20 reasons to ♥ Issaquah

July 2, 2011

The spectacular landscape is a reason to love Issaquah. By Connor Lee

Discover 20 reasons to love Issaquah, from the highest Tiger Mountain peak to the Lake Sammamish shoreline, and much more in between. The community includes icons and traits not found anywhere else, all in a postcard-perfect setting. The unique qualities — Issa-qualities? — start at the city’s name and extend into every nook and neighborhood. (The lineup is not arranged in a particular order, because ranking the city’s pre-eminent qualities seems so unfair.)

Salmon Days

The annual salmon-centric celebration is stitched into the city’s fabric. Salmon Days serves as a last hurrah before autumn, a touchstone for old-timers and a magnet for tourists. The street fair consistently ranks among the top destinations in the Evergreen State and, for a time last year, as the best festival on earth — in the $250,000-to-$749,000 budget category, anyway.

Issaquah Alps

The majestic title for the forested peaks surrounding the city, the Issaquah Alps, is a catchall term for Cougar, Squak and Tiger mountains. (Credit the late mountaineer and conservationist Harvey Manning for the sobriquet.) The setting is a playground for outdoors enthusiasts. Trails — some official and others less so — for hikers, bikers and equestrians crisscross the mountains, like haphazard tic-tac-toe patterns.

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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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Meet the original superstar

May 3, 2011

Village Theatre re-imagines ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

“Jesus Christ Superstar” at Village Theatre is a reboot — New Testament 2.0 for theater audiences raised since the original run debuted on Broadway 40 years ago.

Michael K. Lee (left) as Jesus and Aaron Finley as Judas plan to alternate roles from show to show in Village Theatre’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

The latest outing at the Issaquah playhouse trades the ancient setting for a gritty alternate reality similar to modern times, sheds the robes and sandals, and re-imagines the apostles as hipsters in horn-rimmed glasses and scarves. The storyline about Jesus Christ’s last days and crucifixion, however, remains familiar.

The esteemed musical — billed as a rock opera since the initial album came out in the early ’70s — closes the Village Theatre season. “Jesus Christ Superstar” opens May 11.

Michael K. Lee, a Los Angeles-based actor, and local actor Aaron Finley star as the title character and Judas. Lee and Finley plan to alternate the roles from show to show — a rarity for the biblical musical. So, a theatergoer catching a Saturday matinee and a Saturday night performance could see the actors switch in the same day.

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Rebuilt First Stage Theatre readies for debut

April 5, 2011

Village Theatre plans additional offerings at downtown venue

Robb Hunt (above) shows off the finished interior of the rebuilt First Stage Theatre on March 29, as actors rehearse on the boards. By Greg Farrar

The curtain rises soon on the rebuilt First Stage Theatre in downtown Issaquah.

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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ tickets on sale

March 29, 2011

Village Theatre is preparing a rock opera of biblical proportions to conclude the ongoing season: “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The downtown Issaquah theater presents the blockbuster show about the last weeks of Jesus’ life from May 11 to July 3.

Purchase tickets at the theater website, www.villagetheatre.org. Or call the box office at 392-2202. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office, 303 Front St. N., from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

Tickets range from $20 to $60. Students and military members can pick up half-price tickets 30 minutes prior to curtain for any available seat. The theater also offers group discounts for parties of 10 people or more.

Issaquah native Brian Yorkey — a Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winner for the musical “Next to Normal” — is set to direct “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

The show opened on Broadway in October 1971 to controversy, because some religious groups considered some elements as blasphemous. The original run ended in June 1973 after 711 performances.

‘Next to Normal’ offers unfiltered portrayal of mental anguish

March 1, 2011

Something is not quite right about the Goodman family.

The bright and chipper matriarch, Diana, bounds to the breakfast table after a sleepless night to assemble enough sandwiches to supply a church picnic. Only, rather than the table, Diana uses the floor.

Alice Ripley (left) and Jeremy Kushnier perform in the celebrated musical ‘Next to Normal,’ a wrenching account of a woman’s struggle against mental illness. By Craig Schwartz

“Next to Normal” drops the pretense in the opening moments, as the Goodmans’ song about another ordinary day morphs into a call for help. Indeed, as patriarch Dan (Asa Somers) notes in the opening number, the family is “living on a latte and a prayer” amid the domestic tumult.

“Next to Normal” plumbs the mental illness afflicting Diana and unflinchingly details the corrosive effects the disease has on a suburban family. The subject matter sounds bleak and, no, the musical does not sugarcoat or recoil from the more unpleasant moments in the unending struggle against mental illness.

“Next to Normal” earned Tony Awards by the sackful and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Beneath the hardware is a musical unlike others in recent memory.

