Bob Hicks


Drammy Awards: a Playhouse double play

Portland Playhouse's 'Light in the Piazza' and 'A Christmas Carol' take both top production trophies

Portland Playhouse pulled off a tough double play at Monday night’s Drammy Awards, taking top honors in both major production categories – best play of the season for its stripped-down version of A Christmas Carol, and best musical play for The Light in the Piazza. 

The crowd gets into the action for the opening puppet-show strut to "The Circle of Life." Photo: Henk Pander

The crowd gets into the action for the opening puppet-show strut to “The Circle of Life.” Photo: Henk Pander

The celebration of the best achievements in Portland theater during the 2013-14 season packed the house at the Crystal Ballroom with theater folk and theater fans, many dressed to the nines and others to the twos or threes. The mood was convivial verging on rowdy, punctuated during one long stretch by the drone of a punk band playing loudly somewhere downstairs, and hosted with wit and dash by actor Isaac Lamb, who occasionally ceded the spotlight to his vigorously tap-dancing wife-to-be, Amy Beth Frankel. If anyone caught their act on videotape, it could go viral.

Dapper Isaac Lamb, the Drammys' emcee. Photo: Owen Carey

Dapper Isaac Lamb, the Drammys’ emcee. Photo: Owen Carey

Piazza was the evening’s closest thing to a runaway, walking off with five prizes: best production, actress in a musical (Meredith Kaye Clark), supporting actress in a musical (Jennifer Goldsmith), supporting actor in a musical (David Meyers), and musical direction (Eric Nordin). A Christmas Carol took top awards for ensemble in a play and director in a play (Cristi Miles) in addition to best production.

Well Arts Institute's Youth Program accepted the Mary Brand Award. Photo: Ann Singer

Ann Singer, Well Arts Institute’s youth program coordinator, accepted the $2,000 Mary Brand Award from Julie Accuardi of the Portland Civic Theatre Guild.

Oregon Children’s Theatre took four awards for its sweet and funny high school outcast musical Zombie in Love, and Kristeen Willis Crosser was a double individual winner, taking home the hardware for scenic design (Gidion’s Knot) and lighting design (A Bright New Boise), both at Third Rail Rep. One category, best actress in a play, ended in a tie vote. Amy Newman (Gidion’s Knot) and Maureen Porter (Crooked, CoHo Productions) shared the prize.

After an hour of drinking, preening, and general hobnobbing, the ceremony got off to a rousing start with a long Irish yowl of a song from Chris Murray, who’s starring as the not-quite-murderous Irish lad Christy in The Playboy of the Western World at Artists Rep, followed by a Lion King-style puppet show threading rambunctiously through the crowd. Among the costumed paraders were a donkey, a latke, a fish, a teapot, a snake, and several bottles of booze. They set the tone for much of the rest of the evening: congenial, creative, a little outrageous, fun, and quite long. At the end of the ceremony, Lamb performed a hilarious Portlandified riff on the “River City” song from The Music Man that would’ve made a knockout opening number. By the time it finally came, much of the crowd was already heading for the bars or home – a shame, but an understandable one.

Horsing around at the opening puppet parade. Photo: Henk Pander

Horsing around at the opening puppet parade. Photo: Henk Pander

The 17-member Drammy Committee of writers and theater professionals considered almost 120 productions from the awards’ 36th season. Several current shows opened too late for consideration. This year, after several years of choosing multiple winners in each category, the committee returned to picking a single winner from a pre-announced list of finalists in each category, making the Drammys feel more like the Oscars or Tonys. The finalists in each category are listed here.

The cast of Portland Playhouse's "A Christmas Carol" celebrate their best-production Drammy. Photo: Owen Carey

The cast of Portland Playhouse’s “A Christmas Carol” celebrate their best-production Drammy. Photo: Owen Carey

Grant Turner, founder of Northwest Classical Theatre,  drew appreciative nods during his acceptance speech for his Special Achievement Award. “Take the time to hone your craft,” he advised, “and don’t take (a play) on until you’re able.” He continued: “Believe in your authors, and your audience will believe in you.”  Turner, who started the Shakespeare-centric classical company more than 15 years ago, is moving to eastern Oregon but will return to Portland for specific projects.

Van Voris (left) and Hoffman indulge in some interpretive oratory. Photo: Owen Carey

Van Voris (left) and Hoffman indulge in some interpretive oratory. Photo: Owen Carey

Actors Todd Van Voris and Gavin Hoffman sent titters racing around the room with their dramatic readings of “actual posts on PDX Backstage.” And when the Light in the Piazza company gathered onstage to accept the best-musical award, Susannah Mars drew extended cheers and a couple of boos when she proudly announced, “We did a musical without microphones!

It was that kind of night.





Michael Fisher-Welsh
The Quality of Life
Artists Repertory Theatre



Kristeen Willis Crosser
Gidion’s Knot
Third Rail Repertory Theatre



Drew Dannhorn
The Giver
Oregon Children’s Theatre



John Ellingson
James and the Giant Peach
Northwest Children’s Theater



Atomic Arts
Trek in the Park



Jennifer Goldsmith
The Light in the Piazza
Portland Playhouse



Annalise Albright Woods
pool (no water)
Theatre Vertigo



Blake Peebles
Zombie in Love
Oregon Children’s Theatre



David Meyers
The Light in the Piazza
Portland Playhouse



Dan Murphy
Plaid Tidings
Broadway Rose Theatre Company



9 to 5: The Musical
Stumptown Stages



Stage Manager: Emma Lewins
Crew Member: Don Crossley
Ballyhoo (formerly known as “Other”): Val and Jim Liptak



Jen LaMastra
James and the Giant Peach
Northwest Children’s Theater



Caitlin Fisher-Draeger
The Revenants
The Reformers



Meghan Chambers
CoHo Productions / Philip Cuomo and Maureen Porter



Jeff Kurihara
The Giver
Oregon Children’s Theatre



Kristeen Willis Crosser
A Bright New Boise
Third Rail Repertory Theatre


Catherine Egan accepts her award for movement design for Push Leg's "Nighthawks." Photo: Owen Carey

Catherine Egan accepts her award for movement design for Push Leg’s “Nighthawks.” Photo: Owen Carey


Catherine Egan
Push Leg



Push Leg


Special Achievement Award winner Grant Turner. Photo: Owen Carey

Special Achievement Award winner Grant Turner. Photo: Owen Carey


 Grant Turner
Founding Artistic Director
Northwest Classical Theatre Company



Eric Nordin
The Light in the Piazza
Portland Playhouse



Marcella Crowson
Zombie in Love
Oregon Children’s Theatre



David Studwell
Fiddler on the Roof
Portland Center Stage



Merideth Kaye Clark
The Light in the Piazza
Portland Playhouse



Plaid Tidings
Broadway Rose Theatre Company


Solo performance winner Damon Kupper in front of an image from his show, "Last November." Photo: Owen Carey

Solo performance winner Damon Kupper in front of an image from his show, “A Night in November.” Photo: Owen Carey


Damon Kupper
A Night in November
corrib theatre



 A Christmas Carol
Portland Playhouse



Michelle Elliott
Zombie in Love
Oregon Children’s Theatre



Danny Larsen, Music
Michelle Elliott, Lyrics
Zombie in Love
Oregon Children’s Theatre




Mary Brand Award $2,000
Recipient: Well Arts Institute

Portland Civic Theatre Award in Support of Theatre $3,000
Recipient: Action/Adventure Theatre

The Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship $5,000
Recipient: Jill Westerby Gonzales



Cristi Miles
A Christmas Carol
Portland Playhouse


Best actor winner Allen Nause," "The Caretaker" at Imago. Photo: Owen Carey

Best actor winner Allen Nause,” “The Caretaker” at Imago. Photo: Owen Carey


Allen Nause
The Caretaker
Imago Theatre



Amy Newman
Gidion’s Knot
Third Rail Repertory Theatre

Maureen Porter
CoHo Productions / Philip Cuomo and Maureen Porter


Best actress co-winner Maureen Porter, "Crooked," CoHo Productions. Photo: Owen Carey

Best actress co-winner Maureen Porter, “Crooked,” CoHo Productions. Photo: Owen Carey


The Light in the Piazza
Portland Playhouse



A Christmas Carol
Portland Playhouse




Drammy Awards and Janice Scroggins benefit tonight; Oregon at the Tonys

With two major events in Portland, it's a Monday night to step out

No staying home Monday: It’s a big night out.

Drammy host Isaac Lamb, from his "Defending the Caveman" days. Photo: Jenni Girtman

Drammy host Isaac Lamb, from his “Defending the Caveman” days. Photo: Jenni Girtman

The 36th annual Drammy Awards, celebrating the best in Portland’s theater during the past season, take over the Crystal Ballroom (1332 West Burnside Street) starting at 6 o’clock, with the ceremony at 7 p.m. Actor Isaac Lamb will be master of ceremonies, and he promises surprises. This is traditionally the biggest theater bash of the year in Portland, and it’s open to everyone: free at the door, buy your own drinks. This year, for the first time in several years, the Drammy jurists are choosing a single winner in each category from a pre-announced list of finalists (see the nominees on the Drammy link above), making the awards more in the tradition of the Oscars and Tonys.

For a taste of what’s to come, read Marty Hughley’s profile for ArtsWatch of Grant Turner, who’ll be receiving this year’s Special Achievement Award.


Janice Scroggins: a joyful noise in her memory.

Janice Scroggins: a joyful noise in her memory.

Another big event tonight is For the Love of Janice: An All-Star Benefit for the Family of Janice Scrogginsstarting at 7 p.m.  (doors open at 6) at the Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 Northeast Alberta Street. The concert’s sold out, demonstrating both the quality of the lineup and the love and respect Portlanders feel for Scroggins, the pianist and keyboardist who’s been a leading figure in the city’s blues, jazz, and other scenes for decades, died in late May of a heart attack. She was 58. You can read ArtsWatch’s remembrance here. Tonight’s benefit will feature a mighty gathering of musical talent, people who were Janice’s friends and colleagues: Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester, Julianne Johnson, Mary Flower, Linda Hornbuckle, Thara Memory, Lyndee Mah, Duffy Bishop, Lloyd Jones, Patrick Lamb, Michael Allen Harrison, Peter Damman, Terry Robb, Reggie Houston … the list goes on and on.


Congratulations, meanwhile, to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for last night’s Tony Award wins for best play for Robert Schenkkan’s All the Way, and best actor for Bryan Cranston, who stars in All the Way as Lyndon Baines Johnson. Festival actor Jack Willis originated the role when Schenkkan’s play premiered in Ashland as an OSF commission in 2012. David Stabler has the scoop on OregonLive.

Congrats, also, to the Portland producing team of Brisa Trinchero and Corey Brunish, whose shows pulled in 22 Tony nominations and went home with six, scoring with Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, and others. Here’s the complete list of winners and nominees, via The Hollywood Reporter.

Review: NW Dance Project’s splendid ‘Splendors’

The company closes its 10th season on a high note, and looks ahead to a new and bigger home

Summer Splendors is very likely the last program Northwest Dance Project will present in its small light-filled studio on North Shaver Street, and if so the company’s going out in high style: this is one of the most appealing dance programs I’ve seen in months.

Forced out by the frenzied real estate roulette of North Mississippi Avenue (the studio is just around the corner from the hubbub of the Mississippi strip), NDP will move its busy summer schedule to the new glassed-in studios at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall. And the company’s in negotiations to move permanently into a much larger space on Portland’s close-in east side. If all goes smoothly, that space will be converted for studios over the summer, and ready for NDP to begin its 11th season in the fall.

From left: Kilbane, Nieto, Labay in "Tis Is Embracing." Photo: Christopher Peddecord

From left: Kilbane, Nieto, Labay in “This Is Embracing.” Photo: Christopher Peddecord

In the meantime, nab tickets for Summer Splendors if you can. The program opened Friday night and continues through June 15, and not a lot of tickets are available.


40 whacks and a bad attitude

Center Stage's Lizzie Borden musical chops a rock 'n' roll path into the American legend of family and violence

Turns out, it wasn’t 40 whacks.

Abby Durfree Gray Borden, Lizzie’s stepmother, took 19 blows to the back of her head on that fateful August day in 1892. Andrew Jackson Borden, Lizzie’s father, was dispatched with an efficient 11.

So much for legend.

As most schoolkids know, Lizzie, the most famous daughter or son of the mill town of Fall River, Massachusetts (sorry, George Stephanopoulos and Emeril Lagasse), was acquitted of the double ax murders. It took the jury just an hour and a half of deliberation to set her free, and no one else was ever charged.

Mary Kate Morrissey (left) as Lizzie, Kacie Sheik as Alice. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Mary Kate Morrissey (left) as Lizzie, Kacie Sheik as Alice. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Still, almost everyone thinks she dunnit. What most of us know about Lizzie Borden is neatly summed up in that famous, wryly understated doggerel, which neatly catapults her into the rarefied ranks of American folklore:

 Lizzie Borden took an ax

And gave her mother 40 whacks.

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father 41.

Lizzie, the new Broadway-hopeful musical at Portland Center Stage, bops along somewhere between folklore and fact. An unrepentant rock musical that mimics the overblown expressive style of arena rock, it revels in its own inventions (or at least, unprovable assertions): Lizzie’s dad repeatedly molested her; Lizzie and her neighbor, Alice Russell, were lovers.


OBT serves a little dessert

The ballet company's intimate new show at BodyVox puts a capper on the season and hints at things to come

And now, for a little light dessert.

The last time we saw Oregon Ballet Theatre, in April at the Newmark Theatre, it was the end of an era – an ambitious program paying tribute to the retiring principal dancer Alison Roper, who had spent her entire distinguished ballet career at OBT. The program was fraught with meaning: a farewell to a beloved performer, and also an emphatic stamp on Kevin Irving’s first season as artistic director. The whole affair had the feel of a celebratory gala banquet.

Avery Reiners with Ansa Deguchi and Katherine Menogue in Michael Linsmeier's "Found You." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Avery Reiners with Ansa Deguchi and Katherine Menogue in Michael Linsmeier’s “Found You.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

On Wednesday night, OBT played progressive dinner, moving on for its seasonal dessert to the intimate and casual BodyVox Dance Center, where it opened CREATE, an evening of short works choreographed by company dancers. The setting is ideal for the program, which continues through Sunday, June 1: professional but close and conversational, almost like a studio except it has more seating and more sophisticated technical systems. It’s an energizing space that creates an instant connection between audiences and performers.


Janice Scroggins: rest in peace

The great Portland jazz and blues pianist dies of an apparent heart attack

The last time I saw Janice Scroggins she was playing the blues. It was a Monday night, March 3 of this year, at the regional finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition on the Main Stage at Portland Center Stage. While the competition judges were deliberating and getting ready to send three of the 15 high-school contestants on to the national finals in New York, the singer Marilyn Keller, in a long blues-diva gown reminiscent of the imperial title character’s in Wilson’s great play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, was singing from the bottom of her soul. And Janice, with that trademark energetic thump that had a little bit of Oklahoma and a little bit of Oakland and a little bit of gospel and a whole river of American musical history in it, was driving the songs with rolling clarity from the piano bench.

Most people in the crowd were stretching their legs or chatting or taking a break in the lobby or just too excited about the competition to pay much attention. But for anyone who cared to actually listen, there it was: the sound of a nation, genuine and jumpy and unalloyed, the rhythm and passion that also suffused Wilson’s great dramas of African American life, piercing the fog of corporate-pop and playing down to the bones. Janice loved doing that.

Janice Scroggins, in a photo from her Facebook page.

Janice Scroggins, in a photo from her Facebook page.

Janice Scroggins died on Tuesday evening, May 27, 2014, in Portland, apparently of a heart attack. She was 58. Her death came as a shock: She had been as active as ever on the music scene, and just last year had been inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Oregon Music News announced her death, but not before word already had begun racing around social media.


News & Notes: remembering John Buchanan, a slew of Irish plays

San Francisco honors the late Portland museum director; Synge's 'Playboy' kicks off a trio of Irish dramas

John Buchanan was just 58 years old when he died, from cancer, on December 30, 2011. He had been director of the San Francisco Museums of Fine Art for some time, shaking up the Bay Area art scene in ways familiar to Portlanders, brashly organizing blockbuster shows and bringing hundreds of thousands of people inside the doors of the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum, the two spaces that make up the SF museum complex.

John Buchanan

John Buchanan

As he had been in Oregon, where he was director of the Portland Art Museum, he was a polarizing figure: a controversial administrator and an energetic showman who was criticized in some quarters for being a populist and praised in others for essentially the same thing. In both cities, he amped up public enthusiasm and brought in the bucks.

A few days ago, many of his friends from around the world gathered in San Francisco to celebrate the dedication of the John E. Buchanan, Jr. Court at the de Young. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Leah Garchik was on hand and filed this report, which includes remarks by Buchanan’s widow, Lucy Buchanan, who worked side by side with him in reshaping the Portland museum: John was a boundlessly energetic man until the cancer sapped his strength, and Lucy kept up with him step for step. Garchik recounts a story, both funny and insightful, about a private tour of Graceland, Elvis’s Memphis mansion, that helped secure the loan of some artwork Buchanan wanted to exhibit. He was an impresario, an enthusiast of life, and now he has a courtyard to prove the point.

After he died, I wrote this assessment of his years in Portland, and Barry Johnson wrote this assessment for ArtsWatch.




Going Irish. Portland theater’s about to start an unofficial festival of Irish plays.

  • On Saturday, Artists Rep opens Playboy of the Western World, J.M. Synge’s classic knowing comedy about a fellow who goes about bragging that he’s just killed his dad, and how he gets a bunch of surprising responses to his boasting of it. Dámaso Rodrigues directs Chris Murray as young Christy, along with such notables as Bill Geisslinger, Michael Mendelson, Allen Nause, Amy Newman, and Isaac Lamb.
  •  The following week, Third Rail Rep opens The Beauty Queen of Leenane, completing Martin McDonaugh’s Leenane Trilogy, which also includes The Lonesome West and A Skull in Connemarra. Scott Yarborough’s cast is led by Damon Kupper and Maureen Porter, and the show opens May 30 in the Winnie.
  •  And on Saturday, June 7, Corrib Theatre, which is dedicated to all things Irish, opens The Hen Night Epiphany, Jimmy Murphy’s dramatic comedy about a group of contemporary Dublin women who gather at a hillside country cottage to drink, deliberate, and celebrate their friend’s bachelorette party. Gemma Whelan directs a cast that includes Dana Millican, Luisa Sermol, Amanda Soden, Jacklyn Maddux, and Jamie M. Rea – a lot of potential firepower.



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