Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wrestling with Willy Loman

There's talk of a Mike Nichols-Phillip Seymour Hoffman-Linda Emond Death of a Salesman on Broadway in 2011, according to Michael Riedel in the New York Post.

Bobo likes the idea of of PSH as Willy Loman; and he likes Riedel's irreverent tone toward Nichols' directing (and, especially, his Seagull) — no sacred cows here; and he especially likes Brian Dennehy's comments about "wrestling" with a great role for six months.
Which brings up a (conveniently localizing) thought: In a town where plays run for five weeks max (and usually much less), how does anyone really sink their teeth into monumental (or merely challenging) role?

What Bobo thinks he thinks: If Dennehy needs six months, then none of us locally are achieving the maximum in short runs. Possible partial solution: long-time pre-rehearsal preparation. (I'm thinking Brian Gunn in Buddy and what Damon Mentzer is doing for Richard III at SFCC next year: Total immersion, totally running with it even before the table reading, so that maybe, just maybe, by the end of a short run — and long after those picky critics see it on opening night — a given role can achieve full fruition.)

[ photo: Brian Dennehy in Death of a Salesman; from ]

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

*Buddy* review

Rock ‘n’ roll’s Father, Son and Holy Ghost

(at Spokane Civic Theatre through Oct. 24)

He didn’t want any plucking restraint. He wanted thrashing passion.
Buddy Holly aimed to turn sedate country music into ravenous rock ‘n’ roll.

And on the strength of Yvonne Johnson’s audience-participating directing style and Brian Gunn’s likable performance in the title role, the Civic’s Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story turns jukebox nostalgia into a rousing of the rock ‘n’ roll rabble.
As Buddy, Gunn is even more than a singing-dancing-acting triple-threat: He quintuples his impact by shredding his Strat and looking good in horn-rims, too. Gunn’s acting rings the changes from nervous kid to defiant artist, from gentle balladeer to rockin’ rebel. “Rave on and tell me/ Not to be lonely," he sings toward the end. "Tell me you love me only/ Rave on to me.”

Johnson and co-music directors Jim Ryan and Michael Saccomanno succeed in showing Buddy’s development as a musician, the build-up to all his raving on. When the Crickets are still playing roller rinks — and in their initial recording sessions — they sound tentative and rough. By the time they’re recording “Everyday” and signing contracts, though, they’re rocketing up the charts.

Along the way, however, the intra-band squabbles and fights with producers lacked conviction. And during the first half of opening night, unfortunately, the sound balance was off, with Gunn’s guitar amped too high and his mic turned too low. As a result, the wonder of being in on the recording of “That’ll Be the Day” and the surprising-the-black-folks impact of “Peggy Sue” at the Apollo was lessened.
But the balance got restored after intermission. And while Act Two contains too much clunky exposition, the payoff is exciting. Johnson sends bobby-soxers screaming down the aisles and distributing programs in a you-are-there simulation of Buddy’s final concert.

David Baker’s designs, remarkably, provide a dozen different settings, with the lived-in grime of a New Mexico recording studio particularly impressive.
Casandra Marie Hayes is engaging as Buddy’s wife Maria Elena, but isn’t given much to do — she’s even cut out of the couple’s final phone call.
As performers at the Apollo, David Allen McElroy and Keyonna Knight create an urban vibe with sassy dance moves. Knight is also one of the five dancers who, along with nine musicians, stoke the final concert’s fire. Choreographers Troy Nickerson and Jillian Wylie have ordered up finger-snaps and preacher poses, crossed arms and Watusi wiggles.

On opening night, vintage cars were on display and and root beer floats were served out in the parking lot, adding to the party atmosphere. And Johnson's direction adds verisimilitude by having bobby-soxers scream down the aisles and handing out programs to the Feb. 2, 1959 concert that would have a tragic aftermath.

