Monday, December 15, 2014

Miracle on 43rd St.:…—Bag & Baggage Theatre—Hillsboro, OR

A Kruely Krazy Khristmas

…A 1940’s Holiday Radio Massacre is, in part, based on the classic Christmas film, A Miracle on 34th St. by George Seaton and Valentine Davies and adapted and directed for the stage by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).  It performs at their space in the Venetian Theatre at 253 E. Main St. in downtown Hillsboro and runs through December 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-345-9590.

This is labeled as a parody of the best filmed version of the story, with the award-winning, Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.  The original movie is very touching.  This stage adaptation is very touchy in both content and physical comedy.  Half of the story follows, it seems, the actual script of the film.  The other half is the radio cast’s personal life smeared across the boards.

In case you’re one of two or three people that do not know the original story, I’ll give you a brief summary of it.  Once upon a time, it seems, there was this little girl who did not believe in Santa Claus.  So, when Macy’s had their annual Christmas display, she reluctantly sat on his lap and wished what she thought was an impossible wish, for a real home.  And, it seems, there was also some question from Macy’s as to whether their Claus was a few marbles short in the head.

So, there was a Great Trial to prove whether Santa Claus was sane and, was real.  And when children from all over discovered that Santa was jailed, where do you think they sent their letters?  The courthouse, of course, and since the Post Office is a branch of the Federal Government, as is the Court, then it is conclusive that Kris must be the real Santa, since he receives the letters.  And, oh, yes, the child does get her wish and, forever more, believes in the existence of the bearded wonder.  Amen.

This part of the show follows pretty faithfully the original script with the cast playing multiple characters.  But the real fun is discovering the secrets of their lives.  It seems the blustery station manager of the radio station, KBNB, Winston Whiteside (Gary Strong) has recently married a bouncy, buxom, beauty, Lana (Jessica Geffen), who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.  It also seems they have hired a handsome, vain, screen idol, Donald Donaldson (Chase Fulton) for one of the parts, as well Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick (Clara Hillier), an equally vain, emoting, stage star, who just happens to be in the final stages of marriage to Donald.

Also on hand for the frivolity is their meek, handy, Foley artist, Peter (Branden McFarland) who always talks with his mouth full and who nobody seems to understand what he’s saying, except Felicity.  Go figure.  Then, an intruder with a gun, Tony (Luke Armstrong), a mobster and former boyfriend of Lana’s, decides he wants her back.  But, not so fast, an effeminate, off-duty policeman, Gilroy (Jeremy Sloan) arrives to watch how they do the show and gets rope into becoming one of the performers.

Complications arise when Peter earlier is accidently shot and killed by Tony, and so when the cop arrives, although they can’t tell him what happened, for fear of getting shot themselves, they definitely want to keep the law around until they get the upper hand.  So, of course, they must also keep Peter “alive” by animating him (like in Weekend At Bernie’s) and explaining to the officer that he is just “dead” drunk.  I don’t believe this is a spoiler alert because it happens fairly early in the story and much of the comedy centers around the “walking dead.”  Needless to say, they must also keep Tony occupied, so they enlist him into the script, as well, until they can formulate a plan of escape.

The main focus of this plot is the highly stylized, physical comedy that ensues which, for the most part, is very successful.  It is more like a well-choreographed dance than a normal play and that is its charm, all thanks to Palmer, the director.  The antics with the animated body were priceless and my favorite comedy bits.  Palmer is highly inventive with all his shows, especially in movement and this one is the cherry on top of a well-spiced cake!

This stylized approach may not be everybody’s cup of tea, as it is highly exaggerated in movements, gestures and expressions.  Hillier (ala, Gloria Swanson?) moves much like the silent movie stars with dance-like precision.  Geffen is a master of voice characters and her Judy Holliday/Jean Hagen dumb blonde, complete with high squeaky voice, are a perfect parody of those stars.  Fulton (ala, Leslie Howard?), as the matinee idol, has the right look for the role and plays it to the hilt.  And Armstrong, as the hit-man, gives us the typical, Robinson/Cagney/Bogart gangster impersonation of that era.

McFarland may have the most difficult part in the play, as he has to be “dead” most of the show but his physical flexibility is excellent and the mush-mouthed words a great bit.  Sloan is over-the-top in his picturing of the stereotypic gay, but would be considered politically incorrect in this age, although it was the norm in those days.  And Strong, as the ringmaster of this menagerie, is a comic wonder!  His comedic timing and movements are perfect and he is always an asset to all the shows I’ve seen him do at B&B.

