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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"ALADDIN" Makes Magic at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre

Adam Jacobs as Aladdin                Credt The 5th Avenue Theatre

If you could rub a magic lantern and ask the genie for three wishes during an evening of musical theater, including 1.) a visual feast of color, costumes, and interesting sets 2.) memorable tunes, fine voices, and well-crafted choreography, and 3.) plenty of laughs and lighthearted fun, I guarantee they would all be granted at The 5th Avenue Theatre's production of "Aladdin" in downtown Seattle. Once again, the city can be proud of a brand new home grown musical, this time adapted from the Academy Award-winning Disney animated film by the same name. It packs plenty of talent and Broadway ambitions.

"New musicals have become a large part of the mission of The 5th Avenue Theatre and we are thrilled that Disney has selected our theatre to produce the premiere of this new work," Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong said in a press release. The musical's director, Casey Nicholaw, comes fresh from his Broadway success with "The Book of Mormon."

"I am especially thrilled," Armstrong added, "to have Casey Nicholaw back at The 5th where his amazing career first got started." Nicholaw launched his profession as a choreographer at this theater in 2001, on "The Prince and the Pauper."

James Monroe Iglehart, as the Genie, takes center stage.   Credit The 5th Avenue Theatre

I never saw the 1992 Disney film, but this production contains many of the same magical aspects of Disney animation I loved as a child. Of course it has the handsome hero, beautiful princess,  the funny sidekicks, crazy antics, and the most elegantly evil villain of all, Jafar, played by Jonathan Freeman of Broadway fame, who also provided the voice in the original film.

And it has COLOR. Oh what color! Beginning with a curtain that looks like a patchwork of brilliant Persian carpets, then lifts into a stage-framing drapery of appropriate design, the whole production offered a jewel box of rich, vivid, delicious color with the added indulgence of sparkle, shimmer, and shine. I thought the cleverly designed sets worked well as they changed functions, and the whole thing felt extremely professional.

Aladdin, played by Adam Jacobs,  delivered his songs with power, confidence, and sensitivity, danced and leaped around the sets with remarkable agility, in a costume for which he was particularly "suitable" with his sculpted torso revealed under an open vest. Courtney Reed, as Princess Jasmine, brought her own storybook beauty to the stage and put her lovely voice to its best use in the more touching scenes. The culturally shocking insubordination of this princess who revolts against her father (Seรกn G. Griffen, perfectly cast as the Sultan) lacked believability, but so did the fake camels, the flying carpet, and the sword fights, without taking anything at all away from the fun of this engaging show.
Credit  The 5th Avenue Theatre

The inevitable funny sidekicks, in this case, Jafar's companion Iago—played by Don Darryl Rivera— and Aladdin's fellow street musicians—played by Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Brian Gonzales, and Brandon O’Neill—provided plenty of laughs, sometimes corny, but so what? Their talent came through, and it was all part of the charm of a production that doesn't pretend to be sophisticated, yet succeeds by being outlandish, clever, and highly entertaining. There is even a moral to the story.
Music Director Michael Kosarin can be proud of the orchestra for its flawless performances of about 15 tunes. My two favorites, both newly written for this production, were "A Million Miles Away" and "Somebody's Got Your Back."
But wait a minute! The story of Aladdin and the moral dilemma caused by his three wishes, could never have existed with the GENIE, brilliantly portrayed by James Monroe Iglehart. The appearance of this charismatic character really did feel like magic, immediately lifting the show's entertainment value up by several notches as he radiated irresistible energy, humor, and charm. His character even took us through some poignant moments, which Iglehart navigated with finesse.
I may not be qualified to play the role of a serious theater critic, in the eyes of some, but in the role of an average theatergoer, I know that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Looking around at the happy faces in the audience, and hearing people's comments, I'd say virtually everyone else there that evening did too. One thing is certain; the talented cast gave it their all through every song and dance. I came prepared not to play theater critic, but just to play. Come to have fun, and I guarantee you will too.

This world premier lasts only through July 31, so don't miss the chance to catch one of these last eight performances. Click here, right now, or call (206) 625-1900, to order tickets and you'll be sure to make some memories for your family, or relive some of your own.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Jazz it Up, BOBBY!" Show at Meydenbauer Will Honor Bob Hammer

Anyone who knows the Seatle jazz scene knows pianist and arranger Bob Hammer, or at least they think they do. They have heard him at the Pampas Room at El Goucho, the New Orleans Creole Restaurant, Jazz Alley, El Malecon, City Hall, and many other places. He has played regularly with Floyd Standifer, Buddy Catlett, Clarence Acox, and Ham Carson.

But some fans might not know much more about Hammer's interesting life than I did when I first sat down to interview him in a restaurant last week. For years, I'd heard the vague statement, "He's worked with everybody!" But I didn't really know what "everybody" meant. Now I do, and believe me, I'm impressed.

A partial list of famous people he has played with in bands, and/or written arrangements for, would include Henry "Red" Allen, Eddie Condon, Woody Herman, Pee Wee Russell, Charles Mingus, Gene Krupa, Wild Bill Davison, Jimmy McPartland, Muggsy Spanier, Lionel Hampton, and many more. Hammer worked for the Merv Griffin show in New York and played for stars like Jack Benny in Vegas. He performed at the Newport Jazz Festival and the famous Metropole, toured, recorded, worked the cruise ships.

And the whole time he and his wife Arlene were busy parenting five children."It was fun!" Hammer told me. "It didn't seem like a strain at the time, except you had to scramble to make a living. But if you were a musician you had to scramble anyway."

I asked professional tap dancer and producer Tim Hickey to arrange the meeting because I was eager to write about Hickey's most recent project, a show called "Jazz it Up, Bobby!" which is scheduled for July 28, at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue. It will pay tribute to Hammer's amazing career in New York, Las Vegas, and Seattle, alongside some of America's greatest names in music, a career that has already passed the sixty year mark and just keeps on going. Proceeds from ticket sales will also raise funds to help Hammer cope with the heavy burden of medical bills from a recent major surgery.

The show features the 11-piece Full Circle Jazz Ensemble, under the leadership of Nathaniel Paul-Schleimer, with vocalist Stephanie Porter, Latin dancers Maureen Munoz and Wladimir Pino Olivares doing a few numbers, and the expert tap dancing of Tim Hickey himself, who has his own impressive background in entertainment.

Ken Wiley, the host of the KPLU 88.5 radio program called "The Art of Jazz" will serve as emcee. Before his surgery, Hammer played piano in the Full Circle Jazz Ensemble, and he wrote all the arrangements used in this production.

"Bob Hammer is one of the NW's gems. A true jazz artist and creative composer/arranger," said trumpeter Bobby Medina, who is a member of the band and a well-known musician in his own right. "This upcoming show is going to present music that is unique, fun and entertaining to a wide range of people."

Although temporarily sidelined when it comes to actually performing, Hammer is still very involved and excited about the band, the show, and Seattle as a great place for musicians.

"It’s pretty remarkable for its size," he said during the interview. "It’s got a very lively musical community. It’s got astonishingly accomplished players. So I’m really enjoying my life up here." He moved to the Northwest in 1995.

Even at age 81, Hammer's plans and visions of things to come remain vivid and exciting. "It’s fun for me to write purely instrumental things as I see them and hear them," he said, speaking of the band. "Now we’ve expanded to utilize the art forms of tap, dancing, and a couple of excellent singers. So the way I see it, with this band at the core, I’d like to see us create in essence, a super club type review. And I think there’s a market for it around here."

Last week in the restaurant, Hickey and I listened, captivated, while Hammer told stories that took us back in time to New York and Las Vegas during the 1950s and '60s. With a twinkle in his eye and his inevitable and infectious laughter, Hammer seemed to become once again the young man who arrived in New York 1953, 23 years old and already packing about a dozen years of performance experience in his ten nimble fingers, having been on stage with his father, a trumpet player, since the age of 11. 

With each story he told, my heart rate went up and my eyes went down, just for a moment, to make sure the little light on my digital recorder still glowed red. I'd done a lot of interviews, but that time it felt especially important to capture everything and preserve this important history forever.

Please purchase your tickets for "Jazz it UP, Bobby!" here. And thank you for supporting live music!

"It is a privilege to dance with such excellent musicians, and an honor to dance to original Bob Hammer arrangements."

Tim "Taps" Hickey

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

WAKE UP WASHINGTONIANS! Your county might be the next sludge dump.

 Biosolids being sprayed on the Zerr farm. Photo by Poul Toftemark
If you care about the environment, the rights of counties to protect the health and safety of their citizens, if you care about organic farming, and food and water safety, PLEASE read this and share it with everyone you know. DEMOCRACY is at stake in this story, along with many other vital issues.

What is happening is that a Wahkiakum County farmer requested a permit to have minimally treated Class B biosolids (SLUDGE) applied to his land, which borders the Grays River. This farm is in a flood plain. Nearby organic farms, a dairy farm, and even the public water supply are threatened. Many citizens are outraged, but so far the issue has received news coverage only in southwest Washington and from KATU Channel 2 TV news out of Portland, OR. Here's a link to the KATU story with VIDEO. PLEASE LOOK AT IT. I am trying to get people to realize how important this is to all of us.


Sewage Sludge on farmland from Tina Motley-Pearson on Vimeo.

If you are not aware of what Class B biosolids are, please read my recent blog post, From Toilet to Table. It will lead you to a lot of shocking information. And since writing it, I've learned of many more news stories having to do with illness, even death, caused by this material.

Every time I get one of those mailings from the City of Tacoma advocating TAGRO, the locally produced and promoted biosolid product, I feel sick. There are many news stories showing how UNSAFE biosolids really are. Promoting sludge as fertilizer is nothing more than a huge PR campaign folks, to get you to help dispose of this nasty stuff, because they simply don't know what to do with all of it.

I interviewed Wahkiakum County Commissioner Blair Brady to get the details. You can read excerpts from that interview below.  (note: the word "Ecology" throughout this quote, refers to the Washington State Department of Ecology)

Blair Brady: "One of my constituents read an advertising notice from Ecology in our local newspaper regarding the application of biosolids, to which end the word got out. It was a previously unknown issue in our county. The gentleman who owns a farm along Grays River had applied for, and was in the process of receiving, a permit to apply sludge, septic/human waste/industrial waste on his farmland, treated minimally for odor.

"Once this came to our attention we requested and received from Ecology another meeting, at which time approximately 150-200 people showed, local residents who had done their homework and were very well informed as to a number of problems with this human/industrial waste product and proceeded to give their evidence and testimony to Ecology, at which time Ecology considered it, took it, and returned a response. I think they changed a setback, but basically continued to issue a permit to apply what I consider to be a dangerous product. We as county commissioners have decided, or two out of three of us have decided, that is an unacceptable public safety and environment issue to allow to occur in our county.

"We realize the need to dispose of human waste and there has to be a way to do that. But with the modern technology limited as it currently is, we decided we could not accept anything that contained live organisms in it, also called pathogens, which include hepatitis and a whole myriad of other types of diseases and organisms. We had told Ecology we were going to be doing this, and we had a number of phone conversations with the regional director. We even had a meeting with Sally Toteff, the Western Regional manager of Ecology and a couple of other people from her office that manage the biosolids program, along with the three commissioners from Lewis County who also have concerns in this issue.

"At that meeting, I felt it was pretty much a waste of time. We had dialogs and they were rather heavy handed. They threatened to sue us if we were to proceed and it was basically going to be their way or the highway and they were not really interested in changing their position on the issue, stating that 'We’re the only ones that have the authority to regulate this.' So what that relates to, is forcing us to take a less-safe product.

"We proceeded after that, to pass an ordinance banning any application of biosolids below a Class A level of treatment, anywhere in our county, wherever Ecology would permit it. Two days after we passed our ordinance, they applied septage for two days and they claimed 'Oh we just became aware of your ordinance.' and they have discontinued since then. Ecology has admitted to us that they do not have the resources to adequately monitor this program either.

"After they applied this septage to this gentleman’s land, this land is supposed to be fenced off for a certain time frame, of livestock and everything else. Well, two days after the application, his cattle were in that field grazing. They’d broken through the fence or something.

"Our 19th district state delegation of legislators and Senator Brian Hatfield wrote a letter to the Attorney General’s office requesting an AG’s opinion on the right of Ecology to force this upon us. The Attorney General’s office refused to render opinion to them. Then a few days after receiving their request, filed a law suit against Wahkiakum County. It’s bizarre that legislators can’t get the Attorney General to render an opinion. (Note: That's part of the AG's job. Click here for information.)

"It’s just kind of a shame that the recently announced gubernatorial candidate (Attorney General Rob McKenna) has decided to come down with a heavy hammer on small little Wahkiakumlands on this issue.

"This community is really pushing to become more organic farm based and create jobs and incomes for people to keep their farms through going certified organic. And I don’t see how the property this has been applied to could ever be used for that again."

You can e-mail Blair Brady at

Other recent news stories about sludge:

And a book: Toxic Loopholes: Failure and Future Prospects for Environmental Law

For links to many other stories, just look at my blog post From Toilet to Table