Review: ‘Kim’s Convenience’ is a Refreshing Change at Taproot

Lia Lee and James Yi. (Photo: Robert Wade/Taproot Theatre)

From stage to TV and back to stage again. That is the journey of Kim’s Convenience, a Canadian Korean comedy. Created by Ins Choi, this play was published in 2012, was first performed in a few local theatres then a TV version of the play premiered on CBC in October 2016. In July of 2018, the show became known internationally when the show debuted on Netflix. In January of this year, the TV started its 4th season. Finally, this week the play made its U.S. debut at Taproot Theatre.

Co-directed by Scott Nolte (founder of Taproot) and David Hsieh (founding artistic director of ReAct Theatre), Kim’s Convenience is a breath of fresh air at Taproot. It is one of the few plays that have been co-directed here, it features five actors making their Taproot Theatre debut and there is some Korean speaking and singing performed (without subtitles!) as well. The play is also very funny while having a lot of heart too. (Don’t worry, the Korean language is only minimal and you don’t need to know what they are speaking to understand what they are saying.

In a way, Kim’s Convenience is sort of like TV’s All in Family with Mr. Kim (James Yi) taking the role of Archie Bunker. Mr. and Mrs. Kim (Annie Yim) are first generation immigrants to Canada who purchased a convenience store when Mrs. Kim was pregnant with daughter Janet. Now 30 years later, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, also known as Appa and Umma (dad and mom) are beginning to think it might be time to retire. Appa begins to have an interest in passing on the store down to Janet (Lia Lee) while Janet is more interested in getting to know Alex (Obadiah Freeman) an old family friend.

Janet also wants to break free from Appa and Umma and pursue her budding career as a photographer. Her brother, Jung (Parker Kennedy) already did – by getting in trouble and getting kicked out by Appa.

Alex (Obadiah Freeman), Appa (James Yi) and Janet (Lia Lee) in “Kim’s Convenience.
(Photo: Robert Wade/Taproot Theatre)

Though still steeped in tradition, Appa likes to think of himself as a modern man who knows all of hip lingo the kids in the neighborhood are talking about. He fancies himself as to knowing who might be a shopper and who might be a “stealer” just by looking at them. He’s more preoccupied by the Japanese cars parked in the no-parking zone near his shop while his daughter reminds him that not everyone who drives a Japanese brand of car is actually Japanese. He’s a stubborn man who treats his adult daughter like a child and when it comes to Jung, he’d rather change the subject.

Kim’s Convenience is a very fun play with a lot of heart and a pretty simple plot. It’s a bit shorter than Taproot’s usual productions and its performances do not offer an intermission. You won’t need it though. Just when you think it’s time for a break, the actors are making their bows. Rest assured, you’ll get your money’s worth of laughs.

Although we might not be able to relate to some of the Kim family’s ways of doing things, we can relate with their family life. They laugh, fight and make up with each other, just like the rest of us.

This play wouldn’t be half as good without James Yi. He’s played the part before, so he’s a master at playing Appa. His comedic timing is good and Lia Lee makes for a great sparring partner. You’d swear that they are related in real life. Obadiah Freeman also does a fine job taking on not one, but four roles for play, each character completely different from the others. It’s very impressive.

On the other end of the spectrum is Parker Kennedy who comes across a little rough in his role. Unlike Lee whose acting seems natural, Kennedy’s is a bit forced. However he does have some nice interactions with Annie Yim’s Umma character. She’s a loving mother and doting wife and even though her son disappoints her some, her love is still apparent as she encourages him to make things right with this father.

As always, Mark Lund’s scenic and sound design is impressive. When you walk in, the convenience store on stage looks like it open for business and you’d be tempted to go up to grab a snack. Perhaps that is why there was an usher at the front of the stage before the show began when I went to make sure audience members didn’t do just that.

Kim’s Convenience is fairly family-friendly too, but be forewarned that there is some swearing, which surprised me somewhat. You don’t usually hear much swearing at a Taproot Theatre play and it didn’t add anything to the story either. Taproot recommends the play for those age 14 and up.

