Sunday, May 31, 2009

Contemporary American musicals: four diseases

Terry Teachout in the WSJ finds four flaws in most contemporary musicals.
I'm paraphrasing here: too Disneyfied; over-produced, with too little substance; songs are static and don't advance the plot; too preachy.

Lest you think Teachout's an old crab, he names four recent musicals that he really likes (one of which Spokane got cheated out of due to excessive snow, and one of which will be here -- barring further snow -- next February).

[ photo: ]

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Friday, May 29, 2009

20 Questions with Jerry Sciarrio

Jerry Sciarrio is currently starring as Pseudolus in the Spokane Civic Theater production of *A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,* which runs through June 14, 2009.

For this version of "20 Questions," Bobo e-mailed some queries, Jerry e-mailed back, and then we shared lunch at Sante (next to Auntie's) so I could pester him some more. We did so much laughing, one of us spit up some of his spinach salad. (Hint: The one who did it is bald. Wait, we're both bald. OK, it was me.)

1. First, a quick bio. Where'd you grow up? Go to high school? college? First acting role? (Where? What play?) You were on tour 1978-99 with whom? Eight thousand performances of what kinds of shows? In which seven countries? You've lived here since '99? How did you and Jamie meet? How old is Paul now? How's his diabetes? How did he react to seeing Dad in a toga? What have been your various day jobs here in Spokane?
Born: Medford, Mass. Moved to Woburn, Mass., at age 5. ** Woburn High School grad (top 100 out of 700 plus). Took some college prep classes, but that's all. ** First acting role - 6th grade in a Christmas play (Christmas Around the World) I had the male lead - brother who is waiting for Santa to come. Did some stand up and sketch comedy in junior high. First musical - OLIVER! my sophomore year in high school -- Fagin. ** Covenant Players, international drama ministry ( Travelled for 21 years through the United States, England, Scotland, Germany, Australia, China and South Korea. [During the Cold War, in '84, Jerry was doing shows for the military, for the 7th Corps in Germany, invited there by chaplains, and "where backstage was the other side of the tank." He saw the German/Czech border there. And later, "the vibe was much more intense" in South Korea, where he could peer right into the DMZ and think about all the North Korean troops massed just on the other side."]
We performed in churches primarily, but also in schools, nursing homes and military bases. Using a repertoire of more than 2,000 plays, ranging in time from a few minutes to 45-minute one-acts, we custom-designed programs for the user groups on a thematic basis. They gave us a theme, told us about the audience we'd be performing for, and we designed the program to fit. In an hour-long program, we would usually do three to seven different plays; with a company of four people, we could be performing a range of characters from 7-year-old kids to 80-year-old truck drivers! ** Jamie and I met in L. A. with the Covenant Players. We were assigned to the same team; I was the Team Leader/Director. We were married two years later. ** Paul is 6 1/2 (Oct. 29th birthday) He has Type 1 diabetes, was diagnosed two years ago Christmas, and it's a constant challenge to keep his blood glucose levels balanced. ** He loved FORUM - wants to see it again, goes around the house singing "Comedy Tonight". (The toga didn't faze him - he saw me in SOUTH PACIFIC!) ** "Regular" jobs in Sopkane -- H & R Block - office manager; Sears Northtown - home electronics sales dept; 101.9 Spirit FM - KTSL -- Production Director as well as every on-air shift over six years; currently with Books in Motion, audio book publishers - recording engineer and reader (I've been a reader for them since 2000).

2. What's your earliest theater memory?
The Christmas play in sixth grade. "Santa" comes to a home in disguise and tells two kids about Christmas around the world. At the climax, he reveals his true identity. I did a double-take and it got a great audience reaction -- my first taste of audience laughter!

3. Describe the first time when you realized that not everyone is crazy about theater.
Our high school went to a state drama competition at Emerson College, and we took first place (with a scene from DEATH OF A SALESMAN). This was the first time our school took first place, and we took it away from the school that ALWAYS won it. Unfortunately, that same weekend, our football team advanced to the first playoff round of some tournament or other. Yes, the FIRST of about FIVE playoff levels they had to go through. But they got front-page coverage in the local Woburn Times, and we got a photo and caption on page 7.

4. What’s a part you’ve always wanted to play and haven’t (or probably never will)? What’s a part you once played and would give anything to play again?
Wanted to and haven't: Sheridan Whiteside in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER. -- Probably never will: Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN, John Adams in 1776, The Pirate King in THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE. ** Once played and would again: Felix Unger, hopefully for more than four performances!

5. What was the best onstage “cover” you’ve ever witnessed (with one actor covering for another’s mistake)?
LI'L ABNER (junior Year of high school) - Abner and Marryin' Sam (me) return to Dogpatch from D. C. to cheers, and a speech from the Mayor. Mayor Dogmeat was not on stage, however. So when the cheering stopped, there was a moment of silence that felt three days long, and then one of the crowed stepped forward and said, "Glad to have you back, Sam." I replied, "It's good to be back." "How was Washington, Sam?" "It was big." "Tell us about it." ('Thanks,' I thought.) "Well, it's so big, that if you take the smallest building in Washington - in fact, you take an outhouse in Washington, and it's bigger than our city hall!" "Really?" "Yep." "How many holes has it got?" Thankfully, Pappy Yokum chose that moment to come in with his line from halfway through the scene, and we picked it up from there.

6. Most actors downplay whatever praise they receive in written reviews — but they brood over and get fixated on printed criticisms of their performances (to the point that they can quote them back verbatim to the critic years later). Why is that?
Acting is a field where everything depends on the response of the audience. It's like getting an employee performance review every time you step onstage. You prepare for the show by honing your performance to the best level you can, so when someone else thinks it was inferior, it can hit deep. Then there are those actors who don't give a hoot about a bad review....

