Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Songs for America, bother from another planet

In review: Irving Berlin's "The Melody Lingers On!" at Clackamas Rep and Gore Vidal's "Visit to a Small Planet" at Lakewood

If we really wanted to make America great again, we’d skip all the nonsense about building walls and stoking resentments and keeping out foreigners and just bring back Irving Berlin. Oh, wait: Looks like Clackamas Repertory Theatre’s already done that.

Berlin, who was born in 1888 as Israel Beilin, became an American icon the old-fashioned way: He immigrated to the U.S., from the old Russian Empire. By age 5 he was settled with his family in New York City, and grew up on the Lower East Side when it was cheap and crowded with people from other places, seeking what was once known proudly as “a better life.” He hawked newspapers on the streets and became a singing waiter and started writing songs and had his first big hit on Tin Pan Alley in 1911, when he was 23 – the still familiar Alexander’s Ragtime Band. From there he just kept going and going, through war and peace and the Depression and another war and some boom years and the nation’s evolution from isolationism to internationalism, creating a big slice of the American popular soundtrack from the days of the Charleston through the Broadway musical’s golden age. He died, finally, at age 101, when rock ‘n’ roll had pretty much killed off his kind of music – except, of course, it hasn’t, because it’s with us still.

Meredith Kaye Clark in “The Melody Lingers On!” Photo: Sam Ortega

The proof of that particular pudding, if you need proof, is onstage at Clackamas Rep, where the upbeat and winning revue of Berlin tunes The Melody Lingers On! opened over the weekend and continues through August 27. A mostly bright selection of almost fifty of Berlin’s roughly 1,500 songs presented by a snappy cast in a sharp-looking production, it’s a brightly rhythmic show of song and dance about a composer who made people feel good about being part of America, no matter where they might have come from or where they stood in the national pecking order. Berlin could be dark, but even then he was dark in an enthralling way; mostly he wrote catchy, hummable, optimistic songs that helped project the myth of a can-do country and a people on the rise.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: wine divine, proscenium live, Comic City USA

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

It’s the middle of August, the temperature’s flirting with triple digits, and the city sidewalks are getting hot enough to grill a veggie burger on. Time to get out of town. And if you’re going to get out of town, why not to wine country? This weekend marks the beginning of another Oregon summer music festival – a small one, but with some fine musicians and refreshing repertoire. It’s also a great excuse, if you really need one, to hit some good wineries.

The brand new Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival kicks off Friday night with a concert in the barrel room at J. Christopher Wines (think cool, like a cave) near Newberg, continues with free open rehearsals noon-3 p.m. Saturday at Artisanal Cellars in downtown Newberg, and concludes with a Sunday afternoon concert at Elk Cove Vineyards, one of the region’s most picturesque, near Gaston.

Music at the wineries: a new Oregon chamber festival goes for the gusto.

Music at the wineries: a new Oregon chamber festival goes for the gusto.

Who’ll you hear? Violist Kenji Bunch, one of Portland’s busiest composer/performers; Boston violinist (and Portland native) Sasha Callahan and her husband, cellist Leo Eguchi, who’s worked with the likes of William Bolcom and Lukas Foss; and violinist Megumi Stohs Lewis, who grew up in Portland and, among other credits, has performed with Yo-Yo Ma and toured with Jethro Tull. What’ll you hear? Two different programs including works by Bunch, Zoltan Kodaly, the contemporary Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, and, just to keep things grounded, Schubert’s Rosamunde string quartet and Beethoven’s Op. 18 No. 1 string quartet.

Plus, of course, there’ll be wine.

 


 

PROSCENIUM LIVE. Then again, if you stick around town, this is a very good bet: some of the city’s top actors doing staged readings of a hefty handful of new plays by writers including Amy Freed, noted for the likes of Freedomland, The Beard of Avon, and The Monster Builder. Sponsored by Proscenium Journal in partnership with Portland Shakespeare Project, it runs for four days starting Thursday at Artists Repertory Theatre, and it’s free – which, as the late, great Portland TV pitchman Tom Peterson used to proclaim, “is a very good price.”

