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Cirque du Soleil's Corteo at Marymoor, Boys Do The Girls, Seattle Opera's I Puritani
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Seattle's arts scene is full of exciting and diverse stage and concert offerings. In a time of heightened financial concerns, audiences want the proverbial "more bang for the buck." And Bits&Bytes is here to tell you about it. Read on:

Cirque du Soleil ("Theatre Of The Sun" / "Circus Of The Sun") returns to the Seattle area with its touring Corteo , another in a long series of entertainment hits for the creative French-Canadian troupe. The spring run of the show, in Redmond again, was a cheering, stomping hit in its opening performances last weekend. As usual, the Cirque experience is indescribable. A combination of circus acts (with no animals, at least no real animals), fantastic costumes, incredible special effects, unbelievably skilled acrobats, silt walkers, juggles, actors, dancers, prancers and a few reindeer thrown in - all of this is Cirque du Soleil.

This edition, Corteo, focuses on the death of a circus clown. As he dies, or ascends into a special Clown Heaven, his whole life flashes before his eyes. Two-and-a-half hours later, he es morte and the show is over. (Lit majors will recognize the plot format as indebted to The Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge and several dozen other short stories and nine Bruce Willis films.)

Colored with swirling blue and yellow, the Grand Chaiteau - the vast tent complex that houses the Cirque and its associated events and souvenir store, cocktail lounge, etc. - sparkled in the weekend sunshine as Bits&Bytes and Ms. Guest arrived at Marymoore Park in Redmond.

The location requires some "finding" (and, truth be told, it would have been easier if Mr. Bits&Bytes hadn't insisted that the show was in Kirkland&.). Parking is a slow and laborious experience of snaking through the narrow park lanes and creeping onto soggy grass to park for $15. (The Cirque does offer an upgraded VIP package with "free" parking and drinks in a special tent.) Handicapped parking is available close to the tent complex but is not readily identified - several patrons in walkers or wheelchairs trudged with their friends and families to discover that close-by parking is offered right by the entrances. As with many things in life, ASK! The parking attendants are intent on getting everyone in - but they are more than willing to stop a minute and answer intelligent questions.

There is no denying that Corteo is expensive, but the show is truly unique, totally different from anything else. Tickets start at $38.50 and soar, with VIP package, to $210. One woman we chatted with drove from Spokane that morning for the Saturday matinee show. "I had to see it!" she exclaimed. "I watched a TV special on New Year's Eve years ago - on a lonely New Year's Eve, I might add - and knew I had to see it in person." Her current boyfriend - not visible before the show or at intermission - was "out in his truck, getting stoned." (Ah, it is so easy to feel so old at modern arts events.) Ran into both of them in the parking lot after the show and they agreed it "was worth every penny." Mr. Stoner, it turns out, was a well-dressed Brooks Brothers-type with a Cary Grant demeanor & so much for stereotyping.

To add to the expense, the souvenir programs are an astonishing $25. But - read closely, budget-minded fans of this column - American Express has a free Performance Guide with all of the acts listed in sequence, lots of photos, interviews with some of the performers and a $5 discount coupon for any "merchandising items" purchased with an AmEx card. Yes, that is free, as in free. Just show your American Express card at the numerous AmEx stands.

Be prepared to show one card for each free program - a quibble moment in an otherwise wonderful public relations scheme. ("You only get one program," the overly cheerful AmEx lady explained, "unless you have another AmEx card." Excavating a few other AmEx cards from his wallet, Bits&Bytes scooped up a small stack of "free" program to give to friends. "Goodness," Sort-Of-Nice-But-Churlish Am Ex Lady exclaimed, "how many AmEx cards to you have?" Her query gave this scribe a rare chance to quote his favorite Mae West line: "Goodness had nothing to do with it.")

Many of the sequences explain themselves. Many seem unrelated to their titles. The stage runs a wide alley-like strip right through the middle of the cavernous tent - the audience sits on both sides and can see across the stage and watch the other half of the crowd. Two grand curtains descend in sequence to end scenes, allow set changes, and end the show.

"Chandeliers" opens the show with a stunning visual moment. "Bouncing Beds" features & well, you get the idea. "Cyr Wheel" is one of the most spectacular moments - acrobats whirl around the stage in oversized, spinning wheels. Breathtaking would be an understatement.

"Tightwire," "Golf," "Acrobatic Duet," and "Marionette" are self-explanatory but still incredible. "Klezmer Moment" reminds us that music is integral to the Cirque experience - CDs are recorded and are, of course, "on sale" in the souvenir shop.

