Thursday, September 28, 2023

Oregon Cabaret produces lively season with fine food, great seats

Oregon Cabaret Theatre attracts sell-out crowds for a variety of performances. "Kinky Boots"
drew raves for its recent run. Up next is a Poirot mystery, running through Nov. 5.


Play goers at "Kinky Boots" enjoy appetizers, drinks and
the company of friends between acts of "Kinky Boots."

WHEN OREGON Cabaret Theatre launched in 1986, its building already had a colorful history.
The former Baptist church had been a pillar of the community for years, but had been fallen to ruin. In the late 1960s, after years of languishing, it was sold and "the Old Pink Church" went through several owners before it was purchased and saved by a visionary man.
Craig Hudson began a meticulous renovation  to restore the structure to its 1911 appearance, including replication of many of the unique stained glass windows. His transformation included landscaped gardens, tiered seating and service areas. He even salvaged a magnificent crystal chandelier and other appointments from a 1927 movie palace in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
A smashing performance of "Kinky Boots" entertained
sell-out crowds this summer at the cabaret.
OUR FAMILY began its long run with the cabaret the same year it opened and since 1986, we've seen at least production almost every year.
Through the years, the repertoire has expanded from a single show to a five show season with 270 performances spanning February to New Year's Eve.
  The cabaret has also created 15 original shows, and has staged many hit musicals, including "Sweeney Todd" and, recently, "Kinky Boots."

Delightful food is part of the fun at the cabaret,
where play goers can enjoy fine dining, too. 

We saw the cabaret's production of that Tony Award-winning musical, and it didn't disappoint. The energetic production boasted the same high energy we'd enjoyed in the Broadway version, a touching tale of daring and determination. The Cabaret offered dazzling choreography, powerful acting and jazzy costuming with a first-rate cast.
The show's infectious, appealing spirit was enhanced by lively musical numbers.  
OREGON CABARET Theatre offers a historic, welcoming setting -- a beautiful small venue --  complemented by well staged productions and a tasty menu.  This appealing amalgam makes OCT a favorite for this reporter and thousands of other visitors to Ashland. Sets are clever, acting sharp, music tuneful and small space well used. Costumes, lighting, make-up all follow suit.
Kinky Boots (musical) - Wikipedia
The Cyndi Lauper musical, with
a Harvey Fierstein book, drew
raves at the cabaret this summer
Oregon Cabaret Theatre is an institution in
Ashland, just up a stroll up from Main Street.

Sure, this picturesque town is most famous for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But don't overlook one of the country's most successful dinner theaters, Oregon Cabaret
The Cabaret presents an
interesting display of each
show with a miniature set
 and costume designs.

* * *

 BELOVED ACTOR, dancer and the Cabaret's founding member and artistic director for years, Jim Giancarlo, passed away in 2014. He is deeply missed, but artistic director and accomplished actor Valerie Rachelle took over with spirit and enterprise.  She has artfully preserved the vision of Giancarlo  promising "Our stage may be small, but the scope of our stories is large." She was a spectacular Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd" and knows her way around both sides of the footlights. She maintains the spirit and seating of the intimate house, giving viewers a bird's eye view of the action. We've seen dozens of top-drawer shows from all over the house.  We've sat on the ground floor, the balcony, and the bar, all good seats because of the clever tiering and seat and table arrangements. Sight lines are fine everywhere, thanks to Rachelle's keen understanding of the importance of audience connection.

*  *  *  
FOR PROXIMITY to the cabaret, you can't beat the lodging of Ashland Springs Hotel, just a few steps across the avenue and down to Ashland's Main Street, restored by an enterprising couple much as the Cabaret was renovated and returned to a glorious structure.

