Monday, December 31, 2012

Azure - the color blue

After three years of not showing my paintings other than in the recent studio sale I hosted in my home, I have been asked to participate in a show with two or three other painters at B2 Gallery in Tacoma. The show is called Azure, and it will be a theme show based around the color blue (or blue as in sad or depressed or any other interpretation of "blue" the artist may choose. 

I chose the easy way. I picked paintings that had a lot of blue in them.

As is often the case, I was asked by the gallery to write a statement about my work. Here's what I wrote:

The paintings in this exhibition are select images from the final decade of a 40-year painting career. My work reflects a strong influence of the Abstract Expressionist painters who were at the height of their popularity during my formative years in college and graduate school — most notably the influence of Willem de Kooning with his expressive and energetic gestures, lyrical lines, and peekaboo spatial ambiguities.

"Jack's Back," oil on canvas, 1995, 31" x 41"
Most of my paintings are abstract, but there is always a figurative aspect with references to human and animal bodies in environments derived from nature. I try to capture the movement and the felt emotions of people and animals in their essential activities — the flight of a bird, the sensual slither of a snake, the explosion of a fish leaping out of water; and the sensuality of human bodies at rest and in motion.

Visually I try to capture the fleeting balance between harmonious and contrasting elements: hard and soft edges, smooth and rough paint strokes, bright and dull colors, precise patterns and atmospheric spaces. I hope the paintings can be appreciated for their pure celebration of color, shape and texture.

The show opens Jan. 17. I will post more information when we get closer to the opening.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Judging Olympia's CDs by their covers

Weekly Volcano art critic Alec Clayton reviews album cover art

GLASS ELEVATOR: Art critic Alec Clayton likes the art of "Universum Gloria" the best.

Picking up an album and examining the cover is the first step when shopping for, listening to or contemplating music. Sometimes gazing at the cover, studying the inside jackets and analyzing the art is half the fun.
Below, Weekly Volcano art critic Alec Clayton gives his impression of a handful of recently released Olympia-based album cover art.
Vanguard's Bangin' Jams Volume I: Mission to Rock is artistically risky because it's in black and white. The contrast between the delicacy of a field of flowers and the strength of the two knights in armor is interesting to say the least, but it doesn't do much for me aesthetically. As for telling the "book" by its cover, the only hint as to the kind of music is in the words "Bangin' Jams" and "Rock." I'm thinking heavy metal. By the way, isn't one of those photoshopped heads a little too big for the armor?
Like Vanguard, Erica Freas (of RVIVR) uses black and white imagery on an album cover with a hard-to-read title. Is the title Billy? I like that she combines the black and white with a border of colorful flowers. Unfortunately, the flower imagery on the back cover is overly sweet, and that's what I expect to hear in the songs. I like the photobooth strips on the front. Nicely done.
The Mosquito Hawk eponymous album cover is a little bit '60s psychedelic and a whole lot of art nouveau with some steampunk thrown in for good measure. The drawing is clear and sharp with nice contour lines and bright, soft colors. This cover makes me want to listen to the music.
Bison  Bison*, another eponymous album so far as I can tell from the cover, features a strong, in-your-face image of a double bison face on the cover. The drawing is excellent. The feel is dark, evil, powerful. I would expect heavy drums and throbbing bass, screaming guitars and maybe some brass backup. The back cover is even stronger than the front with an extreme close-up of the bison faces in white on a brownish-orange background.
At first glance I did not at all like the Electric Falcons cover with that strange photo of a dog with the furry, back-lit ears like electronic static in a Frankenstein laboratory. But the more I look at it the more I like it. It's a powerful image that speaks of frantic and screeching sounds. I suspect that the music, like the cover image, would be static-y and harsh and off-putting at first, but that if I listened to it enough I'd grow to like it, but probably never be able to understand the lyrics. I particularly like the subtle color differences between the fuchsia letters on the tile, which color repeats in the dog's ears.
Of the album covers reviewed, my favorite is Glass Elevator's Universum Gloria. It combines some of the best elements of Sgt. Pepper and Peter Max and post-pop surrealism with even a touch of Hello Kitty. I particularly like the bizarre orange eyeball on the front and the playfully gruesome skeleton heads on the back. It's playful and colorful front and back. It makes me think of Cat Stevens' soundtrack from Harold and Maude. Catch them Dec. 28 at Le Voyeur in downtown Olympia.