7. In terms of programming, auditioning, rehearsing, budgeting and marketing, how is the mission of a community theater distinct from that of a semi-professional or professional theater? (During the female version of Odd Couple at the Civic, you told me that you think criticizing play selection by a professional theater is legit, but not so for a community theater. Why?)
Actually, they are similar, almost identical. My comment was more in the area of the review -- in community theater, Joe Public is more interested in the fact that their mailman or neighbor is in a play than they are in the socio-philosophical ramifications of the playwright's message. Otherwise, both organizations are concerned with getting butts in the seats, and choosing plays that will attract an audience. A professional theater might give more thought to material that is new, challenges the audience and like that, but a community theater is more concerned with ticket sales. Civic has the advantage of the main stage and the studio -- one for "classic" material, the other for "thought-provoking".

8. Who helps the cause of theater more –- the kind of director/actor/techie who will work on any kind of play (just for the joy of doing theater and being part of the theater world) OR the kind of director/actor/techie who picks and chooses productions (and only does shows that suit his or her taste)?
My opinion is the latter -- good performers know their strengths and weaknesses and will choose accordingly. This will aid in the success of a show. The same with a director. With techies, it's not as clear-cut a distinction.

9. What’s a play that reads better than it plays? plays better than it reads?
No specific titles come to mind; however, I think a dialogue-heavy play could read better than it plays (Ionesco or Wilder) and a physical comedy plays better than it reads (NOISES OFF).

10. The cliché is that comedy is harder to get right than drama. Why?
Timing. Timing. Timing. Timing. The sense of comedic timing is hard to produce -- it usually is built-in. This is why a good comedic perofrmer can do drama well, but a good dramatic actor can't always do comedy well. I have tried to direct others in comedy who had no sense of the timing, and it was a chore. I had to tell the actor, "Say this part of the line, count 3, THEN say the rest." Jamie likes to call it the Comedy Gene -- some are born with it, some are not.

11. You're at a dinner party with a choreographer, a set designer, a costume designer and a lighting designer. You've never met any of them before. What questions do you ask?
What shows they've worked on, backstage stories, mutual friends, and then on to current events. I have not done lighting design, though I've hung lights. I have designed some sets. And for the long-gone, much lamented Cornerstone Theater [Christian theater at First Assembly Church], I designed two of the sets for their four all-time productions. As for choreography, I've done a little.
The sequences when Pseudolus dances with the three Proteans as Roman soldiers are hilarious. What's that borrowed from?
The Marx Brothers, *Duck Soup* -- you know, the mirror dance. That's the delightful thing about Pseudolus: Even when his life is on the line, he still loves to get the one-up on people.
[ Jerry freely admits that he has stolen bits from Zero Mostel in the movie, "which I first saw when I was about 12," and from Nathan Lane. "In fact," he says, "the hardest thing about this part is NOT doing Nathan Lane. His personality is just so well suited to this role." And then he rattles off all the YouTube availability of Lane's performance: on Letterman, and some spectator's cell-phone footage of "Comedy Tonight" and "Lovely." Also: "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" has Jason Alexander doing "Comedy Tonight" with what is presumably the original blocking.]

[ 20 Questions Timeout: Jerry and I got to talking about line-memorizing. Tom Heppler told Bobo last week that he writes out all his lines in one big block of text, without any paragraphing or punctuation at all, so as to memorize them without any inflection. (Look for yet another 20 Questions article with Tom right here on this very blog, soon. Jerry hadn't heard about that particular memorization method, but he shared about "clustering" (circling prepositional phrases, for example, to group hard-to-memorize words.) Jerry also shared the "lead-stated-response" method, in which the actor goes through the script and marks each line as making an assertion, stating a fact that needs no further development, or responding to someone else's line. That's great for character development -- if you have mostly response lines, you're probably a sidekick -- though Jerry and I laughed about how when it comes to slapstick comedy, there ain't a lot of character development goin' on, you know?)
And so what about the get an MFA vs. practical work in the theater dilemma? Well, look at Jerry's career as described in No. 1, above. He graduated from high school, and within a year or two, he had launched what became 21 years with the Covenant Players: "I heartily scoff at the MFA option," he says. "Which will probably get me in trouble with a lot of people, including my director [Diana Trotter, theater professor at Whitworth]. Personally, I'm a doer. I learn by doing."
Also: "I was on the road doing theater for 21 years. I've lived my dream." ]

12. What's the scene in a play or movie that always makes you cry?
The end of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE , every time I see it. I usually don't get moved deeply in the theater because I'm watching the play with a critical eye.

13. You have a chance to spend two hours in a room full of paintings by any painter. Which painter do you choose and why?
Norman Rockwell -- cliche, I know, but he's one of my faves. I do cartooning and love his use of line and color.

14. What’s a bad habit you're trying to break?
Filling out question forms.

15. Who used to be your hero but isn't anymore? Do you have any heroes now?
Don't know as I've ever had a hero per se. There are some in the acting field that I look up to and wish I could have 1/10th their talent. Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Kline, to name two.

16. To what extent are the following stereotypes about theater people valid? ... that they're flighty and impractical; that they all smoke; all they do is complain about not getting cast; and they're always "on," always auditioning for their next part.
I don't think I fit any of those. As with any field, there are always stereotypes. They may have some basis in reality -- that's how most stereotypes get started, after all -- but they are usually not valid in everyday life. I mean, don't all newspaper people wear fedoras, smoke, talk REALLY fast, go to any length to get the story?
[ "There is a smoking contingent, yes. And for some reason, they seem to be the ones who are always complaining about how their singing voices are going. Well, duh ..." [ look of disbelief]

17. You're granted a wish to witness once again, in the exact same circumstances, the most thrilling theatrical performance you've ever seen. What was the production? What were the circumstances?
Hmmm ... a production of THE TEMPEST I saw in Boston at age 16 or so. My father took me, and it was the first "real" play I saw. It impressed me as to the power of theater. In a different category, two performances tie for the slot: Marcel Marceau -- our drama class in high school went to see him at the Schubert Theatre in Boston (probably 1975), and Victor Borge -- I believe it was 1995 in Pasadena. He was 80-something and full of vim and vinegar.

