Portland musical theater

Update: PAMTA musical theater awards postponed

Theater curtains closed? No problem. On Sunday night, Portland's annual musical-theater awards celebration takes the show to YouTube.

UPDATE: The PAMTA awards ceremony has been postponed indefinitely to not conflict with Black Lives Matter protests, producer Corey Brunish announced Wednesday. No new date has been set. “The PAMTAS fully supports the movement towards BIPOC equality and out of respect we have elected to postpone our annual celebration of the arts,” Brunish said.

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You can keep ’em out of the theater for a few months, but you can’t keep a good song and dance down. This year’s PAMTAs – the Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards – will stream live on YouTube at 7 p.m. Sunday, June 14. (The YouTube link will be posted later on the PAMTA link above: Keep checking.) Musical theater people know how to have a good time, and the PAMTA celebration, generally a dress-up, strut-your-stuff, hoot-and-holler showcase that’s one of the best public theater parties of the year, has been forced online because of pandemic restrictions: It should be fun to see how the song & dance make the transition from stage to screen.

A double lineup of PAMTA trophies, waiting to be engraved and awarded.

This year’s awards, produced by three-time Tony Award winning producer and longtime Oregon resident Corey Brunish and covering the 2019-2020 season, are the thirteenth annual ceremony celebrating the best of musical theater in Portland area theaters.

Nominees were announced Monday, and are listed below. Seven shows are in the running for outstanding production: Once, Into the Woods, and Footloose, each from Broadway Rose Theatre Company; West Side Story and Mama Mia, both from Stumptown Stages; Newsies, from Journey; and The Rocky Horror Show, from Lakewood Theatre Company. In addition, two productions are nominated for outstanding original show: Broadway Rose’s It Happened One Christmas, and Triangle Productions’ That’s No Lady, the bio-musical about the legendary Portland drag performer and club owner Darcelle.

Among other interesting tidbits on the nominee list: The musical-theater adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda drew nominations for productions at two companies – Lakewood Theatre and Northwest Children’s Theater & School. And Brian Karl Moen scooped up four of the eight nominations for outstanding sound design, giving him at least a chance to win, place, and show.

The nominees:

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Heroes and Villains

Review: Broadway Rose's "Up and Away" is an affectionate yet subversive musical superhero parody

Why superheroes? As films like The Avengers and The Dark Knight have elevated the profiles of comic-book characters, that question has reverberated through American pop culture. In an age when Star Wars takes a back seat to even B-list Marvel icons like Iron Man, it’s hard not to wonder what stories of costumed do-gooders have that other modern mythologies don’t.

If you want an answer, go see Broadway Rose’s production of Up and Away, a musical that mocks superheroes even as it burrows to the core of their unflagging appeal. It’s an imperfect play with a few poorly aimed satirical jabs, but it is also moving and subversive in ways that few superhero films are. By remixing elements from Superman lore (including an alien hero and a journalist love interest), it manages to excavate some of the reasons why superheroes matter to so many.

Colin Stephen Kane (left), Paul Rona, and Malia Tippets. Photo: Sam Ortega

Like Richard Donner’s 1978 film Superman, Up and Away shows us a doomed and distant planet from which a baby is sent to Earth. One time jump later, we’re in Farmtown, USA, where the brothers Joe (Paul Wrona) and Jerry Jessup (Colin Stephen Kane) discover a pair of mysterious crimson gloves. When Joe dons them, he can fly and see five seconds into the future (when he touches his head, that is). Invigorated by his newfound abilities, he sets off for Big City, where he becomes a crimefighter named Super Saver.

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Once more, into the thicket

Broadway Rose makes musical magic with the tragedy and song of Sondheim's "Into the Woods"

What if the prince who Cinderella married turned out to be a philanderer? What if Jack’s war on giants didn’t end after he came down the beanstalk? What if Rapunzel suffered from PTSD and couldn’t enjoy her happily ever after? Those are some of the seductively perverse questions explored in Stephen Sondheim’s justly legendary 1987 fairy-tale musical Into the Woods, which has been brought to poignant, vibrant life in a new production by the Broadway Rose Theatre Company.

Into the Woods is a daunting play. It calls for a cast and crew able to make sense of its disparate narrative elements (twisted romance, morbid comedy, haunting tragedy) and get audiences through a few bland songs (“A Very Nice Prince,” “It Takes Two”) that lack the clarity and force of the play’s most iconic musical numbers (“Agony,” “You Are Not Alone”). Those challenges are managed seamlessly by director Jessica Wallenfels and her actors, who have journeyed into the maze of Sondheim’s music (and James Lapine’s book) and emerged with a production that is beautiful, freewheeling, and whole.

Erin Tamblyn in Broadway Rose’s Into the Woods. Photo: Liz Wade

Like all enduring works of art, Into the Woods is a vast canvas upon which multiple ideas have been projected. While the play can be taken simply as a cheeky-sad reboot of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, some viewers have deemed it a metaphor for the AIDS crisis—not a stretch, given that its second act revolves around an unstoppable force that kills indiscriminately (in one case, almost immediately after sex).

