Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Diminishing arts coverage

Even back in the good old days when newspapers were big and meaty, the arts got the short shrift when it came to coverageespecially small local arts venues. Because they couldn’t afford to advertise. Now, with dwindling readerships and competition from the Internet, papers are getting smaller, writers are getting laid off, and coverage of local art is vanishing.
In the good old days, a very short time ago, Rosemary Ponnekanti did an outstanding job of covering the local art scene for The News Tribune, as did Jen Graves before her, and Dave Davison incisively reviewed art and theater for the Tacoma Weekly. Now they are all gone. Even Michael Dresdner, who posted theater reviews on his blog, recently announced that his review of Hay Fever at Tacoma Little Theatre was his swan song. I have not followed closely enough to know if these publications have replaced these writers, and I suspect most readers don’t think about it much. They miss them but don’t even know they miss them. They might at some point muse, “I used to enjoy Dave Davison’s reviews. It seems like I haven’t seen anything from him lately,” and then go blithely about their lives not really missing what they’re really missing.
There was a time when my reviews of South Sound theaters were published every Friday in The News Tribune and all my reviews of shows in Olympia were reprinted in the daily Olympian. And thenI can’t even remember how long ago it wasthe Trib cut me back to one review a week and no longer reprinted them in the daily O.
I’ve been writing art and theater reviews for the Weekly Volcano since the 1990s. I still write theater reviews for the Volcano every other week, alternating with Adam McKinney, but my art review column was recently cut from once a week to once a month. I can live with the severe cut in pay, but I hurt for the art galleries and community theaters whose shows are no longer reviewed and for the art lovers who no longer get the news that there’s a great art exhibit at 950 Gallery or the gallery at Tacoma Community College or a stupendous play at Harlequin Productions. Maybe they hear about these things from a friend or see something on a Facebook post, but it is equally likely they hear about these shows only after they’ve already closed, so they miss out on great shows and Lakewood Playhouse or Dukesbay Theater sells a few less tickets.
Hey, did you see Bye Bye Birdie at Centerstage? It was great!”
“Really? I’ll have to see it. What’s Centerstage?”
“Oh, it’s this terrific theater in Federal Way. But I’m afraid you’re too late. They already closed.”
Thankfully, OLY ARTS has picked up a lot of the slack. Their coverage of South Sound arts is stupendous, and they either publish exclusively or re-print almost all my reviews of Olympia art and theater. But OLY ARTS does not cover Tacoma. Many art galleries and community theaters in Tacoma now get little or no press. I try and will continue to try covering them with posts on this blog, but I’m limited in how much I can do.
It has been proven over and over again that the arts are great economic drivers. Our communities need to support the arts.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Review: The Producers

by Alec Clayton  

Published in The News Tribune, June 14, 2019

Haley Ewerz as Ulla, Chap Wolff as Max Bialystock and Will Johnson as Leo Bloom, photos by Tim Johnson

Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan’s “The Producers” is a wild and whacky, rollicking uproarious musical comedy that holds the record for the most Tony Awards for a musical. It was a smash hit film, and on Broadway it ran for 2.502 performances – both starring Matthew Broderick and Nathan Hale. Now local audiences can watch it at Lakewood Playhouse’s thrust configuration projecting from a proscenium stage with seating on three sides.