Front row seats give viewers proximity to
the action on stage, but the seating is such
that there are no bad views from the house.
  Hudson's  restoration of the one-time church has delighted thousands since the transformation.  It still reminds of its 1911 appearance, and the stained glass windows are kept sparklingly clean. The theater's unique appointments -- including that vintage crystal chandelier -- are part of the appeal, and the menu includes delectable appetizers, entrees and the famous Dick Hay pie, a decadent chocolate, ice cream and peanut butter dessert named after an OSF designer. If you missed "Kinky Boots," you can enjoy the Poirot mystery and popular Christmas show which round out the season.;

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
outside the Cabaret, with  their favorite
Ashland Springs Hotel behind them.


Christene "Cookie" Meyers is featured beneath a
magnificent Deborah Butterfield Horse, on display
at Honolulu Art Museum. Butterfield spends part of her
time in Montana and keeps a studio in Hawaii. 

UP NEXT: Honolulu is a favorite city of sun seekers and couples looking for a blend of beach fun and nightlife.  It also boasts an extraordinary art museum and we look at its impressive collection of more than 50,000 pieces spanning 5,000 years of culture in the Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe. After Honolulu Art Museum, we're cavorting with the whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon, then blasting off to Kennedy Space Center. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, the arts, family and more:

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Oregon Shakespeare Festival fights back with smaller but stellar season

The audience begins to file in and take seats in preparation for "The Three Musketeers" at Allen Elizabethan Theater.

The "pre show" Green Show is a tradition at Oregon Shakespeare, which has
 struggled since COVID and fires put a serious strain on the much loved fest.




Oregon Shakespeare's outdoor venue, the Allen Elizabethan
Theater, presents two plays: "Twelfth Night" and  
YOU CAN'T keep a good thing down. The award winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival is proof of that time honored observation.
As the embattled festival heads into autumn and its Oct. 15 closing, it's a perfect time to salute the labors of hundreds of staff and thousands of supporters who are rallying to save the Tony winning regional theater and southern Oregon gem.
SINCE 1935,  the enterprising OSF has produced an impressive docket of hundreds of plays -- from Shakespearean tragedy to farce and contemporary comedy, musicals and drama. The festival has garnered international raves for turning out as many as eight or 10 polished productions running in repertory fashion.
The elegant Ashland Springs Hotel is an oasis for
this column's team and an international clientele. 
Traditionally, the festival begins in spring and continues into autumn. COVID clipped the festival's wings, shortening the season and number of works. But OSF is learning to fly again. 
The operation includes three theater spaces and other buildings, occupying a four-acre campus fronting one of Oregon's prettiest sanctuaries -- the peaceful, well loved Lithia Park. Nearby is the Plaza, a bustling and varied complex of shops and eateries in this charming southern Oregon town of 21,600. Front and center is Ashland Springs Hotel, the elegant grand dame in a town full of interesting eateries and welcoming B&Bs with a range of other accommodations for all budgets. Ashland Springs remains our favorite for its beauty, service, artwork, comfort and proximity -- steps away from the festival. Ashland Hills is just a couple miles away from town center, and has proximity to hiking and nature. Both properties have fine restaurants.
The house lights dim, the stage lights go up, a ray of hope
for a continued future of a much loved institution, OSF.
IN 2020, AS OSF struggled with the pandemic and fire, radical lay-offs were instituted. 400 staff and 80 per cent of the workforce were gone, but with determination, financial gifts and adjustment, the festival survived.
Even pared down, the quality and diversity of founder Angus Bowmer's dream live on.  Bowmer, a clever Scotsman, created the fest in 1935, staging boxing matches to fund his theatrical vision. His early festivals offered variety and originality, making theater lovers of sports fans and vice versa. Today's shortened playbill still honors that concept through new work and classics with the trademark inventive OSF spin: gender-bending, colorblind "play's the thing" bravado.
Ashland Springs Hotel is at the center of the city, a lovely oasis
elegantly restored by an enterprising couple. It's our favorite.
If you want to be closer to nature, Ashland Hills is a nice option.
The festival has yet to recover from that near knock-out punch. Besides the layoffs and other emergency measures, a fundraiser was devised. "The Show Must Go On: Save Our Season" raised $2.5 million to complete the 2023 season. But insiders say the fest is not out of the woods yet.

