On Stage

Birthday Bash

Song and dance by the numbers

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I’m not good with most mathematical concepts, but at the Friday night performance of the Bellingham Theatre Guild’s “Musical Birthday Bash Revue” last weekend, it soon became obvious the show was all about numbers—both offstage and on.

For example, the event itself draws attention to the fact that it’s been 50 years since the Bellingham Theatre Guild (BTG) staged its first musical, a comedic romp known as The Boyfriend. Additionally, this year also marks the BTG’s 85th anniversary, and the 70th anniversary of offering theater to the citizens of Bellingham and Whatcom County at its current locale. Incidentally, the building itself turns 110 this year.

“We are honored to have a home that was built about the same year four small towns (Whatcom, Sehome, Bellingham, and Fairhaven) consolidated into the City of Bellingham, and proud of our contributions to our community,” BTG president John Purdie says in a welcoming note in the program. “Performances are just part of what we provide. We also offer to anyone who wants to get involved opportunities for creative outlet, learning and a true feeling of belonging.”

This sense of welcoming collaboration was on full display opening night. Plenty of volunteers were on hand to take tickets, distribute programs and show patrons to their seats. Downstairs, others were putting finishing touches on a birthday party that was set to take place following the inaugural performance with the actors, audience members and myriad other people who work behind the scenes to pull off each and every performance at the BTG.

Although I didn’t spot them among the throng, I’m sure co-directors Kathryn Murray and Martha Benedict—also known as the “Tiara Twins”—were also likely roaming the hallowed halls of the BTG in the minutes before the lights dimmed and the audience was exposed to a new grouping of figures.

The numbers the “twins” put together for the birthday party were inspired by the dozens of musicals that have been presented at the BTG in the past five decades, and from the looks (and sounds) of the lineup, they didn’t leave much out.

Appropriately, a duo of ditties from The Boyfriend kicked off the show. From there, nearly 40 songs filled the first act of the performance with song-and-dance selections from Kiss Me Kate, West Side Story, South Pacific, Sweeney Todd, The Wizard of Oz, Music Man, Damn Yankees, and more. (A certain redhead tried to vocalize her feelings about hoping the sun would come out the following day, but she was quickly yanked out of the spotlight, not to return until after the intermission.)

The amount of costume changes in the first act rivaled those of a celebrity awards show, but it was the way the actors and singers seamlessly transitioned from more serious fare to farce and back again that drew my attention. Kudos should also be distributed to pianist Steve Barnes, bass man John Bisceglia, and drummer Marcel Ardans, who provided the soundtrack to the show, and didn’t appear to miss a single beat.

I had to leave shortly after intermission in order to make an appearance at another birthday celebration across town, but I’m guessing the second act of the “Musical Birthday Bash Revue”—which included nearly 40 more songs—also wowed the crowd. After all, the durability of the Bellingham Theatre Guild is proof that, at least in this case, numbers don’t lie.

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