‘Fiddler on the Roof’ sets Village Theatre sales record

January 29, 2013

By Jay Koh/Village Theatre Eric Polani Jensen stars as Tevye in Village Theatre’s record-setting production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’

Eric Polani Jensen stars as Tevye in Village Theatre’s record-setting production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

Theatergoers embraced “Fiddler on the Roof” and propelled the classic musical to a Village Theatre sales record.

The spectacle centered on the godfearing milkman Tevye played at the downtown Issaquah theater through November and December, and then shifted to the Everett Performing Arts Center.

In Issaquah, a record 32,726 audience members attended the show, including more than 14,000 single-ticket buyers — a significant number for a playhouse reliant on seasonal subscribers.

In Everett, “Fiddler on the Roof” set more milestones. The show reached the revenue goals before opening night — a first for Village Theatre’s Snohomish County stage — and broke the sales record for single-ticket revenue two weeks before “Fiddler on the Roof” closed Jan. 27.

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Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on as ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ returns

May 8, 2012

Jukebox musical revives classic rock ‘n’ roll

The cast of the national tour of the jukebox musical ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ performs a song in the Tony Award-winning show. By Jeremy Daniel

“Million Dollar Quartet” is a multimillion-dollar phenomenon.

The rock ‘n’ roll musical about the “million dollar quartet” — Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis — collaborating for one night at the storefront Sun Records studio led to successful runs at Village Theatre in Issaquah and Everett, and then in Chicago, New York City and London.

The inaugural national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet” reaches the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on May 15 — a homecoming of sorts for a musical shaped a half-dozen years ago at Village Theatre.

The musical is based on a seminal jam session at the Sun Records studio in December 1956.

In the touring production, Christopher Ryan Grant plays rock ‘n’ roll impresario Sam Phillips, the Memphis mogul and Sun Records founder responsible for the “million dollar quartet.”

“You listen to these songs today and they seem simple, but maybe that’s part of the appeal,” Grant said in a phone interview from a stop in Costa Mesa, Calif. “There’s not a whole lot of messy production behind them that you get these days with synthesizers and canned beats.”

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Village Theatre receives $25,000 grant

March 20, 2012

Village Theatre received a $25,000 grant from the city and Puget Sound Energy to maintain and upgrade Issaquah facilities, officials announced Feb. 23.

Bellevue-based PSE awarded the grant to the city and requested the funds benefit a local nonprofit organization. In the process to craft a 2012 budget, City Council members selected Village Theatre as the grant recipient.

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Village Theatre blazes ‘Trails’ for next season

March 13, 2012

The musical “Trails” — a tale about childhood friends embarking on a journey along the Appalachian Trail — is poised for a premiere in the trailhead city, Issaquah.

“Trails” is the original offering in a lineup of classics Village Theatre plans to present during the 2012-13 season. The downtown Issaquah theater announced the lineup March 7.

The musicals “Big River” — “Huckleberry Finn” retold in musical form — and “Chicago” bracket the season. “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Mousetrap” complete the upcoming season.

“For years, we have listened to the feedback of our audience and our artists when selecting shows — this coming year is no exception and we think our patrons will be very pleased with this diverse lineup,” Executive Producer Robb Hunt said.

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Village Theatre receives $25,000 grant from city, Puget Sound Energy

February 23, 2012

NEW — 1:50 p.m. Feb. 23, 2012

Village Theatre received a $25,000 grant from the city and Puget Sound Energy to maintain and upgrade Issaquah facilities, officials announced Thursday.

Bellevue-based PSE awarded the grant to the city and requested for the funds to benefit a local nonprofit organization. In the process to craft a 2012 budget, City Council members selected Village Theatre as the grant recipient.

“By supporting the arts in Issaquah, this grant will benefit our local customers, their families and the greater community,” Andy Wappler, vice president of PSE Corporate Affairs, said in a statement. “We are very pleased to help Village Theatre continue its artistic excellence.”

The downtown Issaquah theater attracts more than 150,000 visits to the city each year. The theater’s classes, camps and productions for children and teenagers include more than 2,000 students.

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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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‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ reopens old debates

June 28, 2011

“Jesus Christ Superstar” started raising eyebrows — and ire — before the initial run debuted on Broadway in 1971, and the production at Village Theatre in downtown Issaquah is no exception.

Aaron Finley (left), as Jesus, and Michael K. Lee, as Judas, star in Village Theatre’s modern-day interpretation of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

The groundbreaking rock opera about Jesus Christ’s last days has attracted criticism from audience members since the show opened May 11.

“We’ve had some people that feel like it’s in some way sacrilegious because it’s not a traditional robes-and-sandals telling,” Village Theatre Executive Producer Robb Hunt said.

The playhouse is celebrated — and sometimes denounced — for bold choices, including a same-sex kiss in “The Wedding Banquet” in 2003 and male nudity — albeit, a snapshot — in “The Full Monty” late last year.

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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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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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