Saturday, March 17, 2018

Scarlet—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Sunlight and Shadows

     This musical is adapted from the classic novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” for the stage by Michelle Horgen, directed by Brian Weaver and Jessica Wallenfels and musical direction by Eric Nordin.  It is playing at their newly renovated space, 602 NE Prescott St. (free parking lot 2 blocks North on 6th), through April 1st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

     The smothering atmosphere of 1600’s, Puritan New England, before the actual birthing of the USA, has changed considerably since then…or has it?  Women’s rights were virtually non-existent at that time, religion was the guiding force in public and private lives (note the infamous Salem Witch Trials came from this period), and adultery was a crime of the highest order.

     Jump ahead almost 400 years and women are still struggling for their rightful place in society; religion is still a continuous issue in many parts of this country, as well as the world, as wars have been fought over it there; and, although promiscuity seems to be widely acknowledged as a life style, having a child out of wedlock is still frowned upon.  In other words, we still have “a long way [to go], baby!”

     Hester (Rebecca Teran) arrives fresh in the new world from England with high hopes and dreams of a life of freedom.  She has come ahead of her husband, Roger (Darius Pierce), who is to join her later.  This is somewhat disconcerting to the populace but they accepted it.  The Governor, Richard (Del Lewis), seems like a fair man and she is set up in a cottage in the forest by Samuel (“ranney”), best friends with the spiritual leader of the town, Rev. Dimmsdale (Isaac Lamb), both single men.
She easily makes friends with other women in the town, including some young ladies, Clara (Rachel Lewis) and Sarah (Dana Green) and her husband, Robert (Don Kenneth Mason), as well as a young man of courting age, Elias (John Kish).  But probably her best pal, both being outspoken, is Anne (Susannah Mars).  Others in the community are Mme.’s Shepard (Tina Mascaro), Dudley (Kayla Kelly), and Martin (Liza Jensen).  There is also the town Jailor (Maxwell Rochette), as well as the children, Abigail (Lauren Clark) and Zia Murphy.  And, finally, the beautiful outcome of the ugly, branded letter Hester must wear, Pearl (Rainbows, Eva Hudson Leoniak).

     The story follows much of the book but being told in song and music, it must be seen/heard to be fully appreciated.  The songs definitely accented the story, and all of them have merit, from the rousing, “Before You Fall…” by Samuel and the sailors, to the final hymn of life, “Breath,” by the ladies.  Some of my favorites, all in the second act, were the joyous, “Our Game of Two” (Hester and Pearl); the touching songs by Pearl, “O Papa” and “Sleep My Angel;” the sad, “A Life Most Ordinary,” by Roger; and the powerful, “Call Me a Witch,” by Anne, which only Mars could knock out of the park!

     This is one hell-of-a-show by Horgen!  It has Broadway-bound written all over it!  Weaver and Wallenfels have staged this complex show on a mostly bare stage with some fast set changes, inventive blocking, a sterling cast and some clever lighting (Daniel Meeker).  And many kudos go to Nordin, as music director and pianist, as well as his partners in the band, Alan Juza/Ann van Bever and Dale Tolliver.  All exceptional!

     The cast is led by veterans of the Portland stages, Lamb, Pierce and Mars, all at the top of their game.  And, boy, does Mars know how to belt, I’m surprised the roof held up.  The young ladies, Lewis and Green, were in fine voice, as were the fellows, Lewis and “ranney.”  Rainbows, as Pearl, was a true find in a difficult role but she was a charmer and perfect for the role!  And Teran, as the lead, was extraordinary!  She touched your heart both in acting and singing.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role (Broadway, are you listening?).  This play should follow what should be the inevitable steps to The Great White Way, as it is sure to be a hit!

     I highly recommend this production!  If you do see it, please tell then Dennis sent you.

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