Former artistic director
Nataki Garrett, whose
"Romeo and Juliet" won raves. 


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers in Lithia Park, Ashland, Oregon.

TURMOIL AT THE TOP and revamped financial goals  result in what OSF board chair Diane Yu calls "a more sustainable business model." The goal "is to foster strong relationships with local businesses, audiences, and donors, to strengthen our fragile infrastructure." Online productions and amped up educational outreach are also planned. 
Along with financial turmoil and recovery from both fires and pandemic, artistic director Nataki Garrett's resignation added to the fest's challenges.  She resigned after death threats and racial slurs and Tim Bond was named to take over as new OSF artistic director Sept. 1.  Garrett is missed -- known as she was for her vision, dynamism and for putting a new, fresh spin on classical works while inviting fresh perspectives in new productions. Her "Romeo and Juliet" this year was an engaging, contemporary interpretation of the great love story. She wrote inciteful program notes.
A young actor spreads
her wings in the Green
Show, a popular feature.

IN ITS GLORY days, up to 2019 -- before the woes of the pandemic -- the festival reached an attendance of an
impressive 360,000. Each patron averaged three shows. We encourage readers to help keep the tradition alive, check out the website, catch the end of the 2023 season ("Rent," "Twelfth Night," "The Three Musketeers," and more). Check out OSF's unhinged "It's Christmas, Carol!" over the holidays and watch for the 2024 season. Consider a donation to sustain the troubled theater and continue founder Bowmer's vision.  Supporters worldwide hope the festival continues. or 800 219-8161 or 885 795-4545

Oregon Cabaret Theatre presents a lively season of
shows, including "Kinky Boots" which added shows
because of sell-out audiences at the popular venue.

We have a fun story for theater lovers as we step inside another Ashland institution, the town's lively cabaret. Fashioned from an old and stately church with a famous chandelier, it is a historic Oregon landmark.  So while we're in an Ashland frame of mind, don't overlook Oregon Cabaret Theatre where "Kinky Boots" is winning raves.  It's just across the street from Oregon Shakespeare Festival and well worth your time for an entertaining evening or afternoon. Then we're off to Florida's Kennedy Space Center, a week with the whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon, a visit to a stunning Portland, Oregon, grotto, and a ride on a trolley in Montana's state capital, Helena. Remember to explore, learn and live with us for a fresh weekly spin on nature, performance, family, travel and more.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Lore of leis -- Hawaii's welcoming floral necklace has proud history

Wearing leis at Hilton Hawaiian Village are Bruce William Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers.
The lei is an ancient tradition of welcome, love, respect and friendship in the Hawaiian culture.



Lei making is taught in many hotels and resorts in Hawaii.  At both
Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island and in Rainbow Tower,
Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, the art of lei making is taught
in popular complimentary classes several times a week.

THE LEI is as much a part of Hawaiian culture as the luau, ukulele or hula.
In fact, the lei is part of a luau, and a proud hula accompaniment.
It is primarily Hawaii's colorful custom of welcome, introduced to the Islands by early Polynesian voyagers centuries ago.
When they made their remarkable journey from Tahiti, they brought the tradition of floral and shell necklaces with them.
Navigating by the stars in sailing canoes, they created leis soon after landing, as a thank you to the gods for their safe arrival.
With these early settlers, the lei tradition in Hawaii was born. and is still a much loved part of the culture.
LEIS ARE used at parties, luaus, celebrations. They are also present in memorial services and funerals. Often dozens of leis are tossed gently into the waters during  burials at sea.
Leis can be constructed of flowers, leaves, shells, seeds, nuts, feathers, and even bone and teeth of various animals. At a luau, the chief wears a magnificent one, sometimes several.
In ancient Hawaiian tradition, these garlands were worn by royalty and the wealthy, to beautify themselves and set them apart from others.
Leaves of the fragrant maile vine
are a popular presence at weddings. 

