Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Narnia" at Theatre in the Grove


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

For its foray into the world of holiday theater, Forest Grove’s venerable Theatre in the Grove tackles “Narnia,” based on C.S. Lewis’ much beloved children’s tale “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.” The production captures both aspects of children’s theater – it is theater for children, and the majority of the cast members are young people.

In order to fully appreciate the show, it is essential to see it through the eyes of a child – happily, we were able to do this because the audience contained an abundance of young people enthusiastically embracing the show’s magic. The cast consists of 20 young people (whose ages range from elementary school through college) and 8 adults. Director Michelle Friend, faced with the challenge of taking over the show halfway through the production process, has done a fine job of synthesizing this large and disparate group into an effective ensemble.

The Leopard (Iris Cebola) sums it all up beautifully in her cast bio: “…it’s cool how people audition for these plays, and then they do all the hard work of running a show, and the actors don’t even get paid in anything but the wonderful experience of acting in live theatre…it means that the actors don’t care that they aren’t earning profit, they just want to entertain the community and have fun. That…is truly awesome” – and it is!

While all of the actors, musicians, crew, and house staff contribute to this “awesome” enterprise, a few merit special mention. Natasha Kujawa (who, with her mom Carla, choreographed the show) opens the evening with the first of several ballet numbers. Her graceful movements and delightful smile set the tone for much of what follows. John Ollis (Professor Digory/Father Christmas) is charmingly avuncular and conspiratorial in his role as the children’s uncle.

Breanna Grimes (Edmund Pevensie) has perhaps the greatest challenge, playing a male role so convincingly that only the program betrays the secret of her gender. She is deliciously venal, and the incessant squabbling between Edmund and Lucy (Aubrey Crouch) provides some of the evening’s most amusing moments, despite the plaintive efforts of older sister Susan (Lindsay Partain) to mediate. The fight scenes between Peter Pevensie and various snarling foes are lively and well-executed – two younger boys were overheard at intermission marveling at the authentic swordplay.

Comic relief rests in the able hands (or, perhaps, paws) of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Tom Robinson and Dusti Arab). Often in the background, their verbal and physical interactions frequently steal the scenes, and they provide some of the strongest solo and choral voices in the cast. Pruella Centers uses her roles as Mrs. McReady and the White Witch to portray stereotypically angry and nasty (but terribly funny) old women in both the real and fantasy worlds of the play.

James Grimes is well cast as Aslan, the thematic key character of the story. Kudos to the makeup and costuming crew for giving him an other-worldly physical mystique that complements his powerful role in the bizarre world of Narnia. He delivers his lines crisply and firmly, yet conveys a compassion that justifies his martyrdom. In addition, he has a powerful and compelling voice that anchors the choral work of much of the show.

The orchestra, conducted by music director Seung Jin Bae, is really quite wonderful.  The score is complex, and the musicians never miss a beat. The sets are effective, especially the wonderful wardrobe door – only when the house lights are full was it apparent that the seemingly ornate carvings are really just painted on.

Close reading of the program reveals the extent to which “Narnia” is truly a family affair – not just for the audience children in their holiday finest, but for the cast, which is generously peppered with parents, children, and siblings. Theatre in the Grove brings something special and unique to the Forest Grove community.

“Narnia” is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, through December 23d.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bag&Baggage's 'A Christmas Carol' Twist

Farndale Avenue in Hillsboro

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Hillsboro’s Bag and Baggage Theatre Company prides itself on its ability to “push the envelope and defy expectations.” There is no question that “The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen Guild’s Dramatic Society’s Production of a Christmas Carol” (aka “TFAHETGDSPOACC”) defied any expectations we may have had as we entered the elegant interior of the Venetian Theatre – despite the fact that we had never seen a Bag and Baggage production, and therefore had no idea what to expect!

Prior to last Friday, we had not been faced with the challenge of evaluating the merits of a show that is built exclusively and overtly on the absence of any theatrical merit. However, as director Scott Palmer makes clear in his notes, and the company in its performance, TFAHETGDSPOACC’s goal is to transcend “serious theatre into farce,” and to achieve this goal via the “abysmal acting” of a drama troupe consisting of “women playing men’s parts, and all of them doing it dreadfully” – with the added twist that four of the five women playing men are actually men playing women playing men.

Driving home, mulling over what we had seen, we realized that as the show’s only goal was to make its audience laugh, the Bag and Baggage production was a raging success. The very full house was convulsed with laughter throughout the evening as Farndale thespians Thelma Greenwood (Ian Armstrong), Mrs. Phoebe Reece (Patrick Spike), Mercedes Blower (Sean Powell), Gordon Pugh (Rosalind Fell), and Felicity Boleyn Stafford (Tylor Neist) did their best to destroy Dickens’ ubiquitous Christmas classic with vile makeup, terrible costuming, an appalling set, bizarre (and bizarrely utilized) props, horrendous accents, mediocre singing (to be fair, they sang a lot better than they danced), and a level of physical comedy that would put the Three Stooges to shame. The humorous effect was heightened by a steady stream of local references (there is a surprising amount of comic potential in the word “Aloha” to a Hillsboro audience, and references to the Woodburn Outlet Mall and Gresham were similarly received – one wonders how they overlooked the hilarity that is Beaverton!).

While TFAHETGDSPOACC is clearly an ensemble show, we cannot fail to mention the astonishing performance of Mrs. Phoebe Reece, who set the tone for the entire performance (and entertained us while the majority of her cast members were allegedly stuck in traffic on “Television Highway”). The bounteous, strident and overbearing Mrs. Reece was as comfortable kibitzing with the audience as she was commanding her ill-prepared thespian troops, and her performance set the tone for an evening of brazen theatrical excess.

