Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Wedding of the Century No Great Art, Lots of Laughs

Glenna Nolte, Renae Iversen, Laurie Bishop, and Cathy Aicher
Photo by Carl Dahlquist

By Tina Arth

HART’s latest production, The Wedding of the Century, is the North American premiere of an often hilarious comedy by New Zealand playwright Devon Williamson, and the opening night audience clearly saw a lot to laugh at in the innovative and original story of an ancient nun living out her last days in a nursing home. Director Mark Putnam and his cast are clearly having a fine time on stage, and their attitude is somewhat infectious. However, the play has a few significant problems – my general impression is that there is a really nice comedy buried in there, but that Mr. Williamson would benefit from collaborating with a skilled script doctor to refine the work, editing out some extraneous and occasionally juvenile (if sometimes funny) material and helping to augment the comedy with a bit more serious exploration of key themes in the core story.

The play takes place over a 7-day period in one room at the Rest In Peace Rest Home and Funeral Home (the first clue that some of the humor is not particularly sophisticated). The home’s oldest resident, retired nun Sister Dorothy, is approaching her 100th birthday, much to the delight of rest home operator Maxine. A Goth teen, Jessica, appears in the room, intent on using interviews with Sister Dorothy for a school project. Jessica looks sufficiently diabolical that other residents of the home (Nelly and Phyllis) consistently mistake her for Satan, but the old nun quickly sees through the Jessica’s hard outer shell to the angst-ridden adolescent underneath. Dorothy tells Jessica of her early years in India, in particular about a handsome young chai wallah (tea seller) named Aditya. Challenged to start a bucket list (at 99!) Dorothy surprises everyone by admitting that her one unfulfilled desire is to get married. Although they have no idea who the groom will be, Nelly, Phyllis, and Jessica embrace the plan enthusiastically, while Maxine is less thrilled (she has been planning an elaborate 100th birthday party, and does not want a fantasy wedding to get in the way).  The show leaves the audience laughing with a nicely unexpected Bollywood touch.

While the acting is at times uneven, there are several very funny performances. Sarah Cunningham’s “Jessica” has some great moments, and many of her more awkward scenes can be attributed to the writing, rather than the acting or direction. Although Laurie Bishop (Nelly) sometimes has trouble with her lines, she uses her voice to great effect, and the character’s direct, abrasive, but fundamentally appealing persona comes through quite nicely. Glenna Nolte does a great job of capturing the loveable ditziness of the senile Phyllis, and she grabs many of the show’s best laughs as she bounces between her various realities. As wedding planner apprentice Raphael, Spencer Putnam shows no inhibition, putting all of his character’s fey naiveté onstage to the delight of an appreciate audience. Cathy Aicher does her best in the lead role as Sister Dorothy, but her part suffers from a shortage of either humor or character development that would offer her more of an opportunity to shine.

William Crawford and Mark Putnam’s set design is effective in using the relatively small HART stage to create both Dorothy’s room and a nice courtyard, allowing the several scenes with no scene changes (always a plus, in my opinion). Karen Roder’s costume design and elaborate lobby display enrich the visual contrast between Sister Dorothy’s lifelong Catholicism and her youthful brush with Hindu culture.

While there are, as noted, problems with the script, The Wedding of the Century packs a lot of laughs into just over two hours, and attending a show like this can provide a great distraction from the annoyances and angst of daily life.

The Wedding of the Century runs through Sunday, February 25th with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays at HART Theater, 185 S.E. Washington, Hillsboro.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Top 5 Reasons to See Twilight’s Antigone

Amy Lichtenstein and Blaine Vincent
Photo by Alicia Turvin

By Tina Arth

To be brutally honest, I was not thrilled about seeing Antigone at Twilight Theater Company last weekend. I knew very little about the play (the ancient Greeks, while certainly of monumental importance to Western Civilization, never really grabbed my attention), and after an online search for a quick overview of the plot I was even less enthusiastic. The story sounded impossibly convoluted – the sort of thing that, had it been written by Shakespeare, would have involved several acts spread over at least three hours, leaving me weak with longing for the final curtain. My advice? If you are not already a fan, do not google the play. To be on the safe side, don’t even read the thoroughly illuminating program notes by historical consultant Christopher Ruggles (until after the play – then by all means immerse yourself!). Instead, go with a completely open mind, buoyed by the following:

  • Jean Anouilh, the author of the adaptation staged at Twilight, is definitely not a Shakespeare wannabe – the script is sharp and uncluttered.
  • Chris Murphy, who plays “The Chorus,” is utterly engaging – he makes the story line crystal clear and lends an appealingly sardonic note to the entire affair.
  • While done in modern dress, the play is presented as timeless – there are no irritating attempts to modernize a story that needs no such modification.
  • In difficult times, it’s important (and comforting) to be reminded that the fundamental cycles of human conflict are unchanging – what happened in 441 BC didn’t stay in 441 BC – and correspondingly, that our troubles too shall pass away.
  • Although Twilight evening shows start at 8:00 pm, Antigone is presented as one longish act (no intermission) - you can be out of the theater and on your way home (or out for post-theater frivolity) by 9:30 or so, and the steadily building tension of the tragedy is not disrupted by an unnecessary break.

I’ll give the briefest overview possible: Antigone (daughter of Oedipus, so you know she’s going to have a complex or two of her own) mourns the death of her two brothers, rivals for the Theban throne in a bloody civil war. Creon (father of Antigone’s fiancé Haemon) is now king, and he decrees that one brother (Eteocles) will be buried with honor while leaving the other (Polynices) to rot on the field of battle as a stern lesson to would-be rebels. Antigone defies Creon and sneaks out to bury Polynices. She also tells Haemon that she’ll never be able to marry him (knowing that the penalty for burying her brother is death). Creon is infuriated when he learns that someone has scattered dirt over Polynices’ body, and orders the guards to uncover the body and to capture the miscreant. The guards enter with a struggling Antigone – she has gone back to bury her brother again, this time in broad daylight. Unwilling to lose Antigone as Haemon’s bride, Creon orders Antigone to retire to her bed and claim that she’s ill – he will take care of the guards. Antigone (stubborn little thing that she is) absolutely refuses, putting Creon in the position that he must execute her to maintain law and order. Antigone’s sister Ismene falsely claims to have covered the body, but Antigone refuses to let her take the rap. I won’t give away the rest – but it’s safe to assume that several people die and Creon is left a very, very lonely man – he has upheld the rigid tenets of the law, but at an impossibly high price.

In addition to the previously mentioned Chris Murphy, several other actors give particularly moving performances. In particular, Amy Lichtenstein gives us an immovably resolute “Antigone,” as with calm intensity she condemns herself to death rather than violate the dictates of her conscience. Blaine Vincent’s “Haemon” starts out as a seemingly callow son of privilege, but evolves nicely into the passionate fiancé ready to sacrifice everything for love. Jim Butterfield gives “Creon” the right touch for true tragedy, so as much as we want to hate him as a heartless politician we cannot help but pity him – he conveys fiercely genuine anguish at the inevitability of the decisions he makes.

It is always tempting to draw modern parallels to this kind of political drama, and there is certainly much to ponder about the play’s broader themes. Like many shows, this one resonates long after the stage is dark, so it’s a great idea to take a friend along with whom you can explore your reactions.  Director Tobias Andersen and his cast deliver plenty of first-rate fodder for reflection and discussion.

Twilight Theater Company’s Antigone is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, February 11th with performances at 8 P.M. Friday and Saturday and 3:00 P.M. Sunday. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Murder for Two Knocking ‘em Dead

Barney Stein and David Saffert. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

By Tina Arth

It’s a good thing that audiences don’t actually die laughing – if they did, last Friday Tigard’s New Stage would have been the scene of unimaginable carnage. Broadway Rose’s season opener, Murder for Two, didn’t just draw the frequent laughs and occasional rounds of applause common to good musical comedy. Instead, the cast repeatedly drew show-stopping bursts of full on cheering. Director Dan Murphy and his production team pull out all the stops for authors Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair’s frenetic 2011 murder mystery, and killer (pun intended) performances by David Saffert and Barney Stein bring it all home.

At the most superficial level, Murder for Two is just a slightly twisted take on an Agatha Christie-style drawing room murder mystery, set in a wealthy American household. Frustrated artiste Dahlia Whitney has planned a surprise birthday party for her husband, famed novelist Arthur. As he walks into the darkened living room full of hidden guests, a shot rings out, and Arthur is no more.  Enter Marcus Moscowicz, a lowly street cop who aspires to detective status, and his partner Lou. With some not-always appreciated assistance from Arthur’s niece Steph, a 21st Century Nancy Drew wannabe, Marcus rigidly adheres to protocol as he probes the usual suspects – the shrink, the lover, the wife, the neighbors – plus an utterly unprecedented three- member boys’ choir, inexplicably dressed and played as street-wise urchins who could be New York refugees from Oliver.  Eventually, of course, we learn not only who murdered Arthur, but also who stole all of the ice cream from the party (which bothers Dahlia a lot more than her spouse’s sudden demise).

