Monday, November 27, 2017

Holiday Hit Parade Hits Broadway Rose

Robert Head, Grace Allen, Debbie Hunter, Ryan Reilly, Laura McCulloch, and Malia Tippets.
Photo by Sam Ortega.

By Tina Arth

Broadway Rose is opening the holiday show season with a bang – a sparkling collection of songs old and new, mixing humor with breathtaking beauty, loosely bound by a thoroughly implausible wraparound script as magic-laden as the season itself. If you, like me, are sorely in need of a quick infusion of Christmas spirit, Your Holiday Hit Parade fills the bill delightfully. Co-authors Rick Lewis (also musical arranger) and Dan Murphy (also director) have assembled a festive revue and an inspired cast to deliver a family-friendly evening that should appeal to all but the most-Grinch-like audiences.

The show opens with two bedraggled travelers, Bea and Helen, on a pilgrimage to see Mt. McKinley before it officially becomes Mt. Denali. They stumble into Aurora’s Borealis, a seemingly deserted but otherwise intact tourist lodge well off the beaten track in Alaska. They need shelter while they wait for rescue – their car has broken down and both the temperature and the batteries on their phone are dropping low. A lively burst of “Jingle Bells” from the two women flushes out 4 shy, pale strangers from upstairs, apparently drawn by the mention of bells. Soon their secret is revealed – they are entertainers whose show was due to open Christmas, 1972 when a massive avalanche buried the inn, trapping them inside – they are ghosts! The rest of the evening is filled with a mixture of solos and ensemble work as the cast powers through old favorites, from their exquisite “Bell Medley” to “White Christmas” and “Christmas Auld Lang Syne,” some fun novelty songs (the entire “Cowboy Christmas Medley” and many others), and some pure silliness like “I’m Spending Hanukkah In Santa Monica” and Rick Lewis’ gender-bending rewrite, “Babe There’s A Cab Outside.” Will the ghosts be freed after giving their final performance? Will Bea and Helen’s Uber driver find them amid the snowy wastes? You’ll need to go see the show to find out!

The four ghosts, each with some exquisite solo moments but even more moving in the ensemble arrangements, are Marguerite (Grace Allen), Roy (Robert Head), Rusty (Ryan Reilly), and Marjorie (Malia Tippets).  Interspersed among the quartet’s classics are numbers by Helen (Debbie Hunter) and Bea (Laura McCulloch) with their mid-Western, down-to earth modern attitudes and consistently upbeat delivery – bringing a playfully wry note with songs like “Sisters,” “Santa Baby,” and of course Ray Stevens’ quirky “Santa Claus Is Watching You.”

The costuming is elaborate but a bit anachronistic (for the ghosts) – by 1972 even ingénues on Hee-Haw and The Lawrence Welk Show had straighter hair and shorter skirts – but it really makes no difference, and I just pretended that it was based on the styles of 1964. The set, on the other hand, is spot on – everything you’d expect in a perfectly preserved country lodge, augmented by a constantly changing video screen to help create the requisite mood. While there’s a piano on the stage, and cast members frequently respond to the cue “give me an E,” the real music comes from conductor Jeffrey Childs’ little band – and courtesy of clever use of the video projection, we occasionally get to see shadows of pianist Childs, bassist Will Amend, and drummer Mitch Wilson as they work their magic behind the scenes.

As soon as Thanksgiving hits the road, I always start to “Need a Little Christmas,” this year perhaps more than most. I am grateful to Broadway Rose for immersing me in holiday mode with their delightful show, and judging from the audience’s enthusiastic opening night acclaim I am not alone in my response. This is an evening that should not be missed.

Your Holiday Hit Parade is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Saturday, December 23d. See their website ( for specific performance dates and times.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940

 Amelia Michaels, Michael Allen, Redmond Reams, and Ami Ericson

By Tina Arth

Mask & Mirror’s latest production, The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, provides some real challenges for its cast. Author John Bishop’s 1987 murder-mystery, while loaded with the murders and red herrings that define the genre, is neither a musical nor a tightly written comedy, and the script would fall flat if not for the dedication of its talented actors. While it may not be possible to make a silk purse out of this particular sow’s ear, it is possible to make an audience laugh at the silly antics, physical comedy, broad stereotypes, and absurd story – and director Rick Hoover and his cast succeed well beyond what might be expected of a community theater team.

