Monday, September 22, 2014

Whodunit…the Musical—Broadway Rose—Tigard, OR

Fruit of All Evil

This mystery-spoof musical is written by Ed Dixon, directed by Annie Kaiser, choreographed by Erin Shannon and with musical direction by Mont Chris Hubbard.  It is playing at their space at 12850 SW Grant Ave. through October 19th.  For more information, go to or call 503-620-5262.

This play is much like the old chestnuts from the 20’s & 30’s, like Cat and the Canary or The Bat, in which there seems to be supernatural elements at work.  And it does owe some homage to Agatha Christie, probably the best mystery writer ever.  The problem with these early mysteries is that they always had a great deal of exposition, which the audience had to wade through, to get to the good stuff.  In short, the second act of this show is better than the first one because of that.

The music itself is not of high caliber but the voices are.  The women, in particular, are very fine singers.  Three of my favorite songs were A Ladies Maid, A Card Reading and Money.  All fun songs and well performed.  The plot should be familiar to all mystery lovers.  Carrie (Debbie Hunter), a spinster, has decided to spend a relaxing week at Sunnyside Cottage, a rambling old mansion, with her irascible maid, Liddy (Jennifer Goldsmith) and her perky niece, Sally (Joy Martin).

Sally has also brought a friend, Jack (Sean Powell), which does not sit well with Carrie or Liddy, being “good girls, they are.”  The house also comes with the drool, family butler, Thomas (Thomas Slater).  But the house has a sinister reputation, as it has scared off most of the servants.  Horrible faces are seen at the window, howling animals disturb the night, the electricity is flaky, and a murdered stranger is discovered in their living room.

Of course this means that a detective is summoned, Jarvis (Mike Dederian), and then one of the boarders disappears.  A stranger (Jon Andrew) also shows up to add confusion to the plot, as does a lively Gypsy, Zaza (Shawna St. John).  When another body is discovered and the bridge washes out their only way to escape, then they really are in a muddle.  But, of course, to reveal any more would not be playing fair.  But I will tell you that there are layers to the people and the plot that are not expected.

As mentioned, this is not the best mystery ever written but it is a good spoof of them.  Also the songs are serviceable at best.  In short, the cast is better than the material they are presenting.  All of them put their hearts into it and are very pleasant to watch.  The set (designer, Charles Murdock Lucas), too, is well done and apes the type of spooky mansions of that period.

Kaiser has done well with keeping the story moving and selecting a very good cast.  Hubbard, as always, gives his best.  And Shannon is a choreographer to be watched, fresh from her terrific job with Pixie Dust.  But the lady who stole the show was Goldsmith, as the maid.  Her looks, reactions, singing and acting were very funny.  She is unlike any maid you may have seen and she was missed when not onstage.  An actress to be watched, as she has talent.

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

Sunday, September 21, 2014

La Cage Aux Folles—Pixie Dust Productions—downtown Portland

Love…Ain’t It Grand!

This popular musical is written by Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, directed by Greg Tamblyn, musical direction by Alan D. Lytle and choreography by Erin Shannon.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through October 5th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-704-8991.

Originally this was a non-musical, French film (by Jean Poiret).  Then it was adapted as a musical for Broadway and was very successful.  Finally it became a non-musical, American film called The Birdcage with the (late, great) Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.  Now Greg and Pixie Dust, responsible for the terrific, Beauty and the Beast, last year (with some of the same actors in this), have embraced it and given Portland another outstanding, musical production!

And it was grand to have the multi-talented, Portland icon, Darcelle, co-host the opening of this play. If you have not seen one of Darcelle’s shows, do go, they will “broaden” your viewpoint of show biz,  They were also helpful, I’m sure, of consulting on costumes, make-ups, movements, etc. of the actors in this show.  And what a chorus there is, too, all of which should be mentioned for their exhilarating song and dance numbers:  Jeremy Sloan, Jared Warby, Carlos M. Quezada, Anthony Chan, Jameson Tabor, Jeff George, Vanessa Elsner and Erin Shannon (the choreographer).

The story is rather simple and sweet.  A couple has raised a young man to adulthood and now he is getting married and wants his parents to meet her folks, who are prominent in the political arena.  Problems arise as the mother of the boy is rather…eccentric, in behavior and it seems necessary to remove her temporally from the picture.  Mild conflict, perhaps, but it all seems rather innocent, right?

