Village Theatre original ‘Trails’ debuts

March 12, 2013

When Village Theatre announces a new season, tucked in among the productions is usually something original that will have audiences eager to be the first to experience.

Hoping to follow in the footsteps of other recent original musicals with their roots in Issaquah, such as “Next to Normal” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” comes “Trails,” opening March 14.

By Mike Hipple/Village Theatre Joshua Carter (left), in the role of Seth, and Dane Stokinger as Mike, appear in the Village Theatre production of ‘Trails.’

By Mike Hipple/Village Theatre
Joshua Carter (left), in the role of Seth, and Dane Stokinger as Mike, appear in the Village Theatre production of ‘Trails.’

“Trails” debuted with its first reading during Village Theatre’s 2011 season’s Festival of New Musicals.

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Village Theatre sets intriguing drama in ‘The Mousetrap’

January 22, 2013

Mysterious guest Christopher Wren, played by Quinn Armstrong, passes his dark coat, light scarf and felt hat to Monkswell Manor’s proprietor Mollie Ralston, played by Hana Lass. By John Pai/Village Theatre

Mysterious guest Christopher Wren, played by Quinn Armstrong, passes his dark coat, light scarf and felt hat to Monkswell Manor’s proprietor Mollie Ralston, played by Hana Lass. By John Pai/Village Theatre

To enjoy some of the finer things in life, there are rules. For example:

  • The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.
  • What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
  • And, do not reveal the plot of “The Mousetrap.”

Each has its own reason to remain spoiler free. Village Theatre hopes its patrons adhere to the latter so subsequent audiences can enjoy its latest production, Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.”

What started as an 80th birthday tribute written for Queen Elizabeth in 1947, Agatha Christie thought her radio broadcast, “Three Blind Mice,” adapted for stage would have an uneventful eight-month run, tops.

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‘Fiddler on the Roof’ delivers perfect match of familiar, fresh

November 13, 2012

Jennifer Weingarten and Eric Polani Jensen star as daughter and father in Village Theatre’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

“Fiddler on the Roof” is rooted in a bleak era and setting — circa 1905 czarist Russia, a bastion of anti-Semitic sentiment — and the plot only turns grimmer as the acts progress.

The musical bears a reputation as a downer and, on the surface, “Fiddler on the Roof” seems like a strange choice for Village Theatre’s holiday offering.

But “Fiddler on the Roof” also shares essential truths about family and, as lead character Tevye is fond to point out, tradition — important tenets in a season often focused on everything but.

Scribes Joseph Stein and Jeffrey Bock ladled on Borscht Belt humor to introduce audiences to the population of Anatevka, a shtetl, or village. The numbers “Matchmaker” and “If I Were a Rich Man” deserve entries in the Great American Songbook.

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‘Big River’ confronts big ideas on small stage

September 18, 2012

Huck, played by Randy Scholz (left), and Jim, played by Rodney Hicks, float down the Mississippi River on a raft in a scene from the Village Theatre musical ‘Big River.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

In Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn resisted attempts to “sivilize” him, but nonetheless, the character cleans up nicely for the stage.

Huck’s adventure on the Mississippi River is re-engineered in “Big River” — a stage adaptation at Village Theatre. The musical opens the 2012-13 season at the downtown Issaquah playhouse.

Overall, despite occasional shortcomings, “Big River” is a spirited romp propelled downriver by a dynamic cast and a score rooted in radio-ready country and pop.

The towheaded Randy Scholz, 26, seems at least a decade younger onstage, and creates a credible Huck, a prankster coming of age at the same time as a burgeoning nation.

Jim is a titan of literature and the moral core of “Big River” — and Rodney Hicks is majestic in the role. Jim, determined to escape from slavery in Missouri, is embodied with dignity and grace by Hicks.

Both actors deserve ample credit for adding flesh to the characters, to compensate for the elements lost in translation from “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to “Big River.”

The supporting cast adds color and texture to the characters Twain sprinkled along the Mississippi.

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‘The Producers’ at Village Theatre charms, offends for laughs

May 15, 2012

Brian Earp (Leo Bloom), Richard Gray (Max Bialystock), Nick DeSantis (Roger De Bris) and Chris Ensweiler (Carmen Ghia) perform a scene in ‘The Producers.’ Photo by Jay Koh/Village Theatre

“The Producers” caricatures and offends in strokes as broad as the Brooklyn Bridge.

The musical is the ultimate equal-opportunity offender. “The Producers” aims and fires at Jews, gays, women, Nazis — yes, Nazis — and almost everyone else in a rollicking production onstage at Village Theatre.

Indeed, the questionable material, especially the can-they-do-that moments, is the most enjoyable part of “The Producers.”

The mega-musical runs until July 1 and closes the 2011-12 season at Village Theatre.

“The Producers” is a breathless tribute to Broadway and, often in the same breath, a knife-edged parody. The appeal is the cynicism and crassness in the absurdist romp. So what, then, if some songs seem almost forgettable? The numbers still act as a capable delivery device for a handful of funnyman Mel Brooks’ sharpest lines.

