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Traditional & Progressive Musicals With Broadway Aspirations Try Out In Seattle

Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda start their road to New York in "Ernest Shackelton Loves Me."
Wade McCollum and Valerie Vigoda start their road to New York in "Ernest Shackelton Loves Me."http://ernestshackletonlovesme.tumblr.com/

Broadway Bound Musicals

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The best thing about theatre that hasn’t made it to Broadway is you get to see it before everyone else- or you get to see it period and it never makes it beyond the out of town tryout.

Musical based upon "A Room with a View" has been trying out across the country. Is NYC next?
Musical based upon "A Room with a View" has been trying out across the country. Is NYC next?5thavenuetheatre.org

It is common practice for a show to playing for months (even years) outside of New York as it is developed and strengthened before it makes it to New York. Othertimes, they just cut their losses due to poor reception prior to its Broadway debut – or worse yet, it closes out of town as funding was lost.

So a trip to Seattle was a welcome getaway in seeking out theatre – so I can see it before most of America. I happen to catch two shows in Seattle – and both have promise for a great future.

First, there’s the musical version of “A Room with a View.” I happen to see it at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre a few years back and wanted to see why it’s been derailed and hasn’t made it to New York yet.

In San Diego, I went to the first preview and wasn’t allowed to write about it. Previews are great for ironing out kinks in a new theatre. In La Jolla, there were many kinks – mostly related to equipment failure and ill-timed set changes.

Now it’s taking on Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and has strengthened the show a bit, almost making it ready for New York (even though 15-20 minutes should be cut prior to finding a home in the Big Apple).

Like at the Old Globe, “Room with a View” has an amazing theatrical event that will always be the musical’s shining moment: recreating the book and movie’s skinny dipping scene. It’s memorable not for the full frontal male nudity – that is actually innocent enough. But to be able to make a pond on stage where characters are diving and frolicking is almost worth the price of admission in itself. There seems to be more attention to the male nudity with a PG-13 warning to guests. But at the end of the day, it’s the semantics itself that should draw your attention.

Otherwise, “A Room with a View” has taken great strides at improvement as it continues to inch towards the Great White Way. While the sets were more grandiose in San Diego, they actually caused a lot of the glitches in that production. Now simplified, ridding itself of likely headache, streamlined sets do not hurt the story or production values.

Cast-wise, overall everyone is in top form. The true standout is Louis Hobson as George Emerson, who started out a bit underwhelming to me (as a character and not an actor). But when Hobson sings, he melts away any concerns of his lackadaisical character and make you take notice of him as a performer and truly enjoy his singing as well as acting. I’ve seen him on Broadway but in smaller roles so I didn’t take notice. Now he has my attention. In one song he is able to hold two long, strong notes in close succession, which might have caused light headedness and a shaky voice from a lesser talent. But Hobson takes those notes head-on and commands your attention.

“Room” still has some tidying up to do before it finds a home on the Broadway stage. But it’s off to a great start. Get tickets and information at www.5thavenue.org.

Seattle also was the starting point to the musical “Ernest Shackelton Loves Me,” a progressive, inventive show that uses real history and mixes it with multi-media staging and production values and tosses in a fictional love story. Think of it as “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” but kill off Bill or Ted and add a lot of intelligence and wit.

The show, which is already Off-Broadway bound, focuses on Valerie Vigoda’s Kat character – a definite hipster who hates the world and decides to vent via her video blog. Some how she conjures up Ernest Shackelton, a real long dead explorer, who relates to her blog and professes his love for her via tele-conference. The form of Edward comes in that of Wade McCollum, one of my absolute favorite actors as he has mesmerized me in everything he has done. He embodies every part he plays – and he often plays many parts. He first won me over in TheatreWorks’ “Fly By Night,” which is opening Off-Broadway any minute. Then he captivated me and everyone in the audience on his national tour of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert.” And let’s not forget his complex tongue-in-cheek role on the excellent internet series “Submissions Only.”

All of that aside, McCollum brings great spirit and charisma to the part of Shackelton – and all of the other characters in the show (he plays every part other than Kat).

McCollum’s talent, for me, was expected and appreciated. But it was quite a joy to discover Vigoda for the first time. She exudes talent not only with her stage attitude (needed for the role) and her singing, but she wrote the lyrics and plays the electric violin in the show. She likely can be one of the few people to pull off a one woman show. But with “Shackelton” she doesn’t have to.

The duo’s talents are often able to shine thanks to Vigoda’s lyrics which perfectly blends with Brendan Millburn’s music. The two are quite the yin/yang duo. Their modern, melodic rhythms and rhymes might help bring a younger hipper audience to the theatre. It also doesn’t hurt to have a magical book written by Tony Winner Joe DiPetro – a surprisingly big talent to offer his words to such a seemingly less flashy production.

Alexander V. Nichols and his team of designers, engineers and technicians truly elevate the show as well. While there is no official set change in the 90 minute musical, there is still a lot of action and interactive innovation going on stage, using video, film, sound, tape and wondrous special effects.

This is thoroughly enjoyable production that definitely needs to make it to New York. Follow its progress at www.ernestshackletonlovesme.tumblr.com.

Both shows easily demonstrate how Seattle will not be forgotten as the breeding ground of developing theatre.