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Theater Week 

by Michael Bowen & r & After a summer spent fighting over the remote, the lemming people see leaves starting to turn and take it as a signal to start lining up at local box offices. At least local theaters seem to think so, considering how many openings they've crammed into this week. (See our Julia Sweeney preview on page 23 and, next week, our review of Nunsense II at CenterStage.)





Once Upon a Song & r & People think that "cabaret" means "a chintzy show that's been thrown together. It has such a cheesy reputation. But it's not burlesque or vaudeville," says Abbey Crawford, who will present an evening of song in the intimate confines of the Firth J. Chew Studio Theatre this Friday and Saturday nights.


But aren't many listeners a little nervous about the greater intimacy of cabaret? Most people don't want singers straddling chairs and draping a feather boa around their necks.


Crawford laughs and says, "I'm not that type -- I don't walk off the stage and touch people. I do it with my voice."


Before and during a show, in fact, Crawford's not brassy and assertive but nervous: "I do a lot of pacing" before a show, she says. "I talk with my husband -- he's my techie and roadie and counselor, all in one. I do a lot of inward stuff -- but my self-talk is all, 'God, you are gonna suck. You are gonna bomb so badly.' But then my other voice says, 'Shut the hell up.' You've got to have courage standing in the face of fear."


Which may explain why Crawford has such affection for a song called "Meadowlark" from The Baker's Wife by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Pippin, Wicked). In this story-within-a-story song, a blind meadowlark is nurtured by a loving king -- but when the bird's sight returns, she's afraid of flying away and hurting her protector's feelings.


In her solo cabaret show, Crawford will be accompanied by Leeann Aerlyn, who also played piano recently during the run of Some Enchanted Evening at CdA Summer Theatre.


The 18 songs Crawford will perform include "Pure Imagination" from Willie Wonka along with tunes from Company, A Chorus Line and Into the Woods. She'll also sing the delightful "Alto's Lament" (about the petty jealousies of a second-fiddle singer) by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler -- lyrics that also have a personal angle for Crawford: "I was a high soprano -- didn't have to work too hard and got to sing the pretty stuff," she recalls. "Then I ended up smoking for five years and became an alto."





"Once Upon a Song" -- Friday-Saturday, Oct. 7-8, at 7:30 pm -- marks the first of six monthly cabarets that Crawford will perform through March at Spokane Civic Theatre's Studio Theatre, 1020 N. Howard St. (Dean Street entrance). ("Food, Glorious Food!" is on the program for Nov. 18-19.) Tickets: $12. Visit & lt;a href="www.abbeycrawford.com" & Abbey's website & lt;/a & or call 218-9732.





Tuesdays With Morrie & r & Interplayers starts its experiment with readers' theater this weekend with Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie.


"What people will see at this show will be two chairs and music stands and lights and some music and two actors wearing their own clothes, not costumes," says director Nike Imoru. The actors are a couple of local theater stalwarts: as Mitch, Roger Welch, artistic director of CdA Summer Theatre; and as Morrie, Jack Bannon, veteran of many CdA Summer shows after his TV career.


"There is such warmth in these two actors -- it's one of the most perfect stage relationships I've seen," says Imoru. "They're very giving actors."


Morrie's story is special too: a sportswriter looks up a beloved former professor who's dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease, then meets with him over the last 16 weeks of his life -- along the way, unexpectedly learning a lot about dying and living. "It deals with our obsession with wanting more and more things, when what we really need to do is just love each other," Imoru says. "Morrie talks about the need to invest in people -- in giving more, not taking more."


He also describes being cared for as you die as a return to a kind of infancy, to the kind of unconditional love that we all long for. Passages like that have brought charges that Morrie is just another weepy, feel-good book/movie/play. But Imoru doesn't regard it as sentimental, heard-it-all-before material: "There are only so many stories to tell," she says. "The Russian formalists show us that. People have seen Terminator 2 over and over, and all the Walt Disney narratives have been heard before. The important stories have been told in different forms, but the content is forever the same."





Performances at 174 S. Howard St. on Oct. 6 at 7:30 pm, Oct. 7 at 8 pm, Oct. 8 at 2 pm and 8 pm, and Oct. 9 at 2 pm. Tickets: $10. Visit & lt;a href="www. interplayers.com" & Interplayers & lt;/a & or call 455-PLAY. Early next year, Interplayers will also present readers' theater productions of To Kill a Mockingbird (Jan. 12-16) and Love Letters (Feb. 13-18).





Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business & r & Spokane Children's Theatre opens its 60th season with the Inland Northwest premiere of Joan Cushing's musicalization of one of the beloved Barbara Park stories about a headstrong little girl. This time, it's a sibling rivalry conflict: Junie B. misunderstands her grandmother's referring to Junie's baby brother as "a little monkey." (That'll mess up her show-and-tell presentation for sure.)


Dawn Taylor-Reinhardt is directing a group of adults who are trying to act like children. "This has been a real challenge -- for the adult actors to keep that childlike quality. That's a line we've had to draw," she says. "I don't want it to sound like a 5-year-old is singing -- not whiney, but not sounding like adults either."


Not to get too heavy about it, Dawn, but children's theater is supposed to entertain and educate. Any lessons to be drawn from Junie B.?


"Well, the kids will learn a little about sharing," she says. "As for the adults, we tend to forget the challenges that kids have in school. We're all so busy-busy in our own jobs that we forget what kids go through when they go to school, the personalities that they have to cope with."


Junie B. will be played by Danielle Read (the always crying Ermengarde in the Civic's Hello, Dolly!). Other cast members include Tony Caprile, Jamie Flanery, Nicole Hicks, Tami Knoell and Sarah Miller.





Performances at SCC's Lair Building, Mission Avenue and Greene Street, on Saturdays, Oct. 8-22, at 10 am and 1 pm, and Sundays, Oct. 9-23, at 1 pm (with an additional performance at 4 pm on Oct. 16 only). Tickets: $7; $6, children. Visit & lt;a href="www.spokanechildrenstheatre.org" & Spokane Children's Theater & lt;/a & or call 328-4886.





Arsenic and Old Lace & r & Another community theater group, in the wake of ACT, the Valley Rep, the moribund Spokane Theatrical Group and others? Why?Though Ignite! Community Theatre was started in reaction to some management decisions at Spokane Civic Theatre, Rebecca Cook, who is vice president on the Ignite! board, emphasizes that "Ignite! is not anti-Civic. We've gotten some costumes from them, after all."


After Lisa Caryl (now president of the Ignite! board) was fired during the housecleaning of May 2004 at the Civic -- and Cook had quit her costume-shop job there -- the two of them spearheaded the effort to open Ignite! for business.


"I'm not against the Civic," says Cook, "but I'm clearly not going back to work there. I quit in protest. I'm not going back to work for that board. There's been some turnover [on the Civic board], but it wasn't run as a community theater. I still love community theater, though, and I still want to work in it. A lot of people felt hurt by what happened and didn't want to go back. We wanted to give them another home."


About leaving the Civic, says Cook, "It was scary as hell. I quit my job, and I loved that job -- I was surrounded by all those costumes for three years. But it was either walk away [from community theater entirely] or else do something good with it."


The good they'll do involves starting their premiere season with a 1941 comedy that draws its humor from dark places like insanity and murder. Director Scott Finlayson, however, regards Arsenic and Old Lace as concerned "with the contrasts between what the outside world might suspect of someone and how odd they really can be without anyone having a clue about it. The aunties are outwardly the most harmless people on earth, and yet they're the ones committing the crime. Teddy is obviously a nutcase, and yet he's completely harmless.


"We get to see the eccentricities of everyone in the cast, which makes it a character-driven plot -- the sweet little aunts, their nephew, the villainous brother, the odd German doctor, the Brooklyn and Irish cops who come in and out -- and then there's Elaine, the girlfriend who seems so normal. But she puts up with all this stuff, so how normal is she, really? Besides, she's a minister's daughter."





Arsenic and Old Lace will premiere on Oct. 7-8 and Oct. 13-15 at 8 pm, with a matinee on Sunday, Oct. 9, at 2 pm. Tickets: $12; $10, seniors, military and students. Performances in the Cajun Room inside the Riverwalk building at 1003 E. Trent Ave. "Don't be confused by the Rendezvous sign," says Finlayson. "Just walk right in -- we're on the left, next to Northern Lights Brewery and before you get to Riverview Thai." Visit & lt;a href="www.ignitetheatre.org" & Ignite! & lt;/a & or call 993-6540.





So drop the remote and run like a lemming to the nearest ticket booth. To escape the Cliff of Boredom and land in the Clover of Local Theater, all you need to do is take a running leap.

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