Kim’s Convenience continues through June 22, 2019. Tickets range from $27-$50 (depending on the performance date and time) and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 206.781.9707. Taproot Theatre is locate at 204 N. 85th St., Seattle, WA 98103.

All About the Norwegian Bliss

Cruising has become a big deal in Seattle, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the Norwegian Bliss, the largest Norwegian Cruise Line ship that can hold up to 4,004 guests and 1,716 crew members (which comes to about 1 crew member for every 2 and 1/3 people on the ship). During the 7-day summer cruises, the ship begins and ends at the Seattle port with stops at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, B.C.

Haven living room and dining room.

I got a chance to come on board the Bliss last summer and is it a sight for sore eyes! They started our two-hour tour literally at the top in what they call Haven. It is considered a luxury enclave where high-rolling guests board early ahead of the regular guests. It is sort of a ship within a ship with its own private pool, spa suite (with a steam bath, vitality pool and over 50 specialty treatments), dining service and concierge service. The luxury suites come with personal butlers ready to answer your every whim. In addition to the master suite, living room, dining room and private deck areas, many also include separate bedrooms, activity rooms and bathrooms for the kids. Those who stay in Haven never have to leave the private area of the ship unless they desire to.

Haven bathroom (before maid service!)

While Haven is out of reach for most of us, Norwegian Cruise Line surprisingly offers a variety of different options for singles, couples and families. Sure, having a state room that looks out over the sea is amazing, but I can tell you, even without a window, there isn’t a “bad” room onboard and with so much to do, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway.

A more basic room on the ship.

As we toured the hallways, it became apparent just how big this ship is and how easy it would be to get lost. Fortunately, NCL thought ahead. The carpet features a school of fish all heading one direction. You simply follow the fish to your room and when you leave your room, follow them again to reach the main activity areas.

One of the best things about a cruise ship is how much is included. Meals, activities and Broadway shows are all complimentary. Now, not everything with your vacation upfront, (there are plenty of ways to spend your money with upgrades and special activities) but you’d be surprised how being budget-conscious isn’t impossible.

Pool area, waterslide and splash play area.

Keeping Busy

While you might desire laying out in the sun all day, you might be the only one as there is SO much to do. Perhaps the most exciting thing on the ship is its Aqua Park. The activities here include a double-loop waterslide that passengers board while standing up (the bottom is dropped underneath them) and are shot over the side of the ship and back on board again. You’ll also find the Aqua Racer tandem racing waterslide, a children’s splash area, two pools and a few hot tubs thrown in for good measure. The area also features a giant video screen that airs current sporting events on land during the day and movies at night.

Starting line up for the races.

Racing enthusiasts will not be able to wait to get behind the wheel of the two-level, open-air race track. At 1000 feet, it’s the largest as sea. (There is an extra charge of $9.95 to drive.) The ship also features a mini golf course, a bowling alley, an art gallery, a gym, a spa and casinos. Laser tag battles can be found here as well for $9.95 extra per game.

At night, most of the shows playing on the ship are free and include the Broadway show, “Jersey Boys” (the Tony award-winning musical about and featuring the music of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons), “Havana!” (1950s Cuba in its vibrant heyday), a Beatle cover band and a standup comedy show. The show, “Happy Hour Prohibition-The Musical” will set you back an extra $29.95. It’s set in world famous Madam Lulu’s New Orleans speakeasy where tantalizing madams will regale you with tales of bootleggers.

Where the Jersey Boys play.

Grab a Fork

There are lots of food options on the Bliss as well with plenty of complimentary dining rooms with menus that change daily. These include the Garden Café a buffet with multiple dining stations serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was treated to lunch here and options go way beyond your local buffet back home. Other choices include the Savor Main Dining Room which has been described as “balancing classic favorites with unique new dishes” with an extensive menu of deliciously fresh flavors.

The Taste Main Dining Room also serves a wide variety of cuisine including the chef’s signature dishes and wine recommendations. Over at The Local, the dressed down pub is open 24 hours a day serving favorites like chicken pot pie, fish and chips and prime rib.

Coco’s ice cream and candy parlor.

