THEATER

Hunter captured by the game

In Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis" at CoHo, Shaking the Tree takes a green look at the thrill of the hunt

It’s the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death, and in his time, poetry was considered a noble trade. Shakespeare made his mark there first, and most of us know by memory a few of those famous lines: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” In Shakespeare’s century, theater was in large part for the raucous and bawdy, pint-lifting hoi polloi: the commoners. It’s been rumored of late in the papers that the Bard, himself, tried to secure a noble crest for his family, perhaps to hush the naysayers who believed he was little but an upstart with an impressive vocabulary. But, the chalk-complexioned ginger Queen Elizabeth put most of those rumors to rest, and here we are today celebrating his insights on the human condition. It can be argued that despite the success of his politically themed theater, his strongest suit was a deep understanding of the heart.

While we may have plowed his sonnets in our younger years for our own romantic endeavors, it is usually the case that today Shakespeare’s poetry probably isn’t in our stack of books. Shaking the Tree, as part of CoHo’s SummerFest series of short-run shows (this one opened Thursday and closes Sunday)  regrows an appreciation of his other, and perhaps, more personal work by way of a staged version of his brilliant poem Venus and Adonis.

Ridenour and Kerrigan, playing games. Photo: Gary Norman

Ridenour and Kerrigan, playing games. Photo: Gary Norman

Rebecca Ridenour’s goddess, Venus, shimmers in a golden gown, barefoot and with braided hair. She comes in with a case of vanity and the feral, celestial aura of a hunter. What she’s hunting, she’s not sure of, but in most cases it would take a male form. Ridenour is a suppressed volcanic wait of hormones. Here begins the triangle of insight by Ridenour, director Samantha Van Der Merwe, and Matthew Kerrigan as Adonis. All three play with Shakespeare’s mock view of how a petulant female chases a closed-hearted male, but both Venus and Adonis surface in the end as losers in a complicated game.

Continues…

Living history: ‘Roe’ in Ashland

Watching Lisa Loomer's play about politics and abortion in an era of shifting restrictions and loyalties

By SUZI STEFFEN

If you don’t go see Lisa Loomer’s new play Roe at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I predict that you’ll be seeing it soon elsewhere, perhaps many elsewheres.

That’s because the subject of Roe is topical (when will it not be?), and the play is mostly enjoyable as a piece of theater. It happens to have strong roles for several women, a rarity among plays old and new alike, along with a satisfyingly obvious source of conflict, embodied in the second act by a physical space shared by an abortion-providing women’s health clinic and an office of the anti-abortion direct action group Operation Rescue.

As I write this review, the Supreme Court of the United States has just ruled on Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Hellerstadt (which does not trip off the tongue as does Roe v. Wade, of course), another case that got to the SCOTUS from Texas. Whole Woman concerns several Texas laws that attempted to curtail almost to nothing any possibility for health clinics to perform abortions for any women in that massive,  massively populated state.

A major Roe v. Wade anniversary puts Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner) and Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew) back in the public eye. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

A major Roe v. Wade anniversary puts Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner) and Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew) back in the public eye. Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

A quick check of the Guttmacher Institute shows that all 50 states – Oregonians happen to live in the least restrictive state, but our state does allow individuals and private medical facilities to refuse to perform abortions – have policies and laws restricting abortion access in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons.

Continues…

Risk/Reward 2016: Creative tensions

Multi-disciplinary performance festival explores the contrasts between multimedia elements

Ah, summer: that season when the only arts our sun-drunk brains are capable of handling are explosion-laden superhero films and simplistic beach read books. Or so the entertainment-industrial complex would have us believe.

Not in Portland. Portland Center Stage devotes its annual July Just Add Water festival to workshop readings of new plays in progress. The end-of-summer Time Based Art Festival is dedicated to edgy, category-free performance and visual art developed by fringe festival-style artists from around the world. The city’s season of experimentation really gets started with the annual Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance, “a developmental platform for the creation of new performance works,” according to its mission statement, which cites criteria including “adventurous,” immersive,” and “cross-disciplinary”; it’s like a mini-TBA Festival, but geared exclusively to artists from our region.