18. What book is so good that you have bought copies for other people?
Seriously, the only book I've done this with is the Bible. I've recommended authors to people, but never actually purchased copies.

19. What does contemporary American theater need less of? more of?
Less profanity for the sake of profanity. Sometimes a powerful word fits the need of the scene, but to throw it in every other word just because the playwright wanted to is unnecessary (with the exception of Mamet's NOVEMBER -- that was VERY funny because of the overuse of the word.) More support for original and new material.

20. There are lots of profane and godless people in theater. (And I understand that some of them are even gay.) How has being in theater affected your faith?
It has strengthened it in many ways. Being a Christian in a Christian environment is easy, but being "in the world but not OF the world" is more difficult. I have had more impact on friends and fellow performers by simply living my faith under all circumstances than if I hit them over the head with a Bible.
[ "I remember doing GUYS AND DOLLS with you, and there was one gay guy in the entire cast. And I thought, "What is this? How can this be musical theater?'" [laughs] ]

21. Funniest anecdote from rehearsing and performing at the Civic?
Hmm ... possibly running the dice game during GUYS AND DOLLS, remember? We had the crap game at the opening of Act Two, and I started a game among the cast using the actual numbers rolled in that scene. It cost a buck to get in, and the winner took the pot -- minus 10 percent for my expenses, of course!

{ "I've built a career being the third guy from the end at curtain calls," Jerry says. But at the end of *Forum," he is -- quite deservedly -- the star, the last guy to get the applause. Having seen his Nathan Detroit up close and now his Pseudolus, I can honestly say: Jerry Sciarrio deserves a round of applause from us all. }

[ photos: from newgenerationfilms ("Oh Vey, My Son Is Gay!"): Jerry's headshot; Jerry in drag from "Death and Murder on the Nile"; and, at Spokane Civic Theater in 2003, *Guys and Dolls,* directed by Marilyn Langbehn and with, from left, Buddy Todd, Bobo as Lt. Brannigan, Robert Wamsley as Big Julie, and Jerry Sciarrio as Nathan Detroit ]

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CdA Summer Theater cast lists

Director: Roger Welch (in 14 previous seasons as artistic director of Coeur d'Alene Summer Theatre, has directed 28 shows; appeared here last summer as Thenardier in Les Miz)
Choreographer: Michael Wasileski (in 13 previous seasons at CdA, has choreographed 10 shows and directed three -- Footloose, A Chorus Line and Cats)

Joseph: Steven Booth (UNLV grad who played Pippin here three years ago)
Narrator: Krystle Armstrong (in two previous years at CdA, has played Millie and Cosette; also appeared as Natalie in All Shook Up and in Putting It Together)
Jacob: Jack Bannon (15 shows at CdA, and yes, he was Donovan on Lou Grant)
Pharaoh: James Lane (a graduate of Sam Houston State who has been in three previous productions of *Joseph*)

Brothers: Robby French (in three seasons at CdA: supporting roles in Les Miz, Once Upon a Mattress, The Full Monty, Some Enchanted Evening, Footloose, and Guys and Dolls; leading roles at Spokane Civic Theatre in The Last Five Years and as Jesus in Godspell); Jeffrey Johns (has performed on international tours and also in such roles as Linus, Motel, A-Rab, Peter Pan and Pippin); James Lane; Cameron Lewis (has performed at Bigfork, Interplayers and at the Civic as Will Parker in Oklahoma! and Billy Early in No, No, Nanette; his second season at CdA); Christopher Moll (in recent seasons at CdA, played Will Parker, Orin the Dentist, Munkustrap and Billy Lawlor (in 42nd Street)); Anthony Ong (at CdA in '06, played Ching Ho in Thoroughly Modern Millie; a Fordham grad who has performed in West Side Story and Hairspray in Manila); Justin Ramsey (extensive work in Seattle-area theaters); William Shindler (has also worked at Seattle Musical Theater); Michael Tramontin (graduate of AMDA and Univ. of New Orleans; survivor of Hurricane Katrina); Luke Vroman (a UW grad who has worked at both the 5th Street and Village theaters in Seattle); Josh Wingerter (with multiple credits at Seattle-area theaters, especially the Village Theater in Issaquah)

Wives: Lauren Cluett (in one year at CdA: appeared in All Shook Up and La Cage); Candace Hanson (in three seasons at CdA: Thoroughly Modern Millie, The King and I, A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast, and Footloose); Bonni Kealy (eight shows in three previous seasons at CdA; a grad student in math at WSU); Jessi Little (a CdA High grad who's on her way to TCU; three previous CdA productions); Amanda Wertz (Oklahoma City Univ. grad)

Book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan
Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks
Director and choreographer: Tralen Doler (directed La Cage here and everywhere else last year; at Spokane's defunct Actors Rep Theater, acted in two shows and directed four; extensive musical theater credits)
Conductor: Max Mendez (music director at Spokane's Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral; choir director at NIC; conducted three CdA shows last season and appeared in Les Miz)
Lights by Joel Williamson
Sound by John Gallegos

