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Little Women delights, Puppetry of the Penis hangs out, My Fair Lady returns
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Week after week, Seattle's amazing arts calendar continues to delight the Emerald City's many performing arts fans. This week is no exception. The contrasts, alone, have this scribe's head spinning. The most elegant musical ever created, My Fair Lady, makes a welcome one-week return to the Paramount Theatre, and Little Women continues to delight family audiences at the Village Theatre as it ends its Issaquah stay and shifts to three weeks in Everett. Both are perfect family shows. Over at ACT, the scandalous Puppetry of the Penis returns to Seattle with performances all next week. Local arts also offer a wide range of entertainment choices - often at free events in neighborhood restaurants or coffee bars. Read on:

The Village Theatre in Issaquah is committed to producing new musical works each year. This year's premiere is an "all new" edition of Little Women, a family-friendly musical adapted from the beloved book by Louisa May Alcott. (Be sure to see last week's SGN for a fascinating, detailed article relating the back-story of this musical version and how this edition got to the Northwest.) There is so much to like about this detailed, often diverting Little Women that it seems churlish to mention that the music is simply not very good. "Serviceable" it may be, memorable it is not. To be fair, a number of colleagues in the Seattle Press Corps (and even in the SGN Writer's Group) loved the show. In truth, most audiences (and critics) who loved the show, actually love Alcott and the original novel.

There's nothing really wrong about the sweeping score and the spirited musical numbers. It's just "there" with little to take home, humming or otherwise.

"But, my daughter and I loved the show," one colleague countered. "My mother read me the book when I was about nine - it was the [actual] same book my grandmother read to her when she was a child. Honest to God!" Right. And, VT audiences who loved the book will love the musical.

Performances are all solid, sound and appealing. Anne Allgood, as Marmee, the Mother of all Mothers, is solid and sound. Who wouldn't want Marmee as their mother? The sisters are delightful, clear-cut, obvious stereotypes. The first time Beth coughs, you know the tragic end in store. No problem there, but little drama, either. Jo, the spirited central character, is full of spunk and sauciness - Katharine Hepburn triumphed in the 1930s film version in this role. Strangely, supporting characters are more vivid then the main roles - "One Big Song" types win in this case.

(Aside: This scribe has unexpectedly immersed himself in a series of chick lit staples - and loved every one of them. Critics trounced 27 Dresses, but Bits&Bytes himself loved it. Watched a double bill of Becoming Jane and The Jane Austin Book Club on a recent East Coast to West Coast flight. Loved them both, despite critical drubbing. Expected to love Little Women. Enjoyed it, didn't love it. A 1995 Broadway version was scheduled to use this musical score, but it was jettisoned and assigned to another composing team. "Liked" that flawed musical as well - seen here on a national tour at the Paramount. Didn't love it. Go figure....)

Little Women continues at the Village Theatre in Issaquah with matinee and evening performances through Sunday. Details at (425) 392-2202. The full production shifts to the Everett Performing Arts Center next week for a May 2-18 three-week stay. Details at (425) 257-8600. Like many Seattle-based musical theater fans, Mr. Bits&Bytes prefers weekend matinees - no bridge traffic, little freeway congestion. A sweet show for sweet people. Check it out.

Puppetry of the Penis returns to Seattle next week for an April 29-May 4 run at ACT Theatre. An astonishing show that turned into an astonishing hit when it played the Moore Theatre several seasons back, the encore visit will be "up close and personal." The Moore seats 1600 people, more or less. ACT seats about 600, so "more" will not be less in this all-nude male revue celebrating the penis, testicles and other "family jewels."

For the uninitiated, or "penis virgins" who are reading this in SGN, Puppetry of the Penis is exactly what it seems. Two men - and this visit brings a new cast to the Emerald City - stand naked in front of an audience and make "puppets" out of their cock and balls. The best, and easiest, example to imagine is "The Hamburger." The naked men - who enter stark naked but wearing flowing Captain America-type capes - manipulate their "special parts" to resemble a hamburger. They twist their balls sideways, insert their flaccid penis, and presto - The Hamburger. No mustard, no relish, no lettuce or tomato, but a very basic hamburger - buns and meat.

