Sounds Good to Me!

Karen Katz has had a remarkable year. Being the Head Sound Engineer at The 5th Avenue Theatre is no small undertaking during any given season, but this year, in particular, Karen took a ride on a technological rollercoaster following The 5th Avenue Theatre’s transition from an analog sound system verging on antique in technological years to a state-of-the-art digital system.

“People come up to me and say ‘Oh, you’re going digital! I bet your job just got easier,’ and it’s like ‘oh, no no no!’” Karen laughs and shakes her distinctive curls. “This job just got 10 fold more complicated than it had ever been before because there are so many more things you can do. And everything has a lot of programming that needs to be done before you can just ‘do’ it.”

“For me, it’s been a massive shift into far more computer oriented work than I had in my previous system. Whereas before, I might use Windows for simple tasks like writing a Word Document, suddenly I have a lot of Windows-oriented work to pay attention to.” Where previously, the bulk of her work was done on knobs and faders and a single monitor, suddenly she transitioned to a massive 6 screen system that was more heavily computer oriented. “We worked with Gabe Wood and then Kurt Fisher, Broadway mixers who came to show me console operation. My first reaction as they were showing me how things work, was, comically, ‘I have no idea what information I’m looking at or what these words mean.’ So a big learning curve for me was to have more of a virtual picture of what is going on, and get a mind’s eye view of where all of this information lives rather than having to check every layer and section individually—not to mention develop an entirely new vocabulary for what I do.”

(Credit Tracy Martin)

The transition from the previous system saw a complete overhaul of the sound system existing at The 5th. From the mixing console and desk to dozens of speakers throughout the auditorium and every cable in between, there was not a single element of the sound delivery system that did not change. Perhaps the most tangible change for the audience is the new speakers.

“We have new line array speakers that were chosen for the theater because they have a very controlled horizontal dispersion of sound. It’s almost as though you have one big speaker except you can control aspects of it and where it hits so it’s a shapeable sound. The cool thing with the horizontal dispersion is that it doesn’t hit the wall of the theater, and so you don’t get reflections.

“For every generation of speakers that exist, audiences become used to hearing things a particular way, no matter the circumstances. People are used to cinematic sound now. So they expect the sound to be huge and to be pounding into their bodies, which, frankly, is not what our older system did. It supported musical theater in a way that we used to refer to as ‘enhancing it,’ supporting what you heard onstage. This new system offers a whole new world of options to how we shape the soundscape.”

When asked if she likes the results, Karen smiles. “It has a very clean transparent sound with no electronic processing noise—that’s something that sometimes appeared in older analog gear. And likewise, the speakers themselves just put out a nice clean sound, so that leaves it to the designers to create whatever they want, rather than the gear itself coloring the result.” She explains that “noise” to me this way: “So let’s compare this—a sound to a light with an amber filter. If you start your signal with ‘amber,’ then everything after that is going to be colored by amber or you have to spend your time trying to get rid of amber. Well, the same thing is true with sound. When you have oddities and noise or sounds within your signal at the get-go, then you are fighting that all the way through.”

Rufus Bonds, Jr. as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha at The 5th Avenue Theatre. (Credit Mark Kitaoka)

Almost one year ago exactly, Karen and her team were diving into their very first show with this new setup—Man of La Mancha. “I used to say that it was moment-by-moment exhilaration and then panic because we didn’t actually get our hands on that gear until the week before! In fact, until the week before the actors were onstage, they were still pouring the new floor in the sound room. They had to bring a small crane through a hole in the wall and lay wire from the crane because there was literally no floor.

“I often could not tell what I was looking at or where I was looking for it with Man of La Mancha,” she laughs. “There were times when I would know what was happening, know what was happening, know what was happening, and then suddenly I wouldn’t know, and I wouldn’t know where to find the thing that I was looking for.

“I’m so much more familiar with where things are now. I have a better sense of how I am likely to program something now. For Man of La Mancha, we started with a lot of good basics, and we have learned as we have gone along. Not just me mixing, but the designers working with a whole new realm, the guys working backstage, having controls on things on a computer screen where before we actually went to physical devices to control them.

