Monday, May 16, 2022

Laughter on the 23rd Floor—HART Theatre—Hillsboro, OR


The Endorphin Squad

    This live production of the comedy by the famous Broadway writer, Neil Simon, is directed by Meghan Daaboul.  It is playing at their space near downtown Hillsboro, 185 SE Washington, through May 22nd.  For more information, go to their website at or call 503-693-7815.

    Ah, the good ole days of the 50’s.  Peace, once again, except, of course, for the Cold War with Russia, and the Korean Conflict.  Yes, prosperity loomed just around the corner, unless, of course, you were a subject of one of Joe McCarthy’s investigations of “Commies” and ended up on the Black List.  But the saving grace through it all was television, and its comedy/variety shows, like the classic, Sid Caesar and his, Your Show of Shows.

    Many of the present-day comedians, directors, producers and actors wrote for this show, including “Doc” Simon.  Some names that come to mind are Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Dick Cavett, Howard Morris, Imogene Coca and a plethora of others.  All in all, although it may not have been “the best of times,” it did produce some the best of talent!

    The plot centers around a gaggle of TV comedy writers on one of the upper floors of a high-rise building in the mid-50’sin New York City.  There is the star of the show, the eccentric, Max Prince (Bobby Jackson), who genuinely loves the biz but is thwarted at every turn by corporate (executives (nothing much has changed in that regard nowadays).

    And among his “mad” team (“everybody must have a little madness to discover one’s true passion”), is the head writer, a Russian Jew, Val (Jeff Brosy), who tries to be the peacekeeper (without much success) of this motley crew.  And then there is Milt (Steven Koeppen), the beret king, who likes to be set apart from the group; Brian (Seth Wayne), who’s an aspiring screenwriter; Kenny (Jeff Ekdahl), the apple-cheeked kid, and Ira (Michael Rouches), the hypochondriac.

    Add to this mix the only female writer of the bunch, Carol (Erin Bickler), who just wants to be “one of the guys;” Helen (Deb Holmes, Max’s secretary, who wishes to be a writer herself; and the newbie, Lucas (Brandon B. Weaver), who is the storyteller (perhaps, Simon, himself?).  As is said, everyone has his/her own story and such is the case here, but for an audience to discover when watching the play.

    Daaboul has assembled a fine ensemble cast and they play beautifully off each other.  A tricky thing for a director, when doing this sort of show, is the motivated blocking (as in Twelve Angry Men), where the center piece are the writer’s tables, and to move the actors around in a meaningful way is no easy task but she pulls it off, so kudos to her!

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


Friday, May 13, 2022

Sex on the River—Triangle Productions—NE Portland


Photo by Kinderpics – Nancy [Boggs] and her ‘girls’

“Merrily We Roll Along”

    This Live musical is written by Donnie with lyrics by Donnie and Jonathan Quesenberry and with music by Jonathan Quesenberry.  It is directed by Donald Horn and choreography by Sara Michler Martins and is based on actual incidents.  It is playing at their space at 1785 NE Sandy Blvd. (free parking lot next to the building) through May 28th.  Be advised that full Covid protocols are in place…vaccine cards, masks, temp. checks, etc.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-239-5919.

    The Portland area in the 1880’s was ripe with corruption from law enforcement, politicians, business owners and on down.  In fact, it was divided into three sections…Portland, East Portland and Albinia, with the Willamette River dividing East from West.  Opium dens, Shanghai tunnels, Graff, gambling, booze, prostitution, and bordellos were accepted practices in this untamed West.

    Enter one Nancy Boggs (Julianne Nelson…later in the run to be played by Danielle Valentine), from Pennsylvania.  Previously married and having tried a variety of jobs, ends up in Portland, buys a scow (a type of barge), refurbishes it and turns it into a floating bordello down the middle of the Willamette River, just far enough from Portland jurisdiction.  She even paints it green with red highlights (a bit of irony, perhaps, as a Garden of Paradise, overshadowed by a red demon).

