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Pacific Arts Market

November 6th, 2013

Change of venue

In the article on page 48 of the November issue, the Pacific Arts Market is described as being located at the old Fountain Drug Building on Meridian. Due to the sale of that property, the Pacific Arts Market will be operating out of the old Sportsman’s Chalet space on Holly Street. Also, the final weekend of operations will be Friday – Sunday, December 20 – 22. The market will not be open on December 23.

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Shaham. Shazam!

November 3rd, 2013

Violinist, symphony make magic
by Christopher Key

In reviewing the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra’s first concert with new Artistic Director Yaniv Attar last month, my colleague John French detected some probably understandable opening night jitters. Maestro Attar apparently conjured some powerful medicine since then because the orchestra was in top form today. They might have been helped a bit by a sensational performance from violinist Gil Shaham, but the energy level was sufficient to light Las Vegas, both from the orchestra and the audience.

Felix Mendelssohn managed to do quite a bit of traveling in his tragically short life and one of the places that enchanted him was Scotland. According to Dr. Ed Rutschman’s always-superb program notes, the composer visited one of the whiskey distilleries for which the country is justly famous. Perhaps that accounts for his lovely Hebrides Overture, op. 26. He captures all the beauty and serenity of the locale while managing to overlook the occasionally bleak climate. The orchestra was as smooth as single-malt even during some rather furious string passages.

Guest artist Gil Shaham is considered to be among the top few violinists in the world and has a fascinating background. He was born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, that most middle-American of small cities. At age seven, he moved to Israel with his parents and began his music studies. He made his debut at the tender age of 10 with the Jerusalem Symphony and Israel Philharmonic, then continued his studies in Aspen and at Juilliard.

Photo courtesy jewishjournal.com

Photo courtesy jewishjournal.com

Since then, he has won multiple Grammys along with numerous other awards and now has his own record label. Perhaps his most noticeable trait while performing is that he smiles. A lot. How often do you see a superstar classical musician who looks like he’s having more fun than should be strictly legal? Shaham seemed a bit awkward when he first came onstage, but then the orchestra did something he liked and his grin lit up the Mount Baker Theater.

His performance of Johannes Brahms’ beloved Violin Concerto in D major, op. 77 also lit up the place to the point where the Fire Marshal must have been nervous. Even the most sophisticated audiences usually break into applause at the end of the first movement because it sounds just like the end of a symphony. Today was no exception and there were even people on their feet. Understandably so, but Maestro Attar wisely gave the audience no chance to break etiquette after the second movement by charging right into the soaring third. Shaham doesn’t need to resort to the physical theatrics of some of his colleagues and prefers to let his fingers do the talking. They do so most eloquently. The thunderous standing ovation at the end went on so long that the MBT techs brought up the lights to signal intermission. The audience was having none of it and kept roaring until Shaham came out for an encore.

If there was anyone left who was not thoroughly enchanted by Shaham, the second half began with an interview conducted by National Public Radio. The violin virtuoso then proved to be not only utterly charming, but something of a comic. Asked about his Stradivarius instrument, he said, “It’s 1699. Not including tax. I’ve now used that line 1699 times.”

An act like that is damn near impossible to follow, but the orchestra rose to the challenge with a terrific performance of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in D minor, op. 120. Concertmaster Grant Donellan had the daunting task of performing some solos in the second movement and gave no indication that he was overwhelmed by following a performance like Shaham’s. The rhythmic and dynamic characteristics of this work make it very easy for some of the more intense passages to become muddy. Didn’t happen. The orchestra was as crisp as a ginger snap and won its own well-deserved standing O.

The Mount Baker Theatre was sold out today and that should motivate you to get your tickets well in advance for the Holiday Concert on December 8. That sugar plum will feature the Bellingham Chamber Chorale under the direction of Ryan Smit and the Bellingham Children’s Choir led by David Post. For concert details, see the WSO website. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Mount Baker Theatre box office at (360) 734-6080 or by ordering online.

