ArtsWest AfterHours w/ Matt Owen (host: Mathew Wright)

Event: ArtsWest AfterHours w/Matt Owen (host Mathew Wright)
Date: March 7, 2016
Location: Seattle, WA @ ArtsWest

AfterHours_MattOwen
AfterHours is a series put on by ArtsWest with the intent to showcase local talents of theatre actors. I had always hoped that there would be an outlet for them to just sing showtunes (much like Feinstein’s/54 Below in New York). Sadly, I was unaware this was going on until the current series “Four Gents & A Lady” was announced.

The host of the series is Mathew Wright (the artistic director of ArtsWest) who interviews his guests and serves as their pianist.

Tonight’s guest was Matt Owen. He’s had recently come back from his travels in Bangkok so he did not have much time to rehearse. Matt did grow up in Kirkland, WA though and got into theatre with exposure from his mother and got the acting bug when accompanying his sister to acting class. A sampling of his theatre credits include Anything Goes (his first professional acting gig at the 5th Avenue Theatre), Oklahoma, A Room With A View (which became the source of many jokes between Mathew and Matt due to his having to be nude in the role), Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, and of course Elf where he starred as Buddy.

Matt’s approximated setlist:

  • I REALLY REALLY LOVE YOU (STALKER) – by Paul Loesel & Scott Burkell
  • NEVER NEVER LAND – from Peter Pan
  • RAINBOW CONNECTION – from the Muppet Movie. Matt sung this partially as Kermit the Frog. He also shared that he was a big fan of the Muppets and even named his cars after them.
  • MY BEST GIRL – from Mame. Matt shared a fun factoid that the actor, Nick Robinson, who played the younger version of him in this show went on to star in Jurassic World.
  • IT ONLY TAKES A MOMENT – from Hello, Dolly!. I found this fitting to his character mold as he seems to usually play the “lovable idiot” types. Wright mentioned that Michael Crawford was also such a performer before Phantom of the Opera came along. He was even in the film version of Hello, Dolly!.
  • MARY’S A GRAND OLD NAME – from Yankee Doodle Dandy
  • TRAVELIN’ MAN – a Ricky Nelson cover. I have to add that Matt shared the craziest story from his travels, which were a little TMI (Too Much Information) to be mentioned on this blog. It just involved NYC, Time Square, pizza, long flight to London, and new socks.
  • I’LL BE SEEING YOU – a Billie Holiday cover
  • MADELINE – from Jacques Brel
  • BACHELOR’S DANCE – from Jacques Brel
  • COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS / MOON RIVER – a Bing Crosby / Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer cover
  • RUNAROUND SUE – Dion cover

During the show we also learned that Matt performed the role of Buddy the Elf with a gummy bear under his tongue. Apparently he really loves them (as do I). However, when he had to diet for his role in A Room With A View he could only open the bag and smell them “like a crack addict.”

Mathew borrowed James Lipton’s Inside The Actors Studio Questionnaire. Most of the responses somehow ended up revolving around “poop.”

It’s been awhile since Matt has been on the stage in Seattle, but he does have a project going on called Anywhere But Fargo. It’s a socially driven travel show. Viewers can vote for where Matt and his friends go, what they do, and propose challenges. It’s all fun and hilarious. If you want to see those go visit the Anywhere But Fargo YouTube channel. Matt also has Matt’s Travel Tips to help other wanderlusters get around a variety of cities. To start interacting visit: www.facebook.com/anywherebutfargo/

The evening was hilarious and had many sincere moments as well. This was a nice way to showcase Matt’s singing chops as well as to learn more about him as a performer. One takeaway for budding performers: Acting is the most important, and without it the other skills (singing and dancing) don’t matter as much if you can’t convincingly do it.

There you go kids!

(my Matt Owen dream casting is to have him as anyone in Book of Mormon)

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How To Succeed – 5th Avenue Production

Event: How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying
Date: February 9, 2016
Run: January 28-February 21, 2016
(Rising Star Performances March 3-5, 2016)

Location: Seattle, WA @ 5th Avenue Theatre

HowToSucceed-5th-Header-Small

5th Avenue Theatre’s track records with classic shows are usually solid. They put on a great production with a great cast and crew. Their production How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying falls into that category.

