Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s Little Women a Big Success

Virginia Kincaid, Beth Jones, Kraig Williams, Ryan Mitchell, Priscilla Howell,
Madeline Hagood (foreground),  Michael Prange, Les Ico, and Amanda Clark.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Truth in advertising – neither one of us has even been a big fan of Little Women (stage play, movie, or musical versions), and we’ve long been puzzled about the hold this story has had on generations of American women. We both managed to avoid the book during our formative years, and nothing in the adaptations that we had seen seemed to justify the story’s popularity. However, Beaverton Civic Theatre’s current production of Little Women is a bit of a theatrical eye-opener. Is it the adaptation (by Marisha Chamberlain), the direction (by Doreen Lundberg), or the strong leads in this production? Probably all three factors have contributed to the shift in perspective that found us actually enjoying a show we were prepared to merely tolerate.

Lundberg’s casting of the four March sisters (Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy) works beautifully, and captures the enormous differences between each of the girls. The role of Jo is, of course, always the most fun – and Amanda Clark’s amazing skill as a physical comic is fully utilized – but don’t let that fool you. She brings a warmth and passion to her delivery that goes well beyond the comedic demands of the script, and captures not only her bold rejection of orthodoxy but also her fiercely mercurial love for her family. Priscilla Howell plays Meg as the polar opposite – her calm, dignified exterior conceals a young woman just discovering the possibility of love and romance. Howell’s embarrassed recounting of the party where she dared to flirt, drink champagne, and wear a low-cut gown breathes life into a character who, at first glance, seems in danger of being a Stepford daughter/wife. The role of the reclusive Beth allows for less breadth, but Madison Stoehr handles it nicely, and the audience watches her express through her music a personality inhibited by her extreme shyness (it helps, too, that she actually can play the piano!). Madeline Hagood does a fine job as the youngest daughter, the lovely but selfish and manipulative Amy. While Hagood easily captures Amy’s dark side, she also believably expresses the girl’s remorse and genuine affection for her entire family, in particular her nemesis, Jo.

While the supporting cast is somewhat uneven, there are a few real bright spots. Beth Jones (“Marmee”) portrays a three-dimensional woman who has sublimated her potential to play the role of perfect wife and mother. When she admits that she once dreamed of flying free, and encourages Jo to embrace a life of nonconformity, Jones is especially moving. Virginia Kincaid’s wealthy “Aunt March” is disturbingly caustic and militaristic, yet (like most of the other women) she finds the hidden warmth that helps define her character. Les Ico (“Laurie”) gets the only really interesting male role, and he makes the most of it. He and Clark create a believably platonic friendship that defines Laurie as the archetype of the enlightened male (at least for the 1860’s).

Alex Woodard’s detailed and lovely set expresses the shabby chic of the impoverished but genteel March family. Phyllis Fort’s period-appropriate costume design helps transport the audience to the Civil War era. Once again, director Doreen Lundberg’s attention to detail and eye for historical drama gives local audiences a glimpse of our shared past – and, in this case, may even inspire some viewers (including one of the reviewers) to read the book!

Beaverton Civic Theatre’s production of “Little Women” is playing at the Beaverton City Library Auditorium through December 21st, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m.









Monday, December 8, 2014

TITG’s Shrek, the Musical A Fine Family Outing

Maille O'Brien (the witch), Jeremiah
Stephens (Pinocchio) and ensemble.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

Theatre in the Grove’s holiday offering is not a Christmas show – or even a traditional holiday show – yet it is charmingly appropriate fare for this festive time of year. The first Sunday matinee was full to the brim with families spending a few hours together enjoying David Lindsay-Abaire’s lively musical adaptation of William Steig’s 1990 book and the 2001 Dreamworks movie. A striking feature of this show is that the shared family experience goes well beyond the audience to encompass all phases of the production. Director Jeanna Van Dyke makes it clear in her director’s notes that this is no accident – “On stage, and off stage (and even below the stage in the pit orchestra) are a number of family members working and playing together on Shrek; moms, dads, little brothers, big brothers, sisters, spouses, foster parents, nieces, nephews, nannies, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. This production is dedicated to Family.”