Anthony Hudson as Carla Rossi at 2016 Risk/Reward Festival, Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

Anthony Hudson as Carla Rossi at 2016 Risk/Reward Festival,
Photo: Chelsea Petrakis.

This year’s ninth annual edition, which ran June 17-19 at the valuable arts hub at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre, showcased new works whose quality and appeal often matched and sometimes surpassed those higher-profile incubators. The most successful drew their power, and often their humor, from the interaction of two or more media forms—artistic friction that struck sparks.

Continues…

Drammys: a night for Misbehavin’

Portland Center Stage's Fats Waller musical sweeps up six trophies at Portland's annual theater awards; "Orlando" wins big; actor Gavin Hoffman hits a double

Ain’t Misbehavin’, Portland Center Stage’s bold large-scale rethinking of the intimate Fats Waller musical revue, swept up much of the hardware Monday night at the Drammy Awards, sharing the spotlight with Orlando, Profile Theatre’s brash adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s time-traveling, gender-bending adventure novel.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ dominated the evening with six awards, including best production of a musical, director of a musical (Chris Coleman), music direction (Rick Lewis), ensemble performance in a musical, scenic design (Tony Cisek), and costumes (Alison Heryer, who was also nominated for Orlando).

Portland Center Stage's "Ain't Misbehavin'": best ensemble in the best musical on the dest-designed stage. (Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv)

Portland Center Stage’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”: best ensemble in the best musical on the best-designed stage. (Photo by Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv)

Orlando, which was part of Profile’s season of plays by Sarah Ruhl, won the coveted award for best production of a play, plus two other major categories: best actress in a play (Beth Thompson, who was also nominated for best supporting actress in Profile’s In the Next Room, or the vibrator play) and director of a play (Matthew B. Zrebski).

The Drammy Awards ceremony, Portland’s annual celebration of top achievements in theater, jammed the downtown Newmark Theatre of Portland’5 Centers for the Arts with a mixed crowd of theater fans and stage professionals, from actors and directors to designers and stagehands. In all, 117 productions were considered for awards by the 16-member Drammy committee. Late-season shows that were still running in June, such as Portland Playhouse’s hit Peter and the Starcatchers, Corrib’s Our New Girl, Triangle’s American Idiot, defunkt’s The Udmurts, and Artists Rep’s Grand Concourse and The Skin of Our Teeth, will be considered for 2016-17 awards.

Actor and director Beth Harper, founder and artistic director of the professional-training Portland Actors Conservatory, won this year’s lifetime achievement award, and it was a popular choice: when she walked onstage she was greeted with a standing ovation by the crowd, several of whom had graduated from the Actors Conservatory, and several more of whom have worked with her in shows. “For a girl from Pea Ridge, Tennessee, Miss Beth, you have done all right,” actor and director Brenda Hubbard said in introducing her. Harper thanked her own mentor, the legendary late Portland teacher and director Jack Featheringill, and commented, “It really does feel quite lovely to be appreciated.”

Gavin Hoffman scored a rare double victory in the acting categories, taking home the best actor Drammy for his performance as a desperate actor juggling life and art in The Understudy at Artists Repertory Theatre, and the supporting actor award for his performance in Great Expectations at Portland Center Stage. David Bodin shared the supporting-actor award for his Malvolio in Portland Shakespeare Project’s Twelfth Night. “I’m not greedy, really I’m not,” Hoffman said disarmingly in the second of his two acceptance speeches.

Best actress Beth Thompson in best play production "Orlando" at Profile Theatre. Photo: David Kinder

Best actress Beth Thompson in best play production “Orlando” at Profile Theatre. Photo: David Kinder

Other major acting awards went to Brian Demar Jones for best actor in a musical (Under the Influence, Fuse Theatre Ensemble), Malia Tippets for actress in a musical (Heathers: The Musical, Triangle Productions and Staged!), Jamie Rea for supporting actress in a play (A Doll’s House, Shaking the Tree), Cassie Q. Kohl for supporting actress in a musical (H.M.S. Pinafore, Mock’s Crest Productions), James Sharinghousen for supporting actor in a musical (Oklahoma!, Broadway Rose), and Kai Tomizawa for young performer (Junie B. Jones: The Musical, Oregon Children’s Theatre).

