Broadway Rose

The Rebuild: Broadway Rose

Part one in a series about how theater companies are transitioning back to in-person performances

In a world with no COVID-19, Broadway Rose Theatre Company would be celebrating its thirtieth season with a production of Hello, Dolly! starring its founders, Sharon Maroney and Dan Murphy, who are married.

“She’s done Dolly several times and I was going to play Horace Vandergelder and our big plan was that we were going to do Hello, Dolly! at the Deb Fennell [Auditorium],” says Murphy, who is managing director of Broadway Rose, the musical-theater company in Tigard. “And who knows? Hopefully we won’t get too old. It still might be on the shortlist.”

Broadway Rose’s Sharon Maroney and Dan Murphy. Photo: Craig MItchelldyer

If Maroney and Murphy do get around to starring in Hello, Dolly!, it could be a fitting end to a twisty journey that began after their production of the superhero musical Up and Away closed on February 23, 2020. Cheery, splashy and sprawling, Up and Away was a last blast of traditional Broadway Rose maximalism before COVID-19 forced the company to switch to virtual plays with small casts like Daddy Long Legs.

On July 8 this summer, Broadway Rose began performing its first in-person production in over a year: Analog & Vinyl, a supernatural romantic comedy that fuses the storytelling sensibilities of Nora Ephron and Nick Hornby. And even though the Delta variant threatens the company’s resurgence— Oregon Public Broadcasting recently reported that 133 Oregonians are battling COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units, the highest number in eight months—Murphy is feeling defiant.

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Live shows & Hunter Biden’s art

ArtsWatch Weekly: Performances break out all over; a presidential son and the art market; a hoop star's big art gift; photo giants; art outdoors

THE GRAND REOPENING CONTINUES, inside, outside, sometimes in a park. After almost a year and a half of coronavirus shutdowns and occasional virtual productions, Oregon’s performing arts world is climbing back on the boards and putting on a show. Several shows, in fact. Here are just a few that might nudge you out of your home bunker and back into the semi-bustling crowd:

  • Westside Shakespeare Festival. Experience Theatre Project is back in Elizabethan action with a free outdoor festival this weekend – Friday-Sunday, July 16-18 – on the south lawn of  Beaverton Library. There’ll be Renaissance dancers, wandering minstrels, a 1591-style cursing contest (!), sword-fighting demonstrations, general Shagspurian frolicking, and performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday of the amusingly irreverent yet oddly affectionate comic theatrical riff The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). Beyond the free stuff, you can plop down a few shillings and chow down like Sir John Falstaff and Sir Toby Belch at Saturday’s Queen’s Feast. Later in July and August, the festival’s Complete Works will tour to a trio of Oregon wineries.
     
  • Bag&Baggage goes Elizabethan. Hillsboro’s adventurous theater company gets back into the live-performance saddle by going one step beyond in the Shakespeare sweepstakes with a fresh production of The Complete Works of Willam Shakespeare (abridged) [Revised]! (Note the addition of that [Revised].) The free shows began last week and will continue tonight, July 15, at Shute Park, then Saturday-Sunday at Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza, and July 22-25 at Hidden Creek Community Center.
     
  • Ashland swings back into action. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, birth mother of all things Shakespearean in Oregon, is finally back on stage with a live show – but it’s not by Shakespeare. Instead, the reopener in the open-air Allen Elizabethan Theatre is Cheryl L. West’s Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a celebration of the leading civil rights activist and one of the organizers of the Freedom Summer of 1964. The show continues through Oct. 9.
     
  • Lots at The Lot at Zidell Yards. The new outdoor performance spot on Portland’s Southwest Waterfront continues with a round of live shows this weekend: veteran soul outfit Ural Thomas and the Pain on Friday the 16th; the popular Y La Bamba for a pair of shows on Saturday the 17th; Portland Cello Project and the Extreme Cello Summer Dance Party Extravaganza (yes, cellos can be taken to extremes) on Sunday the 18th.
     
