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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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 ‘Stunt Girl’ makes Big Apple debut

June 8, 2010

“Stunt Girl” — a musical account of groundbreaking journalist Nellie Bly — has become the latest Village Theatre production to make the journey from Issaquah to the Big Apple.

The musical received a reading at the Manhattan Theatre Club on June 7. “Stunt Girl” premiered at Village Theatre last March.

Issaquah native Brian Yorkey — the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and lyricist behind another Village Theatre original musical, “Next to Normal” — directed the “Stunt Girl” reading.

The presentation featured other Village Theatre alumni.

R.J. Tancioco, music director for the Village Theatre production, filled the same role for the Big Apple piece. John Patrick Lowrie played newspaper publisher and prize namesake Joseph Pulitzer, a role he originated in Issaquah. “Next to Normal” cast member Louis Hobson portrayed reporter Arthur Brisbane. Hobson originated the role in the Festival of New Musicals reading presented by Village Theatre in 2005.

“Stunt Girl” followed “Next to Normal” and “Million Dollar Quartet” from Issaquah to New York City.

Disney composer David Friedman conceived “Stunt Girl” and Tony Award nominee Peter Kellogg wrote the book and lyrics.

Village Theatre musical ‘Stunt Girl’ readies for Big Apple debut

June 2, 2010

NEW — 1:35 p.m. June 2, 2010

“Stunt Girl” — a musical account of groundbreaking journalist Nellie Bly — will become the latest Village Theatre production to make the journey from Issaquah to New York City.

The musical will receive a reading at the Manhattan Theatre Club on Monday. “Stunt Girl” premiered at Village Theatre last March.

Issaquah native Brian Yorkey — the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and lyricist behind another Village Theatre original musical, “Next to Normal” — will direct the “Stunt Girl” reading.

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Village Theatre’s ‘42nd Street’ seeks to dazzle audiences

May 4, 2010

Get ready for a tap dancing good time as your favorite Broadway tunes come to life with exciting new choreography in the show-stopping, backstage tale of “42nd Street.”

The show debuts May 13 on Village’s Mainstage and closes out a year of celebrating the historic theater’s 30 years in Issaquah.

Pulling out all the stops, the show boasts a large cast of 26 that celebrates local actors and designers, like Bob Dahlstrom, who did the scenic design for “Show Boat,” and costumer Melanie Burgess, who created designs for “Chasing Nicolette” and “Stunt Girl.”

Audiences will follow the story of star-struck Peggy Sawyer, a fresh-from-the-farm Pennsylvanian, as she receives her first big break in New York after the star of her show is injured during a rehearsal. Her dreams unfold, surpassing even her wildest, as audiences enjoy their favorite Broadway musical tunes, like “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and “Lullaby of Broadway.”

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Theater marks 30th season with new musical

September 15, 2009

Tanesha Ross (left) stars as Nicolette and Matthew Kacergis is Aucassin in the Village Theatre production of ‘Chasing Nicolette.’ By John Pai / Property of Village Theatre

Tanesha Ross (left) stars as Nicolette and Matthew Kacergis is Aucassin in the Village Theatre production of ‘Chasing Nicolette.’ By John Pai / Property of Village Theatre

Village Theatre’s new musical, “Chasing Nicolette,” debuts Sept. 16 and promises to light up the stage as summer comes to a close.

“It is particularly exciting for me to open our 30th anniversary season with a wonderful new musical,” said Robb Hunt, executive director of Village Theatre. “Since I’ve been here all 30 years, I can say that it feels like quite an accomplishment to be established nationally as one of the few organizations which develops and nurtures new musicals that achieve national exposure. It is a key part of our mission and after 30 years, we are really doing it with two new musicals in the season.”

The year is 1224. War, hatred and prejudice fill the lands between Europe and the Middle East, but despite these obstacles, two young lovers — Christian nobleman Aucassin, played by Matthew John Kacergis, and a Muslim princess, played by Tanesha Ross — find a place for love. Read more

‘Stunt Girl’ is great fun — that’s the headline!

March 23, 2009

If you think you’ve seen the best musical Village Theatre has to offer, you better think again. Read more

Village Theatre presents world premiere of ‘Stunt Girl’

March 16, 2009

Bellevue native relishes role of pioneering reporter Nellie Bly

When Sarah Chalfy was offered the starring role of Nellie Bly in Village Theatre’s world premiere of the new musical “Stunt Girl,” she was a little incredulous.

Sarah Chalfy stars as Nellie Bly in the Village Theatre production of ‘Stunt Girl.’By John Pai/ Village theatre

Sarah Chalfy stars as Nellie Bly in the Village Theatre production of ‘Stunt Girl.’By John Pai/ Village theatre

See, the Bellevue native recalled memories of Issaquah’s theater scene from 15 years ago, before the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre was built.

“I thought, how can someone with a little, tiny theater afford to fly me from New York,” said Chalfy, who lives in New York City. “But I said, ‘OK. Why not?’”

Having met the musical’s writers in New York, Chalfy is glad she was recruited for the lead. Read more

KIDSTAGE debuts play ‘Save as…’

March 2, 2009

Advice columnist Jason (Isaiah Parker) helps teens Elvira (Sarah Oates) and Ryan (Kenta Murakami) in Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE original production of ‘Save as...’ At left, Jason next helps Natalie (Kendyl Morris). By Jean Johnson

Advice columnist Jason (Isaiah Parker) helps teens Elvira (Sarah Oates) and Ryan (Kenta Murakami) in Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE original production of ‘Save as…’ At left, Jason next helps Natalie (Kendyl Morris). By Jean Johnson

In the fall, 17 amateur theater students in Village Theatre’s KIDSTAGE Company Program join forces with professionals from the arts, many veterans of the theater’s main stage. Starting literally with a blank page, their goal is to have a completely original musical production to showcase to their peers at the end of four months .

“In the professional world, this would be impossible,” said Orlando Morales.

Morales, who’s 25 and working toward his master’s teaching degree at the University of Washington, is a veteran of the KIDSTAGE Summer Rep Program. He signed on as musical director and, with the help of lyric mentor Suzy Conn, steered the students’ improvisational sessions into actual characters, songs and a plot.

The fruit of their efforts, “Save as…,” debuts March 6 at First Stage.

“There’s a lot of trepidation to the process,” Morales said. “To somehow make this work and see your efforts up on the stage is a most rewarding experience.”

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