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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST PRESENTS "THE NUTCRACKER" DECEMBER 13-14



We all have our own beloved traditions during the Christmas season, and one of mine is seeing the dancers from Dance Theatre Northwest bring Peter Tchaikovsky's beautiful ballet "The Nutcracker" to life on the stage, once again. This year's performances take place on Saturday, Dec. 13, at  2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., as well as on Sunday, Dec. 14, at 4 p.m. in the Mount Tahoma High School Auditorium, 4634 South 74th Street, Tacoma, WA 98409. 

Unlike some other Puget Sound area productions of "The Nutcracker," Dance Theatre Northwest's is quickly and easily reached from Interstate 5, has plenty of FREE on-site parking, and easy wheelchair accessibility. Those might be good reasons to choose it, but the main reason is the quality of the dancing, not to mention the gorgeous costumes and scenery. It will put you in a festive mood, for sure.




"I am very excited about the weekend," Kirk-Stauffer said in an email. "The dancers are so well-prepared. The show has a few surprises, some new things, and a lot of beautiful scenes with classical ballet. We are fortunate enough to be able to rotate the cast so that each performance will be a little different."  

They might each be a little different, but I promise you that they will be equally impressive and memorable. Like family heirloom ornaments, or photos from Christmases past, these performances feel more precious to me every year. That is because I have watched so many young dancers grow and mature under the guidance of Artist Director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer and her Associate Artistic Director and DTN company member, Vadne Domeika. You can read about both of these amazing women and other members of the company here.  

"It feels great to be able to give so many opportunities to so many talented, hard-working young performers," Kirk-Stauffer said. 

Wouldn't it feel great to you to be part of this audience? You can be sure of reserving a seat if you buy tickets in advance through this online box office. Ticket prices for seniors, students, and children are $11-$13, and adult tickets $22-$26. DTNW offers discounts for groups and members of the military. At any price, you will find it worth every cent and then some. Don't miss it!


Questions? Just call Dance Theatre Northwest at (253) 778-6534 or check their website: http://DTNW.org 

Photos by Max Zakarhov


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Last-Minute Plans Are Often the Best—"AN EVENING OF SONGS IN OLD TOWN" Benefits "CLASSICAL TUESDAYS" Free Concert Series


Note: It has been an exceptionally busy week behind the scenes at Good Life Northwest, so I apologize for not posting this sooner, especially when I received word of it in plenty of time. Here is a wonderful way to spend your Tuesday evening, December 9th. 

If you've ever driven through North Tacoma's Old Town neighborhood, you've probably admired the elegantly restored building on the water side, housing the John Connelly Law Offices, I remember when it was an Italian restaurant with an amazing view, but I have not been inside since the restaurant closed. Some of that Italian ambience will return on Tuesday night, at 7 p.m., when the gracious law office will both sponsor and host the annual Wine & Song Benefit for Classical Tuesdays in Old TownALL proceeds will go toward sustaining this wonderful series of free concerts*. When you read on, you will see that the ticket price of $25.00 per person is a bargain.


 Gino Lucchetti, tenor—photo provided by Classical Tuesdays
The evening's entertainment will feature three great talents: tenor Gino Lucchetti, baritone Charles Robert Stephens, and the pianist and composer  Jeffrey Moidel, who also wrote some of the songs, based on the poetry of Pablo Neruda. Guests will enjoy hits from Italian opera, Neapolitan songs, and romantic numbers made popular in the 1940s and '50s. The program will end with the two singers delighting everyone with their duets. 

Charles Robert Stephens, baritone — photo provided by Classical Tuesdays
Then, when the singing ends, the party begins. 

After enjoying the music, guests will mingle for conversation over a glass of wine poured by Gingko Forest Winery Tasting Room and served with delicious finger foods, all included in the price. How could there be a more delightful way to spend an evening?

When & where:
Tuesday, December 9th, 2014, at 7 pm.
John Connelly Law Offices, 2301 N. 30th St., Old Town Tacoma


$25 tickets available at Bayview Optical, 2217 North 30th Street #106
No credit cards. Cash or check only.

