Stage moms storm the gates

ArtsWatch Weekly: Storm Large and 3 Leg Torso make a movie, Chamber Music NW goes live, the Joy of words, news & views

SUNDAY IS MOTHER’S DAY, AND IN THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS someone in the Pacific Northwest would be producing a streaming version of the great show-biz musical Gypsy, which features that most outrageous stage mom of all time, Mama Rose. So far as we can tell, that isn’t happening – but it’s worth noting that this not-quite-docudrama has Northwest roots. Rose’s daughter Gypsy Rose Lee, the celebrated ecdysiast on whose memoir the musical is based, was born in Seattle. Her sister, Baby June – the actress June Havoc – was born in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Storm Large is Mom, carpooling the boys in the movie “M Is for Mischief,” a musical comedy with 3 Leg Torso.

Ah, but who could be a more Mama Rose-size figure for Mother’s Day than Storm Large, the Portland rocker, musical memoirist, and stage and concert star whose triumphs range from Cabaret to Pink Martini tours to singing Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins at Carnegie Hall to writing and starring in her own musical play, Crazy Enough? And what better sidekicks than the brilliantly eclectic Portland band 3 Leg Torso? Large stars as Mother Torso, an overworked mom of four boys, in the new film M Is for Mischief, which is produced by 3 Leg Torso and Lakewood Center for the Arts (where it was filmed), and co-stars those wry and effervescent boys in the band. It premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday: Ticket details here, and a short film trailer here. In what sounds a bit like a Mom’s Day twist on the movie 9 to 5, Ms. Torso, it seems, has raised good boys: “The brothers secretly use their special musical powers to prank her wretched boss, who learns the hard way that it’s not nice to fool with Mother Torso.”

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MARIAN PAROO ISN’T EXACTLY A MOTHER, but she might be the ideal musical-comedy big sister, with extra props for being a no-nonsense romantic heroine and, as the librarian for her small Iowa town, an adamant advocate of knowledge and cultivator of culture, to boot. So it seems somehow appropriate that for two evenings this Mother’s Day weekend – Friday and Saturday – Portland Center Stage at The Armory forges into fresh territory with a two-actor-and-a-pianist version of Meredith Willson’s classic American musical The Music Man, through which Marian has become a beloved American icon. Marissa Wolf, PCS’s artistic director, directs Vin Shambry as the sharpster traveling salesman Professor Harold Hill (who must be tamed and taught to really know the territory) and Leah Yorkston as Marian the Librarian, with Eric Little accompanying, in what’s billed as a virtual staged reading but might be better called a staged singing. The scaled-down, hour-long version concentrates on Harold and Marian’s unlikely love story. Good night, my someone. Goodnight, my love. And don’t forget chocolates for your Mom. 



LIVE AND IN PERSON, IT’S CHAMBER MUSIC NORTHWEST!


The Rolston String Quartet, with Yura Lee and Sophie Shao, performing at Chamber Music Northwest in 2019. Photo courtesy CMNW

CAN IT BE? A MONTH OF CHAMBER MUSIC, LIVE & IN PERSON. After pulling off a successful virtual season last summer, Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest announced Wednesday that this summer’s 51st season will feature four weeks of live performances inside Kaul Auditorium at Reed College – each week followed, after a lag, by recorded versions of those concerts offered online. It’s a bold step, breaking more than a year of almost no live performances anywhere while the coronavirus pandemic shut performance halls down. And without knowing where Oregon’s infection and death rates will be in July – the festival dates are July 1-25, with streamed performances accessible through August 31 – it carries a certain amount of risk, too: An unexpected spike could still shut things down. But with vaccination rates trending upward – a front-page headline in Thursday’s New York Times declared “Covid Data Shows U.S. Is ‘Turning the Corner,’ Fueling a Sense of Hope” – and with strict safety measures in place, including reduced capacity inside Kaul, the festival’s banking on being able to go ahead.