On that frigid Iowa night in ‘59, Jhon Goodwin — joshing and flirting as the Big Bopper — exudes confident stage presence. As Ritchie Valens, Paul Villabrille got laughs for his pelvic thrusts but earned approving whoops for how he tore into “La Bamba.”
It’s unexpectedly moving to watch Buddy and the Bopper join in on that song with Valens when you know it’s their last night on earth.
The report of their deaths, when it arrives, is sudden. But it’s handled without schmaltz, and soon the encores and curtain calls restore a rousing sense of being in at the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.
Buddy Holly stood for genre-bustin’ creativity and youthful rebellion, and Johnson’s production conveys the joy and sadness of his meteoric two years of fame. The Day the Music Died, we all lost.

At the final concert, Buddy sings, “Oh boy, when you're with me/ Oh boy, the world can see/ That you were meant for me.”
Buddy Holly’s music was meant for all of us, and Johnson’s production celebrates it. Rave on.

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story • Thurs-Sat at 7:30 pm; Sun at 2 pm; through Oct. 24 • Tickets: $28 (top); $10, student rush • Spokane Civic Theatre • 1020 N. Howard St. • Visit: • Call: 325-2507

A condensed version of this review will appear on Thursday, Sept. 30, in The Pacific Northwest Inlander.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Ten greatest stage actors of all time

What Bobo thinks he thinks is that making this list is probably even more prestigious than winning a Spokie.
(At least the English think so.)

Living: Gambon, McKellen, Rylance (pictured)
Female: Dench, Redgrave, Smith
Dead: Gielgud, Olivier, Richardson, Scofield


Thursday, September 23, 2010

*Alegria* review

Bobo attended the Spokane premiere on Wednesday night of Cirque du Soleil: Alegria at the Arena and live-blogged it. (Well, after-the-fact blogged it, actually.)
For all the exhausting detail, visit Bloglander on The Inlander website's home page (or check out the Stage Thrust entries there under "Blogs").


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

*Buddy* photos

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story
Sept. 24-Oct. 24 at Spokane Civic Theatre (just east of the Spokane Arena)
Thurs-Sat 7:30 pm, Sun 2 pm
Tickets: $28; $26, seniors; $20, students; $10, student rush

From Lubbock to Nashville, from the Apollo Theater in Harlem to a dreary Iowa cornfield, follow the career of the rock 'n' roll pioneer in horn-rim glasses.

with Brian Gunn as Buddy Holly, Paul Villabrille as Ritchie Valens and Jhon Goodwin as the Big Bopper

book by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson
directed by Yvonne A.K. Johnson
music direction by Mike Saccamanno and Jim Ryan
choreography by Troy Nickerson and Jillian Wylie

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Mamet and Rebeck win PEN awards

David Mamet just won for master dramatist; and Theresa Rebeck, for mid-career dramatist. 
Novelist Dan DeLillo won the big award. Go here for samples of their work.
PEN (poets, playwrights, essayists, editors and novelists was founded in NYC in 1922.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

*Evita* review

at Lake City Playhouse through Oct. 10
(long version; for print on Sept. 23 in The Inlander, this'll have to be cut in half)

They’re the moments when you hold your breath.
They’re the big solo dramatic songs in musical theater: “The Impossible Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” “Send in the Clowns,” “Rose’s Turn.” Everybody knows the tune, everybody’s hoping for good but fearing they’ll get less, and no one’s really expecting tonight’s performance to live up to any ideals.

Singing the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, Alyssa Day appears early on as the young, dark-haired social climber. Day briefly sings “Don’t cry for me,” but director Abbey Crawford had turned it into a trio with two other women, and it didn’t have the big build-up that the set-piece aria gets early in Act Two. (Everybody knows the big moment arrives soon after intermission.)
So the political-rally scene finally arrives, and Day comes out in her glittering white princess dress, and she holds hands with her husband, Juan Peron, and a dozen people in the crowd are clamoring for her, and she ascends her little rostrum, and she sings the opening two warm-up verses (“I had to let it happen, I had to change“), but those are just for building up the suspense, and then she hits the chorus (imploring the people not to cry for her, when you know that she wants them to cry for her), and she hit it solid, she really knocked it out of the park — she spread her arms wide and created moments of vocal beauty, and you could feel the relief and the happiness in the audience, that whatever shortcomings this production might have (and it has them, how could it not?), the ticket-buyers could go home feeling that “Well, they got that right, they got Evita’s big highlight-reel sequence right.”
It was a stirring, lyrical moment, full of Evita’s admirable/flawed character (her sincere desire to help the common people, her sincere desire to glorify herself), and Day sang it with full-throated expression, and it was simply lovely.