Despite the show’s determination to give its audience a truly terrible evening of theatre, Bag and Baggage provided quality where it counts. The crew/production team never missed a beat, and the sound, lighting, make-up/wigs/costuming, and props delivered with a professionalism that belied and enhanced the “dreadful amateur” shtick of the production. Fans of Monty Python, Benny Hill, “Fawlty Towers,” or “Keeping Up Appearances” will recognize and appreciate the lovely ladies of Farndale Avenue for bringing such an over-the-top slice of British farce to the Greater Hillsboro area. We are grateful to Scott Palmer and Bag and Baggage for undertaking this noble work.

“TFAHETGDSPOACC” is playing at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main St. Hillsboro through December 23rd.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

HART's Nuncrackers has 'Heart'

Back Row, left to right: Leslie Inmon (Sister Mary Hubert), Jeannine Stassens
(Reverend Mother), Kent Upton (Father Virgil), Wendy Bax (Sister Amnesia)
Front Row, left to Right: Jennifer Yamashiro (Sister Robert Anne), Erin Zelazny (Sister Leo)
By Tina Art and Darrell Baker
H.A.R.T. Theatre’s production of “Nuncrackers” - the Christmas offering of the ubiquitous “Nunsense” franchise - provides an unapologetically wacky homage to the onrushing holiday season.
Director Butch Vandehey (aka “Brother Butch”) refers, in his Director’s Notes, to the H.A.R.T. as “a theatre that wants so much to bring the community together.” A packed and enthusiastic house plus a cast comprised of both H.A.R.T. veterans and newcomers (including seven local students) illustrates the progress that H.A.R.T. has made in achieving this goal. The plea from the stage for audience donations to help Hoboken victims of Hurricane Sandy reinforces the company’s sincerity, meshing real world community spirit with the make-believe world of theater.

The ostensible setting for the entire show is a small TV studio, recently purchased for the Little Sisters of Hoboken with Publisher’s Clearing House winnings. The nuns, priest, and schoolchildren from St. Helens School are taping their first Christmas special, under the deft guidance of cameraman/director Brother Butch. Predictably, nothing that can go right does….

As with many Christmas comedies, “Nuncrackers” relies on the skewering of holiday traditions for much of its humor – but the comic potential is expanded with typically Nunsensical slings and arrows aimed at entrenched stereotypes about Catholicism.  Where another show might seat the audience to an overture, this one seats us to a series of sometimes slightly off-color jokes being delivered by the nuns. The highlight of the opening is definitely Sister Mary Paul (Wendy Bax) who wanders around the seats presenting Secret Santa gifts to particularly lucky audience members while delivering her thoroughly unorthodox commentary on the packages.

While there are a few serious moments, the cast members are at their best when they throw caution to the winds. Father Virgil (Kent Upton) and Sr. Mary Regina (Jeanine Stassens) display surprising agility in their terpsichorean attack on “The Nutcracker,” and both are also accomplished comedic vocalists. Other comic highlights are delivered by Sr. Robert Anne (the irreverent “misfit nun” played by Jennifer Yamashiro) and the aforementioned Sister Mary Paul, whose country singing and holiday malapropisms are a steady source of laughter. More poignant moments are also deftly handled, particularly by Jennifer Yamashiro and several of the students.

Although this is by no means a traditional musical, the show relies on both the vocal abilities of the cast and skillful accompaniment – the latter provided beautifully by pianist Alice Dalrymple (Sister Margaretta) and a sorely neglected percussionist (Brother Liam Cooper?) who is buried in the shadows but adds a great deal nonetheless.

The set for the show is quite wonderful – especially the telescoping nativity scene, cleverly hidden behind an otherwise inexplicable set of barn doors. Lighting and special effects are equally impressive – especially the little touch of Christmas snow at the end of the show.

Congratulations to the H.A.R.T. Theatre at the conclusion of 2012. This year’s audiences have been treated to a wide array of productions – some experimental, some original, all entertaining, and we look forward to next year’s offerings.

“Nuncrackers” is playing at the Hillsboro Artists’ Regional Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through December 23d.



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Everything Xmas at BCT


Teresa Chrisinger conjures frosty.
Photo by Ammon Riley.

Beaverton Civic Theatre tells “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)"  

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
“Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some)” is the last show in Beaverton Civic Theatre’s ambitious 2012 season, and the opening night performance demonstrated how successful BCT has been in developing a supportive audience base.

The show is a fast-paced, frenetic take-off of Christmas-themed entertainment in general, and “A Christmas Carol” in particular. While traditionally done with a three-man cast, director Tony Bump expanded his ensemble to six, and as hard as they all worked, it’s difficult to imagine pulling it off with the smaller cast.

The cast and crew. Photo by Ammon Riley.
The lights come up on a wildly melodramatic first scene from “A Christmas Carol,” but a few of the actors (including Marley’s corpse), jaded by the drudgery of endless productions, rebel and insist on doing something – anything – different. After a quick survey of audience preferences, they launch (over the objections of two die-hard traditionalists) into a first-act comic collage of Xmas artistry including The Grinch, Frosty, Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and Rudolph (the “Green-Nosed /Goat” – don’t want to anger the copyright gods!). Having promised that Scrooge would appear in Act II, the cast (sort of) delivers with a hilarious counterpoint tale intermixing Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

The show requires audience participation, and the enthusiasm of the opening-night crowd guaranteed success on that score. The full-house rocked with infectious laughter in response to the comedic skills of the cast, delivering a bright and memorable opening to the holiday season.

Scott Kelly in one of his many roles.
Photo by Ammon Riley.
While the show does not require a lot of singing, someone (presumably the director) had the forethought to select a cast capable of delivering holiday songs with sophisticated harmonies – a detail sometimes overlooked in community theater!

