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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Village Theatre Paints the town Red with Hilarious
Iron Curtain

Iron Curtain
The Cast of Iron Curtain
Certainly one of the most enjoyable entries in Village Theatre's summer new works festival a few summers back, the rib-tickling tuner Iron Curtain proves well worthy of the glitzy full production it is now receiving on the company's main-stage. There's nobody who knows the business of show-business shows like Village Artistic director Steve Tomkins, whose dream team here includes co-choreographer Kristin Culp and musical director R.J. Tancioco, and the trio turn this Cold-War valentine to the '50s (and specifically the musicals of that era) into a hot-ticket hit!

The smart and savvy book by Susan DiLallo gives us the unknown Broadway songwriting team of Murray Finkel and Howard Katz, who have this great idea for a musical based on the hit book "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," but find that their idea has already been picked up by Abbott, Adler and Ross as Damn Yankees. At desperation's door, the duo is talked into coming to the USSR by showbiz crazy impresario Yengenyi Onanov to help give Russian musical theatre a taste of the Great White Way. Once arrived they discover they are virtual prisoners of the state and, with KGB lurking all around, they doubt they'll ever be back in the good old USA.  Murray finds solace with his attentive blonde leading lady (and KGB operative) Masha, while Howard is stalked by daunting East German director Hildret Heinz as he pines for his dense but devoted New York sweetie Shirley, who is hot on the boys trail. Act one ends as the show is such a big hit that Khrushchev himself wants to film it immediately. In act two, Murray has succumbed to the perks of his Soviet celebrity status, while Howard pines for an in-transit Shirley, and KGB agent Sergei seems to want the songwriters silenced permanently. But we all know fifties musicals generally had upbeat endings, and this show unquestionably does, but with several savory twists en-route.

DiLallo's book is in super shape, and the score by Stephen Weiner (Music) and Peter Mills (Lyrics) is most pleasing, though a bit of it could be trimmed in act one, where the action flags a bit. Where the musical and lyrics really shine are in three whoppingly good numbers: " A Frau Divided," "If Not For Musicals" and "Eleven O'Clock Number," which are performed to perfection by the cast.

That cast, not a weak link among them, includes Jared Michael Brown as ebullient Murray, a sort of amalgam of both Gene Kelly and Donald O' Connor; Matt Wolfe as endearingly hang-dog-faced Murray; Carolyn Magoon as Murray's devoted doll Shirley; and the multi-talented rising Seattle star Danielle Barnum as the alternately sexy and apple-cheeked Masha.  New to Seattle, John Dewar impresses as the comically menacing Sergei Schmearnov, Ellen McLain is drolly comic as several front desk types, and Allan Michael Barlow is an invaluably comic Khrushchev.

However, the show-stealing stand-outs of the production are by far Nick DeSantis as Onanov and Bobbi Kotula as Hildret. DeSantis is a comic wunderkind of a talent, who is also a mean song and dance man, and has never had a better showcase than his lead spot in "If Not For Musicals," which is a musical comedy rouser that Jerry Herman would be happy to call his own. It is performed with every ounce of zeal, camp and sheer affection that anyone in show-biz could hope to muster. And the fact that DeSantis' turn has to follow the highlight of the show, and does so in sterling fashion, says a lot. Said highlight is Kotula's hilarious yet somehow sympathetic "A Frau Divided," where this go-to-gal of Seattle musical comedy takes everything she has learned from her musical theatre forbearers (from Lucy to Burnett, from Madeline Kahn to Cloris Leachman), adds an ineffable drop of magic that is solely her own, and raises the roof. Following these two titanic turns, the whole company (most of whom have gleeful cameos throughout the show) gets to take part in "The Eleven O' Clock Number" which hits its own heights of hilarity.  When the curtain falls on Iron Curtain you may well decide to book tickets to see it again.

Bill Forrester's scenic design is keen, lean and eye-poppingly colorful, and given a rosy glow by ace lighting designer Tom Sturge. Costume designs by Karen Ledger are a delicious send-up of fifties fashions on both sides of the curtain.

If not for musicals like this one, we would have few vortexes of lightness and joy to escape the increasingly dreary real world. Thank you to all the artists who transported me out of my seat at Iron Curtain.

Iron Curtain plays at Issaquah's Village Theatre through April 24th and then moves to their Everett location running April 29th through May 22nd.  For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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