A memorial to Queen Lili'uokalani is honored
with the placement of shell and flower leis.

The lei also played a part in religion, politics and peace making. 
A happy Texas family wears leis created in a Hilton resort class.
Hotels keep the lei tradition by teaching how to make them.
In ancient times, the exchange of maile leis signified a peace agreement between opposing chiefs. In the heiau or temple, the chiefs symbolically intertwined the green maile vine, showing their people that peace now prevailed between the two groups.
The indigenous maile vine is also used in leis for bridal couples. The fragrant maile is found in wet forests in all the Hawaiian Islands. It has striking dark green leaves and when the stems are stripped of bark, maile's fresh, pungent scent blossoms forth with the leaves tied into loose open knots.
DURING THE “Boat Days” of the early 1900s, lei vendors lined the pier at Aloha Tower to welcome malihini -- visitors -- to the islands. They were also used to send kama’aina or locals back home. Departing visitors still throw their leis into the sea as their ships pass Diamond Head. This is done in the hopes that, like the lei, the tides will return visitors to the islands again someday.

Leis abound at the Honolulu airport, where visitors buy one
for themselves, or hosts often pick one up to greet a guest.

TODAY'S VISITORS to Hawaii recall the nostalgia of old Hawaii by purchasing a traditional flower lei greeting at their arrival. Greeters welcome visitors at the port and airport with a warm “aloha” of a  beautiful fresh lei, a wonderful way to begin a Hawaiian vacation.
Since the flourishing of tourism, following World War II, the lei has become the symbol of Hawaii to millions of visitors worldwide.
Bruce Keller admires his first attempt 
at making his own orchid lei.
There are very few “rules” when it comes to wearing a Hawaiian lei. Anyone can wear one, anytime – there need not be an occasion. It is perfectly fine for one to purchase or make a lei for themselves. It is common for locals to have a nut, seed or shell lei on hand for special occasions. And hats are often adorned with flower, fern or feather leis.
There are, however, a couple of unspoken rules one should know when receiving a lei for the first time. A lei should be a welcomed celebration of one person’s affection for another. It is considered rude and disrespectful to decline the offering of a lei. 
"One should always accept a lei, never refuse," one expert lei maker told us. She also instructed on the proper way to wear a lei.  
Elaborate feather capes, headdresses and leis
played a key role in ancient royal traditions,
as this painting at the Bishop Museum shows. 

It is gently draped over the shoulders, hanging down on both front and back.  Many first-time "lei wearers" wear it as a necklace, with the lei hanging snugly around the neck, dangling in front only.
It should be draped equally around front and back.
The floral lei is an important part of a luau, here
at Waikoloa. Oahu's Hawaiian Village also offers
a popular luau with a colorful welcome lei.

It is considered rude to remove a lei in the presence of the person who gave it to  you. If you must remove it -- for allergies or other reasons -- you must be discreet.
Hilton properties host world class luaus and lei-making lessons where you'll create your own lei.

The Allen Elizabethan Theatre is one of three at OSF.

UP NEXT: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has been a staple in America's arts for more than 75 years. Founded by an enterprising Scotsman, Angus Bowmer, the Tony winning festival is fighting back from a disastrous blow struck by the pandemic and fires.  The show must go on so millions are being raised for the theater complex to  continue its outstanding work.  The 2023 season is less than the usual 8 or 10 productions; there have been staffing changes and layoffs but the festival is fighting back. We visited and enjoyed. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, the arts, family and more. 



Thursday, September 7, 2023

Madeira: gardens, parks, artwork beckon visitors to Portuguese island

The drama of Madeira is partly because it rises from sea level to
6,000 feet.  One can drive it in less than an hour, experiencing the beauty.





A memorial to war reminds
that Madeira prefers peace.
BEGIN YOUR Madeira outing in Funchal with its gorgeous flora and fauna. Climb from sea level to 6,000 feet and peer down at the ocean below. Stop for a beer or glass of wine and watch the ocean.
Make time for the war memorials and a stroll through lush botanical gardens.
But don't miss a chance to drive up that splendid coastline, with views to stagger.
Madeira retains its rustic charm in casual cafes
and eateries, but offers elegant hotels, too.

