Monday, July 25, 2016

Jesus Christ Superstar—Michael Streeter—SE Portland

The Judas Story—Redux

This classic Rock Opera has lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  It is directed by Michael Streeter, musical direction by Matt Insley and choreography by Kristin Heller, Jim Peerenboon and Michael Streeter.  It is playing at the Post 5 space in Sellwood, 1666 SE Lambert St., through August 20th.  For more information, go to

There are many, often conflicting, stories of Jesus.  The New Testament is probably the most widely read but there are many gaps in the years of Jesus’s life and some books suppressed by the Vatican, supposedly because their “authenticity” couldn’t be verified, but they also point to women (Mary) having a strong voice, mysticism (Thomas) and, of course, the betrayer, Judas, having his say.  The novels, “The DaVinci Code,” “I, Judas” and “The Last Temptation of Christ,” by the author of “Zorba, the Greek,” being the most all-inclusive, I believe, of the Jesus story.  They talk about the marriage of Jesus, a possible child and probable motivation for Judas’s actions.

This Rock Opera (meaning all sung, no dialogue) skirts on these issues.  It seems that Judas (Ithica Tell), after the death of John, the Baptist (Michael Streeter), sees the handwriting on the wall for all those opposing Rome and professing to another God.  So he believes that this Kingdom that Jesus (Ernie Lijoi) preaches of is an earthly one, overthrowing the Romans.  But His kingdom is in another dimension, after we have “shuffled off this mortal coil.”  Needless to say, this political, militant, hot-headed Judas will butt heads with the more passive, more charismatic leader, Jesus.  And thus you have the traditional conflict necessary for any good story.

Jesus’s followers are faithful to Him, up to a point, and consist of the common folk, mainly fishermen and tradesmen, as well as women, one of which, Mary Magdalene (Jessica Tidd), who falls in love with Him.  But Jesus realizes the bloody path in store for Him and knows He must die in order that others may be saved.  Jesus is abandoned by his own religion’s priests, mainly Caiaphas (Nathan Dunkin), because they have an uneasy but profitable relationship with the Romans; one of his own followers, Judas, betrays him in order get Him to get His head “out of the clouds,” perhaps; and the acting head of the local government, Pilate (Damien Geter), can find no fault in this “innocent puppet;” regardless, the prophesy must be fulfilled and Jesus dies on the cross.

But, in the wake of His death and resurrection, a whole new movement was begun, one of the most powerful in the world today and, justifiably, we can say, has created a “Superstar!”  As mentioned, the entire story is told in song, dance and music.  The trick, of course, in such a small space when dealing with live music, is the level of sound.  Luckily the actors are well-miked and have strong voices.  For the most part I was able to hear the lyrics, which is a compliment to all involved.  Not only are they powerful singers but fine actors as well.  His followers reminded me of the hippie movement during the 60’s, especially Simon (Matt Rowning), a young man with a guitar strapped to his back and, in Jesus’s day, probably might have had a similar kinship.

The famous songs are all there.  My personal favorite being, “I Don’t Know How To Love Him,” beautifully sung by Tidd (also, hauntingly sung later by Tell).  Also the showstopper, “King Herod’s Song,” mockingly rendered by Herod (Brian Burger) and his dancing delights.  The familiar, “Everything’s Alright,” “What’s the Buzz…” and, of course, “Superstar,” are also given their full glory here.  I was also especially moved by Tell in “Heaven on their Minds” and “Judas’s Death,” powerful.  And Lijoi and Rowning were moving in “Poor Jerusalem” and Lijoi, again, in “Gethsemane.”  And the band, Insley and company, was outstanding, one of the best I’ve heard!

Streeter has done an amazing job of creating a very difficult production, finding some extremely talented people to compliment his vision and then offering it to us to enjoy, which I and my companion, Deanna Maio, did.  She is the creator of her own musical company, opening her first show in October with a revue of Disney songs in the old Mile Post 5 space.  And, being the expert in musicals, was very taken by the talent and production that was shared with us.

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

Mr. Marmalade—Twilight Theater Company—N. Portland

“Growing Up is Hard to Do”

This black comedy is written by Noah Haidle and directed by Jo Strom Lane.  It is playing at their space, 7515 N. Brandon Ave. (limited parking in the church lot across the street), through August 6th.  For more information, go to their site at

Childhood is a fragile commodity, the birthing grounds for imagination, creativity and memories.  It is also a place where deception and desire are fostered and, depending on how influenced we are at those early ages by outside stimuli, it is the breeding area for our future selves as adults.  So what we encounter, both consciously and unconsciously, will become our mantra for later life.  And, as creators of these little lives we, as parents/educators, have a responsibility/duty to let them play, explore and observe a fragment of the world within a safe environment.

