Browsing All Posts filed under »Recommendations and Reviews«

Thoroughly Modern Millie (Studio East)

July 31, 2012

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After attending Thoroughly Modern Millie performed by Studio East at the Kirkland Performing Arts Center, I am reminded that one of the things that I love most about theater is when a performance can not only entertain you but also inspire you and make you reflect upon it and life. The danger of being a critic or reviewing works of art, is that over time we can become cynical or hyper-critical. We lose the spirit and heart of the show and begin to see only the technical implementation. This would be akin to evaluating poetry solely on rhyme and form over the author's ability to inspire us to see and feel their emotion. I read some reviews and I wonder if the reviewer was driven to find something to criticize, just so that they could feel like they were objective and doing their job. The problem is that all art is subjective, it is filtered through the observer. Therefore, our impressions speak more about us at times, than the actual subject of our review.

Studio East Training for the Performing Arts was founded in 1992 with the vision of creating a place where children and teens can learn about the theatrical arts. Their mission is simply, "Studio East creates opportunities for young people to discover and explore the performing arts." They believe that through that pursuit, children will learn the discipline, dedication and teamwork to be successful not only on the stage, but off the stage. They are correct. The beauty is that in learning this for themselves, they expose audiences to this idea as well. We catch glimpses of it and although we may not always be able to consciously recognize or articulate it, we are moved and for a time we are changed by it. This was my first time attending a performance by Studio East, so I took my seat without much expectation. I must say that I was delightfully surprised.

Hidden in Dreams by Davis Bunn (Book Review)

July 30, 2012

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Shared prophetic dreams, mysterious assailants, corporate intrigue, conspiracies and the threat of global financial collapse conspire to push Dr. Elena Burroughs, the world’s foremost expert on dream analysis, to the forefront as the drama unfolds while the world watches. Burroughs’ situation is further complicated by being forced by circumstance to work closely with her most ardent critic, Jacob Rawlings whom previously had publically chastened her for her faith in a vicious debate which resulted in loss of professional prestige.

In Hidden in Dreams, Davis Bunn explores not only the nature and mystery of dreams and their impact upon the dreamer but also touches upon the role of faith and belief in our modern science culture which is becoming increasingly hostile to the notion of anything which is not purely secular. It also deals with the complex and deeply human reaction to betrayal, how we learn to cultivate trust in others, especially those whom have betrayed us historically or with whom we have philosophically little in common with and how many people opt for the safety of believing only that which they know they can quantifiably prove scientifically.

Forever Plaid (SecondStory Repertory)

July 16, 2012

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SecondStory Repertory closes out its thirteenth season with “Forever Plaid”, written by Stuart Ross and directed by Crystal Dawn Munkers. “Forever Plaid” is a distinctive and magical production, a mingling of music and drama with a healthy dose of a wistful flashback concert performance. It is a step back in time, an enjoyable revisiting for an evening the nostalgic and simple pleasure of the vocal harmony of the four part boy groups of the 50’s like the Four Aces, Four Coins, Four Freshmen, Four Lads, Four Preps, Hi-Lo's and Kirby Stone Four.

Forever Plaid” tells the story of just such a boy vocal band perched on the precipice of realizing the dream that they have been working towards ever since their fortuitous meeting in the high school audio visual club. Sparky, Smudge, Jinx and Frankie, individually flawed but together as The Plaids, bound by their mutual passion for music and entertaining, their potential was unlimited. The countless hours of rehearsing their music, choreographed moves and the continued strengthening of their enchanted four part harmony had finally paid off and they landed their first big gig at the Airport Hilton cocktail lounge, The Fusel Lounge.