The full-length plays: C.S. Whitcomb’s Dracula’s Father, Freed’s Them That Are Perfect, Ellen Margolis’s Pericles Wet. Friday night’s one-act showcase includes pieces by Freed, Wei He, Simon Fill, and others.

Reading frenzy: good actors, new scripts at Proscenium Live. David Kinder, kinderpics photography, www.kinderpics.com

Reading frenzy: good actors, new scripts at Proscenium Live. David Kinder, kinderpics photography, www.kinderpics.com

 


 

TBA 16. The fourteenth edition of Time-Based Art Festival, Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual feeding frenzy of the new, the brash, the edgy, and the provocative from the worlds of performance art, visual art, film & video, dance, and multidisciplines, doesn’t run until September 8-18. But tickets and passes go on sale starting today (Tuesday, August 16), and some shows go fast: time to check the attractions, make your plans, and score your seats.

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Clackamas Repertory Theatre strikes up one of America’s most popular bands with greater Portland’s latest revival of Meredith Willson’s beloved musical The Music Man.

For more than half a century the songs and characters that make up this delicate slice of midwestern pie have delighted us with a good celebration and a light poke of fun at Americana. For every jar of prize-winning pickles is a mayonnaise-and-banana sandwich; for every good turn from a neighbor is a keep-it-and-do-it-yourselfer. From its initial Broadway run in 1957 and sweeps at that season’s Tonys, to the charming 1962 film adaptation, to Matthew Broderick’s television revival a few years back, and the countless covers of the hits, The Music Man captures the spirit of small towns that dot our landscape.

Seventy-six trombones in the big parade: a whole town proudly marches. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Seventy-six trombones in the big parade: a whole town proudly marches. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

There’s less cynicism and fable-making than in Oklahoma!, but the same pride in simplicity remains. It’s a good call for Clackamas Rep to put this on for its patrons: Oregon City is a bit like River City, Iowa, with its historic main street and feet on the edge of the Willamette. The seats on the night I attended were filled by families: grandparents, parents, and many children. The excitement in the air was the result of the rare occasion when an audience knows that a company is putting on a story for them that shines nostalgically on the roots of our yesteryear.

Playing the role of Harold Hill is a delicate juggling act. Robert Preston set a high bar with a sexy masculinity that somehow worked: even though Preston was supposed to be a handsome rake, the naked lines on his face made him look like he’d seen a few encounters with a switchblade. He was convincing as a con: we believed his Harold Hill and his chemistry with librarian Marian Paroo. To revive the role just as Preston did would be a strange imitation game, and most likely turn audiences away in laughter. Dave Sweeney takes some, but far from all, of his cues from Preston’s Hill: a devilish smile here and there, the absolute absence of affect when emotions run high, and the grifter’s power of hypnotism when explaining his “think system.”

Sweeney shines in the musical’s rhythmic songs The Sadder but Wiser Girl and Marian the Librarian. At the beginning of the Marian number, when he holds up the bag of marbles and describes each one in detail, down to the biggest one with an American flag, and how they’d excel at breaking the library’s silence in the beginning of the Marian number, it seems that Sweeney, like Hill, knows and appreciates the old kid’s game and also the more mature game of going after a girl. Lucky for us, Sweeney plays Hill with the composure of a man older than Marian who knows his way around the block. There’s no swinging his arms back and forth, as if he’s always ready to march down Main Street in his red plumed hat.

Croon moon June: Dave Sweeny as Professor Harold Hill, Kelly Lanzillo as Marian Paroo. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Croon moon June: Dave Sweeny as Professor Harold Hill, Kelly Lanzillo as Marian Paroo. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Kelly Lanzillo captures the essence of Marian, the librarian, nicely: she’s got the thick skin with a soft wishing heart that the librarian cultivates in her own con game. Her delicate soprano’s coloratura in Goodnight My Someone and Till There Was You swept the theater and focused straight on her performance, as if we’d fixed our eyes at a certain point in the night sky. Lanzillo conveys the bottled-up tension of a pretty girl who ignores being looked at. There is a magnetism between Sweeney have a magnetism, but they stick to a midwestern etiquette of keeping it private. Their budding relationship relies more on like finding like and insider knowledge that they’ve found at long last mutual understanding than the hope of a good passionate kiss.