Among several special awards, the Portland Civic Theatre Guild gave out $17,000 for several projects, including $2,000 to the Rex Putnam High School theater department for children’s theater programs, $4,000 to CoHo Theatre for an exterior sign, $5,000 to John Ellingson to study puppet design in England, and $6,000 to Shaking the Tree for lighting and sound equipment. And the group Age and Equity for the Arts awarded $30,000 – $10,000 to Profile Theatre, $20,000 to CoHo – to support equity programs. Imago Theatre won the Artslandia Award of $5,000 in advertising and publicity.

The evening’s hosts were the seven members of The 3rd Floor comedy troupe, and what might have been a logistical disaster turned out instead to be a smooth, sometimes surprising, and often very funny addition to a show that ran a little over two and a half hours. The group’s quick wits and easy teamwork made the evening run like a machine – the sort of machine that includes spatters of blood, a cranked-up Carmina Burana soundtrack, an 8-foot-tall Sasquatch helping to announce the best-costume nominees, and at least one close-to-the-bone running gag. The troupe’s performance was refreshing and bittersweet: after 20 years onstage, it’ll call it quits after a July 9 reunion/retirement show at Artists Rep.

*

The complete list of 2015-16 Drammy winners and nominees. Winners are listed in boldface at the top of each category:

 

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Brian Demar Jones
Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Max Artsis
Dogfight
Staged!

Jared Miller

Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Joel Walker
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Gavin Hoffman
The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre

Bobby Bermea
The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Allen Nause

Chapatti 
Corrib Theatre

Seth Rue
Blue Door
Profile Theatre

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Malia Tippets
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged! 

Claire Avakian
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Courtney Freed
Falsettos
Live On Stage

Kailey Rhodes
Chicago
Metropolitan Community Theatre Project

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Beth Thompson
Orlando
Profile Theatre

JoAnn Johnson
Mothers And Sons
Artists Repertory Theatre

Val Landrum
The Miracle Worker
Artists Repertory Theatre

Kayla Lian
Davita’s Harp
Jewish Theatre Collaborative

 

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Jessica Wallenfels
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Maija Garcia
Cuba Libre
Artists Repertory Theatre

Maria Tucker
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Kent Zimmerman
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage 

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Alison Heryer
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Sarah Gahagan
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

Alison Heryer
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Ashton Hull
Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
Portland Playhouse

BEST DIRECTOR OF A MUSICAL

Chris Coleman
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Diane Englert
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Bruce A. Hostetler
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Sharon Maroney
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST DIRECTOR OF A PLAY

Matthew B. Zrebski
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Michael Mendelson
The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre

Louanne Moldovan
The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Pat Patton
Waiting For Godot
Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative

 

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A MUSICAL

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Cuba Libre
Artists Repertory Theatre

In the Heights
Stumptown Stages

Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST ENSEMBLE IN A PLAY

The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Cock
defunkt theatre

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play
Portland Playhouse

Orlando
Profile Theatre

 

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN

Don Crossley
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Kristeen Willis Crosser
The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre

Carl Faber
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Diane Ferry Williams
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

 

BEST MUSIC DIRECTION

Rick Lewis
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Tracey Edson
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Jonathan Quesenberry
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Jeffrey Childs
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST ORIGINAL MUSIC

Ernie Lijoi, Kevin Laursen, Lawrence Rush
Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Adrian Baxter
The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

Rory Stitt
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Matthew B. Zrebski
Chrysalis
Oregon Children’s Theatre (Young Professionals)

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT

Noah Dunham
How to Stop Dying
Action/Adventure Theatre

Ernie Lijoi
Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

Sacha Reich + Jamie Rea
Davita’s Harp
Jewish Theatre Collaborative

Claire Willett
Dear Galileo
Playwrights West

 

BEST PIT ENSEMBLE

Cuba Libre
Artists Repertory Theatre

Chicago
Metropolitan Community Theatre Project

Mame
Lakewood Theatre Company

Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST PRODUCTION OF A MUSICAL

Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Under the Influence
Fuse Theatre Ensemble

BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY

Orlando
Profile Theatre

Cock
defunkt theatre

The Set-Up
Cygnet Productions

The Understudy
Artists Repertory Theatre 

 