Max Bialystok: Eric James Hadley (Portland actor with 14 years' experience on cruise lines)
Leo Bloom: Matthew Wade (in one season at CdA: Dennis in All Shook Up, Jean-Michel in La Cage, and Marius in Les Miz; has also toured nationally as Leo Bloom)
Ulla: Jennifer Elise Davis (tours of The Pajama Game and La Cage aux Folles; in one season at CdA, appeared in All Shook Up and La Cage)
Roger: Jerry Christakos (played Albin/"Zaza" in La Cage aux Folles at CdA last summer)
Carmen Ghia: Steven Dahlke (since 1996, has been rehearsal pianist, music director or actor in 50 shows at CdA; teaches in Orange County)
Franz: Patrick Treadway (trained at ACT; has performed at several Spokane-area theaters; previous CdA shows include The Will Rogers Follies, My Fair Lady, Cabaret, Beauty and the Beast; Kiss Me, Kate; and White Christmas (in concert))
Ensemble: Molly Allen (the morning show at The Zoo and several shows at CdA); Lauren Cluett; Robby French; James Lane; Cameron Lewis; Christopher Moll; Anthony Ong; Michael Tramontin; Janie Wallace (an Illinois Wesleyan grad who has toured nationally with Gypsy and Joseph); Amanda Wertz

DAMES AT SEA (July 23-Aug. 2)

Book by George Heimsohn and Robin Miller
Music by Jim Wise
Director: Roger Welch
Choreographed by Tralen Doler
Musical direction by Steven Dahlke
Lights by Michael McGiveney
Sound by John Gallegos

Ruby: Darcy Wright (a CdA native who played Eponine in Les Miz and Bianca in Kiss Me, Kate here last year)
Dick: Nick Wheat (Cal State Fullerton grad who has appeared in three previous seasons at CdA — in '99, as Joseph and in The Pajama Game; in 2000, as Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly! and as part of the quartet in The Music Man; and in 2002, in Anything Goes)
Mona: Ellen Travolta (John's eldest sister; toured in Gypsy with Ethel Merman; well known for Welcome Back, Kotter; Happy Days; Joanie Loves Chachi; and Charles in Charge; previous roles at CdA include Mame, Dolly, Mama Rose and Miss Hannigan, along with Joanne in Company, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes, Berthe in Pippin and Jeannette in The Full Monty)
Lucky: Christopher Moll
Joan: Jennifer Elise Davis
Captain/Hennessey: Jerry Christakos

MISS SAIGON (Aug. 8-22)

Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil
Music by Claude-Michel Schonberg
Director: Kirk Mouser (on national tours and Broadway, has played Marius and Raoul, along with other roles; directed Les Miz here last summer; artistic director of Portland's Stumptown Stages)
Conductor: Chris Thompson (asst. prof. of voice at UI; last summer at CdA, conducted All Shook Up and played Georges in La Cage and Enjolras in Les Miz; will music-direct two shows at Idaho Rep this summer and will conduct Anything Goes at Lyric Opera San Diego)
Choreographer: Michael Wasileski
Musical direction by Chris Thompson
PSM: Dawn Taylor Reinhardt
Lights by Joel Williamson
Sound by John Gallegos

Kim: Mia Yoshida (WSU freshman who played Kim last year at Lewis and Clark High School)
Chris: Dane Stokinger (in two previous seasons at CdA: Jerry in The Full Monty, Man No. 2 in Putting It Together, Paul in Kiss Me, Kate, Chad in All Shook Up, Sir Harry in Once Upon a Mattress, and ensemble in Les Miz; also played Chris on a national tour)
The Engineer: Brian Jose (in one season at CdA: Bun Foo in Thoroughly Modern Millie; a SAG and Equity actor who has played the Engineer or Thuy in seven previous productions of Miss Saigon)
John: Matthew Wade
Thuy: Eymard Meneses Cabling (a Carnegie Mellon grad who has played both Thuy and, on tour, The Engineer)
Ellen: Jessica Skerritt (Seattle actor making her CdA debut)

Ensemble: Cody Bray (NIC student); Kimanh Nguyen Conway (Opera CdA); Matt Frasier (first season at CdA); Robby French; Lorna Hamilton (director and choreographer, veteran of several Spokane-area productions, including Mama Drama at the Civic); Loresa Lanceta (has worked off-Broadway and regionally); Whitney Lee (Northwestern and NYU grad who has also worked off-Broadway and regionally); Glen Llanes (has toured in Asia with The King and I; this is his CdA debut); Cameron Lewis; Andrew Ware Lewis (in one season at CdA, appeared in Kiss Me, Kate; has played leading roles at Spokane Civic Theatre in Singin' in the Rain, Hello, Dolly! and Assassins; teaches at Northwest Christian); Carl Man (born and raised in the UK; has played Aladdin at Disneyland and Joseph, Prince Charming and Tony (in West Side Story) on Royal Caribbean cruises); Christopher Moll; Tsubasa Ogawa (born in Japan, she attended the New School in New York); Anthony Ong; Jay Paranada (PLU grad and Seattle native who has worked in New York theaters; this is his CdA debut); Yvonne Same (a UC Irvine grad who has toured with Miss Saigon and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and who has played Yum-Yum, Peter Pan, Medea and Kim (in Miss Saigon) regionally); Allison Standley (UW grad who has worked with Seattle Shakespeare Company and will appear in "The Grind Show" (which she co-wrote) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; this is her fourth season at CdA); Tiara Yong (Hawaii native, now lives in New York)

Costume designer for all shows: Judith McGiveney (costumer for seven years on Murphy Brown; has worked extensively at Lake City Playhouse and NIC; here at CdA, has designed 39 productions)
Scenic designer for all shows: Michael McGiveney (before designing for the last eight years at CdA, worked with Walt Disney Imagineering for seven years)


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Hallie presents

For promotional reasons, the Tony presenters naturally include actors of currently running shows that might perhaps benefit from a little mention on a certain CBS show on June 7 that's we all know is only watched by geezers, gay men and theater hos like your very own Bobo. Take names like Fonda and (Colin) Hanks, Graham and Platt -- they're in, respectively, 33 Variations and Guys and Dolls, so of course they get selected to present. But I just want to say -- Hallie Foote -- daughter of the Man, I only know her by reputation, she's supposed to be great in "Dividing the Estate* but THAT'S who I wish we could see more of.
And as for scenes from plays -- for a four-minute scene, they could be re-staged and shot for TV in a way that wouldn't feel like single camera filming from 50 feet away.