Like uncles on alcohol of childhood memories (and nightmares) who did hand puppets, by throwing shadows on the wall by ruining my mother's best table lamp, Puppetry of the Penis creates remarkable facsimiles of puppetry wizardry. The "origami" is incredible - and causes open cries of pain from audience men who relate all too well.

In past Seattle visits, the audience has been as interesting as the two stars of the show. Pairs, trios, quartets of openly (or possibly) Gay men sit in the front rows (equipped with binoculars, of course....). Giggling groups of "girls," young women off on a bachelor party to remember or a birthday outing you'll never forget, laugh throughout the show, fueled by too many cosmopolitans beforehand. Awkward male/female couples sit astounded at what they won off KING-FM.

A female comic opens the show, bridging the awkwardness between reality and male nudity. Peggy Platt was "horribly gross and offensive" to my guest years ago, but this year's woman opener faces the same possible criticism. Advice: Just relax and enjoy this truly "once in a lifetime experience." This "all new" (but really the same old cock and ball tricks) show is billed as "The Res-ERECTION Tour." Love it - truth in advertising, at last.

Publicity ads include this: "Warning: This Show May Contain Traces Of Nuts!" Tongue-in-cheek the ad may be, but reality it is. (To misquote Jerry McGuire, "You had me at nuts." - Mr. Bits&Bytes is so easy.) Ticket information and reservations at (206) 292-4204. Group sales (imagine!!) at (253) 839-4202. Vanity Fair magazine called the show "Demented." Don't disagree & check it out.

The Seattle Philharmonic Orchestra presents the Northwest premiere of Symphony No. 2 by Roque Cordero at the group's Sunday afternoon concert this Sunday, April 27 at 3 p.m. at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus.

The Festive Finale concert ends the 2007-08 season for the talented group. Beethoven's rarely-performed King Stephen Overture , Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto and Brahms' Academic Festival Overture complete the program.

Tickets, general admission, are $18 with student/senior/family discounts available. Details at (206) 528-6878. Budget-minded music fans should remember that parking in the adjacent Meany Hall parking garage is free on Sundays.

Many musical theater fans consider My Fair Lady to be the "perfect musical." A superb blending of music, drama, dance, strong characterizations, incredible costumes and memorable setting - "what more could you ask?" one critic pondered when it debuted on Broadway in the mid-1950s. Various touring companies and varied revivals have visited Seattle many times, starting in 1958 (when a college-age Bits&Bytes encountered this charming musical, his first professional staging), and it will undoubtedly visit many times in future decades.

The Lerner & Loewe classic runs April 29-May 1 - just one week - at the Paramount Theatre as part of the Broadway Across America series. Tickets purchased in person at the box office - one of the best box office crews in town - have no added service fees - that's a "must" for budget conscious theater fans. Complete information is available at (206) 292-ARTS. Check it out.

The upcoming world premiere of Shrek: The Musical opens in August at the 5th Avenue Theatre, which sent HAIRSPRAY on to Tony Award-winning success in New York (let's omit the LONE STAR LOVE Broadway-bound fiasco that didn't make it out of Seattle). This Sunday, the 5th offers its free (yes, Bits&Bytes loves that word) Spotlight "Night" at 3 in the afternoon.

Many of the New York-based creators (composer, writer, director) and several members of the Broadway cast will attend and discuss the creative process involved in turning the beloved animated cartoon (one of this scribe's favorite films of the last decade) into an "all singing, all dancing" Broadway musical. Disney did it with Beauty and the Beast and again with The Lion King. Gut-level feeling is that Shrek will be a box office smash - here and in New York. Free tickets and complete information is available at (206) 625-1900.