“So I think that that process will probably go on for a while and at some point we will think ‘Gee, we’re so conversant in it, it feels as natural as anything can be.’ And we are closer to that than we have been before.”

The sound crew has not been without support. Karen gives a great deal of credit to her tech support teams at Carlson Audio and Studer. On one occasion, for instance, Karen struck the wrong key and suddenly her screen enlarged by several hundred percent and took over the entire mixing desk. Imagine the contents of your email suddenly stretched across a single 6-foot screen being viewed through a single desktop monitor. She called for help and spent an hour on the phone with the team essentially locating her cursor and then finding the button that would enable her to close that view.

“’Who knew’ is something I say all the time,” she sighs with a smile.

(credit Tracy Martin)

It’s exciting to consider the future when working with a system this state-of-the-art. Not only does the team running it grow more conversant every day, building on skills from show to show, but this system is capable of keeping up with technology as it continues to evolve. “Just between our first show and our second show with this new system we already went into a new operating system. It’s got so much potential. So we are starting with sound the way we have known it before. And running from there and expanding. So yeah, I can imagine that in a number of years it could be far more complex… The learning has been fascinating!”

The audiences and critics have loved it. Following the opening night performance of Man of La Mancha, the Seattle Times added to their review of the show, “It’s a major improvement… it balances orchestra and singers adeptly, and renders the dialogue crisply, too. Bravo!”

The 5th Avenue Theatre wishes to thank the following companies for their contributions to our sound system redesign:

Carlson Audio Systems
Streamline Solutions
d&b audiotechnik
Studer Professional Audio
Prime Electric
JTM Construction

If you’d like to check out the sound for yourself, come to a 5th Avenue show. Click here to find out what’s playing on our stage.


Ian at Large

Over the past two years, The 5th Avenue Theatre’s beloved Resident Music Supervisor and Alhadeff Family Director of New Works Ian Eisendrath has packed up his family and home and traveled to San Diego, Washington D.C. and Toronto, finally settling in New York City to continue his incredible work on the sensational hit Come From Away. Ian is still working closely with The 5th from the East Coast but in an entirely new capacity. We recently caught up with Ian over email to hear about what the future holds.

Ian Eisendrath conducts Titanic in Concert at The 5th Avenue Theatre (credit Mark Kitaoka)

Tell us what your new job title is and what your new responsibilities are as far as 5th Avenue Theatre projects are concerned.

I am an Associate Artist for Music & New Works at the 5th! My new role includes discussion and collaboration with the artistic leadership at the 5th Avenue, attending readings, meetings and events in New York City on the 5th Avenue’s behalf and returning to Seattle periodically to develop, musically direct and conduct new work.

Why the big change?

Over the past thirteen years that I have been in residence at the 5th Avenue, the organization has afforded me ample opportunities to work on exciting new musicals.  One of these projects was Come From Away, an unlikely musical about the surprising outpouring of love, generosity and acceptance that took place in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11.  Thanks to Kenny and Marleen Alhadeff’s hearty endorsement, I started working with the Come From Away creative team when The 5th Avenue Theatre hosted its 3-week developmental lab in July of 2014.  I have been so fortunate to continue as the Music Supervisor, Arranger and Conductor of Come From Away for each installment, from the workshop in Seattle, to productions in La Jolla, Seattle, Washington D.C., Toronto and now Broadway, a concert presentation of the musical in Gander, Newfoundland (where it all actually started), to producing the music for the Broadway cast album, which is now available!

What has the experience of working on Come From Away been like?

Ian at New Works Program event. (Credit Jeff Carpenter)

Come From Away has been a highly stimulating and collaborative process from day one.  It is a piece driven by ensemble because it is actually about ensemble: a group of people working together to accomplish something so much bigger than the sum of its parts.  The nature of my work, the writers, director, choreographer, cast, band and music team has been one of constant trust, open-mindedness, and generosity.  In addition to the joyous process and work environment, it has been so exciting and satisfying to work on a musical that you hope has a very real and active impact on the audience.  When the show is over every night, I watch the audience leap to their feet with great emotion, and I hope that they leave the theater changed, intending to embrace the others (the “Come From Aways”) they encounter in their daily lives with love and generosity.

What other projects are you working on? (I hear there are some exciting things going on with A Christmas Story…)

I am currently working on several new musicals: a new musical about Princess Diana, created by the team that brought you Memphis; a musical commissioned by the La Jolla Playhouse with a score by Joe Iconis about the life and impact of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson called Hunter S. Thompson; The Long Game that explores what it takes to tell the truth in America (this actually began its life within The 5th Avenue Theatre Writers Group); and Bill Berry and I are collaborating on a new musical about the brave actions of a group of men and women at Stanford University in the 60’s who took a stand for civil rights in the face of great risk and adversity.  In addition to these theatre projects, I am the Music Director and Supervisor for A Christmas Story Live, a live telecast on FOX of the musical that began its life at the 5th Avenue in 2012.

Will you come back to Seattle someday?

Ian Eisendrath at a New Works Program reading of one acts. (Credit Jeff Carpenter)

My hope is to come back to Seattle often!  The 5th Avenue Theatre is my artistic home, and I am so grateful to the 5th Avenue for allowing me to pursue my dreams in New York while staying connected and involved with The 5th on a regular basis.  I sincerely look forward to the opportunity to work closely with the artistic leadership team at The 5th Avenue Theatre on a regular basis, and to return to Seattle to conduct and develop new work as often as possible!

What’s your favorite musical?

Such a tough question, because there are so many that I love and admire, but the top two classics would be West Side Story and Sweeny Todd!

To learn more about The 5th Avenue Theatre’s New Works Program, please visit

Rising Star Project: the Next Stage

Six years ago, the first iteration of something truly special took place at The 5th Avenue Theatre. Following the mainstage production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, it was simply called “The Oklahoma Project.” The idea was to invite students from all over Puget Sound to remount our professional production on our stage under the direct mentorship of 5th Avenue professionals. Students were invited to perform, to stage manage the production, to work the technical elements, move scenery, alter costumes, fit and style wigs, manage fundraising campaigns, set ad budgets and project manage direct mail campaigns.

In all its many facets, the project was, in a word, unique.

The cast of Rising Star Project: The Pajama Game. (Credit Jeff Carpenter)

We knew that the project couldn’t end there. It was too exciting, filled with too much possibility, and affected the lives of too many young people. From this, the Rising Star Project was born. Every year since 2012, The 5th has followed through with this massive undertaking, bringing teens to the theater to learn the craft of theater and the art of professionalism from the best pros in the business.

Every year, the project has expanded and evolved in some form. In seeking to grow the program in a way that reflects the greater Seattle community, we have partnered with historically underserved schools and brought in teaching artists for residency programs that bring theater skills to life in exciting and tangible forms. We have added student matinees and scholarships for those matinees in order to give more young people the opportunity to see live musical theater and created study guides for those performances in order to give teachers the tools to make a more enriching experience. We have also added two supplemental programs under the Rising Star Project umbrella. The 10-Minute Musical Project shepherds students through the collaborative process of writing a musical.  The Empowering Young Artists’ Initiative is a musical theater boot camp designed to help students representing historically underserved and underrepresented populations/groups.

The Rising Star Project Will Undergo Some Big Changes

Director of Education and Outreach Orlando Morales addresses the students of Rising Star Project: The Pajama Game. (Credit Jeff Carpenter)

These programs have had tremendous effects already, and we hope to expand their impact further. That is why the Rising Star Project will now operate under a two-year cycle. Instead of undertaking a mainstage production every season, we are now committing to a full year of outreach and recruitment efforts in preparation for mainstage productions every other year.  We are excited about this new equity-focused structure, and I am attaching information that I recently presented to our board which further explains this shift.

In the 2016/17 season, Rising Star Project: The Pajama Game involved 83 students representing 44 Washington State schools.  These students were mentored by a team of more than 60 theater professionals and their production ran on our mainstage for 4 performances.  More than 1,700 students attended a Rising Star Project performance and at least 1,400 of these students from historically underserved and underrepresented schools.  Rising Star Project also facilitated 3 in-class residencies at Kentridge High School, Kent-Meridian High School, and Rainier Beach High School—at no charge to the schools.


Moving forward, we plan to increase participation from these schools and communities with a focus on increasing their representation in the Rising Star Project cohort.  This will be accomplished through expanding our residency programs as well as expanding our offering of free intensive theater classes for target school students.  Our Empowering Young Artists Initiative (EYAI) is an example of this continuing effort.  Throughout the year, EYAI provided audition


preparation and performance training to a class of 18 students from underserved and underrepresented communities.

The current reality is that inequity in arts education is reflected in access to theater and drama education.  Arts programs are being cut throughout the region, yet we know that the skills students learn through theater experiences—empathy, collaboration, text analysis, critical thinking, public speaking—are more crucial than ever.

To learn more about Rising Star Project or to download an application, click here.  Applications must be received by September 29.

The Musical’s The Thing

By BILL BERRY, Producing Artistic Director, and ALBERT EVANS, Artistic Associate


Well, no. But—despite what Something Rotten! implies—neither did his rivals. Still, there are striking similarities between Shakespeare’s plays and our modern musicals.

Four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare’s legacy is everywhere—in our language, our notions about “genius,” even our conception of what it is to be human. So of course we’ll find his ghost still haunting our theaters, telling us how to write, mount, and see plays. Shakespeare’s scripts include well over a hundred songs, making them function, at moments, as actual musicals. Some of the music survives, and over the years Shakespeare’s lyrics have been reset thousands of times by popular and classical composers.

Lorenzo says in The Merchant of Venice:

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils…
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.

 The origin of music is lost in prehistory, but its first element was probably rhythm. Our ancestors chanted their stories to the beating of drums; the regular rhythm marked storytelling as ritual, and was a powerful aid to memory.

Shakespeare writes mostly in unrhymed verse with a regular rhythm—a ten-beat line with five accents. He uses his artistic authority to stray at times from the pattern, but the audience, consciously or not, will internalize the underlying “beat” and be drawn into the storytelling just as our long-ago ancestors were.

To BE or NOT to BE, THAT is the QUEST-ion.

Or the line quoted earlier:

The MAN that HATH no MU-sic IN him-SELF…

The dialogue in our modern musicals is usually in unmetered prose—
Walk tall! We always walk tall! We’re Jets!

—saving rhythm for the songs:

WHEN you’re a JET, you’re a JET all the WAY!

Music can help support heightened language. When Ariel, the island spirit in The Tempest, lures Ferdinand away, the spell is cast with a song filled with weird allusions to Ferdinand’s drowned father:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes…

In Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, the rebellious Billy Bigelow uses a more vernacular expression when he sings his inner thoughts:

The tide’s creepin’ up on the beach like a thief,
Afraid to be caught stealin’ the land.

Stephen Sondheim (sometimes called the “Shakespeare of Musical Theater”) is a master of imagery. Listen to Sweeney Todd, the demon barber, singing to his gleaming razors, condensing a world of beauty, revenge, and madness into just a few words:

Friends! You shall drip rubies.
You’ll soon drip precious rubies…

Shakespeare began his writing career as a poet and was no stranger to the attractions of rhyme. The playwrights who preceded him wrote dialogue mostly in rhymed verse, and Shakespeare’s early plays followed their example. But soon he showed a preference for unrhymed “blank” verse.

As he matured, Shakespeare used rhymes only when they served his dramatic purpose. When Romeo is talking to his friends, rhymes are few. But when he talks about or to Juliet, they come in abundance, expressing his newly awakened poetic nature. She does the same, and soon they are completing each other’s rhymes. Shakespeare’s songs, however, retain their rhymes, as do songs in our musicals.


In folk songs, rhymes are a memory aid. In the theater, where the singer competes with instruments, they help the listener make out imperfectly heard words. Did she say “wind” or “wand” or “wound”? If the preceding line ended in “fond” or “beyond,” it’s probably “wand.” Further, rhyming words and lines often carry the most important ideas, the ones that the writer wants to be sure “land” for the audience.

Characters in Shakespeare’s early plays found obstacles to personal fulfillment in outside circumstances: social, familial, political. But as his writing matured he placed those obstacles within the characters themselves—they had to come to grips not with what they are but who they are.

Shakespeare dramatized these internal emotional journeys through images and metaphors, in exactly the way musicals use the heightened language of song to bring characters face-to-face with themselves.

Shakespeare’s characters sometimes drop the pretense of existing in a separate theatrical world and address the audience directly, sharing their thoughts and intentions in soliloquy.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time. (Macbeth)

Rodgers and Hammerstein made the musical soliloquy their trademark. Think again of Billy in Carousel:

My boy Bill, he’ll be tall and as tough as a tree.

Or Nellie and Emile’s “Twin Soliloquies” in South Pacific:

Wonder how I’d feel, living on a hillside
Looking on an ocean, beautiful and still.

These moments where the characters share their thoughts and emotions directly with the audience allow for a deeper understanding and awareness; the audience can empathize and grapple with the journey of the characters in the story being told.



Shakespeare and his fellow playwrights were expected to openly borrow their plots from the existing stock of stories, histories, and romances.

In today’s musical theater, plots are still often chosen from familiar books, plays, and popular movies.

So we’ve come full circle. Many of our musicals are based directly on Shakespeare’s works. West Side Story rewrites the tragic romance of Romeo and Juliet. Kiss Me, Kate draws both its main plot and its show-within-a-show from The Taming of the Shrew. Rodgers and Hart musicalized Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors as The Boys from Syracuse. Two Gentlemen of Verona, a rock musical, won the Tony in 1971. There have been several Twelfth Nights. And if you look closely at The Lion King, you’ll find the bones of Hamlet.

Something Rotten! presents a hilarious alt-history version of the invention of the musical. Along the way, it reflects much that is true about the customs and techniques that link modern musical shows with Shakespeare’s plays. Just don’t cite it in your Master’s thesis, okay?

Something Rotten! is at The 5th Avenue Theatre from September 12 to October 1. To find out more and purchase tickets, click here.


An Interview with Casey Nicholaw, Director & Choreographer of Something Rotten!

Elf BoxThere is something special about Something Rotten! Its score is magnificent, and its premise hilarious—its 10 Tony Award® nominations are a testament to this fact. But beyond that, there is something, or perhaps someone, that has helped unpack, explore and present its artistic brilliance; someone who has a knack for directing and choreographing original musical hits. That person is Casey Nicholaw.

A well-respected and renowned director, performer and choreographer, Nicholaw’s directing credits include Spamalot, Book of Mormon, Aladdin and Elf the Musical. His work features an impressive range of original musicals, and Something Rotten! is his most recent adventure.

After spending several years as one of the most in-demand dancers, singers and actors on Broadway, Nicholaw decided to pursue work as a choreographer and director. His first professional jobs were right here at The 5th Avenue Theatre as the choreographer for two productions in the early 2000s—the new musical The Prince And The Pauper in our 2001/02 Season and our spectacular rendition of My Fair Lady in our 2002/03 Season. These shows were the start of a brilliant career that included returning to The 5th to direct and choreograph the World Premiere of Disney’s Aladdin. His work has also been seen on our stage in our productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and Monty Python’s Spamalot.

Whether it’s an original musical or a production anchored to source material, the best musical theater directors, choreographers, lyricists and composers pick and choose which projects to work on, which are the most interesting and compelling to them as an artist. Each show is different and unique and appeals to different artists in different ways.

“For me, it has to be smart writing. That’s the most important thing, because it’s also easier to stage. Something that has a buoyancy to it, and also a lot of heart. That’s what I like most.”

Casey Nicholaw had worked previously with Tony®-winning producer Kevin McCollum, and it was this relationship that would facilitate the meeting between Nicholaw, John O’Farrell (Something Rotten! bookwriter), Karey Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten! bookwriter, composer and lyricist) and Wayne Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten! composer and lyricist).

“It sort of started with Kevin, just because of our relationship, and then we met with Karey, Wayne and John, and they sort of knew what they were going to do, but it wasn’t written yet. I saw three songs and two scenes. But I loved their take, and they were so passionate about it, so I said, ‘Sign me up.’ I loved the idea of the story and where it could go.”

Although Nicholaw and McCollum were familiar with the world of Broadway, John O’Farrell and the Kirkpatricks— although greatly successful and experienced in their fields—were new to Broadway and musical theater. But this fact, which might be of concern to any other renowned director, was not a problem for Nicholaw.

“They’re complete musical theater nerds anyway. So they already loved it and were very well versed in all of it. They had to learn the nuts and bolts of things, but their instincts were really good. I just think they’re funny, and that’s the most important thing. They’re clever. Their lyrics are really good. They’re very talented, but funny trumps everything.”

As the four of them began working together, the show started to develop and take shape, resulting in an hilarious script and delightful, toe-tapping score. One song in particular stands out as a clear sign of a creative team in sync. Titled “A Musical,” it lovingly parodies musical theater and form, paying homage to classics such as South Pacific, Anything Goes, Annie and many others. The lyrics are a series of Easter egg references for the musical theater nerds in the audience, while the showstopping choreography leaves all audience members in stitches.

“I knew it had to build and build and build. When Glen Kelly, our dance arranger, went to town–I’ve worked with him on a bunch of shows now, and when we started in pre-production, he’d go away and start writing dance music. He’s the one who came back with all the references. I really wasn’t sure at first, I thought it might be too in-jokey. But once we started playing with it, the dancers were like, ‘Oh my god, are you kidding? We have to do this.’ It ended up working well.”

Something Rotten! is at The 5th Avenue Theatre from September 12 to October 1. To find out more and purchase tickets, click here.


Creating a Completely New Musical: The Development of Something Rotten!

Most Broadway newcomers don’t get their first show produced by Tony Award-winner Kevin McCollum, and they don’t typically land Tony-winner Casey Nicholaw as their director-choreographer. But brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick and British comedy writer John O’Farrell, the creators of the Tony Award-nominated Something Rotten!, aren’t like most Broadway first-timers.

Growing up in Louisiana, the Kirkpatrick brothers fell in love with musical theater, appearing in high school shows and going to what’s now the Baton Rouge River Center to see touring productions of Broadway hits. In 1983, Karey Kirkpatrick saw his first show on Broadway, My One and Only, starring Tommy Tune and Twiggy, at the St. James Theatre – the theater that’s now home to Something Rotten!.

Continue reading “Creating a Completely New Musical: The Development of Something Rotten!”

Musical References in Something Rotten!

Something Rotten! pokes fun at many musical theater conventions. The show-stopping number “A Musical” takes that one step further and gives a giant wink to many famous musicals that came before. Can you identify all the Broadway shows they call out in the song? Click the photo above to watch.

If you’re not sure about all the references, not to worry! This video is a handy primer that tells you which shows Something Rotten! is mocking—but all in good fun. After you’ve seen the video, you’re ready to see the whole hilarious show live in the theater.

Something Rotten! is at The 5th Avenue Theatre from September 12 to October 1. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

An Interview with Steve Bebout, Something Rotten!’s Associate Director

Q: Can you take me back to when you started working on the big show-stopping number “A Musical”?

A: I work with Casey [Nicholaw, director & choreographer], and he has an associate choreographer John MacInnis as well. And Glen Kelly, who is the dance arranger. The authors had written this song, and it had a verse and a chorus and a bridge. But when you need to expand upon that to make it larger, something that can have a dance break, you need to have some more music. Sometimes it’s just an extension of what’s already there, and sometimes it’s brand-spanking new.

Continue reading “An Interview with Steve Bebout, Something Rotten!’s Associate Director”

Shakespearean References in Something Rotten!

Something Rotten! is jam-packed with references from William Shakespeare’s plays and life. How many can you spot? Here are a few of those quotes, characters and parts of plays that will help you unlock the topsy-turvy world of the Renaissance.

Continue reading “Shakespearean References in Something Rotten!”

Go Bottoms Up and Behind the Scenes with Rob McClure

BroadwayWorld is known for its in-depth everything Broadway content, including entertaining, interesting video blogs hosted by actors on Broadway and on Tour. Rob McClure, who plays Nick Bottom in Something Rotten!, hosted a series of vlogs as the show made stops around the country. Learn more about the show, the actors and their adventures by watching the series below!

Find out more and buy tickets to see Something Rotten! at The 5th from September 12 to October 1.