Monday, February 20, 2017

LOoPY Pirates Aboard!

Laurence Cox, Ron Swingen, Lindsey Lefler, and Jacob Mott.

By Tina Arth

Light Opera of Portland (LOoP) is bringing yet another Gilbert and Sullivan classic, The Pirates of Penzance, to Southwest Portland, and the timing could not be better. Director Dennis Britten is a purist, and has resisted the urge to modernize the telling or the tale for contemporary audiences – but this production proves that Gilbert & Sullivan’s witty work has survived quite nicely, thank you. The 138 years since it first played on a New York stage may have brought mind-boggling changes in society, but Western culture’s fundamental foibles are still vulnerable to the same sly parody that the show’s authors wrought so many years ago.

Like all good G&S work, the core story is utterly absurd. Young Frederic (mistakenly apprenticed to a band of pirates until his 21st birthday) is coming of age, and is eager to resign from piracy and pursue a more conventional life, including the acquisition of an appropriate wife. His nursemaid Ruth, now way over the hill (Hey! When did 47 become old?), tries to convince him that she would be a great choice; Frederic’s skepticism is validated when a bevy of younger women (wards of Major-General Stanley) appear on the beach. Frederic instantly falls for the lovely Mabel, who reciprocates his ardor without hesitation. The pirates attack and undertake to forcefully wed all of the fair damsels, but the Major-General plays on the pirates’ sympathy for orphans to talk them out of it. Frederic recruits a local police force to round up the pirates, and prepares for wedded bliss. Alas – as the wedding plans are afoot, it is discovered that Frederic was born on February 29th, a leap year, and that his 21st birthday will not come around until 1930 – until then he must remain a pirate. Mabel swears to wait for him. After a loud, blusteringly bloodless battle between the tender hearted pirates and the cowardly police, everything gets sorted out nicely – Gilbert and Sullivan’s stories may not make literal sense, but they definitely leave no unresolved plotlines.

Light opera demands a powerful and precise vocal ensemble, and Musical Director Linda Smith has brought out the best in a large (29 actors), experienced, and proficient cast, many of them veterans of previous LoOP productions. The six principal cast members (Jason Weed as the Pirate King, Phyllis Fort as Ruth, Jacob Mott as Frederic, Lindsey Lefler as Mabel, Ron Swingen as the Major-General, and Laurence Cox as the Sergeant of Police) carry a lot of the show, but they are well-supported by the rest of the cast and the superb little orchestra (Amanda Lyons’ flute work is especially evocative). Each group (pirates, policemen, and wards) forms a separate vocal ensemble for many of the songs, but they integrate beautifully together for the largest production numbers.

Among the principals, Lefler (as always) stands out in her ability to wander around looking wide-eyed and innocent while delivering a flawless coloratura soprano performance. Her counterpart, LOoP newcomer Mott, is that rare trained tenor who can really act, not to mention being more than easy on the eyes. Weed is superbly cast as The Pirate King – his huge physical presence is mirrored by his huge bass baritone delivery, and the beard alone would sell the character. Fort is hilarious as an over-the-hill wanna-be ingénue playing at being coy and winsome, and Swingen manages to recite his tongue-twisting lines just the right touch of dithering, effete pomposity. Finally, Cox is terribly fun to watch as he vacillates between false bravado and temerity, and he delivers strong lead vocals plus a solid foundation for his team’s ensemble numbers.

The stage at the Multnomah Arts Complex is large enough to accommodate the cast nicely, even when they are all performing at the same time. The large, cartoon-like props help by providing hiding places for various cohorts throughout the show, and they help to set a lighthearted tone for the production. Costumes are remarkably authentic – the program indicates that, as with the set, it took a village to gather up the right stuff.

Once Pirates closes, you won’t have the opportunity to experience the utterly absurd yet aesthetically spine-tingling magic of LoOP’s performers until late September, so treat yourselves to the fun of light opera while you can!

