YOU KNOW THIS STORY, RIGHT?
Globetrotting explorers happen upon a witch in the great Oregon Territory and wish Oregon from mere territory into mighty statehood; the witch "uncorks" Oregon statehood from the bottle where it's kept, but threatens to rebottle Oregon at age 100 unless someone can guess her name; a California fruit inspector guesses right (obviously!), so the state lives on to celebrate its 150th birthday; and there is a "beaver thump" dance and general rejoicing. Oregon history in 33 jazz-soaked musical minutes has never sounded so riotously bizarre.
The work in question—the first three acts of it, anyway—is none other than Grammy-winning jazz composer Stan Freberg's Oregon! Oregon!, a musical fable that premiered way back in Oregon's centennial year (that would be, ahem, 1959). Commissioned by old-school state brewhouse the Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Company, Oregon! Oregon! reached thousands of listeners across the state via radio broadcast and a limited-edition recording.
Then, for 50 years, it languished—until Pink Martini bandleader Thomas Lauderdale got his hands on one of the original pressings. "It was only pressed on vinyl," Lauderdale explains about his discovery of the rarity record. "So, like, only crazy people from Blitz-Weinhard knew about it." He pauses to consider another intriguing possibility: "Think of all the musicals about other states that we'll never hear about. Like, Nebraska, the Musical!"
Lauderdale is kidding, of course (right?), but his jibe about forgotten musicals has an edge of truth: The musician believes so fervently in the work that he's dedicated hundreds of hours to producing, composing, and getting all the right creative minds in the room to bring Freberg's Oregon musical fairytale to sparkling life—and he's even thrown in a modern twist. Lauderdale and a team of some dozen-plus collaborators (Sarah Dougher, Oregon First Lady Mary Oberst, and Metro Council President David Bragdon among them) have penned a new fourth act to tack onto the original three, bringing the quirky characters from Freberg's production firmly into the Oregon of 2009.
Among the artistic hands on board for the project is Stage Director Greg Tamblyn, a veteran of Portland's musical theater community. Tamblyn says he's been enlisted to weed out the hysterical from the simply sorta funny, and to keep things clipping along on stage. "I wrote the line 'Tonya Harding was framed,'" for the new fourth act, he says in all seriousness. "That's what got me the job." He continues: "The thing is, we don't wanna bore anybody, we wanna entertain them. We wanna make sure they get it, and that it's a great time. It's a birthday party." And because Oregon! Oregon! by itself is a chamber-scaled musical, the night will also feature sets from Pink Martini and the 234th Army Band.
Tamblyn admits the staging for this momentous revival will be, well, pretty bare bones. There will be a simple backdrop, designed by the Mercury's own Justin "Scrappers" Morrison. There will be a bottle (for the witch). And that's about it. But the big-ticket glamour comes from the production's impeccable performing pedigree: The score will be brought to full, big-band wailing life by players from Pink Martini, 35 members of the 234th Army Band, and a gold-plated cast of Portland musical comedians, including Erin Charles, Joe Theissen, Jennifer Niederloh, and Todd Tschida, with opera luminary Carl Halvorson tossed in the mix. Oh yeah, and Oregonian columnist Margie Boule will be camping it up as the witch.
In what might be the most wildly diverse TBA lineup in years, Tamblyn and Lauderdale agree Oregon! Oregon! deserves a special nod. "Because it's not anything anybody's heard before," Tamblyn says. "I think audiences are gonna pay way more attention." Lauderdale—swimming in a sea of loose sheet music for the show—looks up, and grins wide: "Especially when the nine-foot beaver comes out."