Category Archives: Reviews

Go hear the people sing at ‘Les Miserables’ in Seattle

Undisputed as the most popular musical of all time, “Les Misérables” celebrates its 25th anniversary with Cameron Mackintosh’s re-imagined production at The 5th Avenue Theatre. The tour shattered box office records during its run at The 5th last August, with over 50,000 patrons clamoring to join the revolution, and it’s clear why. Its enduring humanity makes for an unforgettable experience. Throw in some colorful ladies of the night, a band of idealistic youths, a doomed love triangle, and an epic score that will knock your socks off, and you’ve got yourself a hit.

At the center of “Les Misérables” are two men steered by their unshakable faith — one by his belief in mercy, the other by his belief in justice. After spending 19 years in a hard labor prison for theft, Jean Valjean breaks his parole to begin a new life free from the stigma of his crime. Although he has changed into a decent man, he is hounded by Inspector Javert, an absolutist whose purpose only makes sense if the Law is Good. Set against the bloody backdrop of the French Revolution, “Les Misérables” includes all of Victor Hugo’s favorite themes: faith, redemption, love, and what makes a man good or evil.

The two leads do not disappoint. Peter Lockyer’s sensitive “Valjean” and Andrew Varela’s righteous “Javert” are perfectly matched and both outfitted with spectacular voices. In fact, be careful if you sit in center orchestra because when either of them face the audience while singing, you might have to adjust your ‘do. Lockyer’s stirring performance of “Bring Him Home” balances the requisite gentleness with a powerful desperation that hits the back wall.

The rest of the cast holds up its end of the bargain with gusto. The Thénardiers, played by the disgustingly delicious duo Timothy Gulan and Shawna M. Hamic, are perfect representations of society’s bottom feeders, from halfway revolutionaries in it for the grave robbing to nouveau riche opportunists. The cherubic Marcus D’Angelo steals every scene he’s in as “Gavroche,” the pint-size rebel with more street smarts than all of Fagin’s gang. Max Quinlan’s “Marius” delivers a sweet, earnest performance, expertly avoiding sappy romance. Briana Carlson-Goodman as “Éponine” breaks your heart.

The production itself is incredibly versatile, able to simulate a grand march through the streets of Paris with a hungry gang of revolutionaries, while also zeroing in à la cinematic close-up on the tortured face of Fantine as she belts “I Dreamed a Dream.” Paule Constable’s lighting design is absolutely brilliant in this way. Matt Kinley’s set design, inspired by Hugo’s paintings, is an ever-changing puzzle, a feast for the eyes.

The projections are a double-edged sword. While most of the effects are fascinating, especially during Marius and Valjean’s sewer escape and the aforementioned march through the streets, they can also be distracting. This is especially true during Javert’s “Soliloquy,” which is a pity.

“Les Miz” is ironically known for it excess, but Mackintosh’s production does not stop for stragglers. The orchestra begins its iconic glittering and you’re off — there is no wallowing, no time to wipe your eyes, and God help you if you sneeze more than once in a row. For the most part, the sense of urgency is invigorating, but even though the acting is quite good, a few small, beautiful moments get lost in the flurry.

Still, the glory of the show’s staying power is undeniable — every generation has its ideals and betrayals, its scallawags and its martyrs. For every Cosette, there is an unrequited Éponine. For every selfless Valjean, there is a Thénardier. Sometimes what you think is good and true, isn’t; and sometimes a thief on the run is more than what he seems. At the end of the day, it’s about doing the right thing.

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“Les Misérables” plays at The 5th Avenue Theatre through July 8th. To purchase tickets (starting at $45), visit www.5thavenue.org, call the box office at (206) 625-1900, or stop by the box office at 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.

Fun trivia! Producer Cameron Mackintosh is also working on the “Les Misérables” film coming out this December. Can’t wait!

 

For more reviews and theatre news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua

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National tour of ‘American Idiot’ shakes down Seattle

Green Day‘s “American Idiot,”the Tony Award-winning punk musical that took the Great White Way by storm, is squatting at the Paramount Theatre through June 10th and you do not want to miss it.Welcome to paradise, where the American dream taunts a generation of post-9/11 apathetic nobodies with a president they didn’t (or couldn’t) vote for, an endless war they don’t understand, and delusions of grandeur fueled by the everpresent media. If you’ve somehow managed not to hear any of the glorious music from Green Day‘s Grammy-winning album of the same name, here’s a fine way to get on that. By the end of the epic “Jesus of Suburbia” suite, the audience was a puddle on the floor.

