Back to Stage

Magical Music Man

A tuneful tribute to Bruce Whitney

The musically indispensible, Bruce Whitney. Photo courtesy Harlequin Productions

Recommend Article
Total Recommendations (0)
Clip Article Email Article Print Article Share Article

Olympia's a town that adores musicians, and it's played parent, host and/or teacher to more than its fair share of name-brand performers. Beat Happening, Beck, Bikini Kill, Kurt Cobain, Kimya Dawson, The Fleetwoods, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic, Sleater-Kinney -- all have deep connections to Washington's capital city. It's also the birthplace of Shoshana Bean, a Broadway star best known for succeeding Idina Menzel as Elphaba in Wicked. But one composer and performer has amassed a stellar resume without gaining near as much attention, so it's about time Bruce Whitney took his rightful place in the Oly pantheon. The latest show at Harlequin Productions, entitled Magical Mystery Midsummer Musical, aims to accomplish just that. It highlights an artist who's composed over 30 productions and musically directed nine summer rock revues, plus every production of Harlequin's beloved holiday musical series, Stardust, since 2001. 

The title of this new show's a bit unwieldy, though, so follow the company's lead and nickname it M4. It's directed and designed by Harlequin cofounder (and Bruce's sister-in-law) Linda Whitney. "As of August," says Linda, "Bruce will have been composing music for theater for 30 years ... He had been a rock 'n' roll musician, a skilled keyboard player and guitarist, and had earned degrees from both MIT and (The Evergreen State College). He is a software developer who can also stretch time to allow for his love of music."

Bruce Whitney wrote songs and underscoring for his brother Scot's short educational films, produced in the early 1980s, then segued into theatrical music. He wrote the scores for popular (and since revived) plays The Undersea Trial of Joseph P. Lawnboy, A Rock 'n' Roll Twelfth Night and The Wind in the Willows. "However," says Linda, "none of that music appears in this retrospective celebration." Instead, Bruce's hours of music for Harlequin shows have been whittled into a two-hour program brought to audiovisual life by four singers, five cirque performers and an eight-member orchestra.

"Bruce's style is modern," said Linda, "richly orchestrated with strong melodies in a broad variety of idioms. It's forceful, textural and evocative. It comes in a number of sizes and shapes, and so we've evolved a show that pulls that together in an arc of experience, sound and sight, that we hope delights and inspires."

Lead singers for M4 are Bruce Haasl (also props designer and puppet builder), Mari Nelson, Christie Murphy Oldright and Amy Shephard (also choreographer). The comedic troupe comprises the recently wed Christian and Maggie Doyle, Elex Hill, Eric Sanford and Marlo Winter. One of the downsides of being musically indispensible is Bruce Whitney must serve as the musical director of his own tribute, for which he'll also play guitar and keyboards. You can't miss him, in fact - he's the one, at long last, in the celebratory spotlight.

MAGICAL MYSTERY MIDSUMMER MUSICAL, 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, June 21-July 21, Harlequin Productions' State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia, $25-$42, 360.786.0151,

Read next close


The Season That Was

comments powered by Disqus

Site Search