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Monday, April 30, 2012

Review of "DAMN YANKEES" -- a Home Run for The 5th Avenue Theatre

You don't have to be a baseball fan to love Damn Yankees at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, but you might become one just by buying a ticket. Get yours now, before this fun, funny, and sometimes touching musical sells out or ends its April 21-May 20 run.

Mr. Applegate (Hans Altwies) and Lola (Chryssie Whitehead) in Damn Yankees at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Chris Bennion

The 5th Avenue's Executive Producer and Artistic Director David Armstrong said in a press release, "Damn Yankees is one of the great musicals of the Golden Era of Broadway. We’re very excited to bring this show to our stage for the first time, complete with major league talent from a mix of Broadway and Seattle musical theater all-stars." (You can read all about the cast and creative team here.)

When Armstrong introduced this show on opening night, he did look excited. Now I know why. Putting together a winning team matters just as much in musical theater as in baseball, and the creative team for this co-production with Paper Mill Playhouse was destined to be a winner. Directed by Paper Mill's Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee, with musical direction by Ben Whiteley and choreography by Denis Michael Jones, it's a hit Seattle will remember. 

I'll remember the choreography. It connects with the music like a bat with a ball, so natural and believable, rather than stereotypical, in every case—from Lola's sexy maneuvers to the masculine mannerisms of the baseball players in the locker room. And they aren't the only athletes. When vivacious news reporter, Gloria Thorpe (Nancy Anderson) does a dance routine with the team, she might have come straight from spring training, leaping, swinging, and holding a baseball bat with just the right stance and style. On the night I was there, she even tossed in Ichiro's Suzuki's habitual tug on the shoulder seam, a gesture not lost on Mariners fans. Very fun! Let's hear it for Dance Captain David Alewine too. There isn't a wasted motion anywhere, with every step and gesture clean and precise.

Sound Designer Andrew G. Luft  more than met the challenge of all the special effects in this musical, putting the outstanding orchestra to good use. The perfect percussion here and well-place slide of the trombone there makes it all come to life and lighting by Tom Sturge creates the ambiance.

Gloria Thorpe (Nancy Anderson, center) and the company of Damn Yankees at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Chris Bennion

The story
While many might see nothing deeper in Damn Yankees than a rollicking good time here, the book by George Abbott and Douglas Wallop, and music and lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, contain classic and meaningful themes. Just like in The Wizard of Oz, we're reminded that "There's no place like home." Many people can relate to the idea of unfulfilled dreams, temptations, and regrets. We are reminded that choices carry consequences and lies create complications.
 The story begins with over-the-hill Joe Boyd (Hugh Hastings) at home watching baseball with emotion and animation, because his team is losing again. He ignores his wife, Meg (Patti Cohenour) who sits on the couch and sews, feeling like a baseball widow. Their 1950s house is not shown, but simply implied. We can't see any TV, but can hear the game. The open skeleton of the structure  literally frames the scene and allows us a look inside at the living room furniture, fireplace, and stairs. And through the freestanding front door, magic happens. I mean magic. The audience let out an audible gasp at one point, but I won't spoil the surprise for you.

The company of Damn Yankees at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Chris Bennion

Boyd is a die-hard fan of the Washington Senators baseball team, the worst in the league. Frustrated, he declares that he'd sell his soul to the devil if it meant his beloved Senators could beat the damn Yankees! And that is exactly what happens. Right on cue, the devil himself shows up in the form of "Mr. Applegate" (Hans Altwies) but it doesn't take Boyd long to realize who he is and why he's there.

Applegate offers Boyd not only a winning team, but a chance to be its star player by becoming 22-year-old Joe Hardy, played by Christopher Charles Wood. Boyd agrees, but wisely insists on an escape clause. The devil changes him into Hardy, who has looks, talent, youth, and fame. Then Applegate makes trouble by ordering his devilish mistress, Lola (Chryssie Whitehead), to try to seduce young Hardy, who will be sorely tempted.

Joe Hardy (Christopher Charles Wood) and Meg Boyd (Patti Cohenour) in Damn Yankees at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Chris Bennion

Several questions give the story conflict. When it comes to young Joe and Lola, will he or won't he? He raises suspicion in the mind of the reporter when makes up a story about being from Hannibal, Missouri. Will he be found out? Will the escape clause work? Will he ever be able to return to his familiar home and beloved wife? When Lola (who also sold her soul to the devil) starts falling in love with the guy she's supposed to evilly seduce, she has conflicts of her own. 

An Outstanding Cast

Wood shows so much control over his rich voice and demonstrates his impressive acting ability. He brings flair to the fun bits and sensitivity to the sentimental scenes, singing ballads like "A Man Doesn't Know" and "Near to You" with power and emotion.

Hastings also sings "A Man Doesn't Know" with warmth and feeling, and Cohenour does the same a version from the female perspective as they portray the couple, Joe and Meg Boyd. Both play their parts with skill and sincerity.

I am tempted to call Whitehead's performance as Lola "flawless" because she pulls off every gesture, facial expression, and song with such perfection. I don't see how anyone could do a more impressive job in that role. She sparkles with fiery pizazz.

Then there's Altwies, who ignites his scenes as the devil, probably the most challenging role of allbeing handsome, charming, witty, and wicked all at once. With his humor and vulnerabilities, Applegate almost seems a little bit human. Don't be fooled!  In a flash, his voice, harsh commands, and actions incinerate such illusions, as Satan shows himself to be completely in charge. Altwies walks this tightrope so well he catches the audience off guard with shocking effectiveness.  

Lola (Chryssie Whitehead) and the company of Damn Yankees at The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Chris Bennion
Every cast member does a great job. The entire baseball team and their Coach Van Buren (Allen Fitzpatrick) charm as they entertain and they belt out the song "Heart" with "heart." Carol Swarbrick gives her fun characterization of Sister a delightful personality and physical presence that made me smile every time she appeared and Julie Briskman as her Sister's sister, Doris, plays her part well too.

A great team effort and worth the price of a ticket

When we think of musical theater we first think of the stars we see on stage, singing, dancing, and acting. But as Armstrong pointed out before the curtain opened, it takes over 100 people working behind the scenesincluding the orchestra—to do the job. And what a job they do!

The only negative I can cite is that the first act is too long, about twice as long as the second act. My advice? Don't consume too many liquids before the show.

Tickets start at only $19 and can be ordered through this link to the box office, by calling (206) 625-1900, or at the door. The  5th Avenue Theatre is located in downtown Seattle at 1308 5th Avenue. Parking is available for only $6 after 6 p.m. Check the theater's website for directions and other information.

Then go! You'll have a great time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vashon Island's Drama Dock Presents "Side by Side by Sondheim"

Vashon Island has its share of docks, but if you have never heard of "Drama Dock" you've missed the boat. No, Drama Dock is not a structure that sticks out into Puget Sound. It's the island's own community theater, with Artistic Director Elizabeth Ripley at the helm. If you go to see a show put on by this talented group of performers, it will stick out, in your memory though, especially if it's the one coming up this weekend.

Don't miss their production of "Side by Side by Sondheim".  Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 28 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 29, at the Vashon Island High School, 20120 Vashon Hwy SW, Vashon WA 98070
L to R in back: Elizabeth Ripley, Richard E. Montague (Master of Ceremonies), Stephanie Murray
Front: Marshall Murray                    Photo by Casey Gripp
As in the case of every non-profit organization, funding presents an ongoing challenge for Drama Dock. That is why this production not only honors and celebrates the master of musical theater—the famous lyricist and composer Stephen Sondheimbut is also a FUND RAISER to help keep the theater group afloat.

"Stephen Sondheim is simply the best lyric writer of our time, the most adventurous composer working in the musical theater, and a most considerable musical dramatist," Ripley said in her press release. It was Ripley and husband-and-wife Drama Dock stars Stephanie and Marshall Murray who came up with this idea. Under Ripley's expert direction it will provide a fun evening full of favorite songs from many of Broadway's most beloved musicals. 

