Cuba Libre

PAMTAs: a night for windmills, misbehavin’, Cuban rhythms, and a big green ogre

Lakewood's "Man of La Mancha" takes home the trophies in Monday night's Portland Area Musical Theatre Awards celebration in the Winnie

What do you get with a packed house full of theater lovers celebrating musicals? The ninth annual Portland Area Musical Theater Awards celebration, which took over the Dolores Winningstad Theatre on Monday night to celebrate the best of the 2015-16 season. For one night the Winnie had the cream of Portland’s crop of golden pipes filling the air with some of the best musical numbers of the year.

The evening’s big winner was Don Quixote, who tilted at enough windmills to bring the house down. Lakewood Theatre’s Man of La Mancha took home a helmetful of hardware, winning for best production, actor and supporting actor (Leif Norby as Quixote, Joey Cote as his sidekick Sancho Panza), musical direction (Alan B. Lytle), and sound design (Marcus Storey and Timothy Greenidge).  In addition, Greg Tamblyn was named best director, sharing the award with Chris Coleman, who won for Ain’t Misbehavin‘.

Matthew Brown sings "More Than I Can Say" from "Falsettos," holding the PAMTA audience spellbound. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics photography

Matthew Brown sings “More Than I Can Say” from “Falsettos,” holding the PAMTA audience spellbound. Photo: David Kinder/kinderpics photography

Portland Center Stage’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ also won for scenic design (Tony Cisek) and lighting design Diane Ferry Williams). The evening’s third big winner was Cuba Libre, the ambitious premiere musical at Artists Repertory Theatre featuring the music of Tiempo Libre. It won for best original production, choreography (Maija Garcia) and original score (Jorge Gomez). Northwest Children’s Theatre’s Shrek: The Musical was a double winner, for outstanding ensemble and costumes (Mary Rochon).


‘The Sound of a Voice’ and ‘Cuba Libre’: Music for theater

Theatre Diaspora and Artists Repertory Theatre productions show the power -- and limitations -- of music in theater.

As if Oregon didn’t have enough music performances in the overabundance of concerts happening onstage this fall, music is also a big part of the state’s theater scene, from currently playing musicals like Ain’t Misbehavin’ and 42nd Street, to Portland Playhouse’s hip hop play How We Got On, a pair of musicals at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and many more — including the lavishly produced Cuba Libre at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theatre and the bare bones staged reading of The Sound of a Voice, which concludes its two-performance run at Portland Center Stage on Saturday.

Music is the first thing we experience in Theatre Diaspora’s staged reading of David Henry Hwang’s 1983 playlet. Even before we hear the sound of a voice. Larry Tyrell takes the compact stage at the Armory’s intimate Ellyn Bye Theater and plays the bamboo Japanese flute. Along with last Saturday’s lowering clouds, the haunting shakuhachi and spare set (merely a cloth-draped folding rice paper screen and a bowl of yellow chrysanthemums) created just the right suspended, otherworldly mood for this 45-minute fable.

Given the prominence of music in this play’s plot, it also shouldn’t surprise anyone that Hwang turned it into a short opera with music by Philip Glass, with whom he later collaborated on the science fiction chamber opera 1000 Airplanes on the Roof, the first show of his I ever saw, back in 1988. The Tony- and Obie-award winning Hwang knows from music, having co-created many operas and Broadway musicals and being most famous for a show with an obvious operatic connection, M. Butterfly.

Chisao Hata and Larry Toda star in 'The Sound of a Voice.' Photo: Naomi Hawthorne.

Chisao Hata and Larry Toda star in ‘The Sound of a Voice.’ Photo: Naomi Hawthorne.

This show begins with a lone, unnamed traveler arriving at a remote forest cabin in what’s evidently pre-industrial Japan, since it’s described as a two day horse ride from the nearest village. He’s greeted by its sole inhabitant, a woman (also never named) who offers him a room for the night before he continues on his journey the next day. In the morning, she encourages him to stay longer, he helps with some chores, they get to know each other, but not too much, as he’s mysteriously evasive about his past and she doesn’t much more specific about hers. Gradually we learn that his evasion is partly motivated by deception about the real reason for his appearance. As we learn more about the pair, and they about each other, conflicts emerge, and eventually a confrontation erupts — though not just with each other, but rather with their own inner contradictions.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Day of the Dead

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

Suddenly it’s mid-October, and Halloween’s grinning around the corner, as is the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, which counterintuitively livens things up considerably, especially on Portland’s theater scene. This week, Teatro Milagro opens its twentieth annual celebration of the Day of the Dead, this time called La Muerte Baila, for a run through November 8. The talented Rebecca Martinez has put this bilingual show together, and we never know exactly what to expect until we’ve seen it, but this description from Milagro gives a hint: “When a disenchanted muertito refuses to return to the realm of the living, La Muerte must stop her own grumbling and set things straight.” Dancing, comedy, and a tour through “the realms of grief and remembrance”: get on your dancing shoes.


Sofia Tlamatiliztli May-Cuxim, all dressed up for Milagro's La Muerte Baila. Photo: Russell J Young

Sofia Tlamatiliztli May-Cuxim, all dressed up for Milagro’s La Muerte Baila. Photo: Russell J Young

Elsewhere on this week’s theater calendar, we detect something of a, well, theme:

Meanwhile, Post5 Theatre opens a revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, with Cassandra Boice directing and Todd Van Voris leading the cast. But that’s a horse of a different collar.

And speaking of horses, Wayne Harrel’s Remme’s Run – the tale of a wild six-day horseback gallop from Sacramento to Portland in 1855 – opens at CoHo. A.L. Adams reviewed the show’s trial trot at last spring’s Fertile Ground new-plays fest for ArtsWatch.


Never mind the politics, ‘Cuba Libre’ knows how to party

When Artists Repertory Theatre's world premiere musical finds its groove, it's all hands on stage

When Artists Repertory Theatre’s Cuba Libre starts to heat up—when the band Tiempo Libre has time to do some serious digging on a song, the cast of excellent singers is in full voice, and the dancers are stretching and entwining in the most sinuous ways—well, that’s just about the best party imaginable. And if you’re in the audience, instead of just observing and attempting to channel the thrills vicariously, you may just find yourself led onstage where the action is hottest. Axiom: The cool distance between audience and performer melts when booties are shaken with intent and abandon.

At the beating heart of this world premiere musical—music by Jorge Gómez, book by Carlos Lacámara (who wrote last season’s Exiles), choreography by Maija Garcia, direction from Dámaso Rodriguez, all Cubans or Cuban-Americans—the blood is flowing in salsa rhythms, more or less, and that’s a very good thing. I’m less sure of the story itself, which is loosely based on the experiences of Gómez, and the sense it tries to make of life in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union—and the subsequent collapse of Soviet subsidies to Cuba. But during the show, every time an alarm went off in my head, someone started singing or undulating or the beat became too infectious to maintain my reservations for long.


ArtsWatch Weekly: Cuba Libre, love-dance of Italy, Open Studios

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

Saturday’s official opening night of Cuba Libre (it’s already in preview performances) will do the downbeat on one of the most eagerly anticipated shows of Portland’s theater season, and if ticket sales are your measure, it’s already a hit: it’s been held over before it even opens, and several infill shows have been added, too.

Why all the excitement? It’s a world premiere – not just any premiere, but one with big national ambitions, and a national cast and creative team to match. Dámaso Rodriguez brought the project with him when he came north from Los Angeles to take over as artistic director at Artists Rep, and everyone’s eyes are on bigger things: it can’t hurt that it arrives at a time when Cuban/U.S. relations are finally thawing after more than 50 years. Splitting its time and tensions between Cuba and Miami, Cuba Libre takes its cues from the lives and rhythms of the multiple Grammy-nominee timba band Tiempo Libre, which will play at every performance. Dance, Latin fusion, and a drama stretched across two cultures make up the core of what Artists Rep is calling a “Broadway-scale new musical.” The 21 performers will be squeezed into downtown’s Winningstad Theatre, which is a boost in size from Artists Rep’s home stages but smaller than any Broadway house. The show runs through November 15.

The sights and sounds of Cuba Libre: Tiempo Libre's Xavier Mili and choreographer Maija Garcia. Photo: Owen Carey

The sights and sounds of “Cuba Libre”: Tiempo Libre’s Xavier Mili and choreographer Maija Garcia. Photo: Owen Carey


While Cuba Libre‘s kicking up the sights and sounds of Havana and Miami on Saturday night, Oregon Ballet Theatre starts its own season with a trip to Italy – or Amore Italiano, as the company’s labeling the show. (Here at ArtsWatch World Headquarters, we’re abashed to admit that the program’s overtly alluring title immediately brought to mind Connie Francis’ mid-’60s album Love, Italian Style. This does not reflect well on the adolescent priorities of ArtsWatch management.) OBT’s season kickoff will feature Sub Rosa, a new piece by Almost Mozart choreographer James Kudelka, to music by Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, plus the third act of August Bournonville’s snappy Napoli. For ballet fans, it’s always fascinating to see the company’s first show of the season and discover who’s new and who’s picked up the pace. Bonus: violinist Aaron Meyer and band will play Italian tunes. Amore.

Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist Candace Bouchard: the company kicks off its fall season on Saturday. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist Candace Bouchard: the company kicks off its fall season on Saturday. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert


A few things to scribble on your calendar:

