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Weekend Theater: A Sweet "Spring"

Posted on July 29, 2016 at 10:00 PM

(Article originally published in Seattle Gay News: https://goo.gl/8ZbXol)

By Michael Strangeways


Lean mean theater companies seem to be learning that maybe it’s wiser (and more economical) to do shorter runs of productions. A four week long run used to be the norm but that’s changing. Two local theater companies in Seattle seem to be taking this to heart with shorter runs. Sound Theater Company is in its final weekend of a three week stint for their production of hot playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Last Days of Judas Iscariot while the very new theater company Basement Theatrics also goes into its second and final weekend of performances for their production of the musical Spring Awakening.

We’ll start with Spring Awakening, the brash musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 drama of the same name about the angst ridden lives of German teenagers that explores issues of repression, religion, political ideology and most of all, sexuality. Adapted into a hit Broadway musical by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater in 2006 and winning a slew of awards including Tony Awards and a Grammy for its cast album, the show also made stars out of its lead actors Jonathan Groff, Lea Michele, and John Gallagher, Jr. The shows vibrant folk rock score, innovative mixing of staging and performance styles that emphasize the universality of its themes (confused horny teens are pretty much the same in 2016 as they were in 1891) and its youthful verve have made it a huge hit with regional theater companies the world over. Spring Awakening has already had a splashy Seattle debut in 2012 with Balagan Theatre’s “flamboyant” production that starred Jerick Hoffer, aka Jinkx Monsoon who went on to win the 5th season of the LOGO TV drag competition series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” the following year. The musical has also been staged by other small area theaters since then.

 

Basement Theatrics, a new young theater company headed by Moshe Henderson has jumped into the musical theater production arena by staging Spring Awakening at the 12th Avenue Arts complex on Capitol Hill, which seems to be a good choice for a company full of very young theater makers. This is obviously a show that plays to their strengths…a not too large cast of mostly very young talents and a stylized setting which can be kind to smaller budgets. Wisely sticking to the staging and design of the original Broadway production, this Spring Awakening does manage to put its own mark on the material with some clever staging and choreography choices by director Moshe Henderson and choreographer Elizabeth Posluns.

 

Technically and design wise, this production does teeter on the bare bones; the light grid is pretty skimpy and the mic system they chose seemed to be the bare bones package which gave them some issues on opening night (and since corrected, I’m told). Fortunately lighting designer Shannon Miller was able to work wonders with what she had, and the show is handsomely lighted.

 

Performance wise, the kids are mostly alright with standouts being charismatic leading man Michael Krenning as Melchior, the serious student who gets derailed by circumstances out of his control, and Tyler Rogers as the naughty, gay pragmatist Hanschen who learns how to play the system. It’s a handsome cast with some strong voices, though it should be noted the men do seem a bit more polished and better cast than the women. Both Ellen Dessler and Marcus Wolland offer up a variety of strong performances playing all the Adult male and female characters though a couple of their characterizations do get a wee bit too comic book “Cherman villain”. (It’s an English language adaptation/translation of a German play with all German characters. Either all the characters should have German accents or none of them. It makes no sense to have a couple characters sound like they wandered out of a Mel Brooks movie…)

 

Basement Theatrics has done a fine job, on a tiny budget, with this Spring Awakening. It’s recommended for fans of the material and those who support youth theater and young theater companies. Sheik and Sater’s delightful score is well performed and Wedekind’s powerful story still comes through. But, if you’re looking for high end production values and Equity polished casts, then it might not be the choice for you.

BWW Review: Effortful SPRING AWAKENING at 12th Ave Arts Suffers From Technical Difficulties

Posted on July 27, 2016 at 10:00 PM

(Article originally published in Broadway World: https://goo.gl/Dqizrs)

By Amelia Reynolds


"Spring Awakening" is a tough musical to take on: all of the performers need to be exceptional singers and dancers, while also finding that sweet spot of giving their character emotional honesty in its darkly funny narrative. On top of it all, most of the actors have to be (or at least pass as) middle schoolers. Any misssteps-especially when adapted for a small stage-are painfully apparent, even when the production has a lot to offer. Basement Theatrics' sophomore production of "Spring Awakening" suffers from these very misfortunes, and despite the show having a number of impressive vocal performances and cool, abstract choreographic choices, the technical and pacing issues made the show feel a hair out of its league.


"Spring Awakening" focuses on the budding sexual awakening of teenagers in 19th-century Germany. This rock musical is based on the 1891 play by the same name by Frank Wedekind, so controversial at the time that it was 15 years before the play was produced. In a small, provincial town where girls don't know where babies come from and boys fear damnation for their urges, the show tackles potential insidious consequences of refusing to teach teens about sex. 


