One is a venerable golden age Broadway drama, the other a musical that was short-lived on the Great White Way yet has thrived in regional revivals ever since. Seeing the two just days apart in such impressive productions made me appreciate how timely and timeless the subject of Americans at work really is. Herewith are my reviews of ArtsWest’s Death of a Salesman and Showtunes’ Working.
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is represented handsomely in Artistic Director Mathew Wright’s confident hands at ArtsWest Playhouse. Beyond the Miller script, the linchpin role of Willy Loman has lured the likes of Lee J. Cobb, Frederic March, George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, and Brian Dennehy. Hoffman and Dennehy won Tony’s as Best Actor for the role. In this staging David Pichette brings all the colors and shadings you would wish for to the character, all the while keeping us from wavering in our sympathy towards his plight and struggles.
David Pichette gives a career high performance in a demanding role he is more than up to. Pichette’s Willy is a canny mixture of false bravado, duplicity, regret, deep pain, and sorrow. After a series of charming but lesser roles in other musicals, this is the kind of meaty show an actor of his stature deserves to be doing.
Huzzahs are equally due to the achingly moving work of Eleanor Moseley as his wife Linda, a stoic, yet warm lady who is finally pushed to the borders of unleashing deep anger she has harbored. Drew Highlands and Kyle Anton, as Biff and Happy respectively, played their roles as apples who didn’t fall far from their Father’s tree. Anton was perhaps more consistent in the less demanding role of Happy, but Highlands’ performance peaked in Act Two in his electrically charged scenes with Pichette. Tee Dennard was warm and funny as the wise and practical neighbor Charley, and Kevin Kelly scored as Charley’s son Bernard, Biff’s high school geek friend who has become a real success story. Jason Sanford is perfect as the officious and condescending Howard, Willy’s boss who was handed the rains of his Father’s company and is dispassionate to Willy’s cries for help. Allan Armstrong is chilling as Uncle Ben, and Dedra D Woods and Emily Jo Testa serve their multiple roles well.
Lighting Designer Ryan Dunn, Costume Designer Brynne McKeen, Scenic Designer Christopher Mumaw, and Sound Designer Haley Parcher all deserve hearty applause for the above-par production design of the show. If you go as a Pichette fan that’s reason enough to attend, but you will reap many other rewards as you see this company bring renewed life to Death of a Salesman.
Death of a Salesman runs April 28-May 29 at ArtsWest (4711 California Ave. SW, Seattle, WA 98116). Tickets (ranging from $17-$37.50) are on sale now and may be purchased online at artswest.org or by phone at 206-938-0339, or at the box office Friday-Saturday 1:30-7:30pm and Sunday 11am-3pm.
“Hey somebody don’t you wanna hear the story of my life?” is a lyric by Stephen Schwartz that sums up the form and content of the musical Working. The show is based on Studs Terkel’s interview book with real working Americans which he and Nina Faso created for an unsuccessful Broadway run in 1978.
Over the years the show has won respect and near constant regional and amateur audiences, whereas the Broadway run suffered from a lack of star casting (though a songless star-to-be Patti Lu Pone was in the cast) and overproduction. The script and score have constantly been revised and updated through the years, generally to the show’s advantage. Some songs (in a score by multiple and diverse collaborators) went by the wayside while Schwartz and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights and Hamilton) added new ones.
Showtunes Theatre Company just ended a weekend run of the revised version and got permission to add back the cut songs. Given the Showtunes model of “musicals in concert” this was a genius move. Where else do you hear a show with contributions by not only Schwartz and Miranda, but also pop and Broadway songwriters the likes of James Taylor, Mary Rodgers, Susan Birkenhead, Micki Grant, and Craig Carnelia? Ace Director Timothy McCuen Piggee and Musical Director Mark Rabe found a perfect case to act and sing the hell out of this show.
With a cast that never had a strike-out, there were many triples and several home runs. Cheryl Massey-Peters was touching, then chilling, as a career teacher who is at a loss in a job in which Nobody Tells Me How. Iris Elton served an exuberantly comic turn on It’s An Art, which celebrates the skill-set needed to waitress. John Deveney offered a sweet and never maudlin delivery of Joe about a retired man. Allan Barlow was spirited as a long-haul trucker in the aptly titled Brother Trucker.
New (to me) talents to watch for included Nick Clawson in his heartfelt and tenderly sung The Mason. J. Reese‘s talent made up for his youthful demeanor on the car-park ace Lovin’ Al. Dominic Michael Lewis gave us the sweetly plaintive Mexican farmworker’s lament Un Mejor Dia Vendra. Up and coming leading man Matt Giles soared vocally on Fathers and Sons, though dramatically I found him rather too reserved.
The heavy-hitters were Nicholas Ponting and Corinna Lapid Munter’s beautifully realized, restrained, and gorgeously sung work on the searingly poignant care-givers song A Very Good Day, Alexandra Henderson’s smoking hot grocery clerk number I’m Just Moving, as well as her fierce ode to Cleanin’ Women with ace backup from Elton and Lapid Munter. Saving the best for last, Anne Allgood’s stoic garment factory worker tears us apart with the haunting Millwork and Frances Leah-King serves us a detailed and searingly emotional examination of what it feels to be thought of as Just A Housewife. Pianist Mark Rabe performs with 3 other top-notch musicians, providing perfectly pitched backup for the vocalists, who as a unit killed it on ensemble showstoppers If I Could Have Been and Something to Point To.
Showtunes is moving to 3 performances a run for its soon to be announced 2016-17 season. There is no other company continuously devoted to preserving lost and forgotten musicals, and now to cultivating new works as well. They have found a great long-term home in Benaroya Hall’s IIsley Nordstrom Recital Hall. For more on the company’s history and new season offerings visit showtuhestheatre.org.