August Wilson Remembered

Seattle stands up for its favorite playwright. Plus: Opera news and the city's new groove.

It's a riddle: How can a theater be filled to capacity and the seats remain cold? When the program is in honor of the talents of recently deceased Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright August Wilson, it's easy. Fans filed into the rows of the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Wilson's artistic home in Seattle, only to rise to their feet time and time again following dazzling performances by a host of bright stars, among them Charlayne Woodard, Cynthia Jones, Ruben Santiago Hudson, Keith Randolph Smith, and Stephen McKinley Henderson. Highlights included an extended excerpt from Wilson's acclaimed play Jitney, set in 1977, part of Wilson's cycle of 10 plays that chronicle the 20th-century African-American experience. In the author's 1996 address "The Ground on Which I Stand," Wilson stressed his belief in the American theater: "I believe in its power to inform about the human condition, its power to heal, its power to hold the mirror, as t'were, up to nature. . . . " If the audience's reaction to the Seattle Repertory's tribute was any reflection, his beliefs were well founded. SUZANNE BEAL

CITY PHONES GET FUNKY

This week, the city of Seattle debuted OnHold, a program that replaces the music callers used to hear when put on hold with selections by various local artists. Seattle-area musicians are encouraged to submit their CDs for review, but who exactly is playing DJ for the new program? Project lead Nate Brown says the city plans to put together a panel of musicians and other arts types to choose the mix, but in the meantime, it's up to him and other city employees. "I love American popular music," he says, including jazz. Currently, his MP3 player is set to the sounds of John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. Although applications will be screened partly based on "appropriateness for a public phone system," Brown emphasizes, "We want a really diverse mix." For info: www.ci.seattle.wa/us/html/onhold. MARISA MCQUILKEN

OPERA PREPARES FOR TAKEOFF

Seattle Opera said Monday it has commissioned an opera slated for a May 2010 premiere, titled Amelia, by composer Daron Hagen and librettist Gardner McFall, based on the theme of aviation. The announcement led us to Hagen's Web site (www.daronhagen.com). He's a gratifyingly daring choice, a composer with an interesting and acclaimed operatic track record, including Bandanna, which includes a mariachi band in its orchestration; Shining Brow, a tragedy based on the life of Frank Lloyd Wright; and Vera of Las Vegas, in which the title character is a transvestite lap dancer. This is a major, and rare, step for any opera company, and the first time during the tenure of General Director Speight Jenkins that Seattle Opera is flying solo with a commission (Florencia in the Amazon, heard here in 1998 and 2005, was a co-commission with companies in Los Angeles and Houston). GAVIN BORCHERT

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