Meet the Assassins: Samuel Byck

About the Actor: Matt Wolfe

Wolfe makes his ACT debut with this co-production of Assassins with The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT- A Contemporary Theatre. He’s no stranger to The 5th Avenue stage, with credits in Pirates of Penzance, Saving Aimee, Aladdin, A Christmas Story The Musical, Catch Me If You Can and The Sound of Music. He’s done extensive work in Seattle at the Village Theatre (The Producers, Iron Curtain, Million Dollar Quartet, Tommy, The Music Man, and others), and Seattle Children’s Theatre (Goodnight Moon, The Wizard of Oz, Busytown and others). Wolfe is also known for his voice over work and performances in commercials, TV and film.

Wolfe made his Broadway debut with Scandalous, A Musical directed by 5th Avenue Theatre Artistic Director David Armstrong and toured nationally with Hello, Dolly!

Wolfe is the Artistic Director of Showtunes Theatre Company, which produces Broadway musicals in concert at Benaroya Hall. He was recently nominated for “Best Voiceover” for children’s audiobooks by the SOVAS Voice Arts Awards. More information can be found at

About the Assassin: Samuel Byck

Following an honorable discharge from the US Army in 1956, Samuel Byck struggled to keep a job and started several businesses that failed. His wife left him in 1972, taking their four children with her. Suffering from depression, he sought psychiatric help, expressing his belief that the government was corrupt, a slave to special interests and a conspirator in the oppression of the poor. Byck over time was arrested twice for protesting outside the White House without a permit, and later dressed in a Santa Claus suit for another protest.

He began plotting to kill President Nixon in order to “take back the government” for the people. He planned to hijack a plane and fly it into the White House and kept detailed audio recordings of his steps to do so, imagining that he would be honored as a hero. Byck’s plan was thwarted, though not before two innocent lives were lost: an airport security guard and the co-pilot to a Delta Airlines flight he had managed to board (though severely wounded, the pilot survived). The plane never left the tarmac.  Byck committed suicide in the cockpit before he could be captured and Nixon’s schedule was not affected by the assassination attempt. Before his death, Byck sent a tape detailing his plan—“Operation Pandora’s Box”— to a news columnist.

Come see Assassins, performed at ACT—A Contemporary Theatre. Visit our website, and search March 17-April 7 for best availability.

Check back next week for our next casting announcement!


A Uniquely American Quilt: Partners in Empowering Youth Through Musical Theater


Sheri and Les Biller chat with Rising Star Project students backstage.

The Rising Star Project was first presented in 2011, and since 2013 it has grown and developed in partnership with The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. While preparing for this year’s Rising Star Project—our fifth year mentoring Washington teenagers—we chat with Sheri and Les about their hopes and goals for the program to continue creating new opportunities for students, the community and the theater.


“Musical theater is America’s art form. It’s our quilt,” says Sheri with a smile.  “It has enabled us to share stories and discuss social issues through every critical period in our nation’s history. This is why it’s so important that we continue nourishing the growth of musical theater.”

The Rising Star Project is part of a diverse and ambitious portfolio of initiatives led by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. Driven by a mission to invest in bold ideas that inspire collective action in order to achieve powerful results, the Foundation makes grants to numerous organizations in Washington State and Los Angeles County.

Les: “We work in four areas—supportive care, public education, career training and theater arts. We want to try to do as much as we can in these areas to benefit the community and to advance positive and sustainable change.”

The story of how theater enrichment—and more specifically, Rising Star Project—has become an integral part of the Foundation’s vision begins with Sheri’s childhood:



Sheri: “Theater was a big part of my youth. It was important to my family. As a child and as a teenager, I had my share of issues and got bored in school. But one of the things that saved me was being around theater, being involved in theater, and performing in theater. Having this creative outlet helped me learn how to express myself, and in such a positive way.”


Les: “I came to theater through Sheri. It wasn’t necessarily a part of my childhood—but through Sheri, I became a lover of theater and musical theater. Sheri also brought into focus for me how theater can have a social impact.”