Legendary Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Chap Wolff) has recently produced a string of flops and is in danger of going broke. To his rescue comes dweeby accountant Leo Bloom (Will Johnson) who offhandedly comments that you could actually make millions by producing a flop guaranteed to close after opening night. Max thinks it is a brilliant idea and convinces Leo to partner with him. So they find the worst play in the world, “Springtime for Hitler,” and the worst director in New York, Roger DeBris (Henry Talbot Dorset), and Bialystock funds the play by – as their sexy female star and secretary Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson (Hayley Ewerz)  succinctly puts it – schtupping every rich old lady in New York.
How that scheme works out is no surprise to anyone, but the path they take to get there is a comedy riot filled with great songs, fabulous dancing (choreography by Ashley Roy), and a riot of outstanding costumes designed by Lauren Wells.
To this reviewer’s eye, the most challenging and delightful thing about the production is Roy’s choreography, which includes tap dancing and nods to just about every dance tradition in musical comedy history with complicated movement by 20 cast members in a small space.
Wolff and Johnson are outstanding as Bialystock and Bloom with over-the-top acting and dancing and singing. It needs noting that on opening night Wolff was a stand-in for Brad Cerenzia, who was injured during rehearsals and might or might not return to his role. Wolff had only a week to learn his lines and rehearse, and his performance was flawless.
Ewerz is suitably steamy as the sex-starved Swede Ulla, who schedules sex every day at 11. She sings and struts marvelously on the seductive song “When You’ve Got it, Flaunt it.”
Kyle Sinclair as the Nazi pigeon aficionado Franz Liebkind, is a master of broad humor as he ably demonstrated in outstanding performances in “Avenue Q” and “Peter and the Starcatcher.” In “The Producers,” he doubles as an unnamed drunk who crashes the opening scene.
Dorset and his lover, Carmen Ghia (Erik Davis) Parody swishy homosexuals without being offensive, and Dorset does an amazing tap dance to the title song “Springtime for Hitler.”
Every member of the ensemble cast is great, with standout performances by Mark Anthony, Ton L. Williams and LaNita Antoinette Walters.
If you want to laugh ’til you cry while toe-tapping to a fun musical score, take yourself to Lakewood Playhouse for “The Producers.”
Tickets are quickly selling out, so get yours soon. The show runs almost three hours, but every minute zips by.

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through July 7
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood TICKETS: $30 general admission, $28 military and seniors, $25 students/educators).
INFORMATION: (253) 588-0042, 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Noël Coward’s Hay Fever at TLT

This1924 comedy is as fresh as ever

By Alec Clayton
Deya Ozburn as Sorel and Rodman Bolek as Simon, photo courtesy Dennis K Photography
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 13, 2019

A bit of farce and a bit comedy of manners, Noël Coward’s Hay Fever seems as fresh and saucy on stage at Tacoma Little Theatre as it must have when it premiered almost a hundred years ago — thanks to terrific directing by Rick Hornor and an amazing cast headed by Jane McKittrick as the washed-up actress and matriarch of the eccentric Bliss family. It is doubtful there has ever been a more blissful and whacky theatrical family on stage (pun very much intended).
Jane McKittrick as Judith and & Richard W. Scott Pinkston as Richard, courtesy Dennis K Photography 
Judith Bliss (McKittrick) is a flirtatious senior citizen who has suddenly decided to revise her theatrical career. David (John W. Olive) is novelist and Judith’s self-absorbed and equally flirtatious husband. Their adult children, Simon (Rodman Bolek) and Sorel (Deya Ozburn), are even more flighty than their melodramatic parents. This upper-class British household is rounded out by their disdainful housekeeper, Clara (played to perfection by Adrianna Littlejohn).
The action takes place in the Bliss’s English country estate, beautifully constructed on the TLT stage by Blake R. York.
Each of the four Blisses, without the others knowledge, has invited a houseguest for the weekend, none of whom know each other or any of the other Bliss family members, and each of the family members tries to seduce one of the guests ― but not necessarily the one they invited. The out-of-place guests are Sandy (Frank Roberts), a boxer and fan of Judith, vampish Myra (Devan Malone), whom Simon has a crush on, Richard, a diplomat (W. Scott Pinkston) and Jackie (Jill Heinecke), a kind-hearted but not too brilliant flapper ― all of whom figure out by Act II that every member of the Bliss family is absolutely bonkers.
The dialogue is fast paced (especially after act one), intelligent and witty, but it is the physical comedy that makes this play as hilarious as it is. McKittrick, who is far too seldom seen on stage, plays the role of Judith as if she were born for it. Her haughty expressions are striking. Ozburn perfectly expresses the personality of Sorel with her physical gestures. The way she pouts and places her hands theatrically on the small of her back is spot-on. And the way Bolek flops his rubbery body all over the set must be seen to be believed. Theatergoers will remember him from his hilarious turn as the similarly indolent title character in Bunbury at Olympia Little Theatre.
Hay Fever runs a little over two hours in three short acts with one intermission. I’m glad I saw it, and I’m sure you will be too.
Hay Fever, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through June 23, , $25-$20, pay what you can Thursday, June 20, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 North I St. Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Monday, June 10, 2019

Bryan Willis's Bootleg

A one night only reading of Bryan Willis's Bootleg

Tacoma Little Theatre's Off the Shelf program is excited to present Bryan Willis’ Bootleg, directed by Erin Chanfrau and featuring a powerhouse of Tacoma actors. 

