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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"The Addams Family" Musical Brings Frightful Fun toThe 5th Avenue Theatre—A Review With Video

When it comes to families, there is no such thing as normal. But if you think your own seems more bizarre than most, just spend an evening with TheAddams Family. You can meet its macabre but loving members in a new musical comedy by that name, playing at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle Oct. 24 – Nov. 11, 2012.

Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley), Pippa Pearthree (Grandma), Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia), Douglas Sills (Gomez), Tom Corbeil (Lurch), Cortney Wolfson (Wednesday) and Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

In all began back in 1938. In that year, The New Yorker Magazine started to feature the cartoons of Charles Addams, the man who created this fictional family whose calendar seems stalled on Halloween. Anyone old enough to have watched television during the 1960s will remember the TV show called The Addams Family. It premiered on ABC in 1964 and lasted for 64 episodes. In 1991, Paramount released a motion picture version. Then, after three years of development, the musical The Addams Family opened on Broadway on March 8, 2010. The talented team of Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, who also did Jersey Boys, wrote the book, and the music and lyrics are by Andrew Lippa. This run at The 5th Avenue is the show’s Seattle debut, during its first national tour.

I greatly enjoyed becoming reacquainted with the lead couple, whose romance is still as hot as a crematorium, after all these years: Latin lover and husband Gomez (Douglas Sills) and morbidly sexy wife Morticia (Sara Gettlefinger).  The length of her straight, black hair only slightly exceeds that of the plunging neckline of her equally black dress. Remember their plump and mischievous son Pugsley (Patrick D. Kennedy) and darkly disturbing daughter Wednesday (Cortney Wolfson)? Don’t forget Uncle Fester (Blake Hammond), Grandma Frump (Pippa Pearthree), and the towering butler, Lurch (Tom Corbeil).
Blake Hammond (Uncle Fester) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
This musical won’t change your life, but it offers a lighthearted good time. I went to the theater like a trick-or-treater who was skeptical about the treats being worth the trip, only to be surprised by this deliciously offbeat entertainment. At times, the show felt a little like vaudeville, with all its song and dance along with good old-fashioned physical comedy, always executed with skill. Corbeil, as Lurch, inspired many bursts of laughter from the audience with his movements.
Pippa Pearthree (Grandma) and Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The Addams Family, while hardly profound, does manage to communicate worthwhile messages using charm, wit, whimsy and plenty of hilarious one-liners. Satire relevant to current events adds spice. Sills’ delivery kept Gomez’s most sentimental lyrics from turning into syrup and Gettlefinger gave her character, Morticia, enough sarcasm and cynicism to balance their personalities as a couple with good chemistry.
Douglas Sills (Gomez) and Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The story revolves around a familiar theme: a young person introducing their sweetheart to the family for the first time, prior to the announcement of an engagement. But when the betrothed female happens to be the cute but creepy Wednesday Addams—and her boyfriend, Lucas Beineke (Curtis Holbrook), is from a so-called “normal” family—the weirdness factor raises the level of conflict. The Beineke parents—Alice (Gaelen Gilliland) and Mal (Martin Vidnovic) are in for some surprises when they arrive at the Addams family’s home for dinner. But in the end, both parties come to new realizations about themselves as well as about each other, reminding us to reconsider the meanings of words like normal and family.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

This show offers plenty of visual appeal, from the heavy, red velvet, draped stage curtains to some intriguing special effects. The orchestra sets just the right mood, delivering those chilling organ strains and dance numbers with finesse. I greatly admired the stage sets, lighting and costumes, especially the graveyard scenes. They featured a leafless tree silhouetted against the sky, where a huge full moon looked down upon the dancing ghosts of some interesting ancestors who were still involved with family matters.
The Ancestors of THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