    She has the reluctant blessings of two other Madams of the land variety of pleasure palaces, the elegant Brit, Liverpool Liz (Lisamarie Harrison) and the down-to-earth, Mary Cook (Cyndy Ramsey-Rier).  Along the way she acquires a bookkeeper, the practical, Kim (Channel Ka’iulani Kaimana Batala-Ledfore), having her own issues to deal with from traditional family values.

    Of course, to have a successful bordello, you have to have the pleasures of the sea as well.  So, enter Melody (Liz O’Donnell), Sara (Cassandra Pangelinan), June (Cosmo Reynolds) and Irene (Arielle Scena-Shifrin), who are willing to lay down the rules to make men happy.  But there is always a fly in the ointment, so enter, the boy in blue, Sam (Alexander Trull), who is only looking for an excuse to close them down, and yet is intrigued by Nancy.

    All these folks have their moments to express themselves in song and monologues.  But it should be seen and digested by the viewer, so do see it for yourself.  One of the most impressive scenes is by the character of Kim, as she expresses the dilemma of being an Asian with traditional beliefs and the new-found freedom of finding her own way in a brave, new world.  The character of Nancy, having some of the same reactions, as she bucks the establishment of the male-dominated society, which are both major themes of the story by Donnie.  And in this crazy world we are living in now, it seems to be that not that much has changed!

    There are a couple of dynamite dance numbers by Martins, which enhances the show.  And Batala-Ledford performance is heartfelt, as she expresses her frustrations of being a “stranger in a strange land.”  Nelson is terrific as Nancy, having both the voice for the songs and the acting chops, as well.  Harrison and Ramsey-Rier are ole pros of musicals theatre and they shine here, too.

    Quesenberry has done a number of shows for Triangle and he is a master musician, as he is here.  Horn has a love of Portland history and it explodes on the stage, as he blends it with his perpetual fight for equality and justice for the downtrodden and marginalized among us.  May he “live long and prosper!”

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


Monday, May 9, 2022

Camelot—Lakewood Theatre Company—Lake Oswego


Once There Were Champions

    This award-wining Lerner & Loewe musical is directed by Dennis Corwin, adapted by David Lee, with new orchestration by Steve Orich and choreographing by Laura Hiszczynskyj.  It is playing through June 12th at their space, 368 S. State St. in Lake Oswego (free parking lot in the rear).  For more information on the show and Covid restrictions, go to their website or call 503-635-3901.


There were Giants…

There were Champions…Warriors…

And so, to the Young,

Whose banners fly high,

                 The Greta’s, the Molla’s and Amanda’s…

 We salute,

        as they reach for the sky…

    There was a legendary king, Arthur (Anthony Mulherin) who, legend has it, created a round table with some of the most noble leaders of the land and established the trial system, where one is judged by one’s peers and championed Might for Right.  He may have been naive in his goals but, at least, he tried.

    His wife and queen was the feisty, Guenevere (Jessican Maxey) and his right-hand man was the French knight, Lancelot (Brandon Michael), a rather egotistical fellow, with his inept Squire, Dap (Lindsay Reed). Arthuralso has a band of warrior that he depends on, especially, Sir Dinadan (Erik Montague), Sir Sagramore (Eric Zulu) and Sir Lionel (Jeremy Southard).  And Gwen has her cohorts with her ladies-in-waiting (Sophie MacKay and Amelia Segler).

    Everything seems to be going swimmingly, until it appears that Lance and Gwen have more than a friendship in common.  And then there is Mordred (Heath Hyun Houghton), the rejected son of Arthur, who has his ax to grind with dear ole dad.  It doesn’t take long for cracks to form in the Camelot fortification and, as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men” begins to show their true colors.  And, in such cases, where empires tumble, a phoenix will rise from the ashes in the form of the Youth of tomorrow, Tom of Warwick (Rosalie Johnson or Charlotte Bridgeman or Ava Neudeck or Stella MacKay or Cam Jordan—unclear from the program who played the role on the matinee, Sunday, May 8thexcept that it was a female).

