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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Review Round Up: The Price at A Contemporary Theatre
Every Movie Is a Musical at Jet City Improv
La Cage Aux Folles at Second Story Repertory and
Urinetown at Renton Civic Theatre

I seldom see four shows in four days, due to having a life outside of the glamorous world of theatre (I do ... really!), but last week was an exception. The relative brevity of these reviews is no indicator of their quality, merely of my time constraints to write about them, and they are reviewed here in the order that I attended them.


The Price


Charles Leggett (foreground), Anne Allgood and
Peter Lohnes

Photo by Chris Bennion
Arthur Miller's 1968 Tony Award nominated play The Price follows the themes of his more venerable and perhaps better known plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman, including complex family dynamics, secrets kept, jealousy, career regret, and the confrontations necessary to move on and continue relationships. Director Victor Pappas' production at A Contemporary Theatre is handsome and worthy in all respects, even though the play itself hasn't worn as well as Miller's best through the years.

Charles Leggett plays Victor Franz, a career cop who is meeting with Gregory Solomon (Peter Silbert), a wily old Jewish antiques dealer to settle his late father's estate, along with his wife Esther (Anne Allgood). After protracted haggling, Solomon fixes what seems a rather low price on the items, which Victor half-heartedly accepts, and is taking the payout when his estranged brother Walter (Peter Lohnes), a successful MD, shows up. What ensues is a lot of opening up of old wounds from the brothers, and Esther, at least initially, warming to the alternatives her brother-in law suggests for the financial settlement. Solomon grows more apoplectic by the moment, frustrated that what he saw as a done deal is actually anything but.

The play itself is very slow to get started, loaded with character detail but short on action and incident, and the script doesn't really start to crackle till Walter arrives on the scene and the negotiations begin. But thanks to this quartet of amazing actors, directed with virtuosity by Pappas, the characters are brought vibrantly and movingly to life. Leggett gives his character an innate decency and world weary sorrow behind the eyes, and a subtle pent-up fury when pushed too far. Ms. Allgood (done up appropriately in late period Barbara Billingsley couture by expert costume designer Rose Pederson) is first class all the way, as a woman who has barely concealed her disappointment with the life she has led, and won't stand idly by as a more comfortable future seems threatened.

Lohnes is excellent as Walter, with his bedside manner down pat, suave smarminess concealing guilt and regret. Best of all is Silbert as the nattering, doddering but sharp as a tack old negotiator Solomon. Silbert pours a lifetime of experience into his consummate and achingly realistic portrayal. And thanks to the brilliantly realized scenic design by Robert Dahlstrom, the late Papa Franz's cramped and cluttered home, essentially a fifth character in the tale, is masterfully evoked, bathed in the haunting lighting design by Alex Berry.

The Price at A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union Street in downtown Seattle runs through June 22, 2014. For ticket information and more, visit www.acttheatre.org.


Every Movie Is a Musical


The Cast
Photo Courtesy Jet City Improv
It's hard to review improv, which is why Jet City Improv's shows have not been covered on this site before. But what self-respecting musical theatre buff wouldn't want to take in their current effort Every Movie Is a Musical, a swift-paced ninety-minute hoot of a spoof on contemporary obsession for adapting pop films into musicals, often with less than desirable results.

The evening I attended, act one featured a stand-out Jurassic Park in the style of Wicked about a misunderstood green velociraptor among its highlights, whereas the entirety of act two was a wild and wooly triple-adaptation-in-one of three entirely different movies, namely A Few Good Men, Reservoir Dogs and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Probably not destined for Broadway, but then who thought Shogun was? The largely veteran cast of Jet City Improv was in sparkling form (and showing off some fine voices and steps) with special kudos to Douglas Willott (also the director of this film-lovers farce), Amalia Larson, Joe Koenen, and the ebullient Kate Jaeger, who has become one of Seattle's finest musical comedy talents as well as an incredible improv artist.

At a tight 90 minutes plus intermission, here is one show you wish there were more of, and the ticket prices ($12-$15) are pretty friendly too!

Every Movie Is a Musical runs through June 20, 2014, at Jet City Improv, 5510 University Way, NE in Seattle's U-District. For more info and tickets go to http://www.jetcityimprov.


La Cage aux Folles


Jeff Church and Ryan McCabe
Photo by Michael Brunk
Just in time for the greater Seattle area's 2014 Gay Pride Celebrations, Redmond's Second Story Repertory is celebrating the best of times with the Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein adaptation of the French play La Cage aux Folles (though more audiences probably know the American film remake The Birdcage). This big Broadway smash (three productions and counting) is not a natural fit for the more intimate SRT environs, so it is to the credit of director Eric Jensen and his team that the production plays so well. A hard-working cast sells the hummable, spirit-lifting Herman songs well, and drives home the show's theme of a son coming to embrace the man who helped raise him despite social conventions.

This is the wacky yet sentimental tale of middle-aged gay showbiz couple Georges and Albin (aka, Zaza) who run a rather notorious St. Tropez drag show club. Georges' grown son Jean-Michel is embarrassed by his "step-mother" Zaza, and asks that he be left out of an upcoming meet-the-future-in-laws dinner with fiancée Anne's ultra-conservative parents, the father being a politico who renounces gay lifestyles. Georges tries to butch Zaza up to pass as an uncle at the dinner, but the slapstick shenanigans ensue at full throttle when Jean-Michel's actual mother is a last minute no-show, and Zaza is determined to save the day.

