Gore Vidal

ArtsWatch Weekly: Defying disaster

Anonymous Theatre beats the odds, Brett Campbell picks the top music of the week, pick of the weekend fests, Ashland shakes it up, more

It was theater. It was comedy. It was song and dance. And from the reaction of the audience at Monday night’s performance of Urinetown by Anonymous Theatre Company, it was sports all the way. The sold-out crowd in the mainstage auditorium at The Armory clapped and roared and hollered, cheering loudly every time an actor rose from among the audience, shouted out a line of dialogue, and hustled up to the stage to play ball with the rest of the cast. It was edge-of-the-seat stuff, a little like watching game seven of the NBA championships with the outcome still on the line.

Chrisse Roccaro as Penny collars Amelia Morgan-Rothschild as Hope in Anonymous’s “Urinetown.” Photo: Sydney Kennedy

If you were there Monday night – and more than 500 people were – you know what I’m talking about. If you weren’t … well, you just sat out the season. This one’s done and gone. Anonymous is called Anonymous for good reason. In this annual highlight of the theater calendar, none of the actors knows who any of the other actors are until they meet onstage; everyone rehearses in isolation; the culminating performance is a one-and-done: one dangerous shoot-the-moon evening, and that’s all she wrote. In Who’s on first? Anonymously yours, ArtsWatch wrote about the preparations for this year’s show.

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Songs for America, bother from another planet

In review: Irving Berlin's "The Melody Lingers On!" at Clackamas Rep and Gore Vidal's "Visit to a Small Planet" at Lakewood

If we really wanted to make America great again, we’d skip all the nonsense about building walls and stoking resentments and keeping out foreigners and just bring back Irving Berlin. Oh, wait: Looks like Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s already done that.

Berlin, who was born in 1888 as Israel Beilin, became an American icon the old-fashioned way: He immigrated to the U.S., from the old Russian Empire. By age 5 he was settled with his family in New York City, and grew up on the Lower East Side when it was cheap and crowded with people from other places, seeking what was once known proudly as “a better life.” He hawked newspapers on the streets and became a singing waiter and started writing songs and had his first big hit on Tin Pan Alley in 1911, when he was 23 – the still familiar Alexander’s Ragtime Band. From there he just kept going and going, through war and peace and the Depression and another war and some boom years and the nation’s evolution from isolationism to internationalism, creating a big slice of the American popular soundtrack from the days of the Charleston through the Broadway musical’s golden age. He died, finally, at age 101, when rock ‘n’ roll had pretty much killed off his kind of music – except, of course, it hasn’t, because it’s with us still.

Meredith Kaye Clark in “The Melody Lingers On!” Photo: Sam Ortega

The proof of that particular pudding, if you need proof, is onstage at Clackamas Rep, where the upbeat and winning revue of Berlin tunes The Melody Lingers On! opened over the weekend and continues through August 27. A mostly bright selection of almost fifty of Berlin’s roughly 1,500 songs presented by a snappy cast in a sharp-looking production, it’s a brightly rhythmic show of song and dance about a composer who made people feel good about being part of America, no matter where they might have come from or where they stood in the national pecking order. Berlin could be dark, but even then he was dark in an enthralling way; mostly he wrote catchy, hummable, optimistic songs that helped project the myth of a can-do country and a people on the rise.

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