The Producers (Village Theatre)

July 10, 2012

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The Fourth of July may be over but the fireworks are just beginning at The Village Theatre of Everett, as on July 6th it kicked off its run of the farcical musical “The Producers” adapted from the book and film written by Mel Brooks and Tony Sheehan. The powerhouse show started out in Issaquah back in May to rave reviews and does not show any signs of stopping or letting down as it continues its entertainment dominance northward, initiating its blitzkrieg assault on your funny bone in Everett. From this reviewer’s perspective the musical farce extraordinaire has not lost a step as it continues its over-the-top, unabashedly shameless and nothing-is-sacred dominance which kept the audience rolling with laughter all night long.

A show about two dubious Broadway producers played by Richard Gray and Brian Earp, putting on an apparently doomed musical extolling the virtues of Hitler and the Nazi Party, paid for by overly amorous grandmothers looking for love in all the wrong places, seems an unlikely evening’s entertainment but thank heavens for unexpected pleasures. Regardless of your mindset prior to the show, “The Producers” is still able to produce a theatrical victory in the heart of audiences faster than the surrender of France in World War II.

It Shoulda Been You (Village Theatre)

March 22, 2012

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You are invited to take a break from your own troubles and spend a laugh filled evening immersed in the pure meshugaas which is the wedding of a Jewish bride and her Catholic groom. Toss in the extended dysfunctional families, the uninvited ex-boyfriend of the bride, two controlling yenta mother-in-laws and the marginalized but ‘please others at all cost’ older sister and you may just begin to scratch the surface of the insanity and drama which is the new musical “It Shoulda Been You”. Written by Brian Hargrove with music by Barbara Anselmi the production runs from March 14th – May 20th at the Village Theatre.

It Shoulda Been You” is a hilarious and entertaining behind-the-scenes view into family life, wedding planning, familial relationships, love, laugher and embracing one’s identity. The songs are catchy and the characters endearing despite their own flawed natures. Performances are top-notch with an equally strong supporting cast. Combined, they will joyfully carry you through all the biting one-liners, plot twists and over the top chaos and quirkiness which is the modern family wedding.

There is a ‘laugh or else you might cry’ mindset which pervades the production, as serious issues are called to light, but dealt with in a comical manner. The emotionally stunted father unable to show authentic affection to his son, the mother incapable of recognizing the beauty and value of her oldest daughter, simply because she’s heavyset and yet unmarried, parents who turn to alcohol and the manipulation of their children’s lives to try to compensate for their own less than satisfying marriages and more are all on display in “It Shoulda Been You” and yet we laugh. Perhaps laughter is the best of medicines and certainly preferable to tears, as we recognize ourselves and others in the characters we see.

The Screwtape Letters (The Paramount Theatre)

March 14, 2012

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When the word reached me that Max McLean would be in town for one day, doing two performances of “The Screwtape Letters” at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle, I knew that I had to be in attendance. “The Screwtape Letters” was adapted by Jeffrey Fiske and Max McLean from the book of the same name written by C.S. Lewis. It stars Max McLean, who also co-directs with Fisk. McLean has been performing the play since the opening run in New York, Chicago and D.C.; having successfully completed well over 700 performances of TSL.

As a longtime admirer of C.S. Lewis and his writings, I was skeptical that one could effectively convey the nuances of the book on stage, as it’s not your typical fare. It was hard enough for some to read the relatively short book completely through. The book records the mail correspondence between Screwtape, a demon of the highest order, and his fledgling tempter nephew, Wormwood. In their exchanges, Wormwood, a recent graduate of the “Tempters' Training College” describes his first assignment with a human affectionately referred to as the “Patient”. It is Wormwood’s mission to ensure that the Patient is tempted off of the narrow path. In return, good ol’ Uncle Screwtape, reminiscent of an unholy ‘Dear Abby’ or ‘Dr. Phil’ manner, dispenses his malevolent wisdom and insights concerning Christianity, faith and the human condition, in hopes of guiding Wormwood into nefarious maturity and bringing about the eternal damnation of the Patient.