Upgrade dining options include La Cucina Italian Restaurant, the Texas smokehouse Q, Cagney’s Steakhouse, the Los Lobos Contemporary Mexican Restaurant and the chocolate lovers’ paradise, Coco’s. If being away from a Starbucks makes you sweat – you’ll be glad to know that there is one full-sized one on board too as well as a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at Sea bar and restaurant. Other choices include The Cellars (A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar), The District Brew House, The A-List Bar and the Sugarcane Mojito Bar.

Separate and Then Regroup

The “Entourage” lounge for teens.

One of the best things Disney did was create a cruise line where kids and parents could have fun together or separately. That same idea is shared aboard The Bliss too. Here, the ship features three FREE kids programs that are staffed by certified-trained staff members all…day…long. The “Guppies” is designed for those age 6 months to 3 years old socializing with others with simple activities with hosted activities and a playroom offering simple activities from building blocks to painting with edible paints.

One room of The Splash Academy for 3-12 year-olds.

The Splash Academy youth program geared for those ages 3-12 with themed activities, parties, sports and more every day and the Entourage welcomes teens ages 13-17 with their own “no parents allowed” area with activities including basketball games, theater classes, video game competitions, pool parties or just hanging out in a cool, relaxed environment.

The ship even offers late night babysitting (for an additional charge) so you can have a romantic night out.

Learn more about the Norwegian Bliss and other cruises here.

(All photos by the author)

When Tony Met Maria

(Photo: 5th Avenue Theatre)

Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story first appeared on Broadway in 1957. With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim the show has been reproduced numerous times with different styles, but it always includes Jerome Robbins’ original choreography. Presented in association with Spectrum Dance Theater, the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of the show features a cast of 44 and an orchestra of 25.

The show’s story is set during the 1950 in the Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City. While two gangs (the Sharks from Puerto Rico and the Jets, a white gang) fight over turf, Tony (a former Jets member) falls in love with Maria (the sister of the leader of the Sharks). If you know how Romeo and Juliet’s romance turned out, you already know the ending of West Side Story, but if you’ve never seen the latter, it is worth exploring. The show features such classic songs as “Maria”, “Tonight”, “America”, “I Feel Pretty”, and “Somewhere”.

West Side Story will be presented from May 31 to June 23, 2019 and though ticket prices can be steep, the 5th Avenue is offering some seats for as low as $29 on May 31, June 4, 5, 6 and 9. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 206.625.1900. The 5th Avenue Theatre is located at 1308 5th Ave. 98101.

In addition, the 5th Avenue’s Rising Star Project will be featuring the same show featuring nearly 100 high school students from all over the state allowing them to learn all aspects of the theatre. Their version of the show will feature students in all the roles necessary to put on the show including acting, directing, costumes, makeup, props, etc. The Rising Star shows will be presented on Friday, July 12 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $16.

Space Needle Puts Time in a Bottle

(Photo: Space Needle/Chad Copeland)

Earlier this week the Space Needle made the announcement of the unveiling of the 2062 time capsule and a nationwide search for items to be included when it gets sealed later this year. The idea is fairly simple: find the moments and memorabilia that reflects the people and the culture of today and tuck them away. The hard part will be narrowing down the list.

On Thursday, May 9, members of the press were invited to see which items had already been picked for the capsule which is set to be opened on April 21, 2062, the 100th anniversary of the Space Needle. Early entrants included United States Postal Service Forever Stamps, personal messages from the band Pearl Jam, one share of Amazon stock and a Twinkie. Seattle Seahawks Walter Jones was also on hand to share his prediction of Super Bowl win.

You can get into the act too. The Space Needle will continue collecting items through Friday, September 13, 2019 before the time capsule is officially sealed during a special ceremony on Monday, October 21, 2019. Visit their contest page for the chance to add your own personal treasures or memories into the 2062 time capsule. A total of six winners will have the opportunity to participate.

(Photo: Space Needle)

And if it has been a long time since you’ve gotten up close and personal with the Needle, you’re missing out on newly designed all-glass floor on the lower level and the floor-to-ceiling glass walls on the upper level. Truly a sight to see. You can read more about it here.

Although you can’t miss it, the Space Needle is located at 400 Broad St. 98109 at the Seattle Center.

MoPOP Presents ‘A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes’


Installation view. David Lachapelle, Alexander McQueen and Omar Victor Diop
(Photo: Roman Alokhin)

Seattle’s museum of pop culture, MoPOP is presenting its first fashion exhibit, A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes which is said to explore how designers like Alexander McQueen, Joanne Petit-Frère, Hideki Seo, Gucci, Chromat, and Vivienne Westwood use their work to create a space for contemplating the relationship between dress, society and our shared history.


Tailored Chelsea coat and River Dress Mirror the World, S/S 2016 
Courtesy of Vivienne Westwood (Photo: Ugo Camera)

The exhibit is divided into six sections or personalities of the everyday queen: Sage, Enchantress, Explorer, Mother Earth, Heroine and Thespian. The exhibit highlights a wide range of designers from the internationally famous to the new up and coming with over-the-top gowns, wigs, shoes and more. Various photographs are presented as well “in immersive environments rich in symbolism, inviting visitors to peer into the private worlds of deeply powerful feminine figures,” says MoPOP.


Aminata, 2013. From The Studio of Vanities series
(Photo: MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris)

A Queen Within is currently on display through September 2, 2019. The special exhibit is an extra $6 to the regular MoPOP admission (order online for the best price). MoPOP located at 325 5th Ave. N. at the Seattle Center and is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, visit the website or give them a call at 206.770.2700.

Teatro ZinZanni’s Love, Chaos and Dinner

Who made the salad? Frank Ferrante as Chef Caesar. (Teatro ZinZanni)

If you haven’t been by the Seattle Center in a while, you might be surprised to learn that the Teatro ZinZanni spiegeltent has moved and has set up shop in Woodinville as the company’s new permanent home. And while it will take a while for the renovations to be complete, the show must go on.

The current show, Love, Chaos and Dinner, brings back Frank Ferrante as the lovable Chef Caesar (relax, James Beard Award-winning Chef Jason Wilson will actually oversee the cooking) and a bunch of friends to the tent performing music, comedy and acrobatic feats in-between a four-course meal. Teatro ZinZanni says that Chef Caesar will be presenting his “one-of-a-kind epicurean delights paired perfectly with the sumptuous and sizzling vocal stylings of Lady Rizo (Amelia Zirin-Brown).” Also along for the show are a “cadre of talented servers who juggle far more than plates, an alluring hostess bending over backwards for her guests, and a sommelier with refined tastes who takes the art of flirtation to new heights.”

In addition to Ferrante and Zirin-Brown, the show also features acrobat Domitil Aillot, body jugglers Fabio and Giuliano Anastaini, opera singer Kelly Britt, comedian Joe De Paul, aerial artists Duo Rose, rhythmic gymnast Elena Gatilova and musical comedian Tim Tyler.

Chef Jason Wilson is owner of The Lakehouse restaurant and Civility & Unrest cocktail bar in Bellevue and Miller’s Guild in Seattle. His menu for each performance includes:

Seasonal Vegetable Salad (with romaine lettuce, baby spinach, olive, watermelon radish, cucumber, snap pea, cherry tomato, red bell pepper and green chickpea)

Grilled Tomato and Smoked Pepper Bisque

A choice of:
Grilled Spiced Yellowfin Tuna (with spring pea, carrot and mint couscous, watermelon radish)
Grilled Washington Sirloin (with potato whip, grilled asparagus, red wine demi-glace and kale pesto)
Goat Cheese Ravioli (with grilled Portobello mushroom, asparagus and kale pesto)
Curried Cauliflower Steak (with pumpkin mustard, apple salsa and truffle oil)

Lemon Curd Tartlet (with fresh berries and mint)

Love, Chaos and Dinner is currently playing through June 30 before the crew packs up and heads off to Chicago. Tickets start at $99. Tickets can be purchased online or can be ordered by phone by calling the box office at 206.802.0015. Teatro ZinZanni is located at 14200 NE 145th St., Woodinville 98072.

