Saturday, February 27, 2010

Show #9 "You Can't Take It With You" at Lakewood Playhouse

I will say this upfront: I have never really liked Kaufman & Hart's story of the crazy Sycamore family. It seems corny and dated. It seems more suited to a high school stage than a community theatre striving to be as professional in their standards as possible.

Even when I saw this show at the Seattle Repertory Theatre last season, it still felt like a cast full of pros (and they were terrific pros, at that!) were borrowing a script from a local high school drama club.

But, that's only my opinion. Others (including my dear husband) consider this play to be one of the great American comedy classics. To each their own.

There is one thing about the play that I do admire. Grandpa's philosophy about life, which appears to have spread to his entire extended family (and a few friends, too) always strikes a cord with me.

Grandpa believes that life is to be enjoyed. If you don't enjoy what you do for a living, then why are you doing it? Apparently, Grandpa was once a business type who left the corporate world for the pleasures of the stress-free, follow-your-passions life.

Quite a nice path to take, but unlike most of the world, Grandpa has an income for life from property investments made as a younger man. He also fails to pay any taxes. So, being given the luxury of NOT having to work each day, Grandpa and his family enjoy living life for their own pleasurable pursuits, be it painting, dancing, playing the xylophone or attending commencement ceremonies at the local university.

Like I said, pursuing pastimes that give us pleasure and help us develop into the unique persons God made us to be, is a very good thing. I have connected with that idea.

What his philosophy lacks is the dignity of work. Yes, pastimes must give us pleasure, but work must also be a part of life. Grandpa left the corporate world because his work gave him no pleasure. What he failed to do is find work that did give him pleasure.

Okay, okay...this is just a silly comedy about a bunch of people who don't exist. I get that. But the main ideas are still the same, whether the story is fictional or "real."

I love stories about folks who find pleasure and meaning in their work. Work is a noble thing, and to serve our fellow man in our life's work is even nobler.

I just wish this wonderful message wasn't delivered by a bunch of characters like the Sycamores. But nevertheless, it is a wonderful, inspiring message.

Graphics courtesy of Lakewood Playhouse

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Show #8 "6 Dance Lessons in 6 Weeks" at Tacoma Little Theatre

Nobody ever said that life had to be fair.

And certainly, nobody has ever said that theatre must be fair. But, when I see a show whose playwright obviously has a political or social axe to grind, I can't help but notice if there is any sense at all of "fair play" in his/her writing.

Tacoma Little Theatre just closed one of their second stage productions of Richard Alfieri's "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks." The reasons why this show was produced was obvious.

First, this seemed like a tailor-made vehicle for actors Sharry O'Hare and husband Micheal O'Hara. And second, this was a perfect way to celebrate and honor Sharry O'Hare's 50 years performing in Tacoma theatre.

But what was also obvious were the attempts Alfieri makes to vigorously tug at the audience's heartstrings. It was also as plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face what his social views were on prejudice and intolerance.

Mind you, I am not a big fan of prejudice and intolerance, either. But when a writer creates a character who climbs up on his soap box to tell us how he has suffered due to negative stereotypes about gay people (he is gay) but spends the rest of the play indulging in his own negative stereotypes about "his oppressors" (in this case, a deceased Baptist minister), I cry foul.

And as a Christian who has spent much of her adult life attending Baptist churches, I do not appreciate the playwright's angry suggestions that Christian ministers are bible-thumping, bigoted homophobes. I cry foul enough times to make an entire NBA team foul out of the game.

I love the LORD Jesus Christ and I do not judge members of the gay community, nor does any other member of my congregation. I vote my conscience, not simply along party lines, I never listen to conservative talk radio, and I count among my friends persons who are gay, lesbian and bi-sexual.

I am sorry, Mr. Alfieri, but "tolerance" is a two-way street. A stereotype is a stereotype.

And as for the fine folks at the Tacoma Little Theatre, this show was not my cup of tea, but I applaud you for putting on such a tender and otherwise uplifting story. I only wish Mr. Alfieri's bitter intolerance wasn't so sugar-coated.

