Christa McIntyre

 

‘Tis the season to be Liberace and Liza

Saffert and Harris team up at CoHo in a camp comedy parody of pop culture's great glitter duo

I recommend bringing a pair of sunglassses to A Liberace and Liza Christmas at CoHo Theater. It’s not the glow of the holidays that’ll strike your eyes, but the universe of sequins donned by Liberace and Liza.

The dynamic duo, performed by David Saffert and Jillian Snow Harris, pull out all the stops in a fast-paced cabaret show. Good-natured and slightly off-cuff jokes make the most of the night. When Harris’s 1970s Liza Minelli, the Liza who was a pillhead, a drunk, and stockpiling cocaine with Martin Scorsese, enters Liberace’s stage, he says in his sweetest voice: “It’s wonderful that you finally showed up.”

Snow Harris played Liza in Triangle Production’s Liza Liza Liza! earlier this year, and she has the talented emotional mess down pat. Harris’s performance this time around is the darker and wiser Liza. She’s sexy and confused. She hits her dance points like a pro, but almost trips, as Liza did when she was on her way down, joining the aged Rat Pack on tours before she became a recluse in the ’80s.

The dynamic dup. Photo: JoAnne Jardine

The dynamic dup. Photo: JoAnne Jardine

The chemistry between the imagined pair gives off the sparks of a well-programmed Vegas act that’s being prepared for a television special. Saffert’s Liberace makes plenty of eye contact and bears a wide-mouthed grin, but like the real Liberace you can tell it’s all an act. There’s some repression, some sadness, weighing down the talent. It’s the delicious sarcasm that was reined in by the good manners of the stage that made comedy what it was in the late ’60s through the ’70s. It allowed us to laugh at ourselves, but with a good-hearted kick to the pants. Where Liberace is the straight man in this act, Liza is the joke. She sings the gold hits from the musical Cabaret and in a winsome voice lets the audience know they’re her favorite Christmas songs.

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Yes, Virginia, there IS a good holiday musical

Broadway Rose's holiday revue overcomes the odds of a dark season with a musical mix of merriment and good will

Dear Portland,

Your friends are wrong. They have been affected by presidential elections and a skeptical age. They do not believe a good Christmas musical can be seen. They think that most are simply stuffy decorated sets reviving Dickens from the dead. Yes, Portland, there is a good Christmas musical. It is at Broadway Rose Theatre, and it’s called A Very Merry PDX-Mas.

Broadway Rose is in its 25th year as one of Portland’s premier musical-theater venues, and it’s ending its season on a high note. (The 2017 season begins in late January with Company.) A tightly arranged musical jukebox of holiday classics and contemporary songs is presented in PDX-Mas by an expert song and dance team, backed onstage by a trio led by Jeffrey Childs.

Very merry, Portland style, at Broadway Rose. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Very merry, Portland style, at Broadway Rose. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

The team of seven includes a Portland who’s-who of musical and acting talent. Colin Carver was nominated for a PAMTA for his work in Grease. Sarah DeGrave’s musical work has been seen on many Portland stages. Cassi Q. Kohl performed off-Broadway and has two Drammys under her belt. Isaac Lamb won critics over with his performance as the Stache in Peter and the Starcatcher at Portland Playhouse this year, and also holds a Drammy. Dru Rutledge has performed with the Portland Opera, Oregon Symphony, on a host of acting stages, and has a Drammy. Danielle Valentine is a musical theater teacher and has graced many a Portland stage. Benjamin Tissell is hot off the trails of his magnificent lead performance in Broadway Rose’s Fly by Night and is a local arts teacher and Renaissance man.

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The Buyer, the Cellar, and Babs

James Sharinghousen pulls triple duty in a comedy about an out-of-work actor, his boyfriend, and Barbra Streisand's personal shopping mall

Buyer and Cellar, now ringing up sales at Triangle Productions, is a sharp and poignant celebration of gay culture and one of its divas, the fab Babs. The story isn’t based upon actual events, but most of the background is true.

Actor James Sharinghousen takes us winningly on a 90-minute ride of snarky observations, money struggles, and a clawing ascent toward intimacy. He juggles playing three different characters – a down-and-out struggling actor, a frustrated film producer, and Barbra Streisand – in a tale as strange and alluring as, well, Hollywood.

James Sharinghousen, pulling triple duty. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

James Sharinghousen, pulling triple duty. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics

Alex More is the hero of the play, a burnt-out, unemployed actor who’s too nice to succeed in the Hollywood racket. Between endless and fruitless auditions, he’s taken the odd retail and amusement-park character jobs. His drama studies in Chicago should’ve propped him up for success. Instead he’s honed customer-service skills to pay the rent and get bread on the table. Alex wants to live in a world where you make good art and people appreciate it. Never mind the brutal competition and critics. His naiveté sets him back in the job market, but puts him ahead in the heart department.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost: on Post5’s uncertain future

The scrappy theater company hits a crossroads, with no artistic leadership, the loss of its nonprofit status, and no shows in the immediate future

From its beginnings in 2011, Post5 Theatre has had its fingers on a vital part of Portland’s pulse. The often packed houses have swayed between a rowdy fellowship and an emotional entourage, depending on the comedy or tragedy on stage. And it’s done it at bargain ticket prices, allowing it to develop a younger and broader audience than many of the city’s higher-budget companies.

Now all of that is endangered, and the company’s survival is in question: there will be no new productions at least through the first few months of 2017. The leadership triumvirate of artistic directors Paul Angelo, Rusty Tennant and Patrick Walsh resigned early this month after announcing the company had lost its Sellwood district home and revealing that it had also lost its vital 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, which is crucial for fundraising and tax purposes. The company’s board expects Post5 to regain its nonprofit standing. But even with that, it now faces the difficulty and expense of finding a new performing space in a tight real-estate market. And it has no artistic leadership.

Bill Cain's "Equivocation," directed by Paul Angelo and featuring Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, was a hit for Post5 in September 2015. Russell J Young photo

Bill Cain’s “Equivocation,” directed by Paul Angelo and featuring Todd Van Voris (left) and Keith Cable, was a hit for Post5 in September 2015. Russell J Young photo

Earlier this year in an interview with Willamette Week, Angelo, Tennant and Walsh commented on the changes taking place at Post5 under their leadership after months of silence to the press and ticket buyers. The trio’s artistic direction was a departure from that of founders Ty and Cassandra Boice, who had come to embody what the company was about. Ty was a handsome leading man and deft comic actor with a devoted following. Cassandra was a smart and canny director with deep comic chops. Together they worked long and hard and set the tone for what became known as a scrappy, creatively populist company that was counted on for, among other things, smooth and accessibly populist Shakespeare productions. When they left, Post5’s image and reality seemed bound to change.

The new leadership group told Willamette Week that the next productions’ budgets would be conservative, but they hoped to create more sophisticated and edgier approaches to plays. The artistic directors also mentioned they’d been dealing with a few unexpected struggles, but felt they were now contained. As one of them told WW, “Every theater here is one big mistake from going under.”

After seven productions in the current season, the trio tendered their resignations on Nov. 1. Things were not, to put it mildly, as they had expected. With three months of back rent due, Post5 was about to lose its space. Angelo directed his last play there, Coyote on a Fence. The Post5 board members hustled to find spaces for their final production of the season, company member Philip J. Berns’ unique spin on A Christmas Carol. As of today, Nov. 21, the company’s website lists the play as part of its season, but the ticket link says “there are no current dates or times.”

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November surprise at Post5

As "Coyote on a Fence" opens, the company is rocked by resignations and the news that it is losing its Sellwood space. (P.S.: the show is good.)

The true drama of Coyote on a Fence, Post5’s newest show, came after the performance: It’ll be the company’s last production in its Sellwood home. What’s more, ArtsWatch has learned, artistic directors Rusty Tennant, Paul Angelo, and Patrick Walsh tendered their resignations on Nov. 1.

While passing the traditional Post5 giving basket, Coyote  lead actor Jeff Gorham told the audience the company had put on some good productions over the last five years, but this would be it in Sellwood. Board member Stefan Feuerherdt said Monday in an email that the company has found other spaces for the last productions of its current season, and will be exploring options for what’s next with Post5. Oregon ArtsWatch will report more as the story unfolds.

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Farewell, Sellwood: Post5 jumps off the fence.

Farewell, Sellwood: Post5 jumps off the fence.

Almost anticlimactically, Coyote on a Fence has a lot going for it, beginning with a Death Row inmate named John Brennan, who has the sort of sensitive intelligence that we often underestimate in our stereotypes about the South. He carries a torch for the English language and its infinite possibility to tell a story with precision and care. His wardrobe is dictated by the times, doing hard time on Death Row. Post5’s Coyote on a Fence is a well-rounded look into prison and the people in its orbit.

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Something Goosebump this way comes

Oregon Children's Theatre's world premiere "Goosebumps The Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium," based on R.L. Stine's beloved series, scares up a little fun

Spooky phantoms, hauntings, and clouds of purple and green smoke fill the Newmark Theatre this Halloween season. Don’t worry, you won’t get too much stage fright. Goosebumps The Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium is a clever junior who-done-it. The gumshoeing of Scooby-Doo meets a middle-school take on Phantom of the Opera with a surprise ending. The kids will get a kick out of solving the riddles of who is the person behind the mask and laugh along with the clumsy moments of growing up.

Stan Foote, artistic director of Oregon Children’s Theatre and director of  this musical, again sets a high bar for a smart, funny and well-staged musical for younger audiences. Like any good children’s art, Goosebumps entertains adults, as well. It’s always a thrill to see young actors in professional productions hit their notes, dance steps, and lines as well as their older counterparts. Goosebumps: The Musical, based on the beloved R.L. Stine book series, is a play within a play within a play. The students of drama teacher Ms. Walker are given a haunted script, discover a chilling lair below the school’s basement, and are ghosted by a phantom who tries to stop the show from going on. There’s disaster afoot with ruined backdrops painted blood-red, an Egyptian tomb, and some fainting by the students in the process.

The clue in the auditorium: Goosebumps in the night. Photo: Owen Carey

The clue in the auditorium: Goosebumps in the night. Photo: Owen Carey

Katie McClanan plays Brooke, a consummate drama geek who lives for the velvet curtain and green lights. She gets the lead, not just in Ms. Walker’s play, but also in solving the mystery of the phantom. Her best friend Zeke (Skylar Derthick) is as obsessed with the stage and plays second detective. They’re a tight duo, natural actors with bright singing voices. But once Brian (Brendan Long) the new kid comes along, a dynamic trio hits the stage and Goosebumps: The Musical poses a serious threat to screen time. Many charming moments are devoted to Brian and Brooke’s crush on each other. McClanan’s performance of Babbling Brooke is a love song to the nervous jitters when you try to make small talk with a cute boy. For most of Brooke and Brian’s time together, they’re with Zeke setting out to solve the mystery of the phantom. Like most kids they have a lot of demands: keeping up with homework, memorizing lines, and doing detective work.

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‘Assistance’: How to succeed in business with really trying

The high-class gofers in Theatre Vertigo's newest show play with fire, and hope against hope they won't get burned

On the surface, Leslye Headland’s play Assistance at Theatre Vertigo is about playing with fire, trying to get close to the flame of celebrity and not get burned.

I knew a personal assistant once. He drove a Land Rover, a recent import, and it made him feel like a modern-day colonialist conquering the long stretches of Midwestern highway. Americans, for him, were still wayward children who could never rise to the level of European culture. Yet where we lacked sophistication, we made up for it with power and money. That’s what he wanted, and after the bigger paychecks started rolling in,he bought the most American of features, a new set of teeth. He worked 24/7 for this multi-millionaire CEO: picking up dry-cleaning at 11 p.m., waxing his car on Sunday afternoons, finding and scheduling the company of women. When the company’s accountant had cooked the books one too many a time for the IRS, the pyramid fell, and personal assistants were the first to go.

Jenn Hunter (Heather) and Kaia Maarija Hillier (Nora). Photo: Gary Norman

Jenn Hunter (Heather) and Kaia Maarija Hillier (Nora). Photo: Gary Norman

Somewhere between a factory and a conga line, assistants file in and out of Daniel Weisinger’s New York office in Assistance. He’s a composite off-stage character based on Anna Wintour, the chic Vogue editor-in-chief,  and Harvey Weinstein, the movie producer. If reading TMZ or People isn’t your thing, these two high-powered people are know as genius enfants terribles. They can make and break celebrity and political careers. They can dish out great work and insults with an equal mastery.

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