Oregon Cultural Trust

DramaWatch: Whole lotta Shakespeare goin’ on (and summer musicals, too)

Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Much Ado" leads a bevy of Bards. Plus: Another side of Ashland, a quintet of musicals, Agatha Christie knocks 'em dead, taking new shows for a spin.

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Amy Kim Waschke, Al Espinosa in "Much Ado About Nothing" in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Photo: Jenny Graham
Amy Kim Waschke, Al Espinosa in “Much Ado About Nothing” in the Allen Elizabethan Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. Photo: Jenny Graham

Summertime, and the theater world’s getting itchy, hopping about both indoors and out – or in the case of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s Allen Elizabethan Theatre, a little bit of both: It’s a theater, with covered balcony seating ringing the oval, but its unenclosed stage and orchestra level are open to the sky and stars — and on the occasional unusual evening, even the rain, although rain’s unlikely in July and August.

The Ashland festival’s been busy on its two smaller indoor stages since mid-March, but the outdoor — or indoor/outdoor — Elizabethan stage waits for better weather, and is now packing ’em in. This season’s big outdoor Shakespeare is Much Ado About Nothing, in which the prickly sparring partners Beatrice and Benedick put each other down with jape after tongue-twisting jape before finally realizing (as everyone else in the play had known for ages) that they were made for each other, and that their supposed mutual detestation is actually love a-borning.

Darleen Ortega reviews Much Ado for ArtsWatch, along with its Elizabethan Theatre partner Jane Eyre, and has this to say in part: “The most appealing part of Much Ado for most people (myself included) is the sparring between Benedick and Beatrice, who match each other in wit and also in their instinct that marriage is beneath them. One couldn’t wish for stronger leads than John Tufts and Amy Kim Waschke, who deftly balance physical comedy and the complicated emotions that Benedick and Beatrice so hilariously mismanage.”

Let the battle begin!

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The Ashland festival isn’t the only place to see some summer Shakespeare, although it’s the best-known and is generally of high quality. The Bard roams elsewhere, too, including parks in and around Portland, where the wits of Original Practice Shakespeare create their own brand of Bardic Originalism in a dizzying schedule that includes, over the next couple of weeks, a pair of — what’s this? — postponements at Cathedral Park.

The Friday, July 5 Merry Wives of Windsor is moving to Aug. 11 and the June 6 King Lear to Aug. 4 — both, the company says, because, with temperatures forecast at about 100 degrees, it’s too darned hot. Presuming a more civilized heat gauge next week, the lads and lasses will be performing Henry V on Friday, July 12, and Much Adoe About Nothing (Shakespearean Originalist spelling) on July 13, both at Laurelhurst Park. All performances, it’s good to note, are free, although you might drop a drachma or two in the hat.

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Not Barded out yet, let alone overparked? Oregon Adventure Theatre ventures into Leach Botanical Garden on Sunday, June 14, for its commedia dell’arte take on The Comedy of Errors. (There’s a performance on June 12, too, but it’s sold out.) Mask up merrily: This is a Shakespearean play that nimbly fits commedia style.

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The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is the big draw in Ashland, but it’s not the only game in town. The lively and comfortable Oregon Cabaret Theatre (where you can get food and drinks with your show) opens a new production on Friday, July 5, of that crackling musical comedy Legally Blonde, which upends gender assumptions and Harvard Law School through Sept. 1.

And for longtime Ashland visitors, the relatively new Rogue Theater Company (it began in 2019) offers a lot of familiar faces, featuring former and current OSF actors Robin Goodrin Nordli, Linda Alper, Denis Arndt, Michael J. Hume, Vilma Silva, Barry Kraft, and many more. Longtime favorite Dan Donohue, who created memorable performances as Iago, Mercutio and a compelling Hamlet among other roles at OSF before moving on to Broadway and elsewhere, is back in town and starring for Rogue Theater in the comedy Stones in His Pockets, with fellow OSF alum Ray Porter. The show runs July 17-Aug. 4 — and if you have a thirst for even more, note that performances are at Grizzly Peak Winery.

Do we detect a killer on the loose?