[ photo from Hallie and Horton Foote ]

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

*In the Heights* doc

PBS will be airing a documentary on the making of Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical at various times on Great Performances, Thursday-Sunday.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

To Co-Produce or Not To Produce

Leonard Jacobs (with whom Bobo spent a couple of weeks writing theater reviews at the O'Neill in Connecticut in the summer of ought-four; a great guy) has a *Backstage* article about theaters doing co-productions and even merging. Both the Seattle Rep and Intiman (shared costume shop) and Idaho & Great Lakes Shakespeare Festivals (shared everything) are mentioned.
Here in Spokane, we have the one-off example of Interplayers and Lake City Playhouse having shared a production of *The Rainmaker* in September of ought-seven.

Could co-productions be a way here of theaters surviving the recession? Could co-productions break down petty turf protection and reinvigorate actors, directors and techies by cross-fertilizing people who have, after all, similar interests?

[ photo: Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise; from ]

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

*Is This Love?* from June 5-14 at SCC

A lighthearted collection of scenes about men, women, love and relationships, written by Chris A. Shipley.
Fridays-Saturdays, June 5-6 and June 12-13, at 7:30 pm; Sundays, June 7 and June 14, at 2 pm, at SCC's Lair, Bldg. 6, Greene St. and Mission Ave.
Tickets: $5; $4, students.
Directed by SCC theater and film arts instructor Adam Sharp with a cast of 13.
Call 533-7387.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Tonys: Making speeches and scenes

At the Tonys, why do mobs of producers get up onstage to accept the Best Play awards but not the playwrights? And why do they produce big musical numbers but not scenes from non-musical plays? Some remarks and quotes from Michael Riedel.

[ photo: Michael Riedel of the N.Y. Post at ]

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

review of *A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum*

on Spokane Civic Theater's Main Stage through June 14

They only get one actual rimshot from the drummer in the band. They could have gotten 50: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is filled with giggly sex-farce jokes of the ogling kind.

Since its premiere back when JFK was president, Forum has featured the ogling and chuckling of middle-aged men, appraising the girlie-girls while singing early Stephen Sondheim songs. The suits are eyeballing the secretaries. It’s like Mad Men, musicalized and in togas.

Fortunately, the Spokane Civic’s Forum (through June 14) has Jerry Sciarrio in the central witty-slave role of Pseudolus. Sciarrio trips and skips and grimaces, always improvising, always calculating. His arms are crossed in consternation, then he beats himself in frustration; his fingers quiver whenever he’s hatching a new scheme. With his quick-thinking, forehead-slapping, twisting and turning antics, Sciarrio’s Pseudolus is so inventive, so out there in out-thinking his simple-minded masters, that it’s just a delight to observe him. He appeals both to the brain and the funny bone.

His best bits involve silly vaudeville steps with three Roman soldiers. He prances, they prance; he skips, they skip; he executes a five-step Lindy Hop, they fall all over themselves. Literally. It’s intricate, funny stuff for which choreographer Suzanne Ostersmith deserves credit along with the swift-footed Sciarrio. He’s so good that — given his previous seasons’ Nathan Detroit (in Guys and Dolls) and Sgt. Luther Billis (in South Pacific) — Pseudolus feels like the role that Sciarrio was destined to play.

There are other delights as well. Robert Wamsley as Senex — with a reprieve from his domineering wife and a real chance at a beautiful young virgin — is delightfully light on his feet for “Everybody Ought To Have a Maid.” The moments when he’s joined by one, two, three other men — all reveling in harmless fantasizing about the good life — is delightful. Wamsley’s confused sidelong glances during the father-son confusions of “Impossible” enlivened even that less memorable song.

For the sake of the Big Reveal — uncovering David Baker’s exceptional set — director Diana Trotter pays the price (yes, it’s in the script, but let’s have some fun) of isolating Sciarrio and the three overacting Proteans in front of the curtain.

It’s a small-scale, slow opening to what eventually builds into the raucous, energetic and justly famous opening number, “Comedy Tonight.” Why not party from the get-go?

Baker’s colorful and detailed set, evoking antiquity with just a dash of the cartoonish, is worth the surprise. Roman statues loom above slanted roofs, striking the right mix of distinguished and loony.

Gary Pierce has spent years mugging on local stages, but now he has found the role that’s actually suited to them — and it’s a guy named Hysterium. Who runs around in drag. A lot. Frantically. With his eyes bugging out.

Nonetheless, Pierce has some masterful moments: a drawn-out double-take when the mast ... mistress? unexpectedly returns home, along with the entire “dead bride” and macho soldier sequence. (It’s complicated.)

And it’ll be interesting to see if a couple of promising newcomers to Civic — Callie Bley as the airhead, Lauralynn “Lulu” Stafford as the shrewish wife — will reappear in other, less broad roles.

All their antics are in the service of har-har titillation. In the early ‘60s, when being labeled a “fairy” could be a career-killer (or worse), tension over gender roles led to guffaws of release every time a man in drag or a bossy woman showed up. Today, lots of folks have figured out that sexuality’s a continuum, that gender roles aren’t rigid: less tension, less humor.

But c’mon, a man in drag is always funny.

Yes, indeedy, though telling the same joke three times to make sure that we get that the blonde is an airhead? Not so much. These gags aren’t just old, they’re fossilized.

