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Show has Grammy nominee's touch

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

When Alan Bryce saw a musical review in Hollywood several years ago, he made a point of getting to know the creator of the performance.

It stood out in Bryce’s mind for several reasons: It was funny, the music was good and it had been running for a year. Longevity of that type at a Hollywood live theater was out of the ordinary.

The composer of “Both Barrels” was John Forster, a three-time Grammy-nominated composer who resides outside New York City. He is the writer of Centerstage Theatre’s production of “4 Christmases” in the style of English panto, or pantomime. The show will open this Friday at Knutzen Family Theater in Federal Way.

Forster has produced his own albums and has written and produced for artists such as Faith Hill, Judy Collins and Marie Osmond.

Educated at Harvard, Forster spent time in London studying English pantos and learning from the theaters there what made them so popular in England. While Americans have Christmas traditions, like attending “Nutcracker” performances, the English have been attending pantos for hundreds of years. They are a play-within-a-play, performances that have a well-known tale –– in “4 Christmases” case, “Pinocchio” –– intertwined with a play about the relationship between a young actor and his mentor over a period of years. The English enjoy the performances because gags and jokes are part of the performance as well as interaction with the audience. Some of the gags are traditional with these types of performances and the trick is presenting them in new ways.

Alterations and adjustments had to be made for American tastes, Forster said. The English tend to be more accepting of swearing as part of the performance, but some of it was not written into the Centerstage production, he said.

The show at Centerstage is different, according to Forster and Bryce. First, the title has gotten smaller from “5 Christmases” to the current title. That was because Forster and Bryce thought the story could be told just as effectively in four years.

Much of the music has been changed. In fact, Forster wrote a new song in two days to replace one that he and Bryce felt didn’t fit in this revised version of the play.

Bryce credits Forster with being “immensely skilled” to make a turnaround that quickly.

Forster also replaced a lesser-known Grimm fairy tale with “Pinocchio” because of the parallel to actors’ story and the audience would recognize it.

Bringing Forster to Centerstage was part of a decision the theater company’’s board made late last year to bring in accomplished artists from outside the theater to raise its standards to one of the best in the area. Forster is the first, but also scheduled are a Royal Shakespeare Company actor in “Noises Off” and a designer who has worked for the New York City Opera and Disney on Ice.

Getting Forster was important, Bryce said.

“I consider it a major coup,” he added.

The show “4 Christmases” runs Nov. 18 through Dec 11.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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