Tobias Andersen

Making music, symphonic & Black

ArtsWatch Weekly: Oregon Symphony picks a new leader; we begin a Black-music column; finale for Fertile Ground

THE BIG NEWS IN OREGON ARTS THIS WEEK WAS VERY BIG: The Oregon Symphony has picked its new music director. The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr will assume the artistic post at Oregon’s largest musical organization for the 2021/22 season, becoming only the third musical director for the symphony since 1980. He’ll replace Carlos Kalmar, who led the orchestra from 2003 until this season; Kalmar replaced James DePriest, who had held the top job for 23 years. 
 

The Austrian conductor David Dansmayr takes over the top artistic spot at the Oregon Symphony. Photo courtesy Oregon Symphony Orchestra.

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My few brief minutes with Christopher Plummer

After the great film and stage actor's death at 91, veteran Portland actor Tobias Andersen remembers talking about Prospero with Plummer

Editor’s note: On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 6, the day after the great actor Christopher Plummer died at age 91 at his home in Connecticut, the veteran Portland actor and director Tobias Andersen sent an email remembering his own meeting with Plummer in 2010, when Plummer was starring as Prospero at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival and Andersen was preparing to take on the same legendary role at Clackamas Repertory Theatre in Oregon. We asked Andersen if we could share his story with ArtsWatch readers, and he kindly agreed.


By TOBIAS ANDERSEN


One heckuvan actor died yesterday.  A gracious gentleman, Christopher Plummer.

When David Smith-English and I were kicking around thoughts about our upcoming production of The Tempest at Clackamas Rep in 2010, a New York Times review made us realize that the last great classical actor of our generation, Christopher Plummer, had just opened as Prospero at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.  We scrambled for tickets, plane reservations, a hotel, and got it all done in time for us to be in Canada ten days later.

I wrote to Mr. Plummer, not expecting any reply but didn’t think it hurt to mention that we were about to start rehearsals for The Tempest, that I was playing Prospero, and we would love to meet him afterwards, if possible.  Nothing ventured.

After our flight, checking in, dinner, all that – we were at the theater where I sent another note backstage, saying we are in the audience.  We had excellent seats, audience right.  

The Filipina actor Soelistyo as Ariel, with Christopher Plummer as Prospero, in the 2010 Stratford production of “The Tempest.” The photo is from Andersen’s copy of the show program. Of Soelistyo’s Ariel, Andersen comments: “She entered the stage, face down, from the ceiling along a 36-foot wire. You had to be there.”

I’ll only mention this about the production – it was terrific, particularly Plummer’s intensely moving Prospero along with the most astounding (four foot, blue) Ariel I have ever seen.  A shipwrecked grand piano, half buried in the sand, was the focal point of the setting.

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DramaWatch: the magic (cloth) of the season

Imago and Michael Curry add bonus content to "ZooZoo." Plus: Tobias Andersen vamps, "Mary Poppins" flies again, and Christmas keeps coming.

Imago Theatre has built much of its reputation on an evolving series of family-friendly mask-theater shows such as the ever-popular ZooZoo, which it brings back for another holiday run through Jan. 6. But after decades presenting that show, its much-lauded predecessor Frogz, and the closely related Biglittlethings, Imago co-founders Jerry Mouawad and Carol Triffle don’t do much with them anymore.

“We don’t really work those shows,” Mouawad says. “We have video to refer to, and a bunch of really seasoned performers who’ve been touring the material, so they put the show back together, get it on its feet, and then Carol and I will just come in and fine tune things.”

That approach seems to work, as the ingeniously anthropomorphized animals and other creatures of ZooZoo continue to brim with recognizable life and relatable humor. But it’s not as if Mouawad and Triffle are sitting around resting on their fluffy, fabricated, polar-bear-sized laurels.

“The Magic Cloth,” shown with “ZooZoo” at Imago Theatre. Photo: courtesy of Imago Theatre.

This run of ZooZoo will include a special bonus feature — “The Magic Cloth,” a new Imago vignette created in collaboration with the master production designer Michael Curry, a Portlander famed for his puppetry, costuming and other work for Broadway’s The Lion King, Cirque du Soleil and others.

“It’s very simple,” Mouawad says of the new piece, taking a brief break from tech rehearsals. “A boy and his sister are out playing with their dog. They discover a small black box, and out of it comes a red cloth about six-feet square. It moves magically and it’s mysterious and makes them laugh. It’s clown theater with stage-magic puppetry.”

Simple, of course, is hard to do well. Perhaps that’s especially true for theater predicated largely on design and movement, such as “The Magic Cloth” and the various other mask and costume vignettes in ZooZoo. “This six-minute piece is as much work as any of my other plays, maybe more,” Mouawad says.

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Ch-ch-changes, good and bad

In review: Triangle Productions' "TRANS-formations" and "The Madness of Lady Bright"; Twilight Theater Company's "Antigone"

From the moment Matthew Sunderland steps onstage at The Sanctuary in Donnie’s new play TRANS-formation you sense you’re going to be in for an interesting ride. Sunderland stars as George/Christine in this 70-minute drama about the transsexual pioneer Christine Jorgensen, and the way he wraps himself around the story of this fascinating true-life character is impressive: his clear sharp tenor voice, masculine but not entirely; his body language, so firmly between; his immediate link with the audience, forged by the urgency to tell his tale.

Matthew Sunderland as George/Christine Jorgensen. Photo: David Kinder/Kinderpics

And what a tale. Donnie (the pen name of Donald Horn, who is also director, scenic and sound designer, and producer through Triangle Productions, the company he founded in 1989) has done his homework and assembled a smart, deeply informed play about Jorgensen, concentrating on the young Army veteran’s decision to undergo sex-change surgery and become a she. It’s a taut tale, with just two other actors, both of whom also are superb: Jacquelle Davis as Jorgensen’s sister Dolly (with a cameo as a schoolteacher with a mean streak) and Mark Pierce as Dr. Christian Hamberger, the Danish endocrinologist who made the transformation happen. Both Dolly and Dr. Hamberger have very human and natural friendships with George/Christine, and that’s crucial to the play’s success. The doctor talks science. George talks feelings. Out of their creative collaboration, Christine is born.

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Well, Fertile Ground happened, and while I offered a few prognostications, for the first time in many years I didn’t get out to see those shows. Can you please use the comments to tell me, and more importantly each other, what you loved? With a festival that’s so egalitarian by nature, community opinions should hold the most sway anyway.

Now then:

The word around ArtsWatch via our reviewer TJ Acena is that Magellanica, which recreates the feeling of its setting, Antarctica, with a glacially paced 5+ hour runtime, is “worth it.”  I believe it. If I had to pick a group of people to get marooned in the Antarctic wilderness with, I’d actually consider Artists Rep’s company of actors. They’re versatile and compassionate, and they can make fire.

Alisha Menon is the Girl Prince in Northwest Children’s Theatre’s “Chitra.” Photo: David Kinder

Corrib’s all-age-appropriate Lifeboat closes at Northwest Children’s Theater this weekend, making way for Chitra, The Girl Prince, NWCT’s second major collaboration with Indian dance expert Anita Menon (the first being 2015’s Jungle Book). Nice to see Ken Yoshikawa pop up in a kids’ production and what looks like a romantic lead. His earnestness will not be lost on all ages.

What else?

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