Marian’s bereaving kid brother Wynthrop is played by Carter Christianson, who does a swell job of being the awkward shy boy who needs some prompting and attention to come out of his shell. He has the nervous twitch at the arms when forced to lisp out his s’s. Christianson’s Gary, Indiana had the adorable spark of a whippersnapper who’s put his foot in the door of confidence and bubbles over in pride at the chance of fitting in. He sings it like it’s the first time he’s been given chewing gum and that moment of excitement will have a splendid domino fall to come.

The River City kids ensemble pack a powerful punch of energy in their dance steps and sometime acrobatics across stage. Alia Cohn’s Amaryllis does some impressive backflips and cartwheels which make us wonder if she shouldn’t try out for the Olympics at some point.

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One man, two guvs, one bumpy ride

Clackamas Rep takes out a racy comic sports car for a spin, and puts the pedal to the metal in fits and starts

For a century now, Italy has been associated with stylish, sporty cars. But lately back in vogue is another kind of high-performance Italian vehicle: Carlo Goldini’s mid-18th-century play The Servant of Two Masters. Given the right driver (that is to say, lead actor) and the right road conditions (the ensemble cast, direction, etc., as we stretch the metaphor), the revved-up comedy classic provides quite the thrill ride.

That surely was the case with Richard Bean’s cheeky adaptation, One Man, Two Guvnors, a huge hit at the National Theatre in London in 2011, and then on Broadway, in both cases starring James Corden as the story’s hungry, harried and hilarious protagonist, Francis. Less widely renowned but no less remarkable was the Servant adaptation by Oded Gross and Tracy Young at the 2009 Oregon Shakespeare Festival, centered on the improvisatory genius of Mark Bedard.

Off to the races: the company shifts into gear. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Off to the races: the company shifts into gear. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Now One Man, Two Guvnors has pulled into the Portland area as a Clackamas Repertory Theatre production directed by David Smith-English and starring Jayson Shanafelt.

My great colleague and friend Bob Hicks recently discussed Artists Rep’s new production of The Understudy as primarily a vehicle for its performers; that’s true almost by definition with One Man, Two Guvnors, which is strongly rooted in the Italian commedia dell’arte tradition and its archetypes and improvisational superstructures. So, with a tip of the hat to Mr. Hicks, let’s continue with that critical framework.

I’ll put it this way: You may have a driver’s license, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win a Formula One grand prix.

There’s a lot to like about the Clackamas production, but overall it’s a bumpy ride, marred by uneven performances and uncertain rhythms.

Things sputter from the outset. Bean’s adaptation sets the story in 1963 in the British coastal town of Brighton, and uses a skiffle band to add some period flavor. Smith-English puts his band front and center for three full songs even before the pre-show stage announcement, which feels like a bit much, but that could serve either as a simple present-tense greeting or as a way to ease the audience into the time/place/feeling of the play. Yet they try to have it both ways here: Band leader Bill Briare, with one of the least-convincing British accents you’re likely to hear, jokes about what a tough time it is for skiffle bands here in 1963, what with the Beatles taking over, then proceeds to sing about “local” rivers such as the Columbia and the Willamette.

Are we supposed to be in 1963 Portland, where there’d be no such thing as a skiffle band? Or in Brighton, where it’s unlikely anyone knows about the Willamette? Both? Neither? Perhaps it wouldn’t matter, if Briare sang in tune or the quartet played with the youthful energy that characterized the British skiffle craze, but we’re out of luck there, too. Three more songs leading into Act II, plus interstitial tunes throughout, and the band’s appearances start to feel depressing, not enlivening.

The ensuing story itself is complicated simplicity. Francis (called Truffaldino in Servant,  in either case modeled on the stock commedia trickster Arlecchino) will work for food. That is, the servant is so bedeviled by his growling tummy that he takes a second job. The problem is that the lives of his original employer and his new one quickly begin to intersect, meaning he has to juggle twice the work, keep them from learning of each other and, in effect, be two people in the same place at once. Furthermore, boss No. 1 isn’t really his boss, but the boss’s twin sister in disguise. And boss No. 2, who has killed the real first boss in a duel, is the lover of the now-disguised twin. There are also competing suitors, quarreling parents, and general confusions that serve as obstacles and hairpin turns. We’re on track to zip through some silly fun. All that’s needed is to put the pedal to the metal and steer sharply.

But that’s actually the hard part.

Comedy is hard, and farce harder still, relying moment by moment on fine points of timing, precision, propulsion, shading. Shanafelt is skilled and charming, but doesn’t quite get us in the palm of his hands. The portly Corden and the impish Bedard were lovable, antic tricksters; Shanafelt is likable, but seems less a harlequin (or jester, or buffoon, or clown) than a genial opportunist, or perhaps an insurance adjuster who fancies himself the life of the party.

Still, he has some fine moments, such as a great bit of physical business when he gets into a fight with himself, and he handles the built-in improv opportunities well. At one point in the performance I saw, he pleaded his hunger yet again, then asked the audience if anyone had brought a sandwich. “I did,” called a voice. Shanafelt clambered out to the middle of row F to find the man behind the voice. “You really brought a sandwich? What kind is it?” “Hummus,” came the reply. “Well, no wonder you haven’t eaten it,” Shanafelt deadpanned.

The rest of the ensemble is a mixed bag as well.

Shanafelt and Rimmer, shifting to overdrive. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

Shanafelt and Rimmer, shifting to overdrive. Photo: Clackamas Repertory Theatre

“They’ve tried, but they can’t make bricks any thicker,” Charlie Clench says of his own daughter Pauline. James C. Lawrence delivers that line and the rest of Charlie’s drolleries with an easy aplomb. As Pauline, Bonnie Auguston, thin though she is, plays thick (that is, stupid) beautifully, with a light, sweet touch. Alex Fox brings a champagne-dry wit to the role of Stanley Stubbers, Francis’ fastidious second “guvnor.” And Doren Elias, effective as the aggrieved father of one of Pauline’s suitors, really shines when he sings a tune with the band, proving what a shot in the arm energetic music can provide.

None of those performers tried to do too much. By contrast, Annie Rimmer plays a woman, Rachel, masquerading as her twin brother Roscoe, as a conglomeration of exaggerated posturing, strutting and shouting. Granted, when it comes to character disguises in period comedies, credibility isn’t really the point, but the lack of it shouldn’t be such a distraction. A similar principle holds for Travis Nodurft’s shambling, gibbering version of an aged waiter.

Perhaps, having seen this vehicle roaring along at a couple of the greatest theater companies in the world (the National Theatre production was shown in Portland on video as part the NT Live series, courtesy of Third Rail Rep), I’m being unduly harsh here. Or maybe the right guiding metaphor isn’t vehicles but one that’s present in the show itself, as Francis’ main motivation: appetite.

If you’re hungry for some fast-paced, funny, frothy farce, this One Man, Two Guvnors is  nothing to turn your nose up at. But neither is it such a flavorful feast that you can’t help gorging yourself and still wanting more.

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Clackamas Rep’s One Man, Two Guvnors continues through October 4 in the Niemeyer Center of Clackamas Community College. Ticket and schedule information are here.

 

Clackamas Rep plays its trump card

J. Pierrepont Finch learns how to succeed in business in the Rep's revival and becomes a man for all political seasons

To anyone convinced that government ought to be run like a business, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying has arrived just in time to slap that silly idea right out of your skull. It does run like a business, and lord help us all.

As we hurtle willy-nilly into the depths of the national political season, we’ll be hearing that business trope a lot. Goodness, we even have a billionaire businessman leading the charge toward the ballot box, building his campaign on bluster, bullying, and the quaint notion that he’s a populist outsider crashing the gates of the establishment in the name of the people. And The Great Hairscape is nothing new. “After all, the chief business of the American people is business,” declared Calvin Coolidge, the man who presided over the giddy buildup to the Great Depression.

Jameson Tabor as J. Pierrepont Finch, Sydney Weir (center) as Smitty, Cassi Q. Kohl as Rosemary. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Jameson Tabor as J. Pierrepont Finch, Sydney Weir (center) as Smitty, Cassi Q. Kohl as Rosemary. Photo: Travis Nodurft

How To Succeed, which is playing through August 23 in a generally handsome and well-sung revival at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, sees things differently. A hit 1961 Broadway musical based on a best-selling 1952 satirical book written in his ample spare time by a successful and somewhat cynical Madison Avenue ad man, it declares a different truth about the modern corporate world: nobody’s in charge, the place is full of yes men, inertia and the covering of one’s posterior are the chief orders of the day, nobody in management knows the slightest thing about the actual product, and no amount of sucking up can be considered shameless if you want to rise to the top.

It’s not business itself that’s in question, mind you: wickets, we can rest assured, the manufacture and sale of which are the core concern of the corporate world of How To Succeed, are vital little doodads, and everyone should have a few spares stashed away in the old croquet set. The worm in the apple’s the ineptitude of the whole process. A bureaucracy, apparently, is a bureaucracy, whether it’s government or business, and the person who figures out how it doesn’t work can scramble to the top of the heap. Not that he or she will be able to do much of anything but sit up there, emperor of futility. But sitting there has its rewards. Dilbert for president!

Or J. Pierrepoint Finch, the eager-beaver hustler at the center of How To Succeed, whose dizzying two-week ascent from window washer to chairman of the board of World Wide Wicket Company is aided and abetted by his scrupulous attention to the advice of a business how-to book. That that’s the only thing he’s scrupulous toward is part of the comedy’s joke, and excellent preparation for a career in politics. The play ends with speculation about Pierrepoint and the U.S. presidency, a position that would trump even chairman of the board.

The company: a little song, a little dance, a little satire. Photo: Travis Nodurft

The company: a little song, a little dance, a little satire. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Jameson Tabor stars as Finch at Clackamas Rep, playing the little schemer like a knife with an ingratiating edge, and a demeanor that falls somewhere between Matthew Broderick (who starred in the 1995 Broadway revival) and a googly-eyed Don Knotts. Finchie’s supposed to be shallow and irritating: nobody notices, or minds, until it belatedly becomes clear that he’s aced almost everyone out.

How To Succeed is a period piece, very much of its Mad Men times, and there are things that go along with that beyond Alva Bradford’s sharp costumes and Chris Whitten’s art-deco, Miami-colored set. There are no persons of color darker than a light tan in the executive headquarters, and no women executives. The women are secretaries or bimbos or both, and even the most ambitious among them aspire to marry a successful executive and preside over a suburban household while their husbands go into the city to slay dragons every day. On the other hand, what’s old is new: the remnants of that idea are likely to pop up during this grueling presidential-nomination campaign, too. (Or have already: even Fox News woman broadcasters, it seems, will be put in their place if they get too uppity with their questions.)

It’s key to remember that How To Succeed, created by the Guys and Dolls team of composer Frank Loesser and writer Abe Burrows (with a couple of others), is a comedy and was never meant as an exposé of American business. As a new Broadway musical, it played to houses packed with people who worked at corporations like World Wide Wicket: the audience was in on the joke. Like all good satire, How To Succeed was only a slight stretch of a broadly perceived reality. The play dug deep into the weak spots of the corporate system, and laid out an extreme-case scenario of how to manipulate it, and it was funny because everyone knew that even if it wasn’t quite plausible, it was possible. Decades later, anyone who paid even an ounce of attention to the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 can see the seed of the disaster right here, planted with a song and a smirk and a dance.

Jonathan Quesenberry as Bud Frump: it's not easy being green with envy. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Jonathan Quesenberry as Bud Frump: it’s not easy being green with envy. Photo: Travis Nodurft

Director Don Elias’s cast at Clackamas Rep is blessed with a solid crop of musical comediennes and reliable character actors. Cassi Q. Kohl as the secretary Rosemary, who falls at first glance for Finch and seems too smart to be so dumb, turns in yet another appealingly polished performance, as do Sidney Weir as her sidekick Smitty, Amanda Valley as super-efficient Miss Jones, and Teresa Renee as the bundle of trouble Hedy LaRue, who’d be the sadder but wiser girl except she’s not sad about a bit of it, and not so wise, either. Jon Quesenberry is a lightly and likably detestable villain as ineffectual mama’s-boy Bud Frump, nephew of the big boss Mr. Biggley (Mark Pierce); good comic turns also come from Britton Adams as Bratt, the personnel guy (these days he’d be “human resources”) and Tony Stroh in the dual roles of nibbly Mr. Trimble and brassy Wally Womper, chairman of the board.

How To Succeed is a clever play, but it’s dated in ways that Loesser and Burrows’ brilliant Guys and Dolls, which has the sophisticated structure of a Shakespeare comedy and the sass of a purely American style, isn’t. The songs are tuneful but, unlike the hit-fest score of Guys and Dolls, more efficient than memorable (the closest thing to a standard is probably I Believe in You). And even with all the rapid action – and, in this production, Megan Misslin’s energetic choreography that assures a constant flow of physical action – the story’s a little brittle; you might find yourself after a while checking in and out.

But not too much. In its own way, this is a classic American tale, too, if not quite a classic of American theater, and its time has circled back again. It’s not hard to imagine a ticket of J. Pierrepont Finch and Professor Harold Hill from The Music Man, though Finch might have to settle for the vice presidential slot. Prof Hill’s proven that if you’re brash enough, you don’t even need to know the territory. And that brand seems to be selling like hotcakes in the political marketplace these days.

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How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying continues through August 23 at Clackamas Rep. Ticket and schedule information are here.

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In a welcome trend, cabaret’s been popping up here and there in town lately, and Clackamas Rep has a good one lined up for Aug. 16. Singer and actress Meredith Kaye Clark will perform Joni Mitchell’s classic album Blue in a concert setting, accompanying herself on guitar and with Mont Chris Hubbard on piano. The same show sold out a trio of recent performances at Portland Center Stage. Info here.

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Clackamas Rep will close its season September 10-October 4 with the Northwest premiere of One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean’s smash 2011 adaptation of Carlo Goldini’s 18th century farce The Servant of Two Masters. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival scored a massive hit in 2009 with its own freewheeling adaptation of The Servant of Two Masters. This material’s a potential gold mine.

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America, America: ‘Carousel’ and ‘Best Little Whorehouse’

A pair of summer musical entertainments at Clackamas Rep and Broadway Rose reflect today's headlines

“Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress,” Charles M. Blow wrote in a Monday op-ed piece in the New York Times bemoaning the simultaneous shenanigans and torpor of the current do-nothing Congress. “Their full-time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.”

As it happens, I read Blow’s depressingly rational screed the morning after catching that grand old flimflam of a musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas at Broadway Rose, and I couldn’t help thinking, What else is new?

The women's chorus in "Best Little Whorehouse." Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

The women’s chorus in “Best Little Whorehouse.” Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Whorehouse first opened on Broadway in 1978, and is based loosely on real events a few years earlier when a crusading television reporter started a campaign that finally shut the doors of the Chicken Ranch, a century-old institution of widely if reluctantly tolerated repute outside the rural town of LaGrange, Texas. The resulting political fallout, at least in the fictionalized version onstage, is less a matter of actuality than of appearances, which in the topsy-turvy world of politics have a way of becoming reality. Life has been rolling along pretty much as humanly usual, with most of the human appetites being accommodated in some sort of agreed-upon manner closely associated to a wink and a nod and a turning of official heads in the opposite direction. But times are changing. Raise enough of a stink and eventually someone’ll be forced to do something about it, not so much to stop the stink as to stop the noise and keep the incumbents safely in office.

