Milestones from the year 2011 reflect changes

December 27, 2011

Renewal defined the year, as the community paused after a population boom and economic bust — and positioned Issaquah for the decades ahead.

Milestones from the last 12 months offer contrasts.

Leaders opened showcases for “green” design and concluded a milestone effort to preserve Tiger Mountain forestland. Tragedy left indelible impressions, too, as a gunman menaced downtown pedestrians on a September morning and turned a school campus into a crime scene.

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‘Take Me America’ tackles asylum question

September 6, 2011

Village Theatre Performers present a stripped-down reading of upcoming Mainstage production ‘Take Me America’ at Village Theatre’s 2009 Festival of New Musicals. By Sam Freeman/

The subject for the latest original musical from Village Theatre is rooted in human rights and national security — ambitious issues to address onstage and in song.

“Take Me America” offers tales from refugees seeking political asylum in the United States, as well as the government agents assigned to determine the applicants’ fates.

The opener for Village Theatre’s 2011-12 season Sept. 15 is the West Coast premiere for the show.

Bill Nabel, “Take Me America” author and lyricist, said “Well-Founded Fear” — a 2000 documentary about the asylum process — laid the foundation for the rock musical. The filmmakers recorded the last interviews of applicants in the asylum process for the piece.

“To me, a musical is about where you find your heart,” Nabel said. “There’s a very large part of that in the asylum question. Asylum is much more than a legal question to us. How do we make a human decision about a law?”

The author also received inspiration from a Broadway blockbuster.

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Village Theatre festival audiences to uncover ‘Cloaked’

August 9, 2011

The Village Theatre Festival of New Musicals holds a reading of ‘Cloaked’ in August 2010. By Sam Freeman/Village Theatre

Original musical is a psychological thriller about online interaction

The rough-and-tumble environs of the Internet prompt too many comparisons to count.

In the electronic wilderness, the setting is similar to the Wild West, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, or a forest, dim and foreboding.

The original musical “Cloaked” re-imagines “Little Red Riding Hood” in such a boundless electronic wilderness. The result is a psychological thriller, a genre not often explored in a theater scene dominated by feel-good musicals.

“We wanted to write something that we felt we would like to see on a Broadway stage, but that wasn’t a story that you already knew the ending to — and that also made you think, that made you really ponder the world and the way that you see things and question our preconceived notions of things,” composer and co-lyricist Danny Larsen said. “We also wanted to put characters on stage who were not the usual leading roles that you would normally see.”

The bold piece is part of the Festival of New Musicals at Village Theatre. Organizers plan to open “Cloaked” to the public at First Stage Theatre — a departure from the festival format in the past.

Issaquah audiences last experienced “Cloaked” as a reading at the 2010 festival. The strong reaction the show received prompted organizers to invite the creators to stage the show for a developmental production.

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What is the Festival of New Musicals?

August 9, 2011

The summertime Festival of New Musicals at Village Theatre is a laboratory to test original musicals before audiences.

Often, selections from the festival re-emerge later at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, or Mainstage, and sometimes on Broadway.

The festival introduced audiences to “Next to Normal” precursor “Feeling Electric” and “Million Dollar Quartet” before the musicals carted off Tony Awards on Broadway. “Next to Normal” also garnered the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a rarity for musicals.

The recent Mainstage productions “Anne of Green Gables” and “Iron Curtain” debuted to Issaquah audiences at the festival. So, too, did “Take Me America” and “It Shoulda Been You” — Mainstage offerings in the 2011-12 theater season.

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‘Iron Curtain’ offers Cold War comedy

March 8, 2011

Village Theatre readies original musical ‘Iron Curtain’ for launch

The generation brought up since the Cold War might not remember the arms race, duck-and-cover drills or backyard bomb shelters, but the fallout from the conflict continues to shape international affairs and, from time to time, pop culture.

In the latter category is “Iron Curtain” — a comedy set in the frostiest moments of the Cold War and a soon-to-debut original musical at Village Theatre. The musical is set in the late 1950s, as both sides stockpiled nukes for Armageddon, although “Iron Curtain” uses the conflict as a backdrop and plays up the red menace for laughs.

The cast from ‘Iron Curtain’ offers Cold War comedy at Village Theatre starting March 17. By John Pai

Nikita Khrushchev, the irascible Soviet leader, enjoys a good musical. Yengenyi Onanov — actor Nick DeSantis, in another Village Theatre turn — leads the Ministry of Musical Persuasion, the state agency responsible for churning out musicals as communist propaganda.