But that isn't your fault. You didn't know I am giving up sugar for Lent.

Graphics courtesy of Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Show #7 "South Pacific" at 5th Avenue Theater

For over 35 years, this has been my favorite musical. Ever.

I have dreamed of being in it ever since I first saw my older brother featured in a high school production of it. I listened to the soundtrack every chance I got. I can still sing every verse of every song.

I have auditioned for it twice over the past decade. Both times I was turned down.

I grew up listening to and dreaming about almost all of the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows. In my pre-adolescent mind, to have the privilege of performing in one of their shows was the next best thing to heaven itself.

Over the years, I have performed in local productions of "The Sound of Music," "The King & I" and will soon start rehearsals for "Flower Drum Song."

But "South Pacific" has been (pardon the expression) my "Bali Hai." You know, the elusive, magical island that beckons my name. But unlike the mythical island in the show, it doesn't sing, "Here am I, come to me," it only says, "Thank you for your audition, but unfortunately, we won't be able to use you for this production...."


Bartlett Sher's Tony Award-winning revival that breezed into town this month at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theater, was everything this wonderful show was meant to be. I was entranced. I was mesmerized. I was in musical theatre heaven.

In fact, I was almost able to excuse the elderly lady in the seat next to me who hummed along to all the songs annoyingly off-key. Almost.

I can't say I totally blame her for her breach of theatre etiquette. I had to remind myself not to sing along to all those endearing, familiar tunes as well.

Perhaps I am pre-disposed to loving just about any production of "South Pacific." I adore the show that much. I have seen this show many times, but this is the first Broadway production of this show I have been to. Yes, the big budget certainly helped. The costumes, set design, Equity actors and full orchestra added to the magic.

But even a small community theatre or high school drama company can make magic. The beautiful story of love and loss, the gorgeous scenery and costumes and the incomparable score by R & H will cast a spell on me anytime.

With enough magic and lots of dreaming, maybe someone will cast a spell on a director who will put me in a production of my favorite musical one day. could happen.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Show #6 "Rent" at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Artistically speaking, I feel as though I live in Peoria. You know that old saying, when someone has a brilliant idea for a play, movie or some other enterprise? "Yes, but will it play in Peoria?"

Peoria...the synonym for "mainstream," "Main Street, USA," or "ordinary man-on-the-street suburbia."

Peoria...or Tacoma.

It's been said that Tacoma audiences like their theatre safe, somewhat conservative and predictable. The theater seats are mostly filled with middle-aged and elderly viewers. If you want to pack the houses each weekend, conventional wisdom tells us, stay with mainstream, tried-and-true shows such as "Oklahoma," Neil Simon comedies or just about any British farce.

But, as I watched the non-safe, not-so-conservative "Rent" last evening at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse, I looked around me just to assure myself I was still on 6th Ave. in my humble town of Tacoma, WA.

What I witnessed there was a wonder to behold.

First, I saw a first-rate production that could hold its own against ANY professional company anywhere. Lest you think I am just a gushing Pierce County fan, let me assure you that I have held season tickets with such fine companies as the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, and ACT, as well as attending many shows at the Paramount, 5th Avenue and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I know good theatre when I see it.

Second, I saw a near-capacity crowd of mixed ages and ethnic backgrounds enjoy a story that TMP has billed as "R-rated" entertainment. AIDS, homosexuality, violence, drug use and tragic, early death were among the themes of the evening. Not exactly a show where the opening scene tells us, "oh, what a beautiful morning" it is...

At the end of this amazing show, the audience rose to its feet and cheered. Blue-haired members and well as those still wet behind the ears applauded their hearty approval. In the lobby afterward, I overheard an elderly patron say, "They said this was R-rated. I didn't think was really GOOD!"

"Rent" has played to adoring crowds in theatre towns such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and (ahem!) Seattle. But will it play in Peoria?

Who knows...but I am proud to announce that it WILL play in Tacoma.