Monday, September 22, 2014


Pictured in front is Mike Dedarian as Detective
Jarvis, and back from left is Jennifer Goldsmith as Liddy Allen the
cockney maid, Debbie Hunter as Carrie Innes the wealthy spinster, Thomas
Slater as Thomas the odd butler, Joy Martin as Carrie's niece Sally Innes,
and Sean Powell as Sally's fiancé Jack Bailey.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Depending on the time of year, Broadway Rose is either a big company producing lavish Broadway musicals or a small, intimate company offering quirky and often unknown gems. This season’s latest gem, Whodunit… The Musical, is a real treasure, both as a musical and as a comedy. Broadway Rose Artistic Director Sharon Maroney met playwright Ed Dixon a few years ago, and he pitched his obscure new show to her. She liked it, and the rest will soon be history.

At first glance, Whodunit looks like just another comfortable murder-mystery-musical in an already crowded field. What distinguishes this show is that Dixon’s music, lyrics, and book, in the hands of director Annie Kaiser and a top-flight Broadway Rose cast, simply sparkle with unexpected wit and evoke a steady stream of belly laughs.

The story adheres perfectly to the genre. A spinster aunt and her maid rent a large, old isolated house. They will be joined by a lovely young niece and her friend (who turns out to be a surprise fiancé). With the exception of the butler, the entire household staff has quit, frightened by eerie events that began after the demise of the house’s former master. Mysterious things happen – a dark and stormy afternoon, a face in the window, a burglar who takes nothing and leaves behind a crow bar, a shot in the dark that kills the intruder, another fatal gunshot, and more. It’s happily ever after for all (except the dead guys). Impossibly clichéd, yet impossibly entertaining.

One expects uniform excellence from a Broadway Rose cast, and this show delivers in (Sam) Spades. Two characters, in particular, exceed even our lofty expectations. Jennifer Goldsmith (as Cockney maid Liddy Allen) is too funny for words, and delivers her musical numbers like a true comic diva – somehow managing to skirt “over-the-top” without falling over the edge.  Even more surprising is Sean Powell (as fiancé Jack Bailey, in the usually thankless position of male ingenue). He has a spectacular voice and impeccable timing, and he displays remarkable versatility as his character evolves.

The other four major characters (Debbie Hunter as the aunt, Joy Martin as the niece, Thomas Slater as the butler, and Mike Dederian as the detective) more than carry their weight. Hunter and Martin bring strong comedic backgrounds to challenging roles, and prove that classical vocal training does not necessarily conflict with the demands of musical comedy. Dederian’s trench-coated gumshoe skillfully alternates between two modes – the private eye and the wandering eye. The butler gets a lot more latitude; Slater’s expressive face and powerful voice fully exploit the role’s potential.

Music Director Mont Chris Hubbard and his tiny band do full justice to a lively score that explores various musical styles ranging from Sondheim to Gilbert and Sullivan. None of the songs would stand alone, for each supports the story and provides a unique comic touch. We cannot fail to mention the set, which provides an elegant tone akin to Henry Higgins’ study with menacing overtones suited to a Universal Horror picture.

You’ve probably never seen or heard of this show – but trust us. Whodunit is a local premiere that sets the standard for a show that should, in time, become a standard. Go see it.

“Whodunit… The Musical” runs through October 19th  at the Broadway Rose New Stage in Tigard. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays, with 2:00 pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Sarah Thornton, Gary Romans, and Dalene Young

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Evidently, divorce is not always a bad thing. It was allegedly Neil Simon’s split from actress Marsha Mason that indirectly inspired Fools, one of the funniest shows we’ve seen all year. An embittered Simon, faced with a settlement that awarded royalties from his next show to Mason, set out to write a total failure – but happily for audiences, he (ultimately) failed.

Broadway crowds, used to the urbane sophistication of Simon’s usual fare, gave the show a poor reception when it opened in 1981. However, Fools has been delighting less rarefied audiences across the country for the last 33 years, and the current production at the HART clearly illustrates why. The story is absurd, the premise  ridiculous, but Simon’s words, shaped by Director Stephen Kelsey and delivered by a strong cast, are genuinely laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Long ago a curse was laid on the inhabitants of a remote Russian village by the angry father of a deceased, less-than-brilliant young man. All of the townsfolk would be forever stupid – really, really stupid – unless the daughter of the (formerly) brightest family in town wed a son of the curse-laying family – OR until a teacher was able to (in 24 hours, no less) nudge the daughter’s IQ toward some unspecified magic number (100?). The teacher falls for the daughter, but realizes that he will never achieve his goal in the time allotted. In a stroke of masterful subterfuge (at least by local standards) the teacher pretends to be a long-lost member of the curse-laying clan, marries the daughter, and releases the town from the curse. Of course, adept audience members (perhaps from another, brighter, village) will discern that the curse should not have been lifted since the conditions were met fraudulently. Remember Dumbo? Timothy the Mouse pulled the same trick, and it worked then, too!

In a solid 10-person cast, clear comic standouts are Gary Romans (Dr. Zubritsky), Dalene Young (his wife Lenya), and Helena Greathouse (Yenchna, the peddler). Romans’ delivery, sense of timing and fluid facial expressions elicit some of the biggest laughs of the evening. Young is his perfect foil – a wide-eyed, good-hearted, slow-witted version of Imogene Coca. Greathouse – earnestly offering flowers as fish from her wagon (why should she suffer just because the fishermen had a bad day?) – plays her role with the intensity of Lady MacBeth, but coming from her it’s a lot funnier.

The roles of straight man and ingénue are generally limited in comic potential by their functions. Mitchell Stephens (the teacher Tolchinsky) and Sarah Thornton (Sophia Zubritzky) overcome this handicap with a combination of acting ability and, let’s face it, sheer cuteness. Thornton’s shining moment, when she demonstrates that she has nearly mastered the art of sitting down, is riveting, and Stephens frequent asides draw the audience into the bizarre, Brigadoon-ish village in which he finds himself.

Nobody plays bewildered better than Tony Smith, and as “Something Something Snetsky,” the Shepherd, he carries on his grand tradition. Brandon B. Weaver’s clipped, delivery (as the evil Count Gregor) bristles with befuddled menace. Thomas Wikle, Debby McKnight, and Jerry Hathaway fill out the cast with the requisite quirkiness.

Fools may be joke-riddled, but the HART was dead serious about the set – it is cleverly designed for ease of movement, and the interiors and exteriors are painted and papered to perfection – even in a relatively short show, audiences appreciate fast scene changes!

Fools runs through Sunday, September 21st with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays at H.A.R.T. Theater, 185 S.E. Washington, Hillsboro.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Theatre in the Grove’s production of The Last Five Years represents the realization of a long-time dream for actors/directors James W. Grimes and Jenny Hauser.  The 2-person musical is not part of TITG’s regular season, but the company is offering a special pre-season two-week run of this rarely produced one-act. Grimes and Hauser are making the most of this opportunity, and the results are impressively entertaining.

The show is in some ways quite stereotypical – boy meets, girl, they fall in love, time passes, the relationship sours and they separate. However the structure is unique: the story of the five-year relationship is told by Jamie (Grimes) from its beginning to the end, while Cathy (Hauser) tells her side in reverse, starting with the breakup of their relationship and working backwards to its inception. The only point in the show where the stories coincide is at the time of their engagement/wedding, midway through the play. There is very little dialogue, as the tale is told through a series of seventeen songs, all solos except for “The Next Ten Minutes,” the duet they sing in the middle.

Author/composer Jason Robert Brown’s score is a complex (and sometimes dissonant) mixture of many musical styles, and requires both control and a broad vocal range from the two performers. Grimes smoothly manages the frequent transitions into his head voice, and Hauser’s powerful soprano is well matched to the demands of this score. While none of the songs (except perhaps Cathy’s poignant “Still Hurting”) are truly memorable on their own, they effectively and efficiently tell the story. Most impressive is the two actors’ ability to convey the nuances of their characters’ vast emotional shifts (New York nebbish to wunderkind, star-struck Ohio “shiksa goddess” to fragile failed wanna-be) through song.

In a show with this much music, the orchestra is key – and TITG has gathered a small but mighty group of artists, many drawn from local high school and college programs. Music Director/Conductor Emilee Buchanan, a Pacific University student completing her music education major, works wonders with piano, bass, violin, cello, bass, and guitar – the music on opening night seemed flawless, and provided ideal support to the two vocalists.

In addition to actor/director, Grimes also holds title to set designer/builder and video designer, ensuring that the final product fulfills his vision for the show. Sets are clever and extremely simple, which is essential when the action shifts with such frequency from one character and locale to another. Grimes’ use of video projection creates all the scenery needed to take us from New York townhouses to moonlit lakes without slowing down the pace of the production.

Because the show has only a two-week run, prospective audience members who hesitate may have a long wait before they have another opportunity to see The Last Five Years. Due to mature language and themes, the show is not appropriate for younger viewers.

The Last Five Years runs through September 14th at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove with performances at 7:30 pm on Friday and Saturday and 2:30 pm on Sunday.


Jake Street as Hale, Peter Schuyler as John Proctor, and Jessica
Geffen as Elizabeth Proctor

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Ever since it was first produced in 1953, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible has been venerated as a brilliant allegory about the communist “witch hunts” of the McCarthy era. However, by casting his story in a distant past, Miller left the door open for multiple interpretations of his work.  Boldly jumping across this threshold, Bag & Baggage’s current production of The Crucible turns Miller’s tale into an exposé of the dangers society faces when politics and (any) religion are too closely allied. Director Scott Palmer achieves this feat while remaining faithful to the original script – it is not the words, but the ambience, that telegraphs the updated message to the audience.

For those who do not know the show, it is a fictionalized account of events in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692 when over a six-month period hundreds were imprisoned and nineteen people hung for the crime of witchcraft. All of the characters were real people, although Miller takes extensive liberties with key details, framing his story as a tale of adultery, jealousy, and revenge.

The story revolves around three characters. John Proctor is a pragmatic farmer who has committed and now repents of the sin of adultery with Abigail Williams, a Puritan Lolita obsessed with her erstwhile lover and employer. The third cog is Elizabeth Proctor, the cold, upright, and scrupulously honest victim of her husband’s infidelity. Arianne Jacques brings a venomous complexity to the role of Abigail – sometimes pathetically needy, but always with an undertone of fury and violence against any who oppose her will. Peter Schuyler (“John Proctor”) fluctuates believably between shame, anger, frustration, fear (of losing his honor, his wife, his life), and in the final scene powerfully demonstrates the character’s core of inner strength and loyalty. Jessica Geffen’s performance as Elizabeth Proctor is truly exceptional – her icy tenderness toward her husband leaves him, ultimately, with no choice but to die for his good name.

Other outstanding performances include Jake Street, who captures Reverend Hale’s growing unease with the proceedings of the authorities, and David Heath (“Judge Danforth”) whose angular features and clipped delivery mirror the rigidity of his character’s circular and impenetrable logic. While Pat Lach (“Rebecca Nurse”) has relatively little stage time, she heartbreakingly expresses the upright innocence of a good woman, strong in her beliefs and unwavering in her commitment to the truth.

The young girls in the Salem community are all played by local high school students as part of a Bag & Baggage internship program. These fine young thespians have studied with the troupe’s professional actors, and their performances reflect the quality of their tutelage.  Madeline Ogden (“Mary Warren”) is superb in her pivotal role, riding the roller coaster of her character’s many emotional transformations with passion and a clear understanding of the part. Alexandria Morgan consistently captures the accent of the slave Tituba’s native Barbados, and she understands the fine line Tituba must walk in order to save her skin.

One of Director Palmer’s most effective strategies for highlighting The Crucible’s contemporary relevance is through costume (he eschews stereotypical Puritan garb for clothing that is simple enough to complement the styles of the period, but contemporary enough that these characters cannot be dismissed as “the other”). His choice of minimalist sets (a single row of upright wooden chairs moved about as needed) is augmented by a media presentation including the expected (forest, scaffolds, nooses) and the unexpected (modern images of hate crimes engendered by religious extremists of all stripes).  Although it is a long show, we applaud Palmer’s decision to include the oft-deleted Act II, Scene 2, which makes it clear that there is no truth to the hysterical allegations of the oppressors. This Crucible is more than just a fine production, it is a powerful plea for tolerance and reason that is needed as much today as at any time in history.

The Crucible runs through Sunday, September 28th with shows Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:00. All performances are at the Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, Hillsboro.