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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

The Grimaldis - A Musical Ghost Story Raises the Dead
Hale's Palladium

Also see David's review of Hair


Lara Fox and Brian Pucheu
Part variety show, part book musical, part creep-show, and part dinner theatre, A Musical Ghost Story at Hale's Palladium is all in fun, and pretty good fun at that. Revised and rewritten a bit after a successful Bay Area stint, producer/writer Dane Ballard and composer/lyricist John Woods feature a vaudeville/burlesque-like troupe in a show that may remind some of a Teatro ZinZanni offering, but with lower ticket costs, a lighter food and drink menu, and more modest production values. No apologies are needed; I quite like it as is, except for the excessive heat in Hale's Palladium, and no food service at the preview we attended.

We enter what appears to be an auction for theatrical memorabilia, and our host, young Walter Sutter (Dustin Jackson), advises us that it is a preview of what will go on in the morning, an estate sale of costumes, props, posters and set pieces from the now-deceased but once prominent and renowned show business family the Grimaldis. Deceased, but not down for the count it seems, as a blackout signals the arrival of such family members as aerialists Annabelle and Ariel Grimaldi (Hannah Birch and Katherine Grant-Suttie respectively); magician Lazarus Grimaldi (Marcus Wolland); ballerina, Babette Grimaldi (Rachel Brow); song and dance duo Jack and Lois Grimaldi (Brian Pucheu and Lara Fox); and chanteuse/exotic dancer Rosalina Grimaldi (Laura Rose Flynn). The perplexed, shy and nervous Walter quickly warms to the spirited specters, who help him realize his own latent talents. His stone-faced father Hiram (Donn Christianson), however, wants him to have nothing to do with the clan or with show business, which forces Jack and Lois to reveal a deep and life-altering secret to Walter.

Director Keri Christianson has the right touch for this kind of specialty material, and succeeds in endearing the audience to Walter and the Grimaldis right away. Ballard's script is most successful in creating characters that have some depth, each representing different show business skill-sets. We actually come to care about them, and see them through Walter's kindly eyes.

As Lazarus, Marcus Wolland is a standout of the ensemble. His aura of darkness and impressive ability to create the illusion that he is a master magician is invaluable, and his rich voice is a bedrock of the cast's group numbers. As one of the few corporeal characters onstage, Dustin Jackson's Walter is instantly engaging, bringing a young Jimmy Stewart manner and reticence to his role. Jackson's light, pleasing baritone serves him well on his big solo, and he really goes for the emotional moments in the script. Brian Pucheu and Lara Fox as Jack and Lois are believably at ease with each other as a long-time couple, and handle their song and dance chores with aplomb. Birch and Suttie are accomplished aerialists and wordlessly convey these sisters' unhappy backstory, while Laura Rose Flynn is feisty as Rosalina, while Rachel Brow executes her ballet moves with delicate charm. Taylor Davis brings a playful air of quirky humor to her role as Walter's associate Victoria who is spellbound to serve as Lazarus' assistant. Unfortunately, in the role of Hiram, Donn Christianson is a pretty one-note spoil-sport, and the stone-faced demeanor he adopts is no match for the vivaciousness of the rest of the primary cast.

Wood's musical score is intriguing, appropriate and often catchy, though some of the songs are marred by some banal and/or false rhymed lyrics. Still, it is a pleasure that they are original, story-oriented character songs, and not the limited grab bag of old standards that ZinZanni offers in its productions.

Choreographer J. Mari Clarkmoore sees to it that a cast with varying levels of dance expertise all come off well, and music director Ben Dobyns leads a small, peppy band with exuberance. Creator/producer Ballard has also designed a setting that perfectly captures the world of the two-a-day vaudeville of past times. Jordan Christianson's costumes are attractive, if not always period authentic. Jason Gorgon succeeds in creating some nice lighting for the barn-like Palladium, but his sound design could use some amping up.

Despite a few shortcomings, The Grimaldis - A Musical Ghost Story is ultimately just plain fun and worth catching during its limited run.

The Grimaldis - A Musical Ghost Story by Dane Ballard Productions, will be presented at Hale's Palladium, 4301 Leary Way NW through May 25, 2014. For ticket purchase and more go to www.thegrimaldisaredead.com.


Photo: Mercenary Photography



- David Edward Hughes



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