The show moves from “slightly twisted” to full-on comic chaos because eleven roles (Moscowicz and the ten suspects) are all played by two men. Are they actors? A finely matched vaudeville team? Physical comics? Vocalists? Dancers? Yes to all of the above, taken to the next level by the added challenge of constantly accompanying themselves (sometimes alone, sometimes as a duet) with some damned fine piano playing. Their only on-stage assistance comes from the unheard, unseen Lou and a brief corpse cameo by an unsuspecting audience member (on opening night, Cindy from Row E set the bar impossibly high with her spasmodic death throes). Stein certainly holds his own as the dim but determined cop, and he handles the lion’s share of the piano work, but it is Saffert’s quick-change portrayal of the ten suspects that really drives the comedy over the top. Words like wacky, zany, nutty, madcap make my skin crawl – they generally evoke irritating visions of The Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis, or Benny Hill – yet all of these words not only apply to Murder for Two, they constitute high praise.  Using no more than some oversized glasses, a few other key accessories, and an impressive repertoire of voices, Saffert works up quite a sweat during 90 minutes of zipping from character to character, sometimes even arguing with himself. The songs will never stand alone, but Broadway Rose’s production design team dresses them up as full-on production numbers accented by Lawrence Welk-style cascading bubbles, glorious lighting, and a host of other imaginative and hilarious touches. Add in some spectacularly funny choreography (I especially liked Timmy, Yonkers and Skid’s big dance number, but Dahlia’s “Steppin’ Out of the Shadows” is a true show-stopper) and the stage is set for an evening of hard-core laughter.

Murphy, Saffert, Stein and the rest of the team are brightening the dark days of winter with a brilliant dose of pure comedy that is not to be missed. Watch the State of the Union address if you must, but by all means give equal time to the energetic, untrammeled joy that Broadway Rose has brought to town.

Murder for Two is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, February 25th.

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Compelling Receptionist from M&M’s Unmasked

Amelia Michaels, Patti Speight, Tony Broom and Michael Hoeft.
Photo by Nicole Mae Photography

By Tina Arth

Back before extended phone menus made receptionists obsolete, actual humans used to populate front offices, take messages, screen and direct calls, and perform hundreds of other once-cherished clerical functions, including the always off-putting “Please hold” and the usually genial “Can I put you through to his voice mail?” Playwright Adam Bock’s quirky, Orwellian The Receptionist uses this kind of clichéd, comfortingly banal office setting as the backdrop for a terribly funny (in Act I) and equally troubling (in Act II) little allegory about, as the program’s cover reveals “the consequences of complicity with evil.”  It’s exactly the kind of production Tigard’s Mask & Mirror Community Theatre needs for its “Unmasked” series at the tiny Tualatin Heritage Center, where small, edgy productions can provide riveting entertainment to sophisticated audiences. Director Tony Broom’s vision is realized beautifully by his tiny four-person cast (including Broom, who plays a smaller but utterly pivotal role) – with only a two week run and a small house, I suggest you buy tickets asap.

It’s impossible to give any meaningful synopsis that won’t spoil the show’s gut-punching twist, but some exposition will at least set the stage. The show opens with an odd monologue where Mr. Raymond (Broom) muses in slightly creepy detail about his distaste for hunting and his love of fly-fishing. The stilted language and delivery in the prologue evoke the image of a man on the edge, reminiscent of Nick Adams in many Hemingway stories, without really giving the audience any clear vision of what’s to come. The lights then come up on an utterly ordinary office setting, dominated by Beverly (Patti Speight), the lovably frazzled, gossiping and motherly receptionist who reigns supreme over her telephone, desk, plants and pens. Every time the phone rings, she trills out “”Northeast Office” before either transferring the call to the voicemail of her absent boss, Mr. Raymond, or resuming her all-important conversation with her friend Cheryl Lynn about the perils of dating married men. When co-worker Lorraine (Amelia Michaels) rushes in, late and at best half-dressed for work, Beverly adds to her weighty job description by counseling Lorraine about her self-absorbed ex, ordering a birthday cake for Mr. Raymond, and fussing over an over-priced tea cup and a cute birthday card – all of the stuff of the most ordinary of offices. The biggest excitement of the day is the unexpected arrival of Mr. Dart (Michael Hoeft) from the main office – Dart is young enough and attractive enough to send Lorraine rushing into her office, from which she emerges moments later dressed to kill and dripping with flirtatiousness that is more than welcomed by the (married, of course) newcomer. Beverly, in perfect momma fashion, has reassured Mr. Dart that his four-year-old son’s paste eating is no big deal, because everybody eats paste. By the time Mr. Raymond arrives at the office, we feel like we know these characters – until Mr. Raymond mentions a small wrinkle in his morning’s work that throws everything off and sets up a starkly different second act.

