Theaters unite!

LORI ASSA - Coast Weekend<br> The adoring Eric Olsen and Virginia Sweet (played by Brad Lee Thompson and Melissa Stephens) are a familiar sight to those who have seen the Astor Street Opry Company's "Shanghaied in Astoria." Scenes from "Shanghaied" will be included in "Showtime!" at the Liberty Theater this weekend.

Jetta, a young woman wed to an uptight attorney, enthusiastically belts out a tune during the climax of the first act of "Angry Housewives," a musical comedy about four scurrilous, scandalous, unrestrained and oft-times foul-mouthed 1980s housewives who form their own rock band.

In addition to being disappointed with her sheltered lifestyle and disheartened by her hubby's domineering demeanor, Jetta isn't content with her proximity to Astoria's River Theater audience. Dark hair swinging and hips gyrating, this on-stage dynamo clutches her cordless mike and heads for the seats. Sashaying up and down the aisles, she stops and puts her arm around one startled audience member, then climbs into the lap of another, all the while screaming the lyrics from "EAT YOUR F---ING CORN FLAKES!"

With the exception of the risque lyrics, it's the kind of rousing spectacle that has become commonplace in the Columbia-Pacific region, where theater and related performance arts formerly were confined to sundry playbills throughout the year. These days, theater, dance and such have gone big time and occupy center stage on the local entertainment calendar. Heck, there's an extravaganza of some sort happening virtually every week of the year.

A handful of theater companies stand front and center as major players in this show business renaissance: The River Theater, Clatsop Community College Arts and Ideas Program, The Liberty Theater and the Astor Street Opry Company, all in Astoria; and The Coaster Theatre Playhouse in Cannon Beach. The five recently formed North Coast Theatre Alliance and will sponsor "Showtime!" a collection of scenes and performances from past productions Friday, Nov. 14 and Saturday, Nov. 15 at Astoria's historic and meticulously restored Liberty Theater.

Nancy Montgomery, the energetic Jetta from "Angry Housewives" and a board member of the River Theater, says "Showtime!" promises to be a "lighthearted evening, a kaleidoscope of what's offered year-round locally in theater and dance."

Not just musicals such as "Angry Housewives," but also drama, comedy, slapstick, even opera vignettes will be showcased. The entertainment will be from past shows produced by all five North Coast Theatre Alliance member organizations, and at least one peek at an upcoming production. "We want to cultivate an awareness that these theater groups work together, while spotlighting each one's differences and common themes," Montgomery says.

Del Corbett, who will direct "Showtime!" and long has been involved in local stage productions, says the alliance hopes to "demonstrate that all North Coast theater is as good as one will experience anywhere, and that theater is for everyone."

Alliance members have turned competition into cooperation, notes Judith Niland, an Astor Street Opry Company board member. "For over 10 months these five uniquely different performing arts organizations have worked collectively, blending our talents and strengths to create a unified polished stage production representative of the best each company has to offer." Niland believes this weekend's production will illustrate that performing artists, working together, can "break through limitations, dissolve barriers, share resources and use new ideas and thinking to grow and support each other."

"'Showtime!' will show the community what we're about," says Mary Davies, a board member of the Liberty Theater. Audience members, Davies predicts, will be amazed by the diversity of the productions and the venue itself, especially if they haven't stepped inside recently. "The Liberty is special. It was built for vaudeville, and it's virtually unchanged, except for the restoration. It feels like a real theater."

Corbett promises that audiences will witness "a variety of theater, from the sophistication of opera to the slapstick of vaudeville, (as well as) dance, comedy, farce, drama, stand-up and a very special surprise opening number such as, I dare say, has never been enjoyed before in Astoria."

And will Jetta make a repeat appearance this weekend? Not likely, says Montgomery, who will be directing scenes from "Parallel Lives: The Kathy and Mo Show," a River Theater comedy from 1998. But Jetta's over-the-top energy and enthusiasm will be evident throughout Friday's and Saturday's performances.

"Showtime!" director Corbett concurs, adding that besides stage performances, "Showtime!" attendees can expect to see musical entertainers in the lobby, sets and displays by alliance members, plus drinks and desserts. "We want to give the audience a rousing good show," he says.

If you go...What: "Showtime!," more than two hours of performance vignettes (including intermission) from the North Coast Theatre Alliance

When: 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14 and Saturday, Nov. 15 (pre-show festivities begin at 7 p.m.)

Where: The Liberty Theater, 1203 Commercial St.

Tickets and information: $15 per person. For reservations and information, call the Astor Street Opry Company, (503) 325-6104; tickets will be sold at the Liberty Theater box office prior to each performance.

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