Retiring instructor loses his sight, but not his passion for teaching

June 22, 2010

Issaquah High School graduates Amy Saad (left) and Christina Joo visit David Mickelsen’s classroom to give him a basket full of his favorite snack — chocolate. The girls said they bought every type of chocolate Hershey’s makes and told him not to eat it in one sitting. By Chantelle Lusebrink

In 43 years of teaching, more than 6,400 students have walked through David Mickelsen’s classroom door at Issaquah High School.

What he hopes they’ve come away with are lessons not only in U.S. History and European studies, but a lesson in confidence, he said before retiring June 17.

Confidence and heart

From the front of the classroom, Mickelsen, 67, has given some of the most animated lectures in Issaquah’s history.

Casting himself in character roles adopted from the history books, like a medieval peasant and a 1920s-era husband against women’s suffrage, he kept students entertained and made history unforgettable and fun, said Mary Lou Priestley-Fine, an assistant in his classroom.

“I had him for all three years at Issaquah, whether as a student or a teacher’s aide and it was an honor to have him,” said Amy Saad, a 2010 graduate. “He definitely changed my life for the better.”

But as the years passed and students came and went, the stage on which he performed has grown darker.

Mickelsen was diagnosed in 1971 with optic nerve atrophy, a degenerative disease that deteriorates the optic nerve and has left him legally blind.

Though he can still distinguish bright colors, patterns and large objects, Mickelsen walks with the help of a cane and gives textbook lessons from memory.

A teaching career begins

Mickelsen graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1961.

Though his father was a teacher at Queen Anne High School, “I didn’t really enjoy school, but my mom said I was going to college,” he said. “I didn’t really know I was going to be a teacher until I student taught.”

During a student teaching assignment in Seattle, Mickelsen said he worked extensively with one young boy who had special needs and it gave him a soft spot for children who don’t learn like others.

“Just the idea that he had a hard time understanding got me curious,” he said. “I told myself there must be more than one way to teach this boy.” Read more

Village Theatre musical wins Tony Award for acting

June 13, 2010

UPDATED — 1:35 p.m. June 14, 2010

“Million Dollar Quartet” actor Levi Kreis — who originated the high-energy, piano-thumping portrayal of rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis at Issaquah’s Village Theatre — has won a Tony Award for playing the role on Broadway.

Kreis picked up the statuette for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in the Broadway account of a famous jam session. The based-on-a-true-story musical recounts Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Lewis collaborating at the Sun Records studio in Memphis in 1956.

“Million Dollar Quartet” debuted at the downtown Issaquah theater in September 2007. The production remains the most successful original musical in Village Theatre history. “Million Dollar Quartet” opened on Broadway in April, and also continues a successful run in Chicago.

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Electric run continues for Issaquah’s Brian Yorkey

June 8, 2010

Not long before the Pulitzer Prize board announced the awards in early April, the team behind the musical “Next to Normal” — including Issaquah native Brian Yorkey, the writer and lyricist — heard the show might be under consideration for the drama prize.

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger (left) stands alongside Pulitzer Prize for Drama honorees Tom Kitt (center) and Issaquah native Brian Yorkey. By Eileen Barroso

Like he had before the musical picked up three Tony Awards last spring, Yorkey attempted to shut out the chatter.

Until he received a call from “Next to Normal” producer David Stone on April 12, the day the Pulitzer board announced the honorees.

“Is this Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey?” he asked.

The creative team dashed through a dozen media interviews, and then joined the cast to celebrate during “one more amazing night in a series of amazing nights,” Yorkey said.

The prize marked the latest milestone for a rock musical about a suburban family strained by bipolar disorder. “Next to Normal” originated at Village Theatre in downtown Issaquah eight years ago as “Feeling Electric.”

“It’s an unusual show,” Yorkey said. “It feels dark in some ways, it feels small in some ways. It doesn’t feel like a blockbuster, award-winning musical.”

The production became the eighth musical to be honored since the prizes added a drama category 92 years ago, and the first musical since “Rent” in 1996. Sober plays — such as “Doubt” and “August: Osage County” — dominated the category during the past decade.

“One of the things I’ve learned about ‘Next to Normal’ is that it has a group of fans in the theater world who are very dedicated, but it also touches people who may not like musicals,” Yorkey said.

The prize jury had submitted three finalists — “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” by Kristoffer Diaz, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” by Rajiv Joseph and “In the Next Room, or the vibrator play,” by Sarah Ruhl — but the Pulitzer board eschewed the selections and picked the musical instead. (The jury included three theater critics, a playwright and a member of academia.)