Speight is perfect as Beverly – warm, efficient, guileless, and cheerful as she counsels and comforts her friends, family, and co-workers while fiercely defending her cherished stash of pens. Though none of her dialogue is specifically funny, she draws an endless series of (first-act) laughs with her intonations and expressions – the play really rises and falls on our attitude toward Beverly, and Speight’s Beverly is as loveable as they come. Michaels delivers a cute, flighty, flirty Lorraine whose angst and moral relativism give her character engaging depth, and Hoeft’s vaguely smarmy charm, puzzling at first, does a fine job of setting up the truth about his second act role. As the frequently unseen Mr. Raymond, Tony Broom tries for nonchalance about his departure from the protocols of his job, but undercurrents of tension and despair permeate the performance.

My one complaint is that the show ends abruptly, leaving the audience with a host of emotions and no time to process them. I would suggest a brief audience talk-back session after each performance, which would allow us and the actors to decompress before going back to our own often comfortingly banal lives. A reasonable alternative is to go with a friend so you can talk over the show on the road home, or (better yet) over an adult beverage in any of several nearby eateries.

Mask & Mirror’s The Receptionist  is playing at The Tualatin Heritage Center, 8700 SW Sweek Drive, Tualatin, through Sunday, January 28, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays, 2:00 on Sundays.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

God of Carnage – Dark Humor in The Grove

Benjamin Philip, Kate Barrett, Teri Lee Scoles, and Brandon Weaver.
Photo by Jenn McFarling.

By Tina Arth

Theatre in the Grove’s current offering, God of Carnage, is a beautiful (but not pretty) and hilarious (but not always fun) piece of theater that inhabits a grey area between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Married with Children. This vision of marriage is softened only by author Yasmina Reza’s incessant dark humor – the sort of show where you don’t really know whether to laugh or cry, but come down on the side of laughter (and feel a bit guilty about it). Director Zach Centers is no stranger to gut-punching theater, and I still have flashes of PTSD four years after he brought August, Osage County to Forest Grove, but he and his cast find in Carnage a much less painful way to celebrate the savage potential of urbane American society.

The plot is secondary – just a set-up to bring the cast together to illustrate what four people can do with a sparse, sharp script and some really brilliant acting. Brooklyn residents Michael and Veronica Novak are hosting an awkwardly civilized meeting with neighbors Alan and Annette Raleigh to discuss an unfortunate incident – a disagreement between their eleven-year old sons that culminated in the Raleigh boy whacking young Novak with a stick, knocking out a couple of teeth. The two women are, at first, determined to have a reasonable discussion about how they should respond. Through facial expressions, tone of voice, and exquisite timing we gradually detect hostile undercurrents that fight their way to the surface as the show evolves. Bleeding-heart Veronica just wants everything to resolve with a kumbaya moment of sincere apology in a meeting between the two boys, while Alan, convinced that his son is an unrepentant savage, sees no point in trying. Annette, like Veronica, initially aims at civility, and Michael, while a bit crass, seems to have some human potential until we learn about an unfortunate hamster-related tragedy. Alliances constantly shift throughout the show, and as the cast moves from espresso and clafouti to rum and cigars they show us exactly who they are. What begins as two couples confident that their spouses have their backs ends up as an expose of the dog-eat-dog character of their marriages and lives, ruled more by a god of carnage than a god of love.

Tori Lee Scoles is quite wonderful as the initially nervous Annette, who murmurs all of the right sentiments while her eyes send death-rays of contempt at her hostess (who puts apples and pears in clafouti?) and her disengaged, cell-phone addicted ass of a spouse – and she’s even more fun when the rum kicks in.  Benjamin Philip’s Alan is the man we most love to hate – a snide, disengaged “wealth manager” who has offloaded all responsibility for home and parenting on his wife. Even before we see the cell phone, he is clearly despicable, and his frequent phone interruptions of the group’s discussion reveal a fundamental vileness that goes way beyond poor manners.