The musical is a smash imported to Issaquah 11 years after Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick tore up Broadway in the original run. The lackluster 2005 film adaptation introduced audiences farther afield to the unabashedly old-school show.

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Say ‘I do’ to Village Theatre’s ‘It Shoulda Been You’

March 20, 2012

John Patrick Lowrie (George Howard), Leslie Law (Judy Steinberg), Jayne Muirhead (Georgette Howard) and John Dewar (Murray Steinberg) star as the parents of the bride and groom in ‘It Shoulda Been You.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

Ours is a matchmaker-mad culture.

“The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” canoodle and cavort across the pop culture landscape. Cable TV is garter-deep in dating games and wedding stories.

The musical “It Shoulda Been You” — the raucous wedding-crasher comedy onstage at Village Theatre — is more akin to the MTV chestnut “Next” than “Bridezillas” and other guilty pleasures in the WE TV lineup.

“Next” — for the uninitiated, or audiences spared from circa 2005 reality TV — sent a contestant on a series of a blind dates, and he or she could end the outing abruptly by declaring, “Next!”

“It Shoulda Been You” is not so cruel, but after a jilted ex-boyfriend crashes the nuptials, hopes for a simple coast down the aisle dissipate faster than Champagne bubbles.

Though, truth be told, nothing is simple about the impending union between Rebecca Steinberg and Brian Howard, in large part due to the lovebirds’ overbearing mothers. Rebecca’s spinster-in-training sister Jenny is assigned to referee.

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‘The Odd Couple’ is fresh, funny at Village Theatre

January 24, 2012

Felix Ungar (Chris Ensweiler, front) receives a massage from mismatched roommate Oscar Madison (Charles Leggett) in Village Theatre’s ‘The Odd Couple.’ By John Pai/Village Theatre

Neil Simon is a regular at Village Theatre.

The playwright — gilded in Tony Awards aplenty and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama — often offers rich material to Village Theatre producers. In the past decade, the downtown Issaquah theater presented “Barefoot in the Park” and “Lost in Yonkers” to audiences. The latest Simon offering on stage is “The Odd Couple” — perhaps the most recognizable piece in the playwright’s oeuvre.

“The Odd Couple” — re-imagined on stage and screen more often than Felix Ungar scrapes up crumbs — is a solid choice as the selection for the play in a Village Theatre season defined by musicals.

The play is a charming anachronism, 47 years after “The Odd Couple” debuted on Broadway. The boozing and smoking recall a looser era before political correctness. Still, the dialogue and the mismatched-roommate premise remain universal almost a half-century after Simon introduced audiences to uptight Felix and untidy Oscar Madison.

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Village Theatre’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ nails the target

November 15, 2011

The company in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ dances during a number set at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show on stage at Village Theatre. By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

“Annie Get Your Gun” is often all hat and no cattle.

Too many theaters trade on the musical’s good name, a storied pedigree and recognizable songs to produce shows set in a West more mild than wild. Not Village Theatre.

The rendition on stage in Issaquah through Dec. 31 is as gutsy and snappy as the title character, sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

“Annie Get Your Gun” abounds in a coltish energy from the dance numbers and a hard-to-resist magnetism from the lead actors, Dane Stokinger as marksman Frank Butler and Vicki Noon, a former Elphaba in a national tour of “Wicked” and a Liberty High School alumna, in the title role.

Noon is incandescent as Oakley, a bumpkin pulled from backwoods obscurity for a spot in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

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Take a chance on Village Theatre’s ‘Take Me America’

September 20, 2011

The cast of asylum applicants in ‘Take Me America’ portrays people from war-torn nations and geopolitical hotspots around the globe. Photos By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

The last day in a toilsome asylum process, a long march from morning to 5 o’clock, is the backdrop for “Take Me America” — a challenging and spirited original musical on stage at Village Theatre.

“Take Me America” inserts audiences into tales from refugees seeking political asylum in the United States — a multiethnic group from different continents and geopolitical hotspots — and the government agents assigned to grant or deny asylum based only on impersonal paperwork and fleeting interviews.

Before the musical opens, a blank U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum application is projected on stage. The form is a reminder to audiences about the agents’ detached and emotionless role in a heated — and arbitrary — process.

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Rejoice for Village Theatre’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ reboot

May 17, 2011

The tale, so familiar to believers and nonbelievers alike, is upended as soon as “Jesus Christ Superstar” opens.

Michael K. Lee (center) performs as Jesus alongside the apostles in Village Theatre’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

The apostles scale a chain-link fence and enter a fascist alternate reality steeped in modern dress and slang.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” is more Lady Gaga’s “Judas” than Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” in Village Theatre’s just-opened production. The monumental rock opera runs through July 3 and closes the theater’s 2010-11 season.

In the Issaquah playhouse’s rendition, the greatest story ever told trades robes and sandals for bandanas and drainpipe jeans, and from performance to performance, trades actors in the lead roles.

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