Musical Theater

Beehive’s hum and sting

Broadway Rose takes a musical tumble into the the sounds and styles (and hairdos) of the 1960s

Breathe a sigh of relief: the Broadway Rose New Stage has high enough ceilings to accommodate the fabulous hairstyles that parade across the stage in the company’s latest production, Beehive.

Beehive, a musical revue of the top ten hits and girl groups of the 1960s and a clever celebration of women’s voices, begins with six young teenagers who find refuge in the family garage to practice their dance moves and vocals along with the radio hits that consume their world. These are more than just songs: they’re maps that chart the bumpy waters of adolescent emotional lives. It’s a rite of passage for most kids (and a vexation to their parents) to hole themselves up in a room and fall head over heels for music.

The hairdos have it in Broadway Rose’s “Beehive.” Photo: Liz Wade

Unlike many of us who copied dance moves in the secrecy of our bedrooms, these girls from the golden age of American culture, music, and design have the style handbook down. Their coiffures are architectural masterpieces, replicas of the hairsprayed skyscrapers of the girl-group greats who rocked the original locks. The beehive hairdo took an enormous amount of weekly effort to perfect, from the right kind of shampoo to the best size soup can to achieve maximum flip to the intense under-teasing and overlaying back comb. It’s the American version of the geisha’s shimada. And at Broadway Rose, Andrea Enright’s Leslie Gore has the hair down to a T, with golden highlights framing her face. The cast moves through several costume changes as the conservative Jackie Kennedy lines become relaxed and individual as the decade advances. The whole ensemble of hair, costume, and stage is eye candy, like leafing through a 3D fashion history.

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A Wonderful Wizard of Oz that favors film fans

Kids will be delighted by NWCT's play that so aptly mimics the movie.

Have you heard? there’s a Wizard of Oz production on right now! The Wizard of Oz is playing through Jan 2 at Northwest Children’s Theater.

“Well, that settles it; we’re off to see The Wizard!” you may immediately proclaim. “Never mind the review.” And I say more power to you. Yes, you may be excused. Go!

Ronni Lee is Dorothy, Clara-Liis Hillier is the witch, and there’s even a little dog, too!

Now, then. Those of us you who are still reading probably fall into two types: extreme Dorothy devotees who demand perfection from their Wizard of Oz productions, and people who could give a rip about The Wizard, but are gamely seeking shows to enjoy with their family over the holidays. And both sets of folks are wondering, “Is it good?” Good news: it’s excellent. And in the best sense of the word, it’s “safe,” faithfully recreating all of the major elements from in the 1939 movie version. This show is almost exactly everything you’d expect. The Lion, Tin Man, Scarecrow and Wizard look, sing and talk just like they do in the movie, Dorothy’s eyes and vowels are every bit as round as Judy Garland’s, Toto is a real live terrier, and so on. This show could almost be called The Wizard of Oz: The Movie, On Stage. And that’s ideal for kids.

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Spectravagasm ‘Holidaze’: Come one, come all

The reliably great comedy series is finally accessible in more ways than one

Can this be the year that Spectravagasm stops feeling like a secret? Because I’m tired of having to explain how funny it is. Everyone should just go see it.

If the tight-knit crowd who’ve already followed this show for years can don their earmuffs for a moment, we’ll review: Spectravagasm is a series of original sketch comedy shows that each address one of life’s broadest topics. So far, they’ve skewered religion, death, drugs, gender, art, love, camp—and now, finally, holidays. Armed with a bouncy, sarcastic ensemble cast, a barrage of kitschy video segments, a Spectravagasm theme song that changes lyrics to support each show’s theme, and at least one all-new musical number every time, Spectravagasm is one of the most complete packages available in Portland-artisan-crafted theater entertainment. Why doesn’t everybody know?

L to R: Keith Cable, Jessica Tidd, Jim Vadala, Sam Dinkowitz, Jessi Walters, Phillip Berns

L to R: Keith Cable, Jessica Tidd, Jim Vadala, Sam Dinkowitz, Diane Kondrat, Jessi Walters, Phillip Berns. Photo: Kathleen Kelly

I can see a couple reasons for this. Up ’til now, Spectravagasm has always been a Post5 Theatre property, holding down that house’s late-night spot after whatever play they were officially billing as part of their season. Post5, up through its closure last week, had always occupied the city’s geographic fringes, starting on 82nd Avenue and finishing in Sellwood. Furthermore, there’s seemed to be an unfortunate inverse correlation between the buzz ‘gasm has generated over the years and the time that’s been put in. Why? Because the show’s producer and mastermind, Sam Dinkowitz, performs in many other shows around town—perhaps most relevantly committing his last three Christmases to Twist Your Dickens at Portland Center Stage. While that role raised his profile, it also limited the time he could pour into his pet project; hence, the ‘gasms that finally garnered the most public buzz—”drugs” and “art”—also least demonstrated the scope of the troupe’s talents.

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‘Civil War Christmas’: many moving parts

Artists Rep's holiday show brings American history to life and brings a fresh approach to classic carols

Why, when we think of “classics,” and especially “Christmas classics,” do we gravitate toward Great Britain? Of course that region’s written history extends further into the past, and their Pagan traditions have seeded many of our modern holiday expressions, from mistletoe to the Christmas tree. Of course most of our best-known carols hail from Britain—and one in particular, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, rules the winter theater. All of these yuletide flourishes are a tough act to follow, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Surely there are other stories, American stories, that can offer moral authority and spiritual enlightenment at Christmas time.

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

Vin Shambry, with Crystal Ann Muñoz in background. Photo: Owen Carey

A Civil War Christmas, Artists Rep’s holiday offering, is many degrees removed from Scrooge, skipping across the pond to the banks of the Potomac River in 1864, near the end of the Civil War. As historical fiction, the play certainly passes muster, proving (as Hamilton has) that American history runs Britain plenty of competition when it comes to inspirational characters, interesting dialects and fluffy blouses.

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ArtsWatch Weekly: Bluebeards, villain kings, black art’s soul

The feminine mystique of "Bluebeard's Castle," Shakespeare's "Richard III," the trouble with Tiger Lily, black art and meaning in America

The naked truth about Bluebeard’s Castle, Béla Bartók’s astounding hour-long opera that the Oregon Symphony performed Saturday through Monday nights, is … well, let Elizabeth Schwartz explain it, in her typically erudite program notes:

“Bartók worked on the opera over the summer of 1911, when he and his wife Márta spent their holiday at a Swiss nudist colony near Zurich. [Librettist Béla] Balázs, who visited the colony that summer, noted in his diary how the industrious Bartók would spend hours in the solarium, wearing nothing but sunglasses, as he worked on the score.”

Viktoia Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in "Bluebeard's Castle." Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

Viktoria Vizin as Judith, with Chihuly glass, in “Bluebeard’s Castle.” Photo: Jacob Wade/Oregon Symphony

John and Yoko have nothing on that. And in a way, Bartók’s curious compositional strategy made sense: emotional nakedness is essential to the Bluebeard tale as Balázs retold it. The opera has just two singers: the aging, mysteriously private Bluebeard himself, and his new (fourth) bride, Judith, who insists on bringing some sunshine into the castle, and her new marriage, by demanding that Bluebeard open the seven locked doors that hide his secrets. Maybe not the best idea. At a talk Friday night with symphony director Carlos Kalmar, Christopher Mattaliano of Portland Opera, and the Portland Art Museum’s Bran Ferriso (the show’s set included marvelous glass works by Dale Chihuly), stage director Mary Birnbaum talked about Castle as Judith’s quest for knowledge and openness, which Bluebeard is loath to grant, and I’m inclined to agree that it’s really Judith’s story. Contrary to popular opinion, her soul sisters Eve and Pandora seem the heroes of their stories, too, the ones who provide the essential spark of humanness: How can one be fully human without curiosity and the compulsion to learn? Remember: the last bee to escape Pandora’s bonnet was hope.