Bonnie Auguston as Vera Claythorne and Tom Walton as Philip Lombard in Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." Photo courtesy Clackamas Repertory Theatre.
Bonnie Auguston as Vera Claythorne and Tom Walton as Philip Lombard in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” Photo courtesy Clackamas Repertory Theatre.

Murder, she wrote. In fact, when it comes to craftily plotted murder mysteries, Agatha Christie pretty much wrote the book on the subject. Clackamas Rep is sailing into its second week of Dame Agatha’s And Then There Were None, the stage version of a book that’s sold more than 100 million copies since its debut in 1939. (It was released in England under a truly racist title; its U.S. release the following year changed the name to the vastly more acceptable And Then There Were None.)

In brief: Eight people are invited to an isolated island off the Devon coast, where they’re met by a butler and a cook/housekeeper. One by one, they all end up dead — and that’s just the beginning. Inside Clackamas Rep’s cool and comfortable home space at Clackamas Community College, where the show continues through July 21, we detect a cast of reliable veterans including Tim Blough, Tom Walton, Jayne Stevens, Alan King, Cyndy Smith-English, Jayson Shanafelt, Tom Mounsey, Bonnie Auguston, Matthew Sunderland, and Mark Schwahn, all under the direction of David Smith-English. Whodunnit, how, and why? It wasn’t us, we swear. We didn’t even exist in 1939.

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Music, Maestro, Please

Music and theater go together like, well, musical theater, and July has plenty to go around, from the jukebox musical Jersey Boys to the Beautiful sounds of Carole King to the Broadway tour of Stephen Sondheim’s Company, a summer run of Spring Awakening, and even a Dogfight. Take a gander:

From left: Russell Fischer, Nick Serrone, Tyler Caffall, and Diego Solan Kjelland in "the musical "Jersey Boys" at Lakewood Theatre. Photo by Triumph Photography.
From left: Russell Fischer, Nick Serrone, Tyler Caffall, and Diego Solan Kjelland in “the musical “Jersey Boys.” Photo by Triumph Photography.

Beginning July 12 and continuing through Aug. 18, Lakewood Theatre slips back into the days of tight harmonies and transistor radios with Jersey Boys, the summery jukebox musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. (Kids, look it up. Better yet, listen up: This stuff was smooth.) Isaac Lamb directs a cast led by Russell Fischer, a six-year veteran of the Broadway production (where it ran from 2005 to 2017, and soon after reopened Off-Broadway) and a member of The Doo Wop Project. Among the evening’s hit tunes are the evergreens Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, and Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.

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The North American tour of "Company." Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.
The North American tour of “Company.” Photo: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade.

The national tour of the multiple-Tony winning Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical Company lands at Portland’s Keller Auditorium for an eight-show run July 16-21, bringing modern love and marriage and divorce and breakups and hookups and — oh, yes: a lot of memorable Sondheim tunes with it.

Relationships are not exactly starry-eyed in this tale of urban mixing and matching, which is more a series of vignettes than a start-to-finish storyline, underscoring Sondheim’s tendency to both honor the history of the Broadway musical and upend it. Among its standout songs are You Could Drive a Person Crazy, Marry Me a Little, The Ladies Who Lunch, Another Hundred People, and the title tune. Company premiered on Broadway in 1970, and returned to Broadway in 1995, 2006, and again in a well-received 2020 revival; the current tour is an offspring of the 2020 production.

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Meredith Kaye Clark at the piano in "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical" at Broadway Rose. Photo: Fletcher Wold
Meredith Kaye Clark in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” at Broadway Rose. Photo: Fletcher Wold

The fine Portland singer/actor Meredith Kaye Clarke and the legendary singer/songwriter Carole King seem like an ideal matchup for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which opens July 19 at Tigard’s Broadway Rose Theatre and continues through Aug. 18. The show, which ran on Broadway 2014-19 and also had an extended West End run in London, follows King’s life and career starting in her early days as a young songwriter from Brooklyn and into her legendary run as the creator of dozens of sophisticated popular songs. The evening includes such hits as You’ve Got a Friend, Take Good Care of My Baby, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, and Natural Woman.

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Down the Willamette Valley a bit, Albany Civic Theater is gearing up for a July 19-Aug. 3 run of Spring Awakening, the 2003 Broadway folk-rock musical based on Frank Wedekind’s classic 1891 German drama about the sexual awakening of a group of teenagers. I haven’t seen (or heard) the musical adaptation, which won eight Tony awards, but Wedekind’s startlingly powerful original play stands up well after more than 130 years.

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Sophie Mackay is Rose and Grant Goldman is Eddie in "Dogfight." Photo courtesy of Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre.
Sophie Mackay is Rose and Grant Goldman is Eddie in “Dogfight.” Photo courtesy of Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre.

Bridgetown Portland Musical Theatre, the newly named performing arm of Portland’s Bridgetown Conservatory of Musical Theatre, is presenting its summer show Dogfight July 11-21. An Off-Broadway musical hit in 2012 with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and a book by Peter Duchan, it’s adapted from a 1991 movie of the same title.

A memory play, it’s set largely in 1963 as three young Marines are about to deploy to Vietnam and go out on the town for one last night of carousing. A shy waitress named Rose upends their plans, especially those of a corporal named Eddie. “I had the opportunity to see Dogfight Off-Broadway during the last week of its run,” Bridgetown’s Artistic Director Rick Lewis says. “I was devastated by the story and the music. The opportunity to re-tell this beautiful and heartbreaking story with our amazing cast is a gift.”

Thank You, Sorry (and more)

Southeast Portland’s cozy 21ten Theatre is kicking off its first Summer Residency Program this week, providing space and time for four projects to test-drive their shows-in-the-making and get them in front of an audience. The action starts rolling July 5-7 with Annie Trevisan and Shana Torok’s Thank You, Sorry, about “a budding romance between two women of different generations.” Murri Lazaroff-Babin’s Camp Fire Stories, “about home and memory” and “fill(ing) in the gaps of blurred memories from childhood,” follows July 11-14.

And July 19-29 offers a double feature of Rachel Wells’ Laundry Show, about a “liminal laundromat, a sock thief, and a never-ending stream of patrons,” and Daye Thomas and Kasia Caravello’s Haters, “an exploration of identity and prejudice, following a Polish woman and a nonbinary Filipino individual as they navigate cultural stereotypes, political tensions, and personal biases through stand-up, traditional martial arts, and folk dance.” Here’s your chance to get in on the ground floor, or close to it.

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And don’t forget

Maybe the hottest ticket in town right now is Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s a seagull, its radically revitalized version of Chekhov’s The Seagull, which continues in Portland Center Stage’s Ellyn Bye Studio through July 13. Reviewing PETE’s “exuberant riff on Chekhov’s first major play” for ArtsWatch, Ben Waterhouse wrote that the show “attempts both to faithfully explore The Seagull’s questions about finding meaning in art and life and to blow them up. The company has heard Treplev’s call for new forms of theatrical expression and answered, ‘Hold my beer!’”

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Also, producer Louanne Moldovan’s new Cygnet Salon series of readings sold out The Madwoman of Chaillot, its recent inaugural show in the cozy 21ten Theatre, so you might want to get your ticket early for the second reading, Steinbeck’s People, which will have a single performance Monday, July 22. Veteran actors Don Alder and Marilyn Stacey have chosen passages from Steinbeck’s novels East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Cannery Row, and will be joined onstage by fellow actors Dave Bodin, Michael Fisher-Welsh, Vana O’Brien, Sammy Rat Rios and Wendy Westerwelle, and by guitarist/violinist Elleon Dobias.

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While you’re at it, you might want to start making plans for the JAW New Play Festival, Portland Center Stage’s annual summer play-development intensive, which has its public performances and events July 26-28. There’ll be several play readings (including Julia Izumi’s tantalizingly titled A Re-Enactment of the Imagined Trial of Daisy the Cow, who (Allegedly) Caused the Great Chicago Fire), a street dance showcase, a teen playwrights showcase, Bollywood dance, and more: Check out the full schedule of events here. Big bonus: All the public events are free.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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