Benjamin Tissell

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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Broadway Rose takes flight

The off-Broadway musical "Fly by Night" glows in the company's smart and funny new production

Broadway Rose and director Isaac Lamb are bringing the fleeting magic of stardust to the stage with their new production of the 2014 musical Fly by Night.

A potent mix of youthful optimism and struggle marks this dark comedy. From the opening, Joe Theissen’s narrator (one among many parts he plays), decked out in brill-combed hair, thin tie and small-lapel suit, takes us back to the kind of dirty but creative streets of Greenwich Village in 1965. The musical has the feel, look, and smell of a dusty early Simon and Garfunkel album, if it were co-written by Rod Serling: plot twists around learning through loss, and how to channel it with some catchy riffs.

"Fly by Night": coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

“Fly by Night”: coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Fly by Night is an off-Broadway musical by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, and it has the layers, heavy crafting and emotional insight that Yale mafia graduates are known for. From the first number, Circles in the Sand, the audience is hooked. You want to buy the soundtrack. It’s updated folk music that came out of the coffee shops and underground taverns in the early Bob Dylan-worshipping days: simple, syrupy, good pop with clever lyrics. John Quesenberry leads the band’s performances over two and a half hours with energy, enthusiasm, and charm. Connolly and Mitnick’s music is like a good Indie record; it’s Vampire Weekend and the Shins pared down to groovy elements. There is a seamless transition into every song and it’s amazing to watch dialogue slide into song. The “now they’re going to sing” abrupt monologues are missing, and as the cream separates, the dearness of the story rises to the top.

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