Friday, July 16, 2021

The Return of the Bard (well, sort of…)

Photo shows Jacquelle Davis and Sammy Rat Rios
Photography courtesy of 
Casey Campbell Photography

 By Tina Arth

Bag&Baggage is back! In partnership with Hillsboro Parks & Recreation, B&B is offering a truly hilarious version of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised] – an evening of genuine absurdity to welcome audiences back to the world of live theater – and it’s free! Under the direction of B&B Artistic Director Cassie Greer, three of 2021’s hardest working actors celebrate the apparent retreat of Covid-19 with unmatched, uninhibited enthusiasm that leaves the audience no choice but to have a good time. All of the performances are being held outdoors, with appropriate social distancing encouraged. Given the moderate weather we’re expecting in upcoming weeks, there’s simply no excuse to miss this show.

Speaking of excuses, “I (hate/don’t understand/am bored by) Shakespeare” is irrelevant.  It’s impossible to give a brief synopsis – original authors Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield managed to condense all 37 Shakespeare plays (and a brief, if startlingly inaccurate, biography) into just under 100 minutes. Despite the show’s frantic pace, the combination of wit, good cheer, audience participation and broad physical comedy leaves nobody in the dark. While a couple of the most performed plays (Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet) are given a fair amount of stage time, most are dealt with in a veritable lightning round of allusions (a personal favorite, in the segment on comedies, is the synthesis of Twelfth Night’s Violet and Olivia into Violivia). For Hamlet we are quickly introduced to most of the cast, but the majority of the time is spent on a rousing exploration of Ophelia’s id, ego, and superego that must have Freud turning over in his grave; cajoling the audience into gleefully representing each aspect of her psychic apparatus is the frosting on the cake. An added bonus (for me at least) is the play within a play – I can’t resist sock puppets, and the more primitive the better!

The magic that makes all of this possible is three irresistible actors (Jacquelle Davis, Sammy Rat Rios, and Janelle Rae) and one overtly involved stage manager/sound guy, Ephriam Harnsberger. Well before the starting time, Davis is working the audience with persistent and infectious energy that nicely primes us for later participation (and no, nobody is pressured to come out of their comfort zone). Once the show starts, all three actors mine a clothing rack/curtain for the variety of costumes, roles, and wigs they need to assume countless roles, and Rae gets incredible mileage out of one tattered blonde wig.  Outdoor settings come complete with unavoidable ambient noise, but Harnsberger and the actors make sure nothing is missed.

Almost as much fun as watching the show was observing the reactions of my fellow audience members – people who clearly had no idea what to expect were laughing heartily, and perhaps the best line of the night went to an audience volunteer (Ben, as I recall) who described his pronouns as “he” and “you.”

My only complaint is something that may be out of the control of even the most skilled director, lighting coordinator, or stage manager – the sun showed an annoying tendency to shine in my eyes as it descended behind the stage from about 7:30 – 8:00. Anticipating this, I had brought a hat and sunglasses, both of which were used to good effect. In addition to these accessories, bring a chair or blanket, and maybe a bottle of water or some other legal beverage to whet your whistle between chuckles.

Bag&Baggage’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare is playing through Sunday, June 25, with performances at Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza July 17 - 18 and Hidden Creek Community Center July 22 – 23 – 24 – 25. All performances begin at 7:30 pm. While the show is free, reservations are required and can be made on the Bag&Baggage website.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Live From Tigard, It’s Analog & Vinyl!!!

By Tina Arth

Maybe by next fall I’ll be able to see a show without exulting over the return of live theater, but I’m not there yet!  Watching Analog & Vinyl at Broadway Rose last week was thrilling, and the standing ovation from the deliberately small, fully masked audience was definitely a tribute to more than just the performers.  Paul Gordon and Michael Berresse’s quirky little rock-themed romance had its world premiere in 2014, and seems to have flown largely under the radar since – but in the skillful hands of Director Sharon Maroney and Musical Director Jeffrey Childs, Broadway Rose goes a long way toward righting this injustice with their beautifully crafted and utterly charming production.

Analog & Vinyl is in many ways a simple show – only three cast members plus a handful of live musicians, no intermission, and a single set that can be adorned with heart-warming fidelity by raiding the stash of hordes of album-hoarding boomers.  The story is set in modern times, but is firmly rooted in the past and provides a series of sometimes humorous, often though-provoking intersections between the 1960s and the 2010s. Harrison is a seriously out-of-touch young man trying to save his record store, which is home to countless vintage vinyl albums. Rodeo Girl is a Los Angeles hipster wannabe who has attached herself to the store in a desperate attempt to catch Harrison’s eye – he lets her hang around his virtually customer-free shop to help out, but frequently has to remind her that she is not actually an employee. As Harrison teeters on the brink of eviction, “The Stranger” appears – a flashy, sophisticated, sardonic woman offering salvation (and who is almost immediately revealed as being one of Satan’s more attractive and unusual incarnations). Will Harrison sell his soul to save the shop? Will Rodeo Girl embrace the dark side to find true love?  These questions can be resolved by going to see the show (or, starting July 16th, watching the streaming filmed version).

Alec Cameron Lugo (“Harrison”) and Molly Duddlesten (“Rodeo Girl”) are an ideally mismatched couple of misfits. Lugo is completely believable as an anxiously nerdy, computer-shunning Luddite who is emotionally (and technologically) stranded in a time before his birth, and Duddlesten’s sometimes frenetically hip, sometimes plaintive energy provides just the right contrast as she flits around the shop (sometimes, inexplicably, on a scooter!).  The original music reflects sixties soft rock, harder rock, and rock ballad styles, and Lugo and Duddlesten’s voices are well suited to the material.

Analog & Vinyl could easily have been just another derivative, Nora Ephron-style rom-com were it not for the riveting presence of Broadway Rose newcomer Jessica Brandes (“The Stranger’). Whether she is singing, striding, or smirking she commands 100% of the audience’s focus every time she appears on stage, and she never wastes a moment or move – she struck me as one of those actors who could hold my attention while reading the phone book. Kudos to the Broadway Rose folks who were smart enough to cast her! 

At least for me, Robert Vaughn’s set design was a heart-warming trip to memory lane – the album covers and posters are not only eye-catching, but also thematically appropriate as they remind older audience members of the power of iconic album art. Allison Dawe’s costuming is appropriately schlubby for Harrison, hip for Rodeo Girl, and va-va-voom sparkly for The Stranger – like the show itself, a nice mix of past, present and surreal.

Given the limited space on stage, it is understandable that the band is kept offstage. That said, I would love to have been able to watch keyboardist/conductor Childs, guitarist Eric Toner, bass player Amy Roesler, and drummer Alex Geffel rock out on the show’s 19 musical numbers.

If you are comfortable going back into a theater, Broadway Rose is definitely the place to start – in addition to the 100% masked performance I saw, they also offer “proof of vaccination” shows as well as less restrictive options. Starting Friday, July 16th they will also be offering a filmed version of the show for the theater-hesitant, so musical theater lovers have lots of choices. Check out the website and pick the format that works best for you! Warning – due to mature themes and language, the show may not be appropriate for younger audiences.

Analog & Vinyl is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, August 1.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Ballad of Aurelie the Bold– Grimm Reimagined!

Jesse Groat, Kenny Pratt, Elliot Lorenc, Janelle Rae, and
Trevor Harter.

 By Tina Arth

Like many other theater companies, Hillsboro’s Bag&Baggage has turned to the cyber world to keep everybody engaged until in-person theatre is deemed safe enough to be embraced by both the company and its audience. While that moment seems to be rapidly approaching, we’re not there yet – and the current B&B offering is an unabashedly joyous effort to fill the gap. From now through June 13th, patrons (especially families with kiddos) are invited to enjoy The Ballad of Aurelie the Bold, playing on screens anywhere that has Internet access!

The project, roughly based on the Grimm Brothers’ Iron John, is the brainchild of B&B’s 2019/20 Emerging Artist cohort, and was conceived, written, designed, built, and performed by Elliot Lorenc, Jesse Groat, Trevor Harter, and Kenny Pratt, along with special guest Janelle Rae. While the target audience is young children, I found it thoroughly entertaining and loaded with both primitive charm and adult wit. Director Mandana Khoshnevisan and her cast and crew clearly had a lot of fun developing and performing the show, which combines progressive/subversive social justice themes with a shameless embrace of silliness that works for kids of all ages.

With the exception of playwright/balladeer Elliot Lorenc (as Aurelie) each cast member plays multiple roles as both cast members and puppeteers (my personal favorite is the Canada Goose, although the Stump comes in as a close second!). Janelle Rae’s versatility as they cycle from sneering villain to vaudevillian song and dance provides lots of memorable moments, and I could almost hear an (unfortunately nonexistent) chorus of kiddos giggling, booing, cheering, and warning Aurelie when danger approached.

The show, while lots of fun on screen, simply screams for the live audience for which it was undoubtedly developed. I sincerely hope that B&B will find a way to include Aurelie as part of its first full in-person season. For now, go to the Bag&Baggage website and arrange for your on-demand live stream – and be prepared to forever more think “clean the pond and save the forest” when you hear “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The Ballad of Aurelie the Bold is available through Sunday, June 13th. Run time is 90 minutes, and is recommended for ages 5+. Price range is $0 to $20 – audience choice.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Last Five Years

By Tina Arth

As we (am I being too optimistic?) approach the final act of Covid-19, Broadway Rose Theatre Company is offering the third of their planned series of safe, socially-distanced “live” musicals on video, for streaming to audiences at home. Like the two previous productions, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years has a tiny cast, few musicians, simple sets, and is perfectly suited to the intimacy and camera potential of the video format.  Unlike bigger musicals, there is no place for vocal choruses and elaborate choreography – just two characters living out a five-year relationship in their heads, with only one moment of chronological connection in the entire show. I can’t think of a better time to reflect on loneliness, alienation, and abortive attempts to find love.

The story covers a five-year period in the lives of Jamie, a young writer who unexpectedly, quickly achieves serious literary recognition, and Cathy, an aspiring actor whose career definitely fails to launch.  Jamie tells his part of the story from the beginning of their relationship and first blush of passion/love, through a brief marriage, ending with the final breakup. Cathy does the reverse – she starts at the end, her heartbroken moment of acceptance that Jamie is permanently gone, and traces the relationship back to its heady first days. While the actors share the stage for just under 90 minutes and sixteen songs, the two physically intersect and interact only at the time of their engagement and marriage.

The Last Five Years is not a pretty show, and Jeff Rosick (Jamie) and Kailey Rhodes (Cathy) face challenging roles where they are creating two superficially attractive, but fundamentally flawed characters through the medium of song. Initially, Jamie’s barely-post-adolescent cockiness (contrasted with Cathy’s pain) casts him as the bad guy, and Cathy as victim, and we are reminded throughout the narrative that he is an egotistical cad. However, learning Cathy’s story in reverse gradually builds a picture of a needy, na├»ve woman/child who plays a big part in the relationship’s demise. When juxtaposed with Cathy’s plaintive “I’m Still Hurting,” Rosick’s gleeful “Shiksa Goddess” is funny (Rosick is a consummate physical comic) but appallingly callow.

It’s hard not to be on Team Cathy – Rhodes creates an impossibly cute character, a pro at putting on a happy face – but she gives us several glimpses of a darker inner world. One of my favorite moments in the whole show is the brief flash of anger as she stalks off from a really brilliantly executed audition scene, and  “A Summer In Ohio” allows Rhodes to display both sides of her character – a winning and hilarious surface thickly plastered over plaintive undertones. Rosick partially redeems his character with a lively and sincere rendition of “The Schmuel Song” – once the context is clear (a tricky feat when the show is simultaneously going forwards and backwards) we understand how much he wants Cathy to be the happy, confident Shiksa he fell in love with.

The challenging vocals add another layer of complexity in a show that is virtually all song, and both Rosick and Rhodes excel at hitting the right notes in a score that dances on the edge of pretty but constantly inserts discordant themes (much like the characters).  Music director/pianist Brian Michael, ably assisted by Eric Toner (guitar), Amy Roesler (bass and violin) and Quinn Liu (cello) provide solid backup for the actors and take us on some soaring musical flights.

Special props to the marvelous camera work by a video team led by Mark Daniels, with Rob Lindemann and Jerry Rousselle. While live theaters are mostly dark, one saving grace is the ability of the camera to deliver close-ups at key moments and to carefully direct our attention (the other saving grace, imho, is the opportunity with to watch and rewatch favorite scenes!).

Director Sharon Maroney and the entire Broadway Rose family have once again delivered a compelling evening of theater that can be safely enjoyed at home. Until Portland’s vast and diverse theater scene is able to reopen, The Last Five Years is the best ticket in town, and you can have the best seat in the house!

The Last Five Years is available on video from the Broadway Rose website.  Purchase now to stream through May 16thst - $25 gets you 48 hours of unlimited viewing, so you can share it with the folks in your bubble (household) for two days!

Monday, February 8, 2021

Streaming Now -The Story of My Life


By Tina Arth

To fill the seemingly endless months until local stages are able to commit to full theatrical productions for live audiences, Broadway Rose has chosen a different path from most local companies. By selecting small-cast shows (2 to 4 characters), simple sets that create the illusion of close interaction while keeping the actors nicely distanced, minimizing the number of musicians on stage, and capturing it all with a carefully edited three-camera shoot, they are managing to stream a solid, if unorthodox, season safely into the homes of their loyal fan base. So far, the results have been gratifyingly spectacular. Their newest offering (third in the series, with two more planned in coming months) is The Story of My Life, a quiet, quirky little musical about friendship and love by Brian Hill (book) and Neil Bartram (music and lyrics).

The story revolves around Thomas Weaver (Alec Cameron Lugo) and Alvin Kelby (Andrew Wade), childhood friends who, when they were twelve, made a pact that when the first of them died the other would write his eulogy.  Alvin has unexpectedly died, and Thomas, now a prize-winning author, returns to their small home town to fulfill that promise – but is suffering from a serious case of writer’s block and just cannot find the words. Alvin appears and, with a nice mixture of dialogue and song, guides Thomas through the stories that defined key moments in their relationship and their lives. The script is sometimes sentimental, sometimes witty, sometimes dripping with irony – but under the careful direction of Sharon Maroney, Lugo and Wade deliver 90 minutes of a consistently engaging show that delivers a nice emotional punch.

While the relationship between Thomas and Alvin is distinctly non-sexual, it is clear that they love each other (despite Thomas’ horrified response when Alvin asks him to write “how much I love him”). As the stories they recall move them through adolescence, the utterly conventional Thomas starts to criticize Alvin’s dreamily fey, unorthodox style. In one of the show’s pivotal songs, “Normal,” Thomas ultimately asks him (as they enter high school) to fly under the radar and try to fit in – but of course that’s just not an option for a kid like Alvin. The authors’ intentional ambiguity about their characters’ sexuality spares The Story of My Life from being boxed in as a single message play – the pressures of conformity have sadly driven most of us into leaving friends behind who should have been cherished rather than rejected.

On first viewing Wade’s “Alvin” is immeasurably more appealing than Lugo’s “Thomas” – not a criticism, as the characters were written that way. However, one of the advantages of Broadway Rose’s 48-hour viewing window is that the shows can be seen more than once – and this play really demands a second visit. I watched it first on a big-screen TV, where I got a macro-view of the characters and the story – but the second time I watched it up close on a my Mac and, knowing what was coming next, caught a huge range of nuance in each character’s performance. Both actors are utterly convincing when portraying their childhood selves – there is none of the awkward overacting sometimes seen when adults play children.

The show’s 17 musical numbers are not really songs – they are more dialogue essential to the story, fully integrated with spoken word but delivered with musical accompaniment.  Both Lugo and Wade are strong vocalists, but it is really their ability to intersperse word with song, mastering the timing to flow seamlessly between the two, that sells the numbers. For a study in contrast, watch Lugo’s character develop from the eccentric, Charley Brown-like delivery of “1876” vs. his adolescent plea in “Normal” and the imaginative “The Butterfly.”  Nowhere is Wade’s powerful voice demonstrated more than in the pivotal “Independence Day” – a complex number that carries unmistakable overtones of Sondheim.

