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'The Tutor' at Village: an education in delightful theatre

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The Tutor

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A show 12 years in the making, "The Tutor" started as a collection of songs that scored three Richard Rogers Awards before grabbing the attention of Village's Executive Director Robb Hunt. Village Originals presented it in 2004, mounted a developmental production the following year, and now it has opened as a fully fledged production on Village's mainstage.

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A refreshing new musical with engaging characters, "The Tutor" follows the story of foppish academic Edmund (Eric Ankrim) and the, like, totally over it 16-year-old Sweetie (Katie Griffith) who he's trying to prepare for the SATs. Edmund tutors "stupid rich kids" so he can keep working on his novel, but while he first writes off Sweetie, she eventually shows great narrative intuition and inspires his work. Matthew Kacergis and Kirstin deLohr Helland play Edmund's wide variety of fictional characters as he works out the plot (and the setting) to great comedic effect. Kacergis also does a spin as Sweetie's high school crush Bo and Helland as a super hippie vegan activist.

The music is catchy and delightful with wonderful lyrics, especially in the first act. Hugh Hasting's musical asides as Sweetie's father are so funny and real, and he brought the house down with "Little Choo Choo," discussing how his little engine just can't anymore. The book is very sharp with plenty of quippy one-liners to keep the audience laughing, especially under David Ira Goldstein's flawless direction.

Ankrim, who played the part in both the workshop and the developmental production, is charming and wonderful and ever so talented. He does a good job as Edmund, too. Griffith's Sweetie is torn from the pages of Duh Magazine with plenty of attitude to spare. Beth DeVries and Hastings are both hilarious as the clueless parents of a bratty teen they don't understand, but their love for her is clear. Their subplot is actually really touching and adds depth to the stereotypical WASP household.

The biggest hurtle in this production is the relationship between Edmund and Sweetie. Sweetie develops a crush on Edmund (and who could blame her) and Edmund continues to enlist Sweetie's help in writing an epic romance with some purple scenes in it -- in fact one of the best songs in the show, "Feels Like Home," is Sweetie helping Edmund rewrite a love scene so it's less static. It also serves as Edmund's epiphany that Sweetie might be more than she seems.

However, in order for the audience to feel comfortable and not get distracted by a college graduate being close with a 16-year-old girl, the boundaries of their relationship need to be more strictly defined. The script tries to justify this by having Sweetie's dad write off Edmund as nonthreatening and giving Edmund a girlfriend -- who we never meet -- but it's not really enough to quiet the inner "Is this appropriate?" alarm. Don't worry, nothing does happen between them, but it was a little stressful wondering. (One possible solution is maybe Edmund's girlfriend should be named Alberta and live in Vancouver, if you catch my meaning. It would definitely take care of any possibility that Edmund and Sweetie could ever have a romance and would probably end up being a pretty funny scene between the two.)

Also, a quick side note: I will be the first admit that I love my steaks rare, my gloves leather, and my ice cream with dairy in it, but the amount of snarky vegan jokes could be cut in half.

I mean, this show really milks it.

Thank you, I'll be here all night! Don't try the veal, but please go see "The Tutor" at Village. Beyond supporting a new work at a great local theatre, it's a funny and heartwarming night of entertainment and well worth checking out.

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"The Tutor" at Village Theatre

Issaquah Run: Now through April 27, 2014, tickets ($30-$65)
Everett Run: May 2 – 25, 2014, tickets ($25 - $60)

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