*Free monthly concerts in North Tacoma. October through February, 2nd Tuesdays. Presented by Old Town Business & Professionals Association.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

ART OF THE AMERICAN WEST— HAUB FAMILY COLLECTION AT TACOMA ART MUSEUM IS CITY'S NEW PRIDE AND GLORY


Clyde Aspevig (American, born 1951) 
White Cliffs of the Missouri, 2009
Oil on canvas
40 × 60 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.4

Without stepping outside the Tacoma Art Museum last week, I traveled across a vast region and 200 years of American history. The ghosts of my own ancestors no longer resided in sepia tone portraits back at home, but suddenly lived again in paintings and sculptures connected with their experiences and the grandeur of the land they crossed to reach Washington Territory. 


E. Martin Hennings (American, 1886  1956) 
Towering Aspens, circa 1940
Oil on canvas
20 × 20 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.61

I felt the burning sun and the coolness of forests, smelled the sage and the scent of horses, heard the winds blow, and tasted the dust, all thanks to the Haub family’s generous gift of 295 works of American Western art, a collection ranking nationally in the top dozen or so of its type and the first in the Northwest. With works that range from photographic realism to more stylized images, it presents a stunning, emotionally moving panorama of influences that helped to shape our nation's character.

Charles Schreyvogel (1861  1912) 
The Last Drop, 1900
Oil on canvas
16 × 20 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.117

At the press preview, preceding the grand opening November 15, 2014, I stood in awe. The Haub Family Collection of Western American Art is contained in four new galleries in the 16,000 square feet of additional space recently added (on schedule and on budget). In its 79-year history, the museum has never received a gift like this one. Director Stephanie Stebich spoke to the gathered press audience, about the fact that this collection had been very private before the Haub’s decided to give their amazing gift.

“It was an incredible revelation,” she said. “In the field of Western American art, this is a really exciting moment. They were purposely buying for the collection, for the museum, for the city of Tacoma.”


Curt Walters (American, born 1950) 
Supreme Moment of Evening, 1993
Oil on canvas
40 x 60 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.134

Erivan and Helga Haub are a German couple known internationally for their philanthropy, and they reside in both Germany and the United States. Back in the 1950s, they developed a great love for Tacoma after visiting here and even chose to have all three of their children born in this city. After acquiring a ranch in Wyoming and buying one painting depicting the American West, they began collecting Western art. Along with pieces by artists whose names we all know—like Bierstadt, Remington, Moran, and Russell—they collected works of magnificent beauty and power by 136 others, including many living today.


Charles M. Russell (American, 1864  1926) 
A Bronc Twister, modeled 1911; cast circa 19291933
Bronze
18 × 14½ × 9½ inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.109
Curator Laura Fry did an amazing job when she created themed galleries that celebrate some beloved images, like Albert Bierstadt’s romanticized views, even as other pieces remind us how much of this story is myth. The reality of life in the West included both beauty and hardship, along with all the diversity of mankind.


Mian Situ (ChineseAmerican, born 1953) 
The Entrepreneur—San Francisco, 2006
Oil on canvas
44 × 54 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.126
“We have the image of this very Caucasian cowboy that Hollywood has given us,” Fry said during our tour. “In reality, less than 50% of the original cowboys were white. They were Native American; they were African-American; some of them  were Asians. They were from all kinds of backgrounds.” 

So were the 140 artists represented in these galleries, including 13 females, three Native Americans, two Asian Americans, and 20 artists born in Europe. Whether in bronze, oils, or watercolor, these works of art capture the feeling of the Western experience. 

Albert Bierstadt (GermanAmerican, 1830  1902) 
Departure of an Indian War Party, 1865
Oil on board
17¼ × 24¼ inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.8
The West is more than a place. It is a state of mind, a bigger-than-life drama, a sense of freedom and opportunity, the liberation of wide open spaces in which individuals can lose, find, or reinvent themselves. It's qualities are grand rather than timid, raw rather than refined. Those of us descended from pioneers or more recent immigrants like to think we retain some of their adventurous nature, optimism, and fortitude in our genes. Those descended from the indigenous people have their own feelings about the West, as do Erivan and Helga Haub from Germany. No matter where you were born, there is something about the American West and the art depicting it that touches, inspires and humbles us, all at the same time. 


