Theatre Reviews

“The Legend of Georgia McBride” at ACT

What’s a fella to do? His darling wife’s pregnant. His act as an Elvis impersonator is going nowhere. They need money. Would you believe he finds his fame and fortune as a drag queen? It may sound like an absurd concept, but it makes a dynamite show, and ACT and Director David Bennett seem to have found just the right actors and costumes to make it zing.

Adam Standley as Casey, the failed Elvis interpreter, reluctantly puts on the bra and girdle, slips into the dress and wig and finds a new life for himself when all seems lost. Of course he can’t do it alone. His guide and mentor in this metamorphosis is Miss Tracy Mills played with panache by Seattle’s well-loved Timothy McCuen Piggee. Miss. Tracy is just about as fey as they come. She knows exactly how to move her hips, put on her makeup, and cross her legs. She can lip sync with perfection, and is one sharp individual who knows how to create a success.

Standley, reluctant though he may be to make the transition, turns himself into quite a presentable babe. He sashays with grace in the highest of high heels and wiggles his hips with the best of them. Meanwhile, he’s afraid to tell his pregnant wife exactly what role he plays at the nightspot where his Elvis didn’t quite make it. By the end of the play, she enthusiastically embraces his success.

These actors are indeed awfully good, and their costumes by Pete Rush and wigs by Dennis Milam Bensie are unforgettable. Sixteen wigs in all are used in the show, most of them bouffant masterpieces and in a variety of colors. And costumes! Think sequins and satin; think ruffles, think over the top. And for those of us who aren’t familiar with the underthings that help make the sexual transitions appear real, this show is a learning experience.

Playwright Matthew Lopez has created a delightful confection. ACT has given it a topnotch production.

Through July 2 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org.)

“Busman’s Honeymoon” at Taproot Theatre

Trust Dorothy Sayers to come up with a delectable little murder mystery filled with humor as well as suspense. This one, written in 1937, concerns, of course, Lord Peter Wimsey the indefatigable gentleman detective.

In this confection, Lord Peter is on his honeymoon. He’s just arrived at the English country house he’s bought for his new bride. Mark Lund’s set works nicely to evoke the time period and the place. One can almost smell the slight mustiness that’s a hallmark of many such houses.

Naturally, the thought of solving a mystery is the last thing on Wimsy’s mind! But somehow, mysteries just seem to present themselves to him, and what’s a fellow to do but solve them? So he and his bride, she who writes mysteries, get to it. After conversations with the various assembled retainers and townspeople they learn exactly why the landlord is dead at the bottom of the cellar steps with his head cracked open.

Director Scott Nolte has assembled a fine cast, led by Terry Edward Moore as the wry but so wise Lord Peter. Alyson Scadron Branner is the not so simpering bride. She and Moore play off each other with wit and an obvious delight. Here’s a couple enchanted by their opportunity to start their marriage in collegial sleuthing. And lucky are they to be supported by a first class team of some of Seattle’s finest actors.

The play, itself is a bit dated, but it includes some lovely word play as well as a few surprises. Of course there’s a backstory, the details of which gradually leak out as the stage fills up with the large cast of characters. And you’ll not be surprised to learn that the Wimseys do identify the murderer.

The ending is interesting in that it reveals Lord Wimsey’s distaste for capital punishment, his discomfort at having a role in condemning a man to death. That’s an issue we are still wrestling with here in the United States. The last execution for murder in England occurred in 1964 just before such acts were outlawed.

Through June 24 Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, (206 781-9705 or taproottheatre.org.)

“Grand Concourse” at Seattle Public Theater

Faith Bennett Russell as Shelly. Photo by John Cornicello

Just as the Grand Concourse in The Bronx began as a magnificent boulevard and is now a distressed ribbon of concrete in a down and out part of that borough, the characters in “Grand Concourse” have fallen into bad times. Directed here by Annie Lareau, the play raises some interesting questions, most importantly, what are the limits of what we can do for others?

Shelley (well played by Faith Bennett Russell) is a nun who wears street clothes and lives a secular life. She runs the soup kitchen (designed by Jenny Littlefield) in which this entire play is situated and has begun to question the worth of her commitment. These doubts are something she talks to God about, limiting her discussions to timed intervals marked off by a microwave acting as an alarm clock.

Helping her is Oscar, the jivey, laid back, can-do Dominican young man who does the heavy lifting and chases away the neighborhood hoodlums. The captivating Tyler Trerise gives him loads of charm. He’s a good natured “Johnny on the spot” who lights up the set whenever he saunters in. Yet Oscar, too, is not without his moral quandary. For him it’s a question of love vs. lust.