James Grimes (Donkey)
The story of the ogre Shrek finding true love is propelled by an enormous cast: forty plus actors and a surprisingly accomplished fourteen piece orchestra. Theatre in the Grove has one of the only Washington County stages capable of accommodating such a massive group, and (despite the fact that over half the cast are children) the costume and scene changes and blocking are seamless.

Like the movie, the witty script is designed for children but is laced with comic references that are clearly aimed at adults, and the show’s principals make sure that none of these touches are lost through a misplaced subtlety.  James Grimes (“Donkey”) gives an unforgettable performance – he is a strong singer and adept comic whose uninhibited facial expressions and fluid dancing provide the electric charge that drives the show’s dynamics. Tristan Stewart (“Shrek”) brings a wide range of emotions and a powerful singing voice to the role of the lonely, misunderstood ogre who is initially feared but emerges as the show’s hero. “I Think I Got You Beat,” his duet with Michelle Bahr (“Princess Fiona”) is a curious twist on Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” but in Shrek the two compete hilariously to determine which of the two has had the more miserable childhood. Bahr is a fine singer and comedienne who manages to create endearing chemistry with her chubby green Romeo even before she reveals her own inner ogress.

Other particularly effective comic performances include Dan Bahr as “Lord Farquaad”, a nasty Toulouse-Lautrec sized villain with an outsized ego, Breanna Grimes, a gingerbread amputee with a lovely voice, Tom Robinson as a gender-bending Big Bad Wolf, and Jeremiah Stephens as Pinocchio, the new spokesperson for puppet pride (“I’m wood, I’m good, get used to it!”).

The entire Theatre in the Grove community has obviously put their hearts into Shrek, the Musical, and the result is everything that Director Van Dyke wants – a family-friendly, family-filled fantasy suitable and entertaining for all ages. The music, colorful costumes, clever choreography (where else can you see a kick-line done on knee-pads?), and simple but effective set design work together to enhance the cast’s dedication and obvious joy as they present this entertaining musical to brighten the holiday season. Warning – it is a long show, and parents are advised to get their littler ones out of their seats to burn off some energy at intermission!

“Shrek, the Musical” is running at Forest Grove’s Theatre in the Grove through December 21 with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

BROADWAY ROSE: A Christmas Survival Guide

Megan Carver, Craig Allen, Amy Jo Halliday, and Ben Farmer.

By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Is there really a war on Christmas? If so, the news has not yet reached Broadway Rose. However, the venerable theater company’s 2014 tribute to the holiday season, A Christmas Survival Guide, makes it clear that there is a shootin’ war on Christmas clich├ęs, including (unfortunately) classic holiday theater fare.

Sad to say, the thin premise of “Dr. Ben’s” absurd “Christmas Survival Guide” is inadequate to link the show’s 18 musical numbers into an engaging narrative. Many of the songs/skits are cute, witty, and occasionally touching – but even a top-notch Broadway Rose cast is hard-pressed to make a silk purse out of this particular sow’s ear. The result is an entertaining bit of holiday fluff that, while well worth seeing, still makes us wish it had been so much more.

Craig Allen, Megan Carver, Ben Farmer, and Amy Jo Halliday are four of the strongest performers in the Portland musical theater world, and each gives everything they’ve got to their numbers. Their voices blend beautifully in several ensemble pieces, and their individual spots are uniformly excellent. The vocal expertise is complemented by a hot trio of musicians led by music director/pianist Jeffrey Childs, and the actors’ occasional interaction with Childs is a clever and effective touch.

