Adsense for search

Custom Search

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

Please "like" Good Life Northwest on Facebook. Thank you!