In times of economic recession (or whatever it is that is taking the money away....), free events offer a wise alternative to big-ticket shows and concerts. Interspersing free outings with more costly choices also helps balance the arts budget - a free night at a local coffeehouse and a "rush" ticket to a challenging play with "mixed" reviews or an "interesting" program at the symphony would allow a big-budget spurge to a lavish touring show like My Fair Lady or front-row seats at a favorite rock act. Read on:

Marc Smason, "trombone and voice," plays tonight (April 25) at Gallery 1412, 1412 18th Ave. (@ E. Union St.) from 8 to 10 p.m. Augmented by musicians on reeds, guitar, bass and drums, the Free World ensemble offers a mixed repertoire well worth checking out. (Full disclosure: Smason and his on-stage, off-stage "main squeeze," Joanne Klein, are "bestest buddies" of this writer.) Check it out - for free.

On Monday nights, starting next Monday, April 28, Smason appears along with Michael Gotz at Mug in Renton. Again, it's a free event, 8-10 p.m. Details at (206) 772-3157.

Friday, May 2, finds the busy, busy Smason and company at the Environmental Film Festival at Johnson Hall at the University of Washington from 7:30-9:30 p.m. Earlier that night, Smason teams with pianist Craig Hoyer at the La-La Outdoor Spectacular, taking place "all over town," Occidental Park to Harbor Steps, from 5:30-7 p.m.

Smason reminds "loyal readers" that his latest CD, A Better World, is "still available" at all of his gigs.

The hardworking Bill Anschell is another local favorite of this scribe. The pianist has three gigs tonight - all at Egan's Ballard Jam House, all following each other. And all are part of the Ballard Jazz Walk. As "The Bill Anschell Trio," the talented keyboard artist opens the evening with a 9-10 p.m. set. At 10:30 p.m., another musician joins the three, turning the group into The Ziggurat Quartet. At midnight, the core trio returns to the stage with saxophonist Brent Jensen and becomes (yep, you got it) The Brent Jensen Quartet. All three gigs are "free" with the Jazz Walk $15 advance ticket/$20 Friday purchases - which admits patrons to 11 other "jazz joints" in Ballard Friday night. That's 12 jazz clubs (often transformed venues just for the night) for one low price - with three events at Egan's alone. Check it out.

On Sunday, Anschell and The Brent Jensen Quartet appear at the monthly Jazz and Pancake Brunch at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard. The breakfast/brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., costs $10 and includes "all-you-can-eat pancakes" plus juices, eggs, breakfast meats, coffee, etc. Bits&Bytes has enjoyed every excursion to the monthly event. "Chew quietly," Bill cautions, "and you'll hear plenty of original music in a surprisingly conductive venue." One added note from Anschell: "Letefish will not be served."

Next Saturday, May 3, Bill and Jeff Johnson will team at Tula's in Belltown to become, for one night only, "The Bill Anschell/Jeff Johnson Quartet." The 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. evening will feature mainly original compositions by both musicians. "This is a band that won't hit you over the head," Anschell noted. "Expect fewer notes per second, but hopefully each note will count for that much more." There is a $12 cover for the four-hour program. Such a deal....

A terrific new group that has quickly become one of Bits&Bytes' favorite musical excursions is, delightfully, named Miss Rose & Her Rhythm Percolators. The group - a trio one week, a quartet at another gig - specializes in novelty numbers from the 1920s and '30s. Sunga Rose leads the group with vocals and ukulele strumming. It's always been a delightful night for this scribe with Miss Rose & Her Rhythm Percolators.

The group plays tonight at a free event at Third Place Books in the Lake Forest Park Shopping Center from 7:30 to 10 p.m. "This is our first time playing a venue that has a dance floor, so I would love to see some folks using it," Miss Rose enthused. Check it out. Cut a rug in your raccoon coat and straw boater.

All Fridays in May finds Miss Rose & Co. at the Pink Door in the Pike Place Market corridor. Playing from 9 p.m. to midnight each Friday in May, the free, no-cover event is sure to build a whole new crowd for the terrifically entertaining group.

The Sorrento Hotel's elegant lobby bar, The Fireside Room, welcomes Miss Rose on Saturday May 17 for a 9 p.m. to midnight outing. It's another free event.

Later in the month, Miss Rose plays the Juan deFuca Festival of the Arts in Port Angeles and the Crossroads Shopping Center in Bellevue. "Then," Miss Rose gushed, "we are finally heading into the recording studio for our first album" which is expected to be "ready in late June." Watch this space for details.

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