Brief Encounters


The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave., 206-292-ARTS. $15-$58.7:30 p.m. Sun. and Tues.-Wed.; 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.; 2 p.m. matinees Sat.-Sun.Ends Sun., March 16. Even in the Oscar-winning movie version of Lerner and Loewe's Pygmalion musical, there's a creaky sense of entitlement about the way we're expected to endure professor Henry Higgins and flower-girl-cum-lady Eliza trading songs for nigh on three hours. There are no revelations in director David Bennett's respectful effort for 5th Avenue, but there is, happily, some sense of why anybody even bothers with the musty old thing. The good-looking show moves at a surprising clip, and a fetching restraint in the presentation uncovers the essential pleasures of this classic. The numbers, with choreography by Casey Nicholaw, have a natural sense of joy about them. Songs seem to happen because someone has a real need to communicate: The uncomplicated sweetness of Louis Hobson's "On the Street Where You Live" suggests an ardent na裂who'd be singing whether or not he were even in a musical. Until the expected drunken hoo-ha of "Get Me to the Church on Time," anyway, the show never feels like Cockneys on Parade. Not quite working: David Pichette's professor. Pichette is a fine actor, but the snarling comic edge he brings to character roles isn't right for Higgins. Pichette just doesn't have the almost flamboyant, deceptively light touch so necessary for an unconventional romantic lead. He gets pinched when he should be drolly smug, and he chokes on his songsyou notice how difficult Lerner's patter really is. Judy Blazer's formidable Eliza, however, brings across whatever affection Bennett was hoping to convey for the material. Her transformed lady has an aching tinge of melancholy, and the flower girl always lying just beneath has real swaggerthe "oh" preceding her "wouldn't it be loverly?" sounds as guttural and delicious as its creators surely intended. - Steve Wiecking A BRIGHT ROOM CALLED DAY

Theater 4, Seattle Center House, fourth floor, 206-325-6500. $8-$10.8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Ends Sat., March 22. One of the consequences of the current war mania is that we must endure a lot more political theater. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just that political theater is unsubtle by design, and often results in a high-minded, well-intentioned mess. So here we are with a deeply political work by Tony Kushner, America's most politically charged playwright, and the surprise is that the production is irresistible. Irresistible, that is, for anyone who has an interest in 20th-century political theory or who harbors a morbid fascination with Hitler's rise to power or who lives in a world that's about to spin off its axis. The play takes place in Berlin circa 1932-33, when the Nazi Party made its quick and terrifying ascent to power. Of course, this being Kushner's work circa 1987, Bright Room is flush with Reagan-era anxietiesAIDS, American imperialism, nuclear annihilationand the presentation is hardly delicate: "Overstatement," Kushner tells us, "is your friend." But overstatement is more than Kushner's friendit's his lifeline. A few of the actors are duds, so I'll stick with the success stories. Frederick Molitch, as an all-too-liberated gay man in Hitler's crosshairs, and Emily Batlan, as a wry Communist artist, are harrowing in a good way, and Mallery MacKay-Brook invests her modern-day narrator monologues with a kind of mad, prophetic urgency. The award of the evening, though, goes to R.C. Jennings, who emerges at the end of Act I as a snappily dressed, tubercular devil. Hobbling on a cane and coughing up blood, he confirms that yes, Virginia, there is evil in the world. And sometimes evil wears a suit. - Chris Jensen NICKY SOMEWHERE ELSE

Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Center, 206-441-3322. $12-$26.7 p.m. Fri.; 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.Ends Sun., March 30. Those looking for a nice, linear afternoon of storytelling onstage may want to skip Nicky Somewhere Else; it's no Charlotte's Web. Instead, this Dutch-born work combines puppetry and live actors in a dreamy amalgamation of flute, dance, sign language, and sometimes esoteric dialogue. The storywhat there is of itfollows 10-year-old Nicky as he searches for his long-lost twin brother, who has gone "somewhere else," a mysterious land that also happens to be inhabited by his dearly departed grandpa. Thanks to the machinations of a group of mischievous angels who watch over him (uniformly well acted by an adult troupe), Nicky is brought to a land of cotton-ball clouds and giant gossamer flowers, where Santa Claus is the gatekeeper and a stuffed bunny is his only traveling companion. Though it's recommended for ages 6 and up, it should work for kids up to 10; kids any older may want more actionthe audience visibly perked up for a random Britney Spears snippetand less gentle atmospherics. - Leah Greenblatt

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