The night that we went to the show it was fairly empty in the theatre. Which was a little unusual since it seems like there were many fans of Frank Loesser’s music from 5th Avenues Spotlight Night presentation. Of course, it seemed more like a Guys and Dolls reunion rather than a showcase for How to Succeed. I feel that Guys and Dolls overshadows this piece quite often, which is unfortunate because this corporate world based musical is one of my favorites (although there are some sexist aspects of it as it first emerged in 1961). There is an underdog that you root for and it’s quite entertaining to see how well the lead character, J. Pierrepont Finch, rises in the ranks.

Tom Sturge & David Sumner's set design

Tom Sturge & David Sumner’s set design

The initial impression you get from 5th Avenue’s production is Tom Sturge and David Sumner’s massive set pieces to create a Mondrian inspired office building. It perfectly accentuated the colorful plot and characters that make up the World Wide Wicket Company.

Leading the company as the ambitious career climbing J. Pierpont Finch is Eric Ankrim (a local favorite who also appeared in First Date, and the recently acclaimed Come From Away). He brought such youth and enthusiasm to “Ponte” that matched perfectly to comedic elements of the show. Rosemary Pilkington (a secretary who wants to be Finch’s girl) is portrayed by Sarah Rose Davis (Funny Girl). Davis added a desperate edge to her character that I had not really seen in previous productions. The rest of the ensemble is also commendable. Sarah Rudinoff plays the bold secretary Smitty (Rosemary’s friend), Allen Fitzpatrick as the boss of World Wide Wicket Company J.B. Biggley. Jessica Skerrit as Mr. Biggley’s mistress (and fellow “secretary”) with an insanely funny accent Hedy LaRue. Allen Galli takes on the dual role of Mr. Twimble/Wally Womper, Cristin J. Hubbard as Miss Jones (Biggley’s secretary), and Adam Standley rounding up the main cast as Finch’s Chapstick-loving nemesis Bud Frump. Local audience members may also recognize former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice’s narrations, although they were a bit fuzzy to hear. 

I won’t go too far depth into the plot and specifics of this show since I reviewed it before (see side bar), but the 5th Avenue name-dropped Mad Men in their advertising campaign. I can’t really vouch for that since I haven’t seen that show, but I heard that it read as a comedy. In any case, I do think that the 5th Avenue did have the perfect cast at the perfect time for their production. The ensemble was also tight in regards to choreography. One of my favorite numbers was “Coffee Break,” which ended in a line up of passed out workers along the edge of the stage after they twitched their way through that number. I also really loved how Ankrim just went all out during “Rosemary” flailing his arms while expressing his emotions. It was cheese sold correctly. 

The show had some technical difficulties the night I went. Microphone cues were not executed on time and I felt that in the opening numbers Finch was difficult to hear. I also felt that it was hard to hear Smitty as she facilitated the conversation during “Been a Long Day” and Miss Jones during “Brotherhood of Man.” The only other visible issue I saw was during the song “Cinderella, Darling” when Smitty pulls out something (trying to avoid spoilers here) from a filing cabinet. She managed to get it out in time though so the rest of the scene progressed as normal, although I was worried one of the actors would get caught in the loose loop of the plot. I never really remembered that song actually, but I guess it was replaced in the 1995 revival production (which is the cast recording I listen to the most). Due to my exposure of that 1995 cast recording I always get a little disappointed when I don’t hear the “sister” part of “Brotherhood of Man.” It didn’t happen here at the 5th Avenue either, but regardless a wonderful production to see if you have never heard of this show with an extremely long title before.

I feel that How to Succeed is not done often enough in the theatre circle as the last time a major production of it that happened in Seattle was back in 1996. That is 2 decades! Don’t wait that long to see it. Even though the time period of this piece is from over half a century ago, I’m pretty sure today’s audience can find some relevance in the office politics presented.

Every year the 5th Avenue Theatre also takes part in the Rising Star Project, which helps youth in theatre develop their skills in coordination with the professionals at 5th Avenue. The end of their project culminates with a performance by the kids on the big stage and this season it’s How to Succeed.

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For tickets and information to How To Succeed visit www.5thavenue.org (the source for official tickets to their theatre).