The three guys (certainly not heroes and definitely not men) center stage are Johnny, Tunny, and Will, a collection of beer-swilling, pot-smoking pals with only vague dreams of glory. Johnny is our anti-hero, except he’s somehow less than an anti-hero. He manages to be the main character without elliciting any sympathy or antipathy. He traverses the “Big City” like the hapless loser that he is, falling for a gorgeous girl called Whatshername (played by Gabrielle McClinton) and turning to drugs for connection. “St. Jimmy,” Johnny’s drug-addled, Marilyn Manson-esque alter-ego, is played by Joshua Kobak, a sinister but fun ghoul who throws bags of drugs and glitter around the stage like candy.

Van Hughes (Johnny), Joshua Kobak (St. Jimmy) and the company of AMERICAN IDIOT
Van Hughes (Johnny), Joshua Kobak (St. Jimmy) and the company of AMERICAN IDIOT
Photo credit:
Photo credit: Doug Hamilton

Depressed and overwhelmed, Tunny ends up enlisting and shipping off to the Middle East. His recruitment is reminiscent of the haunting “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” scene from Julie Taymor’s “Across the Universe.” Scott J. Campbell plays the part with dignity, his eyes and sweet voice radiate the pain and confusion of a promise reneged. His stunning aerial dance with Nicci Claspell, “The Extraordinary Girl,” is an exquisite take on the sexualization of war. No, there is no draft, but for an uneducated, lower-class kid like Tunny, is there really a choice?

Will, played by Jake Epstein of Degrassi and Spring Awakening fame, is scuppered early on by an unplanned pregnancy and left behind. Epstein’s inertia is startling. He stays on the couch for the entire show, in stark contrast to Johnny, who is seduced by drugs, and Tunny, who is seduced by war.

The Tony Award-winning set and lighting design, a magnificent spectacle in the original Berkeley Repetory Theatre production, travels extraordinarily well. The grungy set is covered in over twenty TV screens flashing clips of President George W. Bush, FOX newscasts, and war footage. Characters careen around on rickety scaffolding, the live band members skulk around the outskirts of the stage, raining down punk rock. Steven Hoggett’s visceral choreography is perfect — not so orchestrated that it strips the spirit of the mob dancing, but with razor sharp intention that magnifies the characters’ frustration.

Green Day has already shed many skins — the song “Good Riddance,” ironically one of the most-played songs at graduations and school dances, is a sardonic tribute to those who think the band’s evolution spat in the face of its punk roots. For those remaining fans who think that going Broadway is the ultimate and final betrayal… seriously, don’t worry about it. “American Idiot” on stage is every bit as angry and disgusting and real as the breakthrough album “Dookie.”

For Green Day fans: Even without Billy Joe, Mike, and Tre, this cast (many of whom performed with Green Day on Broadway) will knock your socks off. They are vulgar and young and full of blood and vinegar, just like the good ole days.

For theatre fans: This is not a jukebox musical with a flimsy plot and vapid characters. Yes, it’s “Hair” for a new generation, but it brings something else to the table. The staging of this show is like nothing you have ever seen. And there’s an incredibly dark and beautiful moment between Johnny and Whatshername during the song “Last Night on Earth” that will haunt you for days, in the best way that theatre can.

Don’t wanna be an American idiot? Buy your tickets NOW.

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Green Day’s “American Idiot” plays through June 10th at the Paramount Theatre. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online, by calling 877-STG-4TIX (784-4849), or in person at the Paramount Theatre Box Office (10am-6pm Monday through Friday).

For more reviews and theatre news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua

Idina Menzel defies gravity at the Paramount

While audiences at home are watching her on FOX’s hit TV show Glee,” Tony Award-winning actress Idina Menzel, star of Broadway’s “Wicked” and “RENT,” rocked Seattle live at the Paramount Theatre. In addition to singing music from the shows that rocketed her to national acclaim, the Broadway starlet performed songs by Cole Porter, some original music, and pop and Broadway medleys that included artists like The Police and Katy Perry.

There was actually a collective longing sigh from the packed audience when the orchestra, which included Seattle locals, began playing. Then, a larger-than-life shadow of the singer appeared on the curtains behind the musicians and crooned “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (a lovely allusion to “The Wizard of Oz”). When Idina Menzel emerged from the curtains, she was draped in a flouncy white gown and spritely skipped to the front of the stage to thunderous applause.

Concert highlights included her sweet rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Katy Perry’s “Firework,” which she revealed she uses to set the romantic mood for her and her husband actor Taye Diggs. During “Take Me or Leave Me” from “RENT,” Menzel ventured into the house and chose three audience members to sing verses before inviting them onstage for bows. Her somber performance of “No Day But Today” was heart-wrenching, especially following her emotional speech about the late playwright Jonathan Larson. The audience lost it when she sang “Defying Gravity,” which forever will be her song.

