Let me ask you a question.
What was the last TBA Festival event that had one (and only one) idea in its head: to entertain the masses with frenzied song-and-dance enthusiasm, and send you home with a mile-wide grin?
None in recent memory come to mind, which makes Pink Martini and friends' Saturday night performance at the Oregon Zoo that much more of a treasure. “Oregon! Oregon!”, the rarely heard — and never before staged — mini-musical that was the centerpiece of this show, swept up the 4,000-plus audience into a Beaver Thumping frenzy never seen before at any TBA event.
The musical was only one-third of the 2-hour plus performance, but it was unquestionably the highlight. First commissioned and premiered on radio to celebrate Oregon's centennial birthday in 1959, radio artist Stan Freberg penned a delirious romp through the first 100 years of Oregon: one brief act each to mark the birth, 50th and 100th anniversaries of Oregon's statehood.
Freberg's original is reason enough for attention to be paid, but Pink Martini's Thomas Lauderdale — an ardent fan and primary mover-and-shaker behind this revival project — decided to one-up himself: he commissioned a long list of noteworthy Oregonians (First Lady Mary Oberst, Metro Council president David Bragdon, Livewire's Courtenay Hameister and Tyler Hughs, etc etc etc) to write a new fourth act for the musical, set in 2009 (“in this,” as one line goes, “our Oregon sesquicentennial year!”).
Saturday night's show has to stand as one of the most zany, charming and flat-out funny performances I've seen all year. Directed with a big wink and an even bigger heart by Greg Tamblyn, the gold-throated 12-member cast shimmied, shook and belted through 150 years of our fair state's history: from our 1859 founding (“a territory's great, but ya gotta have a state!”), to the 100th birthday (the outrageously silly “what's the name of the witch?” number), and right on to today, which is where that aforementioned “Beaver Thump” dance came along, complete with a gyrating nine-foot-tall Styrofoam beaver. God was it funny.
The music, both from Freberg's original three acts and from Lauderdale and company's newly written fourth act, was superlatively played by members of the Oregon 234th Army Band (commander Ashley Alexander, conductor), horns blazing, and Lauderdale's own Pink Martini. It's impossible to highlight a single of the dozen starry cast members, but I can't resist noting Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts' unforgettable cameo, sashaying across the stage, blowing big kisses to her fans. This woman was clearly born for the stage, whether it be political or theatrical.
I have another question: what did any of it, fabulous as it was, have to do with TBA 2009? PICA staffers and volunteers — so ubiquitous at every other TBA event — were impossible to find, and the performance program failed to even mention that the show was part of PICA's festival, though Lauderdale gave it a nod in his top-of-show speech. If PICA has an interest in becoming more all-reaching, as this performance suggested it does (the audience was not your typical TBA crowd, that's for sure), wouldn't it have been great for that frenzied Saturday night mass to know more about TBA, or maybe hear from its wonderful new guest artistic director? There's always next year, right?
(photo of the crowds for "Oregon! Oregon!" @ the Oregon Zoo, by Stephen Marc Beaudoin)