A Proper Place

Cast members of Village Theatre’s production of “A Proper Place,” playing this spring in Issaquah and Everett.

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Village Theatre presents the premiere of “A Proper Place,” playing this spring season in Issaquah and Everett. Opening March 23, this “social class” musical comedy, with book, music and lyrics by Curtis Rhodes and Leslie Becker, and directed by Jerry Dixon, is based on J.M. Barrie’s excellent 1902 comedy “The Admirable Crichton.”

Barrie is, of course, better known as the playwright of “Peter Pan.” “Crichton” is every bit as fun and fanciful as “Peter Pan,” but in vastly different ways. The plot deals with one of my favorite theatrical themes: the subversion, deconstruction and rearrangement of rigid social class distinctions.

Everything and everyone in a proper British household has a proper place. But the charmingly progressive Lord Loam (Hugh Hastings) believes in social equality over social divisions, going so far as to have his family serve tea and refreshments to the servants. His eldest daughter Mary (Chelsea Levalley) is engaged to marry the insufferably obnoxious Lord Brocklehurst (Nathan Brockett). The wedding is mercifully postponed when Mary sets sail on a yacht with her father and two silly sisters Agatha and Catherine (Krista Curry and Sarah Bordenet).

Fearing that Loam’s progressive views are in need of reigning in, the loyal butler Crichton (Kevin Vortmann) joins them. Mary, Agatha and Catherine are forced to make due with only one maid, the sassy Tweeney (Sophia Franzella) between them. They are joined, somewhat inexplicably, by Reverend Treherne (David Caldwell) and their Cousin Ernest (Randy Scholz). The yacht is blown off course in a storm and the family spends two years in a tropical island paradise.

The island, beautifully designed by Carey Wong, is a Godsend and everyone’s passport to freedom; as rules are turned topsy-turvy. Loam is still beloved as “Dad,” but butler Crichton is now the head of the family, earning the title of “Govenor” or, affectionately, “gov.” Affection soon grows between Crichton and Mary. Of course, romance between Mary and butler Crichton would never be tolerated in proper British society, as everyone discovers when they are rescued at a most inopportune moment. Class rules are more suffocating than ever as the family returns home, never to be the same again.

The musical score by Becker and Rhodes is an uneven mix of hit and miss. Some songs are marvelously spot-on, while others hinder the show’s pace instead of advancing the plot. The astringent satire and wit of Barrie’s original play carries the show, and all of the performances are vivid and colorful.

Hugh Hastings is wonderfully endearing as Lord Loam, and Randy Scholz is a delight as the not so honorable Cousin Ernest. On the island, Ernest develops affection for Tweeney, but quickly reverts to upper-crust pomposity back in England. Honorable is, indeed, the name for our hero Crichton, caught between the duties of his social station and his love for Mary.

Chelsea Levalley makes a beautiful transition as Mary grows from a society lady into a more tomboyish free spirit and free thinker. In her most memorable songs, “The Natural Order Of Things” and “Still There,” Miss Levalley’s soprano voice is reminiscent of Julie Andrews in the glory days of her remarkable career.

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