Here's a sampling from the press release:
"We will sing for you songs from Gypsy and West Side Story, for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics, and from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Company, A Little Night Music, Anyone Can Whistle, Merrily We Roll Along, Follies, Pacific Overtures, Sweeny Todd, Saturday Night, The Mad Show, and Into the Woods, for which he wrote music and lyrics."

This video is a full PBS interview with Sondheim,who celebrated his 80th birthday in 2010.

poster designed by Lillian Ripley

 I loved the clever poster designed by Elizabeth Ripley's daughter Lillian Ripley.  Spotlights shine down on the shape of Vashon-Maury Island, a community with a high percentage of its population involved in the arts.  (Click here to read my article about the arts on Vashon, in a past issue of SeaPort Airlines Magazine - pages 6-7)

"This is a grand gathering of talent not to be missed!" Ripley says. "Get your tickets to support the future of live theatre on Vashon. And there will a raffle as well-- who can resist a raffle—I know I can't!"

Ticket are available at The Vashon Book Shop and at the door. General Admission $20; Drama Dock Members: $15; Seniors & Students: $10.
Ferry Schedules

From Point Defiance in Tacoma
From Fauntleroy in Seattle

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Watch Video and Live Web Cam of Red-Tailed Hawks Hatching

This might be the first time I've written two blog posts in one day, but this news can't wait. Right now, on top of a light pole on the campus of Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y. a pair of nesting red-tail hawks is having an exciting day. One of their chicks hatched yesterday and a second one is in the process as I write. I've been watching the action this morning and it's amazing to see this mother trying to keep the one chick and the other eggs warm in cold weather, while high winds sway the nest and ruffle her feathers. The father flies in and out, bringing food and nest materials, and sometimes taking his turn at brooding. This is all thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and their All About Birds website.

I know New York is a long way from Tacoma, but we have red-tailed hawks here too. I will try to find more information on them to add soon. In the meantime, click here for the LIVE WEB CAM where you can see action via the web cam and read all about this mating pair. At the bottom of the web cam screen, you will see a tab marked "medium" where you can adjust the resolution to high definition. Then try watching full screen. It's as clear as if you were there.

If you've seen red-tailed hawks around the Pacific Northwest, please comment and share your experiences!

The Season Marches On -- Tulips and More at Point Defiance Park

What a difference a month makes. On Monday I took my camera and tripod to Tacoma's Point Defiance Park, without even realizing it had been exactly a month to the day since I last shot some photos. Those were for my blog post called "A Perfect Spring Day at Point Defiance." That day had seemed perfect, considering what preceded it, but yesterday was even better, warm with sunshine and rich with color. I took this photo of tulips with the foreground in sun and a shadow over the rear part of the flower bed.

During the month since my last visit, the daffodils must had reached their peak without me there. Just opening when I saw them last, the common King Alfred type have shriveled and turned brown. Now some of the fancier members of this family of bulb flowers, like narcissus and paperwhites, take their place with equal charm.

I was just in time to see the tulips. Their season of glory shows signs of ending. The weekend's warm weather must have caused them to rush into full bloom, although, as you can see, many nice examples remain. If you haven't had the chance to see them, enjoy these photos. Rain will surely cause their petals to drop.

I especially liked these red ones, and the purple ones below.

Don't stop scrolling yet. There is so much more to see.


Repairs to the pagoda, after the terrible arson fire, are coming along nicely.
Work on the roof is nearly done.

 And it's seagull-approved.

Take a photo tour of the Japanese garden...
...where water adds to the sense of tranquility.

Every time I turned around, I saw sights that refreshed me and brightened my day.

Thank you for taking part of your day to let me share my walk through the park. Aren't we lucky that Tacoma's early citizens cared enough about us to preserve this beautiful place? What are we doing now for generations yet to come?

