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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"SOMETHING ROTTEN!" at The 5th Avenue Offers Both Shock and Awe, For Better or Worse

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour - Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle just opened its 2017-2018 season with the touring Broadway musical comedy Something Rotten!, which runs now through October 1, 2017. It should completely delight the most ardent fans of musicals. I mean people who really love musical theater, those who can hear a snippet of a song and name the title and show, who eat up every cliché the genre can possibly offer. For them, this quick-paced, colorful, and clever production is a feast. However, to others, Something Rotten! might feel like an orgy of excesses. 

It comes from a team with very impressive credentials. Casey Nicholas, a Tony Award winner who did The Book of Mormon and Aladdin, directs this production and also did the choreography. Wayne Kirkpatrick (a Grammy Award winner and Tony Award nominee) and Karen Kirkpatrick (Golden Globe Award winner and Tony Award nominee) wrote the music and lyrics, with Karen Kirkpatrick also writing the book with best-selling author John O-Farrell.

The show opens with the Minstrel (Nick Rashad Burroughs) starting off the fun and funny "Welcome to the Renaissance." He is soon joined by the chorus as we move into a lively London street scene, including the Globe Theatre. This is the 1590s world of William Shakespeare (who is also a primary character, played by Adam Pascal).  I instantly loved the colors of the set and costumes, by Broadway veterans Scott Park and Gregg Barnes, respectively. Rich shades of rust, gold, brown, and teal pleased me, as did Jeff Croiter's perfect lighting. 

Something Rotten! revolves around the dilemma faced by two playwright brothers, Nick and Nigel Bottom (Rob McClure and Josh Grisetti, respectively) Struggling to survive in the shadow of Shakespeare, whose success has turned him into the rock star of his times, they must come up with a new play on short notice, to compete and keep their troupe going. Unfortunately, the two brothers disagree on almost everything. Nick, unbeknownst to his wife Bea (Maggie Lakis) uses their meager savings to hire a soothsayer named Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), to give him a winning idea and reveal the next big thing in theater. This Nostradamus is the nephew of the Nostradamus, and his clairvoyance is not quite spot on. 

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour - Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel

As Nostradamus describes his vague vision of a potential smash hit we recognize as Shakespeare's future play Hamlet, he interprets the title as Omelet. Running with the idea, Nick comes up with a completely ridiculous, over-the-top-silly script involving chefs with frying pans and dancing omelets. Most importantly, Nostradamus makes the seemingly outlandish suggestion that the playwrights have actors sing their lines, rather than speak them, setting the whole play to music and including dance. Ta da! They are about to invent something completely new—musical theater! Is this insanity or genius? Can it succeed?

Something Rotten! also involves romance of course. The sensitive and poetic brother, Nigel, falls in love with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), daughter of a Puritan preacher, Brother Jeremiah (Patrick John Moran), a man whose repressed sexual fantasies causes enough Freudian slips to rate as psychological banana peels. 

Speaking of music, Peter Hylenski's sound design, along with Phil Reno's music direction of Glen Kelly's arrangements and Larry Hochman's orchestrations, bring out the full potential of the amazing musicians we never see but so appreciate. A combination of the Something Rotten! orchestra (conducted by Brian P. Kennedy) and our beloved 5th Avenue Theatre Orchestra, delivers a wide variety of music so skillfully you would think they had all played these exact tunes for years.  

Cast of the Something Rotten! National Tour - Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel
So, with great music, singing, dancing, sets, and costumes, what's not to like?
After all, the annoying woman sitting behind me burst out with ear-splitting cackles over everything. The show begins with so much dazzling sensory sensations, it later struggles to maintain that high. There was plenty of genuinely good humor, which I, too, enjoyed, to a point, because there was also plenty of in-your-face crassness that started to get old. There is good reason it is recommended for those 10 years of age or older. Ironically, much of the bawdy humor would go over the heads of younger children whereas kids over 10, in today's society, would probably catch the implications. Content Advisories.  

How many times can you ask an audience to find the same thing funny (like winking references to the brothers' surname of "Bottom" or the outrageous behavior of the repressed Puritan?) How much attention must be focus on the exaggerated codpiece portion of the men's costumes? (You are going to want to click on that link to read a fascinating article.) How many musical "quotes" from other Broadway shows can you stomach? How many sexual innuendos of the same type do we need to get the obvious point? How much belief must we suspend to believe what some of these characters do, like the Puritan daughter getting drunk? 

Picture this scenario. You invite a group of notable chefs into the kitchen and provide them with unlimited quantities of the highest quality ingredients, some of which are best used judiciously. Then, they each add every one of those high quality ingredients with abandon, plus extra, for good measure, stir it all together, and crank up the heat. The end result might make you say "WOW," but does that make it good? 

I will let you decide. Audience reaction on opening night indicated how many people loved this show. If you are in the mood for a meal of many flavors, colors, textures, and tunes, go, and enjoy yourself. However, after this experience, you might decide the best chaser would be a glass of plain water and a quiet drive home.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

"Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii" Opens at Washington State History Museum

Takuichi FujiiMinidoka, “This is barbed wire around Block 24,” (not dated). Watercolor on paper, 13½ × 10 inches. Collection of Sandy and Terry Kita.

At a time in when immigrants and people of color have many reasons to feel less secure than ever, a new exhibit at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma is particularly relevant. Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii opens on Saturday, September 16, 2017 and will continue through Jan. 1, 2018. Visitors will see 70 works of art expressing an intimate view of Japanese American imprisonment in detention camps during World War II. They stand as a testament to one artist's perseverance, resilience, and will to create, even in the worst of circumstances. No official photos offer this personal point of view.

Takuichi Fujii, High School Girl, ca. 1934-1935. Oil on canvas, 22¾ × 29 inches. Wing Luke Museum Collection. Photo: Richard Nicol. (Painted while in Seattle)

A book titled The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii, Artist and Wartime Winess (University of Washington Press), by Barbara Johns, inspired this exhibit. She is also the curator. As an art historian, Johns knew of Fujii's artistic career in pre-war Seattle. However, no one seemed to know what happened to him once the war began. While doing research on the topic of Seattle's first-generation Japanese (Issei) artists, for her doctorate dissertation, Johns discovered the starkly revealing works Fujii created during the 3½ years he and his family spent in detention. During that time, he produced 250 works of art, including 130 watercolor paintings, ink drawings, and some three-dimensional pieces. Johns also became aware of Fujii's grandson, Sandy Kita, who happened to be translating the captions and comments in Fujii's 400-page "diary" of images. Visitors to the exhibit can see a digital copy.

Takuichi Fujii, Minidoka, “This area’s famous phenomenon of the sandstorm can make even the day dark. It is really something,” (not dated). Watercolor on paper, 10½ × 14½ inches. Collection of Sandy and Terry Kita.
Fuji was born in Japan in 1891. Arriving in Seattle in 1906, he made a life there as a businessman, husband, father of two daughters, and also as an artist. He painted views of the city's Japantown, the waterfront, as well as landscapes of the more arid eastern half of the state. Although he did paint images of people, including portraits of his daughters shown in the exhibit, he seemed to be more fascinated with capturing a sense of place. By the 1930s, Fujii had made a name for himself as an artist, both in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. His work was on display in places as far away as New York and Chicago. 

Takuichi Fujii, Minidoka, mess hall abstraction, (not dated).  Ink on paper, 6¼ × 7½ inches. Collection of Sandy and Terry Kita.
After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, everything changed. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, giving the Secretary of War the authority to establish "military areas." Nowhere in this document are the words "Japanese" or "Japanese Americans," yet this piece of paper would bring about the incarceration of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ethnicity (even if only 1/16 Japanese) without having been charged with any crime and without due process. Approximately 60% were American citizens. The rest, born in Japan, were forbidden by U.S. law to become citizens, no matter how much they desired to do so. 

In May of 1942, Fujii and his family members were forced to leave Seattle, joining hundreds of other Puget Sound area Japanese families temporarily housed in livestock barns at the Washington Sate Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington. He was 50 years old at the time. Then, crowded into train cars in extremely hot weather, they were sent east to Idaho, to the Minidoka "War Relocation Center" (as this prison was euphemistically called). 

The camp closed in October of 1945. As in the case of so many other prisoners, the disruption of relocation, the loss of property (real and personal), livelihoods, homes, and community, made a return to their pre-war existence impossible. Many politicians and others still did not want them anywhere near the coast. A great number of Japanese American families, including the Fujiis, settled in Chicago.

Takuichi Fujii, Fusano and Takuichi Fujii, ca. 1943-1945. Wood, left: 8¼ × 3 inches, right: 9 × 4 × 3¼ inches. Photo: Richard Nicol.

While in Minidoka, Fujii did some of his paintings on corrugated cardboard or whatever material he could acquire. Other pieces, being undated, might have been created from memory after the war. No one could ever forget. Fujii remained in Chicago for the rest of his life, which ended in 1964. Fortunately, his wife, Fusano Fujii, saved his wartime creations, as did her daughter, who ultimately passed them along to her son, Fujii's grandson, Sandy Kita who, along with his wife, Terry Kita, has graciously made them available for this exhibit. 

"To find a previously unknown collection of this depth and caliber is an extraordinary experience, and doubly so to be able to bring it to public attention," Johns said . "I'm deeply pleased that the Washington State History Museum will present Takuichi Fujii's work—in the region in which he first made his home in America, and in this 75th commemorative year after the mass exclusion of West Coast Japanese Americans." 

A visit to this exhibit is sure to affect the viewer profoundly. Art has never served a greater purpose than to make us think. Unfortunately, those in our society and government who ought to see this type of exhibit, and would possibly learn from it, seem to have the least interest in doing so.

For complete information on planning your visit, please click here

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Musical Version of Jane Austen's "PERSUASION" at Taproot Theatre — A Review

Life rarely offers us second chances, but now you have one if you have not yet seen Taproot Theatre's production of Persuasion. In fact, this musical adaptation of Jane Austen's novel by the same name is about second chances, and much more. It is at Taproot's Jewell Mainstage Theatre, in Seattle, through August 26, 2017. Thanks to positive audience response, it has been extended with extra performance times. Don't miss the opportunity.

Cayman Ilika & Matthew Posner in Persuasion at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Harold Taw wrote the book, and Chris Jeffries the music and lyrics. Together, they have given a new life to an old tale. It takes place during the Regency era in England, roughly from the late 18th century through the first two decades of the 19th century. Just as today, we see a society with its own "1%" versus "99%" imbalance. We step into the world of a titled English family desperately clinging to its phony, snobbish, aristocratic lifestyle, a family that refuses to quit spending lavishly or putting on airs, even though the money is basically gone. The protagonist, Anne Elliot (Cayman Ilika), is the only family member with common sense, genuine compassion, and humility. 
Matthew Posner, Sophia Franzella, Ryan Childers, Chelsea LeValley, Cayman Ilika & Randy Scholz in Persuasion at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Apparently doomed to spinsterhood, and with liberal views concerning women and the worth of those in the lower classes, she is almost an embarrassment to her father, Sir Walter Elliot (Nick DeSantis). Her mother died previously. One sister, Mary Musgrove (Kate Jaeger) is married. The other one, Elizabeth Elliot (Chelsea LeValley), is the father's favorite, looking for a rich husband who will indulge her as he has. 

Anne Elliot would have been married, had she not rejected the love of her life, a member of the British navy, after being persuaded to end the match based on their class differences. Her status-conscious godmother, Lady Russell (Caitlin Frances) did most of the persuading. At the beginning of the musical, we learn this lost love has returned, eight years after being jilted. Now, known as Captain Wentworth (Matthew Posner), he returns a hero of the Napoleonic Wars. This was at a time in English society when changing views allowed for accomplishment, rather than merely inherited wealth, to be considered a path to full acceptance as a gentleman. 

Nick DeSantis, Cayman Ilika & Matthew Posner in Persuasion at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Anne Elliot's emotional struggles over her regrets, the feelings she still has for him, and the idea of a woman exerting her own will against the forces imposed on her by family and society, form the basis of the story. Will they reunite, or not? The lasting pain of of their shared past and the love each still feels provide a poignancy the fine acting and expressive voices of Ilika and Posner make relatable and deeply moving. Director Karen Lund has nurtured another winner.

The hope of having a second chance, and then the question of whether or not to make the most of that chance when it is offered, is a facet of human experience as relevant today as 200 years ago. Austen completed this novel, her last, in 1816, then died in 1817. It was published posthumously in 1818. She knew, first hand, about the barriers between the social classes and the rigid restrictions on women's choices. Born into a genteel but impoverished family, Austen's only hope of a better life was through marriage. Yet, she was not considered a suitable bride for the young man she loved, whose family persuaded him to marry for money instead. 

Caitlin Frances, Nick DeSantis & Matthew Posner in Persuasion at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
The novel's cast of characters are not all actually seen in this musical, and the audience must accept the fact that some actors play multiple characters who physically resembled each other perhaps a bit too much. But this did not really detract. All actors gave excellent performances! Lovely costumes by Sarah Burch Gordon and authentic dancing, choreographed by Katy Tabb, helped create the feel of the era. So did the work of Dialect Coach Ben Wippel.

The novel's rather complicated plot has been simplified here, but some knowledge of that source would help in understanding who is being referred to and what is happening. Another difference is that, in the musical, the character of Anne Elliot is more impassioned about the rights of women. She leaves little doubt about her progressive feminist views, whereas in the novel, she seems to have less of a sense of victimization and more tolerance for the idea of maintaining social order, even at the expense of personal freedom. In both the book and musical, Anne upholds the ideal of a marriage in which partners are equal.

Cayman Ilika, Sophia Franzella, Caitlin Frances, Chelsea LeValley & Kate Jaeger in Persuasion at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

The musical Persuasion was created in 2015 during the 5th Avenue Theatre's intense month-long event called NextFest: A Festival of New Musicals. Then, in 2016, it underwent refinement at the Texas Musical Theatre Workshop. The results will impress you. At first, the idea of a Jane Austen novel as a musical seemed strange, but I loved every minute. The music was so pleasing, and the lyrics expressed complex emotions and situations in a way that felt natural. I could hear every word clearly, with perfect volume. This production offers a delightful blend of serious social commentary, romantic tension, good humor, memorable characters, and the suspense of not knowing for sure what decisions those characters will make. With all of that, it added up to a most engaging performance. I highly recommend it. If you allow yourself to be influenced by my own persuasion, you will thank me.

Tickets will be gone soon! Order yours here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Review — "Downstairs" at ACT Theatre is Riveting Drama

Photo provided by MR Toomey Photography
The Seattle premier of the play Downstairs, written by Theresa Rebeck and directed by Julie Beckman, features a cast of three who create an intense drama. Within the walls of The Bullitt Cabaret at ACT-A Contemporary Theatre, in Seattle, this play is set in a cluttered basement room. There, safety, danger, shelter, exposure, love, hate, fear, hope, and courage all share space far from the light of day. Not even the room's dark corners provide a place for the characters to hide. They must face painful truths about themselves and others before they can emerge as changed human beings, except for one. 

Producing Artistic Director Corey McDaniel founded Theatre22, which partnered with ACTLab to cooperatively produce this play. Downstairs has its roots in the ACT Construction Zone, a festival focused on new plays. From a field of 100 works solicited for the event, Downstairs was among four finalists presented as readings in the autumn of 2016 before being chosen as the one to be fully produced. 

Photo provided by MR Toomey Photography

Downstairs tells the story of a troubled and destructive marriage overlapping the relationship between adult siblings, a brother and sister scarred by their late mother's apparent mental illness and their father's early death. Caught in the middle is  Irene, both wife and sister, played by Christine Marie Brown. Brandon Ryan portrays her highly intelligent but sometimes semi-unintelligible brother, Teddy. Disheveled, unemployed and seemingly homeless, he justifies his extended "visit" and occupancy of Gerry and Irene's basement by claiming he is owed the favor. He feels cheated of his inheritance. According to Irene, however, when their mother's estate was being settled, he was too unstable to receive and handle his share. Teddy also hints at imminent plans, entrepreneurial opportunities he refuses to reveal. His presence, deeply resented by Gerry, changes the status quo of the marriage and becomes the catalyst for a crisis capable of destroying everything. 

Irene, at first, is rather cool toward her brother. Yet, in the contradictory and strange dance of their relationship, they each display frustration, annoyance, disagreement, nervous concern, and tender affection. None of this is ever boring. In fact, the play grows more interesting with each line. We realize Irene is nervous for both of them. The more she talks, the more we see her loneliness, low self-esteem, and isolation. She is trapped.

John Q. Smith plays the part of Irene's husband, Gerry, who does not actually appear until the second act. By the time he does, the siblings have already revealed enough about him to mix trepidation with the anticipation. Although Irene makes excuses for Gerry's behavior, she also lets slip to her brother how she has seen the monster within. Her lines included:"Something came out and looked at me. It showed its face." and "He says mean things, terrible things."