And then a remarkable thing happened.
The chorus had been chanting Evita’s name, but now they were humming along. Day, though, remained facing forward, facing the audience, as if we were the shirtless ones, Evita’s beloved descamisados. And several playgoers seated near me started humming along — even the husband who’d been dragged along by his wife, he was humming along too.
A fleeting moment of interactivity turned us into political reformers — and it made Day’s appeal as Evita all the more alluring.

But let’s not get carried away here. This is still a community-theater production of Evita. The big emotional crescendos sometimes sound tinny (and lacking in fullness) when performed by just two keyboards, guitar and drums. Dance steps were often predictable, hesitant, over-crowded. In the narrator role of Che Guevara, Todd Kehne lacks vocal power. Almost nobody onstage looks even vaguely Hispanic. Long stretches of Act Two lean too much on politics and not enough on melody. Both the stage direction and the musical direction opt for a deliberate pace. (An artistic choice, or just the performers’ tentativeness?)

On the positive side, Abbey Crawford directs inventively, with scenes sometimes divided in thirds and developing rapidly; with surprise entrances; and with boisterous crowd scenes (despite limited numbers).
As Evita’s first boyfriend-tool, Agustin Magaldi, Dan McKeever adds hip-shimmies and exaggerated modulations to “On This Night of a Thousand Stars,” making the character’s celebrity-appeal more persuasive (and amusing) than in most productions. When he needs to, McKeever can project impressively.
Kehne pulls off the cynicism of Che’s narrator role with a sarcastic, hands-in-pockets stroll and convincing anger in his shouted cries of revolutionary defiance, and he effectively leads a harmonizing male trio during the dismissal of Peron’s earlier mistress, “Another Suitcase, Another Hall.” The crowd energy for the first-act finale, “A New Argentina,” was strong.
Kent Kimball, full of stentorian solemnity as Juan Peron, knows how to enact a song’s nuances, as when he stands on the balcony of the Casa Rosada and pretends to be a general who’s pretending to have populist sentiments (“our great nation is awakening”).
Both Perons flirt politically (and otherwise, and well) in “Charity Concert” (“I’d be surprisingly good for you”).
In addition to her singing (which during Act One, truth be told, got screechy and indistinct in the higher register), Day’s acting is effective. When Evita rises to power, for example, Day is visibly more confident and flirtier. During Eva’s final decline, it wasn’t just a quick makeup job that made Day seem visibly ill and weakened.
Jamie Russell’s costumes — Evita’s gowns, the gaggle of high-society women all in black, Magaldi’s sequined vest — created illusions of grandeur on (what was presumably) a limited budget.

All in all, Lake City’s new regime change under Generalissimo George Green (its new executive artistic director) has taken on an ambitious production and largely succeeded with it. Day, in particular, excels in the title role. Not only does she sing beautifully, but she’s also convincing as a social climber and social reformer who wants to leave Argentina a better place.
Similarly, under Green’s leadership, Lake City has made strides. The place just feels different — new signs, new paint, new lots of things, and a new feeling throughout. If the playhouse can achieve this much positive change in just the few months since Green took over, then the rest of its 50th season is likely on an upward trajectory.
Maybe then even more folks will fill the seats — and when the big moments come, maybe they’ll hold their breath.

Evita has scheduled the revolution for Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through Oct. 10 at Lake City Playhouse, 1320 E. Garden Ave., Coeur d’Alene. Tickets: $19; $17, veterans and students; $15, seniors; $10, student rush; $9, children. Visit or call (208) 667-1323.

