Sunday, August 16, 2015

Singin’ In the Rain A Real Coup For Mask & Mirror

Blake Isaac (Don) and Amelia Morgan-Rothschild (Kathy)
Al Stewart Photography, Tualatin

By Tina Arth

When Mask & Mirror Community Theatre announced that the first “Tualatin Community Musical” would be Singin’ In the Rain I was not alone in wondering what kind of absurd hubris led this tiny group of theater lovers, whose previous shows had been in a church rec room, to believe they could pull off a show this complex – and with a live orchestra! Audience expectations could run very high, as it is arguably Comden and Green’s best screenplay, and the musical that defined Gene Kelly’s song-and-dance persona for millions of fans. Friday night’s opening proved all naysayers wrong – the show is delightful! Credit is due first to Director Sandy Libonati, who managed to assemble the acting and production talent necessary for an enterprise of this scope. The secret is at least in part that it is truly a “community musical” – the program reveals a broad range of support from the Tigard/Tualatin communities, other theater groups, the school district, and individuals and businesses from all around the metro area.

Singin’ In the Rain revolves around a glamorous silent film couple, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, whose careers are in jeopardy with the advent of talking pictures. As a former song and dance man, Don is well equipped to make the switch to talkies, but Lina can neither act nor sing, and her harshly nasal New York accent is a disaster on tape. Despite the public perception that they are an “item,” Don cannot stand Lina in real life. Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown convinces the studio to hire a stand-in to dub Lina’s lines for her - Don’s real girlfriend, chorus girl Kathy Selden. This does not go over well with Lina, who is ultimately disgraced when the deception is revealed. Lina rushes off in embarrassment, Don and Kathy kiss, and things work out just the way they should – a very 1950’s Hollywood ending!

Taylor Libonati (Cosmo) - on the board.
Al Stewart Photography, Tualatin
The four leads really make the evening worthwhile. Jessica Jaeger (Lina Lamont) does a wonderful job of sublimating her beautiful voice in service of Lina’s dissonant delivery, and her solo “What’s Wrong With Me” is the funniest song in the show. Taylor Libonati (Cosmo Brown) has a solid voice, and his dancing simply sparkles. He’s exciting to watch with his mid-air splits, tapping on an elevated two by four, and leaping on and rolling over his cast mates’ bodies. For me, his finest moment is when he pulls off Donald O’Connor’s famous backwards somersault off the wall – it more than compensates for an otherwise inexplicable scene change! Blake Isaac (Don Lockwood) is also a fine dancer, and his solid baritone is perfect to sell amazing songs like “You Were Meant for Me,” and, of course, “Singin’ In the Rain.” His mixture of sincerity and nonchalance precisely captures Lockwood’s character. However, the real shining star is Amelia Morgan-Rothschild (Kathy Selden) – a part often relegated to sweet, pretty girls with nice voices (think Debbie Reynolds in the movie), but rarely to actresses as incredibly cute, smart, and serious as Morgan-Rothschild. She holds her own in the dance numbers, but it is her beautiful soprano (with just a touch of controlled vibrato) that makes numbers like “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You” real showstoppers.

The supporting cast is huge and versatile – with rapid changes of costume, several characters play three or four parts. Ensemble vocals are generally tight, but some of the larger dance numbers could use a bit more precision.  Triple kudos to costume designer Viola Pruitt and her assistants for pulling together more than 200 lavish and period-appropriate costumes! An orchestra pit would be nice – the music is occasionally a bit overpowering (especially the trombones) and it was my bad luck to be seated right in back of conductor Sam Talluto, who efficiently if inadvertently blocked my view of several key moments. The show runs long, and would have benefited from some condensation of the scene changes (especially because of the cute and lively pre-show and intermission student dance performances). However, clever staging and some nice video work keep the evening moving along pretty well.

With a lot of vision and little help from their friends, Mask & Mirror is offering a genuinely entertaining evening of musical theatre. The show only runs one more weekend, so get your tickets early!

Singin’ In the Rain is playing at the Tualatin High School auditorium through Sunday, August 23d with performances at 7 pm Friday and Saturday, 2 pm on Sunday.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Broadway Rose’s Oklahoma Climbs Clear Up To The Sky!

By Tina Arth

Almost fifty years ago, a high school sophomore ambled onto the stage at the San Gabriel Playhouse and sang “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow...” and for me, it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair – not with the actor, but with the show. The current Broadway Rose production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s sweeping epic Oklahoma reminds me of why this beautiful musical captured and has held my heart for half a century.

The setting, and the sets, of Oklahoma evoke an image of a golden time in American history when everything seemed possible, when people willing to take risks, work hard, and look out for their neighbors could be rewarded with a secure and happy future for themselves and their families. Of course there is much mythology in the image – one has to suspend for a couple of hours one’s 21st century sensibilities to environmental destruction and the oppression of indigenous people (not that there are any in the show – but the “open” land was not ceded voluntarily by the Five Civilized Tribes!). Oklahoma is a show about dreams – of freedom to plant crops, raise cattle, and build a community, of a surrey pulled by snow-white horses, of skyscrapers in Kansas City, of exotic truths emerging from a peddler’s smelling salts – and some of the show’s biggest songs pull the audience like a tractor beam right into the magic.

When it comes to Broadway style musicals, few local theatre companies can even hope to compete with Broadway Rose’s big summer productions. Director Sharon Maroney’s experienced hand ensures that the Oklahoma audience will see and hear a consistently professional, first-class show – elaborate and evocative sets, effective lighting, superb leads and vocal ensemble, crisp choreography, and an orchestra to die for.