Except what I didn’t tell you is that the boy’s parents are Gay or, as they put it, one transvestite and one homosexual.  And that they run a rather…naughty cabaret involving female impersonators, with the boy’s Mom as the star and his father as the Emcee.  And, oh, yes, one more thing, the boy’s future Father-in-Law is a Senator who is campaigning against Gay Rights and smutty nightclubs.  Muddies the waters a bit, doesn’t it?

Anyway, George (Lief Norby) and Albert/Zaza (Joe Theissen) have been a couple for 20 years and are in love.  They have a rather interesting butler/maid, Jacob/Claudia (Kevin Cook), who is more than happy to share observations into their actions.  Their son, Michael (Jack Levis), engaged to Anne (Sophie Keller), would prefer to have his birth mother present (for obvious reasons mentioned above) and so Albert, who raised him, must make himself scarce.  And so the proverbial…manure, hits the fan when the Senator (Stacey Murdock) and his wife (Pam Mahon) arrive for dinner.

To even have told you this much is giving bits of discovery away, so I will just say that it is a growing experience for all involved (perhaps, even the audience) and that Love will out in the end.  Of course much of the show is expressed in the musical numbers, which are fabulous.  Love may be a fleeting thing, at times, for all of us but it is real and will not be denied.  It is multi-layered and knows no boundaries such as gender, age, beliefs, cultures, and imagination.  It is what it is…and lays at one’s feet…waiting to be enacted upon.  Treat it gently…and with tolerance.

The chorus numbers, as mentioned, are outstanding!  But so are the more personal songs.  The showstopper, of course, is I Am What I Am (dynamically sung by Theissen).  He and Norby also have a poignant number in With You On My Arm, as well as the touching, Masculinity.  And the rousing, The Best Of Times, with both families, is fun.

Tamblyn has done another impressive job in putting the pieces of this intricate show together.  He also manages to pull out all the stops, not only with the musical numbers but with the little, more intimate moments, as well as milking all the comic bits possible out of the situations.  Lytle is a master with his orchestra and does not overpower the actors.  And, my hats off to Shannon, who excels in directing the dancing of all these people.  She has created a work of art, as I see it.

The costumes and make-up by some of Darcelle’s people (coordinator, Margaret Louise Chapman) are almost a show in themselves and the wigs (Jane Holmes) are, also, a work of art.  Glenn G. Gauer (a designer icon for years) has assembled very striking and easily changeable sets.  Musicals are by their very nature, difficult to produce, but this company is one of the top as to the execution of them!

Theissen is brilliant!  Everything he does onstage in the many guises he dons, works.  Every bit, every nuisance is perfectly timed and portrayed.  It doesn’t get any better than this!  Norby is also a pro and you feel his frustration at the dilemma in trying to appease his son but being faithful to his lover.  And Cook nearly steals the scenes that he’s in, with his constant mutterings and asides at the proceedings.

I highly recommend this show, with the understanding that it deals with adult subject matter.  It is a story about Love…Love of Life…of family…of neighbors…and of that one special someone, whoever they are!  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

The Great Society—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Recalling the 60’s
This drama about the LBJ years in the White House is written by Robert Schenkkan and directed by Bill Rauch (OSF’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at the Bowmer Theatre at OSF and runs through November 1st.  For more information, go to or call 800-219-8161.

This play is a sequel to the LBJ story portrayed in OSF’s All The Way.  That show went to Broadway from here and won some Tony Awards.  I’m sure OSF has plans of doing the same with this show.  And Jack Willis repeats his role as the irascible LBJ.  This is a history lesson in politics, covering 1965-69 in less than three hours and is quite amazing, highlighting many of the key issues and figures of that era, as well as giving us brief glimpses into the man himself.

It is said, if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there.  And, if true, then this will give you a sketch of what happened.  But it is also said that, if you have not learned from the Past, you are condemned to repeat it.  One only needs to look at current affairs to see, perhaps, the truth of that latter statement.  And, although I remember some of the issues revealed, I was not aware of the inner workings of our government.  (Also, I was a member of the OSF acting company for some of those years and studying theatre with Dr. Bowmer at, what was then, SOC.)