The best laughs arrive when cast and script turn ironic. Being “Lovely” may be all that Bley’s Barbie-doll character can manage, but Sondheim’s swaying tune sheds its condescending tone and revs up the laughs when it’s reprised by Sciarrio and Pierce, who has circles of rouge on his cheeks because he’s wearing a bridal veil. And when Sciarrio is confronted with the gee-whiz enthusiasm of the young male lead (who’s named Hero and played by Jesse Ward), his sarcasm mocks musical-theater conventions. (As the braggart soldier, Shawn Hudson has great fun with self-mockery too.)

Half a century later, I guess we’re less patriarchal and more ironic. But as the audience left the theater after the show, I wasn’t the only one humming about four of Forum’s catchiest tunes: “”Comedy Tonight,” “Lovely” and “Everybody Ought To Have a Maid.” And still laughing over the madcap goofiness of the final door-slamming sequence that Trotter had engineered.
The Civic’s
Forum was an often entertaining production of an often behind-the-times musical.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Slowly leaving Seattle

Bartlett Sher is slowly leaving Seattle, and the Intiman will slowly name a successor, as Lynn Jacobsen reports in Variety.
[photo: Variety]

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Broadway grows up

Maybe it's a sign for theater everywhere -- even for theater that's in a city on the edge of a state that's stuck in a corner of the Union.
In the New York Times, Ben Brantley cites the ongoing Broadway season as surprisingly profitable and serious.
Read through his season review. Consider all the play titles. Is there an old-fashioned, inoffensive, nice light comedy among them?
And half of Broadway's business involves tourists.
Theater, at its best, can be thoughtful and visceral, immediate. In an era of airhead celebrity gossip and mindless Twitter crap, there are some folks willing to pay to see plays that aren't derived from comic books, the tried and true, or theater museums.

[ photo: Konstantin Stanislavsky as Trigorin and Maria Roksanova as Nina in Moscow Art Theatre's 1898 production of Chekhov's *The Seagull* (because Kristin Scott Thomas was so good in *Seagull* last year as Mme. Arkadina) ]

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Doogie Tonys

Neil Patrick Harris will host the Tonys on June 7.
Check out the very funny video of Harris hosting the TV Land Awards.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

*A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum* -- Philia, Hero, Hysterium and Pseudolus

at Spokane Civic Theatre's Main Stage, May 15-June 14, 2009
directed by Diana M. Trotter

[photo by Josh Smith -- in back: Callie Bley as Philia and Jesse Ward as Hero
In foreground: Gary Pierce as Hysterium and Jerry Sciarrio as Pseudolus ]

Opened on Broadway 47 years ago this week with Zero Mostel as Pseudolus and Jack Gilford as Hysterium.
Jerome Robbins, of course, is the one who insisted that the show needed a rousing opening number -- which inspired Sondheim to write "Comedy Tonight."
Based on three plays written 2,200 years ago by the Roman playwright Plautus.
Erich Segal wrote translations of Plautus -- his translation of *Miles Gloriosus,* for example, appeared in 1969, the year before *Love Story* (the novel; the Ali McGraw-Ryan O'Neal movie appeared in '71); Segal continues to this day as a classics scholar.
All three actors who have played Pseudolus on Broadway (Mostel '62, Phil Silvers '72, Nathan Lane '96) have won the Tony for Best Actor.
The 1966 film was Buster Keaton's last; he played Erronius. Michael Crawford (as in Phantom)) was Hero. Mostel and Gilford reprised their stage roles from four years before. Michael Hordern (distinguished British actor, played King Lear and Prospero in the BBC Shakespeare series of 1978-84) played Senex. But the movie cuts Pseudolus' song "Free," which he sings right after making the deal with Hero and falling out of a tree. The movie, in fact, cuts much of Sondheim's score.

Pseudolus is the laziest slave in Rome. He yearns to be "Free." When Senex and Domina leave town, Pseudolus gathers that their son Hero has the hots for the virgin-among-courtesans next door, Philia. If Pseudolus procures the girl for Hero, can he gain his freedom? Well, there are a few complications along the way.

The two houses next door belong to Marcus Lycus, the pimp for a house of ill repute, and Erronius, who's out wandering around and looking for his long-lost son and daughter.

Philia has been promised to Miles Gloriosus ("braggart soldier"). So Pseudolus convinces Marcus Lycus that Philia caught the plague in Crete -- she really needs to be sequestered over at Hero's house. But Marcus Lycus insists that Philia ultimately belongs to the army captain.
So Pseudolus concocts a story about how Philia has died of the plague -- which requires him to get her a sleeping potion that will mimic death. Then Philia and Hero can stow away on a boat and be together. Pseudolus gets a recipe for a sleeping potion from Hysterium, the head slave; all he lacks is a key ingredient, mare's sweat.

But then Senex returns home unexpectedly, and things get complicated. For reasons too complicated to go into, Philia throws herself at Senex (thinking that he is the army captain), and he's only too happy to play along; Senex decides to take a bath in Erronius' house, just before the latter returns from his wandering; Erronius is convinced that his own house is haunted, and so Pseudolus sends him on a wild goose chase all around Rome, just to be rid of him.

Miles Gloriosus turns up to claim his bride, which causes Pseudolus to impersonate Marcus Lycus and come up with a not-very-good lie. The army captain gets suspicious, and Pseudolus looks to be in a really tight spot. When Domina shows up, worried that her husband Senex might be engaging in some hanky-panky, she disguises herself in a virginal white robe and veil -- just like Philia, and just like Hysterium, who's in drag because ... oh, just go see the show.