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Velcome to Transylvania

October 18th, 2013

Dracula sucks
by Lily Olason

Free Key Productions takes to the stage once more, touting what many fear to adopt: the infamous, the chilling, the original Dracula. Flanked by a small, talented, and gymnastically versatile cast, this production makes vintage cool and Victorian London even darker.

TJ Anderson brings the stuff of legend to life as the delightfully, perfectly creepy and just as pale Count Dracula. In luring mortals, walking silently, and outwitting his new English enemies, Anderson could do no better. His Transylvanian accent is truly admirable, mannerisms perfect, and laugh that rumbles the building a bit, unbeatable.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Savanna Balfour tackles brilliantly the role of Mina Harker, sister of less-than-lucky Lucy and Stoker’s personification of temptation, in this classic Irish novel. Whether delivering wonderfully metered monologues, getting hypnotized, or squaring off with the original Batman, Balfour works wonders as an integral character and makes it look easy.

Photo credit - Christopher Key

Photo credit – Christopher Key

Sidney Balfour portrays Lucy Harker, sneak-attack victim of the evil count, and scary undead, to a T. Her transformation showcases some serious chops, from respectable Englishwoman that writes letters in fountain pen to shake-in-your-boots undead an hour later.

Sonia D. Alexis plays the best Van Helsing you’re going to meet in a while. Her accent is absolutely excellent, acting superb, vampire-warding powers top-notch, and people familiar with the work will hardly so much as notice that she’s Amanda and not Abraham.

Along with wonderfully cast primary narrator, concerned husband, and Dracula-hunter extraordinaire, Jonathan Harker (Conner Vis), and psychiatric doctor and lovely tenor, Dr. Jack Seward (Paul Henderson II), the brightest team in London hunts down the evasive killer to rid the earth of his supernatural guile.

Not to mention, several main characters flip-flop to minor roles. This must be a good sign, when you really don’t notice that they even did that.

There’s some serious action here: bloody daggers, saws, screams, wooden stakes, garlic, the whole nine yards. The props department (Ann Balfour), costume and make-up guru (Kathy Peacock, who also expertly graces the stage as pragmatically insane Emma Renfield), and sound and lighting folks band together in this fabulous aggregation, to bring us great atmosphere and commendable behind-the-scenes mastery.

Wizard director and production company head Christopher Key throws us a few happy changes to Stoker’s century-old work, and deftly walks the line between new and old. But I wouldn’t want to give it away.

Don’t miss Dracula in Fairhaven. Shows run October 18, 19, 25, and 26 at 7:30 p.m., and October 20 and 27 at 2:00 p.m. at the Firehouse Theatre, 1314 Harris Avenue, in Bellingham. Tickets may be purchased for $15 at Brown Paper Tickets.

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Bloody good show!

October 13th, 2013

Original ballet makes stunning debut
by Lily Olason

The legend comes to life in this delightfully original take on Dracula by Northwest Ballet Theater. Brilliantly choreographed by NBT’s artistic director John Bishop, and magnetically tethered to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel of the same name, this show is killer and those classicist vampire fans among us will find nothing to gripe about.

Count Dracula (Joshua D. Deininger) and equally sadistic Countess Bathory (Natasha Keeley) make the baddest duo in Transylvania. Introducing several unsuspecting mortals to their endless way of life, the pair embraces the perpetuity of their gruesome situation with beautiful pirouettes and stunning grace. Deininger, adapting perfectly to a surly prince, moves like lightning and it’s totally believable he can morph into a bat at will.

When wily Dracula follows property attorney Jonathan Harker (Philip Borunda) to London to get a better look at his fiancée’s friend, Lucy (Miye Bishop), all hell breaks loose. Lucy’s bitten by the Count and nothing Dr. Van Helsing (Angus McLane) can do saves her from her ensuing fate.

Miye Bishop portrays Dracula’s unfortunate love interest impeccably, showcasing the artistry of the ballet and the ingenuity of this original piece just as well. The same may be said of Mija Bishop, tackling the work’s heroine, barometer of good, and best friend, Mina Harker.