Only shortfall I found with this production is what to watch, as the radio script is being performed on one side of the stage, and many, silent comedy bits with the corpse are played at the same time on the opposite side of the stage.  Both are very funny but, because of the staging, some of it is being missed.  I decided to listening to the “scripted” part, since I knew the story, and watching the mimed parts of the backstage antics for the most part.  Anyway, that how I solved the dilemma.

I would recommend this show but it may not be for everybody because of the adult humor.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mary Poppins—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

“Walking With Giants”

This stage musical is based on the Disney film by Richard and Robert Sherman, with additional material by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and book by Julian Fellowes, from the stories of P.L. Travers.  It is directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director) and plays through January 4th at their space at 1819 NW Everett St.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-4480.

As mentioned, this play is based on the film which, in turn, is based on the stories by Travers about a dowdy, middle-aged, no-nonsense nanny, but transformed into Julie Andrews for the movie.  It is usually the film based on a play.  But, in this case, some memorial songs/plots/characters have been deleted and new ones added.  Unfortunately, these additions/deletions are not always an asset in the play.  This is not the fault of the production, which is amazing, but of the script.

Travers always insisted that the story was never about saving the children from an authoritarian upbringing, but in rescuing Mr. Banks, the father, from becoming like a Scrooge.  I guess you can consider Poppins a sort of Marley of the story.  This, in turn, inspired the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, with Emma Thompson as the author.  And, admittedly, this adaptation does place more emphasis on this character.  He is akin to the militarist Capt. Van Trapp (The Sound of Music) with his children.

The story follows the Banks’ family.  The father, George (Andrés Alcalá), is the respected member of a banking firm, and authoritarian in the way he treats his family.  The mother, Winifred (Elizabeth Hadley), is a wannabe artist but is stifled in her dreams by her strict husband.  The children, Jane (Kaylee Bair or Libby Rouffy) and Michael (Kieran Gettel-Gilmartin) are brats because of this domineering atmosphere.

Enter, Mary Poppins (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit), the magical nanny from a netherworld.  She does not tolerate bad behavior, in anybody, but does believe in exercising one’s imagination.  She introduces the children to a world of magic, with her cohort, Bert (John Ellingson), a sometimes chimney-sweep and sometimes artist, who is a bit sweet on Poppins.  Her influence is contagious and little by little things begin to change in the household.  But the success of this production is not the story but the songs and the staging of the musical numbers.

Gone (unfortunately) are the musical numbers, “I Love to laugh” and, especially, “Sister Suffragette.”  But the rest of the classics are firmly in place, such as, “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” “Chim Chiminey,” “Step In Time,” “Supercala…(well, you know)” and my personal favorite (who, I understand, was also Disney’s), “Feed The Birds.”  As well as all the songs are performed by the cast, the elements that hit it out of the ballpark are the dance numbers, “Super…,” “Jolly Holiday,” “A Spoonful of Sugar,” and the absolutely astounding, “Step in Time!”  That is, in my opinion, the best choreographed dance routine I’ve ever seen on the stage!  A showstopper and an amazing stunner!  And all thanks to Hardy.

Kelly-Pettit has the right look and sound for this role.  She was terrific in lead roles in The Music Man (Broadway Rose) and Avenue Q (Triangle) and again excels as Poppins.  She is the quintessential performer for all those great, musical lead roles.  Ellingson as Bert (and the scenic Designer) is one of the mainstays of NWCT.  He has played major roles and designed many of their musical productions and has always been an asset to a show.  His singing and dancing in this one are amazing and his cockney accent sounds spot on.  Alcalá is a standout.  He plays this complex role, showing both the stress of his position as bread-earner and the product of an abusive childhood, and the softer side of the man with his dreams.  A beautiful performance.

Hadley has a great voice and the children show their talents, too, as they traverse the demands of such heavy roles in song and dance.  And to be highly commended are the 10 actors that manage to portray the other 50 roles in the show.  They are definitely a major part of the success of the production!  Among them that shine are Erik James, Sam Burns, Leif Schmit and Signe Larsen.  And I must also give kudos to the usually forgotten souls in this production, the scene changers.  They were essential to the quick and smooth flow of the show and rarely had a hiccup in these frequent maneuvers.  The costumes (designer, Mary Rochon) and music (director, Tracy Ross) were also solid leaders in the show’s success.

