Saturday, June 26, 2010

Show #31 "Brunch" at Tacoma Little Theatre

It's a good thing, to showcase new works by local playwrights. That's one of the mission statements of the production company that Randy and I have started. It's a good thing to see that other theatrical entities have the same idea.

"Brunch" is the work of a local guy, Elliot Weiner. In addition to writing plays, he is also an actor and director. Randy and I stage managed a show he directed last year. It was good to see a Tacoma writer get a venue for his talent.

Unfortunately, the audience was pretty small last evening. I don't know if this is a reflection of the play itself, or of the fact that no one has ever heard of this show. After all, it's not famous like "The Odd Couple" or "The Sound of Music."

If it's the former, then I guess you can say that these performances are a useful tool for the playwright. In Theatre World, we call this "the workshop process." This is when you put together a production of the play (in its latest draft form) and give it a test run before an audience. Then, you wait and see what their reactions are. Do they like it? What do they like/dislike? How would they like to see it re-written or adapted?

But, if the modest-sized crowd was a reflection of the unknown name of the play, then that dismays me greatly. New and unknown should not be a handicap at the box office. If we only put on plays that were famous, then theatres would be constantly re-cycling the same titles year after year. How boring would that be?

I genuinely hope that Tacoma is ready for new and unknown theatre. I don't want to think that we are so culturally behind other cities that we are only going to accept the familiar and "safe."

Or perhaps we in the theatre community need to learn how to woo our audiences more effectively. New is not bad, but our audiences need to know what they're in for. We need to do a better job of telling them.

Here's our challenge: Let's woo the people of Tacoma with good art, good humor, good relationships and great outreach. "Outreach"? Yes, WE must first approach the folks in Tacoma, not the other way around. We need much more than posters and ads in the News Tribune. We need to be where the potential audiences are: at street fairs, community festivals, on the email, on Facebook and at their places of business and leisure.

We can do it. We have to.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Show #30 "Book of Days" with Ensemble 915

Sometimes, I feel like I've had enough. No, I'm not talking about theatre. At least, not theatre in and of itself.

I'm talking about theatre that insists on berating Christians, that seems to take delight in making fun of the church, that ultimately insults my LORD Jesus Christ.

In this case, the offending playwright is Lanford Wilson, and the play is his "Book of Days." This was also a play within a play. The lead character is a woman who gets cast in a community production of George Bernard Shaw's "Joan of Arc." Shaw and Wilson... a double whammy of anti-Christianity. Sigh.....

Call me over-sensitive. Accuse me of being defensive and narrow-minded. Tell me I have no sense of humor or any ability to see the faults in myself and in those like myself.

But that wouldn't be true. As a Christian and a lover of the LORD Jesus, I consider myself to be open-minded about most theatrical productions out there, even those shows that point out the church's weaknesses. I will be the first to tell you that the Church is made up of flawed human beings. We are not perfect, and we will readily admit it.

But, the world will continue to take our very human flaws and attack us with it, as if they (the world who does not know the LORD) had no faults of their own. And a good many playwrights like to take cheap shots at us.

That's how I felt last evening, after spending a few hours hearing yet one more attack on the Light of my life. I felt the darkness try to cover me with anger and sadness.

But, this morning, while attending a breakfast event sponsored by a wonderful Christian organization, I met a remarkable man who brilliantly reflects the Light of the Holy Spirit. And guess what? He's also a stand-up comedian! He performs in the comedy club circuit when he's not ministering at his church.

This precious brother in Christ encouraged me to keep shining that Light in the darkness, because someone has to. The entertainment world is a dark place where Light needs to shine.

That's quite a calling. It's one I tend to forget sometimes. And when I forget my calling, I can get lost in the darkness. But, thank God that He is the ultimate Lighting Designer. If I remember to look to Him to light my stage, I will not lose my place in the script, or totally forget my blocking.

So, let those playwrights keep on taking those cheap shots at God's people. The darkness won't stand a chance.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Show #29 "Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at Paradise Theatre

Theatre is a very resourceful art form. Most of the time, when people think of the theatre, they visualize a large, professional house, such as the Pantages, the Paramount, the 5th Avenue or ACT Theatre in Seattle.

There are also the community theatre houses, such as our treasures here in Tacoma, like the Tacoma Little Theatre.

But, theatre can happen just about anywhere. I have seen shows in old studios, church basements and in just about any empty space you can imagine.

The resourceful folks at Paradise Theatre in nearby Gig Harbor are sharing a space with Turning Point Community Church. However, this is not a makeshift church basement production. The space they are sharing appears to be Turning Point's sanctuary.

I have seen this only one other time, when the now-closed Seattle Performing Arts Fellowship shared a sanctuary of worship with Victory Baptist Church in Des Moines. At the time, I thought it was brilliant. I still do. And seeing how Paradise Theatre has gone a step further and made the sanctuary into a "real" theatre space, complete with theatre lighting and sound system, it made me think, "wow!"

Not only "wow," but I have to say, "Praise God!"