Jared Miller (“Curly”) and Dru Rutledge (“Laurey”) bring years of training and experience to their roles. Their voices blend beautifully, and “People Will Say We’re In Love” is a simply breathtaking duet. If anything, they are a bit too good – it can be hard to reconcile their clear and flawless voices with the earthy pioneer and cowboy they portray. My personal pick for best performance goes to Megan Carver, whose “Ado Annie” somehow manages to be both na├»ve and experienced, a free-thinking inadvertent feminist with a simple sexuality that sells “I Cain’t Say No!” as a comic masterpiece. Another standout is Colin Wood (“Jud Fry”) who manages to convey a little of the pathos of his role as perennial underdog without losing his character’s menacing foundation.  The strength of the ensemble is eye opening in “Many a New Day” – the solos by several of the “girls” clearly show voices and attitudes that would do credit to lead roles in any big musical, and there are places where the female vocal ensemble has an almost Disney-like clarity and musicality.

Special recognition must go to choreographer Maria Tucker for the “Dream Sequence” – the dark ballet of Laurey’s nightmare often comes across as a jarringly psychedelic intrusion from a bad horror movie, but Tucker’s ballet is a more balanced blend of beauty and violence. Props for restraint also are due to Brynne Oster-Bainnson, whose costume design is refreshingly subdued, reflecting the earth tones and homespun fabrics that would have been available to the people of the frontier.

Once again, Broadway Rose has shown that they know their audience by delivering a beautiful production of a true classic, and the reward is the enthusiastic response of a truly appreciative public.

Broadway Rose’s Oklahoma runs through August 23d at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Bye Bye Birdie C.A.S.T. Brings Youth Favorite to Forest Grove

Jeremiah Stephens (Albert) and Breanna Grimes (Rosie).
Photo by  Becca Cooper of "Portraits by Becca."
By Tina Arth
How do you turn a generation of tiny-screen texters into a legion of live-theatre lovers? Get them on stage having real, face-to-face fun – or at least put them into the audience of a live show! Theatre in the Grove’s remarkable Children’s After School Theatre (C.A.S.T.) program is working its magic again in 2015 with an ambitious production, the Young Performer’s Edition of the classic Bye Bye Birdie. Participation in the C.A.S.T. summer teen production provides an educational opportunity for all registrants, free of charge, to be on stage or to work backstage at a fully staged musical. To expand the program’s reach, the shows are priced at only $5.00 general admission – a great deal for families looking for an inexpensive and wholesome way to introduce kids to the wonders of theatre.
Like the more well-known “Jr.” shows, the Young Performer’s Edition of Birdie is condensed and, where appropriate, cleaned up a bit for younger audiences. The show is performed in one act, with minimal sets and prerecorded music to keep the production costs modest. Guided by Jeanna Van Dyke and Adam Borrego, in only 8 (very long) days of rehearsal, the cast of 34 (plus stage hands and techs) put together a lively and entertaining version of the 1960 musical loosely based on the furor surrounding Elvis Presley’s 1957 induction into the U.S. Army. It may not be perfect, but it is definitely fun.

The fictional rock star and teen idol Conrad Birdie has been drafted, and his mama’s boy manager Albert Peterson (pushed by his secretary/girlfriend Rose Alvarez) is trying to cash in on his departure with a huge publicity stunt. Conrad will go to Sweet Water, Ohio to bestow “One Last Kiss” on local fan club president Kim MacAfee. Kim’s starry-eyed friends, bratty little brother, frustrated dad, and jealous boyfriend ensure that the plan will go awry, as it does when 15 year old Kim goes off to a local makeout spot, The Ice House, with bad boy Conrad. Of course everything works out fine – Kim is reunited with boyfriend Hugo, Conrad is shipped off to the Army, and Albert’s interfering uber-momma Mae Peterson is tricked into boarding a train for New York. Meanwhile, Albert and Rosie head off to get married in Pumpkin Falls, Iowa, far from Mae’s grasping histrionics.

The show has some notable strengths, including the vocal and dance ensemble, which are amazingly coherent given the timeline and the open casting – clearly, Van Dyke and Borrego have worked hard with their cast, and clearly the performers have repaid their efforts with real dedication. Breanna Grimes (“Rosie”) and Jeremiah Stephens (“Albert”) are true professionals – even better this year than they were in last summer’s Into the Woods. I wish that the condensed version had retained “Spanish Rose” – I would have loved to see what Grimes could have done with it! Ian Romig (“Hugo”) has a refreshing take on the role – more mature and much less whiny than the average “Hugo.” Athena Van Dyke (“Kim”) is charming, and physically perfect for the role. However, I found myself wishing the part were written for an alto, as she has to fight for some of the higher notes. Van Dyke’s lovely voice comes through best in ensemble numbers where she can stay within her comfortable range.  Parker Loughmiller (“Conrad”) is obviously having a lot of fun with the role, and he has mastered the timing and attitude essential to a dissipated rock legend.

It’s tough to imagine any group that deserves community support more than TITG’s C.A.S.T. program. It’s fun, educational, and a truly egalitarian effort to expose today’s students to the dramatic arts. On top of that, in the dog days of August it’s hard to beat almost two hours of lively performance in an air-conditioned theater for $5.00!

Bye Bye Birdie plays at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, through Sunday, August 16th with performances at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2:30 on Sunday.