Halliday’s turn as the angst-riddled Mrs. Claus in “Surabaya Santa” is hilariously Teutonic; she evokes memories of Lotte Lenya and Marlene Dietrich, giving her a chance to show off comedic skills that rival her vocal ability. Carver’s manic delivery of “The Twelve Steps of Christmas” is another comic highlight of the show – she milks the song for all it’s worth, and it pays off with audience appreciation. The chaotic staging and arrangement of “Silver Bells” does not really allow Farmer to display his excellent voice, but his portrayal of Elvis in “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” more than compensates – and his Presley-esque interaction with the audience closes the first act with a bang. “This Will Be the Best Christmas Ever” features Allen and Carver in a classic song of miscommunication; Allen’s quiet insistence on decorating the tree with Star Wars ornaments and Carver’s single-minded determination to remove them nicely expresses the quandary of couples with misaligned holiday expectations – and where, oh where, did they get that wonderful Yoda tree-topper?

Despite the disjointed nature of the script, director Dan Murphy makes sure that the show runs smoothly.  Sound and lighting are flawless, the attractive single set allows for rapid shifts in locale, and the numbers are cast so that the many changes of costume and persona do not slow down the production. The Director’s notes accurately assert that “some of the songs are upbeat and bouncy, some funny, some poignant…some will be new, some will be familiar” – all true. However, we must differ with his belief that the songs are “all terrific” – there are a few too many formulaic potboilers and not enough heartwarming holiday classics to fulfill Murphy’s “guarantee there will be something in this show that will catch you reflecting on a Christmas past, or excite you for a Christmas future, all the while enjoying the Christmas present.”

“A Christmas Survival Guide” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage Theater in Tigard through December 21.




Rachel Thomas, Carl
Dahlquist, Lindsey Bruno, and Andy Roberts.
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Washington County’s 2014 holiday season is rife with non-traditional theatrical fare, which makes HART Theatre’s decision to present a thoroughly conventional production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas a bold and refreshing move. Director Matt Russell is an admitted Christmas fanatic, and he has put together a fine production to honor his favorite time of year. From the opening notes of “Happy Holidays” to the closing, an audience sing-along of perennial favorite “White Christmas,” the viewers are bathed in the comfort of a familiar tale and wonderful songs that have become a treasured part of America’s holiday culture.

 Grace Malloy
Even those few who are not familiar with the story will recognize its elements – nice boy meets girl, cherished army leader is in trouble after war ends, nice boy loses girl, loyal soldiers save the day for the “Old Man”, nice boy gets girl back again, playboy gets lots of girls but doesn’t recognize true love until she shows him the error of his ways. Add in “let’s do the show here!” and a retired chorine still in thrall to the siren song of show biz plus one lonely granddaughter with hidden talent, season with 21 classic Irving Berlin songs, and the evening is complete.

In a large, enthusiastic and generally strong cast, Lindsey Bruno (“Betty Haynes”), Rachel Thomas (“Judy Haynes”), and Sarah Fuller (“Martha Watson”) are real standouts. All three have beautiful solo voices, and when they join forces (as in “Sisters” and “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun”) it’s pure ambrosia. Bruno’s rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is exquisite – perhaps the best number of the evening.

Andy Roberts (nice guy “Bob Wallace”) and Carl Dahlquist (playboy “Phil Davis”) play the former army buddies turned song and dance stars. Dahlquist and Thomas make a cute couple, and they team up especially well for “I Love A Piano.” Roberts’ voice is perfect for his touching rendition of “Count Your Blessings” with Grace Malloy (“Susan Waverly”). Seventh grader Malloy shines as the studious granddaughter who surprises everybody (including the audience) with her newly discovered song and dance prowess.

The other 16 cast members fill countless roles, with lightning fast shifts from one persona to the next. Vocal Director Alice Dalrymple has crafted a strong vocal ensemble; several chorus members have cameos that further demonstrate the depth of the cast’s musical ability. Choreographer Kate Jahnson’s dance ensemble also sparkles with individual displays of talent. Along with Malloy, the four smaller children in the cast are shameless scene-stealers, especially when they silently rehearse their dance numbers at the back of the stage.

Karen Roder’s costuming for White Christmas must have been a real labor of love, as some characters wear 6+ outfits and all attire is period appropriate to the forties and mid-fifties. The small band of five musicians, conducted by accompanist Beth Karp, helps to keep everyone on key and on beat through the show’s 2+ hours of nearly nonstop singing and dancing.