But the real champion is Hardy, herself, who led the charge.  It must have been a monumental challenge to coordinate all the many aspects of this production.  And to have done such an outstanding job of choreographing it, too, makes it almost unbelievable.  She has delivered an absolutely, scrumptious delight in providing us with such an energetic, enchanting entertainment!  One for the Ages, I believe!

It should be noted that this run is almost sold out so best get tickets quickly.  I highly recommend this production for the whole family.  If you do choose to go, please tell them that Dennis sent you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs—Oregon Children’s Theatre—NE Portland

Piggy Power…or not?

OCT’s Young Professionals Company is presenting this play at their school site at 1939 NE Sandy Blvd.  The musical is adapted for the stage by Robert Kauzlaric, Paul Gilvary and William Rush from a book of the same name by Jon Sciezka and Lane Smith.  It is directed by James Sharinghousen and is playing through December 20th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-228-9571.

It is a well-known adage that the History of a War is written by the Victors.  The same can be said of fairy tales.  Are they not related by the heroes or survivors of a tale?  Some recent plays have attempted to partly vindicate the villains in some of these stories, like Wicked, with the evil witch, or Frozen, and the Snow Queen.  Which begs the question, do we ever know what truly happens in any given circumstance?  Just look at recent events and the ensuring riots.  As long as we have to deal with He said/She said scenarios, real Justice may never be meted out.

And so, in a very roundabout way, this story is concerned with the same issues.  I’m sure we all know the tale of how the Big, Bad, Wolf huffed and puffed his way through two houses, one of straw and one of sticks, of some neighborhood…“hams” and failed on the third house, which was made of brick.  The story never does speak of him actually eating the porkers but, I guess, it is implied, or why would he blow down their residences.  Of course, this is all told from the Pigs or Victims point of view, those cute, chubby, little creatures, and the ugly, hairy beast with big teeth is pictured as the bad guy.

Well, in this musical reimagining, Alexander T. Wolf (Joshua Harding) may be the actual victim, as the town is run by swine and, being an outsider, he feels he is being picked upon because of the prejudice of the majority.  Nevertheless, he is brought to trial, which has all the appearances of being rigged.  The Judge, Prudence (Piper Tuor), is a pigster from birth but does like a good tune now and then, which the wolf can supply with pizzazz.  And the D.A., Julia (Hannah Lauren Wilson), obviously against him, pulls all sorts of sly tricks out of her sty.

And a bevy of witnesses, a doctor, a neighbor and the actual brick house pig, himself, Maxwell (all played by Kallan Dana) swear that this is the culprit responsible for the death of two of Pigslvania’s citizens.  His only ally seems to be Lillian (Christina DePinto), a roving reporter, covering the trial.  The story the wolf tells has a similar ring as to the facts, but his motives seem to be quite different than the ones implied.  And so it is up to the Jury (the audience) to decide his Fate.  More I cannot tell you, as it would give away too much of the plot, but the theme seems to be, as I mentioned earlier, Truth is in the Eye of the Beholder.

The music/songs do have a catchy, upbeat sound, some rock & roll, a ballad and a touch, perhaps, of Rocky Horror….  The music direction by Eric Nordin and choreography by Ashlee Waldbauer add a great deal to the liveliness and quick pace of the show.  And the director, Sharinghousen, has chosen his cast well and has them animated and focused every moment of the play.  He, himself, is a fine actor, having performed in former OCT and Triangle productions.

The cast are all first-rate and make some exhausting work look easy.  And they are all top performers musically as well.  I marvel at Dana and the variety of characters she portrays, some in quick succession of each other.  Tuor, as the bouncy judge, is quite fun to watch, as she oozes her juicy corruptness.  Harding gives us a rather down-to-earth wolf with a terrific talent for song.  DePinto, as the reporter, is fascinating to watch, as she flits from one side of the fence to the other, giving us various perspectives to consider.  And Wilson is a gem, as the smart but devious attorney, willing to try any trick, legal or otherwise, to win the case.

A side note, I have know some of the performers over the last couple of years from Young Professionals, and have been very impressed with their talent.  Madeleine Delaplane is now at Cornish studying theatre and she was in a featured role in a local film called, Nightbumpers.  Haley Ward and Madison Wray I have touted more than once in OCT’s shows.  And Ward and Thom Hilton are cast in a radio Christmas drama that will be aired during the Season on KXL.  And Wilson, I believe, was also in a rather good, Indie film called, The Void.