The convoluted set-up is this: it is 1940, so the U.S. is heavily involved in the events surrounding World War II but not yet actively at war. The cops are looking for a serial killer dubbed “The Stage Door Slasher” who recently murdered three tutu-clad chorines from a Broadway musical. The composer, lyricist, director and producer of a new musical are brought together at the Chappaqua estate of a wealthy backer, Elsa von Grossenknueten, ostensibly to try out their show for her.  The audition involves the assistance of three performers: Irish tenor Patrick O’Reilly, ingénue Nikki Crandall, and comic Eddie McKuen. Also on site are Elsa’s uber-German maid and an undercover cop.  The real reason for bringing the group together is to suss out the identity of the Slasher (naturally, in a remote location where all players are trapped during the obligatory snowstorm). The show opens when a mysteriously masked figure murders Helsa the maid, then stashes her away in a closet – yet miraculously, Helsa seems to be alive and well the next morning (spoiler alert: Helsa is  not an onlychild).  Mayhem ensues, more people die, secret identities are revealed, and the Slasher ultimately found out. Aaaand curtain!

Some of the finest comedy comes from two women – Amelia Michaels (as Helsa Wenzel and her siblings) and Rebecca Rowland Hines (as lyricist Bernice Roth). While I could not always follow Michaels’ hearty German accent and rapid dialogue, she is absolutely hilarious as an uncooperatively loose-limbed corpse and later as a ferociously agile foe.  Hines has fun with her character’s gradual descent into inebriation, and delivers some appallingly bad rhymes with a straight face as she turns her focus to yet another (undoubtedly doomed) musical. Ami Ericson’s scatterbrained but likeable von Grossenkneuten is a constant, somewhat steadying if ditzy force.

As Irish tenor Patrick O’Reilly, Jeff Ekdahl issn’t much of a tenor or an Irishman – it was only after he tried out an equally unconvincing New York accent that I realized it was the character, not the actor, responsible for these lapses.  On the other hand, it was clear from the beginning that Luke Mitchell’s “Eddie McKuen” was written as a truly terrible comic. Mitchell and Michelle Wangerzyn, who plays ingénue Nikki Crandall, create some charmingly awkward chemistry that provides the necessary love interest.
Woody Woodbury’s set design makes the most of the available space, with lots of upscale touches and the requisite plethora of entries and exits (the tromp l’oeil book cases with hidden panels are both impressive and essential to the plot), and the forties era costuming is both detailed and fun.

Audiences in search of great art may want to visit Mask & Mirror at another time (perhaps one of their edgier “Unmasked” productions), but The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 is a fine choice for an unabashedly lighthearted, undemanding theatrical evening.

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 runs through November 19th, with performances at 7:30 P.M. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 P.M. Sundays at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Forsooth, My Lovely

 Paul Roder (center) and (clockwise from top) Jason Fox, Chelsea Read, Phyllis Gurian Lang, and Lura Longmire.
Photo by Carl Dalhquist.

By Tina Arth

Hillsboro’s HART Theatre continues to fulfill its 2017-18 season’s theme/promise, “Laugh Along With HART” - this time with an unabashedly farcical, yet surprisingly erudite mash-up of hard-boiled detective fiction and Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits. Playwright David Belke’s Forsooth, My Lovely brings together these wildly disparate elements in an improbable film noir style that offers a lot of fun for either lovers or haters of both genres (or those who are merely indifferent, but not opposed to a good laugh or two). Director Sarah Fuller approaches the comedy with a very broad brush, allowing her actors the latitude to shamelessly play to their audience – and it works like a charm.

The story, of course, makes no sense at all. An obviously American gumshoe with the appropriately Shakespearean name Birnam Wood arrives (from London, not New York) in Padua to help wealthy merchant Baptista unravel a scandal – some dirty etchings showing the naked form of his younger daughter Bianca. The sharp-tongued elder daughter, Katherine (as in Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Kate) develops an oddly seductive rapport with the detective, culminating in a wonderful stage kiss.  Mere blackmail turns to murder most foul as the convoluted plot evolves. Lovers are star-crossed, authority figures mercilessly mocked, while jesters jest. With the exception of Wood, all of the characters are drawn from Shakespeare’s plays – mostly comic, mostly Italian, but with a soupçon of the French and a spectacular Scottish touch. Audience members who recognize the greatest number of Shakespearian twists perhaps laugh most, but there is no shortage of seriously comic touches for even the most Bard-averse.

As Birnam Wood, HART Artistic Director Paul Roder is the only actor who plays just one role, and he simply revels in the darkly cynical comedy of the Chandleresque detective. His slight form, stereotypical ‘40s trench coat and fedora, and down-in-the heels affect contrast sharply with Lalanya Gunn’s portrayal of the shrewish Kate, whose gestures, mannerisms, and projection are all truly larger than life. Both Gunn and her stage “sister” Chelsea Read (as Bianca) are fun in their primary roles, but their pairing as two of Macbeth’s three witches is simply unforgettable – perhaps the comic high point of an already hilarious show.

