at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Book and Lyrics by Linda Alper, Douglas Langworthy, and Penny Metropulos
Composer: Sterling Tinsley
When I rail against musicals, I am denouncing the big stage, big production number shows that seem only incidentally interested in the erstwhile story. I am frustrated beyond reason by those extravaganza’s whose spoken words serve only as bridges for a street urchin, young lover, or wandering king to burst forth in rah-rah upbeat song.
Go to a concert or a piano bar if you want that type of entertainment. But, don’t call it an evening of theater.
These Rogers and Sondheim blights are so common that I have adopted a “Just say ‘No’ to Musicals” stance.
My whining is brought up short when I run into a musical that has a light-hearted but trackable story, characters, movement that matches the plot, songs that match the plot, consistency, imagination run happily amok, and reasonable music.
Tracy’s Tiger is a commissioned musical written and performed by a company that doesn’t do musicals. The result is a quality narrative (adapted from a William Saroyan novella and short story) which uses the songs, singing, and dance to help the spoken words tell the story. Oh yeah. It’s also a lot of fun.
How can a San Francisco snob like me not like a play set in The City about 1960 which includes lyrics about various public transportation lines, accurate street references, and even Daly City? Wouldn’t only a quality production use William Blake’s poetry as a leitmotif? The answers are of course I like Tracy’s Tiger, and yes!
The storyline is boy (and his invisible tiger) meets girl (and her invisible tigress). They fall for each other, complications ensue, danger threatens, better natures prevail, happiness reigns.
It’s the 2 1/2 hour journey in this fantasy San Francisco that creates enjoyable theater. The young couple’s tigers remove the laborer and stenographer from their drudge 8-to-5 worlds with flights of creativity expressed in make-believe trips and intertwined imaginations. The cats guard their alter egos closely, and provide missing words to help the awkward couple communicate.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast of good guys and bumblers deliver witticisms, good advice, and general humanness frequently, predictably, and on key.
The feel of the period is brought forth through staging — remember rotary-dial pay phones? furry beige suburban living room sets? — and the beat/scat jazz background music. The mood is smooth and consistent.
The attention to each small nuance is flawless. When Tracy and his tiger dance through their talk about the new job, Tracy dances like a man and the tiger like a tiger. Heck, even insignificant details are done right. When the cop is shown with a prisoner in a jail cell, there’s no gun in his holster: in real life guns are banned from jails to minimize the risk of disarming and escape.
The cats (played by Rene Millan and Nell Geisslinger) have the absolute most sexual energy. Accurately, they move better than their human counterparts (Jeremy Peter Johnson and Laura Morache). Not that the humans are not good young lovers, it’s just that they are no sensual cats! And, thank you for making these sensuous animals and not cute Disney cut outs. No Lion King head pieces were needed here.
Linda Alper and Michael Hume are repeated standouts in their supporting roles. Linda can deliver zinging lines more clearly and with more humor than anyone on the stage. Hume manages avuncular wisdom while slurping coffee and when saddled with a think German accent.
Tracy’s Tiger is a special treat for Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) junkies. Discovering that the well-known talented actors can also sing or dance is a treat and adds to the respect for the company members’ abilities.
As is common in Ashland, there are no dogs in this production. Only cool cats.