It’s tame in terms of horror, yet twisted enough to satisfy the desire some have to dwell on images of death, torture, pain, and fear. In this case, however, we find those images framed in genuinely funny humor and surprisingly realistic relationship issues, involving trust, loyalty, confidences, letting go, and forgiving. Some situations might involve your darkest fantasies, if you remember torturing your pesky younger siblings. In the case of the Addams children, it involves real medieval tools of torture. But don’t worry. The recipient enjoys it.
Cortney Wolfson (Wednesday) and Patrick D. Kennedy (Pugsley) in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The Addams Family might not represent your definition of normal domestic life, but even as warped as they are, they’re good company and more fun than many families I know. In a time when gore-filled and terrifying horror movies rank as entertainment, this simple spookiness felt good. However, there is one question for which I’d like an answer. With all her dancing and movement, how does Morticia keep her feminine charms from escaping that dress?
Sara Gettelfinger (Morticia) and Company in THE ADDAMS FAMILY.
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

Monday, October 29, 2012

Video of Orcas Swimming in Puget Sound

On a day that finds me tense with concern for those in the path of Hurricane Sandy, I find some peace in the world of nature, thanks to Orca Network. This important 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization exists to make people aware of these beautiful creatures who are called "killer whales" by some. Rather than being "killers" they form strong, lifelong family bonds, just like humans, or even more so. Both genders of offspring remain with their mothers throughout their lives, unlike any other non-human mammals.

I have seen them from the waterfront at Point Defiance here in Tacoma and during trips on Washington State ferries. But the more I follow the news from Orca Network, the more fascinated I become.

Please take a few minutes to learn more about the orcas of the Salish Sea. They are our neighbors here in the splendor of the Northwest, trying to live their lives in waters we humans have and polluted and depleted of the salmon they require. So who are the "killers" after all?

Here is a video Orca Network's Facebook page shared today, courtesy of videographer Ed Brooks, who filmed these Southern Resident pods called "J" and "K" from a bluff on Magnolia:

Monday, October 22, 2012

SLUDGE WARS: Small Washington County Wins a Battle, But We Could All Still Lose

A peaceful Wahkiakum County scene           Photo by Marti Kintigh
 "Small towns. Big hearts" said an email from the Wahkiakum Chamber of Commerce, and those four words represent the amount of heart it took for a county comprising only about 1% of the land in the State of Washington to fight big government and win. At least it was a partial victory in an ongoing war. On Oct. 12, Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning ruled in favor of a tiny Wahkiakum County, instead of the state, on an important court case involving not only issues of public health and safety but also the right to local determination.

Very few people heard about this decision, even though it has widespread ramifications. If King or Pierce counties—with their populations of 1,942,600 or 802,150, respectively—had been the ones to stand up to our state government in a case of bullying, the news media might have given this story the attention it deserves. But only 4,000 people live in Wahkiakum County where the it all began.

Over a year has passed since State Attorney General Rob McKenna's office brought a lawsuit against Wahkiakum County, on behalf of the Department of Ecology. Why? Because the Wahkiakum County commissioners passed an ordinance banning the use of minimally treated Class B biosolids—considered by many scientists to be dangerous. You can read all about bio-solids, the EPA’s inadequate and unenforceable rules and equally inadequate testing methods in a previous blog post: From Toilet to Table.

The Department of Ecology, did not take kindly to an upstart little county having the audacity to go against this powerful branch of state government. How dare they confront Ecology's mandate to increase the use of treated sewage sludge on Washington’s farmlands, a widespread practice made possible through the department’s control over the permitting process?

The county did not even attempt to ban biosolids outright, still accepting the slightly less dangerous Class A type, because to attempt an outright ban would have meant certain defeat in court. Few Washingtonians realize that, so far, they basically have had no choice in this matter. The use of biosolids is legal, aggressively promoted, and imposed on us whether we like it or not. The Wahkiakum County ordinance came about because of negative public reaction to the Department of Ecology having permitted the spreading of Class B biosolids on a piece of property that borders the Grays River, in a flood plain, near a dairy, and in a county trying to encourage and promote organic farming.

