Monday, February 19, 2018

Folk City, the musical—Stumptown Stages—Downtown Portland

“Thanks for the Memories”

     This world premiere musical about the Folk era in Greenwich Village over a 25 year span, is written by Robbie Woliver and Bernadette Contreras, with songs by all those great artists from that era.  It is directed by Kirk Mouser (Artistic Director for the company) with musical direction by Brian Michael (also conductor and piano), with the band of Geoffrey Jellesma, Bob Shotola and Eric Toner.  It is playing the Brunish Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway (4th floor), through March 4th.   

For more information, go to their site at

     They say if you remember the 60’s, you weren’t there!  Well, I was there, both the Village in NYC and the Haight in SF, and remember very well the cabarets and coffee houses, the “real” coffee houses with the beat poets, the wanna-be singers, the comics, the Artists, the music & songs, the protests and, yes, the drugs.  It was a time when people were “Alive” and communicating, in person, with hearts and minds and souls, not keyboards, and clouds, and video.

     As for folk music, that really goes back to the days of yore, where Robin Hood and King Arthur dwelt, with balladeers and poets and jesters.  It is stories of people of those times and the feelings and struggles they experience.  Now jump to 1961, Greenwich Village, and to a cabaret called, Folk City.  It would last only about 25 years but they were crucial ones in the development of this country, and it would reflect a mirror-image of what was going on “all over this land.”

     Once upon a time…there was a fellow called Ernie (Steve Coker) who started the whole shebang.  And into his establishment walked the “unwashed” and “huddled masses” of those “yearning to be free.”  This microcosm of America consists of the optimistic, Brian (Jess Ford) with his guitar, and his best friend, the bad-boy, Dean (Morgan Mallory), also a strummer.  Their friendship will scale the heights of euphoria to the depths of despair, and their music would reflect this.  Into this world would also consist of two employees, Jazz (Kim Vogels), the bad-girl, a poet, and Karen (Joann Coleman), a gal with a big heart, big dreams and a big voice.

     Another bad boy, Tony (Anthony McCarthy), would be on the outskirts of this troupe, annoying just about everybody until he does a dramatic turn-around.  There is also the ever-faithful Bartender (Sam Jones), who sees all and judges none.  And, of course, into every tale of wine, women and woe, there must be an innocent, in this case, in the guise of Shelley (Hallie Griffin), who enters wide-eyed into this den and comes full circle in her education, as she traverses this seething caldron.  And now the stage is set and, as the story progresses, the songs reflect their situations/feelings.  And do they all “live happily ever after?”  Well, you just have to experience it for yourselves, won’t you?! 

 It is amazing how the authors managed to fit the almost 30 songs from that era into the events in the lives of the characters (or vice-versa).  It is a trip back in time (as shown in visuals, as well), from the “Camelot” days, through the Viet-Nam era, Civil Rights demonstrations and into the mid-80’s, not only huge changes in music, but in the direction of our country, in such a short span of time.  In two hours they successfully give you snapshots of our country and the effect it has on this motley crew of explorers.

     Mouser has done an incredible job of giving us a history lesson in the pleasant guise of entertainment.  And he has chosen well his cast, all of them probably not alive as adults during this period of time, but very convincing.  It is a soul-mate to the musical of this era, “Hair,” which also explored some of these same paths.  It is said that “music soothes the savage beast,” but in this case, it awakens it.  As we seem to be complacent now, we were alive then, and pray that spirit is still smoldering inside us.

     The band, under the direction of Michael, is spot-on in their connection to this music.  And the cast was uniformly excellent, both in acting and singing, as they personalize the songs for the characters they portray.  A stand-out for me was Coleman, who nailed every song she did, from belting, to poignant, to rockin’.  She is first-class among an “A-team.” This show has all the ear-marks for a Broadway run, if anyone is paying attention out there. 

     And, a special shout-out to Coker, who has conceived, and is directing a musical of his own in mid-March, the campy, “Varsity Cheerleader Werewolves LIVE from Outer Space—the Musical.”  I reviewed a straight version of this some time ago and it’s a hoot:  Worth seeing (go to for more info).

     I highly recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.  (Keep in mind, parking in downtown Portland is never fun, so plan your time accordingly).


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