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PAMTAs: It’s ‘Scarlet,’ ‘Addams’

Portland Playhouse's adaptation of "The Scarlet Letter" and Broadway Rose's "Addams Family" top Portland's night of musical-theater awards

The 2018 PAMTA awards, Portland’s annual celebration of its year in musical theater, swept into the Dolores Winningstad Theatre in downtown Portland Monday night like a showstopper tune.

Big winners in the award ceremony, hosted by actor Darius Pierce, included outstanding original musical winner Scarlet, Portland Playhouse’s adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter; and Broadway Rose’s The Addams Family, which took the best-revival PAMTA and, like Scarlet, several individual awards.

Lisamarie Harrison as Morticia in Broadway Rose’s “The Addams Family,” winner of the outstanding revival PAMTA. Photo: Sam Ortega

One of the evening’s highlights was a special “outstanding contribution” award to the popular and highly admired performer Sharonlee McLean.  “Sometimes without even knowing it an actor brings something to the room, something intangible, special, weighty, an asset they may not even know they possess,” the introduction said. “Such a unique, wonderful and magnificently talented actor is Sharon Lee McLean.”

Susannah Mars and Eva “Rainbows” Hudson Leoniak in Portland Playhouse’s outstanding original musical, “Scarlet.” Photo: Brud Giles

This year’s PAMTA awards, for achievement during the 2017-18 season. Categories and winners are in boldface, with finalists listed after:

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Hughes Heaven

Staged!'s teen musical "John Hughes High" is pure '80s gold

There’s a moment in Staged!’s new musical John Hughes High when a teenage girl realizes she’s falling in love. Yet the object of her affection is not one person—it’s a school packed with loners, leaders, artists, athletes, and plenty of kids who haven’t quite figured out what they are.

Nerd City: Aidan Tappert, Brendan Long, Martin Hernandez in “John Hughes High.” Photo: David Kinder

That moment is proof that the creators of John Hughes High, Mark LaPierre and Eric Nordin, understand that while Hughes had a sense of humor about high-school heartaches (who doesn’t laugh when Jon Cryer gets chucked into the girls’ bathroom in Pretty in Pink?), he did his young characters the honor of taking their emotions and desires seriously. John Hughes High (which is enjoying its world premiere on the Alder Stage at Artists Rep) does the same, and as a result, the rapidly beating heart of its heroine briefly becomes yours.

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I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else

Green Day's "American Idiot" at Triangle Productions moves at the speed and angry energy of punk

There is a specific air to the dread of being mediocre and underclass in California. The beaming lights of Hollywood fame, the world-class status of tech giants, the pockets of affluence dotting the coastline, wine valleys, and poorly named Silicon Valley: these are places where the best the world can offer in lifestyles is immersed in gorgeous nature.

If you’re part of it. Johnny Rotten droned an angry anthem in 1977 when he proclaimed kids had no future. Enemies of the English Punk fathers were colorful aristocrats, and the shocking popularity of commercial rebellion was less tragic and more inspiring. To be young, poor, and disenfranchised as the parade of wealth, culture and comforts rolls by endlessly is a certain kind of in-your-face hell. New York has a dirtiness and an assumed injustice, but it keeps the nightmare at bay with culture and a vibrant underground. California makes the best case for a good existential crisis.

All-American idiots: staging Green Day's pink anthem. Photo: Triangle Productions

All-American idiots: staging Green Day’s pink anthem. Photo: Triangle Productions

As a kid in the late ’80s and early ’90s I hung out with the punks. We’d see Jawbreaker in nasty little clubs, stage-dive, research the best way to polish our Doc Martens. For a time I let homeless crusties live in my small studio apartment in downtown Denver. I was a Misfits, Op Ivy fan. Even bands like the Clash were too polished for me. So a few nights ago I went into Triangle Productions’ new staging of American Idiot with apprehension. But the performances were so enthusiastic and fueled that I went home and put Green Day’s album on with a new appreciation for more than a piece of recent music history, and became a fan.

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Clap hands: 2016 PAMTA nominees

This year's Portland area musical-theater awards party is June 6 in the Winnie. The complete list of nominees.

It’s PAMTA time. The annual Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards celebration will be at 7 p.m. Monday, June 6, in the Dolores Winningstad Theatre, and the PAMTA committee has announced this season’s nominees, listed below.

The PAMTAs precede the annual Drammy Awards, which will be June 26 in the Newmark Theatre, and honor achievements across the theatrical spectrum. The PAMTAs recognize achievements in musical theater specifically, which on the greater Portland theater scene provides a lot of options. The awards were created by Corey Brunish, the longtime Portland singer/actor and Tony-winning Broadway producer.

Best production nominee "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Portland Center Stage. Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Best production nominee “Ain’t Misbehavin'” at Portland Center Stage. Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv.

Musical-theater people know how to put on a show, and past PAMTA ceremonies have been entertaining and well-produced. Here’s ArtsWatch’s report from last year’s event, which “pretty much packed the Dolores Winningstad Theatre to the rafters,” with  cheering that at times “approached Timbers Army volume.” This year’s festivities begin at 7 p.m., and admission’s free.

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