Charles Bird King (American, 1785  1862) 
Wanata (The Charger), Grand Chief of the Sioux, 1826
Oil on canvas
39 × 27¼ inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.76

As the press crowd moved on through the galleries that day, I had a private moment with Director Stebich, who remarked that she was heartened by my (obvious) enthusiasm. 

“My heart is palpitating,” I told her.

“I will tell that to the Haubs when I see them next week,” she replied, smiling.


I hope she did. 



Bill Schenck (American, born 1947) 
South of the San Juan River, 2002
Oil on canvas
48 × 80 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.116

The Tacoma Art Museum is now open six days a week, with a free day each month. To help plan your visit, please click here

Now, enjoy a few more images:



John Nieto (American, born 1936) 
Buffalo at Sunset, 1996
Acrylic on canvas
48 × 60 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.89

Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822  1899) 
Rocky Bear and Chief Red Shirt, 1889
Oil on canvas
25 × 39¾ inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.12

Frederic Remington (American, 1861  1909) 
Conjuring Back the Buffalo, circa 1889
Oil on canvas
35 × 20 inches
Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection, Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub, 2014.6.100




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Friday, November 7, 2014

NOVEMBER IN THE NORTHWEST — AUTUMN LEAVES, VIDEO, AND A CLASSIC POEM



November in the Northwest can mean going from a day with weather like you see in this video...




to the gorgeous day that was Friday, November 7, 2014.

photo by David R.Brown—taken in Puyallup WA
Please enjoy these photos and one of several poems titled "Autumn" written by the English poet John Clare (1793-1864).



Autumn

by John Clare

    I love the fitful gust that shakes
    The casement all the day,
    And from the glossy elm tree takes
    The faded leaves away,
    Twirling them by the window pane
    With thousand others down the lane.



photo by Candace Brown 2014
    I love to see the shaking twig
    Dance till the shut of eve,
    The sparrow on the cottage rig,
    Whose chirp would make believe
    That Spring was just now flirting by
    In Summer's lap with flowers to lie.



photo by Candace Brown 2014
    I love to see the cottage smoke
    Curl upwards through the trees,
    The pigeons nestled round the cote
    On November days like these;
    The cock upon the dunghill crowing,
    The mill sails on the heath a-going.



photo by David R. Brown
    The feather from the raven's breast
    Falls on the stubble lea,
    The acorns near the old crow's nest
    Drop pattering down the tree;
    The grunting pigs, that wait for all,
    Scramble and hurry where they fall.


photo by David R. Brown 2014

photo by Candace Brown 2014
photo by Candace Brown 2014
photo by Candace Brown 2014
photo by Candace Brown 2014

Remember to pause and see the beauty all around you in unexpected places.

photo by Candace Brown 2014

Monday, October 13, 2014

Review: "KINKY BOOTS" KICKS SOME FUN INTO A FETISH AT THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE


Kyle Taylor Parker stars as Lola in the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
​Credit Matthew Murphy
The old Chinese dragon, coiled around the chandelier on the ceiling of Seattle's historic 5th Avenue Theatre, must have been hanging on for dear life last Thursday night. It was the press opening of Kinky Boots, and by the end, it felt like a party. The orchestra rocked the house—I mean you could feel the beat in its bones—and everyone got on their feet, wildly applauding. Stir together portions of cabaret, poignancy, excellent and plentiful humor, elements of a rock concert and a Fourth of July fireworks show, and you might begin to understand why.

The recipe for this success includes top quality ingredients in every category—spectacular music, acting, vocals, choreography, sets, lighting, costumes, sound, and more. Beginning with my first impression of the realistic opening street scene outside an old brick building, and on to a dazzling fashion show cat walk, I could hardly blink for fear of missing something. One of my greatest pleasures at this theater is the set designs, lighting, and music, and all were as good as it gets. Watching the clever scenes change seamlessly before our eyes added to the fascination. 


The cast of the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Credit Matthew Murphy
I had never seen the movie version of Kinky Boots, and didn't know what to expect. This musical adaptation came about through a collaboration between writer Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper, who did the music and lyrics. This is the show's first national tour since appearing on Broadway. Judging by the audience's reaction, I dare say virtually everyone there considered the ticket price a bargain. This unusual story, apparently based on a true incident and set in England in modern times, brings together the fates of the failing Price and Son shoe factory and a group of male cross-dressers with a need for sturdy, but super sexy, high heeled boots. As I said, I didn't know what to expect, but I know I did not expect to be so thoroughly entertained.