In a closed-mouthed, conservative society, musical numbers such as "The Bitch of Living" and "Totally F*cked" are very funny and unexpected. The cast was giving lots of energy during those moments in a way that really drove home all of the sexual and societal repression. You could feel how much the actors where putting into their performances during the musical numbers.

 

And they had to. One major problem: the orchestra's volume drowned out the vocal performances. The vast majority of the action happens during musical numbers, so a good chunk of the plot was completely lost. It's a shame, because you can tell that the performers have great singing voices, you just have no idea what they're singing about.


Another issue I had was how the adult characters--all played by the same two actors--were differentiated. Ellen Dessler and Marcus Wolland do their best, but ultimately their characters' costumes and attitudes were too similar to be played by one person. Take, for example, Dessler's characters: she plays a stern piano teacher, a stern mother, and a very stern schoolteacher who all wear the same frock plus or minus some accessories. Both Dessler and Wolland's characters constantly go in and out of scenes, and on top of each character having the same severe, difficult to pronounce German name, the various adult characters where almost impossible to follow or tell apart. By using accessories to differentiate between the adult characters, when the schoolboys suddenly don messenger boy caps out of nowhere, they give off the impression that they're different characters (which I don't think they were, but I'm not sure).

 

That said, there were some really great things in this show. For example, the choreography by Elizabeth Posluns gave the musical numbers an extra boost, helping to tell the story and set the tone. The dance numbers contained a decent variety of styles, including some really fun, abstract movements and playful prop use. Director Moshe Henderson utilized the levels within the space very effectively to demonstrate power dynamics, and I loved the bold lighting choices. It felt like Henderson actively incorporated as many storytelling elements as possible in this show, which was helpful, given the audio problems.

 

Michael Krenning's performance as Melchior was wonderful, combining both the care-free intellect with a disregard to authority only a teen can get away with. Plus he brought the house down with his rendition of "Totally F*cked." Tyler Rogers' manipulative Hanschen had just the right amount of smugness to make him feel alluring but not off-putting. Even in joyful moments, Alisa Muench brought an underlying sadness to Martha that felt very true to her character. Marshall Link's Moritz had a very believable character development as his sexual confusion transforms from comical to serious. Link felt very vulnerable to his surroundings, which made the intense pressures from his parents and peers that much more suffocating.

 

This is one of those examples of a production that does not struggle from lack of trying. This was an impressively emotionally invested piece of work. The choreography, the lighting, and the singing was on point. However, due to the orchestral and pacing issues, I give Basement Theatrics' "Spring Awakening" a not-quite-there 3.5/5 stars. With a different venue and some technical tweaking, the young talent in this show could really shine.

BASEMENT THEATRICS' SPRING AWAKENING: STORMY WITH A CHANCE OF CLEAR SKIES

Posted on July 26, 2016 at 9:00 PM

 (Article originally published in Jetspace Magazine: https://goo.gl/TVcqnP)

By Eric Starker 


Spring Awakening is a hot ticket. The latest revival by Deaf West Theatre earned several Tony nominations. In Seattle, we’ve had a touring production and a more recent, well-received production by the dearly missed Balagan Theatre. Spring Awakening’s mix of 19th-century setting, lyrical, antiquated-style text and a contemporary pop score by singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik has captivated audiences since its Broadway debut in 2006 starring Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff. How does new-kid-on-the-block theatre company Basement Theatrics’ production fare?

 

I was impressed by an excellent cast, and was happy that they were cast close to the appropriate age of the characters (high-school age). While a slightly older cast might lend more mature performances, you lose some authenticity. It was wholly believable that these kids were awkward around sex and relationships. There are also two adult performers (Ellen Dessler and Marcus Wolland, both excellent) that lend gravitas as parental and teacher figures as well as offering comic relief.

 

I don’t understand the choice of the teachers having a German accent when no other character did. Spring Awakening is set in Germany, so some consistency, either no accents (probably easier) or everyone with a similar accent, would make more sense to me. That said, both actors played it to the hilt. Their emphasis of each other’s harshly-pronounced name getting a laugh every time. Having them lecture the audience about cell phone use and Pokemon Go at the beginning was a great touch as well!

 

Musically, the cast was excellent, with no weak links and a great band backing them up. Michael Krenning as Melchior was a standout, confident in his soaring pop vocals. Jayne Hubbard as Wendla was wholly believable as an innocent (who should have been more carefully taught). I enjoyed Tyler Rogers’ arrogant gay character (with very tight shorts) and Marshall Link was an appropriately angst-ridden Moritz.

