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Big River floods Taproot stage with music, Mikado charms at Seattle Gilbert&Sullivan, Teatro ZinZanni scores with Gay Queendom
by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Three hit productions opened on Emerald City stages last week. All this and a Seattle Theatre Mystery solved in this week's Bits&Bytes. Read on:

The new edition of Teatro ZinZanni, Quest For a Queendom , might just as well be called Quest For Queerdom. A delighted audience - Gay and straight and whatever - welcomed the new show, continuing through October 19, and cheered endlessly for Seattle's Kevin Kent - "in drag again," as one caustic friend noted. Bits&Bytes will go into complete detail in an upcoming SGN, but, for now, accept that fact that Quest For a Queendom is "the" show for GLBT audiences, loyal locals and visiting GLBT-ers alike, this summer.

Complete ticket details and reservations are available at (206) 802-0015. Yes, it is expensive, but, in reality, not more than a gourmet dinner and a theater ticket would be for another dinner and theater outing. Check it out, and watch this space for full details.

To quote Gilbert and Sullivan (hereafter, "G&S"), "I've Got A Little List" to share with loyal readers this week. At the top of that "must-see" list is the rousing production of The Mikado, playing through July 26 at the Bagley Wright Theatre at the Seattle Center.

One of the best-known songs from their immortal The Mikado, the "I've Got A Little List" patter song, is a highlight of the G&S canon. Since first performed in 1885, KoKo's musical showstopper has always been updated for topical and contemporary satire. A sign of our times (when The New Yorker lampoons a presidential candidate and creates a furor....) shows up in the current "List" with a new lyric that goes: "And that Senator from Idaho/who got busted in the loo/I put him on my list/he's right there on my list." To no one's surprise, the near-capacity crowd went wild last weekend.

Clever staging, on-target direction, a large, talented cast, musical strengths from all perfumers - this Mikado is just what the summer (and the Seattle G&S Society's box office) needs. This Mikado brings a new Nanki-Poo to the Seattle G&S Society stage. The "Wandering Minstrel" is played this year by a talented Parker Albin in his Seattle debut. Dave Ross, the "leading man" for decades, has now been "promoted" to the title role, a supporting role in Act Two but one that Ross makes his own. Ross even gets a bit of new dialog about the "upstart new pretender to the throne." While the jibe is in jest, the casting decision is a wise one and strengthens the whole production.

"Three Little Maids From School Are We," "Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day," "The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring," "A Wandering Minstrel I," and "Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow, Tit-Willow" are just a few of the wonderful musical moments in this magical Mikado. "A must-see" - that says it all.

Ticket details at (206) 341-9612. Expect sell-outs for the popular Saturday matinees.

One of the most charming aspects of Seattle-In-The-Summer theater is the reoccurring Summer Smash Hit at Taproot Theatre in Seattle's north end. While the respected "little theater" has an incredibly loyal audience for its year-round schedule, Emerald City stage fans seem, for no specific reason, to go crazy for Tapoot in the summer. Whether Taproot schedules a "big" Broadway musical - like this year's Big River, or a small, off-Broadway show like Godspell or The Fantasticks, or a British mystery, like the ever-popular Agatha Christie or Lord Peter Wimsey tales - box office records crumble and extensions are almost always the norm.

Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is 2008's big summer musical at Taproot. It runs through August 9 (but expect an extended run for this joyous production). The unlikely Broadway smash, with music and lyrics by Roger ("Dang Me") Miller, won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1985 plus a slew of creative and technical awards.

The Taproot production, with assured direction from Karen Lund, showcases two stars in the making.

Geoffrey Simmons, as Jim, the runaway slave, simply walks away with the show. Bits&Bytes first saw the talented black actor in Olympia at the ambitious Capitol Playhouse in a solid production of the little-known Side Show last season. He will return to the Capitol for a November run of The Three Penny Opera when he will head the cast as Macheath, better known as "Mack the Knife." After his summer at Taproot, Simmons will headline ReAct's Seattle premiere of Defiance, another "D" title from the author of the sensational (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) Doubt. This scribe has no doubt that Simmons will end up on Broadway singing "Old Man River" in the immortal Showboat within the next decade. (Yes, he is that good....)

The other star-in-the-making is Solomon Davis, who makes his few scenes as Tom Sawyer theatrically irresistible. Davis, playing a number of ensemble roles during the show, is one of many bright spots in the cast, but he has the charisma to carry a show on his own.

Big River also features two Taproot regulars in sensational performances. Ryan Childers and Edd Key steal every scene as the Duke and the King, the two con men who dominate the action in the book's (and the musical's) second act. Mark Twain created them, but Childers and Key make them come alive. Their Act One finale, "When the Sun Goes Down In the South (and the Moon Comes Up In the East)," a toe-tapping vaudeville number that recreates the "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute" philosophy, is one of many showstoppers in this infectious musical outing.

The Tony Award-winning music is always a joy, always serviceable and often incredible. At a funeral scene in Act Two, one of the "house slaves" singings a gospel-inspired anthem that stops the show. As Betsy, Yasmin Ravard-Andresen steps out of the ensemble and takes command of the stage - another "star in the making" turn - and belts out "How Blest We Are."

The clever sets, simple but effective, recreate the original engravings from the first edition of the Twain classic - drawn on barn boards at the back of the set, they are an inspired touch. Edd Key, a Taproot irreplaceable, doubles as musical director and (above the stage) musician. For Taproot's GLBT audience members, there a few bonuses - a cross-dressing casting choice early in the show finds several of the female cast members in "boy drag," a spirited production number about the androgynous Royal Nonesuch, "with one big breast in the middle of her chest/and one big eye in the middle of her nose," is another showstopper, and various characters slip in and out of female attire for plot complications.

Taproot deserves full support from the GLBT community and Big River is an easy way to show that support. Ticket information and full details are available at (206) 781-9707. Yeah, go ahead, and tell 'em Bits&Bytes told ya to call.

One of the more perplexing bits of Emerald City theater scheduling - the planned production of Waiting For Godot at the Seattle Rep next season - has finally been explained. Local theater fans - at least those in this scribe's circle of stage fanatics - had openly wondered why the Rep was producing Godot so soon after a fairly recent production. Bill Irwin, once a "New Vaudevillian" but now a respected Tony Award-winning Best Actor (for the acclaimed revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, no less) is set to star. But, he was in the earlier Rep production, and the show is not such an audience favorite that it needs to be done again by the same theater, etc.

Well, The New York Times announced early this week that a new staging of Waiting For Godot, headlining Bill Irwin, will open on Broadway next spring, following a production "at the Seattle Repertory Theatre". Mystery solved. It opens here, gets polished, and heads to New York just in time for Tony Award nomination season. Another case where New York and Seattle are working hand-in-hand. Watch this space for details.

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