It’ll be a welcome return for a festival that’s been an Oregon favorite for half a century. It’ll also be the first season under the artistic leadership of the married team of pianist Gloria Chien and violinist Soovin Kim. If all goes as planned, the festival will feature 19 live concerts, including two outdoors, plus pop-up appearances around town, and even a couple of free Buster Keaton silent movie comedy nights with live piano accompaniment. The festival will blend classic chamber music repertoire with several premieres, among them a saxophone/guitar duo by Pierre Jalbert written for and performed by Branford Marsalis and Jason Vieaux, and a new work by Portland composer Kenji Bunch written for flutist and festival favorite Tara Helen O’Connor. The second week of concerts will honor clarinetist and artistic director emeritus David Shifrin, who retired last year after 40 years as the festival’s artistic leader. Check the link above for a full schedule and other details. And watch for more from ArtsWatch as the season progresses.

  • FESTIVALS OF THE FUTURE: OREGON SYMPHONY’S REBORN SEASON. “This isn’t simply a re-formulated version of the cancelled 2020-21 season, though a couple of pieces reappear,” Charles Rose writes about the symphony’s plan to return to presenting concerts in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this fall. “And there are two other exciting pieces of news, one of which is the hiring of new music director and conductor David Danzmayr (stay tuned for our interview with Danzmayr in the coming weeks). The other is the Schnitz’s acoustic renovations; the OSO has been coy about that so far, so we eagerly await more details. What we know is that the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust generously donated the $1 million that will pay for the renovations.” Rose takes a look at how the reborn season shapes up.


THE JOY OF WORDS: TALKING WITH AMERICA’S POET LAUREATE


United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. Photo: Karen Keuhn

JOY HARJO: A POEM IS A SACRED SITE. It was a big deal on a recent Tuesday when Joy Harjo, the Muscogee Nation writer and 23rd United States poet laureate, sat down for an online talk in Portland’s Literary Arts & Lectures series. ArtsWatch literary columnist Amy Leona Havin had her laptop propped open for the talk, and as she puts it, “there was an air of gratitude in the pre-event chatroom, poetry fans expressing their anticipation.” It was a double-laureate event: Oregon Poet Laureate Anis Mojgani popped up on a split screen, too, to ask Harjo a few questions. And Harjo, the native Oklahoman, had plenty to say, about poetry and words and art and culture and the ways we live. “Harjo wants us to understand that heritage is a living thing, not a concept,” Havin writes. “Her work, particularly rooted in her Muscogee heritage, asks questions about humanity, nature, and perseverance. She uses her poetry not only to uplift Native American culture but to interrogate the general influence of time, asking how spending days on the land can influence an individual’s personal sense of time’s passage.” As Harjo declared: “To guard the earth, as a person, as a mother, is not a romantic notion. It means we will have respect for life and the principle of motherhood.”



JACQUES D’AMBOISE: FAREWELL TO A GIANT OF AMERICAN BALLET


Jacques d’Amboise, who was known as a brilliant teacher as well as a brilliant dancer, leading a session with the young dancers of The Portland Ballet in 2011 while in town on a book tour for his memoir “I Was a Dancer.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

REMEMBERING JACQUES D’AMBOISE. “I don’t remember when I first encountered d’Amboise offstage—probably in 2004, and very briefly, at the Wall to Wall Balanchine celebration at New York’s New Victory Theater. He came in late, stumbled over my feet on his way to a seat on the other side of Todd Bolender, and paused to give me (and Bolender) a warm and apologetic hug.  But I do remember, very well indeed, the encounters with him from the distance of the upper reaches of the second balcony of New York City Center, where that passion for dancing – and his phenomenal stage presence, elevation, musicality, ballon, and ability to inhabit every role he performed with every fiber of his being – contributed to my own love for this art form and its many permutations.” Veteran dance critic Martha Ullman West reminisces about the great dancer, who died on Sunday at age 86, and who was also a great teacher, raconteur, and human being.



WHAT IS SO RARE AS AN ARTS COLUMN IN MAY?