[ photo by Young Kwak for The Pacific Northwest Inlander: Alyssa Day as Eva Peron and Kent Kimball as Juan Peron in Evita, directed by Abbey Crawford at Lake City Playhouse in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Sept.-Oct. 2010]

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

*Evita* photos

Sept. 17-Oct. 10 at CdA's Lake City Playhouse
Thurs-Sat at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2 pm
Tickets: $19 (top)

For more info, see the Aug. 13 post on this blog and p. 30 of tomorrow's Fall Arts Preview in The Inlander

with Alyssa Day as Eva Peron, Kent Kimball as Juan Peron, and Todd Kehne as Che Guevara; directed by Abbey Crawford

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Patti redux

NPR's Morning Edition profiled Patti Lupone today. In contrast to the capsule review of her new memoir (cited in an Aug. 10 post on this blog), the chat highlighted Patti's more positive, less negative side.
The link contains video of her Mama Rose at the Tonys. Powerful stuff. She can indeed make you feel as if you're on a roller coaster.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

*Together Again*: photos and review

review-of Together Again for the Next Time (long first draft)
(at Interplayers through Sept. 30)

One of the chief pleasures of Reed McColm’s Together Again for the Next Time — a comedy about two blended, bickering families preparing for a wedding — is in how natural-sounding the conversations seem.
A cast of 11 fans out all over Scott Nicks’ dining-and-living-room set (which needs to look upscale and does), so that the downstage argument about credit card payments zigs to the dinner-table squabbling over wedding decorations, then zags over to the exchange of cynical barbs among the in-laws and old folks. Some of these people don’t much care for each other at all, and it’s amusing to watch.
Mom and her stepdaughter, the bride, want everything to be just perfect; Dad’s wondering how much this is all gonna cost; Grandpa and the ex-wife are wondering about how much longer till they can get outta here.
Resentments and insecurities, both petty and substantial, pop up here and there. In other words, it’s your typical happy family gathering that’s destined, any moment now, to splinter into a family train wreck.

This sequel to Together Again for the First Time (which Interplayers produced in 2008) adds characters to the original lineup. Max (McColm, who wrote, directed and stars) still has three adult daughters, and his second wife, Audrey (Tamara Schupman), still has two grown sons from a previous marriage. The middle daughter (Christine Cresswell) is getting married to a bald vegetarian who can’t seem to finish his dissertation (Damon Abdallah); his eccentric mother (Wendy Carroll) blows into town to add blunt commentary. Completing this portrait of dysfuncts are Max’s ex-wife and ex-father-in-law (Mary Starkey and Barrie McConnell), sourpusses both.

Lead roles are hard to discern here, but it is, after all, Chinelle and Carey’s wedding (with the lovebirds played by Christine Cresswell and Damon Abdallah), and the focal, befuddled, middle-aged couple who are the parents of all these misguided grown-up kids played by McColm and Schupman.
All four are fine, but three actors in supporting roles are standouts. Andrew Scott Parish, an actor from SFCC, steps into the role of Roger, the elder of Audrey’s two sons and the one who gets to range from cracking wise to shouting angry accusations. Parish is up to the role’s range, and in a playful but not showy way. Roger gets all the rebellious snark-lines in the early going, but Parish is convincing later on when Roger has to stand up for himself (and the people he loves).
Wendy Carroll plays the mother of the groom with a sly Eastern European accent, one gaudy purse (or another) hooked over her arm, a soft pat to your cheek, and then a zinger aimed right between your eyes. She’s had four husbands. So what if those marriages didn’t turn out so well? She’s not about to let social niceties obstruct her prowling for Partner No. 5. In her too-brief scenes, Carroll commands the stage with her Lina’s carefully observed eccentricities.
As Max’s depressing ex-wife and mother of the three sisters, Mary Starkey clenches her lips and makes her eyes grow cold. She’s frustrated and angry and well prepared to revel in others’ failings. In their faceoff late in Act One, you could see how McColm’s Max dithered and hoped for the best while Starkey’s Maddie, his angry ex, cut right to the core of why their lives have turned out to be such disappointments.