The basement room contains a sofa, a workbench above which Gerry's tools hang, a coffee pot, often handled and looked at, but seemingly never containing fresh coffee, a trunk on which sits a supposedly non-working computer (which will become signifiant), some shelving, and various pieces of clutter, such as cardboard boxes and an old lampshade. A curtain covers the doorway to a bathroom, and stairs lead up into the house. Within this environment, Teddy survives on cereal and food his sister prepares and brings to him. He never leaves until the traumatic day he must. 

Photo provided  by MR Toomey Photography

Blankets and afghans lie around on the sofa, floor, and elsewhere. When Irene ventures downstairs to talk to her brother, her handling of these props reveals her mental and emotional state. One minute she is testily tidying, folding them and placing them on the nearby shelves as an attempt to create order from the chaos of her existence. The next minute, she curls up on the sofa with one around her shoulders, seeking comfort. 

Likewise, the exchanges between the siblings can sound sensible or indicative of a mutual madness. Teddy is more obviously mentally ill, but sees certain truths clearly. Irene protects herself with extreme denial and tries to hide a festering anger. Her comments vacillate between near panic over her husband's growing and dangerous resentment to her rosy recollections of life with the mother she and Teddy view quite differently.

Members of the audience may, themselves, feel vulnerable on their ride through this gripping tale. Beware—it deals with abuse. Emotional abuse is built into the script. The threat of physical abuse hovers, ever present. For anyone who has experience either, it might hit too close to home. A disturbing reference to animal cruelty also occurs. As the tension builds, characters become emboldened and surprise us. This drama makes you aware of how a human being who never seemed the type could be pushed to the brink of violence. A few actions will literally startle you.

Photo provided by MR Toomey Photography
Only the best cast and creative team can make this play work. (Learn more about them here.) Brown's advanced skills enable her to navigate a complex role and sob so convincingly one truly feels her pain. She is a fearful "pleaser" with plenty of suppressed anger. Ryan, as Teddy, draws our empathy along with some suspicion. His rambling lines would not be easy to memorize or execute, but he has mastered them. Smith gave a stunning performance. One of the most chilling moments comes when Gerry finally appears on those stairs. Without saying a word, at first, Smith makes his character terribly threatening, his palpable malevolence coiled behind a thin wall of feigned civility, waiting to strike.

In response to a comment from Teddy, Gerry coldly says, "Trust me, you will know when things are not polite. I don't care what you think , and I don't care what she thinks."

Photo provided by MR Toomey Photography
Yes, this is a dark tale, but not entirely, or forever. If even offers small doses of humor. At the very heart of it, and as its motivation, lie hope and the potential for healing. A story, in order to be a story, must take characters on a journey, and this one does. Each will reveal inner weaknesses and strengths, for good or evil, as they follow the paths to their inevitable futures. If you prefer an evening of light entertainment, see something else. If you want to experience truly riveting theater, get your tickets now.

Note: Although these photos appear dark, the lighting on stage is much brighter.

Monday, June 19, 2017

"ROMY AND MICHELE'S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION" is probably much more fun than yours was — A Review

Cortney Wolfson as Romy and Stephanie Renee Wall as Michele in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka
I could begin this review of the musical Romy and Michele's High School Reunion with the words, "The 5th Avenue Theatre has done it again!" But then I would be repeating myself. The 5th is renowned for the number and quality of its new works. In the past 17 years, the amazing talents there have created 18 new musicals, including this one. Nine of them have gone on to Broadway. Two have won Tony Awards® for Best Musical. Therefore, I will begin instead with the ending—a standing ovation accompanied by as much applause as I have ever heard within the walls of this historic theater. That level is likely to continue every night during its run, which ends on July 2, 2017. Everyone can relate to its messages. This high-energy, colorful, and fun musical, is based on the 1997 film by the same name, which I must confess I have never seen. Regardless of how it might compare with the film, this production dazzled the crowd on opening night.

Stephanie Renee Wall (Romy), Cortney Wolfson (Michele) and the cast of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka

Directed by Kristin Hanggi, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion takes a realistic look at the anxiety surrounding any 10th high school reunion. In this case, it's taking place in 1997 for the Class of 1987 from fictitious Sagebrush High in Tucson, Arizona. Devoted best friends, Romy White (Cortney Wolfson) and Michele Weinberger (Stephanie Renee Wall) have been roommates since graduation, now living in Los Angeles. One is employed and one is not. They spend a lot of time in bathrobes, sitting on the couch in their messy apartment, watching TV. Or maybe they dress in the over-the-top fashions they prefer and hit the club scene. 