 

The staging was simple and effective, with a single tree on the stage as the only major set piece. Spring Awakening is a perfect show for a black box theatre (12th Avenue Arts), allowing you to easily get involved in the play’s intimate themes. A handful of chairs move around from the front of the audience to the stage, serving as set pieces for classroom, home and outdoor scenes, seamless enough to never distract from the story.

 

Unfortunately, there were significant sound issues that affected my enjoyment of the performance. Nearly half of the songs in Act One were affected, with microphone feedback overpowering performers’ voices. I found it difficult to stay involved at times, particularly for (as an example) a heartfelt song with a subtle performance (The Dark I Know Well) but the sound issues made it hard to concentrate on actress Alisa Muench’s strong acting and vocals. There were also some issues with the volume mix between performers and musicians, as well as during ensemble numbers. While this issue improved in Act Two, it was still a problem.

 

That said, this is a brand new company and young cast, in a fairly new space. I’d recommend checking them out for the overall quality of the production. I’m sure the production team were well aware of the issues and are working to fix them, and I’d hate to not recommend a piece solely due to these sorts of technical issues.

 

Overall, it’s a well-done performance of a show with plenty of relevant themes and catchy songs. I’d recommend seeing what Basement Theatrics has to offer.

Washington State Mr. Leather 2014 Erik Taylor's Rave Review

Posted on July 25, 2016 at 10:00 PM

There are those moments when one meets a creative talent in their earliest moments of ascension into greatness. I felt like I had one of those encouters this afternoon when I had the privilege to review Basement Theatrics production of the 2006 Tony Award winning Rock Musical “Spring Awakening”. Moshe Henderson has brilliantly staged an upbeat modern rock opera placed in a German Village at the end of the 19th Century. Spring Awakening explores the developing sexual desires of adolecents in a late 19th century German Village. The show opens with sweet naive Wendla Bergman played by Jayne Hubbard asking her mother Frau Bergman played by Ellen Dessler (who plays all the adult female roles in the production) where babies come from in the number “Mama who Bore Me”. Wendla’s mother cannot bring herself to explain conception to young daughter so she tells Wendella a woman conceives when she loves her husband with all her heart.


While at school while the boys are studying Virgil in Latin class and Moritz Stiefel played by Marshall Link receives a severe verbal lashing from Headmaster Knochenbruch played by Marcus Wolland (who plays all the adult male roles in the production). His friend Melchior Gabor who is brilliantly played by Michael Krenning defends Moritiz who questions the shallow narrow-mindedness of society and expresses his intent to change things "All That’s Known". Moritz confides in Melchior he is having so much trouble in school because he keeps getting this disturbing erotic dreams. Melchior explains to Moritz these dreams are not signs of insanity, as he had believed. These dreams were normal for all adolescents. Moritz and Malchior sing about their frustrations with the other boys Hänschen Rilow played by Tyler Rogers, Ernst Röbel played by Patrick Ostrander, Georg Zirschnitz played by Max Lopuszynski, and Otto Lämmermeier played by Alexander Killian in “The Bitch of Living”.


Wendla and the other girls, Martha Bessell played by Alisa Muench, Thea played by Maddy Rassmussen, Anna played by Anna Burke, Ilse played by Nikki Delmarter laugh and teach each other about the boys they want to marry. The boys and the girls both sing about their frustrations of their need for intimacy in “Touch Me”. The rest of the first act is spent delving into the complexities and the restrictions adolescents face when becoming adults. Not much is held back in the manner of subject matter yet the script and music do an excellent job of balancing the need for story driven plot elements and the pure youthful joy of celebration.


The play takes a darker turn as the conflict between the good intentions of the adult characters class with the hopes and dreams of the adolescents. The show deals with coming into sexual maturity, desires for intimacy, healthy sexual expression, child abuse/neglect, running away from home, homosexuality, teen pregnancy, abortion, and suicide—all of which the cast navigates with sincere honesty and a love for the work.


Kudos to Moshe Henderson for snappy staging and direction which communicated the reflective thoughts of the characters while allowing the audience to visually see the movement from the inner personal worlds of the characters to the outer world where they interact with each other. I have seldom seen movable staircases used as effectively as I have in this production. The choreography by Elizabeth Posluns was up beat and interesting. Shannon Miller’s lighting design heightened the intensity and dramatic impact of several key moments in the production. There were moments the lighting was very reminiscent of silk-screened propaganda art of the era, which gave an eerie somberness to those moments. The sound was problematic at times with various characters not having their voices properly balanced in the soundboard, which distracted from some of the actors performances. When one performs in a black box theater such as the theater in the 12th Avenue Arts building, performances and staging become paramount. The Audience relies heavily on the performances by the actors and the staging. In this production all elements come together seamlessly save the costuming. Every other visual cue gave me the impression this story takes place at the end of the 19th Century in a small town in Germany. The costuming gave a hodgepodge impression this story takes place prior to the rise of the Third Reich at the end of the 1920’s early 1930’s. The length of both the boys’ shorts and the girls’ dresses were too high for the time period. I also feel there was very little in the way of communicating differences between the adult characters. It wasn’t until the end of the first act the adults were different characters played by the same actors.


