Originally published in the West Seattle Herald 07/23/15
ArtsWest Theatre’s 2014-2015 season saw new faces—both on and off the stage—and record attendance. The production team, lead by new artistic director Mathew Wright, earned their traditional summer break between seasons. Instead, it’s cabaret!
Wright had this idea. Back in college, he and his friend Adam used to buy a case a beer on a Friday night, break into the Fine Arts building on campus, sit down at a piano, and sing show tunes into the night. It didn’t matter that Wright was a self-taught pianist, not classically trained. He banged merrily away and retains a fondness for those kinds of moments that exemplify the reason he taught himself to play the piano in the first place: to hear the music.
Also back in college, Wright watched repeatedly a DVD entitled, The Leading Ladies of Broadway, featuring beloved Broadway stars, like Ethel Merman, performing as themselves.
These experiences were the inspiration for ArtsWest Theatre’s current production: After Hours with Mathew Wright: The Leading Ladies of Seattle. There are two parts to the show: in one, Wright accompanies his ladies on the piano from show tune to show tune. In the other, Wright guides his ladies through interviews about the course of their careers. Over the course of the evening, Wright intermittently moves between these two show pieces.
Audiences can look forward to the genuineness of two performers stripped of character and dramatic context. Glamorous they may be, but their interaction is so casual that the audience comes away more with the feeling of having glimpsed two kids playing dress-up and belting out their favorite singles. Those two kids also just happen to be highly talented and practiced professionals.
It’s a performance that exposes the artists as artists, in the best way possible. Song to song, you can see the shift in the performer’s expression, hear her round or sharpen her voice to the character of the song. It’s an impressive act to see, and at the same time has an air of vulnerability. The first leading lady to perform, Sarah Rose Davis, admits, “Having performed for years now, this has been one of the few things that still makes me nervous. And being nervous is good. It brings you in tune with your work.”
“I see theatre as sharing,” Wright explains. “Now that I’ve been here for a year, I’ve come to see our audience as friends and conversation partners.” And what better to connect than converse about the craft itself?
One show out of five down, After Hours is a hit that has already inspired requests from the audience. The Leading Gentlemen of Seattle is tentatively scheduled for the fall, and Wright is also thinking about a Leading Couples.
The Leading Ladies will be performed at ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery (4711 California Ave SW) Monday nights from July 20th through August 17th at 7:30pm. General admission is $25 per show or $100 for the series. Eleven tables for two, featuring complimentary San Pellegrino, cookies, and flickering candlelight, are $75 per show or $300 for the series. Tickets are on sale at the box office or at http://www.artswest.org/theatre/buy-tickets/