The stage setting gives the illusion of an arena, very appropriate for the battles that will be fought here.  For the most part, the actions and issues fly around like a whirlwind, giving you the essence of the concerns and only occasionally slowing for the human doubts and frailties that must have plagued great men such as LBJ (Jack Willis), Dr. King (Kenajuan Bentley), Humphrey (Peter Frechette), and Bobby Kennedy (Danforth Comins).  And some of the issues in the spotlight during these times were the race riots in Watts; the demonstrations and marches in the South, for voting rights for the Blacks; the War on Poverty in Chicago; and, of course, the Viet Nam War.

A major viewpoint that this story is trying to make is that, had it not been for the concentration of monies and efforts going to the conflicts in Southeast Asia, our domestic problems may have been solved a lot easier.  But, being that the Nation’s attention was divided between the Asian jungles overseas and the concrete jungles at home, we fell short on both fronts and, because of that, lives were lost, needlessly.  A divided front will fall on all sides.  And, of course, the question arises, how many deaths are too many to justify a battle?  The answer, one.  (That, of course, would be the moral response, not necessarily, the political one.)

Another facet of this journey seems to be that it is of primary importance to save face.  All these political figures are constantly aware of how they look to others, their image, and how leaders can spin the stories to make themselves look good.  It seems that both these failings have followed us into the 21st century.  Like I said, these fleeting moments fly by within the course of the play.  But we also get a peek at the homilies that make up a person, too, especially with King and LBJ.

Rauch has done a superior job of presenting us with a well-told story, set in an arena, and letting us draw our own conclusions (as I have) as to the merits and/or failings of those on the field of battle.  And he has not lost those little moments that remind us that we are all just human in the final tally.  Whether we listen to LBJ reflect with his homilies, or his secretary’s (Bakesta King) concern for her son in Nam, or a young black student (Tobie Windham), who was beaten to death by white police.  It’s a balancing act, for sure, of this madcap circus and Rauch is a terrific ringmaster!

Most of the actors play more than one role and they perform them well.  But the top acting honors must go to Willis, as LBJ, who has the monumental task of creating a historic figure and yet being able to humanize him, too.  Quite frankly, I couldn’t imagine this role being done by anyone else.  He has cemented this role onto the viewers’ minds and ne’er will the mold be broken, in my eyes!

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

The Ashland Experience (part III)

Again, I stayed at the Ashland Springs Hotel in the heart of Ashland and less than a block to OSF.  I had recommended this to some friends and they stayed there, too.  He had stayed in many hotels both here and abroad and said that this was possibly the nicest experience he’d had in a hotel.  Some major considerations I make when finding accommodations in Ashland is free parking, closeness to OSF and complimentary meals.  This has a very substantial continental breakfast included, secured free parking, and, as mentioned, next door to OSF.  And I have found the charming Karolina, their Marketing Director, to be very helpful with any questions or concerns.  For further information, go to or call 888-795-4545. 

And, as always, if you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Comedy of Errors—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

The Rhythm of Life

This adaptation of Shakespeare’s lesser known comedy is directed by Kent Gash and will be playing at OSF’s Thomas Theatre in downtown Ashland through November 2nd.  For more information, go to their site as or call 800-219-8161.

I think most people know that Willy S.’s plots were all based on other material.  The basis for this is from the Greek play, Twin Menechme, among others.  But that is where the resemblance of this production to his play, or the Greek one, ends.  This story is set mostly in Harlem toward the end of the 1920’s and the beginning of the music Renaissance in Harlem.  The sweet tunes of Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and others permeate and ooze from the pores of this production.

But one thing you have to understand is that you might as well stop trying to figure out the plot of the story and just get caught up in the rhythm and energy of the show.  To be brief, it has to do with a father, Egeon (Jerome Preston Bates), who has had his fortune ruined by a storm in Louisiana and has also managed to lose his wife, Emilia (Franchelle Stewart Dorn) and his twin sons, Antipholus (Tobie Windham) and their twin servants, Dromio (Rodney Gardiner).

Migrating to Harlem without monies, he soon discovers from the Duke (R. J. Foster) that to be a vagrant in their fair city is a death sentence, so he must find family or someone who will support him.  Among those who may be one or the other are Adriana (Omoze Idehenre) and Luciana (Monique Robinson), who run a rooming house, a courtesan (Bakesta King), who runs a…well, another sort of house, and various swindlers who may be looking for an easy mark.

Like I said, don’t think too hard on this but, suffice to say, being a comedy, it all gets sorted out by the end…sort of.  The thing to concentrate on is the unbridled energy this show has to offer.  It resembles, in a way, the complications of plot but boundless energy of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (which just might be a show OSF should consider for a future production).

