Inside Look: Scenic Design for Mamma Mia!

We are pleased and lucky to have Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood back with us for Mamma Mia! Jason previously designed Paint Your Wagon and Jasper in Deadland at The 5th. In this video, he talks about his vision for the set, as well as conversations he and Director Bill Berry had about creating a new design that was fresh and also honored the things people already loved about Mamma Mia!

Kelsey Thorgalsen is Directing ‘Anything Goes’ at the University of Washington

By Bridget Morgan, Senior PR & Communications Manager

Most members of Seattle’s musically inclined theater community know Kelsey Thorgalsen. Slight in stature with curly brown hair, her gaze is direct and her demeanor is honest and non-judgmental. This last point is a critical as far as most people are concerned as typically they encounter her in an audition on the other side of the casting table. Kelsey is the Casting Director at The 5th Avenue Theatre with an astonishing mental Rolodex® of musical theater talent, whether they be 5th Avenue Theatre regulars or up-and-coming stars performing in the black boxes and smaller houses around the Puget Sound.

Kelsey Thorgalsen credit Julia Kinnunen Photography
5th Avenue Theatre Casting Director Kelsey Thorgalsen. Photo by Julia Kinnunen Photography

But this month and next, she is stepping back for a spell, away from auditions and into rehearsals. Kelsey is the director of Anything Goes at the University of Washington. “In particular,” she said in a recent chat, “the production is for the undergrads in the musical theater department, but the auditions were open to the whole school, and we have got a lot of really talented people in the cast.”

While Kelsey is not directing this production in any official 5th Avenue Theatre capacity, the Theatre has enjoyed a long-standing symbiotic relationship with UW’s theater program, particularly under the leadership of the late Sarah Nash Gates (a former 5th Avenue Theatre board member and sometimes costume designer on our stage). Producing Artistic Director Bill Berry, Music Associate Albert Evans and Resident Music Supervisor Ian Eisendrath have all taught courses there over the years, and many graduates over the years have, in turn, trod the boards at The 5th.

Kelsey made new connections with the musical theater program (a sadly short-lived specialization offered by the theater department that will end in 2020) over the last few years. She worked closely with then-Program Chair Wilson Mendieta to arrange semi-professional opportunities for the students in the program, including the ability to participate in readings of new musicals—an opportunity that allowed them to work alongside professional actors and supporting the development of new musical theater. “After we launched that,” she said, “I came in two years ago to teach a one-day-only final audition class where I worked directly with their program seniors.” Mendieta has since moved to Los Angeles to chair the dance program at Chapman University, but prior to his departure suggested Kelsey to the faculty as a candidate to direct.

“Bill Berry has been very supportive,” she says of The 5th’s Producing Artistic Director. “We both recognize that it’s an opportunity for The 5th and the UW to deepen their relationship, and it’s an opportunity for me to get to know these students really well who are going to graduate and hopefully then become a part of our community of actors. I think there are about 25 musical theater students, and they are a very talented group of kids.”

“The show was easy to cast,” she adds. “They have a great group in the musical theater program. We also have non-musical theater majors, and even some non-theater majors, some engineering majors!” she says with pride. “Alia Thomaier, who was our Rosemary in Rising Star Project: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2016 will be playing our Hope. She’s not a theater major, but she’s definitely one of our 5th Avenue Theatre kids.”

anything_goesShe’s excited to work on the show. “If you look at the world of Anything Goes, you know, it’s the middle of the Great Depression. These people are getting on this ship to escape for a little bit; they are escaping all of the financial woes, all of the political woes. I feel like right now in this time, everyone could use a bit of escape. And in the words of Albert Evans, this show is a ‘frolic.’ It’s a chance for people to go to the theater and have a good time and escape from everything going on in your world, just like the people in the show are doing.”

“Something else is that is exciting about this production,” she volunteers, “is that I get to work with M.F.A. grad students as the design teams. So I’ve spent a lot of time with them since July—mostly set and costume so far—and this is their thesis project. A lot of them have never worked on a musical before so it’s been a learning process for us both. It’s a huge show!”

Kelsey has had a few opportunities to sharpen her directing skills during her tenure at The 5th Avenue Theatre. “I assistant directed the Beautiful Poison reading with Chris Ashley for our New Works Program. I directed The Long Game reading as a part of NextFest last year—that’s an Andrew Russell/Rich Gray collaboration. I also assistant-directed A Chorus Line under David Bennett.”

Bennett, it turns out, is one of her mentors, as is Bill Berry. “I like that they seem to approach shows from opposite perspectives, but turn out similar end results where the humanity of a moment is valued over ‘performance.’ That’s the lesson that I am trying to take with me into Anything Goes—be simple, be honest, be human.”

If you’re interested in purchasing tickets for Anything Goes at UW, click here.

Meet the Cast of Mamma Mia: Donna, Tanya and Rosie

There is only one way to describe our brand new staging of Mamma Mia!: FUN! Rehearsals are underway and we cannot stop laughing—not to mention dancing to the unforgettable ABBA hits that make this show so irrepressible.

Donna Sheridan is a fiercely independent single mom watching her only daughter get married with her best friends, Tanya and Rosie at her side. Continue reading “Meet the Cast of Mamma Mia: Donna, Tanya and Rosie”

Just Believe and Receive It; Love will Perform It Today

On a Thursday afternoon, over 100 teens gathered in the theater of Kentridge High School. Sitting in clusters throughout the audience seats, they chatted amongst themselves, occasionally rowdy, occasionally subdued. A well-loved baby grand piano sat onstage with a few adults checking in with each other, reviewing documents, watching the time on watches and phones and keeping their eyes on the door as stragglers continued to enter.

KRHS and KMHS 02
Kentridge High School Drama Teacher Jennifer Grajewski with students from Kentridge and Kent Meridian High School. Photo credit Tracy Martin

The gathering of young people represented the full spectrum of the student body with emissaries from A.S.B. (Associated Student Body), G.S.A. (Gender and Sexuality Alliance), L.E.A.P. (Latino/a Educational Achievement Project), M.S.A. (Muslim Student Association), Men on the Move (for young men of color), Y.E.L.L. (Young Educated Ladies Leading for young women of color), and more in attendance. Adding to the excitement to the buzz in the room were students from Kent Meridian High School making their way in. This was a gathering of students participating in a rally in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in January—one of the first meetings where the kids were getting on their feet, leaving the brainstorming stages behind them. Continue reading “Just Believe and Receive It; Love will Perform It Today”

A Christmas Gift from Taryn Darr: Grandma Frances’ Wassail Recipe

‘wäsəl,’ ‘wä-sāl’

  1. To drink plentiful amounts of alcohol and enjoy oneself with others in a noisy, lively way.
  2. To go from house to house at Christmas singing carols. (“Here we go a-wassailing…”)


  1. Spiced cider or ale or mulled wine and spices drunk during celebrations for Twelfth Night and Christmas Eve.

I grew up in Oregon and every Christmas, the family would gather from near and far to celebrate the holidays at my Grandma Frances’ home in Astoria where a big batch of her wassail recipe would be simmering away on the stove. It wasn’t Christmas until you walked into her house and that unbelievable smell of fruit and spices hit you.

Wassail Photo
This is a recipe that my great grandma made for Grandma Frances when she was a girl. Grandma Frances is a little older now and has passed the torch. Now my mom and my aunt make it for all of us. My mom even has the original recipe card—soft, tattered and well-loved! When I grew up and moved out and got my own place in Seattle, I remember calling her at Christmas and saying, “I need the wassail recipe” and now I have my own beat-up recipe card that I keep close all season long. Continue reading “A Christmas Gift from Taryn Darr: Grandma Frances’ Wassail Recipe”

Eric Ankrim on Holiday Inn

What was the first show you were in at The 5th?

The Rocky Horror Show, in the fall of 2003. I had just graduated from UPS that summer, and I went right into the ensemble of that insane production alongside Cheyenne Jackson, Louis Hobson, Laura Griffith, Billie Wildrick, Nick Garrison, Steven Taylor, Brandon O’Neil, Daniel Cruz, and SO many others who became local and national stars, and made friendships that have lasted to this day. What an introduction to the 5th! Continue reading “Eric Ankrim on Holiday Inn”

Buyer Beware: It’s Scalper Season

How to guarantee you are getting the best prices when you buy tickets for a family outing this holiday season

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: twinkly lights are on the trees, your favorite peppermint and eggnog beverages are on sale at all the coffee shops, family and friends are coming to visit and there is a multitude of festive events to choose from to put you all in the spirit. It’s always exciting to plan a trip to downtown Seattle with the family—an afternoon of shopping, a ride on the Westlake carousel, a fancy dinner at one of the stellar area restaurants, and tickets to a spectacular show like Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn at The 5th Avenue Theatre.

This is also an exciting time for ticket re-sellers to prey on families trying to plan special occasions just like this. These brokers (also called scalpers) buy tickets to entertainment events all around the city and then sell them to unsuspecting consumers at more than 100% markup. This practice is legal in the state of Washington, but can be very hard on the wallet!

Here are some tips to make sure you are getting the best deal on tickets to shows like Holiday Inn this winter! Continue reading “Buyer Beware: It’s Scalper Season”

A Letter from David Armstrong

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

It is with very mixed emotions that I announce that I have decided to step down from my position as the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of The 5th Avenue Theatre at the end of the 2017/2018 season.  After nearly 18 amazing years leading this organization, I have decided it is time to let go of the day-to-day burdens and responsibilities of running a large theater company so that I can focus more effectively on my creative work as a director and a writer. I will be transitioning to the new position of Artistic Director Emeritus and for at least the next three seasons I will continue to be employed by The 5th as a consultant, advisor, and frequent director.

The time that I have devoted to this theater company has truly been the highlight of my nearly 40 years of working in the American theater, and no other job has been nearly as meaningful or rewarding.  I could not be more proud of what I have accomplished during my time at The 5th, first as Producing Artistic Director, working in partnership with Marilyn Sheldonn; and then in my current role in collaboration with Bernie Griffin and Bill Berry. Continue reading “A Letter from David Armstrong”

The Golden Door

By Albert Evans, Artistic Associate

In 1949, Irving Berlin added a new song to his soon-to-open Broadway musical, Miss Liberty, a fictional account of the sculpting of the Statue of Liberty.

Instead of writing his own lyric, Berlin borrowed lines from “The New Colossus,” a sonnet by Emma Lazarus engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted on the statue’s pedestal.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words held a special meaning for Berlin. In 1893, when he was five years old, his family fled Tsarist Russia—along with the many thousands of other “homeless, tempest-tost” refugees driven from their homes by brutal anti-Jewish pogroms.

Berlin’s last memory of Russia was watching his house burn down while his mother held him and wept. His first memory of America was seeing the Statue of Liberty, her torch lifted to welcome him and his family as their crowded boat arrived in New York Harbor. Continue reading “The Golden Door”

Sarah Rose Davis on Holiday Inn

What was the first show you were in at The 5th?

My first show at the 5th was  A Christmas Story in 2010. I was the swing, which meant I understudied eight women in the ensemble. It was my first professional job out of college and I had never even understudied one person in a show, let alone eight. I was terrified.

How many shows have you done at The 5th in total?

I had to actually go back through the season archives to figure out how many exactly. I have done 22 productions with The 5th and Holiday Inn will be my 23rd. That is only counting the mainstage productions. I have also done over a dozen new works and readings with The 5th. Continue reading “Sarah Rose Davis on Holiday Inn”