The show runs from January 28-February 21, 2016. If you want to see the Rising Star Kids their performances are held March 3-5, 2016.

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The Last 5 Years

Event: The Last 5 Years
Date: February 4, 2016
Run: January 29-February 14, 2016
Location: Redmond, WA @ Second Story Repertory Theatre

The Last Five Years Banner

The Last 5 Years is a musical written by Jason Robert Brown (triple threat alert: music, lyrics, and the book). The plot follows the 5-year relationship between Jamie (an up-and-coming author) who is going forward in time in the relationship, while Cathy (a struggling actress) is reflecting on her relationship with Jamie going backwards in time.

Second Story Rep was originally going to present this show earlier, but due to scheduling conflicts with lead Kody Bringman (in a production of Sound of Music) it got postponed. Still it was great to see that they did not recast Kody or Becca Orts (playing Jamie and Cathy respectively). They have together worked for the past 5 years together on various projects and have in an adorable way combined their program biographies together. The show is directed by Matt Giles with music direction provided by Julia Thornton.

The set provide by “The Squolf” had very few pieces to it. The two mainstays were a couch and the outside of an impressively constructed apartment building. Additional props, projections, and lighting were used to convey other environments. Impressively the venue often combines elements of their “Mainstage” set with their “Theater For Young Audiences” season, which was Stuart Little in this case. If you do come to check out this production I do recommend sitting in the middle of the row to fully embrace the emotions of the characters that might be missed out if sitting on the side.

"The Last 5 Years" set by "The Squolf"

“The Last 5 Years” set by “The Squolf”

 I have never seen or heard any music from The Last 5 Years. I was well aware that it was also adapted as a movie, but I didn’t have time to check it out. All I knew was that it was about a couple each going through the relationship starting and opposite ends. I also knew nothing about actress Becca Orts as this was my first time seeing her in a production. I was greatly impressed by her settle movements in her acting (such as a gentle trembling of the hand) and emotional frustrations with Jamie and her acting career. She also had a great strong voice that harmonized well with Bringman’s. Bringman’s acting, unlike Orts, was not new to me as this was probably my 9th production that I’ve seen him in and it has been great to see him grow and evolve as an actor with each production.

The show alternates songs between the leads as they define their current mental and relational state with the other. As one sings the other is in the dark or is off stage getting ready for their next scene. This leaves the actor on stage to face the air and the audience to imagine the other one in the scene. The only time you see these two interact together is in the middle of the relationship when they get married to each other. For those diving right into the show it might not occur that each of these characters are on the same timeline, but going different directions until slightly after this moment.

At the end of the show one could discuss who was the cause of the breakup. During the beginning half of the show I sided with Cathy since she was portrayed as being ignored and broken while Jamie was the seemingly over confident and successful one. However, during the second half of the show we start hearing Jamie’s side of the story. He admits temptation to cheat he did not engage in that at the time this was addressed in the relationship. It leads to Cathy’s jealousy and distrust. Due to Jamie’s writing success it has kept him at a distance with Cathy’s occupational troubles and perhaps oblivious to her feelings. Who you side with depends on the actors and the direction of the work, but in the end I felt I had to side with Jamie. He regretted what he had done and his emotional breakdown at the end seemed greater and more dramatic than Cathy’s at the beginning. Of course there could be a distance of greater time since Cathy’s admission of their breakup at the beginning of the show.

The show is mostly sung through so I was paying attention to the lyrics to make sure I understood what was going on. It was accented nicely by the band, who in my opinion were more noticeable this time around as they nicely punctuated phrases and actions onstage.

The only thing about this production I would change is the smoke machine. Second Story Rep LOVES their smoke machine and smoke is almost like an additional character in every show they do. However, these machines can be noisy (oh yeah, shame on the person who decided to open a pop can and what seemed like a bag of chips during the beginning of the show during Orts’ number but as a professional she carried on). Anyways, during a pivotal scene where we see that Jamie has cheated regretfully and lying on a bed a plume of smoke came out from behind him. It looked kind of ridiculous, and I could have sworn a woman in the row in front of me was trying to stifle a laugh despite the seriousness of the moment.