With Clayton's insightful impressions and these musicians often-hidden messages in their lyrics and artwork, it goes to show that music, like art, has a myriad of layers and complexity, and perhaps you can tell an album by it's cover.

*Bison Bison members are located in Portland, but the singer and guitar player, Grant Miller, spent significant time in Oly and played in the still-rocking Nudity.

Brushed metal work in the "Caustic Compositions" show

The Weekly Volcano, Dec. 27,2012
by Alec Clayton

"Smolder," lacquer and acids on aluminum by Devin Reynolds
Burnished metal art is like glass art in this respect: It's natural beauty can be so enticing that the artist doesn't really have to do much of anything. It's so easy to get by with just a nice surface. Luckily for visitors to Fulcrum Gallery, artist Devin Reynolds brings a nice aesthetic sense to his brushed metal work in his show, "Caustic Compositions."

"Drain," lacquer and acids on aluminum by Devin Reynolds
A wall statement in the gallery says he uses such unusual materials as brushes, a custom paintball gun and a flamethrower. The individual pieces are all labeled as lacquer and acids on aluminum. In other words, Reynolds uses various caustic substances to erode and corrode and otherwise mark the aluminum surfaces of his pieces. The marks he thusly creates are remindful of sky and water and clouds. Many of them look like star fields, planets and galaxies.

A typical, and one of the nicest pieces, is "Drain." It is mostly a golden orange monotone with swirling marks like the rings of Saturn. The interesting thing about this piece and many other similar ones is that if you move side-to-side while viewing it you will see amazing depths - not illusions of perspective, but the kind of depth you see when looking through 3-D glasses. We've entered the world of Avatar in abstract art.

Quite different and hanging immediately above "Drain" is a piece called "Stranded." It is a long, horizontal format with swirling and curling tentacles or something that looks like bolts of electricity in some Doctor Frankenstein laboratory. The meandering bolts start large on the left side and get smaller and modulate in color from a deep red-orange through yellow to metallic gray as they move across the black surface.
Similar to "Drain" is "Smolder," which is painted on a series of four square and rectangular sheets of aluminum with a flowing series of overlapping silver lines and little bubble-like marks and globular shapes that looks like acid was poured and allowed to puddle. And "Blue Ruin," a similar painting is soft blue and rich, golden sienna with circular linear marks that appear to be deep within the surface.

Less atmospheric less like a voyage into outer space is "Lost in a Seat of Sand," which is a restful cerulean blue piece with horizontal marks like slight ripples in a pond.

Color plays a large part in Reynolds' paintings. They are mostly monochromatic in tones of red, gray, purple, green, blue and yellow. The surfaces are definitely beautiful. These are commercial looking pieces that look like they were designed for industrial architectural spaces or to go in boardrooms or waiting rooms in corporate headquarters. I have a hard time thinking of them as art, but rather I see them as commercial adjuncts to architectural design.


Monday, December 24, 2012


Announcement from Tacoma Arts Listserv:

THE BRIDLE SHOW by Lisa Kinoshita
What: Artist Talk
Where: Fulcrum Gallery, 1308 South, MLK Street  Tacoma, WA 98405
When: Friday, December 28, 2012 at 5 pmCost: Free

Lisa Kinoshita's Bridle Show explores the vanishing art of horsehair hitching, a traditional Western art whose most skilled practitioners are amongst the inmates at Montana State Prison (MSP). Kinoshita traveled to the prison to interview some of the inmates who are making horsehair art, and she took up the parallel art of leather braiding and knotting, a time-honored practice of vaqueros and cowboys, to collaborate on a single horse's bridle which demonstrates the beauty of a functional art form revered in centuries past.