Kate Barrett brings a hefty dose of self-righteous confidence to her portrayal of Veronica, occupying the moral high ground across the spectrum of human interaction from schoolyard spats to genocide in Darfur. Barrett captures the spirit of her comfortably suburban pacifist humanism until a little rum and a lot of anger finally push her over the edge, and her explosion is intensely believable.  Brandon Weaver gives husband Michael a sometimes-dizzying combination of blue-collar machismo, clumsy upscale snobbery, and appalling heartlessness, all leavened with unpredictable touches of tenderness and concern that keep the audience off balance and remind us that the world is far from black and white.

Centers has designed a stunningly spare set – just a few pieces of furniture, a spectacular floor, and one huge abstract painting, combining smartly civilized décor with a background of red and black splashes to capture the dichotomy between order and chaos. Lighting designers Sandy and Tom Cronin deliver an incredible moment at the end, spotlighting just the vase of tulips to bring a flash of hope to the show’s grim message.

God of Carnage delivers some of the best acting you’ll see this season, wrapped in a compelling show that builds steadily and combines raw humor with a thought-provoking look at “civilized” behavior. Expect to be utterly riveted for slightly less than an hour and a half (one long act) – and by all means, go see this show. Because of mature themes and strong language, the show is not appropriate for children.

God of Carnage runs at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove through Sunday, January 28th with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

GODSPELL at HART – A Christmas Miracle!

(top row) Sarah Thornton, Jean Christensen, Rylie Bartell, Bri Edgerton, Mikayla Albano, Arielle Scena-Shifrin
(middle row) Joseph Vermeire, Prince AV (bottom row) Aubrey McLain, Grace Proschold

By Tina Arth

I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of Godspell, Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak’s 1971 entry into the counterculture “Jesus Freak” theater scene (preceded by 1968’s Joseph and 1970’s Jesus Christ Superstar).  Thus, when faced with five shows to be reviewed in a four-day period, the decision of which one to postpone was easy – HART’s Godspell would have to wait. When I finally made it to the show last Saturday, it was a true Christmas miracle – I actually enjoyed the production! While the show itself is still kind of an empty shell, the talent, enthusiasm and energy from HART’s 13-member cast completely filled the vessel and made for an impressively entertaining evening.

Godspell isn’t really a play, or even a traditional musical, but rather a series of parables (what we might now call “teachable moments”) drawn from scripture, acted out by Jesus and 12 others (see any parallels with the Apostles?). In lieu of conventional dialogue there is a recitation accompanying each of the parables plus a generous helping of pop music (at least, pop by 1971 standards) – some catchy, some big dramatic ballads, and some hauntingly beautiful when delivered with delicate harmonies. Act I works its way through loose and often light-hearted renditions of the Sermon on the Mount, the Good Samaritan, Lazarus, and other stories, while Act II leads inexorably toward the crucifixion. The actors play a wide variety of parts, mostly independent of age or gender, with the exception of Stephen Radley (Jesus) and Evan Tait (John the Baptist/Judas).  Costuming, face painting, blocking, choreography, and attitude all make it clear to the audience that the players are telling a story, not seriously taking on a role.

Here are some of the reasons why, even if your first reaction isn’t “Yay! Godspell!” you should still go:  (1) Fine vocals delivered with skill and passion. When Sarah Thornton and Jean Christensen team up, the result is pure ambrosia. Evan Tait and Prince AV share powerful voices to keep us awake and engaged. Instead of a freak flag, seductress Arielle Scena-Shifrin lets her pink boa fly along with some soaring vocals that lift the production to new heights.  (2) Stephen Radley. Surrounded by cartoon characters, Radley gives us a subtle, serious Jesus – a man, not a god, a teacher, not a preacher. Despite the absence of a real script, he manages to make us care about his message and his fate. 3) Quirky, gleeful costumes. You don’t want to miss Joseph Vermeire in his denim overalls and pink ribbons, Sarah Thornton’s octopus-adorned tunic, or some of the flashiest leggings in Hillsboro history. The eccentric costuming (with no clumsy early seventies hippie overtones, thank you very much…) is an unmistakable reminder that the story of Jesus is, ultimately, a tale of good news. (3) Fiercely energetic and uninhibited performances. Each actor, no matter how silly the scene, commits 100% to telling the story – it is clear that they are having an incredibly good time, and their passion for the material is infectious. (4) Aubrey McLain’s smile. I won’t try to explain it – you’ve got to be there! And – (5) This may be your last chance to see a show directed by Ray Hale, as he will be retiring and moving to Florida next year. He has given countless hours of time and tons of talent, patience, and dedication to ensure that HART remains a real asset to the local theater scene. He will be greatly missed, but you don’t need to miss this great show!

Godspell is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 17th with a 7:30 p.m. performance on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2:00 p.m.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

BCT’s Annie A Sell Out and Stand Out

Nina Takahashi and Jordan Morris with ensemble

By Tina Arth

Annie – most theatergoers either love it or hate it, and judging by local response, Beaverton Civic Theatre fans definitely trend toward the “love it” side. Initial response to ticket sales for BCT’s 2017 holiday show was so strong that they added two extra performances, which also sold out before opening night. My attitude toward Annie is mixed – sort of love/angst. I will never tire of this heartwarming tale of love lost, found, lost, then found again, yet parts of the show invariably make me sad. Thus I watched opening night of Beaverton Civic Theatre’s holiday production of Annie fully dressed with a smile, yet simultaneously fighting back twinges of melancholy. Luckily, the gleeful Annie/Warbucks chemistry at the end of the show (just look at that picture!) won the day, and I can honestly say that I really enjoyed BCT’s take on the story. Director Melissa Riley has found countless ways to squeeze her 48-person cast (plus one large dog) into the limited space available in the Beaverton City Library Auditorium, and the resulting show delivers a full musical theater experience for her audience.

For that theoretical reader who isn’t familiar with Meehan, Strouse and Charnin’s 1976 musical based on Harold Gray’s original comic, “Little Orphan Annie,” the story goes like this: Annie was abandoned as an infant at a New York City orphanage. Eleven years later, at the height of the Great Depression, she still optimistically waits for her parents to return as promised. The orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan, despises little girls, Annie most of all. When billionaire Oliver Warbucks wants an orphan to visit his mansion during the Christmas holidays, he sends his assistant to fetch one – and she picks Annie. While Warbucks is initially put off (he assumed that orphans were boys) he quickly bonds with the feisty little girl, and wants to adopt her. However, Annie has different plans – she wants to find her parents, and Warbucks agrees to put all of his financial and political muscle into locating the missing couple. He also offers a $50,000 reward to Annie’s parents – which fails to bring out Annie’s parents, but does bring out hundreds of liars, including Miss Hannigan’s con-man brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily. Disguised as Ralph and Shirley Mudge, the crooked couple provides “proof” (gained from Miss Hannigan) that Annie is theirs. Of course, several songs later the sad truth is revealed, the evil plot foiled, and everything works out just fine.

Nina Takahashi plays Annie as a diehard optimist with spunk to spare, with none of the whiny, manipulative side sometimes seen in the role. She sings, dances, and acts like the pro that she is, and her outlook sets the tone for the whole show. Once I got past the sense that I was watching a young Patrick Stewart, I also really enjoyed Jordan Morris’s approach to Daddy Warbucks – not so much a cartoon as a real human, able to openly display the vulnerability that Annie hides so well. His rendition of the often-omitted “Why Should I Change A Thing” really establishes the depth of his character.

The always-amazing Erin Zelazny gives her all to Miss Hannigan, blending her character’s fundamental sadism with just a touch of pathos and nailing the iconic “Little Girls.” Zelazny also picks up on a critical moment often misplayed, her timing perfect when she calls Lily St. Regis a “dumb ho…tel.” Speaking of hotels, Kelli Bee is an utterly captivating Lily, and even when she’s stuck in the background she’s never upstaged. Richard Cohn-Lee is fun as the evil Rooster, although he never quite reaches the level of malice I expect in a wanna-be child murderer.

There are lots of other solid performances – too many to mention – but I cannot overlook Kathrynn Gerard’s flawless singing, dancing “Star-to-Be.”  This is a role often delegated to a solid, but second-rate performer, and Gerard brings the kind of star quality that makes me think she’ll be in a lead role when next I see her. Sherman’s “Sandy” is also destined for stardom, but first he needs to master the art of ignoring the treats he knows are coming!

The show is long, and I am grateful for Alex Woodard’s impressive single set design that virtually eliminates set changes. Switching from orphanage to Hooverville to mansion to radio station is all accomplished by changing the lighting, but perhaps calls a little too much on audience imagination – a few video projections to provide an appropriate backdrop would have been helpful.

There’s no point in exhorting you to buy tickets to a long sold-out run, so if you haven’t got seats yet all I can suggest is that you buy early for the next BCT show!

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of A Little Princess runs through Sunday, December 17th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.