My momentary uneasiness was allayed by the choice of music played while waiting for the curtains to open. My attention was initially seized by Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” and I am delighted to say that the performance to follow was wickedly riveting, entertaining and thought-provoking. Max McLean, dressed up like Alistair Cooke’s evil cousin doing a Masterpiece Theatre vignette, held me spellbound throughout. The show, unlike Wormwood, does not disappoint in the end.

Red (Seattle Repertory)

March 1, 2012

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I am struggling with where to start in my review of Red at the Seattle Repertory. I attended the packed house opening night of Red last evening and this morning my mind is still racing, trying to distill the essence of Red; to quantify the take away as it were, but it is just not that simple. You see writer John Logan, director Richard E. T. White and the extremely talented acting duo of Denis Arndt and Connor Toms have conspired with foresight and malicious intent to make anything that I say, good or bad about the play, more indicative of my qualifications as a witnesser of their art, than the quality of the art itself.

Even as the words begin to form in my head, I hear the commanding voice of Denis’ rendition of abstract painter, Mark Rothko bellowing at me, “What do you see?” I am left to question my own understanding, like Connor Toms portrayal of Rothko’s apprentice Ken. Am I human enough to get it? To feel it? I sit here and find myself reminiscing about an earlier time in my own life. A period when time itself seemed limitless and the thought of hanging out at the local IHOP drinking coffee with friends until 4am, wrestling with deep philosophical quandaries, seemed the most important of activities to attend to. I have to wonder; am I just starved for deep and meaningful conversation or is John Logan's writing compelling enough to instill in me a renewed hunger for those college days and to engage in meaningful dialogue with others?

Red compels us to enter and spend an evening treading deep into the forgotten places, Socratic dialogues, rhetoric, discourse and of course, Nietzsche’s profound but fragile balance between Apollonian (reason and logic) and Dionysian (emotion and experience) elements required to create dramatic Art. Before you let that scare you away from attending the show, know that while the show is about Art, it does so through real visceral human interactions, touching upon many of life’s themes. What is Art? Is it truly in the eye of the beholder or is there a more ethereal quality to it? Do we judge it, or does it judge us, the viewer of it?

Chicago (SecondStory Repertory)

February 29, 2012

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SecondStory Repertory brazenly reaches for the neon stars with its powerhouse performance of Chicago, bringing the sardonic and torrid tale of egos, gin joints, gams, corruption and big town dreams to Redmond. Complete with live cabaret band and elaborate choreographed song and dance routines, Director Chris Nardine pulls off his own sleight of hand by efficaciously tackling the hugely ambitious Chicago and successfully transforming it to the intimate setting of SecondStory’s main stage. SSR's production of Chicago hooks you and keeps hitting on all sixes until the very end.

Set in the mid-1920s, Chicago tells the story of an amoral chorus dancer Roxie Hart, deliciously brought to life by the talented Erika Zabelle. Watching Zabelle perform conjured up images of a young Bernadette Peters, as she brings forth surprising intensity and strength. In her undeterred self-centered ambition to ascend to stardom, Roxie proves that there is no depth of human depravity that she will not descend to. Nor is there any sordid character that she would not willingly partner with to achieve her dreams and keep her name in the headlines. From the cold murder of her adulterous partner to her serpentine lies and manipulation of others, no one is exempt from her exploitation. She even convinces her rube of a husband, Amos to initially take responsibility for the murder until the truth comes out and she is arrested.

I Am My Own Wife (Seattle Repertory)

February 14, 2012

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February 8, 2012 marked the opening night for Seattle Repertory’s provocative yet compelling production of I Am My Own Wife written by Doug Wright and directed by Jerry Manning. I Am My Own Wife presents the fascinating real life story of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an East German transvestite who lived openly through two of the most oppressive regimes the world has known, Nazi Germany and East Germany Communism.

