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Roasting Spokane 

by Ann M. Colford & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ny psychologist will tell you that one sign of maturity and a healthy self-image is the ability to laugh at yourself. As individuals, we know that a sense of humor can help one navigate the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But does the same hold true for cities? And if it does, is Spokane grown up enough to laugh at itself?


The local writers and theater veterans at CenterStage are banking on the answer being yes. Their newest dinner-theater venture, CenterStage LIVE!, opens tomorrow and runs every Friday and Saturday (except for St. Patrick's Day weekend) through April 1. It's an appropriate closing date for a show filled with musical theater numbers and sketch comedy that skewers local institutions from City Hall to the Catholic Diocese to local media outlets.


"I don't think there's any doubt that people like things to be familiar," says the show's director, Kim Roberts. "They like to be part of an inside joke."


Written by a creative team of regular CenterStage performers -- Reed McColm, Tim Behrens, Janean Jorgensen, Michael Donohue, Maria Caprile and Leslie Ann Grove -- CenterStage LIVE! is a little bit cabaret, a little bit Broadway revue and a lot of original comedy sketches that come straight from local headlines.


"The show was spurred by the idea to do something different, but at the same time to showcase some very talented people, not the least of whom are the writers," Roberts says. "Janean has a phenomenal knowledge of musical theater, and she rewrote a lot of the lyrics. Leslie created the opening music number, [an adaptation of the old Nat Cole chestnut, "L-O-V-E,"] and Reed has done so much -- he's a very funny writer."


Grove, McColm, Behrens and Jorgensen also appear onstage, along with CenterStage regular Darin Jones. All of the performers are Spokane theater veterans, and their strengths complement each other. Jones and Jorgensen get to showcase their considerable musical theater chops in solo numbers, and everyone takes a turn in the comedic spotlight. Behrens delivers a "McManus Moment" in each show, a sketch written by Patrick McManus in his trademark style. Behrens has also created a new character, Ira Groper, a Jack Benny-esque poet in a smoking jacket who regularly pops out onto a balcony above the stage to recite his own unique brand of comically absurd verse.


"Tim composed all the Ira Groper poems," Roberts says. "It reminded him of the work his dad used to do on radio dramas."





& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & nd there's some nice ensemble work as well. One of the funniest bits is the "Spokane Report," a spoof of local television news programming, complete with a male-female anchor team, live "on-the-scene" reporting and fake commercials a la Monty Python and Saturday Night Live. As broadcast news formats have become ever more predictable, the opportunities for parody have blossomed, and the "Spokane Report" takes advantage of them all.


Some familiar musical theater numbers have been creatively rewritten with what Roberts calls "corrupted" lyrics. And the "Three-Minute Melodrama" packs all of the characters and plot action from an archetypal lose-the-farm story into a single patter song. There's the mother-daughter farm heroines (Grove and Jorgensen), the Snidely Whiplash-like villain (McColm), the hero who saves the day (Jones) -- and of course, the family cow (Behrens).


Speaking of cows, few of them are sacred to this irreverent bunch. Even Beelzebub himself puts in an appearance. Laughs come at the expense of old people, deaf people, famous people -- but mostly, of course, people in positions of power. This isn't slapstick; the comedy has a satirical edge that allows the team to present current events in a way that's thoughtful without being preachy.


"We do maintain some bounds of good taste," Roberts says. "And good taste includes trying to keep a PG-13 rating for the dinner theater shows." If the format of the show is a success, CenterStage hopes to add a second late-night Saturday show, which Roberts says will be a little bit edgier, with more racy material.


Each weekend will feature a guest artist, in addition to the regular company of performers, along with magician Matthew Van Zee. In the current run, the guest artists will be vocalists; Angela Snyder will be in the lineup this weekend.


"I think what's truly different about this show is that we're trying to make it about Spokane," says Roberts. "It's not going to be as funny to people who aren't from here." After a beat, she adds with a laugh, "We just hope it's funny for people who are from here."





CenterStage LIVE! opens Friday, Feb. 24, and runs every Friday and Saturday night (except for St. Patrick's Day weekend) through April 1. Doors open at 6 pm for dinner and cocktails; curtain is at 8 pm. Tickets are $39 for dinner and show, $19 for the show only. Call 74-STAGE.

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