August 6, 2001
Is this Woodinville or Broadway?
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
Theatre lights dim and the audience grows silent, except for one chatterbox in the front row. The curtain slowly rises and as it does the audience drifts back in time to the 1940s. Theatregoers forget about the dental appointment they need to make or the yard that needs weeding as the sights, sounds and color of New York's city streets greet them. On stage, street vendors hawk their wares while pickpockets target unwitting tourists. Streetwalkers loiter beside lit up signs as the police pursue a nefarious character.
"You never know when a curtain goes up what you're going to see," says stage manager Debra Larson about the opening "Guys and Dolls" scene, a musical comedy scheduled to open Aug. 9. Elaborating, Larson says, "You may think you know what you're going to see when the curtain goes up, but then it's totally different and it surprises people." It's Larson's job to call the light cues, sound cues and place the actors just before the show starts. She says, "You want to make sure the opening goes off with a bang."
"It's going to be a great show," says Peg Phillips, founder and artistic director of the Woodinville Repertory Theatre (WRT), formed in April 1998.
Says Phillips; "I started the non-profit group so that it would bring the culture of professional theatre to our area." She goes on to say that the group began with a board meeting and it took off after that. The people in the group, she believes, are a big part of the WRT success. She comments, "They are the hardest working bunch of people I've ever worked with. It's like magic." Sell-out performances of four past shows, including "Deathtrap" and "Bell, Book and Candle," are proof of the entrancing performances. "Guys and Dolls" is the company's eighth production and is directed by Jeff Woolf.
Hjalmer Anderson, WRT Board President and drama instructor at Woodinville High School, describes the tongue-in-cheek manner in which "Guys and Dolls" is presented. "It's a Damon Runyon story making fun of the gangsters of New York City," he says. The characters are lovable and "a little bit cartoonish" with names like Liver Lips Louie and Harry the Horse. "It's a classic. It's full of song and dance," says Anderson. "It has 'Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat' and 'Luck be a Lady,' the song Frank Sinatra made famous." A 13-member orchestra will accompany the musical and Anderson sums up the love story theme, "It's pretty much, love wins over everything."
Also, Anderson is pleased to see his former students, like Rob Jones, work with the WRT team. Jones directs the musical arrangement for "Guys and Dolls" and Anderson reports, "It's nice to have him back in town."
For Peg Phillips, however, it's nice to have an acting dream become a reality. As a single mother of four with a career in accounting, Phillips realized her dream of professional acting after her children were grown. "I always wanted to act," she says. "I made up my mind when I was very young (age 6) I was going to go to the University of Washington and become a trained professional actor." And she did. In her early 60s, Phillips attended the UW drama school. Soon she was winning small parts in movies. Later, she began appearing in numerous television shows, including her most well-known role as Ruth Anne Miller, owner of the corner grocery store in "Northern Exposure." The popular television show ran from 1989 to 1995. She says, "Since then I've done guest spots and a couple of movies." Guest parts have included, "ER," "Suddenly Susan," "Touched By an Angel," "Promised Land," "Boston Common" and a recurring role on 7th Heaven. But she says there's a drawback to the glamorous life of a TV and movie actor, "I got tired of living in the hotels and working the long 16-hour days when I didn't have to." Returning to her home in Woodinville where she has lived for 25 years, Phillips started the Woodinville Repertory Theatre.
Now in her eighties, Phillips is actively involved in helping other young actors get a start in theatre. She says the 16 actors and technical crewmembers that work on Guys and Dolls have graduated from Northshore high schools within the last three years. Says Phillips, "They're getting their professional experience and they're getting paid." The cast has a small core of regulars, but in addition, each show opens for auditions. The musical Mame, a past WRT production, had parts for 35 characters.
So what makes each show work? Phillips says that the cast and crew share open communication. "We really care about each other, and the theater, and it shows in the work." As an example of how this translates to the audience she recalls overhearing a man as he left the theater. Phillips says, "After seeing Mame, a man said, 'this ain't Woodinville. It's Broadway!'"
Regular attendees agree that WRT productions exhibit the pizzazz of Broadway. In addition, the productions are geared for family entertainment.
"We're not out in left field," Phillips says. "We want to make it family-friendly."
At this time, WRT seeks a facility that they can call their own. "We don't have a permanent venue," says Phillips adding that the repertory group hopes to find a warehouse in the area that could be converted into a theater.
Performances are held at the Woodinville High School Theatre for now. Though grateful for the accommodations, WRT is ready for their own place.
Guys and Dolls will run Aug. 9 through Aug. 26 with 12 performances over three weekends at the Woodinville High School Theatre.
General admission $18; seniors and students $12. Performances begin at 8 p.m. for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For further information, call 425.481.8502.