Since the 1800s, prisoners at MSP have kept this incredibly intricate and increasingly rare art alive inside prison walls, passing on their knowledge from hand to hand (mostly) under supervised conditions. Hitching exists at other prisons, in Washington (Walla Walla), Wyoming, Colorado, and Arizona, but none surpasses the quality of work coming out of Deer Lodge, MT. Prisoners are allowed to sell their finished pieces, such as horsehair bridles, for up to thousands of dollars in the prison gift shop. In the process, they are keeping alive a skill that few modern artisans have the time or patience to master.
This project was funded in part by the Tacoma Artists Initiative Program.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday show a mixed bag at Childhood's End

High-end decorative art for Christmas

Pate De Verra Glass by Lin McJunkin. Courtesy photo

By Alec Clayton
The Weekly Volcano, December 20, 2012

Art galleries often trot out old favorites and sure-sellers for the holiday season. Childhood's End Gallery has a tendency to do that year-round. Fortunately, many of their favorites and best-sellers are also good art. But not always their best.

They've practically recycled the entirety of their recent Don Tiller show, which is not a bad thing. Tiller does some very interesting if somewhat sentimental and nostalgic landscapes. His paintings are like Grant Wood or Thomas Hart Benton revisited but more colorful. People who did not get a chance to see his recent show should stop by and see these paintings - undulating hills and furrows and trees and clouds in blindingly brilliant color.

They're also recycling a lot of Christopher Mathie's work. On the upside, Mathie is one of the best and most prolific painters working in Washington today. His tumultuous seascapes and his more recent purely abstract paintings are prime examples of the most sweepingly gestural side of Abstract Expressionism. At his best, Mathie is as good as any artist working today. His textures, layering, transparencies and agitated brushstrokes are exciting. But at his worst he tends to be gimmicky and showy. There seems, in fact, to be two Christopher Mathie's: a pure painter influenced by Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, and the Mathie who caters to popular taste. Unfortunately, most of what he is showing in this exhibition falls into the latter category. There are, for instance, a few large paintings that include large areas of black paint into he has incised line drawings of leafs with a rainbow of color showing through, balanced against atmospheric areas with more drawn leafs. There is some nice color going on, some sensitive drawing, and interesting positive-negative interplay; but the overall effect is far too sweet and tricky.

And then there are the bird paintings and the crabs. It's like he has uncomfortably forced recognizable subject matter into otherwise excellent abstract paintings because he doesn't trust the public to appreciate the pure painting. Unfortunately, his apparent assessment of the taste of the general public is probably right.

Also showing is a group of five mixed-media fabric works by Marie Hassett with birds stitched over square and rectangular pieces of fabric. These are nicely unassuming decorative works.

And there are four small landscapes by Alfred Currier of barns and country homes and a small town street scene and - best of all - a cabin on a lake or river, all painting in a post-impressionist style with heavy impasto paint application. Clichéd perhaps, but nicely painted.

Maybe the best things in the show are a few pieces in Pate de Verra glass and steel by Lin McJunkin. I had never before heard of Pate de Verra so I Googled it. It's a form of crushed and molded glass. McJunkin's pieces are very simple and elegant. They are Coke bottle-colored and allow light through.

One other piece I liked was an extremely large raku pot by Dave and Boni Deal that stands about four feet tall and is decorated with a leafy tree painting.

For anyone who might want to give high-end decorative art for Christmas, there's no better place to show than Childhood's End. Now if we can only encourage them to bring back some artists whose work we haven't seen in a while like Shaw Osha and Marilyn Frasca and Ron Hinson. Or, if they want to keep showing Christopher Mathie, please show his newer abstract pieces.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Return to Freedom models

Stephanie Wheeler and Dan Harbord were the models for the cover painting for Return to Freedom seen at top with a copy of the book and below with the original painting. Painting and photos by Brian Patrick D. Roche and artist from Vancouver, B.C.

Really the Best Christmas Pageant Ever?

If Michael Dresdner is to be believed -- and I usually do believe the judgments expressed in his theater reviews -- then Lakewood Playhouse has succeeded in turning the worst Christmas pageant ever into The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

Dresdner wrote: "If you’ve seen this play before, trust me, this version is way better."

OK, Michael, I'll take your word for it.

Two years ago I reviewed this play and, since it was a play loaded with religion, I left the theater in prayer. What I was praying for was that I'd never have to sit through it again.
But it seems they have miraculously turned a stereotypical and cliche-ridden script into something highly entertaining.

Read Michael Dresdner's review here.

Friday, December 14, 2012

High expectations met at B2 Fine Art Gallery in Tacoma

Top artists honored at five-year Foundation of Art Award show

Hard Times Shoe Shine, installation by Gabriel Brown

Blue Moon, glass by Oliver Doriss

By Alec Clayton for the Weekly Volcano December 12, 2012

I had high expectations when previewing the Foundation of Art exhibition at B2 Fine Art, and I was not disappointed. The show featuring works from 40 artists who have been nominated for this prestigious award over the past five years is a good deal edgier than B2's usual offerings, with works by often risky and politically savvy artists, many of whom - fittingly, as it turns out - have had shows at Fulcrum Gallery, which is owned and operated by this year's Foundation of Art Award winner, Oliver Doriss.

As the winner, Doriss receives a $7,500 award and has created a commissioned art piece for the Community Foundation titled "Blue Moon," which was unveiled at the opening night awards ceremony. This piece is quite different from any previous work of his I have seen. Doriss is known for his steampunk-snoglobe-like cities in a bubble and for his cute and creepy baby head cups that are sold in the Museum of Glass gift shop. Quite a departure from these, "Blue Moon," is an elegant and jewel-like piece that balances straight-edge and circular shapes with blue and golden and clear glass forms. It is quite beautiful.

Other past nominees and winners featured in the exhibition include, just to name a few: Gabriel Brown, Jeremy Mangan, R.R. Anderson, Lisa Kinoshita, Lynn Di Nino, Jeremy Gregory, Kyle Dillehay, Maria Jost, Peter Serko, Sean Alexander, Holly Senn and Sharon Styer.

Di Nino is represented by 10 pieces from the "Hostess Survival" series that was shown at Flow Gallery in March. The work takes on extra meaning in light of the recent Hostess closing. Each of the 10 works is presented as if it is an archeological find displayed under glass in a museum. The "glass" is actually cheap plastic packaging and under each are found objects from bygone eras such as a Radio Flyer wagon and a Howdy Doody doll and, of course, lots of preserved-forever Hostess sweets.

I was particularly impressed with Mangan's painting "Heavy Daytime Moon," which depicts a dilapidated farm building with a collapsed roof in a field with a mountain range on the horizon and a giant moon overhead in a vast expanse of incredibly blue sky. This painting is both eerie and beautiful.

Gabriel Brown, a performance artist and shoe cobbler is showing an installation called "Hard Times Shoe Shine" that features a sculpture of Tacoma's Old City Hall that leans like the Tower of Pizza and which he has used in performance pieces shining shoes on the streets. I love the sandy brown finish and the surface painting. A shoeshine sign and paraphernalia stand next to City Hall.

Anderson is represented by a wall of 24 cartoons including a Will Baker campaign poster, a "Weakly Volcano" cover with an Occupy mask and the legend, "What if Tacoma had an alternative weekly?"

Another favorite piece is Kinoshita's little drawing of a horse named "Eight Belles." Kinoshita does wonders with a few lines and makes the horse's hips look like a sensual woman's posterior.

I was also greatly impressed with Jeremy Gregory's macabre and cartoonish sculptural installation "Broken Girl" and with a drawing by Sean Alexander.

I wish I had space to write about many more of the pieces, but I guess you'll just have to get down to B2 and see for yourself.

B2 Fine Art Gallery, Foundation of Art Awards, through Dec. 28, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, till 8 p.m. Third Thursdays, 711 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma, 253.238.5065

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Twas a great party

The book launch party for Return to Freedom was a rip-roaring success. So many people! Such great fun! And the reading went really well. I want to thank Heather and Michael and Jennie and Christine for doing a terrific job of bringing my characters to life.