And the show’s director, Gash, must have had his hands full directing/choreographing (w/Bryron Easley) all the intricate movements, bit, gags…that seem endless in this fast-paced show.  And the set (designer, Jo Winiarski) is a Mecca in its simplicity, allowing the action to flow freely.  The costumes by Kara Harmon are also fun and colorful.

The entire cast seemed fully adept at this sort of physical comedy.  I especially liked Dorn in all of her many guises, who is also quite a singer.  And this is a show that allows even those in smaller roles to stretch.  Mark Murphey as the policeman/butler has some very funny bits.  As does the maid (Mildred Ruiz-Sapp).  Again, emphasizing the old adage, “there are no small parts…”

I would recommend this show for a fun-filled afternoon or evening.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you. 

For another perspective visit SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review at

The Ashland Experience (part II)

Again, eating at The Black Sheep, 51 N. Main St. (look for the red door, which leads you upstairs), was a true delight.  It is a traditional English pub and has the food to prove it.  One of the friends that went with me was born and raised in England and gave their food high marks.  She had the Norfolk Fish Pie, and her husband, a Cornish pastry (which is a meal in itself).  I had the Chicken Cordon Bleu w/veggies and seasoned mashed potatoes and it was more than an ample meal, and all at reasonable prices.  Of course, we all washed this down with the local or imported micro-brews.

It should be noted that this is one of the few places that stays open late (even on weekday nights) to accommodate the late-night crowd after the OSF plays.  And, another inviting assent, is the friendly staff working there.  They actually seem to want to get to know you and try to remember your name and what you like to drink.  Greg was super, as our bartender, and you could sense he was a caring person.  Also, my personal favorite from my last visit in the Spring, was the lovely, Prairie Skye.  She is also a smart and talented lady (in music) and one can instantly sense her warmth for people.  Both true assets to this environment.

And you shouldn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that an English pub would fit very well into an atmosphere that featured a Shakespearean theatre.  Good for you, Susan, may you live long and prosper!  I highly recommend this place.  If you do go there, say Hi from me and know you are in the good hands of caring people.

Into The Woods—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Hopefully…Ever After

This Broadway musical about Fairy Tales by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, will soon be a major motion picture from Disney, starring Meryl Streep.  This production has musical and stage direction by Amanda Dehnert, choreography by Royer Bockus and plays through October 11th at the Elizabethan Theatre in downtown Ashland.  For more information, go to their site at or call 800-219-8161.

If you broke down the words, Fairy, a magical being, and Tale, a fabricated story, you might conclude that this is the stuff “that dreams are made on.”  And you would be right…sort of.  But we are all made up of stories…ours, and other peoples…and stories within stories.  And we all have magic…as we can create spells and cause things to happen just by our words.

When we are telling a story to our children, fanciful, or otherwise, we are setting things in motion that may have a profound effect on the little listener in future times.  So, the lesson here is, be so very careful what we tell them, for the future may resemble that offering.  And if we want the ending to be, “happily ever after,” we must, therefore, have the key beginning, “Once upon a time…”

And so it came to pass that Jack (Miles Fletcher), of that confounded beanstalk fame, and his mother (Robin Goodrin Nordli) also knew a feisty little kid named Red Riding Hood (Kjerstine Rose Anderson), who was having some problems with the neighborhood Wolf (Howie Seago).  Also, in this small, rural community there was this Baker (Javier Munoz) and his wife (Rachael Warren), who were willing to try anything to have a baby, even black magic.

Also, all good kingdoms in a storybook have a princess (in this case two), Cinderella ( Jennie Greenberry), Ms. rags-to-riches, with her father (Robert Vincent Frank), and two, repulsive step-sisters (Katie Bradley and Christina Clark), and the other, the long-haired lass, Rapunzel (Royer Bockus).  Of course they need their charming but snotty Princes, respectively, Jeremy Peter Johnson and John Tufts and a Steward (David Kelly) to confuse things even more.

And, of course, we must have a storyteller/narrator (Peter Frechette), a neutral element to keep the plot moving.  It seems to me I’m forgetting something important…oh, yes, the chief villain (in this case, again, two), the backbone of the piece.  There is the wicked old witch (Miriam A. Laube) and the towering Giant-ess (Catherine E. Coulson).  And, from all this mix-and-match, you will have to glean the rest of the story by seeing it.  Because, to reveal any more, would be giving away all the clever little plot twists that make this re-telling…unique.