The only times most preachers ever mention theatre or actors are when they are delivering a sermon based on Matthew 6, or some similar passage. You see, the biblical word "hypocrite" is based from the same Greek root word as "actor." Thus explains the church's long enmity with the theatrical world.

But, as a Christian AND an actor, I praise God that those walls have come down, at least at Turning Point Community Church. I hope that more alliances between the theatre and God's people can happen. There's no reason why space (and art and the life of faith) cannot be shared more often.

Thank you, Paradise Theatre. Now I know why your company is called Paradise. There will be much rejoicing and singing in heaven one day. Maybe this is your way of telling us that there will be theatre there as well.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Show #28 "Menopause the Musical" at the Broadway Center

The crush of the crowd was almost overwhelming. They arrived by the busload, filling the 1100 seat Pantages Theater to the brim. Middle-aged and elderly women came by the score, some wearing Red Hats and Purple dresses, others with walkers, canes and wheelchairs.

A few brave men (including Randy) navigated their way along with their wives into the sea of chattering females. I remarked to my friend Cheryl that it felt like we were at a Mary Kay cosmetics convention...(or something else that is very female).

But this was no convention. This was an event. An event of almost cult-like status. This was Menopause the Musical.

From the time the four actresses took the stage, the auditorium exploded with cheers, laughter and celebration.

The songs were affectionate parodies of pop hits mostly from the 1960s. The topics of the musical numbers ranged from hot flashes to memory loss to middle-aged weight gain. The performers played it big and broad (no pun intended) and sold it for everything it was worth.

In other words, it was brilliant.

I love watching brilliance at work. I'm not talking about the actresses' performances, although they were pretty darn good. I'm talking about the whole concept of Menopause the Musical.

Menopause is a touring production that is only in town for 3 performances. I suspect they are packing the house for all 3 shows. I suspect that happens in every city they visit.

It's not exactly high-brow theatre. This isn't Shakespeare, as they say. No star-crossed love affairs or murdered kings. Try hot flashes and mood swings.

This is pure, unadulterated entertainment. But it's no cheap, trashy affair, either. The production values are high. The actresses are all members of Actor's Equity. This is professional stuff here, folks.....

So what exactly is the brilliance here? Well, I'd say it's this: entertainment for the masses using theatrical standards usually reserved for "high art." This is no school talent show or skit night at summer camp. This is the real thing.

And comedy, as I like to say, is no laughing matter. It takes all the skill, talent and hard work of any dramatic production. Maybe even more so. I mean, how many actors do I know who can pull off drama well, but couldn't make me laugh to save their lives?

After witnessing the hooting, hollering, laughing and clapping that went on today, I would definitely say these actresses know their stuff. The director knows her stuff. The producers know their stuff.

They were brilliant.

Not only flashes of brilliance....but HOT flashes of brilliance.

Sorry, couldn't resist that one.....

Production graphics courtesy of Menopause the Musical

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Show #27 "Ain't Misbehavin' " at Centerstage Theatre

Some people just didn't know what a treat they were in for. I guess it was because a theatre group was putting on the show, so these folks expected a traditional play.

Maybe some had forgotten (or didn't know to begin with) about the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller. Apparently
, this show, "Ain't Misbehavin' " seemed to be suffering from a few misconceptions.

Chatting with a couple of audience members before the start of the show, one asked me if this was a play about the song, Ain't Misbehavin'. The other remarked, "Isn't this the show that had Gwen Verdon in it?"

Oh baby....were they gonna be surprised.

I was first introduced to the marvelous songs of Fats Waller and the show "Ain't Misbehavin' " in the early 1980s when I took a tap dance class. The instructor used several cuts from the original soundtrack album to teach us the various dance steps that she combined into some swinging routines.

I was so taken by the music that I went out and bought the double LP of the soundtrack and listened (and danced) to it for months after that. That vinyl treasure is probably long gone, but the memories aren't.

Tonight's show was (pardon the cliche) a trip down memory lane for me. It made me wish once again I could sing like those extraordinarily talented performers on the stage. It made me wish I had kept up with my tap dancing.

Mostly, it made me smile....and tap my toes.

Randy was having just as good a time. I glanced over at him and saw a huge grin on his face for much of the evening. It was a smile of a man having fun, and who was appreciative and grateful for the loving legacy to Fats Waller they presented.

The rest of the near-capacity audience must have agreed with us. Folks were hooting, hollering, clapping and tapping plenty of toes. At the end of the evening, we sprung from our seats to give the cast a standing ovation. It was well-deserved.

And those two audience members who thought they were going to see a Gwen Verdon play? One of them ran up to us during intermission and exclaimed, "Isn't this wonderful!!!!???"

I guess she forgot all about that "play" she was supposed to watch. But who can blame her? What she (and the rest of us) got was something even better. I don't know quite how to describe it. The term "musical revue" just doesn't do it justice.

Call it a musical sensation.

Yeah....I like that.

Production graphics courtesy of Centerstage Theatre