SCT's Cat in the Hat delights all ages, Count Basie Orchestra sizzles at Jazz Alley
by Milton W. Hamlin -
SGN A&E Writer
'We look to the future though our pasts,' an old adage revived for the American Bicentennial in 1976, is a phrase that often haunts this writer. Last week, two shows in two days brought that philosophic statement vividly to life in 2012 in Seattle, WA, U.S.A.
Seattle Children's Theatre's incredibly sly and funny The Cat in the Hat and, most unlikely, a two-night Emerald City stay by the legendary Count Basie Orchestra at Jazz Alley seemed destined to be linked in the most improbable manner. Read on, dear reader, for details.
THE CAT IN THE HAT
SEATTLE CHILDREN'S THEATRE
Through October 28
Seattle Children's Theatre, one of the top five theaters for family audiences in the country, celebrated the opening of its 40th season with a smash staging of Dr. Seuss' immortal (and, perhaps, immoral) fable, The Cat in the Hat. Of all of the works of the prolific Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat seems the most improbable source for a stage play. With just 220 words, the book - a sly narrative about naughty children and an even naughtier visiting Cat made immortal with Dr. S's cartoon illustrations - is probably beloved by 98 percent of American children and those who are now adults. But, to make a full-length stage adaptation? Impossible. Or so it would seem.
The National Theatre of Great Britain, like many European theater groups, is highly respected for its adult stagings but equally famed for its children's or family productions. (Once, long ago, major Seattle theater had a children's 'branch' or a Theatre in the Park silly summer touring company. Alas, that is basically gone. But missed.) The National commissioned Katie Mitchell to adapt and direct the original British production. If she lived in Seattle, she would be at the top of The Stranger's Genius Awards list. Adding no dialog and no extra characters, Mitchell turned those 220 words into a masterpiece of theatricality.
'Endlessly inventive' sounds like a cliché but it clearly defines the incredible fun this script provides. Seattle's Wiz-Wonder-Of- All-Things-Theatrical, R. Hamilton Wright (actor, director, adapter, married to the beautiful Katie Forgette, in her own right a successful author of a wonderful Irish-set family comedy/drama that needs to be revived), was wisely given the task of staging this European family smash. Linda Hartzell, SCT's artistic director - one of the most talented directors and A.D.'s in the country - knew what she was doing. Wright is the right director of this romp. And romp it does.
This scribe took his soon-to-be 11-year-old granddaughter and her two best friends. They are Miss V., the granddaughter and fifth-grade ringleader, Miss A., cool and collected and in sixth grade, and another Miss V., a 10th grader. And they are a powerful trio.
Miss V., granddaughter, thought the Cat stole the show. Well, yes, indeed, he did. Miss A., as usual, 'liked everything.' Miss V. #2 loved 'it all' but especially liked the Fish. While all of the script and the Seattle production are incredibly funny, Allen Galli, aka the Fish, was, perhaps, the most imaginative character - in the writing, the performance, and the staging.
To play the Fish, who is in a fishbowl most of the time, the author calls for an actor in a tuxedo, wearing a salmon colored shirt, salmon colored tie, and salmon colored socks. (Get it? Sure you do.) Galli's sly, deadpan delivery, underplaying every syllable and thus stealing every scene, will never be forgotten by the Trio. (Disclosure: Galli is an old theater chum of this writer. Talent attracts talent, so to speak.)
After the fun-filled 75-minute show breezed by, the actors and technicians invited the capacity crowd of every age imaginable to stay for a quick, zippy 'talk.' On the way out, Galli autographed the programs of the Trio. A Wow! Pow! Zowie! time for everyone.
The Cat in the Hat continues through October 28. One word: Go!
In a moment of quiet reflection: The success of SCT and all of the talented people who work there and create such high quality family theater is, in great part, the heritage of three women at the University of Washington who trained, teased, pushed, and loved all of 'their' family of future children's-and-family theater 'kids.' They are the late, beloved Agnes Haaga (the Energizer Bunny of the trio), Geraldine Siks (author, playwright, and teacher known to many as 'Gerry 6') and the still-vibrant Aurora Valentinetti, puppeteer extraordinaire - whom this scribe is overdue in taking to lunch). Thanks to all three.
THE COUNT BASIE ORCHESTRA
While laugh-out-loud moments and near-constant giggles marked the matinee at The Cat in the Hat, the exact same sounds dominated the press table for three at Jazz Alley when the legendary Count Basie Orchestra stopped by for a two-night gig en route to Taiwan and Australia at the beginning of October.
The 19-piece ensemble (yes, dear reader, 19!) was led by the tall, handsome Dennis Mackrel, who joined Basie's outfit as a young drummer in 1983. Also on hand was blast-from-the-past singer Carmen Bradford, the last vocalist actually hired by The Count himself. Bradford stayed with the band for many years after joining in 1985, returning several years ago. And what a return it was.
Bradford, a terrific vocalist, took command of the stage without batting an eye. In a stunning, full-length black opera cape over a simple black classic column, she looked every inch the Diva she was. An incredible voice, Bradford anchored the last section of the glorious concert. Her three songs and her open, accessible on-stage and off-stage demeanor added a terrific boost to an already incredible evening. Physically, she was the epitome of the glamorous era of the 1930s and '40s. Vocally, she was simply terrific - a combination that will linger in the memory for years.
All of the Basie classics were there, many of them semi-obscure to all but the most dedicated fans. Founded in 1935, the band has been in constant performance since then.
'While the Rolling Stones guys brag about their 50 years of longevity, we've got 'em beat,' Mackrel said. Delivered with affectionate bragging from the bandstand, his comment clearly delighted the appreciative, wildly enthusiastic audience that could, literally, not stop cheering all evening.
'Well, I've got THEM beat,' laughed the legendary Ruby Bishop at the SGN press table. Bishop, affectionately known as the 'Queen of Seattle Piano,' started playing at age 14 in 1934 'in a speakeasy' now long forgotten. At 92 ('and proud of it!'), she still packs 'em in every Saturday and Sunday night from 6 to 9 p.m. at the reopened and hot-hot-hot Mad Men-styled Vito's at 9th and Madison. The legendary 'Mafia dive bar' is now a sleek retro nightclub, music lounge, restaurant, and bar with live music performances every night. Great food. Terrific wait staff. As they say, 'Be There or Be Square.'
The SGN table included Bishop and this scribe and another Seattle 'Queen,' the oh-so-shy 'Queen of Canlis,' another legend at the table. Canlis engraved her name on her own personal champagne flute - talk about class!
The two women - 'Two Roses with a Thorn' as this trio is sometimes called - laughed and clapped as the Basie band stopped the show with every selection. 'Shiny (Silk) Stockings' was the unexpected winner of the night for the SGN troupe. The two 'roses' and this 'thorn' - all admittedly 'well past 39' - whooped it up big-time in a glorious trip down Memory Lane.
While the Count Basie Orchestra has finished its two concerts in Taiwan and is now in Australia for a two-week tour 'everywhere down there,' SGN readers are reading this reflection of a moment in Seattle jazz history. As the song goes, 'The Song Is Ended, But the Melody Lingers On.' And what a melody.
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