All photos in this blog post are the property of Candace Brown
Copyright 2012  Candace J. Brown

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Celebrate Earth Day at the FREE 2012 Green Home Tour

Spring is here, and I have exciting information to share, fitting for the season of new growth and fresh starts. Since writing my previous blog post about the deep green co-housing neighborhood called the Clearwater Commons, I've discovered a regional organization so inspiring it makes me proud to live in the Northwest. In that post, I mentioned the 2012 Green Home Tours coming up this next weekend, April 21-22, produced by the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild. I'm a curious person, so of course I just had to find out more about this event and the guild itself.

Puget Sound Solar            courtesy of Northwest EcoBuilding Guild

I contacted member and tour organizer Cate O'dahl, a consultant with ESP Services, who told me, "It's free. Anyone can participate. There are sites all across Puget Sound." The event will also include a FREE EXPO on Saturday, and FREE ENERGY WORKSHOPS on Sunday.

In addition to the Seattle Green Home Tours, people living in Tacoma, Puyallup, or Olympia should not miss the guild's South Sound Tour, presented by the Olympia chapter. Click here for information on their many sites open this weekend. Those include a small passive house by The Artisan's Group, called "The Jewel Box." It sits on a lot overlooking Bud Inlet in Olympia. You will see a wide variety of great projects on this tour. They have an information hub already open, where you can pick up maps and information. Click here.
Green Pod      photo courtesy of  Northwest EcoBuilding Guild
O'dahl wants people to understand that green building isn't just about new construction and major projects. Even the smallest things people can do to their existing homes to make them less toxic and more efficient matter a great deal. "At these tours, people can see all the different shades of green," she said.

The Northwest EcoBuilding Guild's mission is:

" support through education the progressive work of members in the Pacific Northwest in order to improve the relationship between our communities and our built environment. The Guild provides open-source educational materials to the construction industry and the general public in order to encourage building practices that dramatically reduce carbon emissions, are self-sustaining, contribute to local economies, and create optimal conditions for human health and community."

Envision Homes                  photo by Devon Burns
These people mean what they say, and they invite you to come see their projects and learn what they've learned about building sustainably. I spoke with several enthusiastic members and many more contacted me wanting to share their stories, more than I could possibly quote in one blog post. But I especially enjoyed speaking with Robert Burns who joined the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild about the same time he started his green remodeling business, Envision Homes, in 2001. He discovered the organization when he met O'dahl and mentioned that he was trying to do sustainable remodeling.

"I thought I knew what I was talking about and I had no clue," Burns told me. "The folks in the guild have the passion for doing things the right way, irregardless of profit, irregardless of their own needs.  I find guild builders to be not about profit margins. They’re  more about the relationship they build with the building and the owners. There’s a sense of integrity."

The more Burns learned, the more intense he became about green building, until now he is considered to be as deep green as they come. He and his wife Devon built their dream house, the one they are showing on the tour, the one they plan to sell, sadly, since since they decided to downsize. It has been a home they've loved and a project they'll never forget. Burns recalls the process:

"We wanted to leave no stone unturned. We wanted to deliberate absolutely every thought, every product, every application and apply it against all the principles, whether it was a finish or the insulation type or how we were applying certain things. It had to pass the test, several tests, and pass them in all ways. It’s a struggle and a lot of people don’t necessarily want to go through that. But we wanted to try to meet every demand. It has to be zero toxic or very low toxic. It has to be highly efficient. It has to last a long, long time and be durable. Trying to find products that meet all those criteria is difficult and it takes deliberation. It takes an industry of sustainable remodelers, and that’s where the guild folks come in."
(Read more about this house by clicking here.)

Lemon Drop      photo courtesy of Northwest EcoBuiling Guild

Architect Heidi Helgeson, owner of H2D Architecture + Design loves the guild too. "It’s a great group," she said. "They have educational events once a month that have been invaluable, not only for the topics they talk about but the connections I’ve made." She agrees that green comes in many shades. "Regardless of the scale, scope or budget on my projects, I work together with my clients, the consultants, and builders to come up with a plan to create a project that is as sustainable as the possible - from as little as choosing the right paint to creating a highly energy efficient building envelope." Check out her tour site here.

Sockeye Homes in Kent  voted "Idea House of the Year"
Nicole Starnes Taylor of MAKE Design Studio said, "One of the greatest strengths of the NW Ecobuilding Guild is its members’ openness in sharing information, hands-on experience and their unparalleled passion to find and share the greenest building methods. I anticipate the Green Home Tour will be unique among home tours in the openness of the site hosts to share what worked well on a project, lessons learned and where improvements could be made to further green building in our region. I feel honored to be a member of such a generous, thoughtful and passionate group." Learn more about her tour site here.
The guild also includes interior designers. At first I hadn't thought much about a decorator's role in green building, until I spoke with Wendy Albee, of Albee Interior Design. She's a certified green professional who encourages clients to think green first. "I make suggestions for materials that are recycled or ways to save money, clean up their air quality, those kinds of things," she said. "I show people how they can take small practical steps to make their house green." See her project on the tour, by clicking here.
City Cabins by Martha Rose Construction photo courtesy of Northwest EcoBuilders Guild

So many more exciting ideas. Check out these sites:

Pamela Burton and Jeremy Smithson of Puget Sound Solar slashed energy use in their century-old home by 86% by making green improvements. Read about it here and be sure to visit their site.

Kristin Sakai, one of the owners of Sockeye Homes, also contacted me about their five-star demonstration home, also on the tour. This new construction in Kent is so full of green innovations that it has been named "The Northwest Idea House of the Year." Click HERE to link to the case study.

S.A.G.E.  Designs NW (S.A.G.E. stands for "Small Artful Green Environments") is featuring on this tour, a 2200 sf pre-fab home full of modern technology and extreme energy efficiency, shipped from Germany in 10 shipping containers. The shell went up in eight days. Read more here.

Martha Rose of Martha Rose Construction did a two-townhome project called City Cabins in Seattle that sold out before the tour. She invites people to "drive by and then join us at GreenHome Solutions, just one block away on Nickerson and 13th to learn more about City Cabins and to sign up for info on the next City Cabins. We will have samples of exterior wall assembly, window, flashing and many silent talkers and photos." She added,"One of the City Cabins was purchased by a non-green buyer who only began understanding what he purchased after the fact and then expressed gratitude that we made it so easy for him to live in a more sustainable way."

Ballard Net-Zero Energy House               Photo courtesy of Northwest Eco-Building Guild

Ballard NET-ZERO ENERGY HOUSE built by Eric Thomas and Alexandra Salmon is a "must see" on the tour. They even have their own blog about this project. Please be sure to take a look at "Zero Energy House Seattle."

YS-Development's tour site in Bellevue will give people the chance to see inside the walls of a green home under construction.  Check it out here.

And last but certainly not least, don't miss perhaps the most interesting site of all:
Clearwater Commons, the subject of my previous blog post and an article in the online journal Neighborhood LifeHere is their information for the tour.

I've shown you sites mostly in the greater Seattle area, but don't miss the South Sound Tour either, which has so much to offer.

Why not pack a picnic lunch and celebrate Earth Day by enjoying these great green events?
Congratulations and best wishes to every member of the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild. They're helping to make this a better world.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Spring had not yet arrived when I first visited the site of the Clearwater Commons. This deep green, low impact co-housing project sits alongside North Creek, near Bothell, Washington, and is considered by many to be the most comprehensive of its kind. I came as a reporter for the online journal Neighborhood Life on a chilly February morning, pulling onto a wooded road that would lead me to a great discovery, one well worth the drive from Tacoma.

  Clearwater Commons from across the wetland, while under construction.       
photo by Candace Brown
There in a meadow surrounded by wetlands stood the beginnings of a deliberately planned, eco-friendly neighborhood, complete with a restored salmon stream. I was about to meet a few members of the Clearwater Commons LLC and learn the fascinating story of how this project came to be. You can read the published article here: Clearwater Commons -- Co-housing Where Nature and Nurture Meet

Even though it was still officially winter when I visited in February, I could see signs of new green growth everywhere, in the form of housing under construction. Deep green construction was taking place all around me. I learned about new technologies that not only make homes more energy efficient, but also more comfortable, healthy, and better for the earth. I also learned a lot about determination and what it takes to stay true to your principles. The people involved with this project would never give up in spite of the downturn in the economy, countless regulations, and piles of paperwork. Now they can enjoy the reward.

photo by Candace Brown

Tom Campbell is a member of the LLC and also the project's manager. His background in urban planning, his dedication, and his perseverance, mattered most significantly in the six-year-long effort required to create a neighborhood from scratch in an environmentally sensitive area. It took the determination  and vision of all the members. (Please be sure to read the article on Neighborhood Life for the full background on this deep green development.)

"It's great to see how the unique story of the Clearwater Commons is providing lessons on how to create communities that blend values of green building, shared community design and decision-making, and environmental restoration," Campbell said. He and everyone else involved with the Clearwater Commons will celebrate their neighborhood's grand opening during the weekend of April 21-22, as part of the 2012 Green Home Tour, presented by the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild. It includes a home show style Expo on Saturday. 

"We're very excited about the 2012 Green Home Tour," Campbell added, "because it will be the first time that we will be able to showcase the entire project, including stream restoration, completed new green homes, solar hot water, low impact development, and one of the first certified passive houses in the state!"

A duplex at Clearwater Commons       photo by Candace Brown
Home by Cascade Built at Clearwater Commons, using green building materials and techniques  
 photo by Candace Brown
The architectural firm that designed Clearwater Commons is Banyon Tree, and the builder creating all of these first exciting homes on the site is Sloan Ritchie, owner of a green building company called Cascade Built. During a phone interview, he taught me a great deal about green building practices and materials and revealed his enthusiasm for the Clearwater Commons project.

"We specialize in sustainable construction and we try to have as small of an impact on the environment as possible," he said. "So these houses fit perfectly with what we do. It’s an interesting and committed group of individuals and we share the same values, so it’s working out great."

Pin pier foundation.         photo by Candace Brown

Detail of foundation  photo by Candace Brown

One of many differences between Cascade Built houses and conventional construction is seen in the style of foundations used on this site. The houses at Clearwater Commons, in keeping with the low impact idea, sit on pin pier foundations, for the least interruption of natural ground water flow. Ritchie describe the situation this way:

"It’s in a very wet zone. It’s not so much that you’d have it free flowing under your house, but the sub-surface water could flow uninterrupted in the top couple of feet of topsoil, like it could have two years ago before there was any kind of development there.
"In normal construction, with foundations and footings systems, you just dig a hole and you to a strip footing, and put a stem wall on top of that. It’s solid concrete and there’s no more potential for any site water to be moving around under that footprint of the house. It’s completely blocked. Water could build up.
"That type of foundation system would be inappropriate for these soils. And we don’t have to bring big excavation equipment out there to dig these holes and put the cement in and back fill."

A home being built by Cascade Built, showing pin pier foundation.
Ritchie saw an important difference between members of Clearwater Commons and other clients he has worked with, in terms of how they prioritized green building standards. "When we were going through the process we said, 'Okay, how can we save tens of thousands of dollars on this house? What can we do, because it’s just too expensive?'" Ritchie recalled. "A lot of people say, 'Well, let’s just take away the green features.' But we didn’t do that. Instead, we made other things more streamlined. I think many of the things that can be done to make your house last longer and be more efficient are not very costly things, like insulation. Insulation is very cheap."

Ritchie no longer uses batting type insulation, going strictly with the blown-in type, as well as rigid foam, in which the entire house is wrapped, even underneath. He has some strong feelings on this subject.

"It’s almost criminal," he said, "that we’re still allowed to put batt insulation in, because it just can’t do a good job. The performance of your house is 25% less than your neighbors' who picked blown in insulation. It’s a thousand dollar upgrade, and after a year you’ve paid that thousand dollars because your heat bills are way more."

photo by Candace Brown
Obviously, moisture is a concern when you live in a wetland, in a wet climate, but Ritchie knows how to deal with that:
"Clearly, there’s bulk water and rain, but vapor is more challenging  to keep out of the house. So we create an air barrier and we build the house very tight. On the bottom of the house there’s a crawl space. In this case and that’s what you’d be concerned about. So we insulate that space, and we add rigged foam insulation all the way across the entire underside of the house.
"Then we put pressure-treated plywood sheets and we screw those up to the underside of the house. Then we caulk the seams. So we’ve created a pretty tight air barrier between the earth and the house itself. The plywood is graded for ground contact but it doesn’t touch anything. It’s about two feet off the ground. It’s probably more than we need to do but they wanted to be thorough, so that’s what we’re doing."
verything sealed to the point that these homes are nearly air tight. They are amazingly efficient to heat or cool, but still have fresh air circulating to prevent indoor air pollution, thanks to heat recovery ventilators. Metal roofs and 100 series Anderson windows are just two more features that mean they are built to last. The houses come pre-piped for the addition of photovolatics in the future, if owners want to add that. They're even wired for electric cars.

But don't look for a garage. You won't find one anywhere. A permeable road runs through the houses for emergencies and other situations, but residents will use a communal parking lot on the property, also made with a permeable surface. That's part of the plan.

Ritchie on the lack of garages: "Correct. Not a single garage. It’s really not very far. Personally I kind of like walking anyway. You get to see the neighbors and say "Hi" and chit chat and get the mail, maybe stop at somebody’s porch and hang out instead of going all the way home. That’s sort of what I envision. It’s an intentional part of the community. They certainly could have put the parking by the houses but then you just pull into your garage and disappear into your house. But with this, I think it could have a good effect on the interaction between people."

Road leading from parking lot.         photo by Candace Brown

Maybe it isn't a "lack" as much as "luck" when it comes to Clearwater Commons. These folks like to meet and greet the neighbors. If you think you might like to be part of the neighborhood, come to the open house on April 21 and 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. I can hardly wait to visit again now that those first houses are nearly finished and painted. No matter how many different sites you visit on the Green Home Tour, don't miss this one. There's nothing else like it.

P.S. Don't miss my next blog post with more news about the
2012 Green Home Tour!

Restored salmon habitat on North Creek       photo by Candace Brown

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

Monday, April 2, 2012

Fall in Love With the New Musical "First Date" -- a review

The best material for humor comes from ordinary, yet extraordinarily uncomfortable, everyday situations. Think of a first date, especially a blind date. Now, a partnership between Seattle’s two acclaimed not-for-profit theaters— The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT– A Contemporary Theatre—proves this truth in a most hilarious, fresh, honest, and occasionally even poignant format: a new musical called “First Date.” I drove the freeway from Tacoma through monsoon-like rains and high winds to see this show on opening night, and within the first five minutes I knew I would have hated to miss it.

Aaron (Eric Ankrim) and Casey (Kelly Karbacz) in First Date, a co-production between ACT and The 5th Avenue Theatre. Photo: Chris Bennion
This world premiere runs through May 20, 2012, at ACT, in the Falls Theatre, where there every seat offers a perfect view. If you don’t see it in the Northwest you might have to buy a plane ticket. “FirstDate” seems destined for New York, where it could add its own luminosity to The Great White Way. It might even launch a new age of appreciation for this art form. Before I write another word, here is the link to the box office. You might want to order your tickets now—even before you finish reading this—or they could be sold out.

I delighted in discovering the team of Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, whose music and lyrics just kept knocking me out with their wit and perfect tone. Those two talents, when combined with Austin Winsberg—who wrote the book for “First Date”—constitute a trio with the potential to change theater history. Add to that, all the other members of the team, from both theater companies, and you have the perfect recipe for what is already looking like a major hit. With musical supervision and arrangements by Dominick Amendum, musical staging by Josh Prince, and direction by Bill Berry, success was a certainty. Every song, every scene, brought a tidal wave of applause.

Kelly Karbacz (center) plays Casey in the world premiere of First Date, a co-production of ACT and The 5th Avenue Theatre. Also pictured l-r: Rich Gray as the waiter and Brandon O’Neill and Billie Wildrick as fellow diners.
Photo: Chris Bennion

If the word “musical” makes you think of the 1950s—and let’s admit it, some rather silly scenarios —you are in for a big surprise.  In fact, the element of surprise in “FirstDate” kept the audience alert and engaged to the point that the time went by too quickly, leaving me wanting more.  You won’t hear the typical musical styles or watch the typical hero and heroine fall in love. This time reality takes on a starring role. This musical feels so much like real life it might make you gasp with surprise, cringe with remembered embarrassment, realize how some things never change, or feel relieved that you never lived through a date as awkward as this one. But no matter what, I guarantee it will make you laugh from beginning to end.
Even those who have known only the most sheltered and innocent existence can appreciate the angst of two people who meet at a bar/restaurant on a blind date.  The female lead, Casey—played by Kelly Karbacz— is cynical and is usually attracted to bad boys.  The male lead, Aaron—played by Eric Ankrim—works in the world of finance and comes off as a nerd. Or at least this is our first impression.  It seems all they have in common is plenty of emotional baggage.

Then the torture begins. The supporting cast members literal become all the characters represented by the nagging voices this couple hears in their heads, especially ex-lovers, but also the Jewish grandmother, the devoutly Christian father, the well-meaning but critical friends, and many more.

Aaron’s best friend—a direct opposite in personality and lifestyle—launches into rap, and also shouts, “What’s the point of imagining me if you won’t listen to a freaking word I say?” Even the search engine Google takes on a human (female) form and merrily taunts them with lyrics like “The world wide web is forever. Take note or you’re totally screwed,” reminding us of the nightmarish dilemma of a person’s web presence and profiles that never go away.

The cast of First Date, a co-production between ACT and The 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo: Chris Bennion
Through their impressive acting and singing abilities, and the clever use of props, this talented cast continuously morphs from one zany personality to the next. The members are: Benjamin Harris, Vicki Noon, Sonya Meyer, Billie Wildrick, Brandon O’Neill, and Rich Gray and Greg McCormick Allen, who each play the role of the waiter during different phases of the musical’s run. I can’t emphasize enough that this cast, including Ankrim and Karbacz in the leads roles, stunned the audience with their talents, including singing. I had heard Ankrim sing in “Oklahoma!” but was more deeply moved by his powerful and classically beautiful voice, here.  Karbacz did an equally fine job.

In spite of all the clever and hilarious lines and the kind of  language you hear on the street but might not expect to hear in a musical, “First Date” does have a serious side, namely, our need and desire to be loved and accepted for who we really are. As the story progresses, the real Aaron and Casey, the vulnerable and loveable individuals hiding behind the walls they’ve constructed, are revealed to us, and we become invested in the wish for them to finally find true love and happiness in a plugged-in world that can seem shallow, impersonal, and cold.  

What started out looking like an impossible situation in modern times, blooms into a romance of the most classic kind, one every fan of musical theater craves.  Karbacz and Ankrim, as Casey and Aaron, provided total satisfaction when they sang the final song, “Something That Will Last.” In the real world from which these characters grew, there are no guarantees. But they show us that true love and happiness are possible in spite of the divorce rate and other depressing factors, and that the prize it is worth the risk of personal vulnerability.  As far as “First Date” itself goes, I will bet that this musical is, indeed, “Something that Will Last.”

For more information contact either theater.

The 5th Avenue Theatre:   
Box Office: (206) 625-1900 or (888) 5TH-4TIX

ACT- A Contemporary Theatre:
Box Office: (206) 292-7676