Her best backstage stories included her (very) brief interaction with personal hero Barbra Streisand and why she chucked the heels and began performing barefoot during all her concerts. The naughty nature of some her comments juxtaposed her soft, at-times hesitant speech, causing some to believe that she had a sore throat. Between numbers she impishly munched on a plate of gummie bears, which she explained she chewed when her throat was particularly dry. At one point (“so you don’t think I’m taking drugs,” she quipped), Menzel began dispensing the candies to lucky audience members in the front row. All doubt on her stamina was erased when she unleashed her powerful voice on the next number. Idina Menzel, even if at half-mast, is still a formidible force to be reckoned with.

She also spoke of her foundation A Broader Way, which sponsors a ten-day performing arts camp for innercity girls to learn leadership skills and nurture the burgeoning artists within, culminating in a performance at Columbia University. Friend and Tony-nominated composer Jeanine Tesori (“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Caroline, or Change,” and “Shrek the Musical”) serves as Camp Director.

The audience leapt to its feet three times at the end, coaxing her back on stage for two encores, including a sensational never-before-heard song by “Next to Normal” lyricist Brian Yorkey and composer Tom Kit. Menzel’s deep love and gratitude toward her fans is palpable and made for a very genuine and enjoyable evening with an extraoardinarily talented friend.

Find where Idina Menzel will be touring next here and be sure to check out what else is cooking at the Paramount Theatre.

 

For more reviews and theatre news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua

Annex Theatre unleashes ‘Team of Heroes’

BAM! ZAP! SPROING! Never fear, Team of Heroes is here! At the Annex Theatre, that is! Deftly directed by Jaime Roberts, playwright Alexander Harris’ fun-filled Team of Heroes: Behind Closed Doors is an action movie on stage, complete with previews, commercial sponsors, flashbacks, and inventive special effects. Be prepared for an energetic romp through a world where superheroes are managed by foul-mouthed corporate suits and created by super serum injections brewed by a dapper gorilla.

The play reveals the personal stories of the fearsome foursome, Jason Sharp as “The Cap’n,” the leader, your classic all-American hero with a glinting white smile; Danielle Daggerty as “Miss Dixie,” a Southern belle with mind control powers and a burgeoning conscience; “Shock Wave,” played by Nik Doner, a hapless romantic with electromagnetic powers and a short attention span; and Tracy Leigh as “Madame Mayhem,” a telekinetic giantess with a bad attitude and some skeletons in her closet.

The special effects are positively delightful – thanks to FX Team Max Reichlin, Emily Sershon, and Ian Johnston, there is no “you can’t do that on stage” in this production. Hostages hang from the nose of Teddy Roosevelt’s visage on Mount Rushmore, heroes send chairs across the room and paintings crashing to the floor with a glance, and there’s one very cool zip-lining bit. Casey Brown’s fight choreography is excellent. An Entrapment-meets-Mission Impossible museum heist, complete with security lasers and fog, is a scene to be savored.

Which brings us to the villains. Rachel Jackson plays the main supervillain Chaos Theory, a stunted child genius with a very strange attachment to Scottish hand-puppet Mr. Randy, basically The Count’s evil brother from Avenue Q. Angela DiMarco plays the Team’s manager, Melody Knox, who pivots between virtuous and sell-out – is the Team of Heroes run by a hard-nosed business woman who knows what’s best, or is this another PR ploy meant to bring more value to the merch? Ryan Higgins’ transformations from monosyllabic caveman villain Earthquake to sleazy talk show host Dick Engelbert to a vodka-swilling Russian (and communist, obviously) robber are delightful.

Intermission tingles with anticipation for the second act, which is unfortunately where the show begins to flag. The intention is to keep up the cinematic feel, but the constant flashbacks chop up the action (and the comedic timing). There’s also a wayward dramatic storyline about Madame Mayhem’s mother’s relationship with aging superhero Ace Johnson ( . . .yeah, what?). If the focus was supposed to be on Mayhem’s relationship with her envious mother, super-wannabe Black Swallow, then it got lost in this drawn-out love story. Ashley Bagwell is spot on as the boorish Ace Johnson and Jana Hutchison plays Black Swallow with empathy, but their scenes could have been more economically written. Their characters are not so complicated that multiple rehashings of their doubts, fears, and penchant for Punish Me, Superhero sex games are necessary.

Similarly, the frequent interruptions for mockumentary interviews with the Team of Heroes (either a clumsy homage or a blatant copying of The Incredibles’ opening) didn’t add any information that couldn’t have been written into the next scene. That being said, Daggerty and Sharp are especially adept at embodying their pre-super selves, giving the audience a glimpse at how far they’ve come. And the aforementioned gorilla scene in the second act, played with nuance (if you can believe it) by Sam Hagen, is one of the best scenes in the show.

When the play ends, you get the feeling that you’re missing something. This production is apparently a prequel, so too bad for those who missed Harris’ previous work, but rumor has it there’s another installment on the way. Still, for those aching for a very inventive night at the theatre, Team of Heroes: Behind Closed Doors is absolutely worth a look and, truly, who doesn’t need to be rescued every once and awhile?

 

For more theatre reviews and news, check out:  http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua

Taken: A Review

Caution: Contains Some Spoilers. . . but it’s an action movie, so you probably guessed what happened anyway.

Last week I saw Taken with Liam Neeson. It was actually quite enjoyable! The story is pretty straightforward: Neeson is an ex-agent (calling himself a “preventer”) and went through an extremely bitter divorce with the mother of his daughter. His ex-wife remarried some rich guy and Neeson tries very hard throughout the film to make up for lost time with his kid, having to compete with the rich step-dad’s wealth and attention. Against his better judgment, he agrees to let his 17 year-old daughter go on a trip to Europe with her 19 year-old friend. While there, they are kidnapped by some Albanian jerks who are known for abducting young women, drugging them and selling them as prostitutes. Liam Neeson immediately flies to Europe to get his daughter back, using his ole tricks from his long career as a bad ass. The acting was good, the action sequences were awesome (how often do you get to see Liam Neeson kick serious butt?) and I was pretty impressed with how this shoot-em-up action film handled the issue of sex slavery. It was, for the most part, tasteful and I’m glad that such a troubling topic was brought to the main stream as a serious subject instead of in a pervy, “look at all the hot chicks” way. I highly recommend the movie.

Despite my high praise, here are my beefs.

1) In the real world, sex slavery occurs across all genders/classes/races/etc., but in the film most of the girls in this film were white, European women. I think that this plays to white people’s general fear of white women being violated and perhaps ignores the women of color who are also abducted, abused and sold. They do say earlier in the film that in this particular sex ring, Americans are the most expensive and the most sought after, so maybe that’s why they’re all Euro/American looking. . . but it just made me think about the sex trade in Asia and how the film doesn’t address it. I realize that this is picky and perhaps asking too much of this particular film, but I wish it was addressed in some way.

2) Neeson’s daughter is a virgin in the movie, which is fine. However, I feel like the urgency of the film is highly motivated by this fact. Would it have been less stressful for Neeson or the audience if she wasn’t? It seemed an unnecessary fact to bring up. In fact, her friend is not a virgin, is portrayed as promiscuous and, guess what, she is killed. I was disappointed by this classic “slut”-killing trope often seen in action/horror films. One positive note, though. The friend is seen viciously fighting back when the abductors come to get her, breaking furniture, screaming, struggling wildly. I’m glad that she was depicted as fighting back, even if she doesn’t get away. Anyway, the daughter is kept alive longer BECAUSE she is “certified 100% pure” (how the hell could they prove that anyway?) and is sold for more money. Is this some sort of ulterior message that virgins have a better chance of survival or are more worth saving? I don’t know. . . it just seemed superfluous to me that she hadn’t had sex yet. So what? NO ONE should be abducted and sold, I don’t care if they’ve slept with zero or a hundred people.

3) Neeson goes on a rampage to get his daughter back (which is pretty fricken cool). He breaks up a couple sex houses, killing the bastards running it. He goes through the horrible, make-shift tents where these girls are drugged and violated, searching, ripping men off of girls who he thinks are his daughter. But after that’s all said and done, what happens to the girls he freed. . . .? The film doesn’t deal with them. There’s not even a line of text at the end saying, “The police found the other women who were sold and helped them return to their families.” Or something. Anything. Liam helps one other girl because she might know where his daughter is. . . but after he gets the information from her, she’s not seen again. At the end when Liam is kicking ass on a boat to get to his daughter, but there area two other girls on the boat. . . and after he kills the bad guy and reunites with his daughter, the other girls are nowhere to be seen. This was confusing to me. I kept thinking as they left the scene, “What about the other girls?!”

4) This last point is more a critique of the daughter’s acting. I was also a little confused at how flippant she seemed after the whole ordeal. No signs of PTSS. Which maybe is fine, maybe it hasn’t hit her yet. I just felt the actress could have looked a little more haunted instead of just really relieved, as if she had lost her iPhone and her dad had found it in his car. But that’s just because I’m a tough critic of acting ;)

I keep trying to write sentences to apologize for being picky. But screw that. When it comes to depictions of women, I am picky. I demand responsibility for what images/messages/whatever that we put out to humanity.

So that being said, despite these four points above, I really liked the film, thought it was quite good and I hope you get a chance to see it!