Overall the entire cast does a spectacular job of singing together as a cohesive ensemble—with no singular voice demanding attention away from the others. I found the acting performances to be genuine and sincere. As long as I have enjoyed live theater, which has been much of my life, there is always one performer who stands out above the rest. I must pause and comment on the level of depth and emotional range exhibited by Michael Krenning in the lead character Melchior. This is a dynamic performer I look forward to seeing more performances from.

Getting To Know You: Actor, Director, And Producer Moshe Henderson

Posted on November 25, 2015 at 2:00 AM

(Article originally published on Jetspace: http://goo.gl/KDL50D)

By David-Edward Hughes


For this first column in a recurring series spotlighting new and veteran Seattle talent, I chose someone who I am just getting to know myself. Moshe Henderson is a bright. savvy, and droll gentleman who is wise beyond his 19 years. 


Moshe (pronounced Mo She) was recommended to me for a role in a stage reading I am developing by his former directors/mentors Kathleen Edwards and Tony Curry. Kathleen had cast Moshe in several roles at the Highliners, a South Seattle youth theatre where she serves as Artistic Director. I had seen him there in the somewhat thankless role of Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie (let’s just say he was no Dick Van Dyke waiting to happen. But who is at 17?) and as a credible Peter Van Daan in Renton Civic Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank. Kathleen had really felt he had made a terrific jump as an actor in her summer 2015 production of Rent. Based on this I met with Moshe, who met me with a warm hug, an open heart, and a passion for theatre similar to my own at that age. I was sold, and hope you are too as you begin getting to know him.


On his name: With my parents being, let’s say religious, my Dad wanted to call me Moses, but my Mom didn’t like the name. One of their pastor’s presented the name Moshe, being Mo Shay in Hebrew, but they Americanized it. I used to really dislike the name, but now I think it’s like saying Topol in Fiddler on the Roof. My middle name is Shekinah. I’ve thought about changing it to Monroe, but Moshe Monroe, well, sounds like a drag queen. And yes, the name Moshe helped me get cast in Fiddler on the Roof.


On his upbringing at home and roots in Theatre: I grew up here, mostly in the White Center Area. All I knew growing up was my church and school, which was a private school. I didn’t really get introduced to theatre until High School, besides church productions which were written by teachers who didn’t really know how to structure a plot, or write from anything but the stories that didn’t originate in the bible.


The first musical I saw was High School Musical. I had a friend Alicia, a pretty redhead (and my only and last girlfriend,) who was a Highliner at the time, I needed Art or PE credits which my Highs School didn’t offer them, so I signed up for the Highliners. I got the role of Fyedka in Fiddler mostly because I was one of the only boys they had. That was my first time working with the show’s director Tony Curry.


I continued on, not just because I needed the credits, but because I started really having fun. I loved the community; in theatre met the first gay guy I ever knew, and I thought: “That’s not what I’d heard about gay people. He’s so approachable and nice.” He also ended up being my first kiss later on down the line).


It was a new community of people. My Parents were getting really scared about my exposure to theatre, and to different lifestyles. My 3rd show was Chicago, and my parents were not thrilled by my being cast in that. I played District Attorney Martin Harrison, who goes after Roxie Hart in the murder case. My Dad was bi-polar and he had a huge episode; That was the first of my shows that he couldn’t see me in. He was in jail and going through some serious episodes.


My parents had divorced when I was a baby, so I lived a life of being bounced back and forth from my Dad’s to my Mother and Stepfather’s homes. With Dad I would watch musicals like Hello Dolly! And then he’d show me Streisand in Meet the Fockers and say “That’s the same lady” and I would be all, “No it’s not.”


Really I guess my Dad was also one of my musical theatre influences, just watching all those old musical classics. He wasn’t overly complimentary about my own performances, especially starting out, but he gave me the attitude to always push to be better. When he said “You aren’t a singer” it challenged me to become one, and on each show to pick up on every note I received, learning how to adapt notes to be able to use them to my best advantage.


At that time Kathleen cast me as Jud Fry the villain in Oklahoma! It was a good outlet for everything that was happening with my Dad. When the others were all singing Oklahoma!, I would be in the back being punched out—Jud wasn’t killed in our version. And I was, well I thought I was a method actor back then, and I kept thinking why was I going through all this.