    The story from the book by T.H, White, The Once and Future King, is much fuller in detail, as is the edition of the songs/music which, I believe, is one of the best scores in musicals!  All the original songs are here and beautifully staged by Corwin.  The dance numbers are terrific, as is the set by designer, Tyler Buswell.  All the singers, especially the leads, have very strong voices.  Maxey is terrific as Gwen, having a somewhat exotic look and a lovely voice.  And Houghton is a delicious villain.

    And a special shout-out to Ava Neudeck who played Tom on the Sunday, as she has a terrific enthusiasm and is very convincing in the pivotal role of the voice for the future.  She has a long career ahead of her in show biz, if she continues to pursue it!  I expect to see her again onstage, whoever she is.  She does “sparkle.”

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


Monday, May 2, 2022

Twelfth Night—Young Professionals Company—downtown Portland


“Lord, what Fools these Mortals be!”

    The Y/P Company of the Oregon Children’s Theatre presents this classic comedy of Shakespeare’s, directed and adapted by Lauren Bloom Hanover.  It is playing at the Brunish Theatre (upstairs), 1111 SW Broadway, through May 15th (parking is a challenge in this area, so plan your time accordingly).  For more information on tickets and Covid restrictions, go to their website at or call 503-228-9571.(The production I was scheduled to review was cancelled because of a Covid outbreak with one of its members, so will write a preview of it instead, as knowing the story might help you understand the play and want to see it—check website for future dates).

    The Shakespearean stories and language are really not all that hard to understand.  I had a friend of mine, who had never seen the Bard’s plays, ask me, if it was going to be in English?  It’s not really a foreign language, folks, and the presentations of his works nowadays is pretty much in “conversational” Shakespeare.  Also, his themes are universal, having such modern incarnations as the award-winning musical, “West Side Story” (Romeo & Juliet) and the Sci-fi film classic “Forbidden Planet” (The Tempest).  In this latest version, six students play twelve roles.

    Love doth mirror Life and, thus, in reflection, Fools stare back at us. 

    In this incarnation of Cupid’s swift arrows, a shipwreck has occurred and Viola (Irie Page), fears that her twin brother, Sebastian (Ethan Thompson), to have been lost at sea.  To discover the truth in this alien atmosphere, she disguises herself as a boy, Ceasario, and eventually allies herself with Orsino (Nirmay Anantha), the Duke, who she is immediately smitten with.

    But the Duke only has eyes for the beauty, Olivia (Michaela Monteblanco), who has no interest in him but does seem to favor Ceasario, who has been sent by Orsino to her to plead his case for love.  Meanwhile Olivia has some very odd but witty servants, among them, the droll Malvolio (Thompson, again), a petulant steward (who has a bit of a crush on his mistress) and Maria (Sam Myerson), her assistant, a mischievous merrymaker, both of whom only add more heat to an already spicy stew. 

    And, if that wasn’t enough, Olivia has an uncle, Toby Belch (Anantha, again), a drunken nobleman, and his rich, fey friend, Andrew Aguecheek (Monteblanco, again), a rich buffoon.   A rather independent and persuasive musician, Feste (Elijah Castillo), a witty troubadour, seems to be our outside eyes, looking at the proceedings with cloaked optimism, and commenting on them, or partaking in them, when necessary, to route the story forward.  To say that things may end up in a muddle is an understatement.  And to relate too much more of the story would spoil the fun, but know that the slippery slope they tumble down will have a softer landing, being that they all may end up together…for better or worse.

    I have no doubtthat this will be an amazing production because I have followed OCT’s and Y/P’s progress for many years and I know the Education Director, Dani Baldwin, well and admire what she has done, and is doing, with students in her programs.  The teachings in her classes mirror the struggles the students are dealing with in real life and give them a safe haven in which to explore that world.  The plays they do also deal with real life issues and are not just “fluff” pieces.  What they learn about themselves, each other and the world at large, they will carry into adulthood, and be better human beings because of it!

    It's not so much what we see of the troubles in the outside world, but of what we don’t see, The Unknown, that is bothersome…“Ay, there’s the rub.”  In short, “there is nothing to Fear but Fear itself.”  I have no doubt that the worlds they explore in this environment will make them more capable of conquering any “darkness” they will encounter.  If a door closes on you, seek the open window for expansion…and then, breathe!