I point up all this to highlight just some of the extremely talented young people we have in this area.  And since the public school system all but ignores sponsoring the Arts, it is good to know that Oregon Children’s Theatre (Dani Baldwin, Education Director) and NW Children’s Theatre (Sarah Jane Hardy, Artistic Director), are all dedicated to see that talent-will-out in our Young and they are both excellent at providing the training and experience in putting those talents to work.  They need and deserve all the support we can give them!
I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis send you.

The Santaland Diaries—Portland Center Stage—Pearl District

An Elfin Epiphany

This one-man, adult comedy is written by David Sedaris and directed by Wendy Knox.  It is playing at the PCS space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through December 28th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Sedaris is a well-known comedy writer and performer.  This monologue is based on his real-life experience as a Christmas elf at Macy’s in NYC.  It is sardonic, irreverent and pulls no punches in revealing the underbelly of the commercialism of Christmas.  He also attacks the masks that the employees must wear in portraying the magical beings of Christmas.  And he re-counts many of the foibles and follies of parents and kids at this festive time of year.

I can vouch for many of the encounters he relates as I, myself, was a dept. store Santa on a few occasions (as well as the Easter Bunny at one time).  But more about my experiences later.  His insights are really spot on and his humor infectious.  I would think that many people shouldn’t be surprised that the Spirit of Christmas, The Spirit of Giving, should really be labeled, the Spirit of Getting.  

And the department stores at this time of year seem more interested in having you spend money at their establishment, getting the kids through to Santa as quickly as possible and buying photos of your “little darlings” with the bearded one, than in truly giving the young a memorable, magical, childhood experience with the iconic figurehead of the Season (not to mention that the true reason for the season is Christmas, who gets lost in the shuffle somewhere).

Darius Pierce is a perfect voice for Sedaris, aka, Crumpet, the Elf.  Not only has he played the role a few times before but he creates a natural delivery of a man, down on his luck, unemployed, hoping to find some solace in joining what he would envision, as the ideal job for picking up his spirits and giving him a more positive attitude toward life.  Instead, he discovers, not the magical world of Christmas, but a view of the seedy side of the commercial world, more in league with Satan (as he mentions) than Santa.

In all fairness, the parents and employees he talks about are just very human, but shouldn’t a child be given a view of a magical, positive experience at this time of year, so they can hold on to their innocence just a little while longer?!  The more good we give, the more good we feel, perhaps.  But in Crumpet’s world, there are those creatures of Santaland that frighten children, parents that exploit them, and an atmosphere that all but ignores them.

Crumpet recounts the Santa’s that pictured themselves as slave masters, those that ran on automatic pilot, and the one who actually cared and talked with the child.  He demonstrates the methods they use to propel the children through the mazes, like cattle, and the Elfin guide to proper behavior for being “Santa’s little helper.”  Also relaying what goes on in the mind of such a being when enduring the insults, bad behavior, illness and dealing the prejudices and difference in people.

Pierce’s expressions, gestures and voice interpretations are in sync with the stories he tells and very funny.  He also does not overact, which would be easy to do in this part, but shows us an insightful and just very frustrated human being, who really wants to do the right thing.  I could imagine John Goodman or Bob Newhart doing such a part, as they have the added dimension, as does Pierce, of not only being humorous but also very human, in the parts they enact.  Knox has done a good job of keep some variety in the hour, plus expose to us, with lots of bits of business, as well as a fascinating set for the show and costume for Pierce (Designer, Jessica Ford), the world of Sedaris.  All should get special presents in their Christmas stockings for this!

And now a few insights from yours truly, as to playing the gentle, old man.  I do agree with Sedaris as to the push in commercialism in selling products and photos.  As for a couple stories from me, there was one time back East when playing Santa, the producers of the event were sellers of Snowmobiles, so there were many photo opts with me, driving one to the mall.  The fact that there wasn’t any snow at that time, didn’t deter them, as they imported some manufactured snow for the arrival.  Also they never checked with me as to if I had driven this machine.  I hadn’t and managed to run into just about everything not nailed down before I got the hang of it.

Another time a boy came up to me as I was walking to my chair and said that his parents said not to believe in me, as he was Jewish.  I told him that was alright, as I believed in him.  He just smiled, shook my hand, and went on his way.  Another’s child’s wish was not for toys but that her estranged parents would get back together.  And another wished that her grandfather would get well and not die from a Cancer.  Also, the most common reply to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  The answer, a Veterinarian.  Who would have thought that?  The important thing, I think, for a child, is to allow them as much time as you can to explore that elusive, wonderful world of innocence we call Childhood and extend to them the privilege of believing in the Magic and Blessings of the Season!  Who knows, maybe it will rub off on us, as adults, too.

I recommend this show but it is adult in nature.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Six Characters in Search of an Author—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“All the World’s a Stage…”

This classic drama by Luigi Pirandello is adapted to the stage by Steve Moulds and directed by Michelle Seaton.  It plays at their space at 1436 SW Montgomery St. through December 21st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

The story may be a dream…an alternate reality…a type of purgatory…or, what you will.  It is existential in actuality and presented in a world the Artist knows best, the search for Truth in an ever-changing, ever-evolving Stage of Existence.  Is there a Divine Hand directing us or are we floundering on our own, in a Sea of Possibilities?  Or will we, akin to Groundhog’s Day, keep reinventing ourselves and our situations until we get it Right.  And, if so, Who decides what “Right” is?  Truth is elusive and, in reality, is in the “Eye of the Beholder,” as this presentation suggests.

At the beginning we are invited into the world of rehearsals, of actors, creating a scene…or so we think.  We are firmly set in the present, on an essentially bare stage, with an eager Director (Therman Sisco, Jr.) and his suspicious Stage Manager (Halie Becklyn).  The young Actor (Murri Lazaroff-Babin) and Actress (“TJ” Grady) are supposedly rehearsing a scene from Romero and Juliet (the next play to be presented by PAC in February) with the understudies, who will be taking it on tour.

Normal squabbles ensue as they prepare and rehearse the scene, explaining to the audience that this is all part of an Audience Engagement Event in which we get a sneak peek at the rehearsal process.  And it all goes according to plan until the lights flash and a group of people appear in outdated, mourning clothes, asking if they would be interested in creating a play about them.

They are a family, with an authoritarian Father (Todd Van Voris) and his anguished wife (Alexandria Castelle).  There is also the petulant Son (Nile Whent) and his moody Stepdaughter (Gwendolyn Duffy) and two morose children, a Girl (Agatha Olson) and a Boy (Saorsa Seid), who never speak.  They are, in short, looking for a writer to complete their story.  It seems their story has been abandoned by an author and so they must wander about looking for completion.  And actors to portray them, and this stage on which to present their story, seem an ideal solution.

But their story is a sad one, consisting of adultery, death and estrangement.  Perfect fodders, one may think, for such a melodrama for the stage.  Only one major problem seems to stand in their way:  The Characters are living the story, the actors would only be playing the drama.  And thus, is revealed, the heart of the play, what is Reality/Truth and what is Fantasy or Make-believe/Pretend?  Do we not all enact parts, appearing as one type of person to loved ones, another manifestation to acquaintances, another role for strangers, et. al.?

So, we too, may be searching for an Author…a Creator…God(?).  We, perhaps, can only truly comprehend our neighbors, our world, ourselves by seeing through the eyes of others and walking in their shoes.  It is a large question the play presents and one should walk out of it, not with easy answers, but with more hard questions.  It is called learning, and in learning, we evolve.

I, myself, have had the pleasure of playing the Stage Manger/Director in the original play back East and my friend, Dave, who came with me, had played the Father, in a local production of this old classic.  So we were well versed in the timeless story, but it was refreshing to see it updated so well (by Moulds) and accessible to a modern audience.  It not only revives the still unanswered questions the play suggests but also gives one a glimpse into the artistic mind of the theatre.

Seaton has done a good job of pulling out all the basic questions that haunt this story but also has contrasted it with the freshness of a newer age looking at it with fresh eyes.  And Van Voris, as the Father of his brood, is excellent.  I have always marveled at his ability to make dialogue seem so conversational and natural, as if one were intruding upon a private world of a person.  He is also a thinking actor onstage and you can sense his character’s logic, even when flawed, making the role very human.  Always look forward to seeing this gentleman onstage!

Duffy, as the Stepdaughter, had the necessary fire and determination to make the role an image for strong women, even in a period of time when it was not acceptable.  Whent, as the Son, had the right brooding quality that made you dislike him but also fell sorry for him.  And Sisco, Jr., as the Director, had all the right moves as a cocky upstart who wants to be noticed but has the good sense to listen when necessary.  The rest of the cast, all students of the school, gave a good showing of what expert training can do for an actor.

PAC will be celebrating 30 years in a Gala Celebration at the Benson Hotel on March 7th.  And Romeo and Juliet premiers February 11th.  Check their website for more information.

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