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5th Avenue Theatre's South Pacific and Legally Blonde
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5th Avenue Theatre's South Pacific and Legally Blonde

By Miryam Gordon, SGN A&E Writer

You may know that Bartlett Sher, the artistic director for the last ten years at Intiman Theatre, is transitioning from Intiman. He's been working part time at the Lincoln Center, in New York, and he's been directing a number of productions that have performed on Broadway in recent years. One of his most acclaimed productions, a Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, will be touring through Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre at the end of January into February.

The 5th Avenue presented a "spotlight night" where Sher talked about how that production opportunity came about and what made it attractive to him to revive. In an amusing moment, Sher dissed the movie version of South Pacific some know and love. He described how powerfully the script spoke to him, and focused on how overcoming racism and xenophobia equated to building a stronger America. His revival is said to be somewhat darker than a feel-good movie about soldiers chasing girls. Sher also described the challenges in casting and his appreciation for some of the main actors who are touring to Seattle. He was specifically adamant that the signature part of Emile De Becque be played be a professional opera singer, due to the particular needs of the singing role.

The 5th Avenue, led by host David Armstrong, also presented a taste of the next musical to come to town, Legally Blonde: The Musical. To introduce that musical, he brought Tony-award winning production Hal Luftig to the stage to describe how this musical came into being. Luftig told about seeing the movie and feeling like there was a real musical story to be told. He realized, with the help of a friend who was a child psychiatrist, that there was a real sociological phenomenon where girls "dumb themselves down," when girls think boys don't want them to be too smart. He thought there was a real value to that underlying story, beside the "pink" and the fluff.

Half of the songwriting team of Laurence (Larry) O'Keefe and his wife, Nell Benjamin, Larry O'Keefe appeared, to talk about how the songs and ideas came together and to sing his songs with the help of Annaleigh Ashford, who has performed in both Legally Blonde and Wicked on Broadway. Ashford showed great charm and talent as she performed a couple of the songs from Legally Blonde. O'Keefe spoke with great love and pride about his wife, Nell, and how they brainstormed a way to appreciate the lives of the young women who felt that their highest achievement would be snagging a smart guy by being the prettiest girl. O'Keefe spoke eloquently about "advocating for something" in the musical and that every character who was proud of his or her best asset ended up finding that the asset also could be a liability and the character maybe had to change.

In addition to introducing these upcoming productions, Armstrong gave an overview of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's show business writing careers, which allowed for some more musical performances of their music. Eric Ankrim (finishing a starring turn as Peter Pan at the Seattle Children's Theater) sang the famous song, Oh! What a Beautiful Morning, from Oklahoma. Jessica Skerritt hammed it up as Ado Annie, singing, I Caint Say No, also from Oklahoma. Patti Cohenour showed her tremendous musical range and power by singing a few R&H songs, including People Will Say We're in Love and If I Loved You.

For those attending, it definitely whetted the appetite for both upcoming shows, and since the spotlights are free, gave anyone who wanted a seat a chance to see and hear top Seattle and Broadway-level talent at work.

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