Frog, the alcoholic, schizophrenic street person benefitting from the kitchen, helps out whenever he can. His is a complex character. He’s an educated man who hasn’t always been down-and-out, one who appears to be able to control his life but sadly can’t. Corey McDaniel plays him with subtlety.

These three have their little world in reasonable order when Emma (Hannah Ruwe) walks in. She’s sweet; she’s needy; she wants to help; she’s evidently undergoing cancer treatments. They bring her into their tight little circle. Sadly, in many ways she turns out to be the snake in the garden, such as it is. Hers is a role with many dimensions and she does it all well.

The acting here is noteworthy, and the set is effective. Yet the production seemed a bit static, in need of an emotional boost. That said, you will leave pondering the question of what are the limits of compassion?

Through June 11 at Seattle Public Theater, 7312 West Green Lake Dr. N, Seattle, (206) 524-1300 or seattlepublictheatre.org.

“Dreamgirls” at Village Theatre

Just what do you have to do to make your R&B all-girls group stand out among the rest? You need lots of talent…yes, of course, but also fantastic good luck, probably that most of all. “Dreamgirls” is the story of a female trio that entered a talent show at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. They didn’t win, but given their talent, and after lots of conflicts, double crosses and heartbreaks, success was theirs.

It has been assumed that this is the story of the Supremes and Diana Ross, though no one will verify that. The musical first opened on Broadway in 1981, won six Tony’s and was made into a movie in 2006. Now Director Steve Tompkins’ extravaganza bursts forth on the Village Theatre’s stage.

Lauren Du Pree (Deena Jones), Charles Simmons (C.C. White), Alexandria Henderson (Lorrell Robinson), Angela Birchett (Effie White), and John Devereaux (Curtis Taylor, Jr.). Dreamgirls Production photo. © 2017 Mark Kitaoka

If you like R&B music, this show offers lots of it. It’s a concert wrapped around a story. The voices are big, and the orchestra, directed by R.J. Tancioco, is booming. Salvo after salvo of sound waves blast through the theatre, and almost every number is accompanied by a dazzling light show. Featuring mostly red, white, and blue lights, the beams shoot out from all sides of the stage as well as the ceiling. This lighting (created by Tom Sturge) also provides a mood that is equally effective for those tender numbers that speak to the anguish that sometimes accompanies love.

Meanwhile, the three girls who try to make it big (Angela Birchett as Effie, Lauren Du Pree as Deena, and Alexandria Henderson as Lorrell) belt out the numbers and astound us with their range, and evocation of deep emotions. The route to stardom isn’t equally successful for this threesome. Their relations with men aren’t always to their advantage. But the women are determined.

Their stage costumes are noteworthy (thanks to Karen Ann Ledger’s creativity). Most of the numerous outfits they wear are spectacular. They glitter; they shine; they flounce; they miraculously transform into something wholly different before your very eyes.

I repeat: this is a concert wrapped around a story. The story is almost too convoluted, too secondary to the music. What you have in this production are remarkable visual effects and a potpourri of R&B music well presented.

Through July 2 at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front St. N., Issaquah, and from July 7 to July 30 at the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett, 425-257-8600 or VillageTheatre.org.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Presented by Seattle Shakespeare

This is not Shakespeare as you’ve come to expect it. Oh no, this is Shakespeare as a Broadway musical, and what better of his plays to present in this fashion than “Midsummer Night’s Dream” where mortals meet fairies and magic is in the air? Director George Mount has created a lollapalooza, crowd-pleasing delight that he suggests is “a celebration of all things theatre.” And it’s a celebration you won’t want to miss.

You’ll find wonderful physical humor incorporated throughout. Do pay special attention to MJ Sieber who seems born for the role of Bottom, a role that gives him ample opportunities to be the clown with exquisite timing. His scenes with the Queen of the fairies (Vanessa Miller) are by themselves worth the price of admission.

But there’s so much more including dancing, from tap to tango, and lots of it. Do you like acrobatics? Here you’ll find some amazing stunts, and most of them are performed to music provided by an orchestra above and behind the actors that is directed by Dayton Allemann.

What can I say? I, who love to laugh, loved this production. It features a remarkably skilled cast, marvelous stagecraft, a clever set, lovely costumes, and surprising special effects. The ending is so ridiculous, so over the top that I still giggle thinking about it.

Shakespeare wrote for the masses, for simple people as well as highly literate ones. He would give two thumbs up to this production.

Through May 21 at Cornish Playhouse, 201Mercer Street, Seattle, 206 733-8222 or seattleshakespeare.org.