In deference to the pandemic, the “orchestra” consists of Jeffrey Childs on piano – and with someone as deft as Childs, there is no point where more is needed. The camera work is beautiful, and the editing so seamless it looks like the show was all filmed in one take.

Because of mature themes and mild profanity, the show is recommended for ages 13 and up. With that small caveat, I can recommend this production to anyone who loves and misses musical theater – it may not be live, but it’s much better than Memorex.

The Story of My Life is available on video from the Broadway Rose website.  Purchase now to stream through February 28th - $25 buys you 48 hours of unlimited viewing within a single household.

Thursday, December 10, 2020


By Tina Arth

I’ve been treated to Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s annual holiday musical for most of the past decade, and this year’s offering, while still a video rather than live, injects a bit of seasonal “regular order” into the end of this jarring, and sometimes heartbreaking, year. As with their last production, the holiday show combines fine camera work, solid musicians, and an excellent cast, all produced in a way that ensures the safety of the whole Broadway Rose family.

Christmas My Way – A Sinatra Holiday Bash is a straight musical review, developed by David Grapes and Todd Olson and first performed in 2003. There is little pretext of a wraparound story, other than a series of expository moments that shine some light on a time when Frank Sinatra and his legendary “Rat Pack” dominated the popular music scene. Using 31 songs (about evenly split between standards and holiday favorites, all recorded at some point by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself) vocalists Charles Cook, Courtney Temple, Joe Theissen, and Malia Tippets recreate the ambience of a time when superstars seemingly were never without a glass of bourbon, a Lucky Strike, or both. With no formal intermission, 90+ minutes of song (leavened only by a few funny stories and some of the world’s worst jokes) might be a bit much – but, as Broadway Rose icon Dan Murphy points out in his curtain speech, you can hit the pause button and take a break any time you want to!

The show moves smoothly between powerful solos and meltingly lovely harmonies, and each of the performers gets ample time in the spotlight. Watch for the lighthearted choreography in Malia and Joe’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” (and enjoy the fact that since they are a real couple, they can actually touch each other when they dance!). Speaking of Joe, settle back and enjoy his effortless “Come Rain or Come Shine” – it’s right down the middle of his range, and smooth as glass. Courtney is rock solid in her plaintive “I Get a Kick Out of You” – I’d love to see her play Reno Sweeney! Malia’s “Old Devil Moon” is a showstopper, but despite her chops as a vocalist, the place in the video that I returned to over and over was her utterly hilarious retelling of an O. Henry Christmas favorite – which should go down in history as “Malia’s Mangled Maji.” The camera’s ability to bring us close-ups is a real plus in many parts of the show, but nowhere is the technique used more effectively than in in this dryly comic bit of story-telling.

Wayne Brady fans (if you’re not one, you should be!) will appreciate Charles Cook’s vocals and styling, especially in “Witchcraft” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” The foursome bring some of their best harmonies to “The Christmas Song” and their spine-tingling a cappella “I Heard the Bells” – but for sheer nostalgia, nothing can touch their encore performance of the quintessential Sinatra ballad, “My Way.”

Costumes, lights, a few props, the simple set, and the three-camera video (with some great editing) combine to give the audience a series of memorable moments. There’s the clever use of a cocktail shaker as maracas, the subtle touch of an actual tip jar on music director/pianist Darcy White’s piano, the retro lighting on the huge Christmas tree. Malia looks great in the first half with her form-fitting red dress, but she moves to drop-dead gorgeous when she changes into the off-the-shoulder green number, and Courtney’s second-half red gown is a stunner. Subtler fifties touches include the men’s jackets – a subtle windowpane check for Charles and a truly snazzy plaid jacket on Joe.

While some of the musical arrangements have been updated, the show is definitely aimed at an audience old enough to remember Sinatra’s heyday, and may need to be seen in context by younger viewers. Be prepared for an avalanche of corny jokes – while Joe (who comes closest to representing Sinatra) gets the lion’s share, Courtney gets one real groaner. Luckily, even those not familiar with some of the standards should still appreciate the often-spectacular vocals, and the holiday classics come at a time when we all need a little Christmas!

Christmas My Way – a Sinatra Holiday Bash is available on video from the Broadway Rose website.  Purchase by December 24th to stream through December 31st - $25 gets you 48 hours of unlimited viewing, so you can share it with the folks in your bubble (household) for two days!