Photo by Marti Kintigh

Ironically, this court battle was not even about the safety of biosolids. It was a David and Goliath story, one about power and control. Because the state allows the use of Class B biosolids, Ecology wanted the court to overturn the local ordinance, claiming it was unconstitutional. However, there are federal laws protecting the right to local determination. After a year of hearings and delays, and fine work on the part of Wahkiakum County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow, the case was settled when the judge ruled in favor of the county. It was settled for now, that is. The decision will likely be appealed. Ecology is not happy.

Bigelow told me:

"For my part, I can say I believe the court made a just decision based entirely on the law. It's particularly gratifying to see that in a case like this one, where emotions run high on both sides. But there is too much at stake to make it likely this case will end here.

"One of two things can still happen. First, the Department of Ecology can appeal this decision to a higher court. It's my job to watch out for that and to keep fighting for the county and the ordinance as I have been doing.

"Second, the Department can go to the state legislature and try to get the law changed. This case was decided based on an interpretation of state law, so the result can change if the state law changes."

An article written by Natalie St. John for The Daily News, quotes Peter Lyon, a spokesman for Ecology. In my opinion, his words reveal an attitude that hardly expresses concern for the kinds of things the average citizen might assume the department’s name implies. “We’re a little disappointed in the judge’s decision,” he said. “The purpose of the law was to level the playing field for businesses and users of biosolids, and this ruling thwarts that law.” 

Level the field for businesses and users? What about the environment? It seems Wahkiakum County might be considered a pesky troublemaker, whose success in court represents a threat to the big business of sludge disposal in this state and now other counties might be brave enough to follow suit. Lyon added “We’re concerned about a domino effect.”  I can only hope. Agricultural counties in California have more strictly regulated or entirely banned bio-solids.

I share the opinion of Wahkiakum County Council member Blair Brady, who offered a quote in an e-mail this morning:

“I was always disappointed that the lawsuit was framed around the constitutionality of our ordinance rather than what I believe are real issue is, and that is, and was, one of public and environmental safely. The idea that a state organization would sue Wahkiakum County to force a lower standard is beyond belief. State organizations that I believe were created with the intention of assisting our counties appear to have run amuck, and now try to dictate and bully their way along with their own agendas. ~ Blair H. Brady
Photo by Marti Kintigh

 One day last spring, I drove the winding highway through the Grays River valley stunned by the beauty of its deep green forests and fields and its feeling of peacefulness. I saw with my own eyes why many of its citizens feel such passion about preserving this land in its natural state. And no matter what propaganda you have heard from government agencies or waste water treatment facilities, sludge is not natural.

This nation has a smelly, and daunting problem—how to dispose of all the sewage and waste water we produce. Ever since 1972, when Congress passed the Clean Water Act, sewage must be treated, not simply dumped. But so far, treatment is far from perfect, leading to real dangers to public health and the environment.

The term “biosolids” was invented because it sounds much more appealing than “sewage,” or other less polite names for what this stuff actually is. The public continues to be duped by propaganda that promotes what amounts to toxic waste as something natural, beneficial, and desirable, its use even being green, recycling, and the right thing to do. Here in Tacoma and Pierce County we have TAGRO and SoundGRO and both are used widely by unsuspecting, well-meaning homeowners. If they knew what some scientists and concerned citizens know, they would cringe. Some have learned the hard way.


Today’s sludge is not simply poop. It includes, in addition to pathogens, waste from hospitals, packing houses, and industrial plants, everything that goes down a toilet or drain. Think about that. Diseased tissue, pharmaceuticals, hormones, flame retardants, industrial and household chemicals, personal care products, heavy metals, etc. Prions, related to Mad Cow Disease and Alzheimer’s are NOT destroyed when sewage is “treated.” (See

It has even been proven that earthworms living in such soil are taking up the toxins. Look at this article from the website of the U.S. Geological Survey:

This situation can produce an outcome that effects all of us. As Prosecuting Attorney Bigelow continues his vigilance, he asks for the help of all who care about the environment. "Stay active," he said. "Keep an eye out for proposed legislation to neutralize this decision, and let your legislators know where you stand!"