The beginning of a new partnership

Sheri: “Because I have firsthand experience with the importance of exposure to theater as a young person, we seek to support inspiring theatre productions with immersive educational components. We believe that students need to have the arts in their lives if they are to become well-rounded adults.backstage_300x150

What caught our attention about Rising Star Project is that it isn’t just an arts program. We realized it touched on all four pillars of our Foundation’s work—theater, public education, job training and, as far as I’m concerned, supportive care as well. It embraces young people and can help them deal with issues in their lives. It’s very supportive in that sense. And exactly the kind of program we needed to become involved with.”

Collaboration, new ideas, and lots of fun

tech_300x150Les: “We love Rising Star Project because it teaches life skills. We like that it brings kids from different parts of our community together in a unique setting where they learn how to work together as a team and gain self-confidence while doing it. The other part of Rising Star Project that we are very proud of is when we bring new audiences from local schools lacking access to arts programming into the theater. The students see themselves reflected in the people their age on stage and behind the scenes.”

Sheri: “But Les and I also value the act of collaborating with others. Trying to create collaboration between an arts organization and a foundation may have its challenges, but the important thing is that people are willing to work together and try new ideas. And that also makes it a lot of fun.”

Sheri also draws a connection between the Rising Star Project partnership and the collaborative nature that is intrinsic to musical theater.

Sheri: “If we’re making a musical, it’s not just about having great voices and great performers. There are so many other important roles that are required for this to succeed. Most students don’t understand that. Most adults don’t understand that. When they go to a musical, most people only notice the orchestra and the actors standing on the stage. And of course, that is only a small piece of the puzzle. There are many squares on the quilt.”

“And now we’re back to talking about quilts,” she laughs.

onstage_600x300Stories for the future

Sheri: “Another dream for Rising Star Project and this partnership is in the possibility of encouraging other communities to do this as well. In the coming years, could we multiply tenfold the number of students who can participate?  We want to work with The 5th to create an example—the model for others to follow.”

Les: “It’s important work. We have thousands of years of history. And history is a form of storytelling—whether it’s done in a verbal way, or visual way, or done through performing a musical. We’re telling stories and that’s how history and values get passed down from generation to generation.

“My other hope is that while this important work is happening, the broader community will realize what it’s about and will also want to get involved and support it. We hope that the Rising Star Project story is one that is widely told and widely known and that many people will want to be a part of the story as well.”


Click here to buy tickets for the Rising Star Project’s performances of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Or click here to find out more about the Rising Star Project.

By ORLANDO MORALES, Director of Rising Star Project and Internships

Remembering Sarah Nash Gates: Beloved Artist, Mentor, Board Member and Friend

In December of 2015, Seattle lost a treasured artist and teacher, Sarah Nash Gates. She will long be remembered by the staff of The 5th Avenue Theater as one of our greatest influences, a wonderful board member and a true friend. While 5th Avenue audiences would know her for her incredible costume designs, her devotion to theater and arts education made its influence felt in ways that patrons might not perceive.


5th Avenue audiences were amazed by Gates’ talent as a costume designer when she brought Oliver! to life in stunning vivid colors, followed by the critically-acclaimed production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. She designed for other Seattle institutions including Intiman, Seattle Rep, Seattle Children’s Theatre and Seattle Opera. She also worked nationally with theaters including Denver Center Theater Company, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, among others. She served as president of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology in the early 90s (the first woman and costume designer to hold that office) and served three years as president of the University/Resident Theatre Association.


Gates became a member of the Board of Directors of The 5th Avenue Theatre in 2008, quickly becoming the Chair of the Education Committee, which oversees our many education programs. Over the years, these programs have grown to reach over 65,000 young people across Washington State, thanks in part to her vision and leadership. She was an ardent supporter of programs like Rising Star Project, which provides direct mentorship to young people interested in all facets of theater—completely tuition-free, and Adventure Musical Theater Touring Company, which tours locally-written curriculum based musicals to schools across the state.

She retired as the Executive Director of the UW School of Drama in 2013 after a 20 year career nurturing generations of theater artists and professionals, but could not stay away for long. She came out of retirement recently to serve as the Interim Divisional Dean of the Arts.


The 5th Avenue Theatre has played a major part in cultivating a local talent pool. But as the Executive Director of the UW School of Drama, so did Gates. Many who work regularly on our stage were mentored by Gates as they first tentatively navigated careers as professional theater artists. Artists including lighting designer Robert Aguilar (Little Shop of Horrors; Jasper in Deadland), actress Taryn Darr (A Chorus Line, Val; White Christmas, Judy), and director Brandon Ivie (A Christmas Story, The Musical; Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella) met with her regularly at UW, garnering insight into the professional world of theater that they would eventually pursue.

Gates was also a founding member of Theater Puget Sound, which has become a mainstay of Seattle’s vibrant and multi-faceted theater community, connecting companies with artists and artists with each other. She encouraged collaboration and communication on every level.

The 5th Avenue Theatre will always remember Sarah Nash Gates for her artistry, her passion for mentoring young artists, and her dedication to her community. We mourn her loss, and share our deepest sympathies with her family and loved ones.

This production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is dedicated to her memory.

By BRIDGET MORGAN, Public Relations & Communications Manager

Drop Dead Dangerous: Meet The Assassins

We kick off a series of weekly casting announcements for Assassins with Rich Gray as Charles Guiteau. Learn about Gray’s career as a local actor and composer in his 22nd production with the 5th Avenue, and discover the unique presidential assassin he portrays: a man with a troubled mind and aspirations for a career in the White House.

1516 Assassins Guiteau Rich Gray
About the Actor:  Richard Gray

A regular in the Seattle theater scene, Richard Gray was last seen on the ACT stage in the pre-Broadway run of First Date. He has performed in 21 productions at The 5th Avenue Theatre including recent stagings of The Music Man, Carousel, Spamalot and A Room with a View. Among his favorite roles are “Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Max Bialystock in The Producers and a Gregory Award Nominated performance as Amos Hart in Chicago.

Gray is also known as a celebrated composer in Seattle, with recent works including Cold Turkey, Love Is Love, Time Again in Oz, Lyle the Crocodile, the Barrymore Award Winning Best Musical The Flea and The Professor, and The Gregory Award nominated Dick Whittington and His Cat. 

Gray’s upcoming role at the 5th Avenue is a dark venture into the mind of presidential assassin, Charles Guiteau.

About the Assassin: Charles Guiteau

Born in 1841, Charles Guiteau was a preacher, writer and lawyer who had a history of mental illness. He took an interest in politics and penned a few speeches in support of the Republican nominee, James Garfield. After Garfield won the presidential election, Guiteau felt the new president owed him a position in his administration for his support and demanded an ambassadorship to Paris or Austria. His requests were repeatedly denied and he was banned from visiting White House. Angered by this rejection and feeling God had told him to, Guiteau plotted his revenge and on July 2, 1881, shot President Garfield.

Famed inventor Alexander Graham Bell hastily invented the world’s first metal detector to help doctors locate the assassin’s bullet lodged in the president’s body. His efforts were in vain. The doctors laid President Garfield on a metal spring mattress to search for the bullet, which lead to many “failed attempts” to locate it. Additionally, there was little understanding at the time of germs and the necessity for sterilization. Despite these medical failures, the president managed to survive several months before succumbing to his wounds.


How to Write a Satire By Being Really, Really Smart

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is a textbook example (if textbooks were hilariously funny) of the standard definition, and a sharp refutation of Kaufman’s gloomy prediction. But it’s understandable why Kaufman made his cynical joke. He was a writer and director, and satires usually appeal more to authors than to the public. Theatergoers stubbornly prefer to go home after a musical cheered and uplifted, rather than reflecting bitterly on “foolishness or vice.”

But if a show is sufficiently nimble and its satirical arrows hit the bull’s-eye, even political and governmental shenanigans can lift the spirits. George and Ira Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing proved the point in 1931, when it combined a presidential campaign with a beauty contest, the winners to be married at the inauguration. Of Thee I Sing became one of the few smash hits of the Depression years. (Ironically, it was directed by Mr. Kaufman.) Continue reading “How to Write a Satire By Being Really, Really Smart”

Frank Loesser

Frank LoesserFRANK LOESSER was a short, pugnacious tough guy who peppered his speech with New York street slang and carried himself like one of the lovable hoodlums from his own musical Guys and Dolls. Meeting him, you might assume he was a lower-class denizen of the outer boroughs, someone who had worked his way up the show-biz ladder driven by hunger and chutzpah.

But if Frank took you home to meet the folks, you would enter a cultured Manhattan residence and shake hands with his father, a well-known professor of music; his mother, who gave lectures on modern literature; and his older stepbrother, a renowned concert pianist. Frank was the outlier of the family—not exactly a black sheep, but the son who chose a different path and created a persona to match.

That path was popular music. At first, he wrote only lyrics, working for $100 a week—a job he later described as “a rendezvous with failure.” In 1936, he placed a song in a Broadway revue. The show folded quickly but the song caught the attention of Paramount Pictures, who put him under contract. He was 25 years old and working in Hollywood! Continue reading “Frank Loesser”

The Art of Making Music: 2016 Director’s Dinner

On January 8th, The 5th’s Executive Producer and Artistic Director, David Armstrong hosted the annual Director’s Dinner and presented a discussion on The Art of Making Music. Fifty Director’s Circle members gathered on the historic 5th Avenue stage to enjoy a festive dinner by Duos and participate in a discussion with Larry Blank, Jason deBord, and Ian Eisendrath.

deBord, Blank, Walsh, Eisendrath
Left to right: Special Guests Jason deBord and Larry Blank with Connie Walsh and Ian Eisendrath

The theme of the evening was focused on how the music makes a musical. Our guests learned about the impact orchestrators, conductors, musical directors, and dance arrangers play in shaping the story on stage.

Mr. Blank received a Drama Desk Award for orchestrations for A Christmas Story (which premiered at The 5th in 2010) and has been nominated for both the Tony Award® and the Drama Desk Award for his orchestrations in The Drowsy Chaperone, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and Catch Me If You Can (also heard at the 5th Avenue).

Bloome, Kagan, Porters
Left to right: Board Members Sharon Bloome and Richard Kagan with Beth and Buzz Porter

Mr. deBord was the Resident Music Supervisor for Once, as well as conductor/music director for RENT and Priscilla Queen of the Desert. At The 5th, he was associate music director and associate conductor on  Shrek – The Musical, dance arranger for Yankee Doodle Dandy and is joining the team as dance arranger for with the upcoming production of Paint Your Wagon.

Mr. Eisendrath is The 5th Avenue’s Music Supervisor and Alhadeff Family Director of New Works. Most recently, he was the music supervisor conductor and arranger for the highly acclaimed Seattle Repertory Theatre and LaJolla Playhouse co-production of Come From Away, a new musical developed here at the 5th Avenue.

Atkinson, Covey, Weber, Crowe, Weber
Left to right: Linda Atkinson, Marilyn Covey, Jeffrey Weber, Barbara Crowe, Karen Weber

This once a year opportunity to engage with artists and explore the 5th Avenue stage in its raw form was a fun and informative experience enjoyed by all!

For more information on how you can become a Circles member, please call Christine Johnson at 206.260.2171.

6 Tried and True Tips for Bringing Kids to the Theatre

Is this your child’s  first time to the theater? Here are a few tips for an enjoyable experience for you and your whole family!


Week of the show

Tip 1: Start the conversation early
You are giving your child a great learning opportunity! Help them understand your expectations for their behavior in the theatre before the excitement sets in.


  • What do you think going to the theatre is like?
  • How is seeing a musical different from going to the movies?
  • What should we do when a song or dance is finished?
  • What does being respectful mean?

Act it out:

  • Can you show me what it looks like to sit in the theatre?
  • Show me what it look like to get out all of your giggles and energy before we get to our seats!
  • Pretend you have a question during the performance! What should you do?

Continue reading “6 Tried and True Tips for Bringing Kids to the Theatre”