Bruce Keller and Christene Meyers
high above the coastline in Madeira.
IT'S EASY to fall in love with Madeira for its variety:  ragged forests, pretty beachfront, fine art, culture of many kinds including music and fine food. You'll also be struck by an awareness of the island's stormy past.
MADEIRA tried to remain neutral in the great world wars, but because of Portugal's proximity, and the island's strategic location, the people  have lived with a sense of fear,  and determination to preserve their safe haven. To secure international support for its authority in Africa, Portugal entered the war in 1914 on the side of Britain and the Allies. Our guide described an incident of more than 100 years ago which people still recount and pass on to their children. On December 1916 during World War I, a German U-boat entered Funchal harbor on Madeira; it torpedoed and sank, creating havoc for days. Today's population includes thousands of Gibraltarians whose ancestors were shipped to Madeira in 1940 when it was feared Gibraltar would be attacked.
Time for a beer with a view of beautiful beaches. 
BRITISH PEOPLE have long loved Madeira, stemming from Britain's occupation after the Napoleonic Wars, a friendly occupation ending in 1814 when the island was returned to Portugal.
Brits and many others are attracted to the dramatic landscape created by volcanic eruptions from the Atlantic seafloor. The layers of lava eventually reached the sea surface and created the Madeira Archipelago -- beginning a mere 20 million years ago.  More recently -- about two million years ago -- the volcanic eruptions ended and seeds washed ashore. Birds followed and dined on the first plant  
Reid's Palace, a stately old hotel, reigns.

growth, now beautiful, old-growth forests.
We enjoy the island for those forests and dramatic mountains,  balmy climate, and flowers of every shade. A fine old hotel, Reid's, is a fun splurge for a couple days.
The people of Madeira enjoy plants and are expert cooks.
Many inviting, small restaurants serve specialty dishes.

UNTIL RECENTLY, exploring the island was arduous but millions of dollars of infrastructure and road work have made its mountainous land and rugged coasts accessible. But Madeira has long been sought after for its fruit, flowers and temperate climate.  Its rough terrain didn't stop sailors of yore. Phoenician, Roman and North African explorers all reached the island, likely landing near the seaside town of Calheta on the southwest coast. There, we visited an impressive memorial bound to touch the heart of every viewer.  A stone wall reveals the outline of a soldier holding a child's hand with one hand and a gun in the other. Each of the figures is holding a rose and hundreds of small faces cover the remaining space. The memorial commemorates the "Overseas War," fought from 1961 to 1975. We were curious about this strange moniker.  The war has several  other names, too, all elaborate:
Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers on
the trail of food, history, art and music in Madeira.
the Portuguese Colonial War or the War of Liberation, or the Angolan, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambican War of Independence. Our guide described it as "clashes between the Portuguese armed forces and forces of the liberation movements of the colonies." It happened during Estado Novo, the Portuguese authoritarian regime of 1933 to1974.
THE PEOPLE  seem happy to be free of the yoke of a dictatorship and are welcoming to tourists.  Flights to Madeira can be found for as cheap as $219 from Europe and $900 from the U.S. Ferries from the mainland are a great alternative, and one can take a car or bicycle on board and be across the sea in a few hours.

"Keller and Cookie" wear leis presented to them by hosts
at Hilton Waikoloa Village on The Big Island of Hawaii.

UP NEXT :  Lore of the lei. When one visits Hawaii, it is customary to wear a lei at some point during the visit. You might even be greeted by your host with a lei, or find one in your hotel room.  It symbolizes love and welcome, and is a friendly way to express love, friendship, celebration, sympathy, honor or greeting. Hawaiians consider the lei the symbol of Hawaii and the aloha spirit. In ancient Hawaii, wearing a lei represented wealth, royalty and rank. More about that soon. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly at: