Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

A Proper Place
Village Theatre
Review by David Edward Hughes

Also see David's review of Murder for Two


Chelsea Le Valley
Photo by Tracy Martin
Besides writing Peter Pan, which was his legacy work, author/playwright J.M. Barrie also wrote the popular 1902 play The Admirable Crichton which played the West End and Broadway several times over the years, most famously known for a rather well-received film tastelessly retitled Paradise Lagoon. A recently workshopped musical version titled A Proper Place is in the midst of a world premiere fully staged production by Village Theatre which was featured two summers back, winning subscription audiences favor in VT's summer Festival of New Musicals. The book and lyrics by Leslie Becker and Curtis Rhodes, with music by Rhodes, is a tasteful but meandering and too polite vehicle that shines in the high-level production values, impeccable direction by Broadway notable Jerry Dixon, and performances of a well-chosen cast of Puget Sound pros, many of whom wastefully disappear from the first scene not to reappear till the top of act two and in the final scene.

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In the proper stately home in England reside the posh Loam family: Lord Loam (a venerably dotty Hugh Hastings); his haughty eldest daughter Lady Mary (Chelsea Le Valley); younger daughters Lady Catherine and Lady Agatha (Sarah Bordenet and Krista Curry); their suitors Ernest, Reverend John, and Lord Brocklehurst (Randy Scholz, David Caldwell and Nathan Brockett); and numerous servants, including an extraordinarily devoted butler named Crichton (Kevin Vortmann) and a young, mouthy kitchen maid named Tweeny (Sophia Franzella). Crichton, Tweeny, the Loams, and two of the young gentlemen go off on a boating party and are lost at sea.

What starts rather charmingly as an upstairs/downstairs sort of affair goes just south of Gilligan's Island as we see the short excursion turn into several years, during which the Loams and all the other upper crusts come to rely on Crichton, a diligent and hard worker who becomes the man all on the island empower and look up to. Likewise, the initially diffident Mary and the determinedly polite but smitten Crichton fall in love, and are heading for a wedding, when a rescue party turns the tides again. Or does it?

A tale which by rights should come in at about two hours with intermission, drags on about a half hour too long. The lengthy stay on the island is marked by little adventure, some mild laughs, the slow-perking central romance, and not one real visible or audible suggestion of animals, sea creatures, birds, hungry natives, or anyone else who has ever resided there. The return to England is rather anticlimactic and luckily ties up the loose ends rather quickly, though not so soon that a certain numbness doesn't start creeping up on you.

The songs mostly just comment on the action and do not really further the tale along. Still, "So Magnificent The Man," a moving act two piece for the three stranded bachelors and young Tweeny is a rolling, musically haunting song that nears "The Impossible Dream" territory, and a raffish duet between Tweeny and Ernest naturally called "Tweeny Won't You Be My Girl" could easily have come from a mindlessly engaging 1920s musical like Me and My Girl, but this show really shouldn't sound like either of those.

Somehow, casting is the lifeboat that saves the show. Ms. LeValley, it should be clear to anyone in Seattle theatre circles or casting offices, is a strong, saucy, and vibrantly rich-voiced actress-singer who should be cast far more often than she is, and Vortmann, a just before opening cast replacement, is well-nigh perfect as the magnificently admirable Crichton. Hastings as Lord Loam lands a lot of the best dry chuckles in a role that suits his skill set like a favorite pipe and comfy slippers. The very funny farcical moments are mostly due to Mses. Bordenet and Curry, who have a sort of Cinderella's stepsisters look about them that makes one wonder if VT was testing them out for Into the Woods next fall (I'm up for it!), and as the sincere Reverend, Caldwell uses subtle charm and humor to overcome what might be a thankless role. Franzella is a find as the impish Tweeny, and infuses the role with a dash of depth. Scholz and Brockett are the two more caricatured, less sympathetic suitors, with Scholz making his role more of an acceptable comic dolt, while Brockett can't redeem a sense of nasty little social climber in his. In the ensemble, Seattle mainstays Karen Skrinde, Marissa Ryder, Andrew Eric Davidson, Bryan Tramontana, Matt Wolfe, and the droll young Michael Krenning manage to hold interest with barely anything to do for the bulk of the evening.

Music director Tim Symons raises a good sound from a solid octet of musicians with Bruce Monroe's stylish orchestrations, and Kathryn Van Meter, who is as dependable a choreographer as we have in town, manages to make her musical staging wonderment with very, very little actual dance. Carey Wong's London estate set is handsome, though the island set is right out of The Road to Bali, while Melanie Taylor Burgess' costumes are always on point.

A Proper Place runs through April 23, 2017, at Village Theatre in Issaquah then moves to Everett Performance Center running April 28th through May 21st, 2017. For tickets or information contact the the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


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