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‘Annie Get Your Gun’ and ‘The Producers’ round out upcoming Village Theatre season

March 2, 2011

Village Theatre dips into the Great American Songbook, re-imagines Broadway blockbusters and polishes original musicals for the Mainstage during the 2011-12 season.

Performers present a reading of the musical ‘It Shoulda Been You’ at the 2010 Festival of New Musicals. By Sam Freeman

For the fourth consecutive season, the downtown Issaquah playhouse plans to feature a pair of original musicals on the Mainstage — rarity for regional theaters.

The lineup includes the classic musicals “Annie Get Your Gun” and “The Producers” — plus the original musicals “Take Me America” and “It Shoulda Been You.” The lone play in the upcoming season is a Neil Simon chestnut, “The Odd Couple.”

The season kicks off in Issaquah just after Labor Day. The productions then head to the Everett Performing Arts Center after the local engagements conclude.

‘Take Me America’

Sept. 14 to Oct. 23

“Take Me America” last appeared on the Village Theatre stage as a reading at the 2009 Festival of New Musicals.

The rock musical presents tales from refugees struggling to gain political asylum in the United States — and of the immigration agents responsible for deciding the refugees’ fates. The immigration agents labor to find a balance between the refugees’ humanity and a difficult professional position.

Though the subject matter has significant heft, “Take Me America” intersperses comedy throughout the musical.

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Broadway beckons Village Theatre musicals

February 15, 2011

Musicals nurtured at Issaquah theater charm audiences and rack up awards in the Big Apple

Tony Award-winning actress Alice Ripley (center, seated) leads the ‘Next to Normal’ cast in a performance at the Arena Stage, the musical’s last stop before debuting on Broadway. By Joan Marcus

The brick-and-glass theater along a fashionable street in Oslo, Norway, seems like a strange place to re-create Yankee suburbia.

Onstage, “Next to Normal” — a rock musical fostered in Issaquah — is about to be performed. The story about a suburban — and quite American — family straining against mental illness has been translated into Norwegian for the international premiere.

The debut last September marked a milestone for the musical. “Next to Normal” had already stormed Broadway — earning Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the process.

Before the accolades and Oslo, “Next to Normal” emerged in a Village Theatre program designed to foster original musicals.

The long-running program has cemented the reputation of the downtown Issaquah playhouse as a cradle for Broadway.

Village Theatre cultivated “Next to Normal” and the jukebox musical “Million Dollar Quartet” from unpolished ideas to splashy Broadway musicals in recent years.

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Village Theatre preps precocious ‘Anne of Green Gables’ for debut

November 2, 2010

Suzy Hunt as Marilla Cuthbert (left), Kasey Nusbickel as Anne Shirley and Dennis Bateman as Matthew Cuthbert perform in the production of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ at Village Theatre. By Jon Pai/Village Theatre

The latest offering from Village Theatre — the coming-of-age tale “Anne of Green Gables” — is adapted from a century-old novel, but rest assured, the stage rendition does not require CliffsNotes for the uninitiated.

The original musical is pulled from the pages of the classic Lucy Maud Montgomery series — the story of a carrot-haired orphan set in bucolic Avonlea on Prince Edward Island.

Scribes Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman last presented the piece to Village Theatre audiences as a barebones reading at the 2009 Festival of New Musicals. The full-fledged show — fine-tuned since the festival — opens Nov. 11 at the downtown Issaquah theater. Read more

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‘The Gypsy King’ makes world debut

March 16, 2010

Village Theatre Eric Ankrim performs as Prince Alphonse in the Village Theatre production of ‘The Gypsy King.’ By John Pai

This world premiere will leave you rolling in the aisles, if it hasn’t already.

From a groundswell of passionate Village Theatre officials and test audiences, Emmy Award-winner Randy Rogel’s musical “The Gypsy King” debuts on Village’s Mainstage March 17.

It is “an airtight farce with hilarious well-drawn characters and a plot full of twists and turns that rival the classic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s,” Director Richard Gray said in a press release.

Theater officials first spotted the show at the National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s new works festival in 2007.

“We loved it and immediately brought it back with us to workshop further, in hopes that we would one day be able to put it up on the mainstage,” Executive Producer Robb Hunt said in the release. Read more

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