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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Musical "ANYTHING GOES" at The 5th Avenue Theatre is Pure Delight— a review

Rachel York and Company in Roundabout Theater Company's Anything Goes.
Credit Joan Marcus
Whenever I start feeling like the world is doomed, nothing yanks me out of a funk faster than the irresistible rhythms of tap shoes, the color, flash, and energy of a fine chorus of dancers on a hot tune, or their swirl and sway on a sentimental ballad. Package all that with fine voices singing Cole Porter’s classics of the Great American Songbook with the backing of an outstanding orchestra, plus some knock out stage sets, and you’ll forget all your cares. Such was my evening at the press opening of Anything Goes at The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle last Thursday night.

Rachel York and Company in Roundabout Theater Company's Anything Goes.
Credit Joan Marcus
What a treat it is to have Roundabout Theatre Company’s tour of this Broadway revival come to town.  If you want to spend an afternoon or evening experiencing total escapism, fun, and happiness, get your tickets now while you can. Performances are Tuesdays through Sundays, closing on November 3, 2013. You will quickly see why this musical won the 2011 Tony Award for Best Musical Revival, directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, who won the 2011 Toney Award for Best Choreography.

Enjoy the crazy shenanigans, mix-ups, and mistaken identities of an interesting mix of folks aboard an ocean liner in the 1930s. It might be the middle of the Great Depression, but no one can be depressed for long on this trip with all the romantic intrigue, humor, historically accurate costumes, and song and dance.  Smile, reminisce, and laugh your head off as the action takes place in gorgeous stage settings. Rediscover tunes so great they’ve withstood the decades. In addition to the theme song, “Anything Goes,” you’ll hear:

I Get a Kick Out of You
It’s De-Lovely
Blow, Gabriel, Blow
Easy to Love
The Gypsy in Me
Erich Bergen and Rachel York in Roundabout Theater Company's Anything Goes.
Credit Joan Marcus
The vivacious Rachel York, as Reno Sweeny, is the sparkling diamond in this setting. Her voice, style, and dancing ability are unsurpassed. Other gems surround her. Josh Franklin in the lead male role of Billy Crocker (even though these press photos show Erich Bergen) was fabulous, contributing his powerful voice, great acting, and dancing skills to the this show's success. Fred Applegate charmed us as the lovable gangster Moonface Martin. Dennis Kelly was hilarious as the Wall Street tycoon Elisha Whitney. Alex Finke made a lovely debutante Hope Harcourt, with the talented Sandra Shipley as her mother,  and Joey Sorge as Hope’s fiancé, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh offered laughs and a surprises when his true self emerged.

Alex Finke and Erich Bergen  in Roundabout Theater Company's Anything Goes.
Credit Joan Marcus

While Billy and Hope provide moments of elegance and grace, dancing to “It’s De-Lovely,” Lord Evelyn and Reno heat things up with their rendition of “The Gypsy in Me.” One of my favorites, however, was the tune “Friendship,” where Reno and Moonface Martin, exchange looks, pokes, and hip bumps to the hilarious lyrics.

If I could lump all my praise into the form of a pie, I’d be serving a huge slice to The 5th Avenue’s own amazing orchestra, conducted this time by Jay Alger. The popular music of the 1930s is a big part of my life and they totally nailed it, getting just the right sound, style and authentic period arrangements. Many of great Seattle's finest musicians occupy that orchestra pit and I say, "Congratulations to these hometown heroes!"

I always enjoy myself at The 5th Avenue, but I give this show a rating of five especially bright stars. Go see it!

The 5th Avenue Theatre is located at 1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101
Box office phone: (206) 625-1900  Online box office

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

"CATS™” Has Theatre Fans on Vashon Island Purring

Good Life Northwest congratulates Drama Dock and Director Elizabeth Ripley, as well as a great cast and crew, on their production of the musical CATS™ .

Photo by Tom Hughes               Graphic art by Lillian Ripley

As I took the ferry from Tacoma to Vashon Island on Friday night to see a show, such delightful serendipity awaited. Elizabeth Ripley, an independent musical and vocal director, certified, Meisner Acting Teacher, and Pacific Northwest Representative of Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York has done it again, only more so. Not everyone could take a cast of 41 young thespians (as young as age eleven) and pull off such a grand production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous 1981 musical CATS™, the second longest to ever run on Broadway. I would strongly encourage you to make the trip to the island to see it, except it sold out early. No wonder.

While serving as artistic director of Drama Dock, a non-profit community theatre on Vashon Island, Ripley founded Drama Dock's Youth Theatre Initiative in 2010. CATSis the Initiative's sixth production and topping this one won't be easy. She told me it would be "an epic production" and it is.

Every second of the show displayed six week's worth of hard work, dedication, and discipline by everyone involved, but how they accomplished so much in that time I do not know. The choreography stunned. How mesmerizing to see all those "cats" moving together with such synchronization when called for, or leaping, twisting, caressing, so beautifully. The effects of live music, directed by Christopher Overstreet, the  scenery, lighting, costumes, makeup (distinctly different for each of 41 cats), and some powerful singing made it magical. Maya Krah's rendition of the song "Memory" in her role of the old cat Grizabella, enraptured the audience with its beauty. All the singing was excellent. At other times, we gasped over acrobatics and marveled at how well all those complex lyrics were delivered.

I could go on and on, but let it be enough to say that some exciting things are happening with this Youth Theatre Initiative on Vashon Island. Don't let a short ride on a ferry keep you from experiencing what this community has to offer to the arts scene in the Pacific Northwest. Pay special attention to Elizabeth Ripley. Who knows what she will produce next? After already devoting 35 years of her life to theater, she has many more surprises in store.

For more details see Elizabeth Sheppard's article in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.


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Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: "SUGAR DADDIES" at Seattle's ACT Theatre Offers Humor and Suspicion

A mother’s dire warnings about talking to strangers remain in the subconscious forever, and I heard those ghostly whispers within the first five minutes of Sugar Daddies, now playing at ACT-A Contemporary Theatre.

Emily Chisholm - close up
Photo: LaRae Lobdell

This intelligent and hilarious play, written and directed by the acclaimed Sir Alan Ayckbourn, runs Tuesday through Sunday through October, ending on Nov. 3. It was number 64 of 77 plays by the award-winning London-born playwright and director.  It is also his tenth to be produced at ACT, beginning with Relatively Speaking in 1976.  Ayckbourn honors the theater, the cast, and the audiences by coming to Seattle to direct the American premiere of Sugar Daddies himself, using local actors.

Expect to laugh much of the time. This play will catch you off guard, engage and hold your attention, and deliver lines of sharp humor at such a pace it would seem a blitz of pure comedy if not for its somber undertones. There is something for everyone when it comes to truths or traits we have each experienced or observed at some time, hopefully not in ourselves. Issues of power, control, deception (including self-deception), insecurity, aggression, submission, denial, fear, and the overriding need for love all surface in this play.
Emily Chisholm and Seán Griffin drinking
Photo: Chris Bennion
The story centers around a naïve and rather nauseatingly sunny college student named Sasha (Emily Chisholm) who shares a London flat with her older half-sister Chloe (Elinor Gunn). The ambitions Sasha states seem a bit too ambitious for the girl we see, but we can’t help but hope for the best for one so blindly positive. Then we watch Sasha lose her naiveté.
The story begins during the winter holidays in London, when she brings home—from the street corner where she found him—a man named Val (Seán G. Griffin), old enough to be her grandfather and dressed up as Father Christmas, an icon of her youth and still magical to her. After having witnessed him being nearly run down by a car (perhaps for good reason, we later learn), she has taken pity on the old fellow and brought him back to her place to rest and assess his condition. He claims a bad heart and knee. Chloe returns to the flat to discover this unlikely guest and is horrified to see that Sasha would be so foolish.
Emily Chisholm and Elinor Gunn
Photo: Chris Bennion
Nothing Val says seems anything less than appreciative and polite. He doesn’t even stay long, but before he leaves, he scrutinizes the flat and the girls’ possessions when no one is looking. There’s another side to him, one the audience will gradually see revealed.  Sasha’s sweetness and innocence charm him and close friendship develops, seemingly devoid of sexual intimacy but certainly heavy on all the “Sugar Daddy” trappings that come with strings attached. Those stings are obligation, submission to control, and pressure for Sasha to please Val and be the person he seems to want her to be. The expensive florist bouquet that arrives shortly after their initial meeting is only the first in an endless stream of extravagant gifts and outings that will change Sasha forever.
Sugar Daddies focuses on an aspect of human nature often denied; people are not necessarily what they seem to be and frequently behave in ways they believe are expected of them. Personal motives shape all human interactions, even though they may well be subconscious. The play also points out that humans view others in the way they want to see them, the way that reinforces or validates the viewers’ personal motives. Just as the characters in this play are not always who they seem to be, neither are their motives always what they appear to be. Faced with the difficulty and effort involved in maintaining false fronts, people eventually become their true selves again and we see hints, at least, of the complicated, flawed, yearning, and sometimes surprisingly pathetic creatures they are.

John Patrick Lowrie and Seán Griffin and Emily Chisholm
Photo: Chris Bennion
 Under Val’s gentlemanly exterior we sense something sinister. Already on in a suspicious mindset, we initially distrust the girls’ downstairs neighbor, Ashley (John Patrick Lowrie). Sasha’s half-sister Chloe demonstrates low self-esteem in her relationship with an unseen beau, in spite of her supposed maturity and sophistication. Val’s old “friend” Charmaine (Anne Allgood)—one of countless women now in his debt for reasons never exactly reveled—shows a spirited nature that shrivels in the face of his reprimands. Even Sasha surprises us.

Through innuendo, tension, gesture, tone of voice, humor, and a brilliant script, Ayckbourn employs these characters to communicate some profound truths. He lets no one get away with anything. Finally stripped bare of pretension, their problems, weaknesses, and even their strengths stand naked before us. Could we each face the same in our own bedroom mirrors?
Treat yourself to Sugar Daddies. The acting, scenic design and all other aspects certainly achieve the high standards I have come to expect from ACT, all being excellent. You will never have laughed so hard, or uneasily, before.

ACT-A Contemporary Theatre is located at 700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101

Ticket Office Phone: (206) 292-7676

Information on special events (discussions and a tasting) related to Sugar Daddies

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Thursday, October 10, 2013


Oktoberfest events—with plenty of good polka band music, beer, and sausages—dominate the weekend scene in the Pacific Northwest this month, but there is another ethnic heritage celebration going on that you won’t want to miss. It’s time, once again, for Nordic Fest, presented by the Tacoma-based Embla Lodge No. 2 Daughters of Norway.
Members of Embla Lodge No. 2 wearing their traditional outfits called "bunads"
You won’t find any beer or sausages at Nordic Fest, but rather stacks of boxed homemade butter cookies for sale at a ridiculously low price, a menu featuring savory meatballs bathed with gravy and served with potatoes, entertainment in the form of traditional music and dancing, a chance to see Viking artifacts, colorful costumes, arts and crafts, and more.
Normanna Male Chorus from Sons of Norway
Nordic Fest takes place on Saturday, October 12, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Edgemont Jr. High School — 2300   110th Ave. E., Edgewood, WA. 98372. Edgewood is located between I-5 and Hwy. 167, just north of the city of Puyallup. You can find a map here.
You can still go to an Oktoberfest event on Sunday if you want, since Nordic Fest is Saturday only. One other thing to consider is that without all that Oktoberfest beer, you won’t spend hours of your weekend waiting with a bunch of other fidgety people in front of a line of portable outhouses. Butter is better. (In case you’re a cardiologist, I’m only kidding!)

All photos provided by Embla Lodge
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Monday, October 7, 2013

RECIPE — Perfect Morning with Memory Leftovers from the DEVOTED KISS CAFE'

 Devoted Kiss Café on Gig Harbor

Ingredients for recipe:

1 nice husband (select type with just the right amount of impulsiveness)

1 unbelievably gorgeous Sunday morning in October

2 extra hours of sleep after a busy week

3 times your normal energy

1 good intention of getting right to work on projects (optional)

2 minutes spent considering making breakfast at home

1 delightful surprise with intriguing name

1.)         Mix first three ingredients together gently, knowing they are rare and precious. Fold in energy. Discard good intention, since you know you are kidding yourself anyway.

2.)         After two minutes of consideration have passed, discard thought of cooking at home when nice husband comes in the door after walking dog and says, “So… do you want to go out for breakfast?”

3.)         Get in car. Observe husband driving toward Tacoma Narrows Bridge while you wonder why. When husband drives onto bridge, ask him “Where are we going for breakfast?” Since he doesn't answer, ask “Is it a surprise?” When he says, “You’ll see,” just smile. Predict in your mind that it’s some place in Gig Harbor and set timer for ten minutes.


4.)         Discover delightful surprise when husband drives to 8809 North Harborview Drive #203, Gig Harbor, WA 98332. See sign that says “Devoted Kiss Café.”  Add big smile and a pinch of curiosity. This place is the manifestation of a catering company owner's dream.


5.)         Sit down inside for a moment and order from interesting menu. Then realize you must be crazy to be indoors. Pick up silverware and napkins and hurry out onto deck. Sit down at table for two in corner. Gaze at view of water, boats, the village of Gig Harbor, and autumn leaves. Say, “Wow” in a long drawn-out manner. Pour sunshine over all ingredients and heat to unseasonably balmy temperature.
6.)         Fill fork with bite of Breakfast Burrito, the best you've ever had. (Menu says, “Your choice of sausage or ham with pepper jack cheese, chipotle mayo, peppers, bacon, avocado & egg folded into a warm sundried tomato tortilla and grilled. Served with fresh cut morning potatoes.”) Share some with husband who is having perfectly cooked thick bacon, eggs done exactly to order, and the coolest little pieces of toast you've ever seen. Husband offers you a bite. Take it. Yum.
7.)         Mix all the above together with good conversation plus several steaming cups of Cutters Point Coffee, poured by the friendly café owner herself.


8.)         Test wonderful experience for doneness, but decide you can’t leave this place yet. Order the Lemon Brioche muffin to share with husband. Look at each other and sigh as you cut it in half, only to discover hidden treasure of tart, lemony goodness inside. Taste. Close eyes. With trembling hands, take picture that will turn out slightly blurry.
9.)         Thank cheerful waitress for excellent service. Thank cook for excellent food. Leave, hesitantly, knowing you WILL return as soon as possible.

10.)       Wander down to the water’s edge. Drive around harbor to marina and wander some more. Be grateful for nice husband, the Devoted Kiss Café, sunny mornings in October, and the joy of spontaneity. Kiss husband. Wrap memory leftovers of perfect morning in heart and keep for remainder of life.

If you don't know where Gig Harbor, WA, is, look at this map.

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See you there!