My Dad got really depressed about my exposure to different kinds of literature and the arts. Because of the way he was before he died three or so years ago, I never came out to him. It seemed to be one more thing I didn’t want to lay on him. But I knew he loved me, and I loved him.


I don’t feel I had a bad childhood though, despite having a mentally challenged Father and a Mother from the Philippines who had very different standards and values. I think in many ways I have had a spectacular life. I could have had a much worse life.


On Leaving the Nest: I went out on my own at 17, moved out of my Parents house, and took charge of my life. I came into some money from having gotten hit by a car a long time ago, and had social security from my Dad’s passing.


My family relationship is still existent and it’s going to be mended in the future. And I have a strong theatre family. I used some of the money to build a theatre company, Basement Theatrics, which began as a theatre club in my Junior year. Our first show, A Very Potter Musical, wasn’t great, but I learned so much from it: the time it takes to build a set, cast a show, reserve rehearsal spaces, work with a theatre venue (which in this case was Renton Civic,) conduct a tech week, spread myself too thin, break down, recover, and let the show go on having fired 2 people along the way (which I still don’t regret. They needed to be fired.) And doing a post-mortem for myself, so that the next time we did it we would start out correct.


For my senior project, I did a show called Ordinary Days that was a personal favorite, with friends from Highliners and Village Theatre whom I shared the same passion with. It’s a piece about beauty, and reality, and simplicity, and enjoying every day. For me that was such a life-changing model. Through that show I thought this is what I want to do, all the time.


In the end all you have is children and art, to quote Sondheim. I don’t believe art lasts forever, but art evolves even if you’re not gonna like how it evolves, because it continues on, like how people continue to personalize and adapt Shakespeare to make it more acceptable to a new generation. I just want to be part of that journey. You know what? It just makes me happy. Being in someone else’s shoes, and knowing what your objectives are, having them met per se in a show, or denied, and then learning from another person’s mistakes which luckily you only have to live for like an hour and a half, and then just applying it to your own life. I mean, life ain’t a musical, but it’s a romantic idea. Why not tear yourself away for that hour and a half onstage, and be part of something bigger? That can really affect someone’s life.


Name a contemporary show that influenced your life: My life was changed by Rent. When I first saw the last Broadway taping, I didn’t even know what a drag queen was. I was like, wait what is that? How can it be like this? How can they be in love? What about AIDS? How can this be a real, loving relationship, and bawling my eyes out not understanding why I felt a real connection to these characters. Later it helped me come out to my closest friends, and eventually my Stepdad, and move on with my life. I lost a few friends who didn’t understand my new life, and one of them is slowly coming back into my life. And I rotated in some of my theatre friends who understood me better, and have a better understanding of life.


What is your next project? In a year or so, Basement Theatrics will hopefully produce Spring Awakening. After establishing ourselves as a LLC, which is what we are looking to do, we hope to provide a good salary, hopefully even offering profit-sharing, to help with marketing and help with their investment in the show. I want people who really care about the piece itself.


We’re working show by show, and not creating a foundation like at the Village or 5th Avenue Theatres, who sometimes produce shows because they know they’re going to sell. I want to do shows, that mean something to me, that have had an effect on my life, that create personal change or discussion. If I don’t feel that way, then I leave it to the original, or to someone else to restage it.


But musicals are so open to interpretation. I love that about them. Our key word to our mission is verisimilitude. You can read all about it on our website: basementtheatrics.org or my own website: moshehenderson.com .


And now with a tip of the hat to InsideThe Actors Studio, what is your Favorite word? Red.


Least Favorite? (After a long pause) Lacking.


Favorite Curse Word: I would say Fuck, because it reaches across to everyone in society. It is an outlet; It heals wounds. It shocks people, but it also can put someone on the same plane. It makes people more comfortable with others, IF they are comfortable with the word itself. If a kids says fuck, their parents start treating them differently. It’s a rite of passage. 


As you enter the Gates to Heaven, what do you hope God will say to you? You changed other people’s lives.


I know he’s going to change mine working on my show with me. Thanks, Moshe!

Hi­Liners celebrate 20 years of MainStage with the opening of 42nd Street musical at the PAC

Posted on September 7, 2014 at 3:00 AM

(Article originally published in The Highline Times: http://goo.gl/1Zsltl)

By Matt Wendland


The Hi-Liners are celebrating 20 consecutive years of their MainStage program at Burien’s Performing Arts Center (PAC) with opening of their 42nd Street musical production.

