What good is sitting alone in your room? Arts West Playhouse’s Artistic Director Mat Wright doesn’t think much of it so last Monday night and the next 4 consecutive Monday’s his irregularly scheduled After Hours series is turning it over to several of Seattle Theatre’s most visible and respected leading ladies; Jessica Skerritt takes center stage Monday July 27, followed by Cayman Ilika on August 3, Laura Griffith August 10 and Katherine Strohmaier August 17. (It should be noted that the series kicked off with Sarah Rose Davis, whose pipes challenged Streisand’s in VT’s Funny Girl last year and is a laugh-riot as Frenchy in 5th Avenue’s current Grease).
When Wright came to Seattle he worked for 3 years at the 5th Avenue, prior to starting as AD at Arts West last season. He recalls “The first question I was asked was, so are you going to start doing all musicals all the time? And the answer was no. The last 2 seasons they had 2 musicals and 4 straight plays, but that distinction is not carved in stone. When I choose material I lead with story, and I have equal amounts of musical and non-musical theatre in my background, and I’ve grown up without any kind of distinction in mind. In my mind, there is musical theatre, non-musical theatre and stuff that falls in between, so it’s really about what is the most compelling material period. Both our musicals this season are American Idiot and Violet. They both are extraordinary pieces of storytelling, the form of which happens to be musical theatre. That is what I appreciated at the 5th too. They are a musicals company, but the story always come first.”
Arts West has no adult theatre programmed in the summertime, and that plus Mat’s love of “Divas of Musical Theatre” lead to this exciting new Monday night series. “When I was in college someone gave me a DVD some years ago, The Leading Ladies of Broadway with the likes of Patti LuPone and Liza, and I have Judy Garland’s old TV series on DVD as well. And I’m friends with Brandon Ivie who has had such luck with his New Voices series. So we put it out to these ladies in town, whose work I loved, including Jessica who blew me away in ACT’s Little Shop of Horrors, and then again in Jacques Brel.
The winsome, warm and vocally dexterous Ms. Jessica Skerritt has also wowed theatergoers in recent leading roles at Village Theatre in Xanadu and No Way to Treat A Lady, although she admits “I’m just happy to be working here and doing what I love. I loved the small but very fun role I had in Elf and being in the Carousel ensemble (both at 5th Avenue). Early in her post high school years she also took on challenging title role of Flora The Red Menace, and the demanding Jenny Lind in Barnum at Showtunes, in concert. (Full disclosure: I was at the casting table for both and she earned them up against some tough competition). Skerritt giggles “I was sooooo scared when I got Flora! Luckily I think I all ready had a few staged readings at VT under my belt, but to do a role Liza put on the map with 24 hours total rehearsal time, it was crazy. But such fun. Jenny Lind was harder in a way, not as many songs but I had just really started belting a lot by then, and had to go back to to my upper range which I had trained for so long, and her big song definitely required it. It’s good discipline learning a show fast for a concert or staged reading, kind of like putting on a show in summer stock.”
With Mat as her artistic collaborator, host and pianist, what are some of the (subject to change) songs she will be doing? “I definitely want to do some Jason Robert Brown, maybe from The Last 5 Years, maybe Songs from A New World, maybe both. “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop, “If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” from The Producers, and “Just Like That” from A Christmas Story which I just adore! I idolized Shirley Jones since childhood, so something from Oklahoma! or The Music Man. I love story songs and in a cabaret setting it gives you the opportunity to launch into these longer tunes, sharing them with an audience in a way you can’t in a book musical. Like “The Girl in 14-G” a comic number that Kristin Chenoweth did on an album. Maybe something from A Little Night Music which is my favorite Sondheim show. My favorite Sondheim song is “So Many People” (from his first, rarely performed musical Saturday Night) so that will be a definite.”
With the loss of such Seattle cabaret mainstay venues as Cabaret deParis and Thumpers over the years, it seems a no-brainer that musical theatre buffs and show queens, both gay and straight, should plan on spending their next 4 Monday’s at Arts West Playhouse and Gallery, 4711 California Ave. S.W. in West Seattle. Tickets are $25.00 apiece or at a table for 2 for $75.00. For tickets and further info go to http://www.artswest.org/