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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Inspecting Carol at Seattle Rep and
Baby, It's Cold Outside at Benaroya Hall

Also see David's reviews of Elf—the Musical and Scrooge

A Separate Peace
Reginald André Jackson
and Ian Bell
Photo by Chris Bennion
The 2012 production of Inspecting Carol at Seattle Rep Theatre is the third since the show was developed at the company by the actors then on the full-time staff of the theatre, and the script is credited to Daniel Sullivan, then their artistic director, as well as the Seattle Rep company. The tale of a floundering theatre company trying to survive with a donation from the National Endowment of the Arts and mistaking an itinerant actor for the NEA inspector, while in the midst of trying to remount their annual tried and true version of A Christmas Carol, is a rambling slapstick affair, and suffers from an overlong first act leading to a hilarious, actors' nightmare version of the Scrooge tale, as witnessed by the actual NEA adjudicator.

The current production, knowingly directed by Jerry Manning, ends up in the plus column, largely due to a stage-full of strong performances. Stephen Hando as Wayne Wellacre, the actor/faux inspector, is quite hilarious going from needy actor to power-mad despot as he seizes the opportunity to strut his alleged talents under bogus circumstances, even taking on the key role of Tiny Tim. Ian Bell is grand as Larry, the reigning Scrooge who fancies himself a playwright as well and thinks nothing of making wholesale changes to improve on Dickens. Burton Curtis as Kevin, the theatre's number cruncher, offers a good account of a man who has become one big exposed nerve ending. Peggy Gannon is droll and spot on as the stage manager eventually pushed to the edge by her frantic cast and director, and Gretchen Krich is mercurial in her mood switches as the artistic director at the helm of the play. More subtle comedy is offered up by Michael Winters and Kimberly King as the grand old pair of married thespians no such company would be complete without. Reginald André Jackson is great fun as Walter, hired to play the Ghosts but given no rehearsal time, and Nathaniel Kelderman is warm and natural as the lad who has obviously outgrown the Tiny Tim role and opts to escape to a TV sitcom at the eleventh hour. Finally, kudos to Kathy Hsieh, dignified in her brief role as the real inspector. Only Chris Ensweiler as Krich's playmate Phil doesn't quite capture the comedic zeal of the rest of the cast.

Scenic designer Carey Wong has marvelously envisioned both the house and stage for the struggling company, and rigged the Scrooge set with jokes and booby tracks galore, embellished by Robert Aguilar's happily misbehaving lighting design, and Catherine Hunt's oh so stagy and silly costume designs.

Inspecting Carol runs through December 23, 2012. For tickets go to www.seattlerep.org

Baby It's Cold Outside
Seattle Men's Chorus members
Photo by John Pai
Seattle Men's Chorus continues its holiday concert tradition with this year's hilarity-laced and musically solid entry Baby, It's Cold Outside, which featured comedienne/vocalist Ana Gasteyer as special guest star on the opening weekend. Ms. Gasteyer looked great and provided plenty of giggles, while seeming notably under-rehearsed in many numbers which had been fitted with special comedic lyrics. She and the SMC were, however, palpably entertaining on a number she has done in her own act, the classic "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" from Guys and Dolls.

The Seattle Men's Chorus, one of the largest gay male choruses in the country, has put together a show that stands tall on its own merits, thanks to the tireless efforts of longtime artistic director Dennis Coleman and his associate Eric Lane Barnes, who oversees the comedic choral sub-group known as Captain Smartypants and writes original music and lyrics for them as well as the larger group. This year a comedic highlight is "Forgotten Carols," a comic celebration of lesser heard/known holiday tunes, such as those ever popular recordings of cats singing "Jingle Bells." There is a tropical bent to the second act celebrating holiday happenings in warmer climates, and both the chorus and local guest star Arnaldo, the drag chanteuse, provide plenty of camp, with Arnaldo and the guys sizzling to the concert's title tune. There is a fair amount of classic harmonizing of a more traditional style, and the annual "Silent Night" performance culminates in a sign-language rendition, though this year the tune is not the classic melody we all know, but a hauntingly spiritual one nonetheless.

Add in snazzy costumes and kitschy (and sometimes elegant) choreography and you a have a solid, Northwest holiday entertainment tradition, which always offers up a few surprises. It may be cold outside but the Seattle Men's Chorus sees to it you'll leave full of warm fuzzies (and holiday raffle tickets!)

Baby, It's Cold Outside runs through December 23 at Benaroya Hall, 3rd & Union in downtown Seattle. For tickets and other information, go to www.flyinghouse.org.



- David Edward Hughes



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