Saturday, January 31, 2009

Turn of the Screw goes off its thread

Peter Quint, Miss Jessel, and Flora are never seen in Seattle Shakespeare Company's production of The Turn of the Screw. Drama, tension, horror, and fright never turn up in this ghost story, either.

John Bogar did a marvelous job playing four different characters: the narrator, the uncle, his nephew Miles, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. His costume was the formal wear of the narrator, the character who gets the least stage time. Bogar didn't even get a scarf or a hat or some other prop to help him help us keep it straight. He didn't need it; face, posture, gait, and personality always made it plain which character was on stage.

Jennifer Sue Johnson never quite convinced me on the governess. She was way too calm. That's Bogar and Johnson in John Ulman's photo above.

One is tempted to grump that director Rita Giomi used just two actors in the play to save money. This, however, is apparently the way playwright Jeffrey Hatcher penned his adapation of the Henry James novel. The story has long generated discussion about whether the ghosts of Quint and Jessel are real or the governess is just plain nuts.

Seattle Shakespeare Company did some interesting programming in January, running The Turn of the Screw in rotation with another Hatcher adaptation, the madcap The Servant of Two Masters. Sweetie the Scorer and I enjoyed Servant, but The Turn of the Screw was never able to drive home its point.

World's best sermons

One of my favorite blogs is Crummy Church Signs, and this recently posted one made me laugh out loud. The hokey adages on many signs are great, but I love the unintended-meaning ones best. Except maybe the Rev. really does have a horrible speaking voice...

Weisenheimer has had a couple of submissions posted on the site, including one taken several years ago while on a business trip in Philadelphia.

Also had a recent submission posted on another fave, the "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

Bad astronomy is all I have right now

Weisenheimer caught the waxing crescent Moon and Venus hovering over the state capitol building in Olympia, Wash. at around 6 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 29. Sadly, it's not a very good photo; it's hard to get a stable shot with your cell phone camera, especially in the twilight. But I include it because it's about the only "observing" I've done in six months or so.

As a testament to lousy weather, the view was similar the previous evening and the skies in Olympia just as clear, which got me pondering actually setting up the telescope when I got home. Alas, it was pouring rain by the time I reached Fife. The weather has teased us astronomer types of late. We've had a number of clear days, but when evening arrives fog follows in a hurry.

I hope we get some good observing weather soon!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Regroup redux

The West Seattle Blog called our attention to this blog post by Alan Harrison, executive director of West Seattle's ArtsWest, in reaction to the article about which Weisenheimer posted yesterday regarding the challenges faced by arts organizations in the city.

The post strikes me as awfully whiny and self-righteous. For example, Harrison writes that some companies are doing just fine:

Only the arts organizations whose mission is at the heart of what they do are doing well, that actually live and die by the mission because it is so compelling, because only they are the organizations with a "fan" base as opposed to a "customer" base.

Weisenheimer really hates mission statements. I don't want to see one when I go to the theater. How about an interesting show?

Once you get past the whining -- the Times didn't send a critic to ArtsWest's latest opening, alas -- Harrison raises some interesting questions. He mentions in a couple of different posts on his blog a hunch that Intiman and Seattle Rep will merge this year. An interesting notion.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Arts organizations need to "regroup"

Today's Seattle Times has an article by Janet I. Tu about how the recession is forcing arts organizations to "regroup."

The biggest kick in the pants has been received by the Seattle Art Museum. SAM was leasing nearly a quarter million feet of office space to WaMu when the bank toppled, and JPMorgan Chase has announced it won't assume that lease -- a hit of some $5.8 million per year. The blow is softened a bit by a grant JPMorgan is giving to SAM, $10 million spread out over five years at $2 million per, but that's still a big hole to fill in the budget.

Bad weather during December was tough on some, too, but others were able to weather the storm, according to Tu, who reports, for example, that the Seattle Rep had robust ticket sales for its hit You Can't Take It With You, but faces a shortfall this year anyway.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Clowning around

A Vaudeville act and a theater troupe collided recently at the Center House Theatre in Seattle, and the result was the highly entertaining A Servant of Two Masters produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company.

As Weisenheimer is a theater fan and Shakespeare lover, it's something of a mystery why we haven't taken in any shows at SSC before, but we've programmed several into our plans this year, including The Turn of the Screw, which is running in rotation with Servant.

The show really belongs to Chris Ensweiler, who plays Truffaldino, the servant of the title. Ensweiler mixes Chaplain, Groucho, Schwartzenegger, and Keister (at least) into his madcap performance. We first see him in the goofy opening sequence, in which Master of Revels Shawn Belyea and his assistant Ben Burris -- also a hoot! -- make the rounds of introductions of some of the audience members, names and homes of some of whom made the script later on. Ensweiler is constantly climbing a huge ladder to go up and change the lightbulbs, which are mysteriously going out. He does it with a great deadpan, and absolutely the same every time. Wesley Rice also was hilarious as the "Curmudgeon of a certain age." And the trio of lovestruck women -- Kerry Ryan, Emily Chisholm, and Deborah Fialkow -- were all fantastic on the way to getting matched up with the right man in the end. (That's Fialkow as Beatrice as Rasponi and Ensweiler as Truffaldino in the John Ulman photo above.) Katjana Vadeboncoeur is a scream as the Mae Westish innkeeper.

The show is a lot of laughs with a good dose of local humor thrown in. If you're a fan of juggling, slapstick, cross dressing, mistaken identity, floozies, and doofuses, this is your show!

Wisey best play: Hedda; Louis & Keely

The nominees for best play for 2008 were:

A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
Intiman Theatre. Directed by Sheila Daniels. Bartlett Sher, artistic director.

The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler, by Jeff Whitty
Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Bill Rauch. Bill Rauch, artistic director.

Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, by Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder
Matrix Theatre. Directed by Jeremy Aldridge. Originally produced by Sacred Fools Theater Company.

The vote was a tie, and Wiseys go to Further Adventures and Louis & Keely.

Weisenheimer cast his vote for Further Adventures in a very close call over L&K. As I ponder it some months after seeing them, both are still vivid and fresh in my memory. They carry some similar themes, too, about the sacrifices and pitfalls involved in making art and about the difficulty of change. Both also featured marvelous acting performances from top to bottom, but Further Adventures has a slight edge here, with Wisey-winning performances by Robin Goodrin Nordli in the title role and by Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen. Further Adventures also rode the might of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in terms of marvelous costuming and a fabulous set. This, to me, gave it a slight edge over Louis & Keely, also a most memorable play.

Props, too, to Streetcar. Blanche and Stella were absolutely marvelous. A stronger Stanley might have pushed this production right up there with the first two.


This is Sweetie, here: This is the second Wisey for Louis & Keely, winners of Best Music. The Weisenheimer reviewed L&K here. I loved Hedda too, and am delighted to see new artistic director Bill Rauch push the envelope a bit in his first season at OSF (OSF's envelope can really use some pushing). And the inside jokes were fun.

But L&K gets my Wisey vote because it is the whole, well-crafted package. It is a beautifully written and stunningly perfomed story of art, the public and private, love, and regret. Credit to Jake Broder and Vanessa Claire Smith for co-authoring and performing as Louis Prima and Keely Smith.

It is so unlikely that I would ever have seen this treasure. First of all, it's a musical. Not usually my favorite thing. Secondly, it played at the tiny Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood. We live in Seattle. But we had the good fortune to be visiting friends with excellent taste (In theater. And friends.) who had seen it once already and took us.

We do like music, of course, and we have often enjoyed theater events which showcase music, but which aren't really plays. This was a play -- a great story, a tragedy (more Shakespearean than Aristotelian), dramatic (in the best sense of the word), where the music happens to be as inseparable to the story as the protagonist. The top-notch musicians were in character -- and they are a smokin-hot band. Broder and Smith have internalized every nuance from every bit of recorded material there is on Louis and Keely, but this is not merely to imitate. They are portraying all-to-human characters in all of their chemistry and conflict. Smith's cool-sultry Keely had me wondering all night what she was going to do next, while Broder's goofy Louis had an intensity and edgy darkness that was a little rattling from my front row seat two feet away.

I depart from the Weisenheimer in being more impressed with the intimacy and vulnerability of the spare and tiny black box theater at the Matrix over the props and costume department of OSF (disclosure: could I have been influenced by having been handed the boutonniere?). In L&K, you will be involved. You will not be able to watch this show without tapping your feet, applauding, laughing, and staring into Louis Prima's eyes. As Broder says, the story is "a lover's triangle where the third party is the audience." That's you at this show.

According to their Web site, "A new engagement of LOUIS & KEELY is coming to Los Angeles later in 2009." Watch the Web site, buy a plane ticket, and go!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Wisey Best Actor: Dan Donohue

The nominees for best actor for 2008 were:

Shawn Law as Hamlet in Hamlet. Green Stage theater.
Armando Duran as Eddie Carbone in A View From the Bridge. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Dan Donohue as Iago in Othello. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Jake Broder as Louis Prima in Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara. Matrix Theatre.

The Wisey goes to Dan Donohue.

This was the easiest pick for the Wisey selection committee. The only real question was in which category to nominate Donohue -- best actor or supporting actor. On the one hand, the play is named Othello, so the guy playing the Moor should be the lead. On the other, the OSF production was Iago's play, and Donohue was brilliant. That's Donohue on the right in the photo, with Peter Macon as Othello.

As my Sweetie, the Scorer noted in her review of the play in October:

Iago is Shakespeare's best villain and Donohue continually danced right up to the line of making us think there might be some real, human, redeeming, if twisted feeling inside him, before showing us again that he is an inveterate fiend. Donohue was the perfect blend of believably likeable, a little creepy, and wholly malevolent.
Donohue, a wonderful actor playing a delicious role, ran away with the best-actor Wisey.

Props to the other nominees as well. Jake Broder in most years would have taken home the trophy for his high-octane performance as Louis Prima. Armando DurĂ¡n was intense as the doomed Carbone, and is slated for the title role in Don Quixote at OSF this year. Shawn Law was a great surprise as a highly nuanced Hamlet outdoors at Magnuson Park. But Donohue was truly memorable.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Balagan scores again with Marat/Sade

We're completely blown away by the fascinating work being done at the up-and-coming Balagan Theatre on Capitol Hill. Balagan's production of Othello last month was first-rate, and its new show, Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss and directed by Richard Clairmont, is a mind-boggling tour-de-force.

The full title of the 1963 play, originally written in German, is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asulum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. That's a mouthful; we'll stick with calling it Marat/Sade, as TPAAOJPMAPBTIOTAOCUTDOTMDS is somewhat lacking as an acronym.

According to the program notes, de Sade often wrote and staged plays, with inmates as actors, during his commitment at Charenton. In a nod to that, Balagan's basement stage is enclosed in chain-link fence, and we the audience are the dandies of Parisian society come to see the shows by the loonies in the asylum. Though we're asked not to prod at the inmates through the fence around the asylum.

And it's quite an asylum. Even before the metophorical curtain goes up, the cast are ranting and raving about. There are 21 of them, and they're mostly all on stage all the time, so there's a lot of lunacy to watch. In the middle of it all Lyam White as de Sade was a sea of relative calm, even while being flogged, as he "directed" the play within the play, a debate about who are really the good and bad guys of the French Revolution. His toady, the Herald, who stuttered on his Fs, was played f-f-fantastically by Ryan Higgins, who directed Balagan's Othello. And Heather Roberts was downright spooky as Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Jean-Paul Marat (Jason Harber), a leading politician and journalist of the revolution.

At one point in the play Coulmier (Jonathan Wright), the director of the asylum, complains to de Sade that "You really can't call this education." But one of the things we love about Balagan is that it's smart. The program cover, for example, is a re-creation of the 1793 painting "The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David. And the players are always in character, even, as my Sweetie, the Scorer notes, in the restroom during intermission.

About 3/4 of the way through the play it struck me that it was loaded with beautiful language, some of which I'd decided I had certainly missed because of the visual specacle of the production. That sounds like a good reason to go back again. That would offer the opportunity to see if a few opening-night giggles go away. Though maybe that was part of it; you never know what's going on in the minds of those loonies.

Check out Marat/Sade, playing at Balagan through Jan. 31.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Wisey Best Supporting Actress: Vilma Silva

The nominees for best supporting actress for 2008 were:

Chelsey Rives as Stella Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intiman Theatre.
Kimberly Scott as Mammy in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vilma Silva as Emilia in Othello. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vilma Silva as Beatrice in A View From the Bridge. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

And the winner is….Vilma Silva, Oregon Shakespeare Company, for Othello and A View From A Bridge.

If the best supporting actor award can go to two actors in one show, the best supporting actress award can go to one actress in two shows. Vilma Silva, a 14-year veteran of the company, has become one of our favorites after turning in a spirited and believable Kate in Shrew at OSF in 2007 and for the two great performances in 2008 for which she is awarded the Wisey.

This year we saw her in the Arthur Miller play A View From A Bridge as Beatrice and as Emelia in Othello. As different as those characters are, they have in common that they are observers and truth-tellers in their respective plays.

Set in a neighborhood of immigrants in New York, Beatrice watches – and encourages – her niece growing up and away. She also watches her husband fall apart. She tries to hold her marriage and her extended family and community together. Silva plays a perfect counterpoint to Armando Duran’s intensely taut Eddie.

In Othello, you would never think in the first few acts how important Emelia’s role will be, until she becomes the one to put the pieces together and finally call bullshit on Iago. Silva’s Emelia is by turns clueless, earnest, resigned, and principled.

We’re impressed by her ability to embody such different characters, across a wide span of ages, dictions, and mannerisms, that it has us wondering “can that really be the same actress?” It’s also impressive that she can convey so much subtlety on the big outdoor Lizzy. We’re looking forward to seeing her next year as Queen Katherine in Henry VIII.

Wisey Best Actress: Robin Goodrin Nordli

The nominees for best actress for 2008 were:

Marianne Owen as multiple characters in Intimate Exchanges. ACT Theatre.
Angela Pierce as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Intiman Theatre.
Robin Goodrin Nordli as Hedda Gabler in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely Smith in Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara. Matrix Theatre.
Chelsey Rives as Jo in boom. Seattle Repertory Theatre.

The Wisey goes to Robin Goodrin Nordli, who has played Hedda Gabler twice at OSF: In 2003 in the Henrik Ibsen play of the same name, and last year in Further Adventures. She's clearly gotten inside the head of the manipulative and morose (it is Ibsen, after all) late-19th Century Norwegian woman. What a scary place to be!

The Hedda of Further Adventures vows to break out of that and be happy, as you'll note from the photo of Nordli at the right. How she got my Sweetie, the scorer's smiley mug I do not know. Nordli was marvelous in a wide range of emotions: depression, anger, giddiness, resignation, and, most impressively to Weisenheimer, great comedic timing in this new take on a classic character.

Best actress was one of the toughest calls of the Wiseys, as there were a great many wonderful performances. Vanessa Claire Smith as Keely Smith in Louis & Keely was a singing and acting marvel. Angela Pierce turned in an amazing and subtle Blance DuBois in Streetcar at Intiman. Marianne Owen was engaging as several characters in Intimate Exchanges at ACT. Caught in the cross-rough of categories and tough competition was Chelsey Rives, nominated both here for boom at the Rep and for supporting actress for her strong, bawdy Stella in Streetcar. She deserves a new category for strong, multiple performances, though Vilma Silva may still have aced her out.

Nordli brings home the best actress Wisey for a memorable performance in a fresh and fascinating new play. We're looking forward to seeing her as Lady Macbeth at OSF this year.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Robin Moxey rocks Highway 99

I'm more worried about the Alaskan Way viaduct than are most engineers. If Robin Moxey plays many more gigs at the Highway 99 Blues Club, which sits right under the city's favorite roadway, the whole thing is going to come tumbling down sooner than anyone thinks. The dude rocks and he rocks hard!

Moxey delighted with his hard-driving blues rock show Jan. 2 at Highway 99. He opened the first of three sets with Weisenheimer's favorite tune on the Moxey playlist, a lengthy, driving cover of "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." The first set also included a couple of tracks from Moxey's album One Big Song: "Everything Changes" and "Keep on Moving." It closed out with the Allen Toussaint classic "Sneaking Sally Through the Alley."

Set two featured a new twist, as Moxey and band were joined by a woman lead singer, "Lady A" of Lady A and the Baby Blues Funk Band, for a couple of numbers: "Go Home to Your Wife" and George Jackson's "Down Home Blues." The new sound was a treat, but the vocals always seem secondary to the Moxey Band. The words are just bookends to their lengthy, electric, rocking jams. Moxey has a great band, with keyboardist Eric Robert and Montana's Bendickson brothers, Aaron, Jason, and Sean. Robert is particularly in demand; he played with Lee Oskar at Highway 99 on Halloween. Set two also featured a rendition of Big Joe Williams's "Big Legged Women, Keep Your Dressess Down," the Meters's "People Say," and Dylan's "She Belongs to Me."

The third and final set on the night started with the Taj Mahal tune "Take a Giant Step," into which Moxey always manages to work the chorus of Marshall Tucker's "Can't You See." Then there was another Moxey original, "How Long?" They closed out with another Meters classic, "I Just Kissed My Baby," and the Eugene McDaniels tune, "Real, Compared to What?" They finished the evening with an encore, the Hendrix hit "Voodoo Child."

Weisenheimer and Sweetie the Scorer discovered Moxey by accident. We'd been taking a blues dancing class and wanted to get out and practice. There he was. We've heard him play several times since. He always entertains with a screaming, rocking, high-octane show. Check him out if you get a chance. He's not on the club's calendar for the rest of January, but you can keep an eye on him, watch some videos, and download some tracks, on the Moxey MySpace page.

Wisey Best Supporting Actor: Heald and Haugen

The nominees for best supporting actor for 2008 were:

Matthew Ahrens as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Green Stage.
Michael Elich as Aufidius in Coriolanus. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Anthony Heald as Steven in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Jonathan Haugen as Patrick in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler. Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

The Wisey goes to Anthony Heald and Jonathan Haugen.

To give a single Wisey to either actor would be like giving an award to Rosencrantz and snubbing Guildenstern. Heald and Haugen played Steven and Patrick, two stereotypical gay characters modeled after The Boys in the Band, in The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler at OSF. They are beautifully drawn characters marvelously acted, providing lots of wit, bitchy commentary, and a substantial dose of the play's wisdom as well. Prancing around in their pastel bell-bottoms and vests, Patrick and Steven help the characters in their quest to break out of their stereotypical molds. Several succeed, though the duo does not because, while roaming the mind of their creator, they were sidetracked by an open bar.

Ahrens was marvelously besotted as Sir Toby in Green Stage's Twelfth Night. He may have won the Wisey if he hadn't nearly spilled our wine! The characters often took refuge in the audience in this Shakespeare in the park performance. Elich was a menacing and athletic Aufidius in the seldom-performed Coriolanus.

But Heald and Haugen were shining stars giving memorable performances in a great play and take home the Wisey for best supporting actor.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wisey Best Set: Othello, Balagan

The nominees for best set for 2008 were:

A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Walt Spangler, scenic designer.
Othello at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Rachel Hauck, scenic designer.
boom at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Jennifer Zeyl, set designer.
Othello at Balagan Theatre. Jenna Schmidt, props designer.

And the winner is….Othello at Balagan Theatre, Jenna Schmidt, props designer.

The Balagan is a tiny black box. The action took place in a narrow path between two banks of seats facing each other, with entrances at each end. The space was tight, especially for swordplay, but the actors didn’t lop off anyone’s shoelaces. We were in the front row (of three) and I found myself pulling my feet in.

So in such a limited space, how to convey court and courtyard, Venice and Cyprus, boudoir and hall? Why, with big wooden boxes, of course.

The boxes, painted dark, were the only furniture. And only Iago could move them. From the moment the house opened Mike Dooly was there, in character, thoughtfully moving boxes around. During the play he arranged and rearranged the boxes to set the scenes, like a puzzle he was doing and undoing, until finally all the boxes fit together as Desdemona’s bed.

The other Othello, at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, was nominated for great lighting turning the Lizzy into a gloomy, gray, spare set. OSF’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream gets mentioned because it had a Volkswagen bus in it. And the boom set was a great disaster bunker, replete with enough bourbon and tampons for a very long stay. I think it would have been even cooler, though, if real fish had been in the aquarium!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Starting the new year with a bang

You can always count on a great show when Warner Shook directs, in no small part because actors are dying to work with him. Elizabeth Huddle "is now mostly retired" says her bio in the program for Seattle Rep's You Can't Take it With You. If you look really closely, you can see the phrase "except when Warner calls" in tiny print thereafter. Huddle worked with Shook on ACT's smash hit The Women in 2007, as did fellow cast members Anne Allgood, Elise Karolina Hunt, Suzy Hunt, and Annette Toutonghi. Throw in talented stage veterans such as R. Hamilton Wright (who just missed a Wisey nomination for best actor in 2008), Michael Winters, Frank Corrado, and Allan Galli, and you can't miss. One of Weisenheimer's theater-centric friends says of You Can't Take it With You, "Truly, you can't do much to mess up that play." Shook and cast delivered.

Corrado was over the top as Kolenkov, the Russian dance teacher to whom everything "stinks." Winters displayed wry comic timing as Grandpa, who gave up work 35 years ago and doesn't miss it. Wright and Galli, as Mr. DePinna, had a number of hilarious scenes with their basement fireworks manufacturing. One nearly wants to cry when DePinna's "Roman costume" goes up in smoke with the entire supply of rockets. Allgood just about runs away with the play with her arts projects and the word association game that takes the snooty Kirbys down a few pegs. Suzy Hunt is a scream in a short role as the drunken actress Gay Wellington. Weisenheimer loved Hunt as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret last year at the 5th Avenue.

Our one disappointment with the play was the grand entrance of Huddle as Olga the Duchess in the final act. Her arrival is trumpeted wildly by Kolenkov, there's a grand, eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant pause, the audience titters in apprehension of something hilarious, and then -- the duchess walks in. Nary a pratfall. Well, sometimes the anticipation is funny enough.

The Rep's production of You Can't Take it With You was a great way to end the year. They had a party in the lobby afterward, with drinks, dancing, munchies, and the Space Needle Fireworks to blast in 2009. I imagined that the whole show was built by Sycamore and DePinna. Weisenheimer looks great in a tux, and Sweetie the Scorer was the belle of the ball. Her new green dress.... ooh, la-la!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Wisey Best Music: Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara

The nominees for best music for 2008 were:

Jersey Boys at 5th Avenue Theatre. Ron Melrose, musical direction.
A Marvelous Party at ACT Theatre. Richard Grey, musical director.
Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara at Matrix Theatre. Musical direction by Dennis Kaye.
Black Nativity at Intiman Theatre. Musical direction and arrangements by Pastor Patrinell Wright.

The Wisey goes to Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara. This was the consensus pick for the "Best Music" Weisenheimer Award for several reasons, first and foremost of which is that I had "I Got You Under My Skin" rattling around in my head for weeks afterward, and not in a horrible, it's-a-small-world sort of way.

There are other good reasons, too. Vanessa Claire Smith, Jake Broder, and the faux Sam Butera and the Witnesses are a kick-ass band. Broder and Smith absolutely nail the personas and stage antics of Louis Prima and Keely Smith, whom some credit with virtually inventing the concept of the Vegas lounge act. The musicians are talented and good actors to boot, remaining in character in both their on-stage and off-stage scenes on stage. Fans of Porter, Ellington, Mercer, Gershwin, Arlen, Fields, McHugh, Waller, and a host of others had plenty to enjoy in a show that featured nearly two dozen great numbers.

Colin Kupka was especially marvelous as Butera and on tenor sax, and Dennis Kaye was the musical director for the show and played both tenor and baritone sax as "Doc." The rest of the band -- Brian Wallis (Jimmy/trombone), Jeff Markgraf (Eddie/bass), Richard Levinson (Pee Wee/piano), Michael L. Solomon (Rocco/drums), and "Hollywood" Paul Litteral (Soup/trumpet) were fantastic as well.

The musical and acting abilities of the ensemble and the intimacy of the theater made disbelief was easy to suspend. Weisenheimer didn't really see this show at L.A.'s Matrix Theatre; I think we were actually somehow teleported to the Sahara in Vegas the see Louis and Keely in their definitive lounge act.

Nominee Jersey Boys was in the large 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, and the venue worked against them. While the music of Frankie Valli and the 4 Seasons was admirably done, it didn't have quite the same impact. Intiman's Black Nativity always entertains, though this year they pulled back a bit on the full-out, floor-stompin' gospel. A Marvelous Party at ACT was a sleeper pick, with a full show of Noel Coward's best material.

But Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara out-did them all and is the winner of the 2008 Wisey for best music.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Wisey Best Costume: Intimate Exchanges

The nominees for best costume for 2008 were:
Intimate Exchanges at ACT Theatre. Carolyn Keim, costume director.
A Midsummer Night's Dream at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Katherine Roth, costume designer.
The Clay Cart at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Deborah M. Dryden, costume designer.
The Adding Machine at New Century Theatre. Pete Rush, costume designer.

And the winner is…Intimate Exchanges at ACT Theatre, Marcia Dixcy Jory, costume designer.

Intimate Exchanges has four possible story lines (or it did in this production), six characters, and just two actors. This means rapid costume changes – up to 30 of them, as fast as 20 to 30 seconds. How is a costume designer to keep up?

The 24 different costumes were exquisitely detailed down to the buttons and necklaces, hats and handbags, and the curl of a mustache. And the clothes were apparently constructed with Velcro or snaps or scotch tape or something equally conducive to being ripped off and stuck back on several times a show. I have no idea how they managed the makeup – presumably by keeping it simple. Some of the changes had to be made in about the time it would take an actor to exit stage left, walk around and enter stage right, shedding garments and stepping into new ones along the way. Wardrobe master Sally Mellis and dresser Erin Perona kept the controlled chaos invisible to the audience.

Clearly the skill of R. Hamilton Wright and Marianne Owen made the magic happen, effecting a complete transformation into their various silly characters every time. Every magician needs props, and the wigs and mustaches and bows and hats and pearls helped make the illusion that there could have been…there must have been?….more than two people playing all those parts. In a delightful nod to the actors beneath all that frippery, Hamilton and Owen took their curtain calls in their underwear, bathrobes, socks, and wig caps.

As for the other nominations: OSF can always be counted on for fabulous costumes, although as this reviewer has noted elsewhere on this blog, they sometimes make up in lusciousness what they lack in relevance. Two shows this season did an especially fine job with costumes that were integral to the production.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
was over-the-top fabulous, where the fairies were, well, fairies. And I’m guessing all costume designers get into the biz for a crack at the ass’s head.

I wonder if a certain reviewer involved in the nominating process could have been influenced by Miriam Laube’s bare midriff in The Clay Cart. The play was a visual feast and very physical and the gorgeous costumes and jewelry of a huge ensemble cast helped it all be magnificent.

Special mention goes to the inaugural production of New Century Theater Company for The Adding Machine. The costumes (and, indeed, the whole set) were monochromatic and stark without being minimalist, and the makeup was Holloween-scary (white face and black lips – but really, it works), all in keeping with the whole point. And you have to love a scene where the cast trudges single-file across the stage on their way to being born in the best collection of period underwear since a 1920s Sears-Roebuck catalog.