  • MOMENTUM & Old Moody Stages. Next Wednesday, July 21, DanceWire kicks off a mini-festival of performances and classes by a broad variety of dancers in a broad variety of styles at Zidell Yards. Check the link for details on who, what, and when: The dancing continues through Saturday, July 24.
     
  • Analog & Vinyl at Broadway Rose. The musical-theater experts at Tigard’s Broadway Rose continue their live production (you can also see it via stream) through Aug. 1 of Analog & Vinyl, an upbeat musical comedy with a twist about a vintage record shop owner who “is obsessed with LPs while hipster Rodeo Girl is obsessed with him,” and the mysterious stranger who drops in on them with a devilish proposition.
Alec Cameron Lugo, Molly Duddlesten, and Jessica Brandes in “Analog & Vinyl” at Broadway Rose Theatre Company. Photo: Mark Daniels

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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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Oscars, books, and strange things

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oscarmania, Oregon Book Awards, strange tales and a stranger firing, opera's triumph, carving stories, photo stories

ON SUNDAY HOLLYWOOD THREW ITS BIG BACCHANALIA, the 93rd such annual fling, and even in its pandemic-year virtual tuxedo it was an obsessively overproduced wingding that was, at heart, a gigantic sales pitch for the movie industry. Nomadland (based on a book by Jessica Bruder, a former reporter for The Oregonian) won, the late Chadwick Boseman did not, and television viewership numbers took another tumble. Marc Mohan wraps things up smartly in his new “Streamers” column. Most refreshingly, he notes, the studios pushed their big fall and winter releases back to this summer, a move that “allowed greater recognition for films that didn’t conform to Hollywood ‘Oscar-bait’ formulas. As a result, the Academy took a few more halting, belated steps towards racial, gender, and aesthetic diversity.” 

A doff of the ArtsWatch cap also to Portland filmmaker Skye Fitzgerald, who scored his second Oscar nomination for his short documentary Hunger Ward, about the war-caused famine in Yemen and the struggle of two women to feed the devastated nation’s children and infants. Colette, about a former French Resistance member who travels to Germany for the first time in 74 years, won that category, but that takes nothing from Fitzgerald’s achievement. Mohan, ArtsWatch’s movie columnist, talked with Fitzgerald a week before the ceremony, and the resuting interview is worth a second read.

And now, back to our previously scheduled coverage.



WRITE A BOOK. MAKE IT GOOD. SEND IT INTO THE WORLD.



Left: Joe Wilkins, author of “Thieve.” Right: Ann Vileisis, author of “Abalone.”
 

THE OREGON BOOK AWARDS ARE COMING UP SUNDAY, and although they’re much less high-profile than Sunday’s Academy Awards blowout was, a lot of talent and a lot of prestige will be in the virtual room when this year’s winners are announced. That’ll be at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 2, on a special episode of OPB Radio’s The Archive Project, a co-production of OPB and Literary Arts, which also sponsors the annual book awards. (You can see the list of nominees here.)

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Theater: 5 years, 1 mural, 1 wag

Broadway Rose streams "The Last Five Years," Daren Todd paints a James Baldwin mural for Center Stage; the Bard endures the Plague

For decades Portland has been a hotbed of musical theater, with eager performers and enthusiastic audiences flocking to such centers of the great American popular art form as the old Portland Civic Theatre and The Musical Company, and suburban companies such as Lakewood and Clackamas Rep. Portland Opera hasn’t been immune to the pleasures and box-office jingle of a good musical, and during Chris Coleman’s long tenure as artistic director, large-scale musicals became eagerly anticipated annual events at Portland Center Stage, the city’s biggest theater company. Other theaters in town have dipped into the musical waters, too, and musicals, many of them original, have been regular visitors to the stages of the city’s two biggest children’s theaters, Northwest Children’s Theatre and Oregon Children’s Theatre.

But sometime in the almost 30 years since Broadway Rose set up shop, the center of Portland’s musical-theater gravity shifted a few miles south to the close-in suburb of Tigard, where the company founded by New York refugees Sharon Maroney and Dan Murphy produces musicals, musicals, and nothing but musicals. Some hit the sweet spot, a few miss the mark, but big or small, shows almost always have high production values, a selling point for its loyal audiences.

Jeff Rosick and Kailey Rhodes in rehearsal for “The Last Five Years.” Photo: Broadway Rose Theatre Company

Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, Broadway Rose’s current show – it streams through May 16 – is no exception. Like a few other productions since pandemic shutdowns began, it was taped under careful conditions on Broadway Rose’s stage, and its staging is simple but effective, with shifting cameras and effective lighting providing at least a semblance of live-theater vérité on your home screen. With just two performers, it’s a smart choice for video adaptation in socially distanced times – and with just two performers, it also lacks some of the kick-up-your-heels exuberance that’s one of the golden-age American musical’s biggest attractions.

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Derek Chauvin, George Floyd & the art of crisis

ArtsWatch Weekly: A Portland Oscar nod; Dawson Carr's big day; diving into dance; conversation with a laureate; musical BRAVO; fish tales

ON TUESDAY, THE BIGGEST CULTURAL NEWS OF THE WEEK – maybe the biggest since the January 6 insurrection in the nation’s capital – came down. Derek Chauvin, who almost a year ago, as a Minneapolis police officer, pressed the life out of George Floyd with his knee, was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. It was a rare case of a police officer being held accountable in the killing of a citizen – even, as with Floyd, of an unarmed citizen – and it seems, at least for now, to have topped off a year and more of intense cultural division. Any other decision by the jury most likely would have set off a firestorm across the nation.

The political and cultural fissures of the past year have pulled the arts & cultural world into the fray, perhaps inevitably: If art reflects its culture, how can it possibly stay uninvolved? In Portland, public statues have come tumbling down and institutions have been under attack: Two men were arrested and charged with smashing another $10,000 or more worth of windows at the frequently targeted Oregon Historical Society during rioting last Friday. The window-smashing and other acts of destruction came during protests against recent national killings of Black citizens by police, and a police killing in Portland’s Lents Park of a man with a history of mental illness.

George Floyd was the focus of a Black Lives Matter mural painted by Emma Berger and others last year at downtown Portland’s Pioneer Place.

In the past year a rapid growth of public protest art has transformed the sides of many buildings in the city and the plywood covering boarded-up storefronts. Across the nation, in arts and cultural organizations large and small, racial equity has become the issue of the day, an overdue conversation in search of action, and an issue that is unlikely to be resolved by a single decision in a single courtroom on a single day.

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No news like good news

ArtsWatch Weekly: I Am MORE, Broadway Rose's 'Story of My Life,' PDX Jazz Fest, art around Oregon.

A COUPLE OF DAYS AGO MY FRIEND (AND OCCASIONAL ARTSWATCH CONTRIBUTOR) STEPHEN RUTLEDGE, who writes the Born This Day column and other stories for The WOW Report, sent along a YouTube link to an old clip of Sam Cooke singing Good News on American Bandstand. Along with the link he sent high praise for the recent movie One Night in Miami, a fictional imagining of an actual meeting in a Miami hotel in 1964 of Cooke, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and football star Jim Brown to celebrate Ali’s heavyweight-championship victory over Sonny Liston. Rutledge’s note reminded me that, yes, even in traumatic times there is good news, it’s worth singing about, and its triumphs so often are the result of hard creative work and leaps of the imagination.
 

S. Renee Mitchell (left) and, from left, Jeanette Mmunga, Justice English and Johana Amani of I Am MORE.

In Building Resiliency with the Arts, the latest chapter in our occasional series The Art of Learning, Brett Campbell relates another story of Good News, one with deep Portland roots. The poet, activist, and former Oregonian newspaper columnist S. Renee Mitchell, he writes, “had been recruited to Roosevelt High School to teach journalism. But she also helped mentor students with their personal issues; brought in fruit, day-old bagels and cream cheese; revived the Black Student Union; created a Black Girl Magic Club, and invited in community members to perform, speak, encourage and share their wisdom with the school’s low-income students.”

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