Here four remarkably talented actor/musicians revive the music and era of Woody Guthrie in a charming, funny, yet sad but historically accurate portrait of mid-twentieth century America. Guthrie was the balladeer whose songs have never gone out of style. He’s the hard-times philosopher who captured the pathos, idealism, despair, and daily life of so many of his countrymen from the Depression era through the New Deal.
He was everyman, everyman who struggled to find work, who found it difficult to feed his family, who escaped the Dust Bowl, who loved his country, and was shaped by the misfortune of his times. He might well have given up all hope. Instead he composed songs and signed on to any New Deal project that would take him, including the Bonneville Dam project that offered promise and hope to those dispossessed and nearly destroyed by the depression.
The enormously talented David M. Lutken devised this musical homage with his fellow cast members and their director, Nick Corley. The four consummate musicians are Lutken, Darcie Deaville, David Finch, and Helen Jean Russell. They appear to have mastered every stringed instrument used in our society as well as spoons and jews harp.
With energetic movements they flit across the stage, as they sing and play and manage to incorporate some highly effective physical humor. It’s Woody’s tale of a very sad time in American history and the pluck and perseverance required to survive.
Scenic designer Luke Hegel-Cantarella fills the back of the stage with a photomontage of western lands, wide open skies and distressed buildings that capture the era. Lighting designed by Robert J. Aguilar, enriches the scene. Those wide-open skies change from rosy pink to rich maroon with a full array of blues to complement them.
We, the audience, can’t help but be affected by the history that’s laid before us, but Woody’s music performed with such vigor and élan by this cast make this an uplifting evening at the theatre. It’s also a timely reminder that ours is a country that believes in justice for all. After all as Woody sang, “This land is your land; this land is my land. . . . This land was made for you and me.” In this difficult age, here’s a good reminder that times can be much harder and that we can prevail.
Through January 29 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206-443-2222 or Seattlerep.org.
Some people look forward to plum pudding at Christmas time. I look forward to “Ham for the Holidays” that zany, hysterically funny yearly production by Lisa Koch and Peggy Platt. These two women know no bounds in humor, and over the years have developed an ardent fan base, the members of which can’t wait to see what madcap concoctions they have dreamed up for each new show.
This year, they’ve paid special attention to the videos that stream across the top of the stage. Many of these are quite bizarre. Some feature old film clips, another offers unexpected juxtapositions of yachts, bathing suits, etc. They all extend the humor, the whacky, screwball humor that their fans adore.
Koch and Platt are not always alone on the stage. This year their troupe includes Bruce Hall, Michael Oaks, Joel Domenico, and Abbey Drake who play numerous roles, both droll and nutty. They are all masters of deadpan in the midst of outrageous sketches like the one about the Sequim Gay Men’s Chorus.
Then there’s always an audience participation part where two members of the audience are “coerced” to come onto the stage and compete in a zany quiz. This year’s quiz is: “Are You Smarter Than a Queen.” You’ve probably guessed by now that there’s a full measure of camp in these shows. And there’s pleasant music too. Lisa’s a fine singer and guitarist, and offers moments of quiet music between the more madcap moments. These moments are in sharp contrast to the mayhem induced when Peggy Platt (in character) owns the stage
Hovering in the background of all of this fun is David Koch, the nationally known director/entrepreneur and choreographer. Aren’t we lucky to have such amazing talent in Seattle?
Sometimes we simply take it for granted. It is really one of our city’s great treasures.
Through Dec. 24, at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).
Oh Hedwig, welcome back! We knew it was you as soon as the curtains opened, the sound exploded onto the audience, and the light show proved to be an extravaganza of major proportions. There you were in all your glittering glory and trademark hairdo. It’s you all right, but my, my how very large you’ve grown. I remember the first time I saw you in Seattle. It was at Rebar, what 15 years or more ago?
Now Rebar is a fine venue, some would say “intimate” compared to the Paramount. But that was then. Since then you’ve gone on the Broadway where the inimical Neil Patrick Harris wore your gold boots! And now a national tour! Oh my goodness, a national tour with that incredible light show and the mega rock show. You’ve really grown up, my “boy.”
Oh wait, I shouldn’t call you that? You’re not really a boy at all any more are you? I suppose I’m old fashioned and that accounts for my insecurities about appropriate gender pronouns. I do know you were born with male anatomy, and I do believe you had an operation that accounts for that “angry inch.” You are, however, at least as played by Euan Morton, one impressive gender indeterminate. I’d love to know who does your hair!
And what’s with Yitzhak your husband? You certainly don’t treat him as well as might be expected. But, wait a minute, isn’t that part played by Hannah Corneau? That’s a girl’s name isn’t it? Whatever! She’s awfully good, and her transformation at the end is quite breathtaking. You all sing so well and the band has all the verve and excitement one expects from a rock band, especially at full volume.
So welcome back to Seattle. Good to see you again.
Through Dec. 18, at the Paramount, 911 Pine St., Seattle, (800-745-3000 or stgpresents.org).
That unpleasant Mr. Scrooge evidently didn’t learn much when Marley and the Ghosts visited him so long ago and opened his eyes to the fact that he’d turned into a miserly, mean, unkind man. This play, directed by Scott Nolte, takes place some years after Scrooge’s encounter with Marley and the ghosts. We join Scrooge in court where he is suing those who tried to reform him.
Although he seemed to have learned his lesson that long ago Christmas Eve, he evidently fell back into his penurious, unkind ways. Now he wants to make those “do-gooders” pay for the emotional distress they caused him, not to mention that they broke into his home and kidnapped him. Does this not constitute a crime involving pain and suffering?
His case is heard in an elegant wood-paneled courtroom with handsome polished stone pillars separating the panels (designed by Mark Lund who also does the sound). Striking 18th C portraits line the wall above the paneling, and the judge (Steve Manning) sits magisterially far above the plaintive. The bailiff (Larry Albert), below and to the side of the judge is a delight as he scurries to the front of the stage and calls out in bellowing yet priggish voice each witness in turn. He gives the role a delightful panache.
Robert Gallaher provides a kind and gentle Bob Cratchit. He speaks well of his former boss, but under cross examination reveals that he had no real time off and that even on the coldest nights of the year only one coal was allowed for the office fire. Scrooge’s nephew reveals under testimony that his uncle refused invitations to festive dinners. The woman who sought funds for the needy testifies that Scrooge never gave anything. And so the testimony goes.
Nolan Palmer makes a wonderfully presumptuous Scrooge exhibiting outrage as he rebuts all the testimony. He did, after all, pay his taxes, he reminds the court. Then with barely repressed outrage, he calls attention to the fact that he was kidnapped. But things seem not to be going well for him. As each witness is called, the case against him grows. You’ll have to see it yourselves to learn how the trial ends.
One of the cleverest parts of the play is the wonderful way the playwright has incorporated Dickens’ own language within the script. This is a theatre piece that provides an unexpected yet delightful ending to Dickens’ dearly loved “A Christmas Carol. And this production does it full justice.
Through Dec. 30 at Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206-781-9705 or taproottheatre.org)
If I told you I went from downtown Seattle to Federal Way to go to the theatre you might well laugh and say, “Well that would be like going from Manhattan to the outskirts of New Jersey to see a show. Why on earth would you do it?”
I did it because I am enchanted by pantos, and Centerstage down in Federal Way seems to be the only theatre in this region presenting one each year. Pantos, the very popular Christmas entertainment in England, are traditional fairy tales complete with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters, and lots of audience participation. Children absolutely love them. Grownups come, even if they don’t have the excuse of children, because the shows are so entertaining, usually filled with double entendres and always, always charming.
In this “Little Red Riding Hood” written and directed by Vince Brady with music directed by David Duvall, two magical creatures—a good fairy (Trista Duval) and a malevolent witch (Olivia Lee)—open the show with the first instructions for audience participation. We are asked to greet each of them with particular sound effects whenever they appear on stage. Of course they are very busy throughout the performance. One tries to save Red Riding Hood from harm, and one seeks to make her life miserable.
Helen Martin as the red hooded young girl has many adventures before she meets and falls in love with her prince (Zack Summers). Meantime all manner of craziness ensues. Alan Bryce as the very large Dame Hood makes a somewhat naughty coquette who ventures into the audience to flirt with one of the male attendees. Dame Hood wears a blonde wig, and “she” goes for heavy rouge and eye shadow. “Her” numerous petticoats, while not exactly stylish, do stand out and add to “her” coquettish charm, and what a coquette “she” is!
Throughout the production there are droll, dumb jokes to delight the adults and silly mistakes to thrill the children. The three-year-old in front of me was so thoroughly enchanted by what he was seeing that his mother had to restrain him from running onto the stage at one point.
There are no Christmas trees or Christmas references in pantos. These shows are simply hilarious takes on traditional fairytales that provide holiday fun for people of all ages and all religious persuasions.
Through December 22 at Centerstage Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Rd., Federal Way, (253-661-1444 or centerstagetheatre.com).