Walk’n Wag is For the Dogs

Dogs hate baths, but Fido might not mind getting all spruced up if he knew he was going to the 4th Annual Walk’n Wag event. Everything “dog” is celebrated there. Held on Sunday, April 28, 2019 at Lake Sammamish State Park, the big event is the 3K dog walk and agility course but there is so much more. Right after the dog walk, the Seattle Fly Dogs and Disc Dogs will show their talents followed by an obedience demonstration presented by a King County police dog and his handler.

Perhaps your Fifi is a pampered pooch, not a runner. Then you must sign her up for the judged pet show. Oh, and this contest isn’t just for the prettiest pups. They have a wide variety of categories this year which include Best Dressed, Smallest Dog, Nicest Eyes, Ugliest Dog, Best Trick, and Dog and Owner Look Alike. Just sign-up your dog when you pre-register.

In addition, this year’s events includes a professional photographer taking portraits of people and their pets (A $20 fee will be charged, cash only), a dog-friendly beer garden featuring DruBru, live music by Whalien and a “Doggie Village” featuring more than 20 pet-friendly vendors sharing information  and giving samples to the dogs and tons of swag to their owners.

Walk’n Wag is a fundraiser with all proceeds benefitting the amenities and improvements for Lake Sammamish State Park. Early bird registration is $10 for children 15 and younger and $15 for adults.  After April 24, $20 for adults and $15 for children. You can register online ahead of time of just wait and register at the event.

Walk’n Wag will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p. at Lake Sammamish State Park located at 2000 NW Sammamish Rd., Issaquah, WA 98027. While humans are allowed to roam around freely, all dogs must be on a leash.

Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Crystal’ Shines

I have been fortunate enough to see a number of Cirque du Soleil performances but I have to say that their newest production, Crystal, is my favorite (for now!) It is the first show created to be performed on ice and it is game-changer.

The show features all the elements you’ve come to expect for a Cirque du Soleil show (acrobats, jugglers, clowns, trapeze acts, live music, colorful costumes, etc.) and presents them on large sheet of ice because, you know, solid ground is just so pedestrian. But Crystal is also a very elegant ice show with half of the cast consisting of ice skaters.

All photos by Matt Beard.

Before the show begins, those who have taken to their seats early are treated with a mini-show featuring a comic character (Nate Cooper) and Jorge Petit (who I interviewed just a few weeks ago.) The comic stumbles around the ice with a bucket on his head while Jorge tosses snowballs to the audience to pelt the comic with. Surprisingly, there were a lot of near misses during opening night.

As with many other productions, Crystal has a loose storyline running throughout the production. Crystal (played by four different performers throughout the show) is a young girl with a huge imagination and a writer. She is an outcast at school and she feel misunderstood by everyone. Running to the ice to escape her problems, she sees a reflection of herself and then falls through! Now on the other side of the ice, Crystal’s alter ego takes her on an Alice-in-Wonderland-like journey showing her the power of words. Her journey revisits her days of teasing on the playground, her family ignoring her at home while watching TV, exploring the big city, getting her first office job and falling in love before making her journey back home again.

The women playing different version of Crystal include Silja Dos Reis (figure skater), Danica Gagnon-Plamondon (swing trapeze/acrobat), Mary Siegel (figure skater) and Emily McCarthy (acrobat).

The many acts include a juggling routine (Jorge Petit), comedic clown bits (Nate Cooper), swinging trapeze (Danica Gagnon-Plamondon), pole hopping, ice dancing and more. The most impressive performances were the extreme skaters playing as hockey players doing jumps and flips on a number of ramps, an amazing chair balancing act (Lkhagva-Ochir) that nearly took my breath away and the romantic Aerial Strap Pas de Deux performance with Crystal and her love interest (Jerome Sordillon). All of their performances were by all appearances, flawless and the live music (provided by Steve Bach, Camilo Motta and Stephan Grytsay) and the occasional falling snow added to the magical performance.

Crystal continues through Sunday, April 14 at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. For information and tickets, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/crystal

 

Juggler Shares His Experience On the Ice

For those who already have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time, try to imagine ice