Light Opera of Portland’s Pirates of Penzance plays at the Multnomah Arts Center, 7688 SW Capitol Highway, Portland through Sunday, March 5th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 3 pm. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

My Inlaws are Outlaws

Mark Putnam, Blaine Vincent III, and Jean Christensen.
Nicole Mae Photography

By Tina Arth

HART Theatre is honoring Hillsboro with the U.S. premiere of My Inlaws Are Outlaws, an utterly absurd and genuinely funny new play by prolific New Zealand playwright Devon Williamson.  Based on my own reaction and the opening night audience response, I suspect that I will see more of Williamson’s work in local theaters – he has a comic sensibility that is a perfect antidote to the anxiety overload many of us are feeling these days. Director Paul Roder and his cast obviously had a great time putting this production together, and the result is a consistently entertaining, lighthearted mixture of physical comedy and dark humor. The story is extremely quirky, and might be just a little too silly if played as a farce. Luckily, Roder and cast opted to play each role completely straight, allowing the absurdity of the script to earn the laughs.

Newlywed Dane is the black sheep of the gangster Black clan, having rejected the family’s wicked ways, gone straight, and married Annie, an innocent librarian orphaned years earlier. Rather than tell Annie about his unsavory roots, Dane has lied and claimed to also be an orphan – until he is summoned home by his mother Audrey, the current matriarch of the gang. In the Black family, these invitations are not optional, so he drags his unsuspecting bride to the family homestead where she meets not only Audrey, but also the murderous Grandma, senile Granddad, and Dane’s seriously stupid sister Desiree (whose Welsh accent seems out of place until she explains that she has joined Greenpeace and is now intent on saving Wales). Dane is dragged to a family meeting off-site, leaving Annie to cope with a series of unusual assassins – Russian Natalya, Irish Finn and Donal, and the deadly Rosa Botticello, an Italian nonagenarian with a bad heart and an evil eye. Given the number of assassins on site, there is not much killing – in fact, the only actual death turns out to be quite accidental.

The uniformly solid cast delivers some really superb moments. Dalene Young is hilarious in both her roles (as Grandma and as Rosa Botticello). Young’s irrational outbursts and unstoppable trigger finger keep the family hopping (often literally) as Grandma, and her silent physical comedy as Botticello is a joy to watch. Patti Speight’s almost (but not quite) over-the-top Russian accent matches the unpredictable intensity of her delivery – sort of like Natasha Fatale (from Rocky and Bullwinkle) on steroids. Mark Putnam (as senior Irish assassin Finn) has a believable Irish accent and the gravitas of a real pro killer. Blaine Vincent III (as Finn’s son Donal) rivals Desiree for the title of stupidest character; he and Putnam form a really fine comic duo that snag many of the show’s biggest laughs.

However, the real star of the show is Jean Christensen (Annie). Her transformation from Act I’s meekly clueless young bride to Act II’s brilliantly crafty manipulator is carried out so subtly that, at first, we don’t even realize what’s happening, and her interactions (with Natalya, Finn, and especially Donal) make the second act a nonstop delight.

Set designers William Crawford and Paul Roder have filled the entire stage with the Black living room, giving ample space for numerous entrances and exits (including Donal’s beloved window) and creating a cheerfully lower-middle class ambience. Heather Sutherland’s lighting creates an outdoor effect when needed without the complications of scene changes, thus keeping the action flowing seamlessly.

Despite the frequent laughs, Act I does seem to drag at times – it is significantly longer than Act II, and perhaps would benefit from faster pacing to compensate. This slight problem is no excuse, however, for missing a U.S. premiere – Hillsboro owes HART a big thank-you for taking the risk of presenting an unknown show, and the community should turn out in droves to support it. There is enough violence and strong language that it should probably be viewed as PG-13, rather than G, rated.

My Inlaws are Outlaws is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through February 26th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Streetcar Named Desire – Twilight Nails An American Classic

Lynn Greene (Stella) and Dorina Toner (Blanche)
By Tina Arth

Twilight Theater Company is offering a hard-hitting, balanced production of one of the most powerful plays in the history of American theater, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Director Tony Bump actually turns the limited space/facilities at Twilight into an asset – without the distractions of transparent walls, rotating stages, hectic street scenes, and elaborate special effects, the  audience is forced to focus only on the often stunning intensity of the actors’ performances. The tiny size of the theater assures that the audience catches even the subtlest body language and facial expressions, and gives the huge moments even more impact than they would have in a larger production.