BEST SCENIC DESIGN

Tony Cisek
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Portland Center Stage

Stephen Dobay
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

Tal Sanders
Orlando
Profile Theatre

Tim Stapleton
Waiting For Godot
Northwest Classical Theatre Collaborative

 

BEST SOUND DESIGN

Rodolfo Ortega
Blue Door
Profile Theatre

Richard E. Moore
The Drunken City
Theatre Vertigo

Seth Nehil
Time, A Fair Hustler
Hand2Mouth

Scott Thorson
Sex With Strangers
Portland Center Stage

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

James Sharinghousen
Oklahoma!
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Troy Pennington
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Blake Stone
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Joe Theissen
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY

David Bodin
Twelfth Night
Portland Shakespeare Project

and

Gavin Hoffman
Great Expectations
Portland Center Stage

Matthew Kerrigan
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

Todd Van Voris
The New Electric Ballroom
Third Rail Repertory Theatre

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Cassi Q. Kohl
H.M.S. Pinafore
Mock’s Crest Productions

Amanda Pred
Heathers: The Musical
triangle productions! & Staged!

Danielle Purdy
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Emily Sahler
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Broadway Rose Theatre Company

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Jamie Rea
A Doll’s House
Shaking the Tree

Crystal Ann Muñoz
Twelfth Night
Portland Shakespeare Project

Anne Sorce
Time, A Fair Hustler
Hand2Mouth

Beth Thompson
In the Next Room, or the vibrator play
Profile Theatre

 

BEST YOUNG PERFORMER

Kai Tomizawa
Junie B. Jones: The Musical
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Annabel Cantor
Ramona Quimby
Oregon Children’s Theatre

Morgan Fay
The Wrestling Season
Oregon Children’s Theatre (Young Professionals)

Agatha Olson
The Miracle Worker
Artists Repertory Theatre

 

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Beth Harper

 

SPECIAL AWARDS: 

Best Properties Design: Kaye Blankenship, In the Next Room,” or The Vibrator Play, Profile Theatre

Best Scenic Artist: Mindy Barker, The Drunken City, Theatre Vertigo

Best Solo Performance: Matthew Kerrigan, The Dissenter’s Handbook, Shaking the Tree Theater

Special achievement by a producer: Adriana Baer (Profile) and Samantha van der Merwe (Shaking the Tree), Passion Play

 

PATA SPOTLIGHT AWARDS:

The following Spotlight awards were presented by Portland Area Theatre Alliance (PATA):

  • Other: Kate E. Ortolano, sign language
  • Crew: Crew of The Skin of Our Teeth at Artists Repertory Theatre
  • Stage Manager: Karen Hill
  • Stage Manager: D Westerholm

 

PORTLAND CIVIC THEATRE GUILD AWARDS:

  • Mary Brand Award: $2,000 to Rex Putnam High School Theatre Department Children’s Theatre Program to bring theater to elementary school audiences that otherwise could not afford to attend.
  • Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship: $5,000 to John Ellingson for travel to England to study at the Beverly Puppet Festival in July, following which he will connect and interact with several prominent puppet companies in England.
  • Portland Civic Theatre $4,000 Award  to CoHo Theatre to pay for the creation and installation of an exterior sign marking the building and increasing the visibility of the theatre.
  • The Portland Civic Theatre $6,000 Award to Shaking the Tree to upgrade their lighting and sound equipment.

 

AGE AND GENDER EQUITY AWARDS:

  • $10,000 to Profile Theatre
  • $20,000 to CoHo Productions

Broadway looks for the weird, the wonderful and the reliable

The success of "Hamilton" finds Broadway headed down many different roads at once

By MISHA BERSON

In case you haven’t heard, “Hamilton” cleaned up at the Tony Awards (16 nominations, 11 wins), and remains the most coveted, hardest-to-score ticket since, well, the early days of “Rent.” So will Broadway soon be deluged with other rapping hip-hop musicals that deconstruct/reconstruct American history?

It’s more likely that “Hamilton” creator-star Lin-Manuel Miranda, his director Thomas Kail and other collaborators on this smash-smash hit are <em>sui generis</em> theater artists, who have blended musical idioms, pop culture stylings, ethnic diversity and historical fascination into an original secret sauce. And who would have the chutzpah, or know-how, to follow up their blockbuster with an au courant “John Quincy Adams, the Musical”?

Considering Broadway musical theater over the past decade, we appear to now be in a polyglot aesthetic era distinguished by two driving forces: the hunt for something boldly new and different yet broadly appealing; and the ongoing rebooting of and clinging to comforting classics from the past.

The Broadway musical "Hamilton" swept the Tony Awards and represents one of the trends on Broadway/Public Theater

The Broadway musical “Hamilton” swept the Tony Awards and represents one of the trends on Broadway/Public Theater

The thirst for newness does not, alas, extend to nurturing and showcasing more than an occasional contemporary American play. (I’ll be amazed if the best new drama now on Broadway, Stephen Karam’s blistering, Tony-honored family portrait “The Humans,” lasts an entire year on the Great White Way before it is rightfully snatched up by a regional playhouse near you.)

Of course, Broadway is constantly in a state of reinvention as is imperative in a market economy and restlessly shifting society.

Setting plays aside, one can roughly divide Broadway into epochs—from the incipient vaudeville-revue-operetta musical era of the early 1900s, to the savvy froth and Tin Pan Alley wonders of the ‘20s and ‘30s and the “Golden Era” of book musicals in the ‘40s-‘60s, through the British/French pop-opera phase of the 1980s, into the 1990s and early 2000s heyday of Disney transfers and jukebox shows, and of late, the craze for translating movies into live musicals.

But currently the trend is really no-trend, or all-trend. Everything is up for grabs; anything could be a hit (or flop).

While Broadway has always been a theater mall where variety and one-stop-shopping is key, it’s even more so now, as my theater trip to New New York City this spring confirmed. With production and promotion costs sky-high and the average face-value admission price exceeding $100 for a legit play (and much more for a hit musical), producers are intent on shoring up ongoing cash cows (“Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked” and “Chicago” are now the longest-running shows in Broadway history ) and, investing in ostensibly “safe,” classy revivals of beloved old hits. (In the 2015-16 season, they included a sixth Broadway staging of “Fiddler on the Roof,” and next-season will usher in the fifth coming of “Hello, Dolly!.”)

But there’s also a feverish hunt on for the next brilliant, bankable maverick (a la Stephen Sondheim, Bob Fosse and now Miranda) to shake up the status quo and give more and different people reasons to visit New York’s vaunted theater center. And there is no choice for producers other than to stretch the definition of what a Broadway musical is, and gamble on experiments. Even musicals that come through our current expanding national pipeline, and have been critic- and audience-tested in regional theaters like Portland Center Stage or Off Broadway first, are a gamble in today’s boom-or-bust show mart. (According to one reliable source, an average Broadway musical costs $8-$12 million to produce; “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark” cost a whopping $75 million.)

The reliable white, older tourist and New York metro theatergoers, habitual attendees who consider Broadway a necessary luxury, are dwindling by attrition. And according to a recent Broadway League study, the average age of ticket buyers is now 44. Betting on shows aimed at younger, pop culture-savvy and to some degree more adventurous and open-minded patrons, many of them new to bigtime theater, is not only the right thing to do. It’s an economic (and cultural) imperative.

These coveted, restless Gen-X, Y, and Millennial patrons in their 20s through 40s (and their young children) are also essential to the even more lucrative spin-off business of Broadway national tours, which  fan out to West Coast cities including San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.

Scanning the Tony Award winners and nominees for best new Broadway musical over the last decade, one finds plenty of revivals and conventional newer fare, but also a marked uptick in strikingly contemporary works that are groundbreaking in form and/or content.

Broadway is no longer squeamish (or shockable), for instance, about sexual candor in such shows. In 2007 the potent, graphic  tragi-musical version of the Frank Wedekind play “Spring Awakening,” about the sexual blossoming of repressed youth, triumphed at the Tonys over the G-rated Disney show, “Mary Poppins.” (The latter ran 2619 performances versus 859 for “Spring Awakening,” but there’s no doubt which property had greater artistic impact, or excited more teens and young adults.)

In 2008, performer-composer-writer Lin-Manuel Miranda made his first Broadway splash (and copped his first best-musical Tony) for “In the Heights,” a rousing, salsa-infused celebration of urban diversity set in Manhattan’s Washington Heights. Though in format a conventional book musical, its incorporated rap dialogue was noteworthy (and a warm-up to “Hamilton”). And “In the Heights” was also, significantly, the first Broadway musical entry in 50 years (since “West Side Story”) to focus on Latino characters, among others.

In 2009, “Next to Normal” (a Tony winner for the Brian Yorkey-Tom Kitt original score), was a chamber-sized rock drama that unflinchingly confronted severe mental illness—opening the Broadway musical to the searching studies of family dynamics so prominent in American plays. In 2010, profane punk rock and George W. Bush-era discontent blasted through the Tony-nominated “American Idiot,” adapted from Green Day’s monster hit concept album.

“The Book of Mormon” smashed all notions of religious reverence on Broadway, with its antic, unbound take on Mormonism, drenched in populist comic irony. And last year the poignant  “Fun Home,” which scrambled time and narration in offbeat ways, frankly conveyed a bittersweet growing-up-lesbian story, and became the first Broadway success based on a graphic novel.

None of the above (with the exception of “Book of Mormon”) was the kind of cultural and financial phenom “Hamilton” has become, from its first instantly-sold-out premiere engagement at New York’s Public Theater onward. And all shared the Great White Way with more conventional new “book musicals,” like the current romantic comedy tuner “Waitress” and the faux-Elizabethean musical romp, “Something Rotten!.”

But while scattered sui generis musicals by American creators have always pushed the field forward, socially and aesthetically, Broadway is now more dependent on them for profits and prizes than on blue-ribbon revivals or retro-new works. The up-front sexuality, inter-racial and multi-cultural diversity are here to stay—whether in “Hamilton,” with its black and Latino founding fathers, or in a salsa peppered, bio-jukebox-revue like “On Your Feet,” based on the life and music of Cuban-American pop star Gloria Estefan.

There’s no turning back on this—how could there 0r should there be in a nation in which, by 2020 according to the U.S. Bureau of Census, more than half of U.S. children will be part of a minority race or ethnic group? But it’s just as imperative that the artistic boundaries get stretched. While I love a grand, timeless Golden Era musical like “My Fair Lady” or “Pajama Game” as much as any Baby Boomer critic with a showtune jones, it’s also clear we have a big stock of them in the archive already. And as tastes, expectations and social demographics evolve, so must the musical dramas and comedies that aim to regale millions of patrons, live and (in rarer cases) later on film.

One of the brightest developments on Broadway may be the stripped down nature of recent break-out shows. The century-old model of glitter and gloss, elaborate sets, large casts and special effects isn’t dead. But it’s not affordable in the smaller theaters that are incubating some of the most daring and thoughtful musicals. Nor is it necessary, or (consider the behemoth, super-tech bomb, “Spiderman”) reliably profitable.

Live theater is one of the few entertainment idioms left that demand the full attention and imagination of the audience. You have to fill in what’s suggested yourself, without (usually) the benefit of the hyper-“realism” achieved these days in films (which paradoxically is often accomplished by computer generated imagery).

In winning, ingeniously single-set shows like “Book of Mormon,” “Rent,” “Once,” “Spring Awakening,” “Hamilton” and more to come, it’s not elaborate visuals and glitzy kick lines that constitute the hip-hip hooray and ballyhoo of Broadway anymore.  It’s the fresh, vivid storytelling and vitality, the performers and the music, the now-ness that make the magic—and rejuvenate the medium.

Notes

The first national tour of “Hamilton” will come to Portland and Seattle as part of the 2016-17 Broadway Across American season. (Dates announced later.) The national tour of “Fun Home” will play at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, July 11 – 30, 2017.

Misha Berson is the former theater critic for the Seattle Times, a freelance writer for American Theatre Magazine, Seattle Times and other publications, and the author of four books about theater, including “Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination”

‘Procedures for Saying No’: The office cataclysmic

Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's "Procedures for Saying No" parodies office culture and gives a glimpse of the wildness within

I have spent many days working in offices (and observing other offices in operation), witnessing and participating in a multitude of tiny moments of friction, inner and outer, a rubbing together that often rubs out the actual work. In those days, years, decades, I have learned that the most delicate maneuvers, the riskiest and yet often the most satisfying, involve working around a directive from above. Or even better, an attempt to subvert the great historical tradition of the office itself. Because sometimes opposition is necessary, both for the mental health of the employee and for the health of the organization itself.

Not that opposition is necessarily all that risky. Sometimes it seems baked into the whole process. And that’s where we arrive at “Procedures for Saying No,” Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s fourth installment of its investigation of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” the Journey Play project, with words by Robert Quillen Camp, who teaches at Lewis & Clark College, and direction by Rebecca Lingafelter.

Amber Whitehall, Jacob Coleman and Cristi Miles star in "Procedures for Saying No" by Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble/Owen Carey

Amber Whitehall, Jacob Coleman and Cristi Miles star in “Procedures for Saying No” by Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble/Owen Carey

“Procedures for Saying No” takes place in a modern office, where very modern meetings to discuss very modern protocols and deal with very modern problems are called, in part to relieve the drudgery of the desk work. How boring is it? The packet each audience member receives before the show attempts to explore those depths, outlining a series of steps each of us should take to get into the proper state of irritated stasis—the tiny, time-wasting tasks we call busywork.

The stasis of the modern office. Or is it ennui? In either case, “Procedures for Saying No” doesn’t linger over its parody of the office environment. Eventually it takes a turn for the apocalyptic, though I was never quite sure how metaphorical that turn was, and whether the metaphor was psychological or something wider—social, political, anthropological.

Not knowing wasn’t a bad thing, maybe because the moment-by-moment action and discourse on stage by the PETE regulars (Amber Whitehall, Jacob Coleman, Cristi Miles), augmented by Linda Austin and Murri Lazaroff-Babin, was so captivating. Where is this play going, I asked when I took a second to consider larger questions. But then I was back into it. “One day you will go to work and you won’t go home.”

Continues…

‘The Wiz’-bang: showy spectacle

Ease on down to Ashland for an appreciation of costume, dance and song at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

By SUZI STEFFEN

ASHLAND – So The Wiz isn’t the best musical of all time. The plot makes about as much sense as it does in L. Frank Baum’s book or the Judy Garland movie; some of the songs are less than great; and there’s a creaky, predictable awkwardness to the Big Message that growing up includes believing in yourself.

But who cares? The audience know (or could know, depending on the movie and/or live broadcast they’ve watched) exactly what they’re going to get from The Wiz: First and foremost, the experience of seeing good and great African American actors/singers/dancers sinking their full skills into the songs, joyously taking that stage and owning it, making a place designed for Shakespeare into a fully realized world of the Emerald City.

Theater has a space for fun, high fashion, and a sheer high level of skilled performance that doesn’t have to end with blood and tears. That’s this show, this year, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. In the season, it’s surrounded on the big open-air Elizabethan Stage by Hamlet and The Winter’s Tale, neither of which is a fun evening to which you’d take kids.

Lion (Christiana Clark) tries not to appear cowardly when she meets Dorothy (Ashley D. Kelley), Scarecrow (J. Cameron Barnett) and Tin Man (Rodney Gardiner). Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Lion (Christiana Clark) tries not to appear cowardly when she meets Dorothy (Ashley D. Kelley), Scarecrow (J. Cameron Barnett) and Tin Man (Rodney Gardiner). Photo: Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

But The Wiz? Heck yeah. Take the kids (yours or someone else’s, as long as they’re at least 6 years old and you’re prepared to help them deal with the scary scenes and the bathroom lines). Dress up if you want to, but know that no matter how shiny you look, this cast will outshine anyone with, to quote the Point Sisters from the OSF’s Yeomen of the Guard, its sangin’, dancin’ and twinklin’.

Continues…

  • BV_DandD_300x250-1 (2)
  • OAW 2016-05 Recent Grads
  • NFN_300x250
  • OAW sidebar ad Cuba Patron Tour
  • Oregon ArtsWatch ad 300x250px_5
  • CMNW-Tile-Ad1
  • Artslandia Daily Calendar

  • Subscribe to Blog via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.