Garrett Andrews

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August 1, 2013
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Three very different shows unfold on Oregon Musical Theatre Festival stages

By the time you hear the ghost of Oscar Wilde tenderly intoning to his absent, 21-year-old lover as a guest on an interdimensional tabloid talk show, you’ve long since gotten used to the premise of “Constance.”

“He thinks only of himself and I think only about him,” quavers the warm-voiced Ben Dyck, who plays Wilde and also directs. The three-hour experimental musical is staged daily through Sunday, marking the second weekend of the Oregon Musical Theatre Festival.

This year, festival attendees have the chance to take in two classic Broadway hits, “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Forever Plaid.” The third member of the triad, “Constance,” is an original, avant garde piece based on the life — specifically the love life — of the renowned Irish wit.

“Forever Plaid” is presented in a free, outdoor setting, and the other two unfold on indoor stages at Umpqua Community College. With staggered show times, one can take in all three plays in a night and a day.

“Plaid” is the story of a clean-cut — but dead — 1950s harmony group, reliving its glory days from beyond the grave. Jesse Jutson, Taylor Mead, James Pennington and Shady Moore — locals aged 17 to 23 — play Francis, Jinx, Smudge and Sparky.

It’s a reunion of sorts for Pennington, Jutson and their middle school choir teacher, Debra Gaddis, the piano accompanist for “Plaid.”

“They’ve improved so much since then,” Gaddis said. “They’re such creative, gifted singers. There’s no down time with them (during rehearsals).”

On the main stage in Jacoby Auditorium is the Broadway staple “Fiddler on the Roof,” which stars Jack Holland as Tevye, the put-upon father of five headstrong girls in a Jewish community confronting change on all fronts. More than 50 people share the stage during some of the production’s larger numbers. “Fiddler” features an orchestra and gangs of dancing Russian villagers.

“It’s much more of a spectacle than the others,” said UCC instructor Jason Heald, the music director on all three shows.

“Constance,” with script by UCC grad Troy Pennington, is the story of Constance Lloyd and her husband, Oscar Wilde, prominent figures of the aesthetic movement of the Victorian era. Theirs was a whirlwind three-year courtship, but the honeymoon did not last long.

They’ve waited in Purgatory more than a century for the chance to face off and air dirty laundry on “Clear the Air,” a tacky chat show hosted by brassy Bernadette Davies (Tonnie Bernhardson) and her spaced-out band leader, Ollie (Donna Priestly). In the end it’s revealed, sealed-envelope-style, whether Wilde and his bride will ascend to paradise.

Sound ambitious?

Monday’s show clocked in at slightly more than three hours, with 21 original songs and one intermission. Mixed in are wry asides and anachronistic winks. The spirited Priestly provides sarcastic calls of “flashback” when appropriate, and sings jingles for “Tantalus Dry” soda and other netherworld goods.

Wilde’s famous aphorisms are sprinkled in. “Work is the curse of the drinking classes,” he sings. His poetry is also employed — “each man kills the thing he loves, yet each man does not die.”

“If you want something clever, you’re not going to out-quote Oscar Wilde,” Heald said.

If the script is leaden at times and some songs forgettable, the production’s two leads are stellar.

Ruth Ginelle Heald is the eponymous heroine, and Jason Heald’s 23-year-old daughter is can’t-look-away-arresting as the model of Victorian righteous vulnerability.

Ben Dyck, a fifth-grade teacher at Hucrest Elementary School, was Judas in last year’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” As director of “Constance,” he had to hop off stage during technical rehearsal to check the look of the lighting. It’s his first time doing double duty.

With Ruth Heald a Portland resident, all but five rehearsals were run with her understudy, Donna Spicer. So bringing it all together was part massive, two-month undertaking, part finger-crossing exercise, Dyck said.

“There’s no soundtrack to put on to rehearse to, because we are the original cast,” he said.

Jason Heald said the festival is all about utilizing available resources, which isn’t such a hardship here.

“We have three great venues and lots of great talent,” he said. “It allows us to offer a lot of variety.”

Community theater also gives audiences the chance to watch their neighbors and co-workers fall flat on their faces.

“With the live medium, there are real human beings out there on a tightrope,” he said. “We miss that when we get things out of a box.”

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at

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The News-Review Updated Aug 2, 2013 09:36AM Published Aug 2, 2013 06:39PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.