Even folks who are not familiar with Streetcar know its clichés, like Stanley’s frantic “Stella! Stella!!” and Blanche’s oft-quoted “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” The story revolves around Blanche Dubois’ decline into madness as she desperately tries to reclaim the faded glory of her life and family, Stella Kowalski’s passionate embrace of the only reality that works for her, and Stanley Kowalski’s brutally direct approach to protecting what is “his” (wife, home, liquor, bathroom, and even a strange dignity). There are no black hats and white hats, no unambiguously good or evil characters (although Stella comes close). Instead, there are way more than fifty shades of grey – a story that leaves the audience shaken by not only the fierce drama but by the absence of any neat conclusion.

Dorinda Toner’s portrayal of “Blanche” is a key factor in the production’s overall take on the story. Toner’s “Blanche” is no fading Southern belle, inspiring the audience’s undiluted sympathy as her world collapses around her. Instead, we see a delusional but devious, bigoted and manipulative woman who meets her match in Stanley, whose hardheaded grasp on reality contrasts so starkly with her universe. At the end, while we are angered and saddened by Stanley’s behavior, we feel no real regret at Blanche’s betrayal, and cannot blame Stanley for her mental decomposition. There is also not much to like in Ted Hartsook’s Stanley; his animal magnetism (lots of it!) is leavened by his crude, abusive, and often cruel behavior. Even his deep passion for Stella comes across as weakness – it is not so much love as need that brings him to his knees when she leaves him.  

The other two characters who demand mention are Lynn Greene (Stella) and Colin Trevor (Harold Mitchell). Greene walks the fine line of loyalty between her explosive husband and her increasingly demented sister, shifting sides as the moment demands. The sexual chemistry between Greene and Hartsook is palpable and convincing, and helps to justify her bond with her husband. Trevor’s performance is subtle; the slight stammer defines him as the sensitive underdog in the male ensemble, while his clenched fists and shaking shoulders convey a world of confusion, hurt, and anger at both Blanche and Stanley.

If I have one complaint, it is that the audience (many of them closely acquainted with both the play and the actors) laughed too much at lines that, while ironic, were neither written nor played for humorous effect. I am slightly guilty myself – I could not suppress a quick laugh at the completely unintended contemporary relevance when Stanley says of Blanche that  “She is as famous in Laurel as if she was the President of the United States, only she is not respected by any party.”

Set design (by director Bump, Assistant Director Sarah Fuller, and lighting designer Robin Pair) is detailed and efficient, creating just the right ambience and allowing for complex staging in the limited space. Chris Byrne’s costumes, especially for Toner, are wonderful at capturing the play’s shifting moods. Overall, this is one of the most solid productions I’ve seen, and definitely worth the short drive to North Portland. I recommend buying tickets early – a production of this quality should sell out most performances.

Twilight Theater Company’s A Streetcar Named Desire is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through Sunday, February 19th,  with performances at 8 P.M. on February 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 and 3:00 P.M. on February 12 and 19.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


By Tina Arth

The opening night performance of Broadway Rose’s production of Company (billed on the cover of the program as “Stephen Sondheim’s Modern Musical”) gave me a lot to consider. Audiences and actors alike tend to think of it as a Sondheim show, but this characterization overlooks the role of librettist George Furth, whose work on the book creates the episodic flow that injects a note of coherence into Sondheim’s predictably brilliant music and lyrics. Music Director Jeffrey Childs does a fine job with the band and vocalists, coaching them into a flawless musical team as they tackle an extremely challenging score. However, it is Director Annie Kaiser who bears the much greater burden of integrating Sondheim’s and Furth’s contributions into a story worth telling.

I was occasionally distracted during the performance by ‘70s flashbacks, brought on partly by the songs (I kept hearing bits and pieces of 1979’s Sweeney Todd and 1961’s West Side Story, both key in the evolution of Sondheim’s work) and partly by the narrative structure, so reminiscent of some early ‘70s sitcoms. Given access to Google after I got home, I was gratified to learn that Furth’s acting career included several episodes of Love, American Style, a show consisting of the same sort of loosely connected vignettes, wryly commenting on the revolution taking place in America’s approach to love and marriage. Company tells the story of Robert, the lone bachelor in a group of married New Yorkers, as he approaches his 35th birthday. His friends adore him, and worry ceaselessly about his single state – but some of the women (and one of the men) secretly want him, while the men blatantly envy him his freedom (beautifully expressed in “Have I Got A Girl For You”). The couples frequently bicker, sometimes painting a dismal picture of married life, but when they sing together it’s clear that they have found a curiously fulfilling harmony in their relationships – a harmony that Robert’s commitment-phobic approach prevents him from achieving.

