Bob Hicks


Tony and the PAMTAs: a producer’s big week

Corey Brunish races from "Man of La Mancha" to Monday's PAMTA musical-theater awards to Broadway for next Monday's Tonys as a nominee

It’s a busy week even for Corey Brunish, one of the busiest guys in Portland show biz.

  • On Sunday he gives his final performance in Lakewood Theatre’s hit revival of Man of La Mancha, leaving the show a week early to meet some big-time previous commitments. (“Corey Brunish, as the grand tall obelisk of the duke and Dr. Carrasco,” performs the villains “with malevolent dignity,” Christa Morletti McIntyre writes in her ArtsWatch review of La Mancha).
  • On Monday evening he heads to the Winningstad Theatre for this year’s PAMTA musical-theater awards, which were his brainchild and remain in many ways pretty much his baby. This season’s top-show nominees include Falsettos, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Snow White, and Lakewood’s Man of La Mancha (Brunish himself is not a nominee). See the complete list of nominees below.
  • Then he packs his bags and heads to his other home, near Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, to get ready for next Sunday’s Tony Awards, where one of his shows as a producer, Fiddler on the Roof, is up for the Tony for best revival of a musical. He’s won a Tony in the same category twice before, for Porgy and Bess in 2012 and Pippin in 2013.

A few days ago Brunish took time for a juice break at a Southeast Portland coffee shop to talk about the PAMTAs, the Tonys, and how he got from here to there.

"Falsettos" at Live On Stage: a PAMTA best-production nominee.

Norman Bandersnatch Wilson and Claire Rigsby in “Falsettos” at Live On Stage: a PAMTA best-production nominee. Photo: Gary Norman

The Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards are entering their ninth year, and what began as a protest movement against the larger and longer-established Drammy Awards has evolved into a community celebration that’s also a pretty entertaining event. As ArtsWatch reported after last year’s gala, “A funny thing happened on the way to the grand wrap-up of the PAMTAs: a helluva show broke out. … for all the suspense about who the winners would be, the hardware almost played second fiddle to the show itself, which for two hours and forty-five minutes was pretty much dazzle-dazzle spectacular. Who would’ve guessed that an awards ceremony could actually be entertaining?”


ArtsWatch Weekly: dragon boats, demon barbers, Native fashion now

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Hang on tight: it’s going to be a wild week. Or, to borrow a line from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s  Carousel, June is bustin’ out all over. Without further ado, a few of the highlights from the next seven days:

ROSE FESTIVAL/DRAGON BOAT ART SHOW. Yes, it’s here again, the annual civic bacchanalia that, as local journalistic legend has it, an old-school reporter for The Oregonian once famously described as the season “when sailors swim upstream to spawn.” The Starlight Parade begins to wind through downtown streets at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and those who love a parade are advised to show up and snag a spot well in advance. (Those who don’t love a parade are advised to stay away from downtown at all costs.) Here at ArtsWatch we’re quite fond of the dragon boat races (we happen to know a few paddlers, and they’re a hearty lot), which splash down June 11-12 in the Willamette River. And we’re always tickled by Fire on the Water, the annual show of art inspired by the dragon boat races, which is free and always a lot of fun. This year’s version, with work by about seventy artists, opens Thursday in the rotunda lobby of the performing arts center’s Antoinette Hatfield Hall, and hangs around all summer, through August 30. You can drop in most anytime.

2016 "Fire on the Water" cover image. Art: Mario Robert

2016 “Fire on the Water” cover image. Art: Mario Robert


Clap hands: 2016 PAMTA nominees

This year's Portland area musical-theater awards party is June 6 in the Winnie. The complete list of nominees.

It’s PAMTA time. The annual Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards celebration will be at 7 p.m. Monday, June 6, in the Dolores Winningstad Theatre, and the PAMTA committee has announced this season’s nominees, listed below.

The PAMTAs precede the annual Drammy Awards, which will be June 26 in the Newmark Theatre, and honor achievements across the theatrical spectrum. The PAMTAs recognize achievements in musical theater specifically, which on the greater Portland theater scene provides a lot of options. The awards were created by Corey Brunish, the longtime Portland singer/actor and Tony-winning Broadway producer.

Best production nominee "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Portland Center Stage. Patrick Weishampel/

Best production nominee “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at Portland Center Stage. Patrick Weishampel/

Musical-theater people know how to put on a show, and past PAMTA ceremonies have been entertaining and well-produced. Here’s ArtsWatch’s report from last year’s event, which “pretty much packed the Dolores Winningstad Theatre to the rafters,” with  cheering that at times “approached Timbers Army volume.” This year’s festivities begin at 7 p.m., and admission’s free.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Triffle on a cloud, a lobster in the tank

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Carol Triffle is Portland’s most prominent stage absurdist, a quiet comic renegade who makes a virtue of never connecting the dots. Her theater is whimsical, outrageous, so ordinary that it defies the ordinary, stretching it into cosmic pretzel shapes. It’s an anti-theater, almost, bopping narrative on the nose and then ducking around the corner to put on clown makeup and reappear as something utterly different, yet somehow also just the same. At its worst, it falls apart. At its best, it feels a bit like watching Lucille Ball or Danny Kaye caught inside a spinning clothes dryer and howling to get out. Head-scratching occurs at a Triffle show, and the audience can be divided between those who adore the effect and those who simply scratch their heads.

Source, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Sorce, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, Triffle’s newest show at Imago Theatre (where she is co-founder and, with partner Jerry Mouawad, creator of the mask-and-costume phenomenon Frogz), is the story, if that’s the right word, of three sisters who feud inseparably, supporting one another through thin and thin. Margarita (Ann Sorce, an Imago vet who’s utterly internalized Triffle’s madcap expressionist style) is the one who won all the beauty contests. Francesca (Megan Skye Hale) is the one who lost all the same beauty contests. Isabella (Elizabeth Fagan), the baby, is the one who seems to have just accidentally starred in a porno film. Isabella’s boyfriend RayRay (Kyle Delamarter) and Margarita’s fella Bob the Weatherman (Sean Bowie) drop in now and again, eager, somehow, to attach to the sisterly scene.


Making American theater 1940s again

Reviews: Center Stage's "A Streetcar Named Desire" and Artists Rep's "The Skin of Our Teeth" revive 1940s classics. Surprise: they're contemporary, too.

“Stella!” the woolly mammoth roars, and the American culture of the 1940s escapes into the 21st century by the skin of its teeth. Surprisingly, it feels right at home.

Portland Center Stage and Artists Repertory Theatre opened the final shows of their current seasons over the weekend with classic pieces that bookend that strange and transformative decade of American history. Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth (at Artists Rep) opened on Broadway in October 1942, less than a year after the United States entered World War II. Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (at Center Stage) opened in December 1947, as the nation and the world were still getting used to the war’s end and trying to establish some new sort of normalcy.

Diedrie Henry as Blanche, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley: power and desire. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

Diedrie Henry as Blanche, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley: power and desire. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

By far the more optimistic play is the one actually created in wartime, Wilder’s audacious comic overview of humankind’s stumbling progress from its beginnings. The Skin of Our Teeth is something of a rallying cry in bleak times, a promise that even when we take five steps backward, we usually manage to make them up and take a tentative sixth step forward. A Streetcar Named Desire is steeped in the realities that settle in after the crisis has been overcome, and the sense of progress that seemed to sustain us seems suddenly to have been illusory, a curdled dream: how quickly we are wired to forget. Restless for Utopia now and embittered that it doesn’t magically appear, we make ourselves miserable. It is part of Williams’ genius that the misery he creates is so attractive.


ArtsWatch Weekly: the kindness of strangers and the skin of our teeth

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Here it is, the middle of May, and suddenly Portland’s theater season is entering its final stretch before summer, which brings its own busy theater mini-season, indoors and out. The city’s two biggest companies open shows this weekend, both high-profile American classics and both due for a fresh look.

Flickering desire: "Streetcar" at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

Flickering desire: “Streetcar” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/

On Friday, Portland Center Stage opens its revival of Tennessee Williams’ rough, sensual, groundbreaking A Streetcar Named Desire, which in its 1947 debut featured Jessica Tandy as Blanche, Kim Hunter as Stella, and a smoldering hunk of muscle named Marlon Brando as Stanley. Center Stage has come up with a new Southern strategy, rethinking the play in a thoroughly multiracial milieu, with national players Kristen Adele as Stella, Demetrius Grosse as Stanley, and Diedrie Henry (a onetime regular at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival) as Blanche. Can we depend on the kindness of strangers?


ArtsWatch Weekly: artists at play

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

When visual artists and show people get together, interesting things often happen. Some collaborations have become legendary: Isamu Noguchi’s sculptural set designs for modern dance icon Martha Graham; Léon Bakst’s expressionistic designs for Ballets Russes. The original designs and even the title for the musical Fiddler on the Roof were inspired by the paintings of Marc Chagall. More recently, the South African artist William Kentridge’s astonishingly absurdist designs for the Metropolitan Opera’s 2010 production of Shostakovich’s equally astonishing and absurd The Nose brilliantly suggested the tone of the Gogol story that inspired the opera. Last season, Portland Opera produced Stravinsky’s classic mid-twentieth-century opera The Rake’s Progress, based on William Hogarth’s famous eighteenth century series of paintings and prints, with David Hockney’s inspired modernized designs.

Pamina (Maureen McKay), Paageno (John Moore) and Sendak's set. Photo: Cory Weaver

Pamina (Maureen McKay), Papageno (John Moore) and Sendak’s set. Photo: Cory Weaver

Now Portland Opera is back with a new production of Mozart’s fabulist opera The Magic Flute, using sets and costumes designed in 1980 by the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, whose designs for The Nutcracker were also a mainstay at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet for many years. Sendak’s sets and to a lesser extent his costumes for The Magic Flute are immediately identifiable as his and his alone: in this case the collaboration is an overlay of artistic sensibilities, a discovery of parallels between two artists whose outlooks differ but mesh well. Sendak’s bright color sense and playfully exaggerated figurative style emphasize the childlike aspects of Mozart’s music and the opera’s slightly nonsensical tale. Sendak didn’t so much rethink his source material, the way that Kentridge and Hockney did, as find a level of mutual agreement, a seductive surface that allows the music to dive more deeply behind the mask. He created very traditional tableaux, but in his own  pleasing and agreeable style, and the result is … well, pleasing and agreeable and pertinent.


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