide shut, drowning ourselves into the endless and contradictory by-ways made up of the cold, hard world of wily wires and condescending components.  This is a story of human development, in which Man may come up short but, at least, we must try!

    Mouawad has, once again, come up with a winner.  His direction, seemingly random, only means that he has lulled us into a deliberate slumber, only to startle us at the end (beginning?) when the alarm goes off!  And his cast is exceptional, each one creating a very specific individual.  And, choosing dance as their means of locomotion, gives their stories a fluidity that lures our imaginations out of the shadows and into working models of humankind, which should have always been in existence, anyway.  Bravo!

    I highly recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS


Monday, July 18, 2022

The Kiss—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego

 

“’Hopefully’ Ever After”

    This world premiere musical is directed by Greg Tamblyn, story conceived and original script by Will Vinton, music and lyrics by David Pomeranz, book by Will Winton, Jesse Vinton and Greg Tamblyn (loosely based on “The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm).    It is playing through August21st at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (free parking lot in the rear).  For more information on the show and Covid restrictions, go to their website www.lakewood-center.org or call 503-635-3901.

    “Fairy tales can come true, they can happen to you, when you’re young at heart….”  Ah, such a world as this do we need now.  Originally, these stories were written as cautionary tales for the youth of yore.  But now they are seen as beacons of Hope, in which nasty dragons are slain, evil witches are banished and lover conquers all, to lead to ending of “happily ever after,” sealed with a kiss.  Is all that still possibly?!  Time will tell….

    In this timeless tale, conceived by Will Vinton, the father of Claymation in Portland, this classic theme is reawakened.  Two neighboring kingdoms, each having a child born at the same time, a girl and a boy.  They grow up playing together as best friends.  But reality raises its ugly head (politics, jealousy, greed, arrogance, selfishness, et. al.) when they become adults and they must stifle childish thoughts and dreams.

    Eventually, Arro (Keaton Fields) and Ember (Sophie MacKay) grow apart and all hopes of uniting the two kingdoms by her father, King Gordo (Douglas Webster) are dashed as they go their separate ways.  Enter now a dragon that threatens their villages, and the king promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to he whoever slays this vile creature.

    The deed is dispatched by a mysterious knight, Raoul (Collin Carver), or so it seems, and suddenly Arro has disappeared, turned into a frog by a vengeful witch, Gladys (Emily Sahler), for reasons discovered later.  His only recourse out of this curse is to be kissed by a true love within three days.  And he does have some allies to help, in the form of woodland animals, Granny Racoon (Melissa Standley), Sheldon the Snail (Troy Sawyer) and Benny Beaver (Eric Zulu).  The conclusion is classic storytelling which, of course, you’ll have to see to discover.

    The songs (by Pomeranz) and dances (choreographed by Erin Shannon) are a pure joy and enhance the story, as well as fleshing out the characters.  And Tamblyn’s direction, a veteran of local theatre, is paramount in his casting and staging of this magical production. Some of my favorite numbers are “Club Mud,” a romp; “For the Good of All”, revealing; “Sugar Lips,” a hoot; “Humans,” fun: “Kill the Frog Toad,” an oily delight; and the romantic, “The Kiss.”

    Sahler is a seasoned performer and quite a belter and it shows.  Fields and Mackay have fine voices and Fields, in particular, shines in the dance numbers.  Webster is in fine form with his powerful voice.  Zulu, Standley, and Sawyer,as the forest critters, play well off each other in their comic timing.  And they have an amazing chorus, filling in the many supporting characters.  Among them is Quinn Boyd, as the young Ember, who shows promise in her well-crafted role.

    But there is a sneaky rat that tends to spoil this lovely brew of characters, as Carver tends to steal the show as the nefarious, nasty, no-good-nik villain of the piece.  His “cheesy” performance is an utter delight!  His background covers OCT and Triangle, where I’ve reviewed him before, and he is still charming the audiences. 

    And to each and all of us, may the message of this play, selflessness is the key to happiness and love, invade each our hearts, so that we may live in Peach and Harmony with Nature and each other, so that we may truly live “hopefully ever after!”

    I highly recommend this play.  If you do chose to see this play, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS


Sunday, June 12, 2022

Bad World—Crave theatre—SE Portland

 

Tangerine Dreams…Icicle Kisses

    This original, Live musical is written by Kylie Jenifer Rose,James Liptak, Jennifer Provenza, Rachael Singer, Michael Cavazos, Ashley Mellinger, Maya Maria Brown, and Zeloszelos Marchandt.  Music by James Liptak and Kylie Jenifer Rose and lyrics by Rose and Jennifer Provenza.  It is directed by Rachael Singer and Jennifer Lanier.  It is playing at the Shaking-the-Tree space, 823 SE Grant St. through July 3rd.  Full covid protocols in place…vaccine cards, masks, etc.  For more information, go to their site at www.cravetheatre.org or call 360-931-5664.

    Once upon a time there was a little girl named Rose who grew up in a fun and loving family (good world).  As she got older, she dreamed of distant lands and all the magical things that could happen there (good world).  Finally, she decided on  a career in the arts and to travel to Gay Paree (good world).  But Rose (Kylie Jenifer Rose) was now a young adult, and out on her own, and the dreams she had would soon be dramatically altered by some ruthless beasts who would shatter those dreams (Bad World)!

    This mostly sung play is a map of the journey, cathartic for her and educational for others.  As she traverses her own path down memory lane, she is joined by other selves; other victims of sexual abuse; and even the strangers themselves, played in a mostly jazz, concert style, in dance and song, as a reflection of her inner artist.

    These three remarkable people that share the stage with Rose, filling in the blanks of her tale/memory are Zeloszelos Marchandt as Langston, Gayle Hammersley as Zaria and Kayla Leacock as Linnea…and they are terrific!  Being victims themselves, they are all a part of Rose’s, Symphony of Life, and she a part of theirs.  They struggle valiantly; they harmonize beautifully; and they relate a too, oft-told tale of abuse by an ignorant, brutish gender that feel they are the superior race and demand submission by all others… “a tale told by an idiot!”

    The is a play you simply must see to appreciate and it is a safe space to explore this very destructive trend in our society.  Rose is a very brave lady and an absolutely amazing singer and actor! And hopefully this show is Broadway-bound, as it is topical in content, and professionally done in style.  Liptak’s music is magical, as it always connects seamlessly with the lyrics.  Not only that, but the lighting (Griffin DeWitt) and set (Yelena Babinskaya) throb in unison with the music and plot.  A union, I would say, conceived in a…Good World!

    I highly recommend this musical.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

--DJS