Kyle Taylor Parker, a cast member of the original Broadway production, brings his considerable pizzazz to Seattle as the gorgeous, sequined, and in-charge character "Lola," who was formerly a trained boxer named Simon. The beautiful "Angels" surrounding Lola are men too. You might find yourself staring in disbelief. I actually checked the program's "Who's Who" pages to be sure they really had male names because they were so convincing as women. 


Lola (Kyle Taylor Parker, left) and Charlie Price (Steven Booth, right) in the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
​Credit Matthew Murphy
While dealing with the demands of a sexy but shallow, social-climbing fiancée, Nicola (Grace Stockdale), Charlie Price (Steven Booth), the reluctant heir of his dead father's shoe business, finds himself questioning everything. Should he give up on his father's legacy, sell the factory to a condo developer, or go against Nicola and try to save it by making a bold move? His employees rebel, the risks seem enormous, and meanwhile, he finds himself unexpectedly developing a friendship (totally platonic) with Lola/Simon, partly based on a commonality—both of them loving and wanting to be loved by fathers who just couldn't see, understand, or accept who they really were. But the friendship is also based on the fact that they just genuinely like each other, which is, in some ways, the point of the whole thing, that is, looking past prejudgements to see the person inside, who might not be so different from ourselves.

A powerful and charismatic presence on the stage, Parker's Lola will charm you, entertain you, and—whether you believe it or not right now—probably convince you that judging less and seeing more of the humanity in every human being makes everyone freer to make friends with people different than themselves and live their best lives. Deep down, we're not all that different. At the same time, the musical doesn't get too pushy about being open-minded. The factory workers, as expected, bring plenty of doubts, distrust, and preconceived notions to the idea of saving the shoe factory by meeting the needs of a niche market, namely drag queens. 


The cast of the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
​Credit Matthew Murphy
Although I don't believe most people attend musicals expecting anything truly profound to emerge, and this one is no exception. However, it does relate to all of us, even those who might totally reject the idea of cross-dressers, because of its universal themes and emotions. It is playful and serious at the same time, without taking itself too seriously. Mini plots and layers of relationships keep things interesting. Lindsay Nicole Chambers was a complete delight as Price and Son employee Lauren, smitten with Charlie (Steve Booth), her boss. 


Lauren (Lindsay Nicole Chambers) and Charlie Price (Steven Booth) in the First National Tour of Kinky Boots, coming to The 5th Avenue Theatre.
​Credit Matthew Murphy
Will Charlie choose Nicola or Lauren? Will his innovative but highly risky idea bring success or disaster? Can they beat both the clock and the competition? Will macho employee Don (Joe Coots) or his co-workers cause trouble or foster cohesion? (Will Charlie put his pants back on?) Sure, the answers are pretty predictable, but I still won't tell you. I will tell you to get your tickets now, because this one is a "must see. The amount of talent, the polished performances, and the visual impact, will just astound you. Congratulations to everyone involved! 

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

BEST FALL BARGAIN EVER—$2.00 admission for a whole day of fun at NORDIC FESTIVAL


Embla Lodge No. 2 members Toren Parker (left) and Chris Engstrom (right) tempt shoppers at Nordic Festival.
You don't have to be Norwegian to love all the delightful aspects of traditional Norwegian culture—things like coffee, meatballs, butter cookies, good music, warm woolen mittens and sweaters, traditional folk costumes, dancing, and handcrafted treasure. Now you can enjoy these pleasures close to home. An organization called The Daughters of Norwayover a century old, has local lodges all over the United States, but the largest—Embla Lodge No. 2—is in Tacoma, Washington. Every October, the lodge throws a party to celebrate its proud heritage. The 2014 "Nordic Festival" takes place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 11, at Edgemont Junior High School, 2300 110th Ave. E., in Edgewood, Washington. 

Embla's Leikarring dancers wearing traditional costumes called  "bunads"
In addition to live entertainment, delicious food, unique shopping opportunities, and more, there will be drawings for prizes at regular intervals all day. Not only that, the admission is only $2.00, FREE for children under 12, and parking is also FREE. 