The board praised “Next to Normal” as “a powerful rock musical” and a groundbreaking piece. The prize goes to the playwright, although the Pulitzer judges factor the performance into the decision.

Only the public service honoree receives the iconic Pulitzer medal. Everyone else takes home a $10,000 prize, a crystal paperweight and a certificate in a light blue folder — Columbia blue, because Columbia University administers the prizes. Read more

Village Theatre musical earns Tony nominations

May 11, 2010

“Million Dollar Quartet” — a musical about the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll and developed at Village Theatre — has been nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

“Million Dollar Quartet” tells the true story of a chance meeting in December 1956 of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. The legendary entertainers jammed together at the Sun Records studio in Memphis.

Eager for the attention the impromptu jam session could attract, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips contacted local journalists to document the occasion. The subsequent newspaper account referred to the assembled performers as a “million dollar quartet.”

The production also received nods for Best Book of a Musical — for the spoken storyline of the production — and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Levi Kreis, the actor who portrays Lewis. Kreis originated the role in Issaquah.

The nominations from the American Theatre Wing on May 4 marked another milestone for the musical.

“Million Dollar Quartet” opened on Broadway last month to solid reviews and enthusiastic audiences.

Village Theatre Executive Producer Robb Hunt attended the opening. He said the creative team amped up the glitz for Broadway, but “Million Dollar Quartet” in the Big Apple remains “very much the same show people saw in Issaquah and Everett.”

Besides Kreis, the Broadway production includes performers from the Issaquah run: Lance Guest as Cash, Rob Lyons as Perkins and bassist Corey Kaiser.

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Press Editorial

May 11, 2010

Issaquah marked by achievers, volunteers

A Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award nominations, environmental awards, Tree City USA, scholars, top athletes, best Retirement City…. are there still awards Issaquah and its citizens have yet to receive? The recognitions come from near and far, locally and nationally — and they just keep coming. Read more

Musical developed in Issaquah earns three Tony nominations

May 4, 2010

NEW — 9:52 a.m. May 4, 2010

“Million Dollar Quartet” — a musical about the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll and developed at Village Theatre — has been nominated for three Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

The musical tells the true story of a chance meeting in December 1956 of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. The legendary entertainers jammed together at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn.

“Million Dollar Quartet” also received nods for Best Book of a Musical — for the spoken-word storyline of the production — and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Levi Kreis, the actor who portrays Lewis. Kreis originated the role in Issaquah.

The musical opened at Village Theatre in September 2007. The theater extended the run to 10 weeks to meet demand. Writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux developed the show as part of the Village Originals program to foster musicals at the Issaquah theater.

Read more

Issaquah playwright Brian Yorkey wins Pulitzer Prize

April 13, 2010

Brian Yorkey

The musical “Next to Normal” — a daring look into bipolar disorder penned by Issaquah native Brian Yorkey and nurtured at Village Theatre — has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Read more

‘Next to Normal’ wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama

April 12, 2010

UPDATED — 3:20 p.m. April 12, 2010

The musical “Next to Normal” — a daring look into bipolar disorder penned by Issaquah native Brian Yorkey and nurtured at Village Theatre — has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The prize jury lauded the edgy, dysfunctional-family-drama as “a powerful rock musical that grapples with mental illness in a suburban family and expands the scope of subject matter for musicals.” The jury announced the award Monday.

Yorkey — a former Village Theatre associate artistic director and Issaquah High School alumnus — will share the honor with writing partner Tom Kitt. Yorkey wrote the lyrics; Kitt wrote the music. The duo will share a $10,000 prize.

Read more

Aegis hosts two-actor play, ‘Love Letters’

February 9, 2009

Whidbey Island actors Ed Cornachio and Martha Murphy star in the two actor play ‘Love Letters’ Feb. 14 at Aegis Living of Issaquah. Contributed

Whidbey Island actors Ed Cornachio and Martha Murphy star in the two actor play ‘Love Letters’ Feb. 14 at Aegis Living of Issaquah. Contributed

Aegis Living of Issaquah, ever seeking to incorporate their residents into more community activities, is hosting “Love Letters,” a two-actor play.

Activities director Sommer Albertson said this is the perfect activity for the holiday.

“It’s a love story on Valentine’s Day,” she said. “What a great way to spend the afternoon.”

Based upon the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, the tale centers on characters Melissa Garner and Andrew Makepiece, as they explore during the World War II era the hopes and ambitions, dreams and disappointments, victories and defeats they have passed between them throughout their separate lives. Read more

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