As is often the case with well-balanced ensemble shows, it is difficult to single out individual performances. However, Scott Kelly, Kraig Williams, and Stan Yeend were given some of the funniest bits, and all three delivered with uninhibited abandon. It’s not fair, but it’s a fact of life that a man in drag is funnier than a woman in pants! In particular, Yeend occasionally captures an enigmatic W. C. Fields-like presence that really enhances his performance. Despite the comedic disadvantage of their gender (ironic that the women should be cast as the straight men!) Teresa Chrisinger, Jennifer Johnson, and Doreen Lundberg more than carry their own weight while supporting their male counterparts.

It’s quite a stretch for any theater company to go from the magic of “Camelot” to a Christmas farce in six short weeks, and we are both impressed and delighted that BCT is bringing such a rich variety of live theater to Washington County. By all means make the effort to see this show, and keep your eyes peeled for the 2013 schedule of this young and vital group.

“Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some)” runs through Saturday, December 15th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium. For ticket information, see

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christmas on Broadway @ Broadway Rose

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured from left is Joshua Stenseth, Rebecca Teran, Amy Jo Halliday, and Norman Wilson


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

‘Twas the day after Thanksgiving – some may call it “Black Friday,” but Broadway Rose managed to dispel the darkness with a shiny new entry into the world of holiday theatrical offerings. The opening night of “Christmas on Broadway” was a high-spirited, high-energy tribute to every cliché about the holiday season, and it worked like elves on Christmas Eve.

Director/creator Rick Lewis succeeds in amalgamating Christmas traditions old and new into an original and witty, “let’s do the show here!” musical that is alternatively charming, wry, warm, and sarcastic – and consistently entertaining. The five principals (four Broadway wannabes and the theater’s crusty tour guide) waste no time worrying about the story’s plausibility as they rush headlong into two breathtaking hours of song and dance celebrating much-beloved Christmas traditions.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Picture from left is Rebecca Teran, Norman Wilson, and Amanda Valley
Amanda Valley is much more than a tour guide for a group of performers stranded in an empty Broadway theater (well, empty except for a conveniently placed band and a full house of enthusiastic Broadway Rose patrons).  A little bit Marlene Dietrich, a little bit Louis Armstrong (“’Zat You, Santa Claus?”), and a lot more talent than inhibition – she is a delightful comedienne and accomplished singer who dives head first into her memorable performance.

The four hopeful ingénues (playing themselves) are Amy Jo Halliday, Joshua Stenseth, Rebecca Teran, and Norman Wilson. This powerhouse quartet delivers some of the best vocals we have seen this year; many of the songs are ensemble numbers, and the harmonies are superb. Happily, each is also given individual spots in which to shine. Rebecca Teran had blown us away as “Little Shop’s” Audrey, and she brings the same level to such numbers as “The Christmas Blues” and “Never Fall In Love With An Elf” – imagine Fanny Brice, only much, much cuter.  Amy Jo Halliday switches fluidly from opera to farce in numbers like “I Want Eddie Fisher For Christmas” and “The Pretty Little Dolly,” and she is stunning in “Phantom of the Nutcracker Express,” a hilarious send-up of all things Lloyd Webber.

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured from left is Amy Jo Halliday and Rebecca Teran
Despite stiff competition from the distaff side, the men in the show manage to carry their own weight quite nicely. Joshua Stenseth, effective throughout, really sparkles in “Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa” -  though his attempts to draw the audience into a sing-along are frustrated by the song’s impossibly convoluted lyrics, he keeps the crowd laughing at this uber-multi-cultural parody. Broadway Rose audiences are all familiar with Norman Wilson, who has graced the New Stage with multiple star turns in recent years. He has a marvelous voice, and his Frankie Valliesque falsetto in “White Christmas” takes the Berlin classic to new heights (pun intended).
The addition of eight pajama-clad little girls and one amazing high-school baritone (Ben Newton) lends a poignant note to an otherwise lighthearted evening. The little girls’ charming “Christmas Alphabet” number, followed by Newton’s beautiful rendition of “Believe,” provide a welcome break in the madcap pacing of the show.

The second song in the show, “It’s Better With A Band,” is something of an understatement, at least with respect to this production. Highest praise is due to Musical Director/Conductor/Pianist Jeffrey Childs, bassist Sean Vinson and drummer Ben Wasson, who provide a full and rich musical accompaniment with only three instruments, yet never overwhelm the vocalists.
Nowhere is the show wittier than in the set design and props. The deceptive simplicity of descending snowflakes and Christmas trees (along with a truly marvelous hat-cum-Maypole) both augment and underscore some of the show’s best moments.

Broadway Rose’s reputation is built on excellence in musical theater, and “Christmas on Broadway” provides a wonderful continuation of the company’s proud tradition, and the four-week run of the show provides ample opportunity for audiences to enjoy the production.

“Christmas on Broadway” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater in Tigard through December 23.
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer
Pictured from left is Norman Wilson, Amy Jo Halliday, Rebecca Teran, and Joshua Stenseth


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Knives in Hens at HART

The cast of Knives in Hens. Photo by Gina Watson-Haley.

Hillsboro’s HART Theatre Tackles a Tough One

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker 

Knives in Hens is miles from what we have come to expect as a “traditional” Washington County community theatre offering, and Hillsboro’s HART Theatre merits high praise for presenting this kind of challenging material for its audience. When we left the theater, we were unsure about what we had seen, and we are still talking (read: “arguing”) about the show’s themes. Darrell’s initial take was to quote Bob Dylan: “Cause something is happening, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”

The story is, on one level, quite straightforward: a simple village wife takes husband William’s grain to the mill, and spends time alone with miller Gilbert Horne, a mistrusted outsider. She maintains a rigid distance from the miller until she realizes that William’s extensive time in the barn involves a local girl, not just his beloved horses.  Disillusioned and angry, the “young woman” (that is the only name she bears in the play) sleeps with the miller, they kill her husband, she tells the neighbors that William has left her for a better woman, she returns to run the farm. The miller moves off to a larger town. The three cast members take their bows.