A shrewd and authentic glimpse into the lives of everyday people trying to get by in pohibition. Bootleg is set in 1927, the first year in the U.S. when more people lived in an urban setting than a rural one. It was an era of change — not just the Volstead Act (of prohibition), but women had gotten the vote, and the Seattle mayor at the time was a woman. Fashions were changing, the way people could make a living. It was post-World War I, people were aware of the greater world. Cars traveled faster, which was a big deal if you were moonshining.

Bootleg features the talents of: Mark Peterson as Barlow, Kate Arvin as Boots, Luke Amundson as Shimmy Johnson, Jordan Richards  as Verneil, and Brian S. Lewis as Smith.

Tickets for the June 13, 2019 performance at 7:30pm are $10.00 for non TLT Members, and FREE for those who are members. Tickets may be purchased online by clicking here, or by calling our Box Office at (253) 272-2281.


We know that there is a tremendous amount of wonderful theatre that deserves to be heard but sometimes just doesn’t get an opportunity. With “Off the Shelf”, local directors and actors will be bringing some scripts to life that we hope you will find entertaining, challenging and educational to our stage. We hope that you’ll sit back and enjoy an evening of theatre. You never know, you might see one of these shows on our mainstage in the future.

Tacoma Little
Thursday, June 13, 2019 at 7:30pm.
Theatre, 210 North I St. Tacoma, 253.272.2281,

Friday, June 7, 2019

Bye Bye Birdie at Centerstage

 left to right:  Lara McLeod as Rose Alvarez, Duncan Menzies as Conrad Birdie and Joshua Jérard as Albert J. Peterson, photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

We love you, Conrad
A 1950s romantic comedy at Centerstage
By Alec Clayton
 left to right:  Lara McLeod as Rose Alvarez, Duncan Menzies as Conrad Birdie and Joshua Jérard as Albert J. Peterson, photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

the cast of Bye Bye Birdie, photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis
In 1957 Elvis Presley was drafted into the Army, and millions of teenagers thought the world was coming to an end. This was the inspiration for the early 1960s stage show and movie “Bye Bye Birdie” starring Dick Van Dyke.
Heartthrob Conrad Birdie (Duncan Menzies) — based on Elvis but named after country/rock singer Conway Twitty — has been drafted and is scheduled to leave for boot camp the next day, and his agent, Albert J. Peterson (Joshua Jérard) has cooked up a publicity stunt whereby Birdie is going to the fictional middle-American town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, where he will bestow a goodbye kiss upon the 14-year-old president of the Conrad Birdie fan club and sing the newly penned song “One Last Kiss” — all of which is to be televised on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“Bye Bye Birdie” is a lightweight but highly entertaining musical comedy filled with ’50s-style bubblegum music and lots of dancing (snappy choreography by Jimmy Shields).
By today’s standards, it is a milquetoast musical. Birdie is more Ricky Nelson than Elvis, but Menzies does have some of Elvis’s moves down pat, and he sings with a nice, mellow voice. A handsome young man with big wavy hair and decked out in a shiny suit, Menzies certainly looks the part of a ’50s teen heartthrob, and he is delightfully expressive in a self-deprecating parody of teen idol arrogance.
Jérard as the harried agent is able to change expressions and persona at the drop of a hat. Centerstage patrons will remember him from his outstanding performance as Prince Caspian in the panto “Rapunzel.”
I very much like the ethnic diversity of the cast, which looks like America — not so much a melting pot as a stew of many flavors. I wish more theaters would work toward such diverse casting. I also like that for this production Centerstage uses a large youth ensemble and teenage interns on stage and backstage who were mentored by theatrical professionals in every step of the production, thus providing the company with the largest and most youthfully energetic cast ever to appear in a Centerstage show.
Standout performances are turned in by Lara McLeod as Albert’s secretary and girlfriend, Jasmyne Mendoza as Conrad Birdie fan club president Kim MacAfree, and Sam Barker in an over-the-top performance as Kim’s father.
Lighting by John Chenault, resident lighting designer at Tacoma Music Playhouse, highlights the musical performances beautifully and helps create seamless set changes.
For a fun evening of youthful joy, I recommend “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Bye Bye Birdie, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through June 16, Centerstage at Knutzen Family Theatre, 3200 SW Dash Point Road, Federal Way
TICKETS: $29 adults, $25, Seniors, Military: $15; Youth (18-23): $12 17 and younger (plus 5% City of Federal Way admission tax)
INFORMATION: (253) 661-1444,