Arts and Entertainment

I love my Broadway — but oh, you C.A.T.S.! | Ferry Home Companion

Jill Urbach sings ‘My Favorite Things’ at the Festival of Trees. ‘She did the best M.C. job we’ve seen to date,’ columnist Howard Schonberger writes.  - Howard Schonberger
Jill Urbach sings ‘My Favorite Things’ at the Festival of Trees. ‘She did the best M.C. job we’ve seen to date,’ columnist Howard Schonberger writes.
— image credit: Howard Schonberger

I love my Broadway — but oh, you C.A.T.S.! Coming back from a two-week sojourn with family in Poughkeepsie, Hudson Valley and The Big Apple for Thanksgiving, we wondered if we might feel like Little Appleseeds.

Occasionally, we’ve heard comments that we go overboard comparing our local theater talent to the greats of the Great White Way.

We were met at the Newark Airport by daughter Mary Sawyer, who picked us up as we got our baggage. Getting in that car with its GPS screen (a first for me), I felt like I should have a boarding pass. The screen started to talk to us — “Turn right at the next corner” — and had a flashing map to tell the driver all about it, all the way home.

I really felt like a hayseed when Mary talked into an invisible headset with her husband, Anthony Yu, who was just arriving in Los Angeles (he’s an IBM whiz and makes dozens of trips a year to almost every corner of the world).

During our stay, Mary decided she would go down on the train with us to see a new play, “August, Osage County,” that was getting good press.

First off, the play was powerful stuff, even by today’s standards. Just as “Tobacco Road” was many decades ago, with some of the realistic dialogue of that era and area, this drama, taking place in a rural area of Oklahoma, tells it like it is for some families.

Estelle Parsons, who stars as Violet Weston in this Tony- and Pulitzer-winning play by Tracy Letts, took the role over from Deanna Dunagan and literally has climbed to even higher accolades.

It takes place on a three-story set. The malicious matriarch-from-hell of the Weston family has to climb and run down some 352 steps per performance, 2,816 per week, 11,286 per month, sometimes sober, sometime reeling from abusive substances. A tough portrayal for an 81-year-old who makes it look like a piece of cake.

The only thing that bothers me: It seemed too bad to be true. Someone back east has come up with the word “gore-nographic” in relation to some of the forensics and miserable misfits being portrayed on stage and TV. Much as I admired the physical and theatrical talent of Parsons in this work, I found the only sane person there was the Native American housekeeper, Samantha Ross as Johana Manevata, who only worked for the Westons because she needed the job.

After Thanksgiving, Helen and I took the train down to Broadway, took a hotel room on West 77th near Broadway and then went to see the revival of “South Pacific.” This was fantastic. There are 18 million people in New York City. There are 70,000 theater seats, ranging in price from tens to hundreds. You can be sure that “South Pacific” will not have an empty seat at the high end of those prices so long as it is showing at the Lincoln Center.

I must admit, it will be hard to outdo New York on that one. David Pittsinger’s portrayal of Emile de Becque is outstanding. Kelli O’Hara does well as Ensign Nellie Forbush. Even Maryann Hu’s stand-in performance of Bloody Mary was great.

The production earned a standing ovation from that huge audience of 1,040. We had front-row loge seats and were able to see the stage gape open for the prelude and finale with what looked like the Philharmonic Orchestra in the pit.

Having said that, I still would like to see “South Pacific” or “Cats” (my two favorite musicals) done here.

Speaking of “Cats,” when we came home to the island — the best part of any trip — we attended the C.A.T.S. Festival of Trees. I still say I enjoy our local talent at Whittier, Stage Left or Benefit as much as anything I see elsewhere. Of course, Ted Soares, Andrew McLaglen and other top names bring out the best in our local stellar casts. Jill Urbach is a good example. And Jackie Altier.

Urbach did the best M.C. job we’ve seen to date. I particularly enjoyed the bit about the crush she had on her latte server (played by her husband, Andy) and his desperate reaction.

The crowd was not New York big, but auctioneer Trish Lehman did her usual top job and the sum total was good — about $50,000, according to C.A.T.S. President Pat Nieman.

Thanks to Janice Peterson, Marcy Hahn and all of the C.A.T.S. You done good!

Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington).

— Contact Howard Schonberger at 378-5696 or hschonberger@sanjuanjournal.com

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