The challenge for the tiny cast is to infuse this tale with meaning, and the challenge for the audience is to deduce what that meaning is. For us, the key is the contrast between an agrarian, pre-literate society (William and the other farmers), whose world is absolutely literal – no imagination, resistance to change, fear of the onrush of the industrial revolution (which, in this village, is represented by the miller, his stone, and most terrifying, his books). The woman is caught in the middle – everything she has been taught frames her entire existence in terms of commodity – she is her husband’s property, and exists only to serve his will. The miller challenges this definition, and when her anger at William overcomes her fear of the unknown, her world becomes three dimensional and she allows herself to become what was once unthinkable.

The first thing the audience sees is a set of incredible beauty and simplicity, with aromatic cedar planks actually milled by master set designer William Crawford at the sawmill on his farm. The scene is enhanced by subtle lighting and soft Caledonian airs that transport the audience to a nameless time and place evocative of primitive Scotland or Appalachia. The initial beauty contrasts starkly with the harsh reality of life for William and the woman, and helps to establish the play’s subtle themes.

Beth Summers as the young woman is the pivotal character in the play. She is a marvelous actress who manages to convey her character’s strength, simplicity, confusion, fear, anger, and ultimately growing awareness of her individuality. She delivers her lines with crystal clarity, and she enhances the dialogue with her fluid body language.

Kalin Lee (William) is well-cast as the rigid, pre-literate dominant male whose world revolves around his perspective. His occasional moments of fleeting tenderness toward the woman do little to soften the mindless cruelty of the life which he imposes on her. Lee’s performance captures the violence, drudgery, and provincialism of the role – even when he quotes from the Bible, his words are hollow repetitions of what he has been told is Truth.

Although the miller ultimately has sex with the woman, his relationship to her is that of an intellectual, rather than a physical, seducer.  Actor Eric Lyness is chameleon-like in his shifting use of sarcasm, scorn, attention, and encouragement to draw the woman into his web. By introducing her to a world of books and ideas that she never knew existed, he frees her to define her own path. Lyness is believable as the disenfranchised outsider, whose motives extend beyond the need for carnal pleasure.

This cannot have been an easy show to stage, and Devan McCoy’s wise casting choices and deft direction help give clarity to a sometimes obscure story. We are delighted that the HART is willing to tackle tough shows and trusts its audience to respond – but we are really looking forward to relaxing with Nuncrackers next month!

Knives in Hens runs at HART Theatre in Downtown Hillsboro through November 11. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Rocky Horror Show at Theatre in the Grove



Catch a special performance of the show that runs through November 10 at Midnight on Halloween  

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker 

While we have seen The Picture Show, after forty years of theater-going we still entered Theatre in the Grove’s “The Rocky Horror Show” as virgins to live performance of this cult classic, a fact rammed home to us before we left the lobby. First, we were greeted by the gaudily painted, lushly endowed, corseted usherette – then our ghoulish usher scrawled a bright red “V” on each of our foreheads before we were seated. From that point on, the madness only escalated. For the next week, we will be obediently wearing rubber poultry around our necks, having been instructed to do so by an anonymous, bearded, kilted gentleman. Presumably, he is in some way connected to the show – but in any case, he is not the sort of person one ignores. And this was at the Sunday matinee, presumably aimed at bluehairs (like us? Horrors!)  - we can only imagine how the midnight shows will go!

We won’t go into much detail about the story – if you know the show, you know it, and if you don’t know the show, nothing we tell you will be of any help. Suffice it to say that ‘50s era uber-virgins Brad and Janet, recently affianced, stumble into Frank-N-Furter’s transsexual, Transylvanian castle of love and horror on a dark and stormy night. Mayhem ensues.

“Rocky Horror” belongs to a small theatrical genre that’s all about having fun – the audience is meant to participate enthusiastically in a celebration of unbridled campiness. The key to achieving this goal is that the cast embrace the spirit and then drag (and we mean drag) the audience into the production. The TITG cast does a spectacular job, as they let it all hang out (again, somewhat literally) and exhort us to do the same – clearly, they ARE having fun, and we can do no less.

“Rocky Horror” is an ensemble show; this production features no brilliant, soaring vocals (Sarah Brightman is apparently otherwise engaged). However, the choral work is superb, especially given the physical demands made on the actors, who spend a lot of time crawling, dancing, leaping, strutting, mugging, shrieking, moaning, and leering – often while semi-naked, and balanced on terrifyingly high-heels.

Despite the ensemble nature of the show, there are many memorable individual performances. William Dober (Frank N Furter) does an excellent job of capturing his role’s complexity – one-third mad scientist, two-thirds dominant-transvestite-bisexual-libertine-host – and his powerful voice (both singing and speaking) displays his total command of the material. Brad and Janet (Justin Canfield and Abby Boardman), both solid actors, reflect the cluelessness of the audience (or at least the Rocky Horror virgins therein) and mirror our initial confusion about what is happening on stage. As they are literally stripped of their clothing (poor Brad is quite pathetic in his tighty-whities, and Janet’s retro bra and girdle leave her chastely exposed) they are simultaneously stripped of their Eisenhower era innocence. Abby’s singing voice is particularly effective at capturing the nuance of the changes she undergoes.

