Wednesday, August 28, 2019

From the Ruby Lounge—Theatre Berk—SE Portland

“Life’s a Cabaret, Ole Chum”

This original production about the lives of exotic dancers ,is created and directed by Sarah Andrews and Athena Aura Nova, choreographed by Rachael Singer and produced by William Thomas Berk.  It is playing at the Shoebox Theatre space, 2110 SE 10th Ave., through September 7th.  Warning:  This is adult subject matter and contains partial nudity.  Also, half the proceeds are donated to SWOP Behind Bars  For more information on the show and tickets, visit

No, this is not the Kit Kat Klub of 1930’s Berlin, but it does have its pedigree from there.  “Cabaret,” and this show were, in part, meant to reflect a microcosm of life in any country/city and its people.  The incidents mirror society in this exclusive atmosphere, showing the inhabitants as “normal” people, with all the same hopes, and peculiarities, as anyone else, which is exactly the point…they are us!

Life as an exotic dancer/stripper is a job with people who have families, worries, conflicts and dreams, just like anybody else.  And, because of the unique nature of their work, they do have a strong bond with their co-workers (much like Carnival folks, which I got to know one summer) and, like any close-knit community, does have its ups and downs.  And the business does attract some low-life men, thinking these women, because they take off their clothes, are offering themselves as “toys” for men and should be treated as such.

Actually, nothing is further from the truth, as these women are in a perfect position of Power and can reveal, or not, as much of themselves as They Choose, which is not such a bad position to be in.  Also, as in this case, they are extremely agile in their movements and damn good dancers.  The story centers around Sterling (Kylie Jenifer Rose), who longs to be a professional dancer but is tired of auditioning and being turned down, as she does have an ailing mother to support, too.  And so, when the offer surfaces to become a stripper at the Ruby Lounge, she embraces it.

Her boss is Mallory (Heidi Hunter), tough as nails on the outsides but a bit of a marshmallow inside.  Sterling is taken under the wing of Bianca (Bryn Butler), who helps her adjust, but does have a secret passion.  Diamond (Maya Seidel) ,comes with an attitude, feeling she is top gun of this troupe, but does evolve from a less-than-stellar background.  And Riley (Taylor Jean Grady), married with a child, who must hide her profession from the outside world and it will cost her.  Although good pay for all these ladies, there is a price to pay in a blind society that demands a world to be molded to their specifications, or be shunned.  So, what’s the going price for self-respect?  Join the crowd, the lemmings, or be as so much gravel under their feet.  The choice is yours!

A side note, I knew a lady who was an exotic dancer and she wanted me to write a screenplay of her life in this field.  She labeled the title of it as, I Am Not A Whore, which she said was another label that people like her were forced to bear.  I started her story but then she decided she wanted to be a Roller Derby Queen.  Now, I believe, she’s working on a fishing boat on the open seas.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  But the kind of passion she has for Life, I do envy.  And that’s what these ladies of the Ruby Lounge have, too, a Passion for Life/Living, not merely content with just existing…taking up space…you go, girl!

Andrews, Nova and Singer have created a raw slice of life that is hard to ignore.  And their cast of ladies are exceptional and vibrant, not only as a powerhouse in dancing and movement, but also in creating characters, which are all too real and should be embraced, not shunned.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Stars of Tomorrow II—Portland Musical Theater Company—N. Portland

“Tomorrow Belongs To Me”

This is the teen Showcase of potential talents of the Future.  It was teen ladies, from 14-18, showcasing their singing abilities from mostly show tunes.  It was held at their current location in the Peninsula Odd Fellows Lodge (upstairs), 4834 N. Lombard St. and Deanna Maio, the director/teacher of these young ladies, has promised there will be more of these Showcases for students in the future.  Stay tuned on that….  For more information on plays, go to their site,

Probably best not know where the above quote comes from, as it has a sinister background, but it is appropriate for this review.  And may I have the envelope, please:  And the winners, for the future musical performers of 20XX, are:  Alexa Shaheen, Carson Verity, Chiara Rothenberg, Ella Carson, Maeve Glynn, Michaela Warren Monteblanco, Molly Hare and Riley Irving!

Seriously, all these young ladies could have been easily cast in shows with these pieces as their audition materials.  I am not a musical person myself, so can’t speak of the quality of the voices, but have seen many musicals as a reviewer; acted in some (Capt. Von Trapp, The Sound of Music, the Miller, Canterbury Tales, and Big Jule, Guys and Dolls), directed one, Oliver; and produced three, West Side Story, A Chorus Line and Sweet Charity, so I have a bit of experience with this genre.

But the real powerhouse of talent in these regards was my companion for the afternoon, Dani Baldwin, Education Director at Oregon Children’s Theatre and Producer of their Young Professionals Company, as well as a performer/director/teacher in her own right…and a super talent herself in all these areas.  Also, the head of PMTC, Deanna Maio, who directs, produces and performs, as well as having a studio and is a musical teacher/coach for students.  These are the superstars of today, who began much the same way, I’d guess, as these young ladies, and it doesn’t get any better than this as role models for them for the future!