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Gymnasia and Pseudolus

Jess Liles as Gymnasia and Jerry Sciarrio as Pseudolus in the Spokane Civic Theater production of Stephen Sondheim's *A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1962)
directed by Diana Trotter

*A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum*

at Spokane Civic Theater
May 15-June 14, 2009
directed by Professor Diana M. Trotter of the Whitworth University Theater Arts Department
with Jerry Sciarrio as Pseudolus and Thomas Heppler as Marcus Lycus

[ photos by Josh Smith for The Pacific Northwest Inlander ]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Interplayers Gala, May 19

Tuesday, May 19, from 5-7:30 pm
at Spokane Interplayers Ensemble, Second and Howard
455-PLAY or 325-SEAT

Some cast members from *Çowgirls* will reunite to sing a few songs; Tamara Schupman will also sing; Reed McColm will direct a one-act featuring Maria Caprile, Bethany Hart, Keith Hahto and Danielle Martin: Thornton Wilder's "The Happy Journey from Camden to Trenton," about a family in 1931 on a road trip across New Jersey; and there will be appetizers from D'Zaar Catering and Red Dragon Delivery; along with both silent and live auctions.

[ photo: Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) in 1948 as Mr. Antrobus in *The Skin of Our Teeth* ]


Thursday, May 07, 2009

*Heidi* at SCC, May 16-31

Spokane Children's Theatre
A musical stage version of Johanna Spyri's classic novel of hope and renewal, with
Kayla Jennings as Heidi, Dennis Craig as the Alm Uncle, Maddie Tappa as Clara and Kevin Kuban as Professor Weberdorf

Sat May 16 at 1 pm
Sun May 17 at b1 pm and 4pm
Sat May 23 at 1 pm
Sun May 24 at 1 pm
Sat May 30 at 10 am* and 1 pm*
Sun May 31 at 1 pm and 4 pm
(* for the hearing-impaired)

Tickets: $10; $8, children
SCC is at 1810 N. Greene St.

[ Warning to parents: If you Google images of "Heidi," what you get is supermodel Heidi Klum in various stages of undress. Which, while Bobo himself found far from objectionable, he might not particularly want to try explaining to an 8-year-old. Better to go with Shirley Temple instead, from ]

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audition for *Complete History*

Ignite! Community Theater needs three men (with musical and improv experience preferred) to try out on
Sunday-Monday, May 17-18 at 7 pm
The Blue Door Theater, 815 W. Garland Ave.
Performances: July 3-12 (the play will be performed as part of the Fourth of July Celebration in Riverfront Park)

*The Complete History of America, Abridged*
Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor

[ poster: from ]

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

*The Affections of May* — her three suitors

at the Civic, May 8-31
directed by Heather McHenry-Kroetch
from left: Andrew Biviano as Hank (that carrot becomes a running joke in this show), Brad Picard as Quinn, and Paul Villabrille as Brian (May's husband). Chasity Kohlman plays the title role in Norm Foster's comedy.
See Bobo's preview in the May 7 *Inlander.*

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The Affections of May

by Norm Foster
at the Civic's Studio Theater
May 8-31, 2009
(Left to right) Andrew Biviano, Paul Villabrille, Chasity Kohlman and Brad Picard pose for a photograph for a production of *The Affections of May*
Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre at the Spokane Civic Theatre
Spokane, Wash.
Thursday, April 30, 2009 (Young Kwak Special to the Pacific Northwest Inlander)

May's three suitors

The Affections of May
May 8-31, 2009
by Norm Foster
directed by Heather McHenry-Kroetch
Spokane Civic Theater's Firth J. Chew Studio Theater

from left: Paul Villabrille as Brian Henning, Andrew Biviano as Hank ("from the bank"), Chasity Kohlman as May Henning, and Brad Picard as Quinn

Reading newish plays

Bobo's been reading ...

Stephen Adly Guirgis, *Our Lady of 121st Street*
Funniest confessional scene I've ever encountered. A beloved nun has died and her corpse has been stolen. The down-and-outers who were once her Catholic school kids try, in their feeble ways, to honor her. Guirgis's sarcasm is acidic, but after this and *The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,* I'm a fan. He combines black comedy with genuine spiritual questing: dark theological farce.

Gina Gionfriddo, *Becky Shaw*
This what a *Law & Order* writer can do when you take away the formulaic requirements and the censors. The mother and adoptive (?) brother have a couple of the most venomous mouths in theatrical memory. Becky's interesting, but the play is really about the sister. Cast of five. Gionfriddo discusses the state of American theater with Adam Rapp in the Brooklyn Rail, Nov. 2007.

Christopher Durang, *Miss Witherspoon*
She dies and resists being reincarnated. Cast of about six. Another theological black comedy, but lighter in tone than Guirgis, and more hopeful (in a qualified way) at the end. Miss W's spiritual advisors include a black female Jesus and Tolkien's Gandalf. Durang has long been undervalued, in my view, mostly because I feel closest to him of all contemporary American playwrights: the way-past-lapsed-Catholic anger, the love of movies and absurdity, the insistence on asking uncomfortable questions, the sheer love of silliness.

Lee Blessing, *Great Falls*
A two-hander rage-filled road trip with a middle-aged man and college-age woman. Starts out seeming to be about kidnapping, sexual abuse and the effects of divorce, then veers in a different direction entirely. Each scene in a different small town, including Kalispell (so it has a regional link for us here). Full of laugh-out-loud lines -- and anger that turns out to be justified, but not for the reasons you'd expect.

Itamar Moses, *The Four of Us*
Two young men, in scenes that are jumbled chronologically, watch their friendship crumble when one of them writes a highly successful first novel. Same massive intelligence as in *Bach at Leipzig,* but in a completely different, contemporary idiom. He finds a way to make the play coil in on itself like a Mobius strip, as reviewers have noted, so that it comments on its own development even as its action, and your understanding of that action, is still developing. Hilarious scene with an oversize teddy bear. Big demands on the two actors. Fame, friendship, our need for emotional validation.

Under the 3/24/09 post below on *Waiting for Godot,* see David Andrews' comments on 3/30 and 3/31, excerpted below. I don't know Andrews, but I sure would like to meet him, because while I disagree with him that *Godot* is dated (and deserves to be lumped in with other out-of-date plays like those of Neil Simon!), I very much agree with his list of plays that could and should be done in Spokane. (Apologies for taking so ridiculously long to comment on Andrews' postings.)