“Next to Normal” precursor “Feeling Electric” received tune-ups at Village Theatre in Issaquah. Village Theatre alumnus and Issaquah High School grad Brian Yorkey is responsible for the searing book and lyrics.

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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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Off the Press

February 15, 2011

How to succeed in show business

Warren Kagarise Press Reporter

In hindsight, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” seems like a prescient choice for a fledgling theater in a then-distant Seattle suburb.

The musical debuted at the just-christened Village Theatre in April 1979 — decades before the downtown Issaquah playhouse received a shout out during a Tony Awards telecast and credit for sending acclaimed musicals to face the toughest audiences in theater.

Only, unlike the title of the inaugural musical, Village Theatre tried again and again.

The playhouse has churned out hits — including “Next to Normal” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” the Village Theatre-nurtured duo responsible for hauling in the Tonys — and some duds, too, in almost 32 years.

For a piece in the wintertime Issaquah Living magazine, I set out to chronicle the long — and often arduous — journey from the Festival of New Musicals or the Mainstage to Broadway. (Readers can find the magazine tucked amid the sales circulars in the B section.)

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What is ‘Normal’?

February 15, 2011

‘Next to Normal’ tour is homecoming for Issaquah native Brian Yorkey

Actors Jeremy Kushnier (left), Alice Ripley and Asa Somers perform a scene in the national 'Next to Normal' tour. By Craig Schwartz

Long before the Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, and longer still before director Rob Reiner indicated interest in a possible film adaptation, the blockbuster musical “Next to Normal” originated as a barebones reading at Village Theatre.

Now, almost a decade and a cartful of statuettes later, the national “Next to Normal” tour is about to reach The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. The musical opens Feb. 22.

The opening represents a homecoming for the author and lyricist, Issaquah native and Issaquah High School graduate Brian Yorkey. “Next to Normal” precursor “Feeling Electric” received a reading at the 2002 Festival of New Musicals and a 2005 workshop at the downtown Issaquah playhouse.

“So much of my theatrical life is in Seattle, and people know my work more as a director and from other shows, and for them to have a chance to see ‘Next to Normal’ — which is maybe the thing that I’m proudest of that I’ve done — is really exciting for me,” Yorkey said.

The rock musical about a family on the edge and tackling mental illness opened on Broadway in early 2009. Then, came a cavalcade of honors for show: Tonys for the lead actress, score and orchestrations; a Pulitzer Prize for Drama; and a national tour.

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Meet the many faces of Tony-winning ‘Next to Normal’ actress Alice Ripley

February 15, 2011

Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman

Actress Alice Ripley cries a monsoon in each “Next to Normal” performance as suburban mom Diana Goodman.

The lead character suffers from bipolar disorder, but electroshock therapy and pills, pills, pills cannot quiet the illness. Ripley has occupied the challenging role since “Next to Normal” debuted Off Broadway in early 2008 and earned a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the Broadway staging the following year.

“I see ‘Next to Normal’ as a story about every family that has experienced loss and grief, because that is what ‘Next to Normal’ is about, in my view,” she said.

Ripley and the national “Next to Normal” tour reach The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle on Feb. 22.

“Alice did what you always hope an actor does with such a vital role in a new show,” Issaquah native and “Next to Normal” author-lyricist Brian Yorkey said. “You want an actor to come into the rehearsal room and pick up the script and say, ‘OK, this part’s mine. I am this person.’”

Alice Ripley as Diana Goodman

Yorkey and composer Tom Kitt kept Ripley in mind as “Next to Normal” and the precursor “Feeling Electric” ricocheted from workshop to workshop.

“Initially, I am drawn to raw material. Then, I saturate myself with facts from the world I am entering — her story,” Ripley said. “After that, anything goes. Actors must use their imaginations to fill in the gaps of information.”

“Next to Normal” demands a nonstop stream of combustible emotions from Ripley in each performance. The actress has left a long-lasting imprimatur after hundreds of outings as Diana.

“Since Diana lives in me and I am an ever-changing human, it stands to reason that we have both grown and changed in the four years that I have known her,” Ripley said.

Emma Hunton portrays troubled daughter Natalie in the national tour. The role puts mother and daughter at loggerheads.

“It’s like watching a master class, because Alice is one of those actors who will challenge you onstage,” Hunton said.

The unfiltered look at mental illness — and the anguish the Goodman family endures — has imparted lessons to Ripley’s “Next to Normal” costars.

“With Alice, it’s sort of unexpected. You never know what you’re going to get, which keeps you on your toes and makes the show really fresh,” Hunton said. “If I’ve learned anything from her, it’s never to do the same thing twice.”

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