Photo credit - Damien Vines

Photo credit – Damien Vines

Mr. Bishop’s choreography is visual dessert. Fast, slow, moving, stopping, everything is symmetrical. White and black fabric floats and spins, turns and glides, flies. It’s in-sync, electric, cream and ink swaying and swooping and spinning and falling over and over. Everything you’d want in a ballet, here it is.

Costumes by Holly Bennett, along with sets by Steven Craig and lights by David Wright meld in wonderful harmony to support everything that’s going on up there on stage. Their work is noticeable, and pretty darn well done.

And as wounded Dracula attempts to flee back to Transylvania with newfound immortal Lucy in tow, the Van Helsing task force is on the job. Perfectly cast Angus McLane, along with Arthur (Julian Young) and Jonathan at his side face off with the Vampire King to save the innocent once and for all.

Photo credit - Damien Vines

Photo credit – Damien Vines

Though the occasional preteen girl may be slightly disappointed no sparkly undead in pea coats appear, NBT’s thrilling and beautiful production of the original will entice audiences of all ages.

Dracula runs October 13th at 2 p.m. at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. Tickets range from $32-$24. Call (360) 734-6080 to reserve a spot or order online. Two other performances are scheduled: October 25th, 7:30 p.m. at McIntyre Hall, 5201 East College Way, with tickets ranging $35-$24. Call (360) 416-7727 or online. November 1st the show appears at the Orcas Center on Orcas Island, tickets $28 or $18 for students. The Orcas Center is located at 917 Mt. Baker Road, Eastsound, WA. Call (360) 416-7727 to reserve tickets or order online.

I think it’s safe to assume these Halloween-week gigs will fill up quickly. Get your tickets early, folks.

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Viva Verdi!

October 12th, 2013

Skagit Opera produces another winner
by John French

Opera, by its very nature, is hard. Not only do you have to be able to sing some of the most difficult repertoire a singer may ever encounter, you also have to be able to move like a human being. Stand and Bark is not an option anymore. You have to have a thoroughly supportive orchestra under you and (hopefully) settings that do not look like a 1960s soap opera.

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joe Green (a.k.a Giuseppe Verdi), the Skagit Opera meets many of those over-the-top goals with their production of Rigoletto at McIntyre Hall in Mt. Vernon. This opera has it all: drama, comedy, THE great drinking song and, of course, death while singing very, very high.

First off, the sets and costumes are both very colorful and well done. Especially the backdrops, which I really liked. They were also simple and versatile without that icky living room look. The lighting was especially effective, and the movement of the entire cast was very lifelike. That last remark may sound a little snarky, but you would be surprised how often in theatre that is hard to pull off.

As to the singing: Ryan MacPherson set the bar very high right from the opening aria He polished his chops with the now defunct New York City Opera Company and it shows Not to be out done, the Skagit Opera’s Korean Konnection of Yuseok Oh, as Rigoletto and Adam Kim as Marullo showed forth beautifully. As did Benjamin Harris (as Count Monterone & Sparafucile). I always love it when the bass gets to rock the house.

Yu Seok Oh as Rigoletto and Courtney Ruckman as Gilda in the Skagit Opera production. - Photo credit - Michelle Doherty Photography

Yu Seok Oh as Rigoletto and Courtney Ruckman as Gilda in the Skagit Opera production. – Photo credit – Michelle Doherty Photography

On the female side you cannot help but fall in love with Courtney Ruckman as Gilda. Her voice quality was superb and the phrasing was absolutely adorable. If I could find any fault it was in the duos where she just did not meet Oh’s power and was a bit buried. But her solos were magnificent. I was also attracted to the wonderful Serena Eduljee as Countess Ceprano.

As someone who has experience on both sides of the baton, I tend to pay close attention the orchestra, and they did not disappoint tonight. Maestro Bernard Kwriam had them very tight with the soloists as I have not heard before with Skagit Opera. There were some intonation issues (especially in the string department) which I find annoying, but there is no such thing as perfection in live theatre. My hat is also off to the compact, but totally efficient chorus under the tutelage of Glenda Wilson

There is also a surprise in a quick five-minute set change of the first act that has nothing to do with Rigoletto, but is great fun. You are just going to have to buy a ticket to find out what that is.