What these young folks exhibited to me from their performances are something just as import as having great voices, as they all did, but showing confidence in what they were doing.  That aspect of performing can’t be taught, as it must come from the inside.  It must be recognized, nurtured, and nudged by a pro…then stand back and watch the talent fly.  Another aspect of performing is having stage presence, which is a twin sister of Self-Confidence.  Part of that is appearance, of course, but it is the unique beauty on the inside of that talent that must shine through.  Lastly, Talent can be an obsession, “a cruel mistress,” that cannot be sought out but, if it finds you worthy, will guide your course.  And so, be aware (and beware) of the demands of the profession, and be prepared, if you are serious about being a performer, the “normal” life will be a stranger to you, for you have taken, “the road not traveled…,” or traversed by a very few.  Seek out the Dani’s and Deanna’s in your life…and soar!

Mark your calendars for November 2nd, where Maio will be performing, Tenderly,  with her theatre, playing Rosemary Clooney.  And Baldwin will be directing, The K of D, at her Y/P Company, .  Neither of which should be missed, trust me!  I applaud all these young ladies, as I believe they have a secure future as performers, if they are willing to work for it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Hair—Staged!—downtown Portland

“Let the Sunshine In”

This iconic, rock opera from the 60’s is written by Gerome Ragni & James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot.  It is directed by Katie McLoughlin, choreographed by Diana Schultz and music direction by Andrew Bray.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (4th floor), 1111 SW Broadway, in downtown Portland, through August 17th.  For more information, go to their site at

In the beginning, there was a Garden.  And in this Garden, there were all sorts of beautiful, diverse creatures, who lived in harmony with Nature, and like the proverbial, “lilies of the field,” partook of the gifts and flavors of this wondrous land and were free and happy.  But then, a snake in the grass disrupted their games and “let loose the dogs of war,” and this land, and its inhabitants, would never be the same again!

And so, through all the incarnations and incantations of humankind, we are deposited unceremoniously in the late 60’s in Central Park, in which another “dirty little war” is brewing, called Nam.  And the children of flowers and peace are, once again, forced to goose-step with the greed-mongers and political lemmings who rule our country.  And so, we will peek in at the lovefest of words and songs that were once the Garden’s anthem.

Berger (Jessica Tidd) seems to be the leader of this assembly of misfits.  And into it comes a newbie, a transplant from England, no less, Claude (Blake Stone) and we seem to be viewing these unfoldings of history through the eyes of this innocent, this virgin in a crumbling environment, this “babe in the woods.” 

And he embraces fully his new companions, such as Wolf (Jacob Skidmore), a loving spirit of all genders; Hud (Charles Grant), a sizzling rocket for the rights of all races; “Margaret Mead” (Kimo Camat), giving us a taste of the establishment when needed; Dionne (Gabie Mbenza-Ngoma), a woman with a mission; Sheila (Annie Eldridge), wanting to stamp out all the “heartless people;” Jeannie (Aubrey Slaughter), ready to bring a new life into this chaotic world; Crissy (Kealani Petito), mooning over a lost love and others of the pack, Averyl Hartje, Sydney Heim, Moe Lewis, Hallie August, and Ben Sherman.

And all the familiar songs are here:  Let the Sunshine In, Age of Aquarius, Manchester England, Sodomy…, I Got Life, White Boys, the sweet ballad, Frank Mills (stupidly cut from the movie, which, also unwisely, changed the ending)  and the haunting, Dirty Little War, et. al. (sorry, can’t tell you actual titles, as they weren’t listed in the program).

Playing this on a small stage was a very smart choice, as it brings the action and issues into your lap.  The long hallucination scene is even more powerful because of that.  The mobile fencing is a grand idea, as it not only helps the flow of the scenes but indicates that settings are not really that important to this story.  It is a here-and-now situation.  McLoughlin has chosen her cast well, as they all are terrific singers.  Schultz does amazing movement work on such a small area.  And Bray, thankfully doesn’t overpower the actors/singers with the music and does re-usher in a nostalgic sound for me.

One issue that doesn’t work for me was the use of cell phones in the production.  I realize they want to make this relevant for today but the story is still about the 60’s and Nam and is no place for those devices.  Also, a personal note, I lived through this era, so it becomes personal for me and some of the audience, too, I’m sure.  But, this event in history cannot really, fully be re-created—it was a Happening (like Woodstock), as we would call it. 

And so (no offense), production companies/casts of younger generations can only copy those moments, not re-create them.  An updated version from the authors, I’ve heard, is in the works for Broadway, so we’ll see what the future holds for this classic story…that is still being duplicated…and must be stopped, this inhumanity to others, if we are to survive as a relevant world order!

I highly recommend this production (keeping in mind, it does contain adult situations and language).  If you choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.