For more information about the festival, or the lodge, contact Festival Chair Diane Nelson at (253) 370-0730 or dlnelson25@comcast.net. 


"Nordic Spirit" performing at a past Nordic Festival


emblaofficers.png
Embla Lodge #2 Officers 2013
Officers in front row (L to R): Elda Sulerud, Judie Miller, Diane Nelson (VP), Mardy
Fairchild (Pres.), Karen Bell, Melody Stepp, Maren Johnson; Back Row (l-rt): Sarah Callow,
Torun Parker, Kari Stackpole, Julie Touchette, Karen Kunkle, Kirsten Bell, Vonnie Stone,
Chris Engstrom


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

INSPIRED DANCE THEATRE NORTHWEST PERFORMANCES AT UNIVERSITY PLACE CIVIC CENTER THIS FRIDAY, SEPT. 26



Fall, and the typical rain, arrived this week, but the atmosphere of art appreciation in University Place, Washington, keeps blooming, with Dance Theatre Northwest as the brightest blossom in that bouquet. Artistic Director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer seems to be having an especially exciting year, adding to her long list of original dance numbers she has choreographed and presented. You can see the DTNW company and students perform them this Friday night, September 26, when UP for Arts launches their Fall Art and Concert, including this production, "Dance Illuminations." The event takes place in the Civic/Library Atrium at 3609 Market Square, University Place, WA, 98464, between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The event also includes the work of fine artist Retha Hayward and watercolor artist Jason Bordash. 


As inspired as Kirk-Stauffer felt during 2014, her creativity, mind, heart, and energies are already focused on interpreting an object of inspiration that doesn't even physically exist yet, but which will become a showpiece of this thriving community that is a next-door neighbor to Tacoma. Dance Theatre Northwest is developing an entirely new work, as yet unnamed, based on a public art installation planned for the University Place Civic Center Atrium, appearing in the spring of 2015. It will be called "Between Sea and Sky" and has been embraced by the citizens of UP. As long ago as December of 2013, the Tacoma News Tribune reported on the unexpected speed of, and enthusiasm behind, local fundraising for this artwork, a piece that will cascade from the atrium's ceiling and reflect the abundant natural daylight. 


"I have been choreographing and presenting art inspired dance works "Illuminations"since our Dégas art-inspired ballet, 'The Red Shoes,'" Kirk-Stauffer told me. "After working for several years creating and lecturing about dance pieces that relate to works at the Tacoma Museum of Glass, I realize that this has become a kind of self-actualizing experience."

She says the audiences, the respective artists, and educators all seem to love the way this draw more attention to detail. I know that when I attended the DTNW performance at the Museum of Glass, I was amazed by how she could interpret the art of glass through the art of dance. I had never seen such an attempt before and found it fascinating.

"The challenge of bringing more insight into each specific work of art, using dance, really drives my creativity," she added, at it is apparent. Because "Between Sea and Sky" will be such a significant piece of public art for the City of University Place, she  is approaching this new work it inspired in the same way she approached other signature dance piece, such as "Strike Up the Band," "The Red Shoes," "Almost Blue," and and "Tribute," the Museum of Glass piece. 


"Other recent pieces of note," she said, "include "Capriccio," "Fire To Rain," "One Voice," "Man On The Street," and "Nite Lites," which are all being presented at the Atrium on September 26th for UP For Art.

What a perfect way to begin a new season. I highly recommend that you plan to be there on Friday night to see this wonderful showcase of dance talent. Tickets are only $10 for General Admission and $5 for Students. 

P.S. I hear the "Bluebird Pas De Deux" with music by Peter Tchaikovsky will be spectacular!

All photos were taken by Maks Zakharov.

Monday, September 22, 2014

"THE INVISIBLE HAND" GRIPS MORALITY BY THE THROAT AT ACT THEATRE — A Review

Cast Photo - Gun Silhouette
Photo: Tim Durkan 
My evening at ACT Theatre, in Seattle, to see the West Coast premier of Ayad Akhtar's play "The Invisible Hand," began in an odd way. The older gentleman sitting next to me looked down at the stage and made a grim prediction as he stared at the square enclosure, made of what looked cement blocks, represented a prison cell in Pakistan. It contained a table, chairs, and a cot covered with a filthy mattress, pillow, and blanket.The man said to his wife something like, "This could make me uncomfortable." 

It turned out that, as a child, he had been trapped in a cave for hours, in total darkness, a fact he believed led to his lifelong claustrophobia, so the idea of imprisonment triggered those feelings. Little did he know, however, how prophetic his words would turn out to be, for both the characters in the play and audience. There on the stage, we would soon see a cast of four build the structure of an intense plot of this thriller, one brick of drama at a time, using moments of poignancy and even humor as mortar. For two hours, it held us captive.


Connor Toms cuffed 
Photo: Chris Bennion
The story features Nick Bright (Connors Tom), a hotshot employee of a major American investment bank, who has been kidnapped by a militant Islamic group and held for a ransom no one is interested in paying. Therefore, he ends up in a situation where he must put his financial knowledge and talents to work to invest in the stock market on behalf on his captors, while earning his own ransom money.


Connor Toms and Elijah Alexander with gun 
Photo: Chris Bennion 
Those captors are Bashir (Elijah Alexander), Dar (Erwin Galan) and Imam Saleem (William Ontiveros), but another player in this story, and the source of its title, is "the invisible hand," a term from the world of finance. It refers to a theoretical and unseen force in the marketplace. The idea is that individual investors, motivated by only their own best interest, unintentionally benefit the larger society, because their decisions create a free market based on simple supply and demand. Supposedly, when trade exists in this state, in the absence of governmental interference, the market will find its own point of equilibrium and wealth distribution through competition and price adjustments to meet what the market will bear. 


William Ontiveros grips Elijah Alexander 
Photo: Chris Bennion 
In this drama, morality itself becomes a free market that fluctuates with individual agendas and motivations. We watch it morph into something we didn't expect, an entity that creates its own justification for existence. Throw in a case of Stockholm syndrome, plus a twisted element of enjoyment in this mutual pursuit of profit, and you have the makings of seductive monster of a plot, a situation growing ever more out of control, with horrifying consequences. The young American financial wizard must face his own contributions to this outcome. People in the audience had to face their own feelings about money and personal gain versus the good of a society.


online strategy with Connor Toms
Photo: Chris Bennion
As usual, ACT offers the highest quality acting, stage design, lighting, sound, and special effects, but the gem in that setting that sparkled most brightly for me was the performance by Elijah Alexander, as Bashir, the one who becomes the unexpected student of Bright's financial brilliance, as well as the other half of a relationship teetering on the brink of true friendship. That relationship is repeatedly and confusingly knocked back into one of captive and captor when it tips too far. Power shifts from one to the other in a most fascinating way.

Bashir grew up in the U.K. and speaks with a Cockney accent, facts that give him a whole different dimension and work to dissolve some stereotypes. In so many ways, he is a most likable guy, at least at first. In fact, as part of the irony of politics and war, we can see the common humanity among all four characters and the simple truth that all people want the same basic things—security, work, food, and family. I was drawn into age-old issues of competition and conflict among the planet's people and how money can sway convictions.


Elijah Alexander and Connor Toms and comics 
Photo: Chris Bennion 
Alexander's natural and spellbinding acting brings Bashir to life as someone we will not forget. Ontiveros did an excellent job as Imam Saleem, and Galan's character, Dar, contributed additional humanity to the story. Connor Tom, as Nick Bright, performed best during the difficult scenes that involved pain and anguish, but don't think the play is entirely dark. Just like real life, it is experienced with a mixture of emotions, which is part of the point of the whole thing. Mankind exists in a self-made prison built of competition, prejudice, fear, and greed made tolerable by compassion and humor.

I highly recommend "The Invisible Hand." The man sitting next to me was right in predicting that it would be uncomfortable at times, but it is also deeply thought provoking and moving, so worth the price of a ticket. 

You have only until Sunday, September 28, to see this most excellent production, so be sure to reserve your seats today. Here is the link to the online box office. Please be aware that, since the play deals with terrorism, it involves violence and adult language, so is not suitable for children under 14, according to the theater.

You can read a fascinating interview with playwright Ayad Akhtar here.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

REVIEW: "A CHORUS LINE" AT THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE KICKS AWAY YOUR ILLUSIONS ABOUT A LIFE IN THE ARTS


Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre high kicked, tapped, and sang its way into the 2014-2015 season with the Broadway hit musical "A Chorus Line" (September 3-28), and during the drive home on opening night, my husband and I talked about its pluses (many) and minuses (very few.) I also wondered aloud why chorus lines themselves hold so much appeal, for the people in them and the people admiring them. Why does mankind need chorus lines? The answer is deep, my friend, very deep. But first, let's talk about this show.


The company of A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.    
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
The musical takes us from auditions through the long and harrowing process of elimination that leads to the final selection and the chorus line's glittering finale. It's sometimes a brutal ride. The pressures of this ordeal bring out the angst, secret backgrounds, and emotional baggage of those who want, more than anything, to end up in the chorus line. Taking us along on the journey is a most talented groups of performers with full credentials. Chryssie Whitehead stars in the lead role of Cassie in a cast featuring not only many who have already made a name for themselves in Seattle, but also natives of several other Northwest cities, such as Tacoma*, Bellevue, Everett, and Portland. 


Chryssie Whitehead stars as Cassie in The 5th Avenue Theatre's production of A Chorus Line.  
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
If singing and dancing are the strength of this entertainment genre, in this case, the dancing was stronger than the singing, in my opinion, only because the dancing was unbeatable. When small groups merged into one, the perfect choreography, the professionalism, the years of training, all showed. They were so together that it brought a thrill. 

The same applies to the 5th Avenue's outstanding orchestra. I've never heard those amazing musician sound better than on opening night of "A Chorus Line." In terms of aural delights, let me also complement the sound design as superb. Everything seemed well balanced and at just the right volume, at least from my seat. I always appreciate the lighting at this theater, and it, too, added so much, creating a jewel box of paints on a dark pallet one moment and an almost blinding golden nakedness of illumination the next. When it came to acting, my husband and I agreed that not a couple of cast members could not "sell" their characters as convincingly as others, but we still enjoyed the show. Kudos to all.


Richard Peacock plays Richie in A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.  
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
The long success of "A Chorus Line," must be based on the fact that we can all relate to it. Although few of us actually become professional dancers—or actors, musicians, or athletes, for that matter—almost everyone has, at some time in their lives, fantasized overcoming their fears and living their dreams of glory. This show might scare you or dare you. It shows you what life is really like for those who put their hearts, souls, and bodies literally "on the line" to express what they cannot suppress. If you've lived that dream, you will recognize yourself. If you've ever waited in a line of nervous junior high school Physical Education students, while the two best athletes take turns choosing their teams, you will recognize yourself. 

Think of all the bad situations that involve lines—suspects in a jail lineup, bread lines during the Great Depression, whimpering 1950s and '60s era school kids in line for vaccinations, the grocery store check stand at 5 p.m., gas rationing, Army draftees in Jockey shorts awaiting physicals, or the scene outside the ladies restroom during a short intermission. Even when they don't make us nervous or impatient, lines often make us compare ourselves to others, especially in situations of competition. Are we too tall or short, too fat or skinny, to early or late, old or young, good enough, smart enough, lucky enough? How do we measure up? 


The company of A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.    
Photo Credit Tracy Martin
As I looked at all those very fit dancers on the stage—real people with their huge variety of body shapes and sizes, actually living the so-called "glamour" of showbiz—I knew they've all been in the place of their characters, feeling at times like the last kid picked for the basketball team. And therein lies the raw truth and beauty of humanity. We are, at once, all the same and all different, and our existence is naturally chaotic, a puzzle made of a million pieces that may never fit together.

So why do some of us love chorus lines? They fulfill our fantasy of creating order from that chaos, of harmoniously synchronized effort and perfect unity. Go see "A Chorus Line" if for no reason than to realize that the cast is portraying something at least partially autobiographical and that those compelled to perform do so as much for themselves as for the audience, pushing past universal fears and insecurities toward achievement. Admire their courage and applaud their victories, for they represent victory for all.


The company of A Chorus Line at The 5th Avenue Theatre.    
Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
*Since I live in Tacoma, I especially want to mention Tacoma's own Greg McCormick Allen, who did a great job as "Larry" in this, his 23rd production at The 5th Avenue Theatre.