Rocky (Joseph Baisch) earns many of the best laughs, with his impressive physique, childlike confusion, and gold-lame (short) shorts. Usherette Kailea Saplan also merits special mention – it is her solid vocals that anchor the show, as she belts the leads in the opening and closing numbers. Among the rest of the principals (all heavy hitters), Zachary Centers’ portrayal of not-so-humble minion Riff Raff demands extravagant praise. In a show filled with electricity, his Ziegfeldian staircase entrance in Act II sends waves of shock throughout the audience.

Sets, direction, choreography, lighting, costumes, make-up, special effects – like the cast, all work together beautifully to bring life to this chaotic theatrical adventure. Finally, conductor Alicia Barrett leads her small orchestra with a steady hand, and her musicians deliver cacophony and harmony as the score demands.

“The Rocky Horror Show” is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through November 10th Shows start at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday with 2:30 p.m. matinees on Sunday. Catch special midnight performances on October 31st, November 3d, and November 10th


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

'Camelot' at Beaverton Civic Theatre

Kevin S. Martin as Arthur (left) and Dennis Britten as Merlyn. Photo by Ammon Riley.

BCT Experiments with the Elements, Magic of Camelot

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Craig Limoges as Sir Sagramore. Photo by Ammon Riley 
Camelot is traditionally staged as a huge spectacle, and it was hard for us to imagine how Beaverton Civic Theatre would handle such a complex show in the limited space available at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium. However, director Dennis Britten uses the compact stage to "fulfill his dream of directing a small, intimate" production of Camelot.  Even in the stripped-down form (there are only 18 cast members and an accompanist), it is still a monumental undertaking, perhaps the most ambitious we have seen to date by this relatively young community theater group. In many ways an experimental production, it is not surprising that some things work better than others.

What works for us? First, the phrase “stripped-down” applies to the size of the cast, not the script. Britten is to be congratulated for including every scene and every song written by Lerner and Loewe, including several that are frequently cut.  It is delightful to be able to see and hear (without time-travel to the 1964 London production) the entire score. Britten also makes excellent use of the facility by occasionally putting his strong vocal ensemble into the aisles – thus expanding the available space and bringing the audience into the midst of the action. The minimalist set is beautiful, and the use of projection to change the backdrop above the castle walls is very effective.

Marian Horton as Guinevere. Photo by Ammon Riley.
In many ways, “Camelot” rises and falls on the strength of its Guinevere, and Marian Horton’s crystal-clear soprano lifts the production to some of its highest moments. This lovely young woman is perfectly cast, and her acting is as fluid and natural as her singing. Her performance is influenced by both Julie Andrews and Vanessa Redgrave, but the character is all her own.

Another key anchor to the show is the doddering King Pellinore, who is given short shrift in many stagings. Donald Cleland’s portrayal is a delight, as he provides both comic relief and continuity in his role as a sounding-board for Arthur’s musings. In a show this long, pacing is critical, and Cleland’s comic timing really helps to keep things moving.

Speaking of short-shrift, the character of Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred is often dealt with as no more than an afterthought. Matthew Sunderland’s Mordred allows for no such slight – although he first appears late in the show, his booming voice, dripping with malevolent sarcasm, commands the stage whenever he is present. His powerful baritone complements several ensemble numbers, and his solo performance on “The Seven Deadly Virtues” is particularly riveting.

Matthew Sunderland as Mordred. Photo by Ammon Riley.
The three knights who comprise the principal men’s chorus, while not spectacular soloists, blend well – and each one shines individually in "Take Me To The Fair."The women’s chorus (ladies of the court) is even stronger, and they provide a solid vocal foundation throughout the show.

What doesn’t work? First, “Camelot” is a long show that is made longer by the decision to split it into three acts. The extra intermission contributes nothing, and interrupts the flow of the action. Second, the aisle-way-ensemble numbers aforementioned favorably above need modulation in some places – particularly in the last scene where they almost drown out Arthur’s closing monologue.

Scot Crandal, who plays Sir Lancelot, has a great voice and he uses it well. However, his performance is somewhat static – he simply needs to move more, especially in the comic “C’est Moi.”  Finally, the role of Arthur is frequently filled by actors who are not great vocalists (think Richard Burton, Laurence Harvey, Richard Harris) but whose acting skill allows them to virtually “talk” parts of their songs. Kevin S. Martin, despite a commanding physical presence, is clearly not comfortable singing some of the material, and his performance would benefit from incorporating this technique.

Despite these opening night problems, vibes from the audience were quite positive. There is a lot of talent on that stage, and director Britten generally uses it to good effect. We hope that Beaverton Civic Theatre will continue to tackle challenging projects like this one.

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of “Camelot” runs through Sunday, October 14th at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged

Theatre in the Grove brings Culture, 

Cacophony to Forest Grove

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Don’t bother to read this review in its entirety before you navigate to Theatre in the Grove’s website to buy tickets to see “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Don’t waste your time worrying that Forest Grove is too far to go – it’s not THAT far, even if you live within spitting distance of the Multnomah County line. Don’t take a “wait and see” attitude – the show closes next weekend, so there are only three more performances. As a local firm of some international repute regularly advises, “Just do it.”

Imagine the best of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and Monty Python distilled into 97 minutes of wit, slapstick, cross-dressing, uplifting intellectualism, and unbridled mayhem, all directed rapid-fire at Shakespeare’s plays– all 38 of them. Some, of course, are given short shrift (Coriolanus, for example, is slighted because of an aversion to the final two syllables of the title). On the other hand, Romeo and Juliet gets comprehensive coverage, with loving attention paid to death scenes. Hamlet (the entirety of Act II) goes above and beyond – it is presented thrice (in increasingly abbreviated form) before the finale – where it is performed backwards (thus ensuring a happier ending!).  Perhaps most amazing is their synthesis of the entire catalogue of Shakespeare’s historical plays into a single scene of maniacal abandon.

This feat of theatrical sleight of hand is achieved by only three performers (aided and abetted by the audience and the long-suffering Bob the Dummy, who absorbs some of the deadliest blows). Adam Barrett, Zachary Centers, and Dan Cleveland use their considerable acting skills to play scores of roles, male, female, and ???  Under the nimble direction of Ken Centers, the three men form a cohesive unit, and their synergistic relationship forms a bizarre but captivating whole that is even stronger than the sum of its parts. The frantic pace is sustained through a combination of physical prowess, comic timing, and crisp, clear diction that keeps the audience in the loop throughout.

We have not seen a funnier show in years, and it wasn’t just us. At the performance we attended, everyone in the house laughed convulsively throughout the show, and the occasionally risqué humor was never offensive to anyone in the very diverse audience.

Our only criticism is with the final bows – the performers’ many quick-changes could not have been effected without the spot-on assistance of their three costume dressers, Brittney Spadey, Leslie Collins, and Alicia Barnett. These three hard-working ladies deserve a bit of the spotlight (provided, of course, by lighting wizard Berk Schwartz).

“The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)”runs through Sunday, October 7th at the Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Westside Theatre: Broadway Rose

Pictured is Rebecca Teran as Audrey and Bobby Ryan as Seymour. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer. 

Little Shop of Highlights


Broadway Rose presents a contemporary take on Ashman and Menken’s classic

 By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

We started writing this review over lunch at one of our old standby Chinese restaurants, where we ordered pretty much the same things we always get. However, the meal took us by surprise – as did Broadway Rose’s ongoing production of another favorite, “Little Shop of Horrors.” In both cases, the comfortable and familiar was enhanced by subtle but unexpected twists in presentation.

For those not familiar with the premise, here it is in a nutshell: Skid Row florist’s apprentice and aspiring botanist Seymour discovers a “strange and unusual plant” that brings much-needed foot traffic to Mushnik’s fading business. Seymour secretly pines for shop assistant Audrey, a ditzy blonde with poor taste in clothes and worse taste in men (in particular, the incredibly sadistic and abusive Orin Scrivello, DDS). The plant needs blood to thrive, and the evil dentist’s accidental demise provides Seymour with an ample initial food source for his beloved plant.  Florist flourishes, Seymour gets the girl, but the plant proves to be insatiable…

We love “Little Shop”; not only have we seen countless productions, but Darrell played the role of Mushnik back in the ‘90s. Our previous exposure had been to a show conceived and delivered in the best satirical, comic-book tradition, peopled largely by two-dimensional characters (in particular the ditzy blond Audrey, and the hapless nebbish Seymour). Director Abe Reybold has embraced a contemporary take on Ashman and Menken’s classic that allows his actors to more fully develop their characters, and the result is amazing.

The first clue that this production has real roots is the opening number – the lights come up on the three “Doo-Wop” girls (Erica Jones as “Crystal”, Lindzay Irving as “Ronnette”, and Beth Sobo as “Chiffon”) and they are a lot like the brash, mouthy blue-collar teens one might actually find in a poor neighborhood. Of course, there might be no blue-collar teens on Skid Row if they could all sing like this trio! Each of the three was a fine actress able to develop a distinctive personality. Likewise, vocal solo spots displayed their powerful individual voices in addition to the expected tight harmonies.
Bobby Ryan’s “Seymour”, while still a loser, is less stereotypically pathetic, clumsy, and hopeless than is usually seen.  His Seymour shows the potential for growth, and he delivers his lines with an eye to character, rather than just playing for laughs. He has a fine musical comedy tenor voice and uses it well throughout, most effectively in the “Suddenly Seymour” duet with Audrey.

Darren Hurley tackles the somewhat thankless role of Mr. Mushnik with the requisite chutzpah. His solid baritone voice blends well with the ensemble, and his Tevye-like take on the “Mushnik and Son” scene is hilariously cantorial.

“And then there’s Audrey, lovely Audrey…” A real standout, even in such a strong cast, Rebecca Teran portrays her character with no trace of the iconic Ellen Greene’s cartoonish approach. Teran’s Audrey is a real woman who dreams of escaping the squalor of her tenement and her life, but who sees no path out of Skid Row until, suddenly, Seymour shows her the way. The highlight of the evening is Teran’s incredibly moving “Somewhere That’s Green.” She takes a classic comic ballad and, with timing and sheer vocal and acting ability, turns it into a work of art.

Many of the evening’s best laughs go to Brian Demar Jones, who plays several cameo roles in addition to the wonderfully psychopathic dentist. Jones’ dentist is so dark that, for the first time, we really worry about the puppies and the BB gun – and yet his rubber-legged fluidity, absurd costuming, and sense of timing keep the character within the realm of comedy. Jones more than delivers in the singing department, as he demonstrates in both “Dentist!” and “Now (It’s Just the Gas)”. He is listed in the program as “Orin and Everyone Else” and his quick-change antics toward the end of Act II bring down the house.

The ever-expanding plant, Audrey II, is superbly brought to life through the teamwork of puppeteer Jeremy Garfinkel and vocalist Jerrod Neal. Between the two of them, they are able to give the plant a frighteningly menacing affect, underscoring the wisdom of “Don’t Feed the Plants.”

The sets, lighting, sound (always tricky for “Little Shop”) and band all combine to create just the right backdrop for yet another wildly entertaining evening at Broadway Rose.  The night we attended, it was clear that about half of the audience knew the show well, and half were Little Shop virgins with little idea of what to expect. Reybold’s success as a director was illustrated by the fact that all of us were given a delightful surprise

“Little Shop of Horrors” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage in Tigard through October 14th.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gracie for President at HART

Paul Roder and Mallie O'Brien star as Burns and Allen

HART Theatre keeps "the memories of early show business greats alive"

Paul Roder brings George Burns to life in the presidential-spoof  of a production.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

The only thing in theater that is riskier than attempting to imitate an icon is attempting to imitate two icons, especially when it’s two characters like George Burns and Gracie Allen. Hillsboro’s HART Theatre’s production of “Gracie for President” bravely takes on this challenge, and while the results are somewhat mixed, HART and director Norma Hill are to be congratulated on presenting an entertaining evening of show business nostalgia.

“Gracie for President” is a play based on legendary comedienne Gracie Allen’s tongue-in-cheek campaign for President in 1940. The entire production is staged as a Burns and Allen comedy, using a marvelously authentic set as it might have been used in one of George and Gracie’s television shows. As in the Burns and Allen Show, all of the actors remain in character throughout, except for George Burns (Paul Roder), who regularly breaks the “fourth wall” by addressing his audience.

In the five person cast, Roder’s outstanding portrayal of straight man George Burns really provides the glue that holds the production together. He clearly did his homework, as he captures Burns’ body language, timing, and delivery using the ever-present cigar to punctuate his wry performance. Particularly compelling are the scenes where he retreats silently to the sidelines, using only his facial expressions (and, of course, his cigar) to comment on the absurdity of his fellow actors.  As intended, the audience’s eyes are drawn away from center stage even as their ears follow the plot through the dialogue of the other characters.

Maille O’Brien, while less successful in capturing the essence of Gracie Allen’s dizzy persona, is nevertheless charmingly funny – audience members familiar with the character of Kitty Forman (“That ‘70s Show”) will recognize her comic style. She is particularly adept when delivering some of the show’s trickiest tongue-twisters, which she does with admirable precision.

The other three cast members have much less stage time but each carries multiple roles. Brick Andrews (Bill Goodwin/Reporter) is convincingly slick and unctuous as the Burns and Allen Show’s announcer and pitchman – and almost as unlikely a candidate for Hollywood’s Most Glamorous Man as Burns himself.  Becky Downs (Blanche Morton/Reporter/Saleswoman) has her finest moments as the terrified novice saleswoman, forced to mechanically repeat her entire pitch every time she is interrupted. Tony Smith’s blustering delivery as Harry Morton and a salesman and his comic British accent as a reporter call upon his versatility as an actor as he rounds out the small cast.

One of the great things about community theater is its ability to draw upon a specialized locale to personalize the show for its audience.  Playwright/Director Norma Hill, like Burns and Allen in their vaudeville days, incorporates local references to achieve this end. In the best early television tradition, co-sponsor Bunny Girt (who will always live in our memories as “Bunny Girt, State Farm Insurance Agent”) comes in for some delightful ribbing and scandalously over the-top promotion on several occasions – generating some of the show’s biggest laughs.

Productions like “Gracie for President” keep the memories of early show business greats alive, and introduce these classic characters to new generations of audiences. Thank you to the HART Theatre for doing its part in this noble endeavor!

“Gracie for President” runs through September 23d at the HART Theatre, 185 S.E. Washington Street, Hillsboro.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Drowsy Chaperone at Broadway Rose

The lively cast of the Drowsy Chaperone has no "weak link."


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

In the six years we’ve lived in Portland, we have attended dozens of theatrical productions (from the “big guns” downtown to our local elementary school). We’ve been consistently impressed by the diversity, scope, and quality of the region’s theater. Nothing, however, prepared us for the sheer entertainment value of Broadway Rose’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” We have seen many of the cast members (uniformly superb) in other shows, at Broadway Rose and elsewhere, but this particular assemblage of script, direction, choreography, orchestra, and cast comes together in that magical way that says “run, don’t walk, to get your tickets!”

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a newer show, having debuted on Broadway (and having earned five Tony Awards) in 2006. As Director Lyn Cramer says, “This musical comedy is packed full of every gimmick, bit, cliché, and gag from musical theater’s golden age.” For readers unfamiliar with the story – beyond saying that it follows the convention of a “show within a show” we will not attempt to describe the plot. Just see it, and all will be revealed to you.

In an 18-member cast with not one weak link, it is still possible to highlight several performances. Dan Murphy (“Man in Chair”) provides the glue that holds it all together, and he is simply hilarious. His childlike wonder (best ever use of a juice box as a prop) belies his absolute control over the audience, and he is surprisingly adept at singing and dancing his way through practically every role in the show. In lieu of intermission, we are treated to a side-splitting 5 minutes of Murphy eating a Power Bar. That’s comedy!

Gretchen Rumbaugh (“The Drowsy Chaperone”) and her paramour, Aldolpho (Norm Wilson) manage to sing and dance their way through roles written way over the top without descending into annoying buffoonery – a fine line when dealing with the clichés of lovelorn lush and Latin Lothario.

Lindsay Michelet (“Janet Van de Graff”) and Joel Walker (“Robert Martin”) anchor the “play within a play” with their on-again, off-again wedding plans. Michelet’s tour de force, “Show Off,” allows her to showcase her vocal and physical agility while giving her ample room to display her chops as a comedienne. Walker and best man “George” (Jacob Chancellor) form a classic song and dance team (think Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor) and their “Cold Feets” number is a real highlight.

Speaking of dance teams, the two gangsters (Samuel Benedict and Sean Powell) earn several of the evening’s best laughs, and their precision dancing is a joy to behold.  Special mention is also due to Sara Catherine Wheatley, whose ditzy “Kitty” is every dumb blonde in show biz history, and to Thomas Slater, the “Underling” who’s the show’s dark horse. Slater’s officious butler/valet/whatever gives us, with his boss Mrs. Tottendale (Emily Beleele), quite simply the best spit-take scene ever.

Lighting, sound, costumes, and scenery work together to create the glamorous feeling of a classic Broadway show and a stereotypical bachelor’s cluttered sanctuary that somehow manage to share the same space.  Every aspect of this production contributes to its magic, and we cannot overstate our enthusiasm.

The Drowsy Chaperone will be performed at the Deb Fennell Auditorium. Preview performance is August 2 with opening night on Friday, August 3, and performances continue through August 19, 2012. Evening performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays, and on Saturdays, August 11 and 18. The Deb Fennell Auditorium is located at 9000 SW Durham Road in Tigard. Tickets start at $30 for adults, with discounts available for groups and youth. For a full listing of show performances or to order tickets or call the box office at 503.620.5262.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Westside Theatre: "Your a Good Man, Charlie Brown"

Counting Valentines: Sally (Ashlee Waldbauer) and 
Charlie Brown (Jimmy Holland)
Photo by Ammon Riley
"You're a Good, Man Charlie Brown" plays with two casts at Beaverton Civic Theatre

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

For someone charged with evaluating a show, it is rarely good news that the production is “double cast” (has two separate groups of actors).

However, having seen the first cast of Beaverton Civic Theatre’s “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” we were surprisingly enthusiastic about seeing the show the following week with a different set of actors. Veteran Director Milli Hoelscher’s unorthodox casting choice derives not from her inability to select the “best” cast, but from her ability to envision two very different productions of the same show, using actors whose age and theatrical experience vary wildly.

 Beth Noelle as Lucy
July 20th, we saw the “Charlie” cast, comprised primarily of actors in their mid- to late-teens. July 27th, we saw the “Snoopy” cast, peopled by seasoned actors, some of whom bring decades of experience and formal training to the stage. And, of course, all of them are playing the roles of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” gang – five very young children and one world-weary beagle.

“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is a musical about children, and it is accessible to young children (there were several in the audience, and they clearly enjoyed the show) but it is not, strictly speaking, a “children’s show” any more than the “Peanuts” comic is a “children’s” strip.  Through a series of vignettes, some philosophically whimsical and some extremely funny, the actors explore the role of friendship and peer relations in guiding children down the often-confusing path toward adulthood.

Scott Kelly as “Snoopy”


Jimmy Holland’s “Charlie Brown” anchors the show with convincing angst; his fine singing voice shines in both ensemble and solo vocals. Whitney Martin (“Lucy”) plays Charlie’s nemesis to the hilt – brash, brazen, and self-centered. Her extensive theatrical background really shows – she projects a great speaking and singing voice, and her comic timing is excellent. Mitchell Kelly (“Schroeder”) creates the proper intellectual feel for a child prodigy, while reacting with boyish horror to Lucy’s undying passion. BCT veteran Scott Kelly (“Snoopy”) gets the best laughs, many in response to his flamboyantly physical dancing and his comic delivery, particularly when he howls. Rafe Larsen (“Linus”) is also a scene-stealer when he dances – his gangly frame and supple partner (his cherished blanket) allow him to explore a variety of terpsichorean oddities to great comic effect. Last, but by no means least, Ashlee Waldbauer (“Sally”) brings to the role a charmingly childish locution with a solid singing voice and an impossible level of cuteness.


Tom Young as Charlie Brown
Advance note to directors planning a show for July, 2016 – do NOT schedule your opening for the same date as the opening of the summer Olympics! The “Snoopy” cast’s first night audience, a small but mighty band of theater lovers, was treated to a gold medal performance that not only shone, it sparkled. The vocal ensemble work is polished and powerful – by itself, worth the price of admission. Music director Josh Pounders (who also plays Snoopy) is to be congratulated for his fine work in shaping the vocal dynamics of this gathering of experienced talent. 

Pounders’ performance as Snoopy is also impressive – his jerks, twitches, and scratching capture the essential “dogness” of the role, his fine tenor voice anchors much of the vocal ensemble, and he delivers a truly memorable Red Baron monologue. Nick Hauser’s Schroeder is unlike any we have seen before – he brings to the role an intensity that made us really believe he is obsessed with Beethoven and all things arcane (especially his Robin Hood soliloquy in “The Book Report”). Beth Noelle (“Lucy,”) while hopelessly enamored of Schroeder, never loses sight of her primary obsession with herself. She IS the queen, and never allows the audience to forget it. Lucy’s little brother Linus, as portrayed by Lincoln Thomas, is wise beyond his years and provides a perfect foil to his sister’s egomaniacal ranting. Jessica Reed (“Sally”) is simply hilarious – her timing is precise, vocal inflections spot-on, and she shows great skill in physical comedy. Tom Young is superbly cast as Charlie Brown – alternatively pathetic, philosophical, self-effacing, yet eternally hopeful that despite evidence to the contrary, things will somehow work out right. Young is a fine actor who brings a surprising depth of character to this comic-strip role.

Mitchell Kelly (“Schroeder”) and Whitney Martin (“Lucy”)
Accompanist David Rivas is the only performer who appears in both casts, and for this we are immensely grateful. He is a superb musician whose deft piano work moves the show along as surely as Hoelscher’s fine direction.  The sets are simple but effective, appropriate to the minimalist style of Schulz’s comic strip.

The two casts are alternating dates throughout the run of the show, so there is ample opportunity for “Peanuts” fans, musical theater buffs, and those wishing to introduce their kids to live theater to see either (or both!) casts.

“You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” is playing at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium through August 5th. Remaining performances of the “Charlie” cast are 8/3 at 8:00 p.m. and 8/5 at 2:00 p.m.  The “Snoopy” cast appears 7/27 at 8:00 p.m., 7/28 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., 7/29 at 2:00 p.m., and 8/4 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.