 

The Hi-Liners first began in 1966 as a summer program founded by Highline School District teacher William A. Moeller. For nearly 30 years the program developed, eventually becoming a year round, district-wide, performance group. When the state-of-the-art Performing Arts Center was first opened at the Highline High School campus in the early 90s, The Hi-Liners, still led by Moeller, decided to launch their MainStage program with the musical, "Hello Dolly" in 1994. 20 years later, the Hi-Liners have grown from offering one show a year to offering a full season of productions, classes, workshops and camps for students from the age of 3 to 22-years-old. The Hi-Liners’ MainStage program uses high-end production values to deliver an adapted major Broadway musical with each year with students from ages 9 to 22.

 

This year’s MainStage production, 42nd Street, tells the story of a chorus girl from Allentown, PA. who steps into the lead role of a major musical after the star breaks her leg. 42nd Street is a stage adaptation of classic 1933 American Warner Bros. musical film directed by Lloyd Bacon.


On the evening of September 6, Hi-Liners opened the doors to their last dress rehearsal before opening night to give a preview of what students and volunteers have been preparing for audiences. With a full orchestra, lights and multi-story sets, students delivered a beautiful and energetic adaptation of the famous film. With scenes ranging from one or two cast members connecting with the audience to scenes with over 20 dancers in choreographed ensemble, even in dress rehearsal, performers in the Hi-Liners’ 42nd Street demonstrated a dedication to delivering a quality production.

 

Performances of the Hi-Liners’ 42nd Street will be held every Saturday and Sunday at the PAC in Burien from September 6 through September 21. Tickets can be purchased at the Hi-Liners’ website, www.hi-liners.org or by calling 206-617-2152.

Audiences Love 'Ordinary Days'

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 2:00 AM

(Reviews originally published by the public on Basement Theatrics' blog: http://goo.gl/2SmMmh)


“I often attend musical theatre shows (I estimate 6-10 a year) at every level (elementary school performances to Broadway). The professionalism and dedication of everyone associated with this show was evident from the high quality of the production. The script was fantastic and brought to life through the talent of the actors. The set changes were exceptional in that many times they had occurred without my having noticed the changes taking place. I enjoyed the simplicity of the set and was impressed with the shows blocking. I was brought to tears during Claire's transition from being held back by the past to moving bravely into the future. I loved the colorful rain as the words of encouragement floated from the tallest heights down to the earth and how each bit of color created a masterpiece when viewed as a whole, just the the painting at the Met. Excellent show! I will definitely attend another Basement Theatrics production in the future!” – Lynn R.


“The Basement Theatrics presentation of Ordinary Days was an excellent show! Moshe Henderson did a great job, in what I believe was his directorial debut? The rest of the production and creative crew also did an outstanding job. And although the play is what one would consider "bare bones" and low budget, (simple piano accompaniment and modest stage props) that did not stop this show from being absolutely top notch! The acting was superb and very believable.


Mariesa Genzale (Deb) and Moshe Henderson (Warren) both exhibited very good comedic timing and a complimentary interaction with each other that brought some VERY humorous and fun moments to the stage.


Victoria Knight (Claire) and Brandon Hell (Jason) were also amazing in this play! These two were so believable, in their emotionally charged relationship, with both their acting and wonderful singing, that I noticed many-a-tear being wiped away by--what I'm sure were pleasantly surprised and--appreciative audience members.


All-in-all, this show was a must see! If you missed this show, then you missed something truly special, because although the title might imply otherwise, this WAS no Ordinary Day.” – Tony H.


“I thought the costumes were flashy and captivating, and the set was just right. The actors were all extremely well-rehearsed, and ques for stage crew ran fluently…I enjoyed seeing my friend [Moshe] put his heart and soul into his work.” – Brooke R.


“…This was a new and fun experience for me. My favorite part of the show was the way all of the actors were able to sneak humor in as they sang, occasionally at unexpected times…I liked how the audience was left to picture the set for themselves with some guiding props and context from the events the actors portrayed. Next time Basement Theatrics is putting on a play, I plan on being there to enjoy it.” – Rocco B.


“The show was great. I enjoyed watching the set transform into new settings just by having a few additions and great actors to make the new locations obvious to the audience.” – Camila P.


“…I found it to be very enjoyable and professional….One of my favorite parts of the show was seeing young talent that was experienced and excited about acting!” – Andrea W.


“I thought the play was amazing! I loved how perfectly each actor played their roles and the music was really nice! Great voices and I thought the live piano was really cool! Can't wait for the next show!” –Max K.


“As one of the stagehands for the show, I have to say that my favorite part was the quality of the actors, and the high level of organization. The actors and actresses were phenomenal and Moshe did an excellent job of organizing the timetable. I enjoyed it and would love to help out or just go and watch another fantastic musical. I fully recommend checking out the next show that Basement Theatrics produces.” – Hudson H.