Christine Goode, Jennie Jenks, Alec Clayton, Heather Christopher, Michael Christopher

If you missed it, don't worry. We're doing it again on Jan. 19 at 3 p.m. at Orca Books in Olympia with the same four actors plus Pug Bujeaud taking my place as the narrator and again at Kings Books in Tacoma on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. with four other actors and a narrator yet to be determined. The Tacoma actors are: Micheal O'Hara, Sharry O'Hare, Samantha Camp and Jenifer Rifenbery. Narrating the reading at Kings Books will be Luke Amundson.

Badgers and Rats and Moles, oh my

The Wind in the Willows at Olympia Family Theater  

reviewed by Alec Clayton

Kate Arvin, Jason Haws, Ryan Holmberg, Ingrid Pharris Goebel

Olympia Family Theater’s world premiere of The Wind in the Willows is something very special of which the people of Olympia should be proud and to which they should be flocking in record numbers.

OFT attracts some of the best theater people in the area to work on their productions — the list of cast and crew for this show is a who’s who of local theater.

Adapted by Andrew Gordon from the classic children’s book by Kenneth Grahame, this production is a musical directed by Jenny Greenlee with music by Bruce Whitney and additional lyrics by Daven Tillinghast, Gordon and Whitney.

Jason Haws and Heather Christopher
The story kicks off on a fine spring day when Mole (Kate Arvin) gets tired of housecleaning and decides to go outside and take a walk. She meets up with Rat (Ryan Holmberg) who takes her on a boat ride on the river to Toad Hall, where they meet up with Toad (Jason Haws), a rich, conceited but friendly and fun-loving creature. Another friend, Badger (Ingrid Pharris Goebel) enters the picture and they all become concerned about Toad’s obsession with motor cars.

Toad ends up being arrested for stealing a car and driving it recklessly, and he is thrown in jail. His friends help him escape. They’ll do anything for a friend, and that, indeed — the power of friendship — is what this play is all about, as expressed by the repeated phrase, “Friendship is not a thing we say, it’s a thing we do.”

The cast is wonderful.

Haws throws himself into his part with unrestrained enthusiasm. With big, wild gestures, and an amazingly mobile face with expressions that change lightning fast, he’s like a combination of Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke — reminding me of why in 2007 I named him Best Actor in a Comedy in my “Critic’s Choice” column for his role as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Harlequin Productions.

Holmberg plays Rat (or ”Ratty” as the other animals call him) with just a touch of comedic restraint. He’s the epitome of the stiff upper lip and ramrod straight back, but his eyes sparkle with a hint of mischievousness. He’s quite proficient with a stick-sword as he proves in a very skillfully choreographed stick fight with the Chief Weasel (Kyle Henrick). Holmberg impressively choreographed the scene himself.

Arvin plays Mole as a very sincere, agreeable and kind creature. She empathizes with everyone and it’s easy for everyone to empathize with her. She’s also quite supple in her physical moves.

Badger is described in the book as an individualist who "simply hates society." Goebel plays Badger as a more complex character — proud, noble and likable.

There are many wonderfully wild scenes in this play including every appearance of Toad and one scene in which an ensemble actor (Heather Christopher) steps out of a mirror to become Toad’s mirror image brought to life. It’s a classic comic bit of mimicking each other’s moves, and it’s done with style and precise timing, although unlike some other takes on this bit — the one with Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx leaps to mind — Haws and Christopher do not exactly duplicate one another.

The set by Jill Carter is terrific. It looks like a children’s book illustration and is made with cardboard parts that easily change from trees to a table in a courtroom and to boats and cars that move about much more smoothly than such contrivances usually do. And the many set changes are made with a minimum of interruption to the action.

Kudos also go to Becky Scott and Sally Fitzgerald for delightful costuming and to Heidi Fredericks for seamless choreography.

Looking for a great local show to take your kids or grandkids to this month? Or to take your inner child? This would be it.