As the suave and debonair Georges, Jeff Church has the look, style and voice to melt a man on "Look Over There" and on his duet with Ryan McCabe's Zaza, "With You on My Arm." McCabe is a decade or so too youthfully callow and rather too lithe in appearance to be an ideal Zaza, and, though he sings well much of Zaza's song list, is on the lower end of his vocal range here. The actor, however, does understand drag performance style totally, and looks smashing in the gaudy, bawdy and feathery outfits designed with great flair by John Albritton. And McCabe's rather spectacular upper range (he's a vet of playing Mary Sunshine in Chicago) is on vibrant display as he takes his solo section of "The Best of Times" up an octave to marvelous effect.

In support, John Huddleston is sincere and vocally confident as Jean-Michel and Bill Hamer is the perfect pompous ass as Dindon, while Carol Richmond dithers charmingly as his clueless wife Marie, though lovely Krista Johnson isn't able to do much with the woefully underwritten role of Anne. A huge treat of the production is Anthony Pallozzi as Jacob, the male maid of Georges and Albin. With comic timing and just enough camp oozing from every vein, Pallozzi amps up the show whenever he hits the stage, and makes one wish his character had a number. There is also an amusing turn by Brock Madden as the masochistic stage manager Francis.

The talented men and ladies who portray Les Cagelles, the performers who support Zaza at the club, do what they can with Kate Kingery' s choreography, but what might have worked on her own body doesn't translate to the performers, and at times looks random and awkward. Musical director Paul Linnes has put together a tight, small band. The scenic design entity known as the Squolf has created a handsome set centered around the club interior and becoming the other locales smoothly, diverting lighting design and a sound design that still had a way to go as far as balance between band and singers on opening night.

Gay relations and acceptance have come far since the original production of La Cage Aux Folles wowed Broadway with its boldness. But as this staging reminds us hearty, melodious music and lots of feathers are always in vogue.

La Cage Aux Folles runs through June 22nd, 2014, at Redmond Town Center in Redmond, WA. For ticket sales and more information, visit www.secondstoryrep.org.


Urinetown


Krista Curry and Buddy Mahoney
Photo courtesy of RCT
A cheerfully off-kilter little Tony nominated musical from 2001, Urinetown is the in-vogue show in Seattle and environs this season, and has been a go-to show for smaller companies and student productions since amateur rights were first available. The indomitable Renton Civic Theatre has a winner on its hands with Alan Wilkie's assured direction, zippy and funny choreography by Kristin Burch, and ace musical direction by Josh Zimmerman, as well as a seasoned ensemble cast to sell its satirical tale of the ecological disaster of water scarcity making it necessary to charge a fee just to, well, pee!

A Kurt Weill-style musical which also spoofs several other musicals, features a book, music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis that are as dark as they are wickedly funny. As narrated by Police Officer Lockstock and plucky street urchin Little Sally, the backstory for the show is that, as a result of a terrible water shortage, private toilets have become unthinkable. All restroom activities are handled through a private corporation, the Urine Good Company (UGC for short). To control water consumption, people have to pay to use public amenities (that is, public toilets) for their "private business." As Lockstock says, There are harsh laws ensuring that people pay to pee, and if they are broken, the offender is sent to a penal colony called Urinetown. UGC is controlled by the venal mogul Caldwell B. Cladwell and run by his rigid and downright nasty sometimes-mistress Penelope Pennywise. Her supportive assistant Bobby Strong turns against UGC when his own father is arrested and sent to Urinetown for violating the pay to pee doctrine. Bobby falls hard for Cladwell's good-hearted daughter Hope, but this sewer system Romeo and Juliet romance is thwarted at every turn, and Bobby ends up holding Hope captive, in a desperate attempt to change things as well as to learn just what Urinetown really is.

As Bobby, Matthew Posner has the average guy good looks, self-mocking style, and Broadway baritone vocal chops to lead the charge on the bad guys, and Posner is ideally matched with vivacious Kristin Burch who gives Hope a welcome edge to her sweetness. Eric Hartley scores as the mustache-twirling baddie Cladwell, leading his big "Be Like the Bunny" number with panache. Buddy Mahoney is an assured and funny Officer Lockstock, handling his narrator moments with clarity and aplomb, and Krista Curry is adorably cloying as Little Sally, who wishes, against all hope, that the show could be a "happy" musical. Rounding out the principals, Lisa Wright Thiroux savors every moment of her turn as the despicable Miss Pennywise, and belts out her big feature "It's a Privilege to Pee" with relish. The show's ensemble is rife with talented folk who especially tickle us with a Looney Tunes sort of abandon in their musical numbers.

This shoebox-size show is perfectly suited to the aged intimacy of the RCT space, far more than the national tour which played the Paramount a dozen years or so back. Zak Scott's scenic design and Rachel Wilkie's costumes are perfectly shabby chic, and accented well by Bill Huls' lighting design.

Urinetown runs through June 21, 2014, at Renton Civic Theatre, 507 South Third Street. For tickets and more go to rentoncivictheatre.org.



- David Edward Hughes



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