When Romy and Michele receive a reminder that their class reunion is happening in two weeks, they debate whether to attend or not. Once they agree to go, they are in a mad dash to come up with facetious ways to impress their classmates and hide the fact that they have next to nothing to show for an entire decade after graduation. They pretend to be business women, each claiming (separately) to have invented Post-it® Notes. The results of how they clumsily execute these falsehoods, along with revelations of their real feelings about and for each other, test their friendship and give the story the tension it needs to be more than a cliché.  

Cortney Wolfson (Romy White) and Stephanie Renee Wall (Michele Weinberger) in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - Photo Credit Tracy Martin
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion explores the nature of friendship, the viciousness of high school's mini society, the pressure to succeed and to survive harsh judgement, and the self discovery and self acceptance hopefully acquired with maturity. Who doesn't remember a caste system dominated by your own high school's equivalent to this musical's "A-group," clique of snobbish girls? In this case, they are the cheerleaders, a unfair stereotype, to be honest, but one often held up as an example. Their mean-spirited leader is Christie Masters (Tess Soltau) who has claimed and will dominate the school's most popular male heart throb, Billy Christianson (Michael Starr). 

Hannah Schuerman (Toby Walters) in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - Photo Credit Mark Kitaoka
Sometimes insecurity and immaturity can make "nice" people be cruel. Then there are the not-nice ones who will always be that way. As in real life, elevated social status in high school does not always last. Most of us have seen popular kids end up losers and some of the so-called "losers" end up great successes. To its credit, the musical is honest in showing how even the victims and the heroines themselves were capable of hurting others in turn. 

Among those carrying wounds from the past are three quintessentially typical characters every class has. They are the rebel "bad girl" smoker Heather Mooney (Jordan Kai Burnett), the cheerful goody-goody, Toby Walters (Hannah Schuerman) who is nice to everyone, even those who laugh at her behind her back, and the nerdy guy whose attentions are always rejected, in this case Sandy Frink (Michael Thomas Grant). Like the two co-stars, all these other cast members, and the ensemble, gave outstanding performances.

Jordan Kai Burnett (Heather Mooney) in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion - Photo Credit Tracy Martin

The show's fine acting and singing, impressive dancing, and, more made for non-stop enjoyment. The music and lyrics, by Gwendolyn Sanford and Brandon Jay, don't hold back. Fabulous choreography by Peggy Hickey and the work of Dance Captain Trina Mills made it hard to even blink your eyes. The dance moves synchronized perfectly with the music. Tim Symons directed, and played in, a great combo of keyboard, guitar, bass, and drums. Amy Clark dressed the cast in the ideal costumes. Another fine aspect was The 5th Avenue's typically versatile, well-functioning, and clever stage sets, this time designed by Donyale Werle.

Although the truths presented in this musical exist in every generation, certain aspects of the show can make the viewer aware of generational differences too. Its flavor, and rightfully so, is definitely of the 1980s and '90s, making those of us who were busy being parents by then feel uncomfortably old. The music stuck me as being a bit too loud, but I think people who did graduate in 1987 probably liked it that way. On the plus side, even with the volume up, I could hear and understand all the lyrics, so kudos to Christopher Walker's excellent sound design and the engineering. Some of the bright lights shining right in my eyes at times bothered me a little, but again, I might be extra sensitive to that. The lighting overall greatly enhanced this musical. It was definitely a visual treat in so many ways. 

Of course it is silly. Of course some aspects of the plot seem farfetched. But we go to musicals to escape the real world for a couple of hours and be happily entertained. No one fulfills that wish with as much style, class, quality, and pizazz, or true success, as this wonderful venue. Considering all that, I guess I will end up repeating myself.

"The 5th Avenue Theatre has done it again!" 

Treat yourself to the pleasure of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. For your convenience, here's a link to the online box office

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Cultural imPRINT" Exhibit at Tacoma Art Museum Highlights Northwest Native Printmakers

Ben Davidson (b. 1976) Haida First Nation
Just About, 2014 Screenprint
281⁄2 × 181⁄2 inches
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Ben Davidson (b. 1976), Haida First Nation, Just About, 2014. Screenprint, 281⁄2 × 181⁄2 inches. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. 