There is a tradition in theatre that the director gives notes to the cast after a rehearsal. So, dear readers I am going to give you my notes:

Get down to McIntyre Hall to see this show! It is worth every penny and then some. And the setting could not be more ideal.

Rigoletto plays October 11, 13, 18 and 20. Tickets are available at the McIntyre Hall box office by calling (360) 416-7727 or online.

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A long-awaited debut

October 9th, 2013

Maestro Attar bows in

by John French

The Whatcom Symphony Orchestra began what is hoped to be the brand new day for the group with their debut under the baton of Maestro Yaniv Attar this afternoon at the historic Mt. Baker Theatre. And, like most beginnings, there was some in the good category, and some in the not so much category.

We began the afternoon by meeting the very affable new President of the Board, Bruce Cox followed by equally affable new executive director (and double bassist) Thom Mayes. Mr. Mayes informed the nearly sold out audience that the month of October was the month that orchestras everywhere were celebrating the memory of musician/journalist Danny Pearl who was killed by terrorists in 2002.

His family has been promoting music as a way for us to divert our focus from our ethnic backgrounds, cultures and countries, and unite us in the pursuit of art, especially music. As is the custom of the WSO on the opening concert of the new season we all rose and sang the Star-Spangled Banner. I found this odd…not that we sang our national anthem…but the idea that art should supersede such things as national identity, ethnic origin, political persuasion etc. and then segue into one country’s national identity is an odd juxtaposition for me.

Then it was down to business as the orchestra opened the program with the Overture to Johann Strauss’ operetta Die Fledermaus. And I can think of nothing better to start my day than this bubbling orchestral piece that should put a smile on every ones face. Good beginning.

Yaniv Attar

The orchestra then found it necessary to re-tune. This is generally not a good beginning. Then, we launched into the Overture to Romeo and Juliet Fantasy by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Here, the orchestra was having some difficulty with intonation and playing together, especially in the soaring string melodies that are state-of-the-art Tchaikovsky. But everyone made it through to a successful conclusion and a warm reception from the audience.

Just before half-time came the highlight of the program for me: the 5th & 6th Hungarian Dances by that most non-Hungarian German composer Johannes Brahms. These pieces are so playful and full of life that they actually been used as music for both Charlie Chaplin and Tom and Jerry. Now, one does not normally associate the word “playful” with Brahms, but they most certainly are and were played with much affection by the orchestra and Maestro Attar.

The entire second half of the concert was devoted to Antonin Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 in G minor. As this piece begins with one of the most beautiful cello lines I know, I was a bit apprehensive of what was going to come after Romeo and Juliet. I did not need to fear! The cello section handled their many signature lines throughout this symphony quite well and the concert came to a rousing conclusion that afforded us the opportunity to hear the new direction the orchestra is going.

On a personal note, I want to commend Maestro Attar for his ability to communicate with the audience. Back in the Jurassic Period while I was in the concert organ business, I took a lot of heat for daring to speak between pieces. Thankfully, those days are gone and Maestro Attar is very good at that particular art: being engaging and informative without being a showboat.

I shall eagerly look forward to seeing this new union as they mutually grow with each other and provide us with life-long memories of music.

Next on the symphony’s calendar is a concert on Sunday, November 3, 3:00 p.m at the MBT. The guest artist will be superstar violinist Gil Shaham and more details are available on the WSO site. WSO concerts are often sellouts, so it behooves the concertgoer to purchase tickets early by calling the MBT box office at (360) 734-6080 or online.

Simon says, laugh and cry

September 26th, 2013

BTG welcomes new director
by Lily Olason

Bellingham Theatre Guild treats us to a slice of the Big Apple this month in Prisoner of Second Avenue. A sidesplitting cast under the direction of Alan Peet and some alarmingly relevant commentary forty-two years post original release, the guys at the Guild have hit their mark with this staple of American drama.

Mel Edison’s worried, and his wife just can’t figure it out. He fights with his German stewardess neighbors through the walls and paces at 2:30 in the morning. He yells at the guy upstairs, can smell the garbage from his fourteenth floor balcony, the walls are cracking, the rent’s out of control. And to make matters worse, everything’s permeated by the arid economic climate of the early ‘70s.

How could you beat the casting of Lucas Naylor and Bonnie Hollingsworth as Mel and Edna Edison? Their delivery and rapid-fire exchanges are perfect, little quips about everything excellent, arguing with offstage irritants respectable and hilarious. Naylor’s voice is exactly what one would expect to yell at them through their ceiling and then later steal their New York Times. Both are fabulous to watch speak, act, and draw laughter onstage.

Bonnie Hollingsworth and Lucas Naylor star in Prisoner of Second Avenue at the Belling ham Theatre Guild.  Photo credit - David Cohn

Bonnie Hollingsworth and Lucas Naylor star in Prisoner of Second Avenue at the Belling ham Theatre Guild. Photo credit – David Cohn

As Mel’s life is further confined within the yellow walls of his apartment (the set crew’s work here is wonderful), things go from bad to worse when job loss and robbery push him over the edge into a nervous breakdown. Enter fast talking New York businessman, Harry (Robert Muzzy), frequent crier Jessie (Suzie Clark), downright comedic Pearl (Kerry L. Van Winkle), and financially apprehensive Pauline (Sally Lubetich) to aid in pulling their brother out of his slump and back on his feet. All four, too, seem perfectly matched to their roles and induce laughter in so many places and ways it’s impossible to keep track.

The wardrobe department, headed by Aubrey Kornelis, has truly done an amazing job in curating ensembles that so accurately reflect the era. A time machine, if you will, so many styles of decades hence add such an elemental piece to the work and further the authenticity of this show.

As the plotline revolves around the recession of the early ‘70s, several comments by Mel and Edna strike an eerie familiarity in the here and now. Unemployment of the primary breadwinner, welfare, the middle class getting passed over, big industries facing big problems are as relevant now as they were under Mr. Nixon.

Peet and his gang have done a fabulous job with this frontrunner of American drama, mixing wonderful local talent with a famous production. There’s funny, plenty of it, plus emotional, real, and gritty things in this work. Prisoner of Second Avenue is not an evening to skip.

Evening performances run September 27, 28, October 3, 4, 5, and 10, 11, 12 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees run September 29, and October 6 and 13 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets sell for $14 (adults), $12 (students/seniors), and $8 (children). You can reach the ticket office at (360) 733-1811, Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. The Bellingham Theatre Guild is located at 1600 H Street. For more information, see the BTG website.

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Enchanting!

September 25th, 2013

Iconic music at Claire vg
by Lily Olason

Musical theatre enthusiasts, show chorus patrons, lovers of classic Americana, rejoice! The Rodgers and Hammerstein collection comes to life at the Claire vg Thomas Theatre as Some Enchanted Evening.

The lovely and dedicated Mrs. Thomas herself, at one point an audition pianist for the most dynamic duo in show business, was named honoree of this cohesive and awe-inspiring anthology of their work.

Featuring familiar numbers from legendary musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, Me and Juliet, Cinderella, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Flower Drum Song, State Fair, South Pacific, and Allegro, the night is one of nostalgia in a new light. It’s new and old, fast and slow, joyful and sad, and everything in between. The most definitive solos in the American songbook are voiced fearlessly here, and feats of harmony abound in this small but tightly-knit cast of five.

Jeremy Loween sings "There is Nothing Like a Dame" in the Lynden Performing Arts Guild production of Some Enchanted Evening.  Photo credit - Kit Vonnegut

Jeremy Loween sings “There is Nothing Like a Dame” in the Lynden Performing Arts Guild production of Some Enchanted Evening. Photo credit – Kit Vonnegut

Following the night’s journey of five actors in a performance, first “backstage” warming up, then out front, vocalists Dave Bolden, Megann Schmidt, Laura and Jeremy Loween, and Amanda Keefe boldly and brilliantly go where many might fear. The melodies of “Maria,” “Bali Ha’i,” and “I Cain’t Say No” truly pop in solo and ensemble voicing, and float through many a brain upon exiting the theatre. For those not so professionally versed in the biz, such constant melding and blending and shuffling of songs offers a unique introduction to the works from which they derive, and a fabulous jumping-off point for viewing them in their entirety.

The score, too, offers a bit of a time capsule, a vestige from the early- to mid-twentieth century when fathers were afraid for their daughters and cowboys truly did hang out in Oklahoma, “…where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” It’s constantly engaging, stitching together decades of material into one beautiful patchwork quilt.

The wonderful thing about this cast and its size is the ability to highlight each and every one, to trade off solos, perform duets, trios, quartets, and fully voiced pieces. Keefe, Loween, and Schmidt exhibit such a liberty perfectly through their harmonies in “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out-A My Hair” and as Jeremy Loween does in the beautiful “Younger Than Springtime.” The entire cast showcases acrobatic range, Schmidt’s glorious soprano a prime example. They all stay true to the original style and iconic optimism of the numbers.

Megann Schmidt sings "it Might as Well Be Spring" in the LPAG production of Some Enchanted Evening.  Photo credit - Kit Vonnegut

Megann Schmidt sings “it Might as Well Be Spring” in the LPAG production of Some Enchanted Evening. Photo credit – Kit Vonnegut

So theatre lovers, and those who would like to learn all things Rodgers and Hammerstein, visit the Claire Vg Theatre in Lynden and hear what it’s all about. A fabulous collection of culture and art, director Celeste Larson’s take on Some Enchanted Evening will send you home singing.

The show runs September 26th through October 13th at 655 Front Street, Lynden. Reserve tickets through the box office Tuesday through Saturday, 1-3 p.m., (360) 354-4425. See the Lynden Performing Arts Guild website for more detailed information.

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Fall into Springtime

September 25th, 2013

Bialystock Blooms again at MBT
by Christopher Key

From the moment Musical Director Ryan Dudenbostel drops the baton on the overture to The Producers, you know you’re in for a sizzling Broadway spectacular at the Mount Baker Theatre. Producing Director Mark Kuntz delivers another dazzling display from the MBT’s home-grown Rep company and if you sip your beverage at the wrong time, I won’t be responsible for where it goes.

Mel Brooks’ legendary musical is brought to life in all its glorious offensiveness by a terrific cast of hired guns and locals who give it everything they’ve got and then some. The orchestra is Broadway quality, the singing and dancing are worthy of the Great White Way and the sets and costumes seal the deal.

The diminutive Richard Gray plays Max Bialystock with a manic energy that makes him seem at least seven feet tall. He’s a fixture at Seattle’s 5th Avenue and Issaquah’s Village Theatre. His talent extends far beyond the footlights. Gray is an award-winning composer of new musicals.

Casey Raiha, Danny Kam and Richard Gray star in The Producers at Mount Baker Theatre.  Photo credit - Damian Vines

Casey Raiha, Danny Kam and Richard Gray star in The Producers at Mount Baker Theatre. Photo credit – Damian Vines

Bialystock’s partner in grand theatrical larceny, the Milquetoastian Leo Bloom, is another familiar face on King County stages. Casey Raiha portrays the character with slapstick physicality, the requisite charming innocence and a lovely voice. As the two concoct a scheme to produce a guaranteed Broadway flop, their chemistry is explosive.

Leading the locals in the cast is Jim Lortz as the flamboyant director Roger DeBris. He sings, he dances and he mugs with the best of them and it’s hard to believe that he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. The only reason I mention it is because he outed himself in his program bio.

Roger DeBris’ amanuensis, the fluttery Carmen Ghia, is played by Western Washington University grad Jon Lutyens. He gives camping out a whole new meaning.

Danny Kam acts, directs and teaches all over Seattle. No one could have been better cast as Franz Liebkind, the diehard Nazi who authors Springtime for Hitler. Another WWU grad, he’s at his buffoonish best when interacting with his precious pigeons, which deserve a rave review for the tech crew.

And, of course, there’s Ulla, the Swedish bombshell who could sell Volvos in Venezuela. Rep favorite Heather Dudenbostel gives the character a riotous ride that is somehow both sultry and silly.

Heather Dudenbostel lights up Casey Riaha's libido in The Producers.  Photo credit - Damian Vines

Heather Dudenbostel lights up Casey Riaha’s libido in The Producers. Photo credit – Damian Vines

As in all Rep shows, there’s a substantial number of locals and rather than pointing them out, I’ll give you the pleasure of spotting them. With the exception of 90-something Peggy Hunt, who is obviously having the time of her life playing Hold Me-Touch Me with a raunchy horniness that makes Betty White look like Betty Crocker.

The orchestra, as I mentioned at the start, is rock-solid and features superb local musicians from the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra and other groups.

Bud Coleman directs the whole schmo and contributes the eye-popping choreography, along with Tabetha Clark, who makes the tap dancers seriously click.

Jessica Carr and assistant Maeve O’Connell deserve a standing ovation for the stunning costumes, without which all of the performers would be naked. Ah-ah, don’t go there.

The MBT techies do their usual superb job of lighting and sound and this show must have been more than a little challenging for them.

The Producers runs September 25 – 29 on the MBT mainstage and I’m betting people will be fighting for these tickets. Call the box office at (360) 734-6080 or purchase at the MBT website. Curtain times and ticket prices are also available there.

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Going beyond the labels

September 22nd, 2013

Kuntz tells the story of a neighbor
by Lily Olason

Kuntz and Company paints an incredible and introspective portrait of the life of Margret Cooper, a 28-year-old Bellingham native with Asperger’s Syndrome in Hello, My Name is You. Reprised for another round of performances after a sell-out crowd last February and a performance at the Communities Collaborative Care Conference in Minnesota this summer, the theater/dance company stuns with its artistic and though-provoking take on a condition that affects individuals everywhere.

Photo credit - Nolan McNally

Photo credit – Nolan McNally

Performers Ian Bivins, Hannah Reclam, Troy Hightower, Ella Mahler, and Cooper herself execute beautiful, original choreography and oft-poetic dialog to communicate the intricacies of Asperger’s and Cooper’s life. Each movement is perfectly orchestrated to correspond to another, a meaning, and what this courageous woman experiences daily. The flow to this piece is fascinatingly mobile, locked in conversation one moment, silent the next, and a monologue a little later. When Cooper addresses the greater voice beyond the audience (artistic director Pam Kuntz) in her regular experiences and personality traits, personal preferences and take on her condition, the audience grows to know her as a happy, funny, brave, and determined woman.

Though the set is beautifully minimalist, the versatility and strength each performer brings to the table is astonishing. Utilizing only a few chairs, a short reel of film, and sticks, nothing else feels needed and surely nothing feels empty. The metaphorical interpretation of the emotions, the constraints, the pressures of Asperger’s Syndrome are presented so immediately and tangibly that it connects the audience and the stage as one and the forty minutes blur by. The use of spotlights goes over so well aesthetically that it feels like viewing an ever-mobile canvas, and the intimate space of the Firehouse Theatre facilitates such a performance perfectly.

Photo credit - Nolan McNally

Photo credit – Nolan McNally

There is so much to this play, that what one takes away couldn’t possibly match up perfectly with that of another. The communication is so beautifully complex that digging and thinking and mulling it over is the key, that understanding is the key, and that laughing along with the funny stuff is, too.

Perhaps most importantly, Hello explores and divulges information about Asperger’s fluidly and organically. Literal interpretation, body language, social behavior, thinking patterns, and off-the-charts intelligence in specific areas are all addressed in dialogue, monolog, or scenes. It teaches, it shows, it guides. And it’s one that shouldn’t be passed by.

Performances run Thursday, September 26th, Friday, September 27th, and Saturday, September 28th, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, September 29th at 5:00 p.m. at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, 1314 Harris Avenue in Fairhaven. A post-performance discussion follows each show. Advance tickets are available at Village Books for $15, (360) 676-2626, or a pay-what-you-can-fee at the door (suggested: $8-15). It’s one weekend only, so purchase tickets early. For more information, see the Kuntz and Company website.

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