 

The Diary of Anne Frank Retains Power at Renton Civic Theatre

Posted on April 13, 2013 at 3:00 AM

(Article originally published on Talkin' Broadway: http://goo.gl/aL7ye1)

By David Edward-Hughes


The Diary of Anne Frank, Albert Hackett and Francis Goodrich's dramatization of Anne Frank's memoirs of her years in hiding from the Nazi's during World War II, receives a respectful, generally well-acted production at Renton Civic Theatre. Artistic director Bill Huls handles the material with perhaps a bit too much reverence, and his pacing of the proceedings could be better. Yet the Hackett/Goodrich script remains solid, finding humor and inspiration within the bleak scenario.

 

Framed as a flashback, the Pulitzer Prize winning play begins with Anne's father, Otto Frank, returning to the family's hiding place in the attic of his former business in Amsterdam, where he discovers his younger daughter Anne's diary. The book recounts the period from July 1942 to August 1944 during which Otto and Anne, Otto's wife Edith, and Anne's elder sister Margot, along with their acquaintances Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, their son Peter, and a dentist named Mr. Dussel (the Van Daans and Dussel were pseudonyms) were hidden by his business associates Miep and Mr. Kraler. Anne grows into young womanhood in the course of the story, struggling in her relationship with her mother, a crush on Peter, and having to deal with crotchety roommate Dussel. The Van Daan parents are a source of additional drama, with Mrs. Van Daan's vanity and flirtatious behavior and Mr. Van Daan's poaching of the shared food rations intensifying the drama of the attic dwellers' efforts to keep from being discovered.

 

In the title role, Audrey Montague is warmly believable and likable as Anne, and need only slow down her occasional tendency to speed up her dialogue to be a complete success in the role. In the showy roles of the Van Daans, John Kelleher and Deya Ozburn dominate the production. Ozburn totally convinces as a woman who goes into hysterics when her husband sells her prized mink coat, and Kelleher is deeply moving when he realizes the selfishness of stealing the food rations for himself. Scott Garrett seems far too young, callow and all-American to capture the soft-spoken old world maturity of Otto Frank, though Yvette Zaepfel fares rather well as the solemn Mrs. Frank. Moshe Henderson pairs well with Montague as Peter Frank, and Emily Fortuna is quietly forceful as Margot.

 

Mad Dog Productions creates a convincing-looking hiding place set, although the depth of the RCT stage makes it look less claustrophobic than one might wish. Samantha Armitage's costume designs seem authentic to the period. A special hand to cast member Tinker, a charming, well-behaved cat who still managed to draw focus in every scene which he appeared in.

 

The Diary of Anne Frank runs through April 27, 2013 at Renton Civic Theatre, 507 S. 3rd Street in Renton, Washington. For more info go to www.rentoncivictheatre.org.

Musical about surviving high school is as easy as 'Rocket Science'

Posted on January 1, 2013 at 2:00 AM

(Article originally published in The Issaquah Press: http://goo.gl/yqloJN)

By Warren Kagarise


Hal Hefner is accustomed to high school’s indignities and perils.


Besides a tumultuous home life, high school presents a treacherous gauntlet for Hal, a stutterer. The clumsy attempts at romance, friendship and, importantly, earning a spot on the debate team form the plot for “Rocket Science” — a musical created for youth performers and set to open at Village Theatre’s First Stage Theatre on Jan. 5.


The decision to present “Rocket Science” — a musical fostered on the Village Theatre stage in the Festival of New Musicals — is not rocket science, cast members and the director said.


The piece is written specifically for teenagers. “Rocket Science” marks the first time KIDSTAGE performers presented a musical from the festival. The show also marks the debut for the “Rocket Science” musical.


“Rocket Science” is based on the 2007 film, a darling among critics and festival audiences but a limited commercial success. The musical based on the piece received a stripped-down reading — and a warm audience reception — at the 2009 Festival of New Musicals, a summertime showcase for up-and-coming works.


The musical’s director, longtime Village Theatre Artistic Director Steve Tomkins, said the material is more authentic with teenagers in the roles.


“The heart of the show is about high school,” he said in a recent interview alongside lead performers David Ibarra, as Hal, and Katie Griffith as Hal’s romantic interest, Jenny Ryerson. “I’m really excited about the fact that the first production with it involves real high school kids.”


The 17-member cast comes from throughout the region.


The musical’s creators — librettist Patricia Foster, composer Stephen Weiner and lyricist Jason Rhyne — recreated the same vibe as the film, a dramedy meant to present high school as a social Petri dish.


Weiner is no stranger to Village Theatre. The composer’s musical comedies “Once Upon a Time in New Jersey” and “Iron Curtain” received Mainstage presentations.


