“The Fabulous Lipitones” at Taproot Theatre

What can a prize winning barbershop quartet do when their tenor dies just before the national championships? Fortunately for the Lipitones, one of their members hears the golden tones of “Bob” in the background when he calls his garage. “Send Bob over!” he says. And so the members rejoice thinking their problem is solved.

Bob does indeed have a melodious voice and a quick ability to harmonize, but he’s “different,” and at least one member of the group is not able to accept “different.” So begins the very funny, marvelously musical, and thoughtful reminder that cultural differences add richness to life.

Director Scott Nolte brings forth all the underlying message of tolerance in John Markus’ and Mark St. Germain’s script, yet makes sure the humor is front and center and that the theatre reverberates with the joyous sounds of good barbershop quartet music. There are 17 songs presented within the production, and each is a delight to aficionados of the genre and an excellent introduction to those unfamiliar with it.

Jeff Berryman, Patrick Lowrie, and Greg Stone as the original members of the quartet harmonize delightfully and also manage to give their characters individuality. Brad Walker makes Bob an endearing charmer, a captivating presence, able to shake off the prejudice that greets him and win the day. And you’ll delight in Nanette Acosta’s costumes for the group’s competition appearance.

This is light entertainment at its best.

Through Oct. 18 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle (206 781-9707 or www.taproottheatre.org).

“Mary’s Wedding” by Stephen Massicotte, produced by New Century Theatre Company

The current theatre season is promising to be one of the best I’ve seen since moving to Seattle 16 years ago. I’ve already written rave reviews about some of the current offerings, and here comes another. New Century Theatre’s “Mary’s Wedding,” directed by John Langs, is a tender two-person play that touches your heart and thrills you with its exquisite stagecraft.

In this 100th Anniversary of the beginning of World War I, NCTC presents a love story wrapped around the fierce happenings on the battlefield. Mary and Charlie meet in a small town in Western Canada. Both are sweet innocents. As they fall in love war clouds hang over Europe, and Charlie gets caught in the patriot fervor that sweeps through the land. Mary doesn’t want him to enlist, but he joins a cavalry unit, and off he goes, filled with bravado, optimism, even gaiety.

The story of their love affair begins at the end. It’s the night before Mary’s wedding, and she dreams of what has preceded it. Her dream encompasses the flowering of her and Charlie’s love, their letters, and Charlie’s experiences on the battlefield. Her dream moves back and forth in time, capturing the horror of war, the heartache of separation, and the tenderness of young love.

West of Lenin Theatre has adaptable space, and for this play scenic and lighting designer Brian Sidney Bembridge has turned it into an amazingly real barn. Walls are covered in wooden planking. The hay bales that lie about on the straw covered floor serve as numerous props, and one even becomes a galloping horse.

Bembridge, as skilled with lighting as he is with space, also turns this barn into a realistic battlefield with clever lighting effects. With those lights and Matt Starritt’s awesome sound we experience violent thunderstorms, even more violent battles, cavalry charges, explosions,

The two actors, Maya Sugarman and Conner Neddersen are exquisitely matched. She’s the girl every mother would wish her son to marry—sweet, beautiful, impishly humorous, steadfast. He’s the honorable, handsome, bright young man every mother should want her daughter to marry. Their innocence imbues their sweet love with grace.

It’s a lovely production enacted by two splendid actors, and presented in a fashion that makes it even better than the script.

Through Oct. 11 at West of Lenin, 203 N 36th St., Seattle, (www.206 661-8223 or wearenctc.org)

“In the Heights” with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes at Village Theatre

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© 2014 Mark Kitaoka

It’s almost Fourth of July in New York City’s Washington Heights. The George Washington Bridge towers majestically behind and above the tenements of this immigrant neighborhood where Dominicans dominate but other Latin Americans are part of the mix. The show (directed by Eric Ankrim) explodes onto the stage with the percussive beat of Latin pop, salsa, hip hop, and even a bit of rap.

With music direction by R.J. Tancioco, this is a show all about the music and dancing. You don’t come here for the story (luckily because the spoken words are often hard to hear). There are, however, any number of neighborhood tales of the soap opera variety that are spun out during the course of the production While they are very much secondary to the incendiary music and exuberant dancing, through those individual vignettes you’re made aware of the challenges and setbacks contemporary immigrants to America face as well as the ambitions that motivate them.

The dancers, choreographed by Daniel Cruz, are memorable. High kicks, splits, acrobatic jumps, twists, and turns. Dressed in the colorful and ethnic appropriate garb designed by Melanie Taylor Burgess and Kelly McDonald, these young dancers zoom about the stage with an energy that seems boundless.

Tom Sturge’s set with that wonderful bridge will make every ex-New Yorker homesick. He’s also responsible for the lighting, which in this show is especially significant. The lights on the bridge twinkle; sunsets and sunrises are ethereal; and, of course, there are Fourth of July fireworks.

The cast members are in good voice, and, since most of the dialog is sung, that’s definitely a good thing. So, if an evening of effervescent Latin music and movement delights you, this is for you.

Through Oct. 26, Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N, Issaquah, (425 392-22020, www.villagetheatre.org)
in Everett Oct. 31 – Nov. 23, Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425 257-8600

“The Mountaintop” at Art West

Martin Luther King, Jr. scurries out of the rain into his Memphis motel room…just one more stop on his ever demanding speaking and rallying tour. But this stop will be his last. We all know what happened the tragic evening when he stepped out onto the balcony.

He’s bone-tired, lonely for his family, and desperate for a cup of coffee and a cigarette. He checks the phone to see if it’s wired, knowing his enemies would do anything to get some dirt on him, anything that might shut him up. Then he calls room service and orders coffee.

In comes an attractive, sharp-tongued, know-it-all maid, and so begins an emotionally taut and wrenching play you’re not likely to forget. Directed by Valerie Curtis-Newton it’s a tour de force. Playwright Katori Hall has provided us a look behind the myth, a sense of Martin Luther King the man, and she does it with some of the sharpest dialog I’ve heard in a long time.

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Photo credit to Michael Brunk

King is exhausted, weary of living with fear for his life, outraged by marchers who loot, indignant at the demeaning lies presented in the white press, and disappointed by his failure to move faster toward his goal. The maid, Carrie May (Camae) has more than some coffee and a little wisdom to impart.

Seattle actor Reginald André Jackson creates a dignified King, reinforcing the man’s stature even as he reveals his flaws. He humanizes this noble hero. Brianne A. Hill who plays Camae, the maid, comes to us from Minnesota, and I for one want to mount a campaign to keep her here in Seattle. She is a sparkling new star on the horizon. Her Camae is self assured and cheeky. She’s a woman in charge, and she lets King know it from their first encounter. But she’s also tender and compassionate.

The interplay between these two actors is spellbinding. They draw you in, play with your emotions, shock you, and tease you. You will certainly laugh, you may well cry. Above all, you’ll walk out of the theatre so glad you didn’t miss this wonderful production.

Through Oct. 5 at Arts West Theatre, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).

Sound Theatre Company presents “Blood Relations”

Somehow, I’ve never thought of Lizzie Borden as an early feminist. In “Blood Relations” by Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock, that attribution is loud and clear. The play, based on fact and speculation, suggests that she was a woman with strong views on what a woman’s life and entitlements should be, and certainly the life she had before the death of her parents failed to meet her ideals.

We all know that the historical Lizzie was absolved of any guilt in the ax murders of her step-mother and father. Yet for the past 122 years, public opinion has doubted her innocence. In this play, we’re given strong reasons to believe that public opinion has it right.

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Pictured (Left to Right): Caitlin Frances, Peggy Gannon
Photography by Ken Holmes

Lizzie and her sister live on the family’s Fall River farm with their terse father and step-mother. New Englanders are known to withhold their emotions, and Lizzie gets little affection and encouragement at home. She’s a headstrong woman, likes to be in charge, and refuses to play the docile female. Lizzie has little love for her step mother, whom she refers to as the “fat cow.” And when she learns that the despised woman is finagling to inherit the farm, she’s enraged. Her father won’t discuss it. Lizzie feels abandoned. Shortly afterward, the “fat cow” and her father are found axed to death, and Lizzie denies any culpability.

As the play opens, ten years after the murder, Lizzie (Caitlin Frances) is entertaining her lesbian lover (Peggy Gannon) in her farmhouse. Then quickly the scene changes to the time before the murders and Gannon assumes the Lizzie role while Frances becomes Bridget, the household maid. The whole conceit of the switched roles confused me, and once I figured it out, I couldn’t find any purpose to it. Okay, so Lizzie got the house after the deaths. There must be a less confounding way to show that her life was better. Despite this and other structural flaws in the play, the production has merit.

Director Gianni Truzzi has drawn together a well-balanced cast and production crew. Gannon captures Lizzie’s cascading flow of emotions and her firm belief that she has rights, and Frances brings sprightliness and charm to her role as the Irish maid. Bill Higham as Mr. Borden is the epitome of the terse southern New England farmer. Good supporting players complement the leads, and it all plays out on Richard Schaefer’s quintessential 19th Century New England set.

So problematic play, good production, and here we are more than a century later, where a play about a woman seeking equality still has resonance.

Through Sept. 27 at Cornish Playhouse Studio, Seattle Center, Seattle, (206-856-5520 or www.soundtheatrecompany.org).