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BWW Review: ArtsWest Streams Some Familiar Holiday Delights with A VERY MERRY KRAKEN TEA PARTY

BWW Review: ArtsWest Streams Some Familiar Holiday Delights with A VERY MERRY KRAKEN TEA PARTY
Rachel Guyer-Mafune in ArtsWest's
A Very Merry Kraken Tea Party.
Photo credit: ArtsWest

Dear Readers, I'm back! It's been almost nine months since I've had the privilege of sharing with you the theatrical goings on in Seattle thanks to the restrictions of the pandemic. And while I hope everyone is staying safe, and I know there are bigger things out there to concern ourselves, I have lamented the loss of live theater every day. I'm sure, like me, many of you have sated your theatrical fix somewhat with the virtual fare streaming from all over the world, but there's been nothing locally for me to review for you (at least no one asked ... until now). As we all digest our respective Thanksgiving dinners and prepare ourselves for socially distant holiday celebrations, the folks at ArtsWest have put out a little holiday cheer. An early Christmas present, if you will, in the form of a mini-musical from the mind of Justin Huertas, writer of such shows as "Lizard Boy" and "Howl's Moving Castle", with "A Very Merry Kraken Tea Party", a sequel to last year's "The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion".

Now for those that don't quite remember all the details of the first show, not to worry, there's a recap video online (from the author himself) and they do a mini recap at the top of the show. But now we've come to a year later, and the same characters from before, are preparing to celebrate Christmas. But with Covid-19 raging they're having a hard time of it all. Todd and David (Christian Quinto and Tyler Rogers) are quarantined together but missing the rest of the family, when they get a call from Nia (Porscha Shaw), who is back on land and separated out of the Octopus being known as Una, as Lee (Rachel Guyer-Mafune) felt a bit of sniffle coming on and chose to isolate herself. And to make matters worse, her Mom, Grace (Corinna Lapid Munter), is off on tour in Thailand with her band. Can the family come together when they're forced apart?

Huertas, along with Music Director Steven Tran, have crafted a lovely little diversion. And it is little, coming in just under 30 min and with only five songs. And then there's the fact that it's not really live theatre. In these isolated times you have three choices. You can show a film of a live stage show, which is usually a past show since theaters are dark. You can establish a kind of fancy Zoom call and have people in their Brady Bunch-esque boxes do a reading of a show. Or you can film, and edit together isolated performances from remote locations, which can be more like a web series than anything else. When done well, there's nothing wrong with any of these choices, but they just don't have the intimacy and exhilaration of live theatre. We will get back there, but until then, we make do. And they have made do quite well.

Co-directors Huertas and Mathew Wright have captured much of the charm and magic from the first one, even with their actors in isolation. They've largely avoided the Zoom call in some very clever ways (except when the script actually calls for it). Moreover, they've created a mini-musical that not only fits in our pandemic age but deals with the trials and emotions of it without dwelling on it in a maudlin way. On the contrary, this is more of a revisit to the characters we fell in love with in the original and seeing how even their unique situations are affected by this new world. Even the members of the Undertow have their own woes, although their song was a bit of an odd departure from the story at hand. But all the songs are still pure Huertas gold and a welcome reminder of the riches we have here in Seattle.

Lucky for us we also still have that same fabulous cast from the first installment, for the most part. Guyer-Mafune and Shaw, as well as Quinto and Rogers, still have that wonderful chemistry with their partners, making the story pop. And each, with their killer voices, fill the songs with magic. Guyer-Mafune's wistful "Other Shoe" is a complete heartbreaker, and the finale of "Snowfall" actually brought a tear to my eye. Partially due to the song and its message and partially because they edited in footage from the original stage show so we got a chance to briefly be in a theater again. And speaking of editing, Cameron Lee has done a stellar job bringing all these remote performances together in a way that doesn't make it feel isolated, and indeed, with his wonderful effects, brings in tons of wonder and magic to the show. Kudos.

So, it may be short, and not completely cohesive, and it may lack the spontaneity of live theatre, but it's still a new bit of musical theater from the brilliance of Justin Huertas. And that is exactly what we need right now. And so, with my three-letter rating system (it's felt like ages since I've been able to say that), I give ArtsWest's stream of "A Very Merry Kraken Tea Party" an absolutely delighted YAY. It's just the thing to tide us over til we can once again see each other in the theater. I miss you all, and until then, stay safe.

"A Very Merry Kraken Tea Party" from ArtsWest is available to stream into early 2021. Tickets range from $10-$100 depending on what you are willing to pay. For tickets or information, visit them online at www.artswest.org.



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From This Author Jay Irwin