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Daddy Long Legs – Welcome This Spider into Your Home!

 By Tina Arth

We’ve all missed live theater – but I didn’t realize just how much until last Saturday morning, when I started watching Broadway Rose’s beautiful, witty, and utterly charming video production of Paul Gordon and John Caird’s 2009 musical version of Daddy Longlegs. OK – still not live theater seen in person (with the exception of a small, presumably well-distanced audience) but SO much closer than any of the (impressively creative) Zoom productions I have seen since last March when the world of live theater collapsed around us. The unsinkable folks at Broadway Rose achieved their miracle by (1) finding a play that only requires two cast members, and (2) finding, within their amazing talent base, two performers ideally suited for these roles and who already live in the same Covid-19 bubble, eliminating the need for on-stage masks. With those elements in place, and the New Stage as an ideal venue, the work began – sets, costumes, music, lighting (oh, the lighting!), direction – plus one additional element: a team of skilled videographers to pull of a multi-camera shoot of the live performance. The end result is a production that comes close enough to the experience of live theater that, by intermission, I was feeling positively euphoric – and the warm fuzzies didn’t fade… 

The musical is based on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster. Set in turn-of-the-century New England, it tells the story of Jerusha Abbott, “the oldest orphan in the John Grier Home.” A mysterious benefactor, trustee Jervis Pendleton, agrees to send her to college under the condition that she write him a letter once a month - but she is never to thank him, and never to expect a response. Through this correspondence, she shares her experiences of discovering literature, adventure, freedom, self-esteem, and love. Not knowing her patron's name, she dubs him "Daddy Long Legs." There is a touch of Annie, with a wealthy benefactor who normally prefers boy orphans but finds himself enchanted by this one girl, and an enormous helping of Little Shop Around the Corner/She Loves Me/You’ve Got Mail in this play that revolves around letter-writing and concealed identities – but to be fair, the original 1912 novel precedes any of these more recent classics.

Broadway Rose mainstays Malia Tippets and Joe Thiessen, a real-life couple (in fact, she proposed and they were wed on-set during tech week!), play Jerusha and Jervis with a deft touch, bringing lots of humor to the irony of Jerusha’s misperceptions about her benefactor and to Jervis’ jealousy as he reluctantly, then eagerly, falls head over heels in love despite his intent to remain a confirmed bachelor. The show is essentially an operetta, with limited dialogue interspersed among almost non-stop vocals. Tippets’ broad range is tested by countless solos and harmonies requiring solid soprano chops and immunity to vocal fatigue, and she handles the challenge with aplomb. Thiessen’s smooth baritone provides a perfect compliment – strong in his solo numbers, and the two voices blend beautifully in some complex duets. However, it is the acting that really sells the show – especially their body language as a raised eyebrow, toss of the head, longing gaze or dismissive glance tells the story of the couple’s developing relationship. Tippets’ combination of naivety, intellect, and independence is charming, and her explanation of Fabian Socialism may be my favorite moment in the whole show! 

Neither the individual songs nor the melodies are terribly distinctive, but as befits an operetta they move the story along nicely. However, Jeffrey Childs’ music direction is flawless, and complements director Sharon Maroney’s careful timing and pacing. Sean O’Skea’s set design is simple but effective – a couple of chests and a bed create Jerusha’s bare-bones environment, while the more complex and detailed desk and bookcase give the right touch of opulence to Jervis’ world. Phil McBeth’s lighting design adds immeasurably, taking full advantage of the New Stage’s rich array of lighting options and creating a series of sometimes grim, sometimes idyllic scenes.

I urge you to give Daddy Long Legs a try – the price is minimal (only $25 for 48 hours of unlimited viewing) and, since the show can be shared with everyone in your particular bubble, a great bargain. My only regret is that the production has rekindled a longing for local theater – I hope that Broadway Rose and other local companies are able to bring more of this kind of entertainment to Portland-area audiences until we can all get together again, both on-stage and off.

Broadway Rose’s Daddy Long Legs is available for streaming through Saturday, October 25th. For more information visit or call 503.620.5262.