Jared Q. Miller (“Robert”) has the challenge of creating the enigmatic protagonist – the eternal observer, good company, connected to so many, yet maintaining his distance from all. In “Marry Me A Little” he masterfully conveys not only his attitude toward marriage, but toward life – “all the stings, the ugly things, we’ll keep unsaid - we’ll build a cocoon of love and respect, you promise whatever you like, I’ll never collect.”  And his show stopping “Being Alive” closes the story, not with a neat little bow, but with an anguished admission that he must open himself to pain in order to experience anything real and meaningful in his life.

Among the rest of the cast (three girlfriends and five couples) there are several really stunning moments, both in solo and ensemble work.  Most memorable for me are Luisa Sermol (“Joanne”), Joel Walker (“Peter”), and Justine Davis (“April’). Sermol’s inebriated, strident, sardonic “The Ladies Who Lunch” is the ultimate anthem to a generation of cultured, educated, intelligent women wasted by a society that lionized their empty lives. By the end, when she repeatedly cries “Rise!” I was hard pressed to stay in my seat. Walker’s sensitive and awkward conversation with Robert, dancing around the concept of homosexuality, is a poignant reminder of a time when there was no safety out of the closet. And Davis is simply amazing as the dumbest little stewardess on the planet (from a time before they were called, and treated as, “flight attendants”). She is a sparkling comic, without a trace of self-consciousness in her delivery. Her duet with Miller, “Barcelona,” is the kind of gem that could stand alone – but that serves double duty by illustrating a side of Robert that the audience has not seen.

The set for Company is a model of minimalist intricacy – appropriately flexible (the story takes place in a host of locales) and designed to reinforce our understanding that much of what we see is actually in Robert’s head, removed from contemporary reality. Costumes have a nice ‘70s feel, ranging from hippie to hipster – my personal favorite for period authenticity is Norman Wilson, whose mustache and hair place him firmly in the sitcom feel of the era.

Almost fifty years after its first run, Company is not so much dated as timeless – by adhering to the manners and mores of the ‘70s, Furth, Sondheim, and Kaiser show us that while the surface changes, the underlying human stories remain essentially the same.

Company is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, February 26th.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Next to Normal Anything But Business as Usual

Jonathan Swartout (Gabe) and Jennifer Yamashiro (Diana)

By Tina Arth

Occasionally, a local community theater sinks its artistic teeth into something really heavy. In this regard, Theatre in the Grove’s current production of Next to Normal sets a new standard for Washington County offerings. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Pulitzer prize winning musical about a family dealing with the effects of bipolar disorder is beautiful, powerful, moving, and extremely disturbing as it draws the audience into the varying perspectives and experiences of a not quite normal suburban family. It is by no means a fun show, although there are moments of authentic humor. However, it is a show that should not be missed – no matter what your individual experience has been with mental illness, your understanding will be enriched even as you are shaken by this courageous exploration of a topic too poorly understood, even by those living in the midst of it. Director Melanie Shaw has courageously tackled one of the big ones, and she pulls it off without a hitch.

The family in question is mother Diana, whose bipolar disorder and treatments send shock waves through the lives of her husband Dan and her children, in particular 16 year-old daughter Natalie. Diana moves through every possible avenue of treatment as she changes psychiatrists while trying psychotherapy, a never-ending assortment of prescribed drugs, going cold-turkey by dumping her meds, and electro-convulsive therapy – without ever finding the magic “cocktail” that will solve her problems. As Natalie finally explains, there is no hope that the family can achieve normalcy – the most that they can hope for is that each can craft a life that is “next to normal.”

Jennifer Yamashiro is brilliantly cast as Diana. Few local actors could top her ability to capture the emotional highs and lows, the sweetness, confusion, pain, longing and fear, even without the challenge of conveying much of this through the riveting but complex rock opera score. Cast as daughter Natalie, Alison Luie is a perfect counterpart – every bit Yamashiro’s equal as a singer, and utterly convincing in the poignancy with which she responds to the family crises radiating from her mother’s illness. Sometimes invisible, sometimes all too present, Luie moves through denial, frantic overachievement, the numbing of drugs and alcohol, and ultimately a loving acceptance and understanding of the situation into which she was born.

The men who orbit around the mother-daughter nexus bring unique perspectives that enrich our grasp of the family dynamic. Luis Ventura plays Diana’s two psychiatrists, eerily capturing the calm, emotionless disconnect that typifies the therapist’s side of a bewilderingly complex relationship. Jonathan Swartout (son Gabe) is flippantly charismatic as he competes with his father and sister in a life and death tug of war for Diana’s attention.  Micaiah Fifer (Natalie’s boyfriend Henry) has the challenge of finding the place for a relatively sane person in this insular and insane world; at first hard to grasp, Fifer develops his relationship with the audience with the same persistence he brings to courting Natalie. Finally, there is James Grimes as husband Dan – a character who fluctuates between forced optimism and quiet despair, unable to address his own issues because he has dedicated his life to trying to fix Diana.  Grimes manages a real tour de force in the show’s final moments, lifting the curtain and showing the audience who he is at exactly the moment that his character finally confronts his emotions head on.

Much of the story is conveyed in song, and even without catching all the lyrics the intense vocals tell a powerful story. Music Director Michelle Bahr has done an amazing job - the juxtaposition of anguished solos with pounding ensemble work constantly reminds us of each character’s individual turmoil and of the effect of this turmoil on the others.  The orchestra is flawless – supporting, but never overwhelming, the vocalists as they find their voices in the complex score.

Zachary Centers’ set brings visual clarity to the tale - the darkly disconnected, stark spaces connected by narrow and perilous staircases clearly illustrate the strange and frightening places in Diana’s mind. Anne Kennedy, Ward Ramsdell, and Heather Sutherland’s lighting design also plays a key role, switching from light to dark, cheerful to terrifying, in sync with the script.

In her director’s notes, Melanie Shaw quotes the New York Times reviewer who says that the show is “much more than a feel-good musical; it is a feel-everything musical.” This captures the spirit of the tale, and the reasons why the production is a must-see, better than any words I can craft.

Due to strong language and thematic intensity, the show is not appropriate for younger audiences. Borrowing from the film world, I would rate it PG-13, but to some it might be more like NC-17.

Next to Normal is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through January 29, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

TITG Tells A Seldom Seen Christmas Story

 David Reece, Carter Dawes, Sam Ruder, and Patti Speight
Photo by by Nicole Mae Photography

By Tina Arth

It seems like everybody is familiar with the 1983 “instant classic” version of A Christmas Story, and 2012’s A Christmas Story – The Musical can be found on stages all around the country. Often overlooked in all of this rush to holiday nostalgia is Philip Grecian’s utterly charming 2000 play version, but Theatre In the Grove is doing a great job of addressing this slight with their current offering. The play is small, intimate, and just loaded with both comedy and real heart - a perfect way for families old and young to spend a few hours getting into the spirit of the season.

Like the larger and flashier movie and musical, the straight play explores the magic and peril of getting what we want, primarily through the tale of young Ralphie’s obsessive pursuit of the perfect Christmas present, a Red Ryder BB Gun, in the face of relentless opposition. Everyone in his life – his parents, teacher, friends, even Santa Claus is sure that he’ll shoot his eye out (which, naturally, he very nearly does).  Ralphie’s quest is echoed by his father’s addiction to entering contests, including the one where he finally wins a hideous lamp (we’ve all seen it – the leg with mesh stockings disappearing into a fringed antique shade). Because the tale is being told through the eyes and memories of adult Ralph, everything we see is colored by the mists of a past recollected. Was the lamp really that hideous? Was little brother Randy really that pathetic (and more important, did he really wet himself while sitting on Santa’s lap?) Did the Old Man really swear constantly, and did Mother manage to overlook it while stuffing a bar of Lifebuoy soap into Ralphie’s mouth for uttering, just once, the “F” word? In the end, we are sure only that Ralph’s most enduring memories are of the warmth, understanding, and love of family and good friends.

While I saw a number of fine performances, the team of adult Ralph (Travis Schlegel) and Ralphie (Sam Ruder) fill their respective roles with real distinction, constantly passing from Ralph’s narration to Ralphie’s action. At first I had a hard time seeing them as the same person, but Schlegel gradually grows more childlike as the show progresses, and by the end he is every bit as much a kid as his much younger alter ego. Ruder is developing into quite a comic – his turn as a pathetic victim of Lifebuoy poisoning is particularly funny.

Patti Speight and David Reece (as Mother and the Old Man) face the challenge of portraying characters as they are in Ralph’s constantly evolving memories. Just like with real parents, they are sometimes harsh, rigid authoritarians and at other times surprisingly understanding allies, but every word and emotion has to be filtered through the lens of Ralph’s recollection. Reed does an amazing job of delivering the faux curses that lace the script – not a single dirty word is uttered onstage, but the range of homonyms is hilariously imaginative. Young stage veteran Carter Dawes (as little brother Randy) demands special mention, not only for his skill at portraying a truly screwed up little kid but for his courage in constantly crying out in front of a theater full of strangers that he “has to go wee-wee.”

Director/set designer Ron Hansen and set dresser Samantha Swindler have just the right touches in the set. The necessary 1940’s ambience is nicely captured with dreary colors, an old radio, and a period kitchen that could have been in any working class Forest Grove household of the era.

This version of A Christmas Story is a lot of fun for adults and kids, and will make a great holiday theater outing for local families and those of us who just like remembering how Christmas used to be in the good old days before the advent of the internet, cell phones, video games and a host of other modern marvels.

A Christmas Story is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through December 18th,with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Have A Holly Jolly Christmas With HART

 Front row: Sarah Fuller, Christie Quinn, Rachel Thomas, Chris Byrne.
Back row: Spencer Masson, Heather Sutherland, Nick Serrone, Max Powell, Carl Dahlquist

By Tina Arth

By some standards, the Holly Jolly HART Family Christmas Variety Show may not be the best holiday show on local stages for 2016, but it is unquestionably the most fun. Co-authors Sarah Fuller and Chris Byrne have pulled together more than a dozen snippets from some of the best loved holiday TV shows of the ‘60s and ‘70s and transformed them into a nonstop montage of live theater that hits all the right notes. The material is tied together in two ways – first, by the TV-addicted “typical” Hart family and second, by projecting several authentic period commercials on a giant TV screen backdrop.

The wraparound story is simple. It’s Christmas Eve, and the Hart family is gathered in classic seventies style right in front of their living room television. In keeping with family tradition, mom Barb (Henley Slepyan) wants to read “The Night Before Christmas” but the kids think that’s boring. They’d rather watch their favorite TV specials, but can’t agree on which show to watch. Michelle (Courtney Bell) wants to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special” but brothers Greg (Cameron Bell) and Jeff (Carson Bell) are lobbying for “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The kids fight over the remote, triggering a wonderful live action clash between the casts of the specials. By intermission, the kids have gone off to bed, so Barb and husband Phil (Mark Putnam) settle in to watch more adult Christmas fare, with their own disagreement: Phil wants to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” while Barb prefers classic musical holiday specials featuring stars like Andy Williams, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Mel Torme. Soon the restless kids wander back downstairs, where they eventually fall asleep while awaiting Santa’s arrival.

The rest of the cast members fill at least 30 roles as they bring the many scenes to life in front of a giant television screen. It’s hard to pick out favorite bits – but the Charlie Brown kids (Rachel Thomas as Lucy, Spencer Putnam as Charlie, Max Powell as Linus, and Christie Quinn as Sally) are particularly memorable. Nick Serrone’s Jimmy Stewart impersonation is spot on, and Sarah Fuller positively channels Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Spencer Masson has real star power as Frank Sinatra, and Carl Dahlquist does a fine job as both Mel Torme and Clarence the Angel. Co-authors/directors Byrne and Fuller show off their versatility with a spectacular tap number, and Slepyan’s vocal on the “White Christmas” duet makes it clear that some of the best talent is right in the Hart living room.

Three super stars of the show are definitely music director Sarah Thornton, lighting designer Heather Sutherland, and costumer Chris Byrne. The special effects drive the production, and the dozens of costumes (cleverly done in living color or black and white depending on when each special originally aired) define and enhance each number.

This is a show that deserves to become a holiday tradition, for both HART and the large audiences it so richly deserves. Give yourself and a friend tickets as an early Christmas present – you’ve earned it! (And if you get the chance, don’t miss Ray Hale’s Orphan Train, playing on the same stage this month. See HART’s website for show dates/times.)

Holly Jolly HART Family Christmas Variety Show is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 18th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.