What is the Festival of New Musicals?

August 7, 2012

The summertime festival 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 “Take Me America” and “It Shoulda Been You” debuted to Issaquah audiences at the festival.

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Cast prepares to play mismatched roommates in ‘The Odd Couple’

January 10, 2012

Chris Ensweiler (left, as Felix Unger) and Charles Leggett (as Oscar Madison) act a scene from the Village Theatre production of ‘The Odd Couple.’ By John Pai/Village Theatre

The journey to portray fastidious Felix Unger and untidy Oscar Madison in Village Theatre’s “The Odd Couple” suited the actors in the lead roles.

Charles Leggett, as Oscar in the classic Neil Simon play, is the more rumpled half. Chris Ensweiler is more comfortable as the neatnik Felix.

“I’m no neat freak — I can tell you that,” Leggett said in the Village Theatre lobby about a month before “The Odd Couple” opened.

Ensweiler, meanwhile, readied to portray Oscar’s mismatched roommate.

“I’m very fastidious and organized,” Ensweiler said. “CDs are alphabetized. Clothes are arranged according to color. I certainly respond very well to that.”

“The Odd Couple” opens to audiences at the downtown Issaquah playhouse Jan. 18.

Village Theatre presents a single play each season. “The Odd Couple” falls into the 2011-12 season lineup after the Wild West spectacle “Annie Get Your Gun” and before the original musical “It Shoulda Been You.”

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Village Theatre’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ nails the target

November 15, 2011

The company in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ dances during a number set at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show on stage at Village Theatre. By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

“Annie Get Your Gun” is often all hat and no cattle.

Too many theaters trade on the musical’s good name, a storied pedigree and recognizable songs to produce shows set in a West more mild than wild. Not Village Theatre.

The rendition on stage in Issaquah through Dec. 31 is as gutsy and snappy as the title character, sharpshooter Annie Oakley.

“Annie Get Your Gun” abounds in a coltish energy from the dance numbers and a hard-to-resist magnetism from the lead actors, Dane Stokinger as marksman Frank Butler and Vicki Noon, a former Elphaba in a national tour of “Wicked” and a Liberty High School alumna, in the title role.

Noon is incandescent as Oakley, a bumpkin pulled from backwoods obscurity for a spot in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

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Take a chance on Village Theatre’s ‘Take Me America’

September 20, 2011

The cast of asylum applicants in ‘Take Me America’ portrays people from war-torn nations and geopolitical hotspots around the globe. Photos By Jay Koh/Village Theatre

The last day in a toilsome asylum process, a long march from morning to 5 o’clock, is the backdrop for “Take Me America” — a challenging and spirited original musical on stage at Village Theatre.

“Take Me America” inserts audiences into tales from refugees seeking political asylum in the United States — a multiethnic group from different continents and geopolitical hotspots — and the government agents assigned to grant or deny asylum based only on impersonal paperwork and fleeting interviews.

Before the musical opens, a blank U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum application is projected on stage. The form is a reminder to audiences about the agents’ detached and emotionless role in a heated — and arbitrary — process.

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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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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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‘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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‘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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