Because this isn’t just a light romantic comedy. It has plenty of crowd-pleasing jokes of the local variety: Gonzaga jokes, anti-P.C. jokes, Spokane airport jokes. Even Interplayers board members get poked at.
An ecological wedding theme leads to green bridesmaids’s dresses — and to one of the women complaining that her gown makes her look like Gumby.

McColm avoids charges of fluffiness by studding the action with some high-stakes conflicts, mostly over money.
But sometimes, marital pasts and career plans are taken up, debated angrily, then dropped, as if just to ratchet up the tension, Lifetime-style.
McColm’s script throws career plans, career disasters and medical problems into the mix, rounding out some characters while sometimes leaving conflicts undeveloped.

Despite swirling direction that nicely matched all those swirling conversations, there were some acting lapses.
Opening night brought some bobbles and pauses, missed lines and flattened jokes, especially in the opening minutes, though that problem may disappear with repeated performances..
Several punch lines weren’t punched but placed quietly into the dialogue like throwaways. Laugh lines were oddly underemphasized.
The actors playing Hank and Jason and yes, even Max, need more work on achieving enough volume and and comic emphasis, especially in the timing of witty retorts.

One of the daughters’ parts feels underwritten (she’s leaving for college but still loves Dad), as if writer McColm were eyeing yet another sequel. (The finale leaves several threads untied, but they stand for the inconclusiveness of human lives, not just as openings for the next installment of the Wolders-Frobisher saga.)

But McColm demonstrates several solid comedic techniques. First, there are jokes at the expense of characters whom we never see (but who make the fictional world seem more real). Then there are allusions, minutes later, to previous punch lines, allowing audience members to recall matters on their own, congratulate themselves on their own attentiveness, and then splutter out the surprised laughter of people who are laughing even harder at a punch line because they just figured it out for themselves.
He knows when to tell his script just to shut up. Images alone tell the story of the sad, funny bride, comically, pathetically isolated — along with a non-verbal, six-way scene that meditates on the profound, unsurpassable pleasure to be obtained from savoring sweet, sticky cupcakes.
McColm knows how to undercut sentiment with humor, to the two moods’ mutual benefit: The teary-eyed stuff doesn’t drag out too long, manipulatively; and the comedy seems all the more comic for being plopped into the middle of a warm, fuzzy moment.

Because Next Time is, like the most comforting comedies, laugh-out-loud funny at times and heart-in-throat touching at others.
There’s just something about seeing characters you’ve gotten to know over two plays (and four hours) that has us pulling for them, wanting to see them succeed with all their little schemes and big wedding plans.

It all seems very typical, very basic. You and I know families like this — with these secrets and resentments, but also with their rituals and little glimpses of affection. Somehow we muddle through. The Together Again plays offer the comfort of offering reflections of our imperfect selves, played for laughs and for sentiment. It’s a pleasing mix.

Reed McColm’s Together Again for the Next Time will be performed at Interplayers, 174 S. Howard St., through Sept. 30. Visit or call 455-PLAY.

Photos by Young Kwak:
upper right: Reed McColm as Max Frobisher and Mary Starkey as Madeline Arnhand in Together Again for the Next Time at Interplayers, Sept. 2010 (with several of their family members in the background)
top: the wedding party: Micah Hanson as Kaye Frobisher, Christine Cresswell as Chinelle Frobisher, Bethany D. Hart as Sandra Frobisher (in the middle), Damon Abdallah as Carey Krzyznyk, and Andrew Scott Parish as Roger Wolders
top left: reverse angle on wedding party, with James Pendleton as Jason Wolders in the left background, and, in the right rear, Barrie McConnell as Grandpa Hank, Wendy Carroll as Lina Kllwydd-Brycik (Carey's mother), and Mary Starkey as Madeine Arnhand
bottom: from left, seated in foreground -- Barrie McConnell, Wendy Carroll, Mary Starkey, and then Reed McColm and Tamara Schupman, as Audrey Wolders-Frobisher, seated on the right; wedding party (as above) in background

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