When you think of Northwest Coast Native and First Nations art, you probably picture three-dimensional carvings, jewelry, or basketry, but an exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum will expand your perceptions. Titled Cultural imPRINT: Northwest Coast Prints, it provides a stunning survey of printmaking by contemporary Northwest native artists. Artists from these indigenous communities have been exploring and innovating within this two-dimensional art form as a means of cultural and personal expression since the 1960s. The ancient stylized images of animal, human, aquatic and other forms seen in nature, and the typical colors most of us associate with native art, translate beautifully into prints. However, this display of close to 50 pieces also includes some most interesting surprises. 

Cultural imPRINT resulted from a partnership between Northwest native art enthusiasts north and south of the 49th parallel. Tacoma Art Museum's Haub Curator of Western American Art, Faith Brower, and guest curator and Haub Fellow, India Young, from Victoria, B.C., cooperated to create and present this wonderful display for the museum's visitors to enjoy. The works are presented with a theme, which Brower refers to as "intergenerational legacies." This exhibition closes on August 20, 2017 and is not to be missed. 

Marika Swan (b. 1982)
Nuu-chah-nulth, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation
Becoming Worthy—State I, 2016
Digital print
3⁄8 × 321⁄2 inches
Courtesy of Stonington Gallery

Marika Swan (b. 1982), Nuu-chah-nulth, Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, Becoming Worthy—State I, 2016. Digital print, 283⁄8 × 321⁄2 inches. Courtesy of Stonington Gallery. 

"We really hope that our visitors are able to take away a greater appreciation for the Northwest coast region and a better understanding for the people who live in this area," Brower said. "We also hope that the exhibition is able to communicate the idea that a lot of these contemporary artists are able to honor their cultures and traditions through this artwork, and they are also able to find their own voices and bring their own experience into the artwork."

Many people are less familiar with this type of art in print form than others, et these artists have been very prolific. Young estimated the potential number of prints in circulation to be up to 10,000. She also mentioned that, while showing artists familiar to many people, the exhibition also shows those who "continue to share their specific cultural knowledge in new ways." 

Phil Janzé (b. 1950; d. 2016) Gitxsan First Nation
Robin’s Egg, 1981
Digital print

11 × 15 inches
Courtesy of Lattimer Gallery

Phil Janzé (b. 1950; d. 2016), Gitxsan First Nation, Robin’s Egg, 1981. Digital print, 11 × 15 inches. Courtesy of Lattimer Gallery. 
"It’s just an imprint, because there’s so much work out there," Young said. "We can only capture a small portion of that history and ongoing legacy."

Even that small portion offers a visually rich, interesting, and educational experience. You will be glad to have discovered this particular printmaking world.

"This show is filled with incredible work," Brower said. 

I could not agree more.

Click HERE for information on hours and admission, and please remember that every third Thursday is FREE between 5 and 8 p.m. The next third Thursday will be June 22nd, this coming week. Do you need directions or other information? Please see this "Plan Your Visit" link.

Robert Davidson (b. 1946) Haida First Nation
Before the Snag, 1997 Screenprint
58 × 44 inches
Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture

Robert Davidson (b. 1946), Haida First Nation, Before the Snag, 1997. Screenprint, 58 × 44 inches. Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. 
Two other news items related to this exhibition might also be of interest. 


Coming up on Saturday, August 19, 2017 


           Held in partnership with the Washington State History Museum, the annual “In the Spirit” community festival combines both museum’s popular festivals, allowing the community to come together and experience a cultural showcase. The festival features art exhibitions at both museums, a market and a fashion show. Be sure to catch the art exhibitions, as both exhibitions close the next day, August 20. Check this link  ( for more details on this event!

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Antique Tractor Show and Pull This Weekend on the Olympic Peninsula

If you love antique tractors, here is a fun idea for the weekend. Members of the Olympic Peninsula Antique Tractor & Engine Association have been busy for months preparing for the club's annual tractor show and pull. It takes place on June 3-4 at the south end of the Port Orchard Airport property, easy to find from Highway 16 on the Olympic Peninsula. Click HERE to view a map.

If you're wondering what this event will involve, please take a look at the schedule shown below. There are all kinds of activities to participate in or enjoy watching. What a fun way celebrate the (unofficial) arrival of summer!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review of "Busman's Honeymoon" at Taproot Theatre—A Murder Mystery With Something to Say

Terry Edward Moore and Alyson Scadron Branner in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Even the most carefully planned honeymoon can have a few unpleasant surprises. For the newlyweds in Dorothy L. Sayers' play Busman's Honeymoon, at Taproot Theatre in Seattle through June 24, 2017, the biggest surprise is the discovery of a corpseAs horrifying as this would be for anyone, it causes complications for the couple as they negotiate their respective roles, goals, and priorities in their new marriage. He is the aristocratic Lord Peter Wimsey (Terry Edward Moore), a veteran of World War I and sometimes detective. His bride, the former Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey (Alyson Scadron Branner) writes detective novels. Although far more interested in each other than yet another case, they cannot avoid becoming involved in solving the crime that has occurred in their own newly purchased English country house.

Robert Gallaher, Reginald André Jackson & Jenny Cross in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Any fantasies they have of a romantic honeymoon vanish as soon as they arrive, even before the body is found. In spite of prior arrangements, the house is not ready. In fact, on their first night there, we come to learn, the neglected fireplace chimneys smoke so badly a chimney sweep, Mr. Puffett (Reginald André Jackson) is called in to help. The play opens to a realistic scene in the living room of the country estate with the soot-covered Mr. Puffett at work with his broom inside the fireplace and all the furniture draped with sheets. The entertaining Puffett approaches his work with pride and professionalism. He also has plenty of opinions.

The cleaning lady and neighbor, Mrs. Ruddle (Pam Nolte), whose character and honestly could possibly be questioned, attends to her chores while gossiping non stop. The resentful gardener and mechanic Frank Crutchley (Kevin Pitman) wants money to open his own garage, and the butler Bunter (Nolan Palmer) tries his best to maintain order. In the midst of the chaos, Miss Twitterton (Jenny Cross), the niece of the home's former owner, arrives to introduce herself and pay her respects. She, like everyone else, is shocked to learn her uncle has sold his house. To add to the confusion, no one has seen him for days. When the butler heads to basement to retrieve some beer, the discovery of the uncle's body explains his absence.  

Brad Walker, Frank Lawler &Terry Edward Moore in Busman’s Honeymoonat Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.
Additional characters are the policemen, Superintendent Kirk (Frank Lawler), Constable Sellon (Brad Walker), as well as The Reverend Simon Goodacre (Robert Gallaher) and Scotsman Mr. MacBride (Keith Dahlgren), a debt collector. Like all the characters, they contribute to the drama and intrigue of a many-faceted mystery involving various relationships, personal problems, motivations, and other forces that drive the narrative and keep the audience wondering. Producing Artistic Director Scott Nolte makes it all work beautifully. 

From a visual standpoint, Mark Lund has designed yet another great set, and the amazingly talented Sarah Burch Gordon's costumes could not have been better. I especially loved Harriet Wimsey's stunning red and black ensemble. The entire production team deserves praise.

In spite of the play's more serious aspects, such as its look at class distinctions, gender roles, cultural expectations, it is full of delightfully lighthearted moments and good humor. All characters have strong and memorable personalities, sometimes complimenting each other, sometimes clashing, sometimes sparkling with energy and liveliness. The chemistry between Lord and Lady Wimsey feels especially genuine, flirtatious, and fun, but not without some push and pull. I would love to see these two actors perform as a couple again. On the side of less fun, the angst of young Constable Sellon and heartbreak of the spinster Miss Twitterton are palpable. 

Kevin Pitman & Jenny Cross in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.

Dorothy L. Sayers first wrote Busman's Honeymoon as a play, in 1936, before publishing it as a novel in 1937. Beyond writing a mere a detective story, Sayers examined the actual consequences, to both the accusers and the criminal, of establishing guilt and enacting justice. These serious concerns probably reflected her thoughts on the aftermath of World War I and warfare's lasting effect on soldiers. Lord Wimsey cannot possibly approach the investigation with business-like detachment. He is all too aware of how his conclusions can literally mean life or death for the accused.

Just as these characters are caught up in their circumstances, allow yourself to be caught up in this engaging play. Unlike them, you can be entertained and still walk away with your life unchanged, except perhaps having gained some material for deeper thought about the struggle between what we want and what duty requires us to do. You will also enjoy playing detective yourself as you ponder the clues in this clever "who done it" tale.

Terry Edward Moore & Alyson Scadron Branner in Busman’s Honeymoon at Taproot Theatre. Photo by Erik Stuhaug.