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Bits & Bytes
Spamalot scores at Paramount, Seattle Philharmonic programs rare Herrmann, L&G Film Festival ends 12th season, ACT delights with The Women
By Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

A theatrical stunning, stylishly satisfying production of Clare Booth Luce's The Women is currently the hottest ticket in Seattle. The production-literally "three years in the making"-continues through Dec. 2, an incredibly long run for ACT Theatre. But, then, the whole production is an incredible risk for ACT and its talented director, production team and cast.

Best remembered as an all-star MGM film classic with the biggest names in Hollywood, the show originally was a sensation on Broadway. Luce, wife of the founder of Time Magazine, wrote a sensational play for its time. An all woman cast-a rarity for the era-kept the men off stage in the plot sequences. Bitchy dialog, a wig-pulling cat fight, back-stabbing gossip all made the play a revelation-a stereotyped revelation it could be noted.

The original Broadway cast featured 44 actresses in its 44 parts. ACT uses 16 Seattle-based actresses with a great deal of doubling in the minor roles. (Broadway's cast sported three unknowns who went on to greater thing: Marjorie Main, Arlene Francis and Doris Day-an actress who may, or may not be the same woman who became a big band singer and a major film star of the 1950s/60s.)

The MGM film, when the studio boasted "More Stars Than There Are In Heaven," cemented the work as a contemporary classic. Discreetly openly Gay film director George Cukor brought just the right touch to The Women.

Warner Shook, ACT's openly Gay stage director, talked with SGN's Bits&Bytes about the production.

"It's a play for everyone. Straight women will love the bitchiness, the costumes. Straight men will love the beautiful women parading around in their underwear. Lesbians will love the power of the individual female characters. Gay men will want to play all the parts," he laughed, playing into the stereotypes of theater and the campy Gay community.

There is no doubt that Shook is the right man for ACT's The Women. Each scene, each costume, each actress, each movement is beautifully designed to showcase the play. There is an edgy camp element inherent in the script, and Shook develops it perfectly.

The show's leading actresses all are as close to perfection as it may ever be possible. Suzanne Bouchard, lovelier than possible, is all sweetness and light-and thoroughly believable-as Mary Haines, the perfect wife who learns her husband is cheating on her with a golddigging salesgirl. Jennifer Lyon, who was a delightful Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday at ACT two seasons back, returns to Seattle as Crystal Allen, here a blonde "Material Girl" with a Betty Grable hairdo. The blonde bombshell look is a little too obvious at times, but Lyon does terrific work.

Anne Allgood steals all of her scenes and much of the play as the always pregnant Edith Potter. Her timing is impeccable. Julie Briskman (ACT's Mae West in Dirty Blonde) is another scene stealer as the chatty Sylvia Fowler (a character who will always be associated with Rosalind Russell from the film version). Like the entire cast, Briskman is total perfection from start to finish. Emily Cedergreen makes a fine Peggy Day.

The supporting cast is another major strength of the production. Often doubling, the actresses quickly run through more than 100 1936 period costumes-as salesgirls, beauty shop staffers, fashion models, etc.

This scribe has to list several supporting roles: Annette Toutonghi as the Betty Boop-voiced Olga, the Jungle Red (that's a 1936 nail polish color) manicurist who starts the whole plot in motion. Marianne Owen, a Seattle treasure who sparkles in four roles. Laura Kenny, who gets an hysterical eye-rolling exit early in the show and anchors the Reno Divorce Dude Ranch scene in Act Two. And, the young Megan Schutzler who makes Little Mary, the heroine's daughter, into a three-dimensional character, wisely avoiding most obvious "child performance" choices.

The show-a fortune to stage, a fortune to cast-is a total triumph for ACT. Opening night found Act Two dragging a bit-in the plot and in performances. Several line stumbles-and one physical stumble in the very last minutes-marred the flow, but those problems are surely corrected by now. The incredible curtain call-a Jungle Red extravaganza-ends the evening with a solid round of applause. A terrific production of a terrific show. Ticket details at 292-7676. (And, watch this space for more of Warner Shook's interview comments and more details on individual performances as space permits.)

With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, Monty Python's Spamalot, one of the biggest Tony Award-winning Best Musical hits on Broadway in recent years, has finally reached Seattle. The national touring company, playing at the Paramount Theatre through Oct. 28 as part of the theater's Broadway Across America series, opened Oct. 10 and has been delighting Seattle musical theater fans-and Monty Python fanatics--eight times a week.

"Lovingly Ripped Off From The Motion Picture Monty Python And The Holy Grail," as the credits note, the stage musical is basically a revue with just enough plot to carry the show forward. Like Hellzapoppin' in the 1930s, no one can exactly explain why the show is an hysterical romp, a campy send up of Broadway traditions and Python routines. It works like a Swiss windup clock-Mike Nichols' direction is flawless. Ditto the choreography by Casey Nicholaw, a young choreographer with strong Seattle ties.

For this scribe, the Broadway send ups work best. "The Song That Goes Like This" is a wonderfully accurate satire of the best/worst of Andrew Lloyd Weber and the whole Phantom Of The Opera era. The Lady Of The Lake is backed up by "The Laker Girls," a vocal group that would please Jack Nicholson and Bette Midler. And so it goes.

For many in the opening night audience, the show's success is the Monty Python inspiration. Like certain patrons at the recent Young Frankenstein, audience members howled at the scenery when the lights came up. They knew the look of the show, the feel of the routines and were happy to see it brought to life on stage.

The national tour features young actors early in their careers. The original Broadway show featured mature actors with established reputations. It seems to make no matter. The show works. It works beautifully. And, one suspects, like Hellzapoppin' and other theatrical curiosities of yesteryear, it will live on in stage history without anyone knowing exactly why it worked and ran so long.

Spamalot continues with evening and select matinee performances through Oct. 28, an unusually long run for the Paramount. Tickets are usually available at the box office for each performance. Check it out. Have fun.

The 12th annual Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival ends late Sunday night after 10 days of wild and wacky-and moving and revealing-film choices. This scribe offered day-by-day choices for the first weekend in last week's column. This closing weekend offers another diverse series of choices.

Gender Blender Shorts (note the charming pun in the title) tomorrow at noon and First Timers: Shorts (a collection of new directors, not necessarily coming out tales) Sunday at noon will be "must see" choices for many Festival regulars. The shorts collections are often the most talked about events for season pass holders. While often hit-&-miss affairs, there is almost always one short film, one new director, one performance that makes the whole collection.

The Crash Pad at 11:30 p.m. tomorrow ("Late Night Lesbian Sex!") will draw a huge crowd to the intimate Broadway Performance Hall. Itty Bitty Titty Committee, the closing gala Sunday night at 7 p.m., will draw a strong group of women but should also charm the men who support the Festival.

All in all, 26 films will screen this weekend. Tickets and program information at 325-6500.

Opera fans throughout the Northwest are all aflutter with the official opening of "the season" up and down the coast.

Seattle Opera, offering its second opera of the season with Gluck's rarely staged 1779 Iphigenia In Tauris, continuing through Oct. 27, is celebrating its first coproduction with New York's Metropolitan Opera. Right after it closes in Seattle, the whole physical production-designed, directed and built here in the Emerald City-moves to Lincoln Center for a November run at the fabled Met. Tickets start at $25, a new lower price this season. Ticket information at 389-7676.

Portland Opera, continuing its "Great Women Of The Stage" season, is readying Rossini's fairytale Cinderella as the perfect contrast to its season opener, Bizet's sensual Carmen. (The opera is technically La Cenerentola but Portland Opera is wisely using the English name that is more commonly associated with the title character, Bravo for accessibility!) Cinderella plays four performances Nov. 2-10 including a Nov. 4 matinee. Tickets, toll free, at 866-739-6737.

San Francisco Opera, the most important opera company on the West Coast, opened its season with three productions-Samson And Delilah, Tannhauser and the world premiere of Phillip Glass's Civil War tale, Appomattox. "Read all about it" next week in Bits&Bytes here in SGN.

Composer Bernard Herrmann is best known from his Hollywood work for Alfred Hitchcock and Orsen Wells. His film scores for Citizen Kane and classic Hitchcock films have eclipsed his classical work, including a wonderful operatic version of Weathering Heights that Portland Opera staged many decades ago. The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra's Sunday concert this weekend should help restore Herrmann's straight classical reputation.

Written the same year as the Kane film score, Herrmann's Symphony anchors SPO's first concert of the year, Sunday, Oct. 21, at 3 p.m. at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus. Adam Stern conducts the program that includes Mozart's Overture to Lucio Silla, another rarely performed work, and two works by Rachmanioff, including his world famous Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor with Denice Grant as the soloist. It should be a terrific program.

SPO's concerts have many wonderful aspects. The Sunday afternoon 3 p.m. time slot is perfect for many family, student and senior music fans. Ticket prices are amazingly low--$18 for general admission with $10 pricing for students and seniors. A "Family Pass" at $45 admits two children and two adults with additional children just $5 each.

Meany Hall has a casual user-friendly feel, and the open, festival seating allows spontaneous seating choices. Parking in the underground Meany garage is free on Sundays. Such a deal&. Tickets and program information are available at 525-0443. Tickets will be available at the door or in advance at TicketMaster. Check it out.

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