But I will inform you of two things.  In order to have a baby, you must have a milky-white cow, a slipper, some beans and a red cape.  Didn’t know that, did ya?  And if you think the play is over at the end of Act I, as everything seems to fall neatly into place, remember (for all you musical lovers), The Fantasticks. After the romantic moon has set, the blazing sun must rise.  Paradise cannot come too easily, lest it not be fully appreciated.  There are many things one can like about this show but there is one special incident, perhaps magical in itself, that really defines why the live, performing arts are singularly set apart.  But I will save that observation for my concluding remarks.

Nevertheless, Sondheim has some extremely difficult music, both in performing and singing, so is not often nor easily done.  But these talented men and women have risen to the occasion and have graced us with quite an accomplished show.  They are the A-team and it probably couldn’t get any better than this!  And a movie version, with all its expensive special effects, of this, or any story, will never be more powerful than one’s own imagination.  So this production allows, thankfully, for plenty of that.

The Witch, Laube, is the focal point of the show and so it rests on her bony shoulders.  And, like Atlas, she holds it up with magnificent aplomb.  Her needs are what drives the plot forward and constantly challenges this rickety crew of malcontents to be on their toes at all times.  For, into the woods we go, and grow, and her woods are dark and deep.  Her renditions of her solos, Stay with Me, Lament, and Last Midnight couldn’t have been better.

The two Princes, Johnson and Tufts, are a scream in their song, Agony.  Jack seems very comfortable with his mantle and his song, Giants in the Sky, which is very appealing.  Warren shines in the complex role of The Baker’s wife and is in especially fine voice in Maybe Their Magic and Moments in the Woods.  And Greenberry certainly would be my ideal as my Princess and has an astounding voice in On the Steps of the Palace.  But probably my favorite song, sung by the Company, was Ever After.

The magic tricks, especially the re-appearing Cow and the transforming Witch, were wonderful.  The costumes in any fairy tale must be out of this world, and they are, in the hands of Linda Roethke.  The orchestra couldn’t be better and became part of the show.  And Dehnert’s handling of the music, timing, interpretation, casting and vision could not have been better.  Plays that go as deep into the imagination, as this one does, relies completely on the choices of the Master and Commander.  In this case, the ship is in expert hands, to sail us true to the “third star from the left and straight on till morning.”  Bravo to all concerned!

And, as promised, an example of the uniqueness of the Performing Arts from the production I saw.  It rained.  What, you say…and why is…?  It did not stop this outdoor show…or the audience.  It may have enhanced the experience for all involved.  (Not that I’d recommend this for all their shows.)  But that sense of…we’re all in the same boat…uncomfortable, of course…not planned…but let’s make the best of it and support each other.  And so, the final result, we applauded each other at the end of the show for…hanging in there, maybe.

Every live play that is done is the only time you’ll see it that way…and never again will it be duplicated.  It may be similar…but never exact.  The performance you will share with the actors (and all the other terrific artists behind the scenes) is unique and then, like a dream, dissolves.  We are one with it for those fleeting moments and then, branded only in our memories, it is gone.  And so, like sharing a story with a child, we must present ourselves in the best way we can, before they journey…into the woods.

I highly recommend this show but it is more a fractured fairy tale for adults than for very young children.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you. 

The Ashland Experience (part I)

The Tours:  This is definitely a very worthwhile experience.  In less than two hours you will explore the backstage areas of all three of their theatres—the Elizabethan (the original), the Bowmer (named for the Founder of OSF Dr. Angus (Gus) L. Bowmer and the Thomas, their “black box “ theatre.  Not only do you see some of the “hidden” parts of these performing spaces but you hear many of the whys and wherefores of how a show is produced.  And the tours are conducted by members of the actual company, which expound on their own experience in theatre, as well as at OSF which, to me (having been there myself at one time), is fascinating.  Go to their website for reservations.

And, one other observation, in my opinion there is not an honor high enough that Richard L. Hay should receive.  He has designed sets for OSF for well over 50 years (as well as ones in Portland) and has had that same influence on the actual theatres themselves.  He is a Master…an Artist…and a True Genius.  I salute him!  And, if you feel in a similar way, let he and OSF know it.