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Broadway Rose takes flight

The off-Broadway musical "Fly by Night" glows in the company's smart and funny new production

Broadway Rose and director Isaac Lamb are bringing the fleeting magic of stardust to the stage with their new production of the 2014 musical Fly by Night.

A potent mix of youthful optimism and struggle marks this dark comedy. From the opening, Joe Theissen’s narrator (one among many parts he plays), decked out in brill-combed hair, thin tie and small-lapel suit, takes us back to the kind of dirty but creative streets of Greenwich Village in 1965. The musical has the feel, look, and smell of a dusty early Simon and Garfunkel album, if it were co-written by Rod Serling: plot twists around learning through loss, and how to channel it with some catchy riffs.

"Fly by Night": coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

“Fly by Night”: coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Fly by Night is an off-Broadway musical by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, and it has the layers, heavy crafting and emotional insight that Yale mafia graduates are known for. From the first number, Circles in the Sand, the audience is hooked. You want to buy the soundtrack. It’s updated folk music that came out of the coffee shops and underground taverns in the early Bob Dylan-worshipping days: simple, syrupy, good pop with clever lyrics. John Quesenberry leads the band’s performances over two and a half hours with energy, enthusiasm, and charm. Connolly and Mitnick’s music is like a good Indie record; it’s Vampire Weekend and the Shins pared down to groovy elements. There is a seamless transition into every song and it’s amazing to watch dialogue slide into song. The “now they’re going to sing” abrupt monologues are missing, and as the cream separates, the dearness of the story rises to the top.

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Oh, the horror: devil gets his due

Portland Center Stage trumps the season with a sharp and funny revival of the dark and twisted musical comedy "Little Shop of Horrors"

Maybe you’ve heard this story before. Exotic guy who talks tons of trash shows up out of the blue and fascinates just about everybody with his general weirdness. Schlub of a loser soon learns the guy is scary and dangerous in addition to being an obnoxious loudmouth, but the exotic guy promises the schlub his heart’s desire. So the schlub, after some anxious soul-searching, capitulates and helps the exotic guy on his quest for world domination. People get chomped to pieces in the process.

No, it’s not the story of the Republican Party making its devil’s deal with Donald Trump in pursuit of the Oval Office. It’s the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors, and the exotic guy is a blood-sucking, singing plant from outer space. The schlub is a hapless clerk named Seymour at a Skid Row floral shop. His heart’s desire is Audrey, his pretty if slightly dim and bedraggled fellow clerk, who’s in an unfortunate relationship with a sadistic dentist. And the Oval Office is … well, a little trim house out in the suburbs, somewhere that’s green.

Nick Cearley as Seymour, with a baby-sized Audrey II. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Nick Cearley as Seymour, with a baby-sized Audrey II. Photo: Patrick Weishampel

Little Shop, that evergreen 1983 off-off-Broadway musical based on a 1960 schlock movie filmed in two days by Roger Corman on the not-yet-struck set of another low-budget flick, opened Portland Center Stage’s newest season Friday night, and the good news is, it’s a solid, straightforward, blissfully unconceptualized production of a reliably entertaining show that doesn’t need any embellishment. Director Bill Fennelly doesn’t try to reinvent the thing: he just makes sure it’s polished and paced and, yes, entertaining. If you have a warm spot for Little Shop – I do, and fondly recall, among a lengthy list of Little Shops, a long-ago Portland production starring Randall Stuart as Seymour, Margie Boulé as Audrey, Randy Knee as dentist Orin, and Ernie Casciato as shop owner Mushnik – you’re likely to feel warm and fuzzy all over again. If you’ve never seen Little Shop … well, welcome to the club.

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