Many thanks to HART for giving Washington County audiences a good old-fashioned family show that would melt the heart of even the Grinchiest of Grinches!

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington Street, Hillsboro through Sunday, December 21 with 7:30 p.m. performances on Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:00 p.m..







Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Bag & Baggage’s Latest Holiday Massacre

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Two years ago, we saw our first Bag & Baggage holiday production, Farndale Avenue’s…Christmas Carol and left the theater somewhat puzzled. The show was pure slapstick, and the audience’s enthusiastic response made us feel like the only ones left out of a huge inside joke. Last year’s radio parody, It’s A (Somewhat) Wonderful Life made more sense – a show so funny that it easily earned every laugh. Finally, this year we get it. Miracle on 43d Street: A 1940’s Holiday Radio Massacre is not just a farce, it’s part of a series intended by Director/Adaptor Scott Palmer as an early Christmas gift for Bag & Baggage’s regular supporters, and it is in this spirit that the show must be taken.

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
The “gift” is showing us another side of a group of outlandishly talented actors who regular populate Bag & Baggage’s more conventional productions. Jessica Geffen’s outrageously ditzy portrayal of Lana North-Berkshire-Whiteside is imbued with additional depth (if that word can be used in this context!) following hard on the heels of her icy portrayal of Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible. Geffen milks the removal of her gloves like Gypsy Rose Lee on steroids, setting the stage for two hours of comedic one-upmanship. Not to be outdone, Clara Hillier’s venomous Casca in 2013’s Julius Caesar gives way deliciously to drama queen extraordinaire Felicity Fay Fitzpatrick, perhaps the dumbest diva Broadway ever bred.  Speaking of Shakespeare, Bag & Baggage company regulars Gary Strong and Luke Armstrong (as Winston Whiteside and Anthony Antonino) forsake the classic comedy of last summer’s Love’s Labours Lost for this winter’s anything-but-classic holiday parody, bringing non-stop absurdist energy to the schizophrenic demands of the Palmer’s adaptation. Reprising his role as foley artist Peter Paulsen from last year’s radio show, Brandon McFarland moves from dead drunk in 2013 to just plain dead in 2014  – but (with the help of the rest of the cast) his frenetic animation belies his demise.

The final two cast members are newcomers to the Bag & Baggage company, but we hope that by next Christmas they, too, will be regulars – both bring a lot to the show. Chase Fulton (as handsome film star “Donald Donaldson”) comes closest to the role of straight man; his upright stance and clear delivery give him the ambience of a (slightly tarnished) Dudley Do-Right. By contrast, Jeremy Sloan’s character is as delightfully un-straight manly as can be. His hilarious interpretation of New York police officer Gilroy Gildersleeve is charmingly fey, and every time he opens his mouth or sashays across the stage he gets another laugh.

Photo by Casey Campbell Photography
Our only issue with the show is that the stage layout (with foley table stage left and the radio performers’ microphone stage right) splits the action into two distinct areas, yet the activity on both sides is non-stop. Placing the table to the rear center would allow the audience to simultaneously take in the dumbshow at the foley table and the dialogue at the microphone.

Also reprising its role from last year is the art deco WBNB Radio backdrop, a stunning piece of set construction with functional clock and “on air” lights to ensure that the audience knows exactly where the story is set and when the characters are on the air. Costumes are period appropriate; Geffen’s abundant cleavage provides a key sight gag that is enhanced by her gaudily gauche attire.

Bag & Baggage’s regular audience does not need to be told about this show – they are already on board (and, in fact, filled much of the house for preview night). However, many of the evening’s attendees were newcomers (Palmer polled the house during his introductory remarks), and they clearly enjoyed the experience too.

Bag & Baggage’s A Miracle on 43d Street, A Holiday Radio Massacre is playing at Hillsboro’s Venetian Theatre, 253 E. Main Street, through December 23, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:00 pm, and two extra shows Monday/Tuesday December 23-24 at 7:30 pm.