Hot Seattle September Closes with three Winners:
Jesus Christ Superstar Green Whales, and Bloomsday
Forward Flux/Seattle Musical Theatre/ACT
After more openings than I can count (or could see) in the last month, September roars out with another three fine productions, two of which are in their final weekends. Herewith are some mini-assessments.
After a lot of ups and downs in recent seasons, the pendulum swings way back up for Seattle Musical Theatre's production of the venerable 1970s Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, thanks to aces high and deeply felt direction by Billie Wildrick, canny and bursting with energetic athletic choreography by Troy Wageman.
David Caldwell is a vocally soaring, dramatically effective Jesus, and happily has not been made to look like a drawing from a Sunday-school book. As Judas, Sara Henley-Hicks, successfully making a real-life foot injury look like a character choice, is satisfactory though not quite the soaring talent one expects in this showy role, and her title song is the only weakly staged number in the entire show. Megan Tyrell as Mary Magdalene caressingly interprets the big hit song "I Don't Know How to Love Him" and is much more impassioned and dynamic than past Mary Magdalenes I have seen (and that includes the role's creator Yvonne Elliman). As a kind of Borscht Belt King Herod, Michael Cimino makes the role his zany own. But for me, Troy Wageman, the show's stellar choreographer, shines brightest as an always lurking in the shadows and watching Pontius Pilate. His mad "Pilates Dream" is the standout solo in the show, and he depicts his character's complex nature with power and subtlety. A vocally and physically strong ensemble also demands to be noted. I rate Jesus Christ Superstar GTG+ (3.5 stars).
Photo by Jeff Carpenter
Swimming in the ocean of entertainment that is Forward Flux's Green Whales, by clever and original playwright Lia Romeo, is akin to jumping into a pool of bracing water with a surprise sea creature popping up for a visit. The play is dark humored and will not be to the taste of anyone who can't find the laughs in the sickest of subjects. After the death of their mother, two sisters bond and try to support each other. Joanna (Leslie Wisdom in a wicked, abandoned and somehow totally lovable performance) is a hard-drinkin' lush, living with a cop named Roy (suitably thick headed and offensive as portrayed by Craig Peterson) who seems to have decided to live his life impersonating a bad road company version of Stanley Kowalski. Her older, 38-year-old sister Karen (the vastly appealing and sympathetic Rachel Anne Godbe) looks 13, as she is inflicted with Turner's syndrome, which renders her to appear as a much younger girl. Joanna wants to keep Joanna in town for emotional support, and suggests they look for a pedophile who would woo her. Initially shocked by the suggestion, Karen is led to a date with a suspected pedophile (played with unexpected tenderness and humor by Clayton Michael) and the story spirals, in unexpected ways from there.
Leslie Wisdom and Rachel Anne Godbe
Photo by Joe Moore
Director Wesley Frugé has a fine hand with his actors, and makes good use of the tiny stage space available. All in all I found nothing to fault in any department and I give this new company's maiden effort a 4 star MTD (Magic To Do) rating.
Don't blame yourself if song titles like "Where or When?" or "Time After Time" go through your head while watching Stephen Dietz's romantic yet otherworldly new comedy-drama Bloomsday at ACT Theatre. Like the old TV show theme song said, "It's about time, it's about space; about two people in the strangest place," as the time and space continuum is in flux throughout this generally gentle, leisurely paced love story set in Dublin, Ireland.
Marianne Owen and Sydney Andrews
Photo by Chris Bennion
American Robert (played by Peter Crook with a wink and a smile that mask an inner hollowness) returns after 35 years to the fair Irish locale of his one-time brief encounter romance with Cait (Marianne Owen ideal as a salty, achingly sad yet still somewhat chipper lass). But Robert is having exchanges with Cait's younger self Cathleen (winsome and fresh-faced Sydney Andrews) and Cait is chatting up the Young Robbie (Eric Ankrim, spot on splendid as usual). What it actually all meanstime warp or fertile imaginations laced with longing for time pastis inconsequential.
Dietz's play is marked with crisp dialogue, humor and heartbreak effortlessly interlaced, and the production, directed with loving care and attention to detail by departing ACT Artistic director Kurt Beattie, does all it sets out to do. Sure there's whimsy, but who doesn't like that now and then. I ringingly endorse Bloomsday (a commemoration and celebration in Dublin and elsewhere of the life of Irish writer James Joyce, during which the events of his novel "Ulysses" set on June, 16, 1904, are relived) with my highest rating MTD (4 stars).
Jesus Christ Superstar runs through Sunday October 4, 2015, at Seattle Musical Theatre, 7120 62nd Ave NE, in NE Seattle. Tickets and info at seattlemusicaltheatre.org.
Green Whales from Forward Flux at Kaladi Brothers/Gay City 517 Pike St, Seattle finishes its run on October 3, 2015. For tickets and info visit www.forwardflux.com.
Bloomsday through October 11, 2015, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St. For information and tickets, visit www.acttheatre.org.
- David Edward Hughes