Performances are at 7 p.m. Dec. 13, 14, 15 and Dec. 22 and 1 p.m. Dec. 16 and 23 in the black box theater at South Puget Sound Community College’s Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. More information at

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hot stuff at Pierce College

The Steilacoom campus is featuring paintings by Robert Koch

The Weekly Volcano, December 6, 2012
By Alec Clayton on

The Push
Pierce College has small but outstanding art exhibits on both the Steilacoom and Puyallup campuses. I mentioned the Fall Invitational Exhibition on the Puyallup campus in this column last week, saying that Barlow Palminteri and Becky Knold are both excellent painters. The other two artists in that show are Charles Salak and Karen Williams. I'm not familiar with Williams' work and had not seen Salak's before this week when I was sent jpg images of some of his paintings. He does photo-realist paintings of still life arrangements and of people in contemporary settings that are technically astounding.

Anyone who has ever tried painting in watercolor knows it is a difficult medium to control. Making watercolors that look like photographs would seem an impossible task, but he seems to have done it successfully. I say "seems" because I have seen only photographs of the paintings and can't reliably judge them without seeing them in the flesh.

The Steilacoom campus is featuring paintings by Robert Koch in acrylic and chalk (looks like pencil and maybe some pastels and possibly oil stick). His paintings, like Salak's, depict people in contemporary settings - the difference being that Koch's paintings are expressive and energetic with no attempt at illusory realism. I see in his paintings reminders of Reginald Marsh, a bit of Matisse, and some drawing that is like some of my own early works. Plus, there are definite hints of the great duo Ric Hall and Ron Schmidt (stylistically only; Koch's subject matter is more down-to-earth without the surrealistic touches).

Sad Girl
These are great and unassuming little paintings. The drawing is terrific. The people are people we can all recognize in places and situations we can all relate to. His style is to slap the paint on in expressive blobs and then draw back into the painted areas with contour lines that are sometimes incised into the paint and sometimes float on top of the paint. The lines appear to have been drawn in fast, flowing motions in places and more slowly and deliberately in others. Some of the lines are thick and chunky and others are fine and lyrical.

His colors are dull, low keyed with a preponderance of gray. The figures are slightly distorted and the faces are cartoonish.

In an e-mail sent to me after I saw the show, Koch said he was "returning to painting after a very long absence" and was very pleased to get "some of my work from the last year up on a wall."

I'm very pleased, too.

In a wall statement in the gallery he wrote, "I believe my current use of acrylic paint and pastel chalks is directly linked to using Japanese brushes and sumi ink for the last 30 years." I'll take his word for that, but to me the paintings look to have been influenced by early American modernism more than Japanese sumi.

Many of the paintings seem more concerned with expressive drawing than with paint application, although a few - notably "What?" and "3 Beers a Story" are more painterly.

I particularly like the pencil marks drawn into the wet paint in "3 Waitresses."

My favorites are "The Push," which is the most energetic of all with mostly gray and white paint set up by dashes of orange and a fine contour drawing in a different shade of orange, and "Sad Girl," which is the only one with a close-up of a single figure. It may also be the best designed with a nice use of asymmetric balance.

These are particularly nice paintings, especially considering that the artist has been away from painting for a long time.

Koch is from Olympia but recently moved to Tacoma. He has a show coming up at Dino's in Olympia in January.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Nonie Newton-Breen returns to Centerstage
As the Irrepressible “Sister”!
Run Dates: December 5th – December 22nd
This Christmas comedy is running in repertory with Cinderella at Centerstage. See Michael Dresdner's review

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cinderella rocks Centerstage