On 3/31/09, Andrews listed:
Closer by Patrick Marber, Angels in America or Homebody/Kabul by Tony Kushner, A Number by Carol Churchill, Crave by Sarah Kane, A Prayer for my Enemy by Craig Lucas... should it come available how about Black Watch by Gergory Burke?... Valparaiso by Don Delillo, The Mercy Seat by Neil LaBute, Polish Joke by David Ives, Topdog/Underdog by Susan Lori-Parks, The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, Take me Out by Richard Greenberg, Wit by Margaret Edson, The Goat, or Who is Syliva by Edward Albee, The Coast of Utopia or Rock 'n' Roll by Tom Stoppard... just to start. but more importantly how about commisioning new works? Or finding little performed new works?

As Andrews notes, he can't be alone in wishing that Spokane theaters would stop assuming that recognizable titles from 50 years ago are pre-sold to an older audience and therefore safe bets at the box office. Inoffensive comedies that don't have any bad words in them, just because they were written within the last 10 years, aren't demonstrating anything new.

And how often have you heard of situations in which something controversial increased attention rather than simply garnering criticism and cancellations? Bobo wants to point out just one title in Andrews' list: The Pillowman. Police state, torture, abusive parenting, terrorism, scary children's stories, copycat killers.
God, why would anybody want to see that?
And some WILL be offended. Why is that the worst possible modern-day sin? To take a counter-example: I wouldn't be offended by plays lionizing Rush Limbaugh or mega-church pastors or rabid Libertarians. I'd very much want to see plays about those topics; I want to keep refining my view of politics.
Somebody produces Pillowman, and some season subscribers will cancel. Oh, the horror. But quite possibly, even more people will think to themselves, Well, it's about time. The art form that has the potential for way more visceral impact than TV and film (up close, in your face, actors acting emotions just 12 feet away) has come around to pissing some people off.
They must be doing something right.
I think I'll buy a ticket to see what all the ruckus is about.

{ photo: Gina Gionfriddo, from ]

[ photo: Lee Blessing,, William Inge Theater Center, Independence, Kansas ]

[ photo: Itamar Moses, from ]

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*Billy* is dancin'

Variety reports that *Billy Elliott* has earned 15 Tony nominations.
It looks like *Billy* for new musical (vs. "Next to Normal"); "God of Carnage" for New Play (vs. "Dividing the Estate"); "Hair" for Revival Musical (vs. "West Side Story"); and *The Norman Conquests* for Revival Play (vs. *Mary Stuart*).
But another big story is how many good actors were left unnominated for plays: Kristin Scott Thomas for *The Seagull*; three of the four cast members in *Godot*; all of the *All My Sons* cast; and more.
The show's on Sunday, June 7, on CBS.

ADDED May 6:
Charles McNulty in the L.A. Times discusses the strong competition in New Play and Revival Play while taking a swipe at the slim pickin's in New Musical (and not lamenting, too much, the absence of the Dolly Parton vehicle, *9 to 5*).

ADDED May 8:
Jeremy Gerard at Bloomberg agrees that some actors (like Frank Langella) got snubbed, and that lots of Tony voters demonstrably aren't following the rules and aren't going to all the shows they're supposedly sitting in judgement upon. Naughty, naughty Tony voters.
And Tom O'Neil at The Envelope reminds us that the three boys sharing the nomination for *Billy Elliott* isn't the only time that multiple actors have been nominated for the same Tony acting award. What's more, you know -- or SHOULD know -- when that happened for the first (and still most bizarre) time. Trivia hour!

ADDED June 1:
Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune,0,7036839.story
praises Billy Elliott and God of Carnage.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Know any good plays about the Iraq War?

In the Orange County Register's Arts Blog, Paul Hudgins reckons that David Hare's *Stuff Happens* is the only really high-quality Iraq War play so far, but that plays respond to political events much more quickly than movies and that Bill Cain and Howard Korder uncorked a couple of good new plays at the Pacific Playwrights Festival.

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*Greater Tuna* at the Panida on Wednesday

*Greater Tuna*
Wednesday, May 6, at 7:30 pm
Panida Theater, Sandpoint, Idaho
(208) 263-9191

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Local playwrights at the Civic, June 5-6

The Civic has rebooted its Playwrights Festival Forum with a "Harnetiaux and Hosking Weekend":

On Friday-Saturday, June 5-6, at 8 pm
Bryan Harnetiaux's Holding On — Letting Go (the third part of his end-of-life trilogy that began with Vesta and Dusk), in a workshop reading.

On Saturday, June 6, at 2 pm
Sandra Hosking's Detours, "a full-length comedy about succumbing to the pressures of working in the corporate world. A journey of self-discovery reveals an array of crazy characters and a realization that office life doesn't bring true happiness." (directed by Toni Cummins)

at the Civic's Studio Theater

{ photo: Bryan Harnetiaux, from Duke Divinity School,; *Vesta* was produced and talk-backed at Duke in spring 2008 ]

[ photo: Sandra Hosking, from Get Lit! at ]

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Friday, May 01, 2009

WSU eliminates theater and dance departments

As reported on KXLY and on Huckleberries Online.

Which elicited the following uninformed response, which is exactly why a college education in a wide variety of majors leads to a fuller, more examined life.

Digger on May 01 at 10:50 a.m.
I've never understood why one needs a degree in dancing. You can either dance or you can't and the best way to learn is to just do it. Same with theater - so why do you need a degree?
Cuts to academic programs have been necessary for a long time and elimination of programs like this (which I would equate to a degree in underwater basket weaving) is what our country needs.

People can just do accounting or structural engineering, so why not just let them handle the spreadsheets and the bridge-building whenever they feel like it?