The Spokane Civic Theatre opens its 54th season with the delightful musical review Tintypes, which runs through Oct. 28. Cleverly directed by Marilyn Langbehn, with the engaging choreography of Lorna Hamilton, and under the focused baton of music director Carolyn Jess, it's a nostalgic piece that takes us back to the turn of the century and mixes many musical favorites with poignant political rhetoric.
The team of Langbehn, Hamilton and Jess has created a lovely ensemble. Specific characters break away into cameos that illustrate the cultural changes and ethnic diversity of the era. The five archetypes highlighted are bully Teddy Roosevelt, Anna Held, the music hall star, Emma Goldman, the fiery socialist working for changes in the workplace, Charlie, the immigrant from Eastern Europe and Susannah, based on vaudeville star Bert Williams, who represents what blacks experienced during this rich period of change.
The play spans the time from 1876 to 1918, following the busiest period of immigration to America. With a cast of only five actors, the players do double, sometimes triple duty playing not only the leads, but also the various folks that people this bygone world. The journey takes us through old familiar tunes such as "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Hello Ma' Baby," "Bill Bailey, Won't You Please Come Home," "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and "A Bird in a Gilded Cage."
As for the production, the beginning seemed a bit disjointed as the actors enter from their individual countries and introduce themselves. It is immediately clear that the members of the ensemble were chosen for their unique blended sound, and while most of the vignettes where highly successful, a few individual moments were not quite so effective.
Tami Knoell was absolutely charming as Anna Held. Not wanting to give any delicious secrets away, just watch for her bath scene. And there's no danger of missing her other great scene -- her rendition of "Toyland" in Act Two is an absolute showstopper.
Michael Muzatko, a hit last year in 1776, played many roles in Tintypes, not the least of which is Teddy Roosevelt. My favorite moment, however, was his portrayal of an Italian vaudevillian. Stuart McKenzie, as our resident immigrant, starts the show wearing his tag from Ellis Island. He is always chasing the girl of his dreams, and his character, Charlie, uses expressive pantomime in Act Two to round out his character. A newcomer to the Civic stage is Nicole Hicks, who dances her way into your heart and whose intense, soulful renditions of songs capture the plight of blacks in the new cultural landscape. Although Susy Wasson lacked the fire that Emma Goldman should emulate in her struggle to elevate the working class, she sparkled in her various roles in Act Two and has a roller skating routine that will leave you smiling for hours.
For my money, the best moment of the evening came during the aforementioned vaudeville segment in Act Two. All of the actors pulled out the stops and fought off that proverbial second night slump. Although there were some missed connections at the beginning of Act One, as the cast moved into Act Two, they were up and running like telegraph cable.
As far as production elements go, I was impressed by the fabulous use of the gazebo, the significance of which won't be lost on local audiences. The youthful and effective orchestra invites us to reminisce back to the 1880s, as though we were in Coeur d'Alene Park in Browne's Addition, listening to a Sunday concert. The lanterns light up the stage as the actors talk about electricity changing their lives; and the inventive use of the side stages for the factory office and Anna's bath scene, the bike with the enormous front tire (where did they find it?) and the glorious costumes all took my breath away.
All in all, it was a very satisfying evening. The talents of the ensemble were brought to fruition under the guidance of the terrific creative team, and technically, it is a visual treat. Stroll on by the Civic Theatre and enjoy a journey into our musical past.