“Cinderella” an English Panto at Centerstage

reviewed by Alec Clayton
Erin Herrick as Cinderella,
Hilary Heinz as Prince Charming and
Alexandra Blouin as Dandini
Children as young as five or six and adults of all ages are equally enchanted by the English panto or pantomime. I can’t think of any other form of staged entertainment that has such broad appeal.
Like many on this side of the pond I had never heard of the traditional British pantomime until Alan Bryce, who cut his theatrical teeth in London’s famed West End, brought this comedic art form to Centerstage Theatre in Federal Way. The first one I ever saw was “Cinderella” with some of the same actors who grace the stage in this production.
Pantos have no relationship to silent pantomime from which the name is derived. More like circus performances, children’s TV shows and Monty Python, these pantomimes are modern versions of classical fairy tales filled with cross-dressing actors, terrible puns, rocking popular music and lots of audience participation. 
They’re anything but silent.
Alexandra Blouin and
Hilary Heinz
Certain characters and traditions appear in every panto. There’s always a fairy godmother who narrates the story, and one or more hideously ugly “women” (men in outrageous drag), and beautiful women playing men, and there are always local references and topical humor (the prince’s ball, for instance, is a disco ball in Fife).
This latest panto stars the charming Rosalie Hilburn as the Fairy Godmother; the lovely Erin Herrick making her Centerstage debut in the title role; Erik Gratton an Equity actor by way of New York and Los Angeles now living in Seattle in the pivotal role of Buttons, Cinderella’s put-upon friend; Hilary Heinz revisiting her role as Prince Charming; and Roger Curtis, also an Equity actor, and Alan Bryce as the two ugly stepsisters. This is Curtis’s fifth time playing an ugly dame in panto at Centerstage, and he owns the role. It’s Bryce’s first time. He’s the artistic director at Centerstage and a seasoned veteran both on stage and behind the curtain, so camping it up as a woman with big lips is no stretch for him.
The kids in the audience get a huge kick out of the antics on stage and love that they’re called up to play a part and that the actors toss them candy, even if they don’t get the adult jokes, which include pop-culture references and tend to be mildly risqué. And it’s not just the kids who are included in the audience participation. The ugly dames usually pick some innocent man in the audience to flirt with. At Sunday’s matinee that lucky individual was a man in the third row named Doug.
Theater at its best is always magical; the whole transcends the parts. In the case of a fairy tale such as this, the lighting, the music and the costumes combine to create an ethereal atmosphere that transports audience members into a fantasy world. The costumes by Ron Leamon are lavish and beautiful, especially Cinderella’s ball gown and the dashing outfits worn by Prince Charming and his servant, which in keeping with panto tradition show a lot of their long and shapely legs — and the magic pumpkin coach created by Steffon Moody works magic even on this jaded old critic.
Heinz, who played Prince Charming in both the 2007 production of “Cinderella” and in “Sleeping Beauty” at Centerstage, is tall and regal, and she is a commanding presence. When she sings rocking numbers like the finale “Your Love Takes Me Higher,” her rhythm and enthusiasm are infectious. Equally regal is Alexandra Blouin as Prince Charming’s servant Dandini. Plus she has all the great physical moves of a circus clown. The program says she just took a year off from acting to study clowning and physical theater forms at Dell’Arte International in California, and that training shows in this performance.
Herrick, a recent University of Washington graduate making her Centerstage debut, is a fabulous find in the role of Cinderella. She projects a purity and sweetness that endears her to the audience.
The other lead actor who not-so-subtly steals the show every time he’s on stage is Gratton as Buttons, by far the most adorable character on stage. Like Blouin, Gratton has all the moves of a circus clown. And he has an amazingly expressive rubber face. He projects sincere love toward Cinderella and toward all the kids in the audience, and he projects true humility.
Also outstanding are Sam Barker as Cinderella’s father, Baron Hardup, and ensemble actors Katherine Jett and Zack Wheeler. Jett dies hilariously in the opening scene but comes back in various ensemble roles, and Wheeler stands out as an expressive dancer.
The common phrase is musical comedy, and this is definitely both, with David Duvall doing his usual fine job as musical director and pianist, and the comedy provided by writer Paul Hendy, director Vince Brady and the cast. I do recommend this show – enjoy!
Performance times vary through Dec. 23, 3200 SW Dash Point Road,
Federal Way, 253-661-1444,
For another take on "Cinderella" read Michael Dresdner's review.