February 23, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 08
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Tuesday, May 26, 2020



Bits & Bytes
French cabaret continues at Crepe de Paris, beautifully restored Becket opens at Varsity, Egypt at Portland Art Museum, Seattle Opera
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

It's another great week for Emerald City arts fans. Travel is the topic of this week's Bits&Bytes-a visit to Egypt at Seattle Opera, ditto for the classy exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, a quick look at Paris in the late 1950s at Crepe de Paris, time travel to 12th Century England in 1964's elegant Becket, now newly restored and opening today at the Varsity Theatre in the U district. Read on:

The setting is perfect for the new cabaret show, Souvenirs d' Amour, continuing weekends through March 10 in the cabaret series at the Crepe de Paris restaurant in downtown Seattle in Rainier Square.

The new show pits a newcomer, an African American jazz singer, against Paris' most famous cabaret chanteuse to see who will rule gay Paree nightlife. Using a late 1950's setting gives the show some historic resonance-the French were (and still are) fighting to keep French traditions alive and to reject corruption of their language and culture from outside influences. (The French government still will not allow foreign firms to market items without a French name-buyers of a Walkman purchase Le Baladeur, "a moving singer.")

The wisp of a plot allows the show to use dozens of famous French cabaret classics and American jazz standards as the two duel for the American Idol-styled contest. It works OK as a plot device, but it is historically questionable since the French famously embraced American jazz in the 1920s, and American performers were all the rage in Paris since then.

Mercedes Nicole gets to play the American jazz singer who flees the 1950's racial attitudes of the U.S. Fathia Atallah is the reigning French cabaret diva with a troubled career plateau to survive. Both singers are good---with some individual songs clearly better and others. The show's main problem is that both singers are simply good-there is little chance that either could or would be the reigning diva of all Paris. When they finally team together, they are better than their individual work.

The show is directed by David Koch, a talented performer, director, writer who guided the Cabaret At The Crepe series for more than a decade. No one takes a writing credit-and the show seems cobbled together with little thought of dramatic highs and lows. An intimate audience opening weekend--everyone seemed to know either or both of the performer--clearly loved the show. A general audience might not be as enthused by the new musical revue, but the long list of French and American cabaret and jazz classics will make the show successful for many patrons.

Souvenirs d' Amour is offered as part of a dinner/theater package or on a "show only" basis. Complete details and ticket reservations are available at 623-4111.

One of the most successful "art films" of all time-1964's Becket-returns to Seattle this week for a one week only stay at the Varsity Theatre in the University district. A splendid, new 35mm print restores the historical epic to its full grandeur. Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole are at their early career peak in Peter Glenville's "intelligent and thought-provoking spectacle." (GLBT film fans will want to check out the implied "homoerotic attraction" between the two historical characters-and the two incredibly handsome leading men.)

Nominated for nearly a dozen Academy Awards, it won only for Best Screenplay. The film has been unseen in theaters for decades-put it high on your "must" list for this 2007 Oscar week. A new DVD release, of course, is next-but the film works best on the big screen. Recorded program information on Becket is available at 781-5755.

Seattle Opera presents its first staging of Handel's Julius Caesar In Egypt (officially Giulio Cesare in Egitto) with performances tomorrow through March 10 at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center.

Not only is Julius Caesar one of the most magnificent operas ever written, it is also rarely done-making the SO debut production all the more a "must" for serious opera fans. Opera itself is a world of cross dressing-female voices ruling the stage for centuries. Handel originally wrote his operas for adult male voices of singers who had been castrated before puberty, keeping the boy soprano-like voice in its childhood range. (Well, they did do things differently way back then&.) Revivals of Handel recast the roles with reigning female divas.

Seattle Opera uses Ewa Podles (magnificent in SO's most recent Ring revival) as the Roman emperor who gives up his kingdom for the young Cleopatra. The opera is sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Friends have asked why the Seattle Opera print ads for Caesar "look so funny." Well, they do. Podles is shown as Caesar-and not especially effective close up in "male drag." The startled Cleopatra seems to wear enough turquoise eye shadow to launch a thousand cosmetic counters&. SO also uses a comic "Hail, Caesar&and welcome to Seattle" radio ad that finds the Emperor visiting the Pike Place Public Market ("I want to see the man throw fish&.") and visit "That pointy thing" (that turns out to be the Space Needle).

It's hard to second guess Seattle Opera's marketing plan. The very serious opera is a masterwork. The ad campaign suggests a Saturday Night Live skit. Details in next week's SGN.

Quick reminder: The Quest For Immortality--Treasures Of Ancient Egypt moves into its final two weeks at the Portland Art Museum. Record-breaking attendance has marked the blockbuster show since its November opening-for the first time, PAM's popular school tours sold out weeks before the official opening day.

The exhibit continues through March 4 at the handsome downtown art museum. More than 107 historic objects are on display, the greatest number of items that the Egyptian government has ever allowed to leave Egypt at one time. Many of the items have never been on public display before and many have never been seen outside of Egypt.

Jeremy Irons narrates the complimentary audio tour. Ticket details are available at (503) 226-0973. Plan ahead-the final weeks will be a madhouse and many key dates will be sold out in advance. With the Seattle Art Museum closed for the past year for expansion and remodeling, art museums in other major Northwest cities have reported higher attendance from Puget Sound visitors. Check it out.

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