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September 15, 2005

Chip DuFord, Paul Hope and Jill Anderson bring OCT’s ‘Five Course Love’ to life.

Photo by Christopher Briscoe

‘Five Course Love’ shows alternate angles on affection

By Richard Moeschl
Ashland Daily Tidings

Picture five different restaurants, each with its own kind of food and music to go along with it. Picture five sets of lovers (played by a cast of three) meeting in the restaurants, exchanging glances across the table. Sounds like a recipe for true romance. But add a dose of speed-dating madness, personal agendas and impossible pairings and you’ve got the recipe for “Five Course Love,” Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s new musical comedy, which opens Friday.

Gregg Coffin, who wrote the show and its music, has strung together five vignettes that look at the many faces of love — or at least five of them. There is love attempted, love gone bad, love mismatched, love misguided, love denied and, inevitably, love achieved.

And love finds its way into all kinds of places and musical styles in the five disastrous encounters. There’s Dean’s Old-Fashioned All-American Down-Home Bar-B-Que (Texas swing), Trattoria Pericolo (pop opera), Der Schlupfwinkel Speiseplatz (German cabaret), Ernesto’s Cantina (Latin) and the Starlite Diner (retro pop). Somehow, all of the stories weave together in the end.

“This musical is about a table and two chairs and three people,” Coffin said. “It lets you focus on the actors.”

No food appears on the stage, but as director and choreographer Jim Giancarlo says, “Love is on the menu.”

Coffin’s first musical, “Convenience,” has played at theaters throughout the country.

“I wrote ‘Convenience’ in 2000,” Coffin said. “It’s a five-person, sung-through musical. It was autobiographical.” And it featured his tribute to the “J” people he liked musically: Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Elton John and James Taylor.

“I started writing ‘Five Course Love’ after that. I wanted to write comedy in response to the heart-warmy ‘Convenience.’“

“Five Course Love” premiered in June 2004 at the GEVA Theatre in Rochester, N.Y. Its second production at Sacramento Theatre Company this spring was sold out and held over. The show will open in New York in October. This is the first time the show has been staged with an intermission. Dick Hay pie seemed to be a factor in that decision. This production is also the first with a two-person music section rather than the four-person pit for which it was scored. Darcy Danielson, who provides the show’s musical direction, plays keyboards for the show along with Jim Malachi on percussion.

The cast for the Cabaret’s production is Jill Anderson, Chip DuFord and Paul Hope. DuFord previously appeared at OCT as Frank in “They Came From Way Out There.” He is also a regular at Hope Summer Repertory Theater in Michigan and recently appeared in “Chaps!” at Tacoma Actors’ Guild.

Anderson and Hope are making their OCT debuts. Anderson most recently appeared in “Wicked City Blues” at Utah Musical Theatre and has extensive credits at the Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, Blue Barn Theatre and Omaha Playhouse. Hope has been seen at the Cumberland County Playhouse, Utah Shakespearean Festival and American Globe Theatre.

Coffin is interested in seeing what these three actors and the director will bring to the show. For his part, Giancarlo was happy to have Coffin around for at the start of rehearsals.

“It’s great for us to have three days with Greg to be sure where we’re going,“ Giancarlo said. “Greg has experience with others who have done it. He knows what works.” Giancarlo and costume designer Kerri Lea Robbins saw the Sacramento production of the show. They appreciated the “experience of being in a room full of people who were loving it.”

“There’s no real musical that lets character actors shine through the whole show,” Coffin observed. A character actor himself, Coffin appeared in OCT’s productions of “Tintypes” (1988), “Pump Boys & Dinettes” (1989) and “Archy & Mehitabel” (1989) and was also a member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival acting company.

“I grew up playing ‘string things’: guitar, piano and dulcimer,” Coffin said. “I started out writing songs for myself on the guitar.”

In recent years, Coffin has turned his attention primarily to writing and composing for others. He moved to Sacramento, Calif., where he became resident composer for the Sacramento Theatre Company. He started writing incidental scores for non-musicals at regional theaters.

Coffin is a great fan of “Greater Tuna,” a comedy that has only two actors playing a host of zany characters. This requires tour-de-force acting and lightning costume changes.

“We need a musical one of these,” Coffin decided. “There is an employed imagination in the audience. They’re rooting for the actors. Yeah theater! How on earth do they do this?”

Each restaurant scene gives each actor a solo and a group number. The music is sophisticated, and the show is funny. “The humor can be a little racy at times, but all in a funny way,” Giancarlo noted, adding the Cabaret has rated it “PG-13.”

Lighting design is by Craig Hudson. Frank Sullivan provides sound design, Victoria King wig design and the stage manager is Kathleen Mahoney.

Oregon Cabaret’s chef will be serving up entrees and desserts to go along with each restaurant depicted on stage.

“Five Course Love” opens Friday, with a low-priced preview on Thursday. The show plays at 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday and at 1 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 6.

Ticket prices are $17 for previews; $21 for Sunday matinees; $21 and $23 for Monday, Thursday and Sunday evenings; and $25 and $27 for Friday and Saturday evenings. Tickets can be purchased from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. daily except Tuesdays (closed) and Sundays (open at 4 p.m.) at the box office on First and Hargadine streets in Ashland, by calling 488-2902, or downloading an order form at oregoncabaret.com on the Web.

Gourmet dinners and brunch available with advance reservations. Appetizers, beverages and desserts are also available — no reservations needed.

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