Collage by Yuyang Zhang in her exhibit  “ummm no” at Portland’s Fuller Rosen Gallery. Zhang’s art “combines Western pop imagery, iPhone emojis, and Chinese communist propaganda to consider the multiplicities of Chinese and American cultural identities through humor,” Lindsay Costello writes in her May VizArts Monthly column.

ACTUALLY, WE HAVE QUITE A FEW MAY ARTS COLUMNS – and as usual at the beginning of a month, they’re filled with news, notes, opinions, events, and columnists’ picks of things to see or do. Here’s the fresh crop, straight out of the ArtsWatch garden:



CHIANG’S GREAT LEAP; GANESAN’S LAST PROJECT


Left: “The Great Leap” director Desdemona Chiang. Photo: Cheshire Issacs. Right: Portland Cultural Laureate Subashini Ganesan. Photo: Intisar Abioto.

STAGE & STUDIO: DESDEMONA CHIANG – A GREAT LEAP. In her newest Stage & Studio podcast conversation on ArtsWatch, Dmae Roberts talks with theater director Desdemona Chiang about directing, racial equity, her concerns for her parents and relatives during the Covid crisis, the evolving art form of the virtual play reading, and her latest project, a virtual reading of Lauren Yee’s play The Great Leap for the Portland Chinatown Museum. (Readings continue Thursday through Sunday, May 6-9.) In Oregon, Yee may be best-known for her play Cambodian Rock Band.The Great Leap is a basketball story centering on a 17-year-old Asian American player who joins a U.S. team going to Beijing for a friendship game. As director, Chiang follows the bouncing ball of sports and politics – and talks, among many other things, about the role that sound design plays in depicting a game for a virtual audience.

SUBASHINI GANESAN: LAST OFFICIAL PROJECT. Roberts also interviewed Ganesan, Portland’s Creative Laureate, in April for this Stage & Studio podcast. In a followup interview for ArtsWatch, Hannah Krafcik talks with Ganesan about her three-and-a-half year term as laureate (extended from two years so she could deal with Covid issues in the cultural community) and her final big project before stepping away – an arts-focused endeavor to support community healing. It began with city officials suggesting something to honor Covid victims. “If we’re going to honor grief and loss, then it can’t be just Covid-centered because there’s so much more, and so much more that needs to be acknowledged,” Ganesan told Krafcik, who continued: “In our discussion, she cited the sustained protests and wildfires of 2020 as well as the continued racial injustices.” 



NOW READ THIS: 2021 OREGON BOOK AWARD WINNERS


LITERARY ARTS NAMES THIS YEAR’S TOP BOOKS. Literary Arts announced this year’s Oregon book winners in seven categories Sunday evening in a broadcast and streamed event. Winners came from Eugene, Portland, Rogue River, and Hood River. Three special awards also were given. Click the link for judges’ comments and descriptions of the books. The winners (or, what to put on top of that stack on your bedside table):

  • Fiction: Vanessa Veselka, The Great Offshore Grounds.
  • Poetry: Anna Elkins, Hope of Stones.
  • Drama: Conor Eifler, You Cannot Undo This Action.
  • Creative Nonfiction: Sierra Crane Murdoch, Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country.
  • General Nonfiction: Nicholas Bucca, The Fire Is upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America.
  • Young Adult Literature: Kathryn Ormsbee, The Sullivan Sisters.
  • Children’s Literature: Jenn Reese, A Game of Fox and Squirrels.
  • Walt Morey Young Readers Literary Legacy Award: PlayWrite, Inc.
  • Stewart H. Holbrook Literary Legacy Award: Elizabeth Lyon.
  • C.E.S. Wood Distinguished Writer Award: Molly Gloss.


AROUND & ABOUT: ARTS ALL OVER THE PLACE


All sorts of people appear to be coming out of the woods for this weekend’s fourth annual Washougal Studio Artists Tour. This reclusive art lover is painted by acrylic and watercolor artist Dana Bergdahl.

WASHOUGAL STUDIO ARTISTS TOUR. Artists studio tours have become eagerly anticipated events in towns large and small across the Pacific Northwest: Visitors get to peek into working spaces, meet the artists, perhaps see them at work, and even buy something direct. The pandemic’s put a cramp in a lot of tours. But across the Columbia River, in the river town of Washougal in Clark County, Washington, the tour is on this weekend – in actual studios, with Covid safeguards. Fifteen artists (and a food truck!) will show their work in eight locations from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It’s Washougal’s fourth annual studio crawl; last year’s was online.
 
… AND SUDDENLY, LIVE THEATER. With this week’s downgrading of Covid-restriction status in several Oregon counties, including Multnomah, Portland’s Triangle Productions is first at the starting line to open a show in an actual theater space, with live audiences. Joe DiPietro’s comedy Clever Little Lies, which had been in rehearsal for a streamed production, takes the stage beginning Thursday. Audience size will be limited to 50, a quarter of ordinary capacity. Triangle producer Don Horn produced another live show, My Buddy Bill, during another brief break in Covid protocol last September. 

ORCHESTRATING CHANGE: THE MOVIE. Last October, in his story Orchestrating change: healing music, ArtsWatch senior editor Brett Campbell told the fascinating story of Me/2 Orchestra, which calls itself “the only orchestra in the world founded by and for people living with mental illness and those who support them.” On May 15 Portland’s NorthStar Clubhouse will show the documentary film Orchestrating Change during a Zoom fundraiser. The filmmakers will be on hand for a discussion, along with a Me/2 musician and the orchestra’s co-founder, conductor Ronald Braunstein.

SING A SONG OF OREGONOregon, My Oregon, which few people know and possibly even fewer sing, is Oregon’s official state song. It’s also, state legislators and many others agree, outdated and racist. So the legislature’s pushed for a rewrite – but there’s also a push for a statewide contest to come up with something entirely new. Lori Tobias untangles the musical tale.

A NEW FESTIVAL JOINS THE ACTION. The new Pacific Northwest Multi-Cultural Readers Series & Film Festival is springing to life with calls for submission between now and June 6 for its Readers Series and its Film Series. With the theme “Our Voice, Our Stories, Our Way,” the Portland-based festival is looking for BIPOC playwrights, TV and web series writers, and filmmakers to showcase their work in a virtual festival August 20-22. The new festival is hosted by Portland’s PassinArt: A Theatre Company, the sterling African American theater that has its own virtual auction and fundraiser, Sweet Taste of the Arts, coming up May 15.

TRAVEL & CULTURE GRANTS. Sometimes tourism and the arts go together like a horse and carriage, or a ballpark and a cornfield: If you build it, they will come. Travel Oregon, the state’s official tourism commission, announced $2.4 million in economic recovery grants on Monday, much of it for nuts-and-bolts improvements to parks, trails, outdoor lighting, signage, sanitation, and even garbage cleanup. A good share is earmarked for arts & cultural attractions, including $50,000 to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for HVAC improvements to its open-air Elizabethan Theatre, $50,000 to Oregon Ballet Theatre for producing outdoor performances, $50,000 to the Portland Radio Project to build a socially distanced outdoor venue at Zidell Yards, $45,000 to the Ashland Independent Film Festival to ensure Covid safety at its outdoor summer festival, $26,400 to BendFilm for drive-in and virtual programming, and several more. Click the link for the full list.

A THEATER GROWS IN TIGARD. A year after it expected to, Broadway Rose Theatre Company broke ground Wednesday on its long-anticipated New Stage, a $3.3 million expansion project that will give the musical-theater company much-needed new space for rehearsals, costume and scenery shops, offices, and more. Grand opening of the new space is expected sometime in 2022. Broadway Rose had been ready to go on the project last April when the pandemic put plans on hold. The company’s raised $3 million and is continuing to seek the final $300,000.

Artist rendering of Broadway Rose’s theater expansion project in Tigard.

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About the author
Senior Editor

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

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