  • MOMIX. White Bird brings the legendary illusionist dance troupe to town for four shows Thursday through Saturday of its full-length piece Alchemia. Portland has a special affinity with MOMIX: Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton, founders of BodyVox, performed with MOMIX earlier in their careers, and although the companies have developed along very different lines, you can still see the family tree.
  • Cock. Defunkt Theatre opens Mike Barlett’s gender-teasing play about a guy who falls in love with a woman, which upsets his longtime boyfriend. Then there’s a dinner party designed to hash things out, and, well … the metaphorical crockery starts to fly. Jon Kretzu directs. Thursday through November 14.
  • Ekphrastasy: Seven Poets Respond to Art. Culture happens in all sorts of situations around Oregon, and at all sorts of price points. This one happens to be free. The poets – John Morrison, Jon Sinclair, Kristin Koebke, Michael Jarmer, Michael Kerr, Michelle Delaine Williams, Woesha Hampson – will read new and old works responding to the art on the wallsof Gallery 114 by Curtis Settino, Jerry Wellman, and Rich Powers. 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Poets Between Worlds: Steve Cleveland & Eric Walter. While we’re thinking about poetry, a subject Portlanders take far from prosaically, these two writers and musicians will read from their work at the Multnomah Arts Center, stripping it down to the words and the sound. 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
  • Rope. The nights are chilly, we’re veering toward Halloween, and Bag&Baggage is here with a little mayhem on its mind: Patrick Hamilton’s play Rope, based on the infamous Leopold & Loeb thrill-killing case. Hitchcock used Hamilton’s play as the base for one of his most disturbing movies. Thursday through November 1.


Michael T. Hensley, The Bluffs, mixed media on wood panel, 32 x 36 inches. Hensley is a community and featured artist at Portland Open Studios.

Michael T. Hensley, “The Bluffs,” mixed media on wood panel, 32 x 36 inches. Hensley is a community and featured artist at Portland Open Studios.

PDXOS sounds like a Greek island or a computer operating program. In fact, it’s the new moniker for Portland Open Studios, one of the city’s more intriguing annual events. Open Studios is a two-weekend event – this year, Saturday and Sunday, October 10-11 and 17-18 – and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a chance to visit the studios of working artists, see what they’re working on, what their creative spaces look like, chat with them and maybe even see them at work.This year’s lineup features 106 artists, some with gallery representation, some not, and a broad range of styles and media. Some, like Christopher Mooney and Shawn Demarest, are known for their urbanscapes. Some work in fabric (Beth Yazhari) or wood (Christopher Wagner, Stan Peterson) or encaustic hot wax paint (Karl Kaiser) or steel and enamel (Joel Heidel and Angelina Marino-Heidel, who make sculptural bike racks). All are happy to open their doors to you. And who knows what you might pick up?

Poppy Dully, Mrs. Dalloway, monotypes on found pages, 7 x 26 x 1 inches. Dully is one of 106 artists taking part in Portland Open Studios.

Poppy Dully, “Mrs. Dalloway,” monotypes on found pages, 7 x 26 x 1 inches. Dully is one of 106 artists taking part in Portland Open Studios.


APainting drones: a scene from Sabina Haque's video installation "Remembrance."

Painting drones: a scene from Sabina Haque’s video installation “Remembrance.”

When art and world tensions collide. Pakistani American artist Sabina Haque’s newest installation, Storylines: Art & Remote Conflict, opens Wednesday in the Littman Gallery at Portland State University and continues through October 28. The Portland artist spends part of each year in Karachi, where she grew up. Storylines, a three-part installation exploring loss, memory, and renewal, is an extension of her video performance Remembrance, about the devastation of drone warfare, which ArtsWatch wrote about last year in the essay Remember This: The Price of Drones.


ArtsWatch links

Artist Blair Saxon-Hill, wrapped in paper, tied in rope on a pedestal, and lit in the bright glare of a 1980s projector. Photo: Sabina Poole

Artist Blair Saxon-Hill, wrapped in paper, tied in rope on a pedestal, and lit in the bright glare of a 1980s projector. Photo: Sabina Poole

Blair Saxon-Hill: Fit To Be Tied. Sabina Poole’s trek across Oregon to capture artists in their studios and photograph them turns this week to an Industrial Southeast Portland studio and an extraordinary photo session that involved some highly unusual gift-wrapping.

Katherine Longstreth’s Marginal Evidence. In her most recent Weekend DanceWatch, Jamuna Chiarini gets down to the details of Longstreth’s installation, which is rooted in her discovery of an accidental film recording of a dance rehearsal twenty years ago. The piece continues through November 14 at White Box Gallery. Look for new versions of DanceWatch and MusicWatch later this week on ArtsWatch’s home page.

A tightly sprung turn of the screw. I look into the shadows of Portland Shakespeare Project’s spry and stimulating two-actor version of Henry James’s classic ghost story, which “seeps in and slithers out, raising the hair on your neck and revealing almost nothing but impressions of what may or may not have taken place.”

Chris Harder and Dana Millican at Portland Shakespeare Project: the alpha and omega of The Turn of the Screw. Photo: Russell J Young

Chris Harder and Dana Millican at Portland Shakespeare Project: the alpha and omega of The Turn of the Screw. Photo: Russell J Young


About ArtsWatch Weekly

We’ve been sending a letter like this every Tuesday for a couple of years now to a select group of email subscribers. Now we’re also posting it weekly on the ArtsWatch home page. In ArtsWatch Weekly, we take a look at stories we’ve covered in the previous week, give early warning of events coming up, and sometimes head off on little arts rambles we don’t include anywhere else. You can read this report here. Or, you can get it delivered weekly to your email inbox, and get a quick look at all the stories you might have missed (we have links galore) and the events you want to add to your calendar. It’s easy to sign up. Just click here, and leave us your name and e-address.

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