Archive for May 2016

“Billy Elliot The Musical” at Village Theatre

 

One attends “Billie Elliot…” expecting a lot. The show garnered many awards when first staged in London in 2005, and its Broadway (2008) production won in practically every award category possible. So yes, one does expect a lot from its mounting at the Village. The good news is, you get all you expect and more!

 

You no doubt know the story. In coal mining towns throughout England in the mid 1980s life became very difficult as Margaret Thatcher’s policies toward the coal industry made a sick industry even sicker. Pits were closed; strikes were called; economic hardship resulted; and social disruption ensued. This dramatically affected young Billy’s life. His father, a miner, had strong ideas about solidarity and masculinity.

 

This is a tale of hard times, young talent, and a beleaguered community. Men’s lives were difficult, and they lived up to a rough code. The poufs who showed questionable evidence of rugged manhood were reviled. As incomes fell and stresses rose, it was not a time for boys and ballet. But Billy discovered dance and showed remarkable talent. Outraged at this apparent lack of masculinity, Billy’s father forbade him to take advantage of a great opportunity.

 

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Nikita Baryshnikov, Bito Gottesman, Philipp Mergener, and Vincent Bennett (Billy Elliot). Billy Elliot the Musical Pre Production photo. © 2016 Mark Kitaoka. Property of Village Theatre.

But right does eventually prevail. The village comes to Billy’s defense and helps make his dreams come true. It all plays out with terrific music (by Elton John), and spectacular dance numbers choreographed by Katy Tabb. Director Steve Tomkins has assembled a dynamite cast. Tim Symons’ musicians do him proud.

 

Four young local dancers share the role of Billy. On the night I saw the show, the dancing was awe inspiring, and fine acting supports it. Mari Nelson as Mrs. Wilkinson, the local dance teacher who encourages and trains Billie displays a steely determination coated with a motherly warmth. Eric Polani Jensen as Dad displays the grit acquired in a tough life as well as its emotional cost. These are the standouts in a finely honed ensemble cast.

 

If musical theatre is your thing, this is a blue ribbon presentation, and if it’s not, you may want to make an exception for this one.

 

Through July 3 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, (425 392-2202) and July 8-31 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett (425 257-8600) or VillageTheatre.org.

 

“The Things Are Against Us” produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre

Playwright Susan Soon He Stanton likes a crammed script and her script for this play is certainly crammed. Within it you’ll find farce, a ghost story, horror, melodrama, romantic comedy, mystery/thriller, fantasy, a heavy dose of surrealism, and perhaps other aspects I’ve failed to mention. If you suspect that’s too much, you are right.

That’s not to say there aren’t enjoyable elements within this production directed by Bobbi Ramsey. As is so often the case with WET presentations, the acting is really good. Allison Stanley and Samie Spring Detzer are compelling as the two sisters at the center of the play who exist in two centuries in two locations, New York and Massachusetts.

Then there’s Robert Bergin wonderfully droll as Caspar, the taciturn woodsman who can do much more than split wood. Trying to make sense of it all is Jeffrey Azevedo as Yusef, the grandson misplaced in time and place. Meanwhile Jany Bacallao, dressed in white, exudes a suave superiority playing the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. We’re left to wonder if he’s collecting material for his own writing or reminding us of the surreal nature of all this.

Julia Welch’s set combined with Tristan Roberson’s lighting and projections work well to create an ambiance that’s both spooky and historical. A big, old New England house that might be a model of the home where Lizzie Borden did or maybe didn’t do her dirty work looms over the entire stage. Extra windows hang from the rafters creating a backdrop for all the vignettes that make up this jam-packed play. And I must warn you that there’s a big, old claw-footed bathtub that is up to no good.

The sounds are eerie. The play itself is avant garde in the manner of Ionesco. So if you like your theatre cutting edge, if you don’t mind theatre that’s confusing but stimulating, this current WET production is for you.

Through May 16 at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle, (206 325-5105 washingtonensemble.org).

“Death of a Salesman” at Arts West

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Photo by Michael Brunk / nwlens.com

Delusion as a way of life—that’s much of what this brilliant Arthur Miller play is about. And brilliant it is, especially as presented in this production.

No fancy staging here. Instead Director Matthew Wright and Scenic Designer Christopher Mumaw have given us a bare-bones set that simply defines interior spaces. For this production all attention must be directed to the actors and the words. We expect the words to be powerful, after all the play won the Pulitzer Prize and numerous Tony’s when it debuted in 1949. So it’s a delight to see that this cast can deliver those words with such passion.

This is one of the best ensembles on Seattle stages in recent years. David Pichette as Willy Loman, the aging traveling salesman brings passion, nuance, false gaiety, and despair to his portrayal of a man who has thrown his whole life away on a piddling job and is now about to be thrown away himself.

His reality is replete with delusions, denials. To him happiness equals wealth and popularity. Ah, isn’t that the American dream? Perhaps denial is the only strategy for one who faces failure (however it’s defined) especially when one is surrounded by success.

Willy has raised his son Biff to buy into his delusion. No matter what Biff wants in life, he’s tethered to the line Willie has fed him. Drew Highlands’ Biff is enthusiastic but not bright enough to free himself from Willy’s fantasies until it’s almost too late. Watching his demise is heartbreaking.

And then there’s Happy (Kyle Anton Johnson). Oh yes Willie has two sons, but despite playing the acolyte, Happy is never the anointed one, though he does accept the family delusions.

Eleanor Mosely as Linda, the mother of this sad family is another standout actor. Her adoration and support is unending and tragic. Because she so loves Willie, she accepts his fantasies, reinforces them, and refuses to move beyond them. Her response to his death is heartrending.

At his grave she says, “Forgive me, my dear, I can’t cry.” You’re a stronger theatregoer than I if this production of this play doesn’t move you to tears. A must see!

Through May 29, at Arts West, 4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org).