But children are like sponges and will absorb anything from outside their creative world and translate it into their own terms.  Imaginary friends are well within those flexible boundaries but who those “friends” are, may also mirror who the authority figures of them are.  And so the flexible, Mr. Marmalade (Scott Walker), and his personal assistant, the ever-patient, Bradley (Breon McMullin), is “born” to a little, snotty, four-year-old girl name Lucy (Jayne Furlong).

Her home life is less than desirable, with a self-absorbed mother, Sookie (Alicia Marie Turvin), who “sleeps around” and an equally, self-absorbed baby-sitter, Emily (Chloe Payne) who is fixated on TV, when not “messing around” with her abusive boyfriend, George (Robert Altieri).  The only slight ray of sunshine is when George brings his inquisitive, five-year-old, step-brother, Larry (Jay Dressler) to the home and Lucy and he strike up a friendship.  And so this is the world that will be reflected into Lucy’s imaginary one with Mr. M. and Bradley.

Marmalade is all romance and fun times as he comes to visit, totally giving Lucy a world very much unlike the one she lives in.  But, being this is her imaginary world, she is limited by experience as to what she can imagine.  And so, reality raises its ugly head and begins to intrude on her make-believe world.  Her safe games of playing doctor and tea parties and playing house take on a more sinister demeanor.  It becomes more oppressive as things like drugs, potential abortion, murder, alcoholism, abuse and suicide and other imaginary beings (Laila Mottaghi and Marquis “Tony” Domingue) begin to invade her life.

I can’t tell you more without ruining discoveries an audience should make but, suffice to say, there is a dim light at the end of the tunnel.  This reminds me somewhat of another play I reviewed recently at Post 5, Stupid Kids, in which fantasy and reality clash.  The world may be what we make it, but that world does start somewhere…and that “somewhere” is childhood.  Tread softly.  The author does not give us easy answers…will a child’s imagination reflect reality, or is it an escape from it, or both…is the wispy, diaphanous set meant to represent comforting clouds of dreams, or confining tangled webs of deceit…a thin line, a delicate balance…?!

Lane has chosen well her cast and has picked singers with strong voices for her musical interludes.  I like the transparent background for these mind games, too.  This is a savage, brutal look at childhood from one person’s view and he has chosen to pull no punches.  Lane’s cast is spot-on, too, and play their roles, without apology, giving us an adorned look at a conflicted child’s world.  Furlong and Dresser are just fine, inhabiting the minds of toddlers.  And Walker and McMullin are unrelenting in their portrayals of characters in a topsy-turvy world.  One note, though, Dodge Ball is not a game of catch but one in which one person tries to hit another with a ball…a dubious crossover from one world to the other.

I recommend this play but, as mentioned, it is very adult in language and subject matter, so be warned.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nine—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego, OR

“Thanks for the Memories”

This adult musical is written by Arthur Kopit (from the Italian, by Mario Fratti) with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston.  It is directed by Ron Daum, musical direction by Beth Noelle and choreography by Laura Hiszczynskyj.  It is based on Fellini’s film, 8 ½.  It is playing the Lakewood Theatre, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego, through August 14th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-635-3901.

Memories are tricky things.  Whole portions of time are wiped out and only “relevant” and/or traumatic  incidents can come to mind and usually only in snippets, like taking a photo.  Some people remember back to being an infant.  Others (like myself) only have memories starting in the “tween” years.  And, add to that, dreams or fantasies, and you have a cornucopia of possibilities of the life that you’re leading (and have lead).

Lillian Hellman, I believe, wanted to write a story on some early memories of her and then discovered that some of them were false, either mis-remembered or concocted by her.  She wrote the story anyway, including that extra element to it.  Also, one’s own perspective adds a personal and somewhat egotistical faction to the mix (as in the case of this story).

Fellini, or in the case his stage alter-ego, Guido (Matthew Hayward), creates for us his world on a stage.  In his case, it is made up of all women, except his excursions into childhood, himself as a boy of nine (Karsten George), or as a young man (Matthew Sepeda).  The two closest women to him are, of course, his tolerant mother (Debbie Hunter) and his wife, the ever-patient, Luisa (Chrissy Kelly-Pettit).  But he has orchestrated for himself (and us) a world of glamorous, adoring women, all clamoring for his attentions.