UPDATE: On Oct. 24 I learned of this news story about the dangers of sludge:


If the Washington Dept. of Ecology again sues Wahkiakum County to overturn Judge Stephen Warning's decision, and seeks to bully the County into allowing the spreading of toxic, pathogenic Class B sewage sludge,they will be flying in the face of both federal law and the US Constitution:

Federal law clearly and unambiguously authorizes communities to adopt sludge rules MORE STRINGENT than federal sludge rules:

The preemption clause of the US Constitution unequivocally provides that FEDERAL LAW TRUMPS STATE LAW:

I. Background On The Doctrine Of Federal Preemption.
The principle by which federal laws trump state laws is known as the doctrine of federal preemption. The roots of federal preemption can be traced back to the United States Constitution.In drafting the Constitution, the Framers envisioned a potential conflict between the two separate and distinct yet competing bodies of government: federal and state. The Framers resolved this conflict
by incorporating the Supremacy Clause into the Constitution.

The Supremacy Clause dictates thatfederal law will supersede any state law that interferes with or runs contrary to that federal law:
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be
made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be
made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme
Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound
thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Law of any State to the
Contrary notwithstanding.”

U.S. Const. Art. VI, Cl. 2.
This clause establishes the framework for the balance of powers between the federal
government and the state governments. Since the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision
in McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), 17 U.S. (4 Wheat) 316, it has been well-established that any state
law which conflicts with federal law is “without effect.” See Maryland v. Louisiana (1981), 451
U.S. 725, 746.

There are two main categories of federal preemption: express and implied. “Express preemption” occurs when “Congress has made its intent known through explicit statutory language” to preempt an area of state law. English v. General Elec. Co. (1990), 496 U.S. 72, 79. “Congress can define explicitly the extent to which its enactments pre-empt state law." Id. at 78.

In the absence of explicit statutory language, implied preemption may exist. There are two types of implied preemption: field preemption and conflict preemption. “Field preemption” occurs when federal law exclusively regulates or occupies an area such that Congress left no room for state regulation in that area. Id. at 79. “Conflict preemption” occurs when state law “actually conflicts with federal law.” Id.
Courts have found conflict preemption “where it is impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal requirements *** or where state law ‘stands as an obstacle to the
accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.’” Id.

Helane Shields, Alton, NH sludge researcher since 1996

Federal law provides for local sludge control
Sludge victims have suffered illness, death and surface and groundwater pollution

Washington sludge victims
Here are other links about the dangers of biosolids, courtesy of Helane Shields. PLEASE take a look. Be aware, don't fall for the propaganda, and buy organic.

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown

Monday, October 1, 2012

THE WAIT IS OVER— "Chicago" is at Tacoma Musical Playhouse and it Will Surprise You

If your mother ever advised against jumping to conclusions, her words could apply to the latest offering at Tacoma Musical Playhouse—the award-winning Kander and Ebb musical Chicago. The theater opened its 19th season on Friday September 28, with the first of 15 performances of this popular musical, and it runs through October 21.

Judging by the roar of applause, it seems safe to say that the opening night audience loved the performance, and no wonder; Chicago became one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway, known for the perfect pairing of its spectacular score with Bob Fosse's choreography. However, if you haven't ordered your own tickets yet because you're thinking "I've already seen that," think again.

The original production of Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville opened and ran for 936 performances before it closed on August 27, 1977. Next came the 1996 Broadway revival version and the 2002 film version. Forget about those last two. Prepare yourself for a far more colorful and, in my opinion, more delightful experience, one much closer to the show's origins. 

photo by Kat Dollarhide

Last week, I interviewed Managing Artistic Director and Co-Founder Jon Douglas Rake to learn more about this production, why it is creating so much excitement, and why he persisted for a decade and a half in his efforts to obtain the rights.

Good Life Northwest: What was involved in bringing this musical to TMP?

Rake: We've been applying for 15 years. Because it's been revived and goes on tour across the United States, they are very, very selective about who they allow to do this show. If it comes to Seattle, that knocks Tacoma out, because it's within a 60-mile radius. So we just kept getting knocked out. Finally, they started allowing more major cities to do the show and we were fortunate to be granted the rights.

Even if people have seen Chicago, I hope they come see this, because it is a much different version than what has been going around the United States for quite a few years, and the Broadway revival.

GLN: How does your production differ from what most people have seen?

Rake: For the revival, they took it out of its time period, and unfortunately it loses some of that cynical and satirical attitude. And you miss that. It loses its poignancy. The movie went back a little more to the period, but you miss the vaudeville part of it. We've put it back into that period and the vaudeville.

photo by Kat Dollarhide

GLN: Can we talk a little about the connections with vaudeville?

Rake: Sure. Chicago takes place in the 1920s, and in the 1920s vaudeville was the major form of theater, along with opera and operetta and all that, but vaudeville was really going strong. So when they created this, they decided vaudeville was a great fit for it, because they were able to poke fun at society and the cops and all of that through using the vaudeville acts. When it comes to the story, they could lighten it up.

And then they decided that because there are all different kinds of acts, some of these—like Mary Sunshine being dressed in drag or the reporters being puppets—just kind of fit the way they were working on the show. The style of the music was also vaudevillian.

photo by Kat Dollarhide
GLN: Why does it mean so much to you, on a personal level?
Rake: It's one of my favorite shows. I saw the original version on tour in 1977, and it made such an impression on me. I'm surprised that after that many years have passed, I remember a lot of details about that show. And I was very young, a student in college. That was when I first saw Fosse choreography and just fell in love with it. As a choreographer, it has always been one of my favorite styles of choreography.

GLN: This is a very colorful, sparkling show with period costumes. It is dazzling on the stage.

Rake: Right. And that's what we were going for. We were going more for the vaudeville dazzle.

In the revival, the cast is in black, very sexy lingerie. There's no essence of the period at all. And there's no set at all. It's just a big staircase of the band, and the band moves forward and back onstage. And whenever there's a chari, the cast brings on a chair. It's just basically showcasing the music and the style of dance. 
photo by Kat Dollarhide
 GLN: What about the satire aspect?

Rake: Fosse was going through a really dark period in his life at the time. He was pretty upset or feeling dark about the world. He was having heart problems and woman problems, so he was going through this dark phase. So I think that's what swayed the satire of the show, how he was feeling at the time.

GLN: What special challenges did this production present?

Rake: The first challenge was teaching the dancers the style of choreography. Even if you're a dancer, if you've never done Fosse, it's a different feeling in your body, a different style and different control. So the first challenge with this cast was to teach them how to do the Fosse style.

GLN: What special rewards does it bring to you?

Rake: To see it happen is just a great feeling. To have these dancers doing the choreography I've wanted to do for years is a thrill, and to have such a talented cast as well.

And I'm really pleased with the way the orchestra sounds. It's got a great sound and the audience will have a lot of fun with the fact that the orchestra is onstage and in front of them.

We have patrons who love to come and watch Jeff conduct (He refers to Jeffrey Stvrtecky—co-founder, music director, and business manager of TMP.) And here he is pretty much in the forefront up there. They can watch him the whole time. It's a connection with the orchestra, more so than when they're always in the little pit, or separated from the show. They're integrated into it and they become part of the show itself.

Overture/All That Jazz - Chita Rivera - Chicago: A Musical Vaudeville 

Just two words from the character Velma offer the essence of my message. As Velma demonstrates, to Roxy, the double act she once had with her sister, she says, "Watch this!" Good advice. And I wouldn't get on Velma's bad side if I were you.

Note: All seating for this production is reserved, so the theater strongly recommends buying tickets in advance. Matinees sell out especially quickly. For ticket prices and ordering information call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or visit This show is NOT recommended for youth under the age of 13.

Tacoma Musical Playhouse is located at 7116 6th Ave. in Tacoma. On Fridays and Saturdays the show begins at p.m., at 2 p.m on Sunday, and Saturday Matinees also begin at 2 p.m.


Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown