Monday, July 18, 2011

Aladdin belongs to the Genie

I was all set to dislike the production of Aladdin that's running at the 5th Avenue Theatre. We just don't need all of this Disney crap. (Misha Berson recently reported in the Seattle Times that Disney is considering a musical stage version of Freaky Friday. Wha-what??) Furthermore, the 5th did something of a bait-and-switch on us; I actually bought tickets for Oklahoma!, but that production was ditched when The Mouse came along with a scheme to gin up a musical version of the hit 1992 cartoon. Geez, was it that long ago already?

James Monroe Iglehart
steals the show in the role
of Genie.
Thus I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy a number of entertaining moments during the show, which should be re-named Genie!, because James Monroe Iglehart owns this sucker! Iglehart amped up the energy level tenfold whenever he appeared on the stage, as with show-stopping numbers "Friend Like Me" and "Prince Ali." (I'm often tempted here to steal the Noel Coward line: He stopped the show, but then it wasn't moving very fast.) Iglehart played in Memphis here in 2009 and then originated the role of Bobby on Broadway. He's a marvelous stage presence and a pleasure to watch.

Adam Jacobs and Courtney Reed were fine as Aladdin and Jasmine. Their magic carpet ride during the rendition of the Oscar-winning song "A Whole New World" was a marvelous bit of staging.

Many of the supporting characters were more fun, though. Babkak, Omar, and Kassim (Brian Gonzales, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, and Brandon O'Neill) were funny as Aladdin's street-band sidekicks who didn't make the cartoon version. Jonathan Freeman was diabolical as the meanie Jafar, and Don Darryl Rivera was great as Jafar's toady Iago.

Director and choreographer Casy Nicholaw keeps things moving. The dance is good as always. One beef with the costuming, though: this was the most demure group of harem girls one ever didn't get to lay eyes on. Damn Disney.

Aladdin is a work in progress. It's been running since July 7, though the "official" opening isn't until this Thursday, July 21. In fact, it was announced before the show that the creative team was in the audience today checking on reactions. One might guess there could be changes as they continue to tweak it.

The 5th plans to do Oklahoma! next season. Unless that Freaky Friday thing bumps it, or maybe The Mouse will want to do a musical version of The Love Bug.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival, day 2

After a full day of four plays last Saturday, my Sweetie, the official scorer, and I took in two more Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival shows Sunday, July 10 at Volunteer Park.

L-R: Ben McFadden as Arthur, Adria LaMorticella as
Morgan, and Daniel Goodman as Merlin in Balagan
Theatre's King Arthur and the Knights of the Playground.
Photo by Andrea Huysing.
Balagan Theatre delighted a good park crowd with its world premiere performance of King Arthur and the Knights of the Playground. The show is billed as "the epic legend of King Arthur set in the most politically charged and high-stakes setting the world has known: recess." It's just what it sounds like: Arthur and company are fifth graders at Camelot Public School #1. (It's only a model.) The kids loved the show with its madcap pace, goofy humor, and kid problem solving. There was plenty for the adults to enjoy as well, with its smart references to various episodes of the Arthur legend and, for the youngest adults, lots of references to video games as well. Plus there's an epic knock-knock-joke battle, and everyone gets juice at the end

Directed by Sam Hagen and written by Jaime Cruz, Maggie Lee, Juliet Waller Pruzan, Joanna Horowitz, Paul Mullin, and Matt Smith, King Arthur and the Knights of the Playground features Ben McFadden in the title role, and Adria LaMorticella, Allison Standley, Andrew Murray, Charles Norris, Daniel Goodman, Jehan Whittaker, Johnny Patchamatla, Libby Barnard, Nik Donner, and Rachel Ross. They're all great fun!

Arthur played this weekend at Cal Anderson Park. The next two weekends (July 23-24 and 30-31) they will be at Magnuson Park, and then play at the Paradise Theater in Port Townsend Aug. 6. Check it out!

The Comedy of Errors cast at its curtain call July 10 in
Volunteer Park. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
The finale of the festival last weekend was the Wooden O production of The Comedy of Errors. Directed by  George Mount, the show was a hilarious and marvelously entertaining end to a great festival. Mount sets the familiar mistaken-identity romp in Vaudeville times, and pulls it off beautifully.

For me the highlight was the two Dromios. For my money Chris Ensweiler is one of the funniest actors working Seattle stages (see our raves for his work in Seattle Shakes productions of Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Servant of Two Masters, and Twelfth Night). He's right on track in this one as Dromio of Syracuse. David S. Hogan is equally riotous as twin Dromio of Ephesus. Keith Dahlgren is a scream as the (intentionally) worst ventriloquist you'll ever see (several of the characters are dummies...) and, well, I really hate to single anyone out, because all of the performances were so fine in this satisfying show.

I am tempted to compare Mount's Comedy of Errors to the one directed by Ryan Higgins for GreenStage at the festival two years ago. But I won't do it. We really loved the Higgins version, which received six Wisey Award nominations in 2009, and won two, including best director for Higgins. But the past is over, and Mount has a great show you can see this summer. Get out and see it here and there through Aug. 7.

Now, if we can just find time to think about the 2010 Wiseys....

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival, day 1

July is a great month to be a theater fan in Seattle. This weekend is the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival at Volunteer Park. GreenStage, producers of the festival, and Wooden O, the outdoor arm of Seattle Shakespeare Company, will be doing their free shows around the area well into August, and 14/48, the World's Quickest Theater Festival, plays the last two weekends of the month.

My Sweetie, the official scorer, and I took in four shows on opening day. The first, a production of As You Like It by Last Leaf Productions, was ultimately unsatisfying because it was often very difficult to hear even though we were in the third row of blankets from the front. Project, actors, project! Volunteer Park is a tough venue, with no acoustics to speak of, planes and helicopters overhead, barking dogs, and playing kids.

The performance was also hampered a bit by not one, but two, understudies in the cast, particularly the key role of Orlando, who gave it a game try. It's got to be tough to perform with script in hand.

We never got a program for the show, so we can't give a shout out to good performances, but we liked the actresses who played Rosalind and Touchstone especially.

Last Leaf is based in Monroe and will be performing As You Like It and The Merchant of Venice at various Eastside and Snohomish County locales through early August.

The cast of Macbeth takes a curtain call July 9. Photo:
Greg Scheiderer.
Second up was a truly marvelous production of Macbeth put on by Wooden O. Sweetie and I agree that Reginald André Jackson's performance was the best by a Thane of Cawdor that we'd ever seen. Jackson seemed well at home with the Bard's language, and portrayed Macbeth's swings between ambition, regret, tenderness, violence, and insanity without falling into the sort of cartoonish flailing that sometimes plagues the role.

Tracy Hyland also was spectacular as Lady Macbeth, and the cast was studded with favorites such as Mike Dooly, Shawn Belyea, David Goldstein, and Carter Rodriguez.

A couple of quibbles with the production, directed by Tim Hyland. An effort to have Jackson recite the lines of the second round of witches' prophecies in sync with spooky recorded ones. It didn't work, as they never got close to being in sync. And Macbeth having to mess with the play doll at the end just turned into a distraction. But all in all, it was a great show.

Theater Schmeater gets the "family show" slot in the festival every year, this time turning in an entertaining world premiere production of Arrh! A Dinosaur Ate My Spaceship by Bret Fetzer and Juliet Waller Puzan and directed by Steve Cooper. Any show with a flatulent T-Rex (Aaron Allshouse), the creature from Alien (Kendra Pierce) who can't say "fart" because her parents are in the audience, a calorie-conscious great white shark (Anna Richardson), goofy pirates, and an insane mad scientist (Tracy Leigh) is sure to be a smash.

The cast of The Tempest takes a bow after its
performance July 9. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.
Batting cleanup for the day was the GreenStage production of The Tempest, directed by Michael D. Blum. We'd have to say this show was spot on, a delightful production with great performances from a marvelous cast. Blum has created a show that is funny, sexy, touching, and sweet. GreenStage takes their Shakespeare seriously, but not so seriously that they can't have a lot of fun with it. A great example is when Prospero, played superbly by Ken Holmes, barks a "no tongues" warning to daughter Miranda (Alyssa Kay) and suitor Ferdinand (Matthew Fulbright) as they got in some necking at stage left. Prospero and Ariel (Gina Marie Russell) use their special powers for good, not evil.

There's not a bad performance in the bunch, though in addition to Holmes and Russell we especially liked Anthony Duckett's loopy Trinculo, Daniel Wood as Stephano clad in Superman underwear (don't ask, don't tell), and Don MacEllis as a far more human Caliban than we usually see in The Tempest.

The set for the show was pretty spare, even by Shakespeare in the Park standards. Other than the brick wall of the Volunteer Park amphitheater, it consisted of one stump, and another stump with arms that served as Prospero's throne. They didn't need anything else!

We'll surely be seeing this show a couple more times before the summer is out.

A tip of the sword also to Performers' Forge, a group dedicated to the education, training, and safety of stage combat. Forge members staged fistfights, swordfights, stickfights, and general mayhem during the breaks between shows. They're good, and they teach their craft for a lot of theater companies around town, as well as doing performances of their own.