There is the exotic dancer, the insatiable, Carla (Ecaterina Lynn); his Producer, Liliane (Terra Lynn Hill) and her two trusting and unforgiving aides, the staunch, Stephanie (Megan Misslin) and her “hatchetman,” Lina (Josie Seid); the sultry, movie star, Claudia (Sarah Maines); the flamboyant procurer of the Spa (Libby Clow); the resourceful, Mama Maddelena (Lisamarie Harrison); an early teacher in the “art” of love, Sarraghina (Rachelle Riehl); and a bevy of other models, starlets, and assorted flings.  Not unlike the musical bio of Fosse, All That Jazz.

But he always feels incomplete because he is a creator without any real ideas of what to create.  Fellini himself did tend to wander at times in his films, like 8 ½, but others, like La Strada and Juliet of the Spirits (both with his wife), did have stories and were quite good.  But in this incarnation, the songs seem to express the inner demons, hopes, dreams and fears of some very creative souls.  To discover them, you’ll have to experience it for yourselves.

Daum has done a first-rate job of assembling this very talented cast and kept the complicated plot on track so that we understand the story.  It’s a memory play and, like memories, wanders and changes directions, but he has managed the unenviable task of keeping it understandable.  And the set by Charles Ketter is terrific, both for expressing the moods of the show and for the actors to play on.  The costumes by Jessica Carr, likewise are very exotic and expressive of Italy during the 60’s.  And I loved the aerial arts number of Carla’s by Hiszczynskyj.  But I was blown away by Noelle and her musicians and especially her on piano.  It is a difficult score but they managed to connect with the performers (and audience) without drowning them out.  And Noelle was a powerhouse on piano as she burned up the stage on the finales.

Many of the singers were of operatic quality and I applaud the fact that not only can they have the singing power to raise the roof but have wonderful acting chops as well.  And Hayward, as the lead player, is amazing.  Not only does he have some resemblance to the lead romantic Italian stars of his day but also the bravado that was needed.  His voice is extraordinary.  He enacts one those romantic cavaliers that, although unsavory in their morals, you just can’t help but like anyway.

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

Coriolanus, or the Roman Matron—Bag & Baggage—Hillsboro, OR

The “Amazon” Solution
This production is based on Thomas Sheridan’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, freely adapted for the stage and directed by Scott Palmer (B&B’s Artistic Director).
  It is playing outdoors at the Tom Hughes Civic Plaza, 150 E. Main St., in Hillboro (bring your own chairs), through July 23rd.  For more, information on the show and next season, check out their website at

This interpretation of the Bard’s work reminded me of the legend of the race of all-female, Amazon warriors, who ruled their own land with an iron fist.
  Men were used either as slaves and menial workers or as studs and, once those “duties” with the warriors was performed, were often killed, as when their only use, to propagate the race, was completed, they were of no use.  Love did not seem to enter the picture.It is said that this feline military was so dedicated to warfare that many bowman would cut off a breast so that they could shoot arrows better.  This production does not go to that extreme but it is no doubt that they are a force of nature to be reckoned with. 
It seems that Caius Marcius (Cassie Greer) later, Coriolanus, is an important Roman general and has led her army to victory over the dreaded Volscians, their enemy, led by Aufidius (Bethany Mason).
  His wife, the timid, Virgilia (Lindsay Partain), his mother, the outspoken, Volumnia (MaryAnne Glazebrook) and their friend, the lady, Valeria (Arianne Jacques) highly approve of him and tout his victories to the people.
But it seems the Senate, consisting of the peacemaker, Menenius (Adrienne Southard) and two tough opponents of the military, the Tribunes, Sicinius (Morgan Cox) and Brutus (Lindsay Valencia-Reed) are not so easily appeased.
  Before they are willing to bestow the laurels of Consul (he already has been re-named, Coriolanus, after the city he captured) upon him, they want him to make a speech to the people, declaring his love for the masses and ensuring their support of him.
But he, and his troops, the Generals, Lartius (Signe Larsen) and Cominius (Autumn Buck) and a soldier (Zoe Flach), despise the lowly masses and will not flatter the Senate, nor the people, and so he quits the Roman army and chooses to offer his support to the enemy, who he has just defeated.
  This is, to say the least, an awkward situation for his family and friends and dire consequences lie ahead for his actions.  To give out any more details would spoil the plot so you’ll just have to see it to discover the ending.
This is a very low-tech production with essentially no scenery and done on a bare stage area.
  But with some clever costuming and doubling of roles, the play forges ahead with no real confusion as to who’s who or where they are.  This is a fine example of the “black box” style of doing theatre (where all that is needed is just a place to do the show, letting the actors’ talent, the author’s words and the audience’s imagination fill in the blanks).  The look of a concrete jungle and barren rocks are just the right flavor for such a bleak story.  The only annoying distraction was the Max trains coming through every few minutes, but the actors trained voices and the close proximity of the audience to them, pretty much overcame this.
I’m always impressed with Palmer’s choice of shows and adaptation of them (definitely not the mainstream) as well his talented troupe of actors.
  And tackling Shakespearean speech is no easy feat, but this group of eleven women is up to the task.  From the title character, Greer (always a marvel) to a high school student, Flach, they all are articulate and have command of the necessary bravado necessary to convince us of their plight.  And any resemblance to current events or people in today’s world is, I’m sure, purely…intentional! 
Just look around at the military coups in other countries, the treatment of the downtrodden in all countries, the religious and cultural factions everywhere and the political circus currently happening with our Congress and the elections, and you can see that the story being told from about 400 years ago is really not so strange.  Wouldn’t you have thought that we would have learned from past mistakes and attempted to change them?  Instead, it seems we are proverbially doomed to repeat them!
The cast is all first-rate and, as mentioned, Greer is special…always!
  Her roles have ranged from Daisy in The Great Gatsby, to a singing gallant in one of Shakespeare’s comedies, to an cabin boy in Moby Dick, Rehearsed, to an austere Austin character, et. al., and all with perfect conviction.  The talent she has goes deep to her roots and not all actors have it.  She has the ability to inhabit a role and make it totally her own.  Guinness and Sellers had that ability, as does Streep.  I always look forward to seeing her in a play and know that she will always shine!
I recommend this play.
  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, July 15, 2016

When Thoughts Attack—CoHo Productions—NW Portland

”…What a Web We Weave”

Kelly Kinsella wrote and performs her one-woman show, directed by Padraic Lillis, as part of the SummerFest at CoHo, 2257 NW Raleigh St. (note:  finding parking in this area can be a challenge, so plan your time accordingly), from Thursday, July 14th through Sunday, July 17th at 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $20.  More information on her show can be found on their site at

We all have demons, of one sort or another, and anxieties are a way of manifesting these pests.  But, perhaps, the most powerful enemy of demons/evil, according to Mel Brooks, is laughter.  It exposes them to the outside air and sunlight, which they hate, for they succeed best in the dark recesses of the “windmills of our minds.”  In reality, anxieties are a serious matter but Kinsella has the courage to bring them into the open for all to see, not only as a catharses for herself, but to say to the world/audience, you are not alone in these fears, foibles and frustrations and I can help you lighten the load.  Bravo, Kelly!

She is also in a Medium, the Arts, which is a very safe environment to reveal her inner characters/clowns, for that is her craft and talent.  Remember a time when you were a child and saw the circus?  Remember the act in which a small car circles the ring, then stopped, and a large variety of clowns came from that little auto?  Well, picture yourself as that car and those clowns as parts of yourself, manifesting different faces as needed for different situations and gatherings.  That, in a nutshell, in part, is how an actor creates.  Put this together with the act that Kelly has embodied, and all those unattractive type of clowns of her nature now have a noble cause, which is to give them a name and, if you can’t actually exorcise them, at least you can bring them out of the darkness and “let it all hang out.”

I’ve spent time on how an artist builds a foundation on which they create because that will give you a large clue as to the nature of the show.  She begins by allowing us to envision the process she goes through, coupled with her anxieties, as a stream-of-conscientiousness approach to ordering lunch.  It’s a perfect example of the kinds of thoughts that might “attack” you when you are in any kind of similar situation.  But in her case it’s magnified a hundred-fold because of her anxieties.  She traces some of the frustrations back to her childhood and whether she might have inherited these traits.  As she got older she traveled extensively, never seeming to be rooted to any one spot or individual.  Running away from something, or toward something?!

Many of her fears are real, as she envisions seriously hurting someone (or herself), if she lashes out in anger.  Therapy and medications do not seem to bring any permanent resolve.  But the acting and writing do.  Acting with, and in a strange way, embracing these “clowns” and giving them voice, does seem to be the “music that soothes the savage beast.”  And since she does seem to be a loner, writing is a perfect tool for exposing her demons, as writing is a solitary type of commitment.  And the result is this show.  If you really want to know more about this amazing lady, read my article/interview with her:

To tell too much of the details of her show would ruin it for you.  Also, some of it is interactive with the audience and she does modify her material to connect with places and things unique to the Northwest.  Humor is a powerful weapon and medicine.  She has chosen to embrace those “clowns” within her, as they have steadfastly stood by her side, proving she is not alone in facing this “brave, new world” she has created.  My we all be so lucky…and courageous!

I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it (and you only have this weekend to do that), please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

West Side Story—Broadway Rose Theatre Company—Tigard, OR

A World Gone Awry

This classic musical is loosely based on Shakespeare’s, Romeo and Juliet.  The book is by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It was directed and choreographed on Broadway by Jerome Robbins.  This production is directed by Peggy Taphorn, choreographed by Jacob Toth and musical direction by Alan D. Lytle.  It is playing at the Deb Fennell auditorium at the Tigard High School, 9000 SW Durham Rd. in Tigard, through July 24th.  For more information, go to their site at

This world may have started out as a Garden but it has deteriorated hugely since then.  And what may express the theme of this play in a few words:  Doc, to a gang member, “You make this world lousy!”  Reply, from a gang member, “That’s the way we found it, Doc!”  Sad, but true.  Our children are going to pick up where we left off and, in the sorry state that it is in today, it may signal the beginning of the end.  I certainly hope not, though, as I think our Youth are smarter than that and that they will overcome the “sins of the fathers.”

But this basic story goes back to the immortal Bard.  Interesting thought, the parents are missing from  the tale and the only adult role models are weak or are sorry excuses for adults.  So the Youth are pretty much on their own and the story told from their perspective. Tony (Andrew Wade) is trying to go “legit,” has a job at Doc’s (Mark Pierce) drug store and is no longer an active member of the street gang of Jets, now led by Riff (Drew Shafranek).  But his old pal has explained that they are finally going to have it out with the rival gang, the Sharks (the “P.R.’s,” Puerto Ricans), led by Bernardo (Austin Arizpe), and he needs Tony to come to the dance at the gym tonight, as moral support.  He agrees.

But, as Fate would have it, Maria (Mia Pinero), Bernardo’s sister, is also at the dance and these two “star-crossed lovers” are immediately smitten with each other.  Of course, in their euphoric state, they do not see any color barriers that can’t be overcome.  But it seems the world is “too much with them,” as Anita (Kayla Dixon), Benardo’s main squeeze, tries to emphasize.  Also the police, under the command of Lt. Shrank (Garland Lyons) and his trusty puppet, Officer Krupke (Jeremy Southard), have it in for all these punks, especially the P.R.’s.  Suffice to say, the cards are stacked against them.  A turf war does break out with tragic results.  I can’t tell you the rest without spoiling it for some, but it does follow reasonably closely the Bard’s play.

This is my favorite musical!  It is almost perfectly constructed as a story and has an outstanding score, (with Shakespeare, Sondheim, Bernstein and Laurents as a team and Robbins at the helm, how could you go wrong?!).  I also had the honor of producing this show a number of years back and it won many awards.  So, to say the least, I am an unabashed fan.  And this production is absolutely amazing!  Taphorn has managed to do so much with a limited space and changing settings and yet keep the play moving at a brisk pace.  Also, her choice of cast is spot on.  And Lytle, steering the orchestra, is a perfect complement to this difficult score.

But, despite all the great music and acting, it is a dancer’s show (as that was Robbins forte in life) and with Toth in charge of that complex realm, it is in the hands of a master!  The opening of the show, the gym dance, “America,” The Rumble, and the dream ballet are some of the highlights of the show, due to the dancing.  It is beautifully staged and executed by Toth.  And the complimentary lights (Phil McBeth) and sparse but expressive set (Robert Andrew Kovach), add greatly to the success of the show.

Pinero and Wade, as the two major characters, have almost operatic voices and, at times, the theatre seemed almost too small to contain them.  Dixon was the perfect match for her counterparts on stage (Rivera) and screen (Moreno).  She is an astounding singer, dancer and actor (the acclaimed triple threat) and is perfect in this role.  I wish all of them, and the rest of the cast, who are very accomplished in all those areas as well, success, and not to forget, the beautiful rendition of “Somewhere” by Amber Kiara Mitchell.

Still powerful and topical after all these years, this will be one of the hallmark productions of this show.  Besides the above mentioned dance sequences, I was also impressed with the “Tonight” ensemble, Wade’s singing of “Maria,” both he and Pinero warbling of “One Hand, One Heart,” the Jet’s mocking, “Gee, Officer Krupke,” and the haunting duet by Pinero & Dixon of “A Boy Like That….”  All unforgettable!

It is a sad note that this type of story is still relevant today.  And it will continue to be so until we remove hate from out language and replace it with, as was so simply but eloquently put on the Tony Awards, “Love is love is love is love….”  And it’s not so difficult to get to that place.  All one has to do is just put one foot in front of the other…and continue on until the task is completed.

In case you haven’t guessed, I highly recommend this production.  And if you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.