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Wednesday, March 18, 2015


If you have never heard of Jacques Brel (1929-1978), you are not alone, even though this Belgian singer/songwriter became famous in the world of European popular music, a voice expressing the emotions of many in the difficult post-World War II era, and a man who has been compared to Frank Sinatra for his wide appeal. Yet, here in the United States, he was far less well-known. The demand for his deeply felt and passionately performed, sometimes lighthearted, but often introspective or cynical lyrics sung to his compositions played on guitar kept him on tour almost constantly until the mid-1960s and inspired song writers in America and elsewhere. 

The company of Jacques Brel is Alive and Wel & Living in Paris,
 a co-production presented at ACT - A Contemporary Theatre.

Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka
Now through May 17, co-producers ACT—A Contemporary Theatre and The 5th Avenue Theatre bring you the musical revue called Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris . This is a fresh new version of the original Off-Broadway production by the same name, which opened in January 1968 at the Village Gate in Greenich Village in New York, toured the world’s major cities, and first appeared in the Pacific Northwest in 1973, at Seattle Rep. By the time of the show’s original New York debut in 1968 Brel, had not performed his music for two years and would be dead of lung cancer a decade later, at the age of 49. I wonder if he ever imagine how his work would live on. With direction and musical staging by The 5th Avenue Theatre's own Artistic Director and Executive Producer David Armstrong, in the intimate setting of ACT's Falls Theatre, it certainly does.

Cayman Ilika (center) with Louis Hobson (left) and Eric Ankrim (right) in Jacques Brel is Alive and Wel & Living in Paris,
 a co-production presented at ACT - A Contemporary Theatre.

​Photo Credit: Tracy Martin
If you go to see Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, remember that this is a revue, not a play or musical. Expect no dialog, no dancing, no plot, no named “characters” in the usual sense, and costumes are mostly normal clothing accessorized in different ways. Do expect not only great singing, but also great acting from a cast of five, three men and two women who draw from Brel’s songs—and project to the audience—deep emotions, ranging from torment to humor. Cast members are Eric Ankrim, Louis Hobson (from March 7—April 12), Cayman Ilika, Kendra Kasselbaum, Timothy MeCuen Piggee, with Matt Owen taking over for Hobson April 14-May 17.

When I took my seat on the night of the press opening, I wondered what to expect. Tom Sturge’s stage design amounts to nothing more than an arrangement of steps and platforms, backed by screens onto which photographic images are projected to create a variety of moods. It turned out to be the ultimate canvas. The spareness of the set, the images, and the lighting effects added up to perfection.

Kendra Kassebaum in Jacques Brel is Alive and Wel & Living in Paris,
a co-production presented at ACT - A Contemporary Theatre.

​Photo Credit: Tracy Martin
The evening began with a live band of outstanding musicians behind a screen at the right rear of the stage but visible—Conductor Dwight Beckmeyer on piano, Greg Fulton on guitar, Chris Monroe on percussion, and Dave Pascal on bass. It is easy to be so swept up in the singing and visual aspects of this production, that you forget that a huge portion of the enjoyment you experience is due to this band. Please do not. 

From the first moment to the last, one moving, comical, dramatic, painfully tragic, or light hearted number after another—14 songs in Act I and 12 in the Act II—captivated the audience and earned enthusiastic applause. Variety kept things interesting and the time seemed to pass too quickly. The entire show progressed without a flaw, leaving me feeling that I had witnessed the finest in local talent and professionalism, as well as the profound benefit of having these two powerhouse theaters cooperate on a production. This is their fifth such annual combined effort, and I have loved every one.

The company of Jacques Brel is Alive and Wel & Living in Paris,
 a co-production presented at ACT - A Contemporary Theatre.

Photo Credit: Tracy Martin
I highly recommend this show. Get your tickets, relax, and feel yourself swept along on a sea of music marked by waves of raw emotion and expanses of hypnotic silkiness. Every part of the journey will fill you with greater appreciation for the members of the cast and creative team, our rich local live theater scene, and of course Jacques Brel, still alive and well as long as the world remembers. Who could ask for more?

Louis Hobson in Jacques Brel is Alive and Wel & Living in Paris,
a co-production presented at ACT - A Contemporary Theatre.

​Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Patra Vessel No. 74 by Linda Lowe

The Tacoma waterfront will be the scene of "Illuminations" this weekend. 

My dictionary defines the word "illuminate" as "to enlighten spiritually or intellectually," and Dance Theatre Northwest's world premier performances of new works, experienced at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, on Saturday, March 14, will do just that. Titled "Illuminations," this entirely new presentation of dance numbers ranging from ballet to jazz and tap was inspired by three of the museum's current exhibits and is FREE with admission during Family Day. Performance times are 1p.m. and 3 p.m. 

Artistic Director Melanie Kirk-Stauffer had this to say about Dance Theatre Northwest's upcoming event and the all-new choreography: "Like all creative projects, I had a lot of fun with this show. The individual pieces are unique but they are also all related. The essential part for me is to create something that enhances what is already great art and or gives people a different perspective about what they are seeing or feeling."

Kirk-Stauffers new creations will express her interpretations of exhibits Patra Passage, The Chihuly Drawings, and Kids Design Glass Too

Image from "Illuminations" poster - courtesy of Dance Theatre Northwest

“There’s a lot that I like about this show," dancer Amelia Arial said. "I feel that the pieces are a lot different (the choreography) than the pieces we have done previously—unique, new, different and exciting. The dancing is challenging but a lot of fun for me.”  

Patra Passage, an exhibition of 108 ceramic vessels made and painted by artist Lind Lowe, inspired dance numbers 1-7 of the 11 that will be presented:

1. Baroque one – Grace – Antonio Vivaldi

2. Baroque two  - Power – Henry Purcell

3. Baroque three - The Light – Antonio Vivaldi 

4. Cora Son -  The Heart – solo with Allison Zakharov – Spanish Composer unknown

5. The Journey – solo with Oceana Thunder – Contemporary/New Age – N. Gunn

6. Peace of Mind Excursion - large group lyrical jazz piece – features Philandra Eargle – Contemporary Dance

7. Flower Duet – Call Us Together—solo with Madeline Ewer –Delibes from Opera Lakme 

8. Planets – features Lauren Trodahl – Phillip Glass – Orchestral 

The Chihuly Towers inspired Planets. The towers rise to a height of 40 feet above the deck of the "Chihuly Bridge of Glass" pedestrian overpass that crosses the freeway between the Museum of Glass and  the Washington State History Museum on Pacific Avenue. 


9. Pas de Deux - Harmonic Inspiration – Vivaldi Concerto in G Major – Gregory Peloquin and Solana Sartain

10. Precious – Contemporary/Jazz solo with Olivia Stephen-Jordan

The Harmonic Inspiration Pas De Deux and Precious pieces relate to a children’s exhibit called Kids Design Glass Too.


11. On Your Toes – Musical theatre TAP group Ziegfeld– Rodgers and Hart

On Your Toes relates to The Chihuly Drawings

"My mind was like a maze at first, trying to put this all together," Kirk-Staffer said, "and then the works really started to take shape."

Why not bring the whole family to this delightful and uniquely Northwest event? The museum is located at 1801 Dock Street, Tacoma, Washington. For more information, call DTNW at (253) 778-6534 or the Museum of Glass at (866) 468-7386. Here are detailed directions:

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Sometimes the sun rises in the south—that is, if you consider Oregon to be the “south” of the Pacific Northwest. Good Life Northwest recently had the opportunity to interview Ty Boice, a member of the  Actors' Equity Association and the founder and producing artistic director of Post5 Theatre in Portland. He lives there with his wife, Cassandra BoicePost5’s education director and associate artistic director (who is also a playwright), and their infant son, Keaton. It is a long commute back and forth to Seattle, but Boice is working here, once again. Catch him while you can.

He recently impressed Seattle audiences as the character Joe Pitt in Intiman Theatre’s Angels in America and is now igniting the stage as Vince in the world premier of a play called Seven Ways to Get There at ACT-A Contemporary Theatre. The play is a production of ACT Lab and DeeJayCee Creative Ventures. It was co-written by Dwayne Clark and Bryan Willis and directed by John Langs. It runs through Sunday, March 15. 

Trust fall
Photo: Truman Buffett
Boice shared his thoughts during a phone interview, from Portland, Oregon.

Candace Brown for Good Life Northwest: Before we talk about the play Seven Ways to Get There, please tell me about your prior acting opportunities in Seattle. You keep coming back, so you must like it here.

Boice: As far as my background in Seattle goes, it’s been quite a wonderful love affair. I’ve worked up there several different times in my life. Prior to going to school, I did four shows up there on the fringe circuit and then two independent films. 

I was very serious about moving after I finished my training (Portland Actors Conservatory), but then Post5 Theatre fell into my lap, so I began that journey. That was the deciding factor in me not being a fixture of Seattle theater. I love the growth I’ve had as an artist up there, and the people I’ve worked with. It’s an incredible medium-sized market as far as American theater goes, a place rich with history, and an exciting place, because people are pushing limits. 

There is always growth when I go up there. I always see new work, new people making theater, and it’s very inspiring. As an actor, I think I’m happiest in Seattle, and as a producer, in Portland.  There is a lot more work I want to do in Seattle.

GLN: Please give me a synopsis of Seven Ways to Get There. I know it is about a therapy group for men, led by a woman.

Boice: It’s basically seven different men coming with seven different issues, and those issues vary in severity. They’re all dealing with things. What’s lovely about the play is that they find friendship, respect, and support in what, in the beginning of the play, seems like a very unlikely place. They find a commonality. Egos are set aside and bump up against each other. Ultimately, friendships are made. Lives are changed as a result of this mens’ group. It’s based on true experiences. It’s a slice-of-life play, and it’s terribly funny. 

GLN: Yes, people are saying that. Tell me about the humor.

Boice: A lot of the credit has to go to the playwright, in that he offered what our director has essentially called “chocolate and vanilla.” We’ll deal with something that’s real and heavy and that many of us can relate to directly, or to something similar. Then he’ll give us some “vanilla.” We’re able to laugh at ourselves. We’re able to laugh at these characters and their scruples. It has this kind of sparkling, wonderful energy to it. At times, it’s very laconic, and at times it’s very  “in your face.” John Langs, our incredible director, likened it to jazz. There are a lot of different sounds percolating. 

I think that as a cast and an artistic team, we’ve had success. Audiences have really enjoyed it. I think we’ve had a standing ovation at every preview, every dress rehearsal, and every performance, and that doesn’t happen all the time, in Seattle or Portland. So that was pretty unique. Whether it’s everybody’s cup of tea, I don’t know. I know I’m enjoying doing it, and people sure seem to enjoy it.

Photo: Truman Buffett

GLN: Has it been a challenge, and if so, in what particular ways? 

Boice: It was all very positive—working on a new play and essentially working with the playwright to write that in the room. That is a delightful challenge. I can’t say enough about the people who were in this room, the cast—Bradford Farwell, Darragh Kennan, James Lapan, Charles Leggett, Kirsten Potter, Todd Van Voris, Bob Williams. These are wonderful veteran theater actors. They are obviously very smart actors, so with any inconsistencies the play would have— which is normal for any play in its infancy, like this one is—they were so smart in finding those in a healthy and supportive way with the playwright, really coming alongside him and adding very positive feedback. 

So the challenge was to let yourself flex and stretch as you got rewrites, to let go of lines you love, and then learn how to make challenging parts in the script work. We had a draft we started with, and then it changed considerably. It’s an ongoing process, working on the draft. I think the playwright, director, and producer will continue to make changes, but I know that where they left off with us, we have a concrete piece of material. 

GLN: You mention how these characters are supportive of each other and form strong friendships. Do you think that is a little bit different than the reality of most men?

Boice: Oh absolutely. It would be completely accurate to describe their relationships as combative, as contrary, as antagonistic. It is amazing where we start and then where we end, first as a group of individuals and then as a cohesive unit. Some real friendships were born out of the experience they had. There’s kind of an underlying theme of “I call bullshit” on somebody’s untruth or not owning up to their mistakes. These characters challenge each other, sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes in very unhealthy ways, so it makes for wonderful theater, seeing seven different ingredients mix and intermingle and slam up against each other. There are strong chemical reactions. It makes for some good humor and drama.

GLN: Do you think it’s true that our society is not adequately aware of men’s therapy groups, and that men don’t talk about them? 

Boice: I think there’s a screaming need for better mental health. We can talk about gun control; we can talk about anti-bullying campaigns; we can talk about equal rights, but a lot of theses things stem from flawed thinking or abuse. That effects all genders, all sexualities. Mental health is a universal topic and very important. This is a great conversation starter. There are so many things we deal with, even those who seem mentally healthy. We’re all dealing with something. We can always use support without an agenda and people who want to help us navigate. 

GLN: As you say all of this, I’m thinking about the role of art in our culture and the importance of art to society. 

Boice: There are all different kinds of theater. There are musicals, full performance art, things geared differently and illuminating stories in different ways. But I am obviously a huge fan of expressing the human condition in all its beauty and ugliness and exploring that. I would give this play a tremendous thumbs-up. It’s watching a lot of different character studies and—to give credit to my cast mates and director—watching the artists handle these characters with deft skills. There’s an articulate way they go about telling these men’s stories. 

Photo: Truman Buffet

GLN: What about the dynamic of having an all-male cast except for one woman? 

Boice: Oh it’s wonderful, because it makes for great drama! That’s addressed in the play. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s delightful how the playwright has chosen to handle that, how Kirsten Potter’s character, Michelle, the therapist, is written and how the actor is navigating that. She demands respect, both as an actor and as a character. It’s a joy to watch her work.

GLN: Do you think this would have been a very different play had there not been a woman in that role? 

Boice: Oh yes. I’m so glad the playwright made that choice. He was so smart to have that dynamic in the room.

GLN: Is there anything else you would like to tell people about Seven Ways to Get There and why they ought to go see it? 

Boice: Since I’m in the thick of it, I don’t know that I have the best perspective, but I know I'm enjoying it, and my cast mates are enjoying it. If the actors are all enjoying the process and having this much fun on stage telling a story, it’s bound to be successful. As far as audience response goes, like I say, we’ve had all standing ovations. I don’t want to put the pressure on us or the audience, but that’s a rare experience and a pretty neat one. I think people will really enjoy this play.


Don't miss the opportunity to see Boice and the rest of this fine cast in Seven Ways to Get There at ACT-A Contemporary Theatre, located at 700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101. (Age Recommendation: 14+ for mature language and themesYou can buy tickets online through the ACT box office or call (206) 292-7660 to get seats for the following remaining dates and times—

Thursday, March 5, 7:30pm
Friday, March 6, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 7, 7:30pm
Sunday, March 8, 7:30pm
Thursday, March 12, 7:30pm
Friday, March 13, 7:30pm
Saturday, March 14, 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sunday, March 15, 2:00pm

Here are some links to articles about Ty Boice and reviews of his work—