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Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Every year I look forward to seeing the irises at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, because there is something about these exquisite blooms that fascinates me. Did you know that "Iris" was the name of the Goddess of the Rainbow, a messenger of the Gods in Greek mythology? I learned this in an interesting article on the American Meadows website. They do come in a rainbow of colors, not all of which are represented in this photo tour of the Point Defiance garden. Nevertheless, I hope you will enjoy the beauties captured by my camera last week.*

*All photos are the property of Candace J. Brown and may not be used without permission

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Most people don’t even know about the four-string cousin of the six-string guitars that seem to dominate the world of music, but Mark Josephs intends to change all that. He’s the president of the Tenor Guitar Foundation, and he wants to invite you to a party. The Tenor Guitar Gathering he started in Astoria, Oregon, in 2009 is now five years old and better than ever.

The 5th Annual Tenor Guitar Gathering (TGG5 for short) takes place June 5-8, 2014 in that same scenic northwest corner of the state. The event includes four evenings of concerts by over a dozen tenor guitar virtuosos from all over the country and two days of workshops. Build your own cigar box guitar. Enjoy a fiddle jam finale on Sunday night. Learn Nick Reynolds tuning (taught by son, Josh Reynolds). You can play music on The Trolley and radio station KMUN, and more. You don’t even have to know how to play tenor guitar; all instruments are welcome. 
So just what IS the big deal anyway? Josephs, a fine musician himself, answers that question. 

“The big deal is the big full sound and the beautiful orchestral voicings,” he says. “What started out with me as a mild curiosity about the instrument has blossomed into a much greater appreciation. The more I learn about the instrument and get to know some of the people who play them, the more enthusiastic I get.” 

He says the same thing happens to people who attend his event. Once they discover it, they return year after year. Most tenor players live in a vacuum. It’s exciting to get together with others who love this often overlooked instrument, perfect for those who don’t like to just follow along with the crowd. 

“That's part of the charm of being a tenor guitar player,” Josephs stresses. “Not everyone plays one ... yet! It's still a novelty, a rarity. Tenor guitar players want to meet others who share their passion for the instrument, and the general public has a growing curiosity about these little guitars.” 

Tenor Guitar Gatherers from last year's Gathering at the end of "Playing on The Trolley"
which has become a yearly tradition.
He thinks it’s only a matter of time before Astoria becomes the undisputed, official, tenor guitar capital of the world. He compared it to the beach town in Southern California that was legally granted the title of “Surf City.” Time will tell, but Joseph doesn't consider that notion any more outlandish that his original idea of a Tenor Guitar Gathering. Now it’s five years old and better than ever. This year it features over a dozen world class players. 

“They’re making the long trek to the holy city of Astoria, to witness the four day tenor guitar extravaganza, the only one of it's kind anywhere,” Josephs says, “and that is pretty much the draw.” 

Feeling drawn? For details go to the Tenor Guitar Foundation's website. Or, check the event's Facebook page. And while you're at it, please visit the Facebook page for Good Life Northwest. I hope you will "like" them both. Thanks!

All photos provided by Mark Josephs and used with permission.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A "VIEW" YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS— Review of "A ROOM WITH A VIEW" at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre

The company of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Tracy Martin

The curtains parted on opening night of “A Room With a View” and drew the audience into a street scene in an Italian city over a hundred years ago, a scene of classical architecture, the warmth of Mediterranean light, and a realistic backdrop of sky textured with clouds. It seemed like a Maxfield Parrish painting—aglow with rich hues, exquisite detail, grandeur, and luminosity. Rather than appearing on the artist’s canvas, however, it was on the stage of The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, where this new musical—based on the E.M. Forster’s novel by the same name—runs through Sunday, May 11, loaded with the best of local talent.

I fell in love at first sight, and I stayed in love, even though I had to be openminded enough to accept a few less-than-perfect aspects as it went along.

A Room With a View” takes place in 1908. The first act is set in Florence, Italy during the spring of that year and the second act in Surrey, England, during the summer that followed. It’s the tale of a young English woman, Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) who has been brought up as a proper lady, a member of the privileged class, and is betrothed to an even more proper, prissy, and very well-to-do young English gentleman named Cecil Vyse (Will Reynolds). 

The company of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit: Tracy Martin
Lucy goes on a trip to Italy with her elder cousin Charlotte Bartlett (Patti Cohenour), who acts as chaperone, and there she can’t help falling in love with George Emerson (Louis Hobson). He, too, is an English tourist on holiday, in this case with his father, Mr. Emerson (Allen Fitzpatrick). The father wishes his son would live more "in the moment" and encourages him to pursue Lucy and with her make the most of the Italian experience. They all share the same hotel, as do some other interesting characters, such as a dramatic and charming novelist named Miss Lavish (Suzy Hunt) and The Reverend Mr. Beeber (Richard Gray). 

l-r George Emerson (Louis Hobson) and Mr. Emerson (Allen Fitzpatrick) in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Mark Kitaoka
As the story begins, Mr. Emerson offers to trade rooms with Lucy and Charlotte so they can enjoy the view, since they have none and care about it more than he and his son do. However, the Emersons belong to a lower social class. They are therefore considered unsuitable company and their kind offer is deemed inappropriate. Suitable company or not, away from the restraints of English society in the freer atmosphere of Italy, Lucy and George do get to know each other, both realizing what it means to give in to love, to live fully and freely. Consequently, the come to face the true nature of their hearts’ desires.

l-r Reverend Beeber (Richard Gray), Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith), and Mrs. Lavish (Suzy Hunt) in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Tracy Martin
Just as Parrish’s paintings feature both the clarity of realism and dreaminess of fantasy, this musical has its own contrasts beyond the obvious comparison of two very different places and societies. Most of us can relate to a scenario of finding oneself at a crossroad in life where choices must be made, opportunities taken or lost, and gut-wrenching decisions between doing what is expected or following the heart must be made, all the while knowing the path of one's life will be altered forever. The musical had that true-to-life quality, but at the same time, it presented a mix of characters both as real and unreal as a Parrish painting. Some were distinctive, complex, and memorable individuals, and some parts seemed to be written as stereotypical and flat. In spite of truly excellent acting, they just lacked depth. Or maybe I'm asking too much of musical theater.

We’ve all met, in books or movies, versions of Cecil and his snobby, aristocratic mother, Mrs. Vyse (also play by Suzy Hunt, one of my favorite Seattle actresses). The Italians in this musical are also, for the most part, stereotyped—some might say offensively so. Most men on the street are presented as a danger to respectable women and likely to rob or assault. One even commits murder. Whereas the English place the highest value on appearances and propriety, the Italian couple we see again and again—played by Jadd Davis and Jenny Shotwell, can’t keep their hands off each other, even in public, and seem to care far more for operatic singing and making love than making a living. Yet part of Lucy is fascinated by their lifestyle and passionate romance, even as she rejects them socially for their lack of refinement.

Speaking of Davis and Shotwell, their singing was one of the highlights of this musical, along with Griffith’s truly amazing voice and Hobson’s fine vocal talents as well. In fact, all of the singing delighted me, even if not all the melodies did. However, my husband and others we spoke with had trouble understand the lines. One woman from the audience said if she had not read the book, she would not know what was going on.

Lucy Honeychurch (Laura Griffith) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit: Tracy Martin
Although I enjoyed the music, ome of the compositions seemed to have a lot going on but without really saying much. On our drive back to Tacoma, my husband and I discussed how only a few songs seemed memorable, like the lighthearted “Splash” and Charlotte’s lament, “Failed, Failed, Failed.” They were the only ones I could still hear in my head, not the more romantic numbers. If I could buy this soundtrack, I’m not sure I would, even though the orchestra and vocalists performed with great skill and finesse. I 

The stage sets and lighting, however, will stay in my memory for a long, long time. They were exquisite, with special effects, like rain falling through a leak in the roof and lightning in the night sky, equal to anything I’ve seen at this theater. I loved the costumes too. The whole package provided the kind of rich experience only The 5th Avenue can offer, but it felt so different, more like opera than a musical. Part of that was because it had only minimal dancing. In spite of missing my desired quota of that staple of musical theater, I was still quite charmed by the whole thing.

l-r Freddy Honeychurch (Matt Owen), Reveren Beeber (Richard Gray) and George Emerson (Louis Hobson) decide to take a dip in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit Mark Kitaoka
As many people have heard, the show does contain male nudity—a swimming scene in a pond with real water—but it is handled discreetly and with the innocence of kids playing at the old watering hole on a summer afternoon. It's one of several delightful scenes in which Lucy's younger brother, Freddy Honeychurch (Matt Owen) shows his vivacious, irresistible personality (and in this case, more.) I even took my copy of Forster’s novel off the shelf when I came home, to compare. This production’s version of that scene felt true to the original and much more about casting off the restraints of society, and feeling free, than casting off clothing for sexual reasons. 

Louis Hobson and Laura Griffith star as George Emerson and Lucy Honeychurch in the premiere of the new musical, A Room with a View
Credit: Mark Kitaoka
“A Room With a View,” like the novel that inspired it, has been called “romantic comedy” but that label didn’t quite feel right to me. It did contain good humor, but I never found myself laughing out loud. It seemed just a bit too serious to be truly funny and too funny to be serious, even though it had a serious message. In fact, that message was my favorite aspect of the the show. It spoke of the basic, essential, human needs to love and be loved and to live a genuine life. E.M. Forster’s characters are only in heterosexual relationships, but as a gay man reaching adulthood around the turn of the last century, he must have drawn material from his own yearning for a lifelong romantic relationship with a true love of his choice, a yearning never fulfilled.

I recommend “A Room With a View” for all the things I loved about it. It not only entertained, but was engaging, thoughtful, well directed, and visually stunning. I cared about the characters and worried about whether or not they would make the right decisions or end up haunted by regrets. I left feeling good, happy, satisfied and rewarded for my time. I believe you will too. You only have until May 11 to experience this show, so don’t miss the opportunity. 

For your convenience, here is a link to the online box office. Enjoy the show.

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