Whorehouse isn’t the best musical to come roaring down the two-lane blacktop of rural Americana, but it knows what it wants to do and it does it well, and as I hadn’t seen it in a number of years I was happy to make its acquaintance again, especially in this agreeable production directed (as was Broadway Rose’s pert and winning revival of The Music Man earlier in the summer) by the stage-smart Peggy Taphorn. Like most musical comedies it’s really mostly about its surfaces, but it does make a difference what’s underneath, and Whorehouse survives partly because its book latches onto some enduring American themes: a strong libertarian bent, an equally strong moralistic fervor, a thirst for fame and power and the various pleasures of the flesh, and the destruction derby that occurs when the soft tissue of human desire meets the driving metal of religious extremism and unshackled careerism. The resulting ruckus brings to mind such political and religious fast-shuffle hall of famers as Wilbur Mills and Lyndon Johnson and Aimee Semple McPherson, and the shenanigans of such latter-day politician/entertainer/perpetrator/scolds as Michele Bachmann, Elliott Spitzer, Sarah Palin, Anthony Weiner, Glenn Beck, and that comeback champ Newt Gingrich. Ooh, they love to do the little sidestep: It’s like watching Molière performed on a pedal steel guitar.

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Reviews: ‘Music Man,’ ‘Philadelphia Story’

Broadway Rose and Clackamas Rep take on a couple of comic classics, right (almost) here in River City

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer, those days of soda and pretzels and beer. And, on stages from Maine to California, comedy classics from the Great American Nostalgia Playbook.

One of the geniuses of the American comedy and musical stages is that when the shows get most playful, the best ones also unveil genuine insights into the national character. O’Neill creates an Ah, Wilderness! as a counterbalance to the likes of The Iceman Cometh. Thornton Wilder introduces us to the escapades of the Antrobus clan in The Skin of Our Teeth. Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows make national sensations of a bunch of two-bit hoodlums and holy high-rollers in Guys and Dolls. And audiences settle into a ritual of laughter, immersing themselves in the sunny pleasures of true play.

Two such summer-season classics have just opened in Portland’s suburbs, providing a comic alternative to that other great American summer staple, Shakespeare in a Thousand Parks: The Music Man at Tigard’s Broadway Rose, which has been doing polished musicals for 23 years; and The Philadelphia Story at Clackamas Repertory Theatre, which is in its 10th season on the campus of Clackamas Community College near Oregon City. Both shows continue through July 20.

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Professor Harold Hill (Joe Thiessen) gives Iowa a try. Photo: Meg Williams

Professor Harold Hill (Joe Theissen) gives Iowa a try. Photo: Meg Williams

 

The Music Man

Broadway Rose’s funny and crackling new Music Man opens with a giant locomotive steaming toward the audience, bright searchlight piercing the auditorium, a sweeping powerhouse of theatrical entertainment pulling confidently into the station a century overdue.

The train stops, and the engine unfolds like the bellows of a squeezebox to reveal the familiar interior of a passenger car filled with traveling salesmen talking territory and the tricks of the trade. It’s like a babushka doll, or a Fabergé egg of the Iowa cornfields. Then the toy men inside begin to bob and sway and sputter like the clattering pieces of a Rube Goldberg contraption.

The sense of something toylike and mechanical is at the heart of director and choreographer Peggy Taphorn’s bright, appealing production, which bounces to the brassy march of pop-up pieces and interlinking motifs. Every movement’s matched to the rhythm of the music, which is borrowed, in composer and author Meredith Willson’s brilliant opening rail-car scene, from the steam and clack of the train itself. Plus, the harmonies! We got treble, right here in River City.

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