"Helium Dance" is one of the most famous sequences in this three-year-old show. Two of the leading actors are "small people." At first the couple seems to be two children but then it becomes obvious that these talented performers are midgets (or dwarfs). In "Helium Dance," she floats in on gigantic helium balloons that the clown cast manipulate up and down and over the audience. ("She is so cute," one lady later remarked. Another patron, to be balanced, said, sadly, "that creeps me out.")

"Teeterboard" finds two clowns flying through space as they take a childhood pleasure and turn it into a Cirque extravaganza.

"Intermission." Well, it was time to return to Ms. Spokane and the unseen Mr. Stoner.

"Paradise," "Crystal Glasses," and "Adagio Duet" followed. Then a troupe of bare-chested men with rippling muscles flew overhead in an astonishing acrobatic outing. Wearing billowing, sheer, pleated "harem pants" and nothing else, the troupe was the highlight in the eye candy department. (Note to self: Buy sheer, pleated harem pants for summer suppers under the stars & but keep shirt on.)

Corteo has been on tour since 2005. It has played Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, Minneapolis, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, L.A. and many other cities. Now in Seattle for "an open-ended run," the show continues officially through May 25 but "a new block of tickets" went on sale yesterday. Plan ahead, save your pennies, take or borrow an AmEx card - or two or three. Ticket information and full details are available at (800) 678-5440.

The wonderfully entertaining The Boys Do The Girls continues an encore staging on the cabaret series at the Crepe de Paris restaurant in downtown Seattle in Rainier Square. The revue - a tribute to Judy, Barbara and Ella - opened in November to raves, especially from this scribe (whose quotes are used in this revival's posters and postcard mailings). Illness cancelled most of the scheduled performances, and various conflicts kept the show sidelined until this spring Saturday series, which continues through mid-May.

"The Boys" in this trip down Nostalgia Lane are vocalist David Skover and keyboardist Martin Buff, who offers solid support and gets a few memorable solo outings. Skover is "not afraid" to sing the classic songs with "proper pronouns in place." Thus, when the Garland tribute moves to "The Trolley Song," Skover keeps the original lyric - "He tipped his hat/and took a seat/he said he hoped he hadn't stepped upon my feet."

For complete details, go to the SGN archives for November 16, 2007, and "read all about it." Ticket details and reservations are available at (206) 623-4111.

Puppetry of the Penis, the Australian sensation that brought "genital origami" to the United States, opened Tuesday night at ACT Theatre to general gaiety and continues with multiple performances through Sunday at the ACT Theatre in downtown Seattle. It's a hoot from start to finish. Check it out. Tickets, times and general information on the touring show is available at 206) 292-7676. Have fun. Wear clean underwear. Phone your mother.

Seattle Opera opens the final production of its 2007-08 season on Saturday night with the first Emerald City staging of Bellini's rarely produced I Puritani. It continues for eight performances through May 17. In a rare financial inducement, SO is offering a 25 percent discount to select performances - May 3, 4, 7 or the matinee on May 11, Mother's Day.

While the opera is a marvelous example of bel canto - literally "beautiful singing" - the story of the clash between the Puritans and other religious and political groups in England in the 1600s is basically dark and often tragic. The Seattle Opera ads - a maiden laughing as servants present a new, flowing ball gown - are downright misleading. The lavish costumes, originally created for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, are colorful and glorious in key scenes but the opera itself is not about fancy balls and laughing maidens.

Vancouver Opera staged the rarity several decades ago, and that was such a rare event that the audience was filled each night with Emerald City opera fans anxious to explore the famous work. Patrons seeking the 25 percent discount should mention the code "AprilShowers" in ordering. Full ticket information is available at (206) 389-7676 or, toll free, at (800) 426-1619 for out-of-area opera fans. (Bits&Bytes wishes more Seattle arts organizations would establish a toll-free line for easy access for entertainment fans throughout the Puget Sound region - and even in Eastern Washington and Oregon.)

The Redwood Theatre in Redmond is offering a rare production of Chess , the musical that teamed Tim Rice and the ABBA writers, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. A huge, long-running hit in London, the show was a quick folderoo in New York. A concert version in North Seattle was the only other Chess mounting until now.

The Redwood troupe is hard-working and often gives solid scenes and solid performances in some key roles. Other scenes, many technical needs, other performances are uneven. But, it is a rare, rare chance to see the demanding, often rewarding, work. It continues Friday and Saturday evening performances through May 10 with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Information at (206) 525-3493.

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