Oregon Stage Works opens two shows

Oregon Stage Works will begin its new season with two plays. The first is a revival of the celebrated musical revue, "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris." Created by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman with music by Jacques Brel, the show was an Off-Broadway sensation in the late 1960s and quickly went on to international fame. The production opens at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27, at Oregon Stage Works, 191 A St., Ashland.

Artists as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Frank Sinatra and Sting have been drawn to cover Brel's songs. But as powerful as the works are on their own, says the show's director, Doyne Mraz in a press release, together they form something astounding.

"You get a vision of love in all its tremendous manifestations," he says: "the dizziness of early love; older love; the love of people off to war; the struggle to find your place when love is taken away." Each song accumulates, he adds, telling the full story of the way love works in our world. This is not a revival of the '60's show, Mraz points out; the singers' own emphases and shadings make each song utterly up-to-date.

The four performers who bring the songs' characters and stories to life have appeared on a number of Rogue Valley stages. Tamara Marston has appeared frequently at the Oregon Cabaret Theater in such shows as "Cindy Rella," "Nunsense" and "Kathy and Mo." She also played in Camelot Theatre's "Annie" and OSW's "Nickel and Dimed" and has soloed with the Siskiyou Singers in their productions of McCartney's "Liverpool Oratorio," Mendelssohn's "Elijah" and Handel's "Semele."

Joelle Graves was a company member of the Los Altos Conservatory Theatre before moving to Oregon with her husband, Roger. She played leading roles in "The King and I," "The Music Man" and "The Sound of Music" with Rogue Music Theatre, has performed with the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, and appeared in Oregon Shakespeare Festival's productions of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and "Present Laughter." She has also soloed with such groups as the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers, Rogue Valley Symphony, Rogue Opera and the Siskiyou Singers.

Roger Graves is a veteran of the Los Altos Conservatory Theatre and Bay Area musical theater and has appeared in numerous productions with Rogue Music Theatre, including "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "A Little Night Music" and "Jesus Christ Superstar." He currently performs with the Southern Oregon Repertory Singers and is a frequent soloist in Southern Oregon, having sung for the Rogue Valley Symphony, Britt Symphony Orchestra, Rogue Opera, Siskiyou Singers, and the Northwest Bach Ensemble.

Erik Connolly also performed extensively in musical theater in the Bay Area before relocating to Ashland. He was most recently seen in Camelot Theatre's "The Spitfire Grill" and played in Rogue Opera's "The Pirates of Penzance," "An Evening of Leonard Bernstein" and "An Evening of Gilbert and Sullivan."

Director Mraz was the longtime Artistic Director of the Los Altos Conservatory Theatre as well as director of Foothill College's professional theatre conservatory. He has taken shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and directed the original production of "Outcry" for Tennessee Williams in San Francisco.

Musical director Laurie Anne Hunter, who made her Lincoln Center debut in 1992, was an assistant conductor and vocal coach with the New York City Opera as well as with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the Boston Concert Opera and the Metropolitan Opera Guild's educational productions. Locally she has served as musical director for the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and Southern Oregon University's Department of Theatre Arts.

The show's stage manager is Olivia Todd. Choreography is by Tara Watkins, with lighting design by Roger Graves and projections and sound design by Nick Berch. Brandon Schilling is in charge of scenic design and graffiti art; Jeanne Marniak is the show's documenter.

"Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" will play at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays from Sept. 27 through Oct. 14 and then from Oct. 26 through Nov. 4. Tickets are $25 ($12 for students 21 and under) at Grocery Outlet in Medford and the Music Coop in Ashland. The theater will offer two special Senior Nights on Sunday, Sept. 30, and Thursday, Oct. 4, when tickets will be available for $15 to all seniors 65 and over.

Playing in repertory with "Jacques Brel" will be Alan Bennett's "Talking Heads." This popular series of monologues first appeared on BBC TV, moved on to runs in London and New York, and is currently one of the best-selling audio books in the world. Part of a national tour featuring actress Helena de Crespo, "Talking Heads" opens at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1, at Oregon Stage Works.

Bennett came to fame in the 1960s with "Beyond the Fringe," the satirical comedy he wrote and performed with Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller. Bennett's Broadway play, "The History Boys," won six Tony Awards. His film, "The Madness of King George," which he adapted from his stage play, was nominated for four Academy Awards.

Bennett is known for both the wit and deep humanity of his writing. "Talking Heads" will showcase three pieces: "Bed Among the Lentils," "The Outside Dog," and "Waiting for the Telegram." All suggest the inventive, sometimes startling ways that human beings strive to find happiness, or at least the hope that happiness may come.

De Crespo trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and has performed all over the world in theater, television and film. She has received the Ondra award for her contribution to Latin American theater, has won multiple awards in the United Kingdom, and was nominated Woman of the Year for her contribution to the performing arts by the American Association of University Women. The production is directed by Gray Eubank and Donald Horn.

"Talking Heads" will play at 7:30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from Oct. — through Oct. 10 and then Oct. 22 through Oct. 31, with Sunday performances at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 7, 14 and 28. Tickets are $19 ($12 for students 21 and under) at Grocery Outlet in Medford and the Music Coop in Ashland. The theater will offer special $12 tickets for seniors 65 and over on Oct. 2, 7 and 10.

Call 482-2334.

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