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One Night With Janis Joplin Review

One Night With Janis Joplin

One Night With Janis Joplin

The concept behind Portland Center Stage’s production of One Night With Janis Joplin is a good one: bring the Janis Joplin concert experience back on stage and give modern audiences a taste of what it was like to see her in concert. Unfortunately, the production, created, written and directed by Randy Johnson, is one big hot mess.  Johnson has a fairly impressive resume with a number of other stage music re-experiences including Elvis The Concert, Always Patsy Cline, and Conway Twitty – The Man The Music and The Legend. Johnson also has extensive experience directing actual concerts and tours. All this experience, however, doesn’t result in a good show.

One Night With Janis Joplin suffers on a number of fronts.  The first and most serious issue with the show is an absolutely horrible script.  The play never can make up its mind if it’s a singular concert experience or a journey through Janis Joplin’s life. Many of the monologues that happen between or during songs are just one step up from ramblings. In the first act many of these monologues focus on “The Blues” and the other artists who influenced Joplin. Johnson seems obsessed with these influences and at times the show feels like it’s more an essay on The Blues than a show about Joplin herself.  This obsession manifests itself in the creation of another character who wanders in and out of the show, ‘The Blues Singer’.  This character comes on stage to represent many of the women who influenced Janis Joplin’s music. The role is voiced wonderfully by Sabrina Elayne Carten, whose rendition of classic Nina Simone, Bessie Smith and Aretha Franklin songs are some of the absolute highlights of the show. Read more…

The Chosen at Portland Center Stage

April 10, 2010 No comments
The Chosen

Stark Staging Hampers The Chosen

Chaim Potok’s The Chosen is among several productions this season at Portland Center Stage that are based on a book or had previously been produced as a movie. It’s an almost unavoidable reality for theatrical companies to pack their slate with plays that people are somehow familiar with in some way.

Another unfortunate reality of modern theater is that the money available for productions has shrunken. Portland Center Stage’s artistic director Chris Coleman has embraced this fact and in many  of his productions this season has worked with negative space and  actor’s narrative or pantomime to fill the stage. This tactic worked extremely well for Ragtime and Snow Falling on Cedars but fails miserably with The Chosen. Read more…

The Santaland Diaries with Wade McCollum Review

December 7, 2009 No comments
Wade McCollum in Portland Center Stage's The Santaland Diaries

Wade McCollum in Portland Center Stage's The Santaland Diaries

Wade McCollum is one of the select few performers in Portland that makes whatever performance he’s in one worth seeing. One of the most entertaining and likable people on stage in Portland, McCollum consistently delivers exciting and engaging performances well worth the price of admission. With Portland Center Stage‘s production of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries we get just over an hour of pure McCollum.

The Santaland Diaries follows one fatefully holiday season when Sedaris decided to work as “Crumpet” an elf in Macy’s New York Santaland. The play takes place during Sedaris’ leaner starving artist period, long before he became a household name for his dry, witty and offen askewed humor. McCollum does an excellent job of capturing Sedaris’ wit and humor while making his performance feel very real and immediate. During the first part of the monologue McCollum reaches out to the audience to directly connect what he’s saying with people in the crowd. He acts more like a guy telling a wild tale at a party than someone on a stage.

As the piece continues more and more characters enter the story and McCollum literally embodies each with pitch perfect vocal and facial technique. McCollum does more than impersonate people he channels them and this makes this one man show feel like it’s populated by an entire cast of characters. One of the risks of McCollum’s Jim Carrey like talent is that he’d get so lost in all the characters he’d lose the sincere undertone of the piece. McCollum seems keenly aware of this and adeptly plays a wide range of emotional notes throughout the piece, ultimately leading a crescendo of emotion that feels as genuine and sincere as if it had really happened to McCollum himself.

Sedaris’ piece itself is far from perfect. There are definite highs and lows to it. The closer the piece gets to Christmas Eve the more rushed and muddled it becomes. But it does finally hit its mark as it covers the flood of last minute Christmas shoppers all clamoring for their chance to hang with Santa. If you aren’t a fan of One Life To Live (which I am not) there are a good number of jokes and references which will go right over your head.

The real reason to see The Santaland Diaries isn’t really for David Sedaris’ humor or even because it’s a nice holiday tale, it’s Wade McCollum. McCollum is so eminently entertaining, any time he steps on stage with this kind of electric energy it’s absolutely worth seeing and The Santaland Diaries is no exception.

The Santaland Diaries runs through January 2nd at Portland Center Stage. Tickets $44-$49. Due to demand the show won’t have any rush tickets.

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