Jenny is the queen bee on the debate team at Hal’s high school. Griffith, a sophomore at Issaquah High School and a veteran at Village Theatre and other local playhouses, steps into the role.


“We share so much in common, Jenny and I, and just the high-schoolers in general who can relate so much to it,” she said. “At the same time, she’s so complex and is different from me. It’s fun to be able to relate to her and have the same type of problems that she goes through.”


Jenny picks Hal, stutter and all, to join the debate team. The relationship — as sparring partners in debate and otherwise — forms the crux of “Rocket Science.”


Hal is more difficult to emulate. Even tasks as simple as ordering pizza take on incredible difficulty due to his pronounced stutter.


Ibarra, a senior at Interlake High School, is outgoing and relaxed, a departure from the neurotic Hal.


“There are things that I’m comfortable with that he’s not,” he said. “He’s not comfortable with talking to girls. I’m the complete opposite. I talk to everyone, and even people that I don’t know, I’ll introduce myself.”

Singing, dancing elevates Hi-Liners' CATS

Posted on September 17, 2012 at 3:00 AM

(Article originally published in The Highline Times: http://goo.gl/E4nn8D)

By Aya Hashiguchi Clark

SPECIAL TO THE HIGHLINE TIMES

 

The Hi-Liners, the magical musical theatre company who have artfully and wondrously put young performers on stage since 1966, have opened their 2012 Mainstage season with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “CATS.”

 

For those unfamiliar with the show, “CATS,” based on T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” is the love-it-or-hate-it musical that is heavy on the music and dance, but rather light on the plot. But audiences have mostly loved “CATS,” earning it the distinction of being the second longest-running show in Broadway history.


The plot is quite simple, really. At the start of the show we see a back alley, the domain of the Jellicle Cats. Munkustrap (Brandon Hell) introduces us to a cat named Victoria (Courtney Heinrich) who dances as the Jellicles assemble for their annual ball. One by one, we are introduced to many of the other Jellicle Cats.

 

Jennyanydots (Tatum Moury), also known as The Old Grumble Cat, loves to lounge all day on her favorite sofa. Heartthrob Rum Tum Tugger (Brandon Root) is the teen idol tomcat who is adored by the ladies.

 

Grizabella (Victoria Knight) The Glamour Cat, left the feline tribe years earlier and is now unwelcome by the rest of the Jellicles. Bustopher Jones (Grady Stevens) is the fat cat who loves to eat.

 

An acrobatic pair of twin pranksters Mungojerrie ((Hailey Sagmoen) and Rumpleteazer (Ariana Mafi) burst onto the scene to scare up mischief and fun. But finally, the wise old leader Old Deuteronomy (Alex Gallo) arrives. His mission is to choose which of the Jellicle Cats will be reborn into a new life.

 

After the Jellicle Ball, we meet other cats. Gus (James Davis) the Theatre Cat is an old but once famous actor on the stage. Some of the other colorful cats we meet include Jellylorum (Frankie Curry-Edwards), Skimbleshanks (Trent Moury), Demeter (Alicia Hoag), Bombalurina (Amber Thatcher), Alonzo (Alexandra Marx) and the master criminal Macavity (Moshe Henderson).

 

Director Kathleen Edwards puts her own unique stamp on this production. Instead of the usual leotard and copious feline face paint and whiskers, Edwards costumes her actors in the style of the Japanese street fashion “Harajuku.” This includes a combination of styles like gothic and cyber-punk and reminded me of Japanese anime. Harajuku also incorporates cat ears and tails. Thus, a 21st century take on “CATS” is born.

 

The Hi-Liners cast of young performers have done their usual stunning work. Strong vocals by both the principal actors and the ensemble give the songs the credibility it needs to be thoroughly enjoyed by the audience and be considered much more than simply a “youth production.”

 

But what also elevates the production beyond the “youth theatre” label is the dancing. Choreographers Daniel Cruz and Katy Tabb provide eye-popping dance numbers. The youthful Hi-Liners are more than up to the task. As with every mainstage show I have previously reviewed, most of the principal players will make you nearly forget that this is not a “professional” production.

 

Add to this a first-rate orchestra led by R. J. Tancioco and a good time at the theatre is almost guaranteed. Brandon Hell as Munkustrap, Brandon Root as the Elvis-like Rum Tum Tugger and Victoria Knight as the old outcast Grizabella gave stand out performances. And, I especially enjoyed the fine gymnastic moves by Hailey Sagmoen and Ariana Mafi.

 

CATS plays at the Highline Performing Arts Center Saturdays and Sundays through September 30. Tickets can be purchased online at www.hi-liners.org, by phone 206-617-2152 or at the door (for $3 more).



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