Lura Longmire is constantly in motion as she struts, busters, and sidles through five roles (Baptista, Conrade, Costard, Oberon, and Proteus), giving each character a unique absurdity that keeps the audience in stitches, and her death scene is a thing of beauty (I’m not really giving anything away, since I won’t tell you which one dies). Phyllis Gurian Lang gives us a satisfyingly lusty if slightly geriatric Emilia, but it is her manic and morbid take on Lear’s Fool that really distinguishes her performance.

The rest of the cast, all male, cannot be overlooked – Mark Putnam (as Oliver, Borachio, and Malvolio) delivers some wonderful moments, and Nick Serrone’s drunken Trinculo and naively star-struck (or detective-struck) Romeo are fine vehicles for the actor’s timing and pratfalls. Jason Fox is satisfyingly pretentious and uncharismatic as both Dogberry the cop and Petruchio the suitor – clearly, neither character will prevail in love or conflict.

Heather Sutherland’s lighting design sets the tone perfectly, and Fuller’s minimal set design establishes the fanciful unreality of the play while allowing for fast scene changes (always a plus). Given the variety of characters, costuming must have been a real challenge, but Fuller, Chris Byrne, and Karen Roder somehow pulled it off.

The best news of all is that HART has partnered with North Portland’s Twilight Theater Company to offer a companion play, The Maltese Bodkin, next year. Film noir, detective, comedy and Shakespeare fans should make a serious effort to catch both shows.

Forsooth My Lovely is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through November 19th, with performances at 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 on Sundays.

Friday, November 3, 2017


 Virginia Kincaid. Photo by Frank Hunt.

By Tina Arth

Several months ago, I read the script for Red Hot Patriot, The Kick-ass Wit of Molly Ivins, a wonderful little one-person show based on the life of a remarkable woman who died much too soon. At the time, I had never actually heard of the amazing columnist, a long, tall Texan who used her incisive wit and encyclopedic knowledge of the American political scene to either celebrate or skewer (depending on the demands of the day) the guv’mint titans of her home state and her beloved nation. By the time I got to the end of the script I was a diehard fan, so I was thrilled when I heard that Hillsboro’s STAGES Performing Arts Youth Academy would be presenting a three-show special engagement of Patriot as a fundraiser, almost exactly one year since the November, 2016 day that so radically altered the socio-political climate of the United States. It is this coincidence that augments the show’s funny, pithy, and occasionally heart-wrenching monologue with an eerie prescience. It is safe to assume that the formidable Ms. Ivins would not have been a fan of our 45th president.

Playwrights/journalists/twin-sisters Margaret and Allison Engel build the show around Ivins’ attempt to write a column describing her love/hate relationship with her father, a fiercely conservative Texan who was the epitome of everything the columnist grew to despise. Almost every word is drawn from Ivins’ work – direct quotes from 40+ years of newspaper columns, magazine articles, and books, bound together with a few fictionalized musings and her one-sided conversation with a silent copy boy who sporadically appears bearing urgent news releases.  The show is necessarily superficial – any attempt to condense the body of Ivins’ work and the texture of her life into an evening’s entertainment would have been doomed. Director Doreen Lundberg, the authors, and actors face the challenge of delivering enough authentic humor, pain, and folksy wisdom to inspire the audience to further exploration – and between the Internets,, and your local public library there’s no shortage of material.

Native Texan Virginia Kincaid doesn’t just play Molly, she makes it the role of a lifetime. From her well-used cowboy boots to her flaming red wig, the lanky Kincaid embodies her character’s physicality while her soft drawl, sardonic delivery, occasional bursts of warmth and precise timing capture the substance of a complex and unforgettable woman. Kincaid’s final monologue, an impassioned (and timely) plea to her listeners, is so powerful and believable that it should leave both actor and audience in tears. Damian Woodruff, the copy boy, provides occasional moments of silent comedy, but his shining moment comes from the subtle grief as he somberly clears Ivins’ desk at the end of the show.

Lundberg realizes the show’s vision with a single set – really just a desk, chair, and typewriter. The world outside this tiny newsroom is created with some well-placed lighting and sound effects (deftly provided by Brian Ollom and Alex Rose).  Ironically, although Red Hot Patriot’s all-too-brief engagement is a fundraiser for youth theater, the show is not really appropriate for young children (older teens should be able to handle mature themes and language).  With a run time just over an hour, one of Patriot’s three performances should be easy to work into your weekend plans. Go for the STAGES benefit, stay for the moving and occasionally hilarious performance, and then commit to learning more about the wit and wisdom of one of our nation’s smartest, most dedicated and genuine patriots.

Red Hot Patriot, The Kick-ass Wit of Molly Ivins play for three performances only at the Tuality Masonic Lodge, 176 NE 2nd Avenue, Hillsboro with shows Saturday, November 4th 7:30 PM and Sunday, November 5th at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM.