Celebrating PRIDE at The 5th

By KWAPI VENGESAYI, Community Engagement Specialist

During the run of the Tony Award winning musical, Fun Home, The 5th Avenue Theatre hosted a series of insightful free-to-the-community events. Featuring presentations, spoken word performances and guest panels with Gay City, PFLAG, ArtsWest and other community leaders, these events explored themes from the show and discussed topics related to the Seattle LGBTQ community and experiences. A huge thanks to our amazing community partners and sponsors, Bank of America and Virginia Mason, who helped make these special community events possible. Below are few moments captured from our Celebrating PRIDE at The 5th event series:

An Interview with Something Rotten!’s Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell

An interview with Something Rotten!’s Karey Kirkpatrick (Book, Music & Lyrics) and John O’Farrell (Book)

Q – Can you talk about the initial idea/concept?

K –I think it was a series of conversations that happened over a series of meetings, Christmas dinners, since Wayne [Kirkpatrick, Karey’s brother] and I don’t live in the same town.

We were big history buffs. It just started, wouldn’t it be funny if Shakespeare’s London were a lot like what Broadway was like in the ‘30s? If the writers had agents, and the Tin Pan Alley scene. The early jokes were like, the agents were William and Morris. The law firm was Rosen, Crantz & Guildenstern. So that was an early idea. At one point, it was, what would it be like to be writing in the shadow of William Shakespeare, after Romeo and Juliet just opened?

Early on, we came up with two writers who weren’t brothers, just partners, trying to beat Shakespeare at his own game, going to a soothsayer to try to find out what the next big thing in theater is. And that guy is saying, “Musicals.” So what would it be like writing the first musical that ends up being a mashup of musicals and Shakespeare plays?

Continue reading “An Interview with Something Rotten!’s Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell”

Spotlight on Our Circles Members

Our Circles Members help make The 5th’s new musical productions possible

A BIG thank you to our Circles Member donors, who through their gifts help support all of the artistic work of The 5th: on stage, in new work development and for our education programs—which served nearly 75,000 young people in our community last year.

For our 2016/17 Season, some of our Circles Members helped make the new productions of The Secret Garden and Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion come to life. Our “Secret Garden Keepers” and “Romy and Michele Booster Club members” designated their gifts to support the productions.

The Romy and Michele Booster Club with the cast and creatives from the show at the Producer’s Dinner held at the home of Board Member Pat Kennedy and his wife Melissa Ries.

This has been a wonderful and exciting opportunity for Circles Member donors to help The 5th create new productions, while getting in on the ground floor and experiencing the productions as they evolve. The Secret Garden Keepers and the Romy and Michele Booster Club members were invited to attend a kick-off party with the creative team; to attend hosted rehearsals; to meet and spend time with the writers, composers, creatives and actors; to attend the opening night performance and post-show cast party; and were recognized along with their pictures as Executive Producers or Creators in all show publications. It has been rewarding and fun for everyone to have our Circles Members play an important part in this process!

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If you would like to hear more about becoming a Circles Member and/or helping The 5th bring new works to our audiences by designating your support to a production, please call our Development office at 206-625-1418. You can also find more information at our website.

Hairspray The Musical: An International Sensation Born at The 5th

By BRIDGET MORGAN, Senior PR and Communications Manager

There is such joy in the act of creation, particularly when your creation becomes something bigger than its creators and the sum of its parts; something enjoyed and embraced by many; something that impacts the lives of everyone it touches. And that is the nature of The 5th Avenue Theatre and its role in the creation of the musical Hairspray, an international mega-hit performed on Broadway, on the big screen, on TV and on professional and amateur stages around the world.

Any staff member who worked on the original production of Hairspray the Musical at The 5th Avenue Theatre will clearly tell you, “We knew from the beginning that that show was special.” Whether they are referring to the caliber of talent (Harvey Fierstein stopped in regularly to chat with the box office staff and even spent time in the company of the costume shop as they built the incredible gowns and ‘60s fashion pieces that would become so iconic), the thrill of doing something new (until that point, The 5th had only produced one other world premiere that had not moved forward to other productions), or the sheer energy buzzing in the rehearsal hall, the sensation that THIS musical would be something extra special, something extraordinary, is unanimously agreed upon.

In 2000, David Armstrong relocated from New York to Seattle to take the artistic reins at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Until that point, The 5th had primarily been a stop for Broadway tours out of New York and for productions out of Theatre Under the Stars in Houston, Texas. It mounted a few productions of classic musicals a season, and that was largely it. But when Armstrong arrived at The 5th, he brought with him a vision of Seattle—and in particular, The 5th—as a testing ground for innovative and cutting edge new musicals.

He also brought with him a wealth of New York connections and friendships with Broadway producers, eager to develop new work without the scrutiny of the New York press. It was through his friendship with producers Richard Frankel and Margo Lion that Hairspray made its way to Seattle. While the show’s ambitions and trajectory was clear, the show needed the opportunity to grow and take shape, to find its legs in front of a smart educated theater-going audience. This, The 5th Avenue could supply in spades.

The 5th Avenue Theatre took an active and collaborative role in the creation of Hairspray. Rather than simply acting as a venue for an out-of-town tryout, The 5th’s artistic team contributed regularly to the show’s development, spending time with the show’s creative team and producers as they worked through the rehearsal process, made their way through tech rehearsals and digested audience feedback. David Armstrong was with them every step of the way.

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Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad. (credit Paul Kolnik)

Hairspray The Musical played at The 5th Avenue Theatre from May 30 to June 23, 2002. Based on the 1988 cult classic John Waters filmHairspray is the story of pleasantly plump Tracy Turnblad with big hair and even bigger dance moves who uses newfound celebrity to fight for integration. The musical starred Marissa Jaret Winokur as the vivacious young Tracy Turnblad alongside Broadway mega-star Harvey Fierstein as Edna, soon-to-be GLEE star Matthew Morrison, among many others. The show was a runaway hit with audiences and critics alike, and by the end of the run, the word-of-mouth  was so strong that tickets were selling out. The Seattle Times raved “Hairspray is big, smart fun – splendidly performed with a score that bears repeated listens. Hey, if New York doesn’t twist and shout about it, just bring it on back.” The Seattle P.I. said “Almost everything about it is fun: the acting, the songs, the dancing, the story, the staging, the scenery, the costumes and especially the wigs.” And from Variety:  “… it took only three snappy, candy-colored scenes to demonstrate that writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman have a shiny new hit on their hands.”

The show moved directly to Broadway in the Neil Simon Theatre with its first preview just three and one half weeks after the Seattle production closed: July 18, 2002. The show opened officially on August 15 and was immediately the toast of the Great White Way. The New York Times gave it a loving review, saying “If you’re not at all taken by the fantasy of the Supremes showing up to bestow a little Motown magic on your bedraggled, overworked mother, then you will probably be in the minority of theatergoers who will not find this musical irresistible. Otherwise, you won’t need Ecstasy or any other of those fashionable drugs said to generate warm, fuzzy and benevolent feelings.”

Hairspray received 13 Tony Award nominations, winning eight including Best Musical. It also won 10 Drama Desk Awards and two Theatre World Awards. The show ran on Broadway for an astonishing 2,642 performances and was consistently one of the hardest tickets to come by in New York.

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John Travolta and Queen Latifah in Hairspray, the film.

But its success didn’t end there. Since that fateful 2002 summer in Seattle, Hairspray has gone on to a slew of national and international tours and sit-down productions world-wide in locations ranging from Canada to South Africa to China. In 2007, the musical was adapted as a major motion picture starring John Travolta in the role of Edna Turnblad, Michelle Pfeiffer as Velma Von Tussel  and Queen Latifah as Motormouth Maybelle. In December of last year, NBC produced Hairspray Live! which has just received seven Emmy nominations. Additionally, there is a shortened version of the show called Hairspray, Jr. that  appears on dozens of school musical lineups annually. It would seem to be a story people just can’t get enough of.

On August 16, 2017, a new cast will embark on a new tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom and they carry with them the best wishes of the theater that gave the show first life: The 5th Avenue Theatre. We are sending our love to the cast and crew.

For more information about The 5th Avenue Theatre’s New Works Program, visit our website.

Staff Spotlight: Director of Sales and Guest Services Robert Phillips

What is your role at The 5th? I’m the Director of Sales and Guest Services.  I think it’s one of the best jobs here, as all of my departments are the ones that get to interact with our guests and subscribers on a day-to-day basis.

Birthplace? New Hartford, Connecticut

How long have you worked here? 16 months.

What has been your favorite show while you’ve been here? The Rising Star Project production of How to Succeed. I saw this show the morning after my day of interviews for my job here. I didn’t fully understand what Rising Star Project was when I was watching the first act and was blown away at intermission to learn that it was high school students doing everything.

What are your hobbies outside of work? My wife and I love to take road trips around the beautiful Northwest (and beyond!).  I also enjoy everyone’s favorite winter Olympic sport, curling, and am a member at the Granite Curling Club here in Seattle.

What do you love about The 5th? I love how unique and special this theater is. Most large cities in this country have a multi-thousand seat theater that does some musical theater in addition to other works and presentations. Very few have the access to a theater like The 5th. We’re very unique to Seattle!

“Welcome to the Renaissance”: The World of Something Rotten!

The Renaissance

Something Rotten! transports today’s audiences from the seats of a Broadway house across the Atlantic and back through the history book pages to Renaissance England. But what is the Renaissance, and how did it change England in the 16th century? The word “renaissance” is French for “rebirth” and was a term used to describe the period roughly between the 14th and 17th centuries when society was marked by great advancements in art, science and culture. It is believed that the Renaissance began in Florence, Italy, in the 14th century after the Fall of Constantinople and the Roman Empire. During this period, artists, scholars and scientists moved to Italy to continue their work. Patrons, wealthy families of renown in Italy, like the Medicis, provided creative minds with great sums of money to create art and innovate to further advance the family’s popularity and power. The period saw advancements in art, literature, music, politics, religion, science, philosophy and a revived interest in the humanism of the Greeks and Romans. Some of the most notable inventions of the time were the telescope, microscope, printing press, advanced uses of gunpowder and artillery, and a flushing toilet. The most prominent artists and figures of the time include Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas More, Galileo, Martin Luther and several more. In the next few hundred years, the Renaissance moved outward from Italy to its neighboring countries, including England.

Continue reading ““Welcome to the Renaissance”: The World of Something Rotten!”

Getting the Joke: The Humor of Something Rotten!

The laugh lines in the Broadway hit Something Rotten! flow from different sources.

Some come at the expense of William Shakespeare, the rock star of his day, here played as a world-weary writer who finds being famous so much more enjoyable than actually coming up with new ideas.

Some are pointed at musical theater itself, a veritable feast for fans and geeks who adore Rent, Cats, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Les Misérables, Annie and dozens of other iconic musicals from the Broadway cannon.

Continue reading “Getting the Joke: The Humor of Something Rotten!”

Something Rotten! Will Feature Broadway Stars

Something Rotten! will be making its Northwest Premiere (finally) this fall, and we couldn’t be more pleased to announce three of the stars of the show, all of whom are reprising their roles on tour after portraying these same characters in the Broadway production!

Broadway’s Rob McClure plays older Bottom brother, Nick Bottom. He received Tony, Drama League, Astaire and Outer Critics nominations, and won Theatre World and Clive Barnes awards for the title role in Chaplin: The Musical. He’s been seen on Broadway, including in Something Rotten!, as well as numerous appearances on film and television. (McClure is also taking the stage with his real-life wife, his “right hand man,” Maggie Lakis – he plays her husband in the show!)

Josh Grisetti is playing younger brother Nigel Bottom. His Broadway credits include Something Rotten!It Shoulda Been You and Broadway Bound. His Off-Broadway credits include Enter Laughing, Rent, Peter & the Starcatcher and more. Follow Josh on Twitter and Instagram!

And last but certainly not least, Adam Pascal is stepping into potentially the biggest shoes in the history of theater – those of William Shakespeare. Pascal will be familiar to folks as the original Roger Davis in the Off-Broadway, Broadway and London productions of Rent. (He also reprised his role in the 2005 film.) He was the original Radames in Broadway’s Aida, starred as the Emcee in Roundabout’s Broadway production of Cabaret, Huey Calhoun in Broadway’s Memphis and Billy Flynn in Broadway’s Chicago. Most recently, he was seen as Chad in Broadway’s Disaster.

Check out this video of Adam Pascal as rock star Renaissance man William Shakespeare in “Will Power.”


Find out more about the amazing cast, and purchase tickets, at our website.

In Development: New Works at The 5th

Here at The 5th, you may have seen one or two, or even 17 or 18 new musicals explode onto the scene on our 5th Avenue stage – musicals like Hairspray or Memphis (both winners of the Tony Award for Best Musical!) But for every new musical that appears on our stage in a season, I can promise you that we have at least a half dozen more in various stages of development through our New Works Program. Currently we have eight new musicals actively in development.

About the Writers’ Group

For nearly two decades, we have committed to nurturing the artists in our community, which is something you may notice when you see our many local actors starring in our shows. But we also seek to nurture the writers, composers, librettists and lyricists living right here in Puget Sound. Our current Writers Group has met bi-weekly for the past two years. In these meetings, a group of nine writers led by 5th Ave artistic staff members, meet to present new material from their musicals in development, and the work is very promising! These musicals include Anybody Can Do Anything, Industry, The Rumble Within, Prodigal Song and Promised Land. These five musicals, which will be our second cycle of Writers Group presentations, will be presented in 2018 at The 5th Avenue Theatre’s NextFest: A Festival of New Musicals.

Anybody Can Do Anything, with a book by John Longenbaugh and music by Bruce Monroe, is based on Betty MacDonald’s memoir of the same name. Longenbaugh is a novelist and local writer. His publications have been in Seattle Weekly, City Arts and Seattle Magazine. Monroe often works at The 5th Avenue Theatre as an orchestrator and conductor. He attended NYU for composing and has written scores for many musicals.

Industry, with book, music and lyrics by Naomi Morgan, tells the story of sisters Vivian and Lisa, who work at a strip club in Seattle as they each struggle with a demon of their past. A concert version of the musical opened for Warren G in 2016. Morgan has previously been seen on our stage in Oliver! and RENT. She is also a local producer and her productions appear at casinos and senior centers throughout Washington.

The Rumble Within, with book by Andrew Russell and music by Richard Andriessen, follows the true story of Linda Hazzard, a Washington doctor in the early 20th century, who famously helped patients starve themselves (sometimes to death) to cure illnesses. Russell is the Artistic Director of Intiman Theatre. You may have seen his last project The Fourth Estate, which was also the product of our Writers Group, during our 2016 NextFest. Andriessen (also known as Major Scales) is the co-creator and co-star of The Vaudevillians, which he created with Jinkx Monsoon, and has appeared previously at Seattle Rep.

Prodigal Song, with a book by Keri Healey and music by Anne Eisendrath, is an original story about a convicted felon, released from prison, who finds hope through music. Healey has previously won the M. Elizabeth Osborn Best Emerging Playwright award recognizing her play Torso which had its premiere in Seattle in 2012. Eisendrath has appeared on our stage in productions of Pirates of Penzance, Carousel and The Sound of Music.

The Promised Land, with book, music and lyrics by Orlando Morales, tells the story of Joseph, a young Buffalo soldier who is sent to the Philippines in 1898 and the Filipino villagers who rescue and shelter him, unaware that he has been ordered to subdue their fight for independence. The score takes on a Golden Age-style and the script includes three different languages to depict this war story. Morales’ most recent writing endeavor was with the gospel musical Psalm which he continues to develop. He is also the Director of Education and Outreach at The 5th Avenue Theatre and a skilled pianist.

New Works on New Stages

Part of our New Works program is recognizing the importance of development over destination, meaning that we aim to feed and foster the growth of new musicals even if they ultimately premiere at other theaters. In that vein, we are very excited that the musical version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which was written in our first Writers Group, will have its first production at Taproot this summer. Persuasion has a book by Harold Taw and music and lyrics by Chris Jeffries.

Beatsville, a musical by Wendy Wilf and Glenn Slater, has been in development with our program for the last two years. It started in our inaugural NextFest with a 29-hour reading. A 29-hour reading allows the writers to teach the material to a group of actors and have it presented without sets, lights or costumes. In the 29 hours they have allotted, they are able to hear the material read and sung out loud, which allows them to more clearly see necessary edits to their work. Since that initial reading, the team has met many times in Seattle and New York to continue diving into the material. This process resulted in a co-production with Asolo Repertory Theatre where a full production was mounted with our very own Bill Berry at the helm as the director. The production was received very well and work continues to be done on the show before it is mounted again.

And of course, we are very proud that a project that made a development stop at The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2014, Come From Away, is appearing on Broadway this season. Come From Away received 7 Tony Award nominations and won the award for Best Direction of a Musical for Chris Ashley, who you may remember from his work on Memphis here at The 5th. During Come From Away’s time here, Chris Ashley, Kelly Devine and Ian Eisendrath put the show on its feet in our rehearsal room during a 3-week developmental production. It then went on to be seen at Seattle Rep, La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. and the Mirvish Theatre in Toronto before making its Broadway debut.

New Things Still to Come

INTERMISSION! is the exciting new work from the brilliant mind of Jerry Zucker with music and lyrics by Michael Weiner and Alan Zachary, who we were fortunate enough to work with on First Date and Second Hand Lions. The musical will be directed by Zucker and Broadway sensation Chris Gattelli, who will also choreograph. Gattelli is a two-time Tony Award-winning choreographer and is in high demand in New York. Gattelli is committed to a number of new projects, one of which very unexpectedly received the opportunity to open on Broadway during the time when INTERMISSION! was scheduled to be in rehearsals, and in the interest of having the best creative team possible for this exciting new musical, we made the difficult choice to delay the show until our 2018/19 season. However, the team is currently hard at work with a developmental production in New York City at this very minute. This step allows the team to put the musical on its feet in a rehearsal studio to explore staging and choreography for the production. INTERMISSION! has had two 29-hour readings in the last year and we look forward to seeing it on stage!

We also have a very exciting new commission called ’64, which is in collaboration with book writer Cheryl West and composers Douglas Lyons and Ethan Pakchar. Based on a true story of racial discrimination in the fraternity community at Stanford in the ’60’s, this new musical focuses on a battle for integration. The first draft is currently being written with a goal of a 29-hour reading in the next year.

And That’s Just in Active Development…

Over the years, our New Works Program has touched dozens of new musicals, shepherding them from the kernel of an idea to fully-produced productions. While we have many shows in active development, we have even more that we have simmering on the back burner. Maybe we are seeking the right creative partners to help the show along. Maybe we are following writers as they develop concepts into songs, scenes and more.

We continue to be hard at work in our New Works department and hope to continue to bring new musicals to Seattle and beyond. The development of these new pieces is central to our mission here at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Over the past 17 years we have produced 18 new musicals and will continue on with this tradition to bring new musicals into the theater canon.

A Beloved Family Member Retires: Deb Engelbach Departs The 5th After 28 Years

By BRIDGET MORGAN, Senior PR & Communications Manager

Candid shot during the Romy and Michele pre-production photoshoot. PC: Mark and Tracy Photography.

For the last 28 years, any actor who has crossed the stage in a 5th Avenue Theatre production has at some point or other worked closely with Deb Engelbach in our costume shop. Very closely. Deb has a curious specialization in the world of costumes: shoes and underwear. In addition to some more general operational work in the costume shop, Deb is the person who is purchasing and fitting undergarments for performers, purchasing shoes, building and stretching tap shoes, and adjusting shoes for quick changes. In a sense, Deb is responsible for the most basic layer of confidence an actor or actress has when they dance their way onstage.

Continue reading “A Beloved Family Member Retires: Deb Engelbach Departs The 5th After 28 Years”