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Review: BRUCE at The Seattle Rep

A stunning look into the making of an icon.

Review: BRUCE at The Seattle Rep
E. Faye Butler, Justin Keyes, Jay Donnell,
Jarrod Spector, Timothy McCuen Piggee,
and Eric Ankrim in Bruce at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Lindsay Thomas

Dear Readers, I need to ask you a question. Have you seen the movie "Jaws"? The original and first big summer blockbuster from 1975. I can admit with a little embarrassment that until recently I had never seen it. But seeing as this new show was about that film that so many love, I did my homework. So back to my question, have you seen "Jaws"? If not, make a point of it. It's simply a fantastic film. And if so, you might want a refresher. Because after you watch it, you need to go out and get tickets for the new musical "Bruce" currently having its World Premiere at the Seattle Rep, as this is one not to miss. But some foreknowledge of the movie is, if not required, super helpful.

I'll start off by saying this is not a parody of "Jaws". I know when I heard there was a new musical about "Jaws" the first thing I thought was, satire. But no, this is a look back into the making of an iconic movie. Sure, there are funny moments because some things happened that were funny, but authors Robert Taylor and Richard Oberacker are not poking fun at anyone involved. They simply have taken screenwriter and "Jaws" actor Carl Gottlieb's book, "The Jaws Log", as a jumping off point and created a riveting look at the troubles and triumphs of movie making. In this case, many troubles, often dealing with a temperamental mechanical shark named "Bruce".

But beyond a fun bit of history, this musical manages to capture that tone and feeling of the intensity of the movie brilliantly with its largely sung through score and a relentless pace from director and choreographer Donna Feore. They have beautifully crafted the piece so that there are few breaks to catch your breath, similarly to how a good horror/action movie like "Jaws" would do, as the stakes in the piece keep getting higher and higher and the danger getting closer and closer like a giant shark barreling towards you. But here our hero is not Brody, Quint, or Hooper trying to slay the beast but young director Steven Spielberg (played by Jarrod Spector) trying to keep this monster of a film from destroying his career as well as the careers of others.

Review: BRUCE at The Seattle Rep
The cast of Bruce at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Lindsay Thomas

The music manages something astounding in that there's not one number that doesn't move the story along while still being fun, engaging, and lively within the tone of the show. Taylor and Oberacker have created a quite unique piece that works on so many levels and it demands to be seen. And when brought home with a fantastic set from Jason Sherwood (that garnered applause on one transformation) as well as Jeff Croiter's stunning lighting, Brian Hsieh's immersive sound, and Shawn Duan's incredible projections, the show just keeps firing along on all cylinders creating an incredibly distinctive and fantastic work.

As good as the production is, this amazing ensemble cast matches them in every moment. For a show that professes the reality that it was this collective group of artists who really pulled this movie off, not just Spielberg, it makes sense that the show itself should also have a tight ensemble to make the work on stage shine. Each and every one, brings in something special to their, often multiple, roles. To name but a few outstanding folks, I would have to start with Ramzi Khalaf as actor Ricky Dreyfuss who has the legendary actor's mannerisms down cold. Similarly Hans Altwies playing actor Robert Shaw brings in a pitch perfect and often hilarious character and his scene with Spector, Khalaf, and Geoff Packard as actor Roy Scheider as they watch Shaw pull that pivotal monologue out of thin air is, alone, worth the price of admission.

Too, E. Faye Butler as film editor Verna Fields and Beth DeVries as actress Lorraine Gary take their respective roles and make them larger than life. DeVries' song with Spielberg as she offers some sage words of wisdom is yet another winner. And both Butler's duet with Spector as well as her solo number not only show the importance of Fields to the success of the film but also allow Butler to show off those incredible pipes.

Review: BRUCE at The Seattle Rep
Justin Keyes and Jarrod Spector in Bruce at Seattle Rep.
Photo credit: Lindsay Thomas
Jaws sketches courtesy of Joe Alves: Designing Jaws.

Everyone in this show is showing off their A game and I could go on for days about them all, but we need to talk about Spector as the wunderkind, Spielberg. With a role like this, you need a seasoned professional who can handle the herculean task of being the focal point for the entire story, and that's Jarrod Spector. He's certainly got the voice needed to blow us all away, but he also manages the charisma and stage presence to engage whenever he's on stage and to do what he needs to do which is carry this show. And he seems to do it without much effort. He never tries to put on an impression of Spielberg but to simply become him and show off his talent as well as his vulnerabilities. He brings in a superb performance that he makes look easy.

Just like this iconic film that had all the right people, the right circumstances to overcome, and the right message for the time, the show too brings together a fantastic score, book, production and ensemble to give us a glorious bit of theatrical alchemy. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the Seattle Rep's production of "Bruce" a humungous shark bite of a WOW. Find that bigger boat, follow the "all clear" from the town's Mayor and get yourself back into those theatrical waters to catch this fabulous, fishy tale before it's gone.

"Bruce" performs at the Seattle Rep through July 3rd. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.



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