The Music Man

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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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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