It is an intriguing yet complex multilayered tale, at times self-indulgently shocking; yet also surprisingly emotive; even tender at moments. Irrespective of one’s feelings regarding homosexuality and transvestism, audiences cannot help but be moved by the all too real and fundamentally human plight of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf as she unflinchingly confronts decades of ignorance and misunderstanding with unapologetic pride. One may be startled to discover at some point in the play just how taken they have become with this enigmatic figure which Nick Garrison’s portrayal brilliantly brings to life.

How to Write a New Book for the Bible (Seattle Repertory)

January 25, 2012

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The Seattle Repertory presents the world premiere of Bill Cain’s latest work, How to Write a New Book for the Bible – a moving and candid personal exploration of parent-child relationships and finding peace in the midst of suffering and death. “How to” invites you into the most familiar of places, the family home; yet does so in a fresh, deeply poignant and humorous manner. Bill describes the play as “joyous” and celebrates the fullness of humanity, its peaks and valleys, while discovering sacred moments even within the remembrances of the minutest of acts. It is a wild emotional rollercoaster ride, through the heart, drama and faith of the Cain family; honestly portrayed, complete with imperfections, quirks and an unalterable love for one another.

Unabashed, Bill Cain treks boldly into the arena of drama which is the family, draws us into the frustration, joy and absurdity which is family life and makes us care. It cannot be any easy thing to write such a deeply personal revealing play, but I was pleasantly surprised by how he masterfully integrated faith and family, in such a manner that is so accessible to all. He successfully navigates the razor’s edge between religion and entertainment, the joys and heartbreaks of family life, and the reality of aging and facing death. He does so without backing away from the edge, overly sanitizing it or becoming preachy. He delightfully portrays a family of faith not as stoic automatons, whitewashed saints or joyless ascetics, but full on flesh and blood, wonderfully flawed emotional beings, who at moments are angered, frustrated and make mistakes, while laughing, crying and even cursing without losing sight that God is found in midst of their family story.

Circle Mirror Transformation (Seattle Repertory)

October 28, 2011

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Seattle Repertory (www.seattlerep.org) opens its production of Circle Mirror Transformation written by the promising young playwright, Annie Baker.  Directed by Andrea Allen, CMT is set in the “artsy small” fictional town of Shirley, Vermont and candidly explores the complicated and frequently messy world of human relationships.  Through the backdrop of an improvisational adult drama workshop […]

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (The Microsoft Theatre Troupe)

October 25, 2011

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The Microsoft Theatre Troupe kicked off its 16th Season, October 20th with a performance of Stephen Sondheim’s unconventional comedic musical thriller, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Sweeney Todd tells the story of Benjamin Barker, a man who has had everything of value wrongfully taken from him including his freedom, his wife and daughter and his very own identify as he is forced to become Sweeney Todd. He returns from his false imprisonment in Australia only to discover that his wife has killed herself after being raped by the man who sentenced him to jail. It gets worse. Since the suicide of his wife, his daughter Joanna has been raised as a ward by very same man…Judge Turpin.

The 39 Steps (SecondStory Repertory)

October 24, 2011

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The SecondStory Repertory kicks off its fall season with The 39 Steps, a clever and fanciful fast paced comedic thriller adapted by Patrick Barlow from the John Buchan novel; though perhaps best known from the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie. Directed by Teresa Thuman, The 39 Steps stars Emily Cawley, Frank Lawler, James Lyle and Mark Waldstein who together aptly take on and meet the challenge of portraying over one hundred different characters throughout the play.

Humor Abuse (Seattle Repertory)

October 10, 2011

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The Seattle Repertory kicked off its 2011 season with Humor Abuse – a well-crafted engaging biographical production which explores one man’s search for independence, meaning and identity in the shadow of his larger than life, vaudeville-legend father and life growing up in San Francisco’s illustrious Pickle Family Circus. Humor Abuse, written by Lorenzo Pisoni and directed by Erica Schmidt, explores the universal experience of growing up, finding oneself and making peace with imperfect parents but wisely does so by evoking empathy for young Lorenzo while avoiding syrupy melodrama.