Overall this was another strong production put on by Second Story Rep. I personally don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, but I could tell the audience was moved by it and the girl that was seated next to me was getting “the feels” all throughout the show. One of the best moments was at the end when both Cathy and Jamie’s songs (“Goodbye Until Tomorrow/I Could Never Rescue You”) overlapped, however at their own respective places in time. I also enjoyed “Shiksa Goddess” although it seemed to stand out a bit more than the other songs, maybe because it was changed due to the similarity of the creator’s own relationship with his own Cathy. “The Next 10 Minutes” is probably the most memorable song of the show where both actors share the scene for the first time. I also enjoyed when Cathy was auditioning and rambling on about her insecurities. It added a bit of a comedic spark to an otherwise heartbreaking story.

The Last 5 Years plays until February 14, 2016 at Second Story Rep.
For more information and tickets visit:
http://www.secondstoryrep.org/mainstage/season17/last.html

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STOMP

Event: STOMP
Date: January 26, 2016
Run: January 26-31, 2016
Location: Seattle, WA @ Moore Theatre

STOMP marquee

STOMP marquee


STOMP had been on my “to see” list for a very long time and eventually my interest kind of went away. It just seemed like a really cool show to me as a kid. I first heard of it was probably the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason I never ended up seeing it except when it was showcased at “Broadway at Bryant Park.” It was a hot summer day and for whatever reason I wasn’t feeling it at that time either.

Well, my brother and I finally got our chance to see STOMP nearly 2 decades later. I really only thought it would be people using miscellaneous objects as instruments, but they really had an additional performance level that I wasn’t really aware of.

The cast varies from each production, but there are typically 8 individuals on stage that take on a certain persona. I guess they have character names as well. There is the geek-type, the show off, the slacker, the easy-goer, the leader, the persistent one, the no nonsense one, and the guy with the big arms. Ok, I’m not sure that’s how they’re really defined but that’s how it appeared to me.

There is no real plot here except maybe the desire for the geek-type character to fit in with the rest of the gang and participate with their activities. However, he is often ignored and given the short straw…or in this case tubing.

STOMP set

STOMP set


The show started off with the sweeping, and let me tell you try to avoid getting tickets right in front of the stage. It looked like a dust storm down there. We were seated in the front row of the balcony so we could avoid all the debris and yet still admire all the choreography and sound. They killed quite a number of brooms during that bit, but they all went on swapping broken sticks and heads with new ones seamlessly never losing rhythm.

I cannot remember all of the acts so I’ll just briefly talk about the ones that stood out to me.

There was one involving basketballs. A sound that I have grown to despise due to living next door to some basketball junkies (3 boys) who could never dribble in sync with each other. This always gives me a headache. However, the dribbling beats presented by the STOMP performers were really pleasing to the ear.

Another segment involved having some of the guys coming out with water filled sinks. I can only imagine how heavy that must be to wear. There was some comedic bits thrown in throughout the show. Of course they had a pee joke here as the guys drained the water from their sinks into some buckets below them.

Shopping carts? Why yes they are also musical as they clank into each other. There was some impressive choreography as they rode the carts back and forth and in the end having them all stack into each other in a neat and orderly fashion.

The stick segment is one that is often shown on TV. Always popular, but probably less noisy than the other famous bit that is shown involving trashcans.

Plastic bags, inner tubes, matchboxes, newspapers…yup they were all utilized here.

One of the highlights for me was the use of lighters. The lights in the venue were all turned down as we watched the synchronized sounds and lights being emitted from the stage. Unfortunately some flames were less powerful than others and sometimes didn’t show up at all, but it was still very entertaining how coordinated everyone was.

The performers for this performance were:
John Angeles, Leilani Dibble, Dustin Elsea, DeLaunce Jackson, Krystal Renée, Charley Ryane (there are two more, but I can’t really say for sure who they are due to poor eyesight, poor memory, and headshots looking so different).

STOMP performers

STOMP performers

I was a little worried about the loudness of the show, but being in the balcony it wasn’t too bad. The show also worked it’s way up to the “noiser” items so the ears are easily acclimated. Overall, a nice evening out to see some talented performers coming together to create some music out of the unexpected.

STOMP plays from January 26-31, 2016 at the Moore Theatre in Seattle.
For tickets and additional tour stop locations visit:
http://www.stomponline.com/

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