SO YOU LIKE your theater edgy? The musical Parade tells a story so grim that at first it seems like the sort of black-humor joke Mel Brooks might cook up for a sequel to The Producers: the 1915 conviction and lynching of Jewish (and, needless to say, innocent) factory manager Leo Frank for the murder of a young girl in Georgia.
5th Avenue Theater ends October 15
It works, quite well, because Alfred Uhry's text is smart and fast-moving; because composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown had the courage to keep a dark undertone through his entire score (if truly memorable moments are few, cheesy moments are nonexistent); and because the two work great together, with arias, production numbers, and dialogue melding so smoothly and effectively that Parade could serve as a model of music-theater construction.
David Pittu and Andrea Burns are excellent as Frank and his steel-magnolia wife Lucille. Pittu, especially, triumphs as a soft-spoken, officious, not entirely likable man with a vein of intensity just under the surface: an unprepossessing character who still rules the stage. He gets to let loose once, stunningly, during false testimony in the trial scene, as he acts out in song and dance the lascivious defiler-of-the-innocent stereotype that anti-Semitic Southerners project onto Frank.
I suppose there's no point complaining about miking in musicals anymore, but my dismay began with Parade's opening number. I saw 30 choristers lined up at the lip of the stage, facing front, belting it out, but I didn't hear any of them, only the speakers. Doesn't anyone realize how great a distance the sound system puts between the actors and the audience? Intimacy and immediacy are not enhanced just because everything's louder—they're destroyed. Shouldn't musical theater be more than just a cast album with visuals?
EVERY TIME a theater puts on a production of Hamlet, a kid laces up his big brother's boxing gloves and steps into the ring of 400 years of theatrical critique and dramatic obsession. Seattle Shakespeare Company opens their 10th season with their premiere production of Hamlet—a presentation that marks their yearning for maturity and commitment to identifying themselves as a solidified Shakespearean venue, yet which also reveals their rougher edges as a comparatively young company.
Seattle Shakespeare Company ends October 29
Artistic director Stephanie Shine conducts a version of this challenging play that deals inconsistently with both the text and the virtues of a high-energy cast. Jason Cottle debuts with the company in a performance as the Prince of Denmark that draws from a heightened tension. Both Carol Roscoe (Gertrude) and Sally Smythe (Ophelia) construct strong female presences out of familiar yet complex characters, while the rest of the cast falls back on sustained animation to execute their roles. There are rare and rewarding moments when the actors cultivate a shared and quiet energy. A wonderful bit occurs when Hamlet asks the courtier Guildenstern to play the recorder. However, elsewhere a constantly elevating pitch creates a lot of shouting (at ghosts, as soliloquies, and at one another); the slow crescendo of emotion is lost in the noise.
The production inexplicably diverts from a classical interpretation by setting the tale in another era. This type of whimsical transposition can succeed in the lighter of the Bard's plays, like A Midsummer Night's Dream, without the audience doing a double take. Here, unfortunately, the great tragedy becomes fraught with layers of (perhaps unintended) meaning.
Any interpretation of Hamlet reveals more about the director's artistic vision than the script itself: Goethe's Hamlet was a prototype for the modern intellectual, Coleridge wrote of the character as a romantic contemplator, and T.S. Elliot believed the play to be entirely based on classical Latin studies. Thus it's no surprise that this production comes off as overzealous and lacking in the gravity that can only be provided by experience. As the Seattle Shakespeare Company makes the transition from festival to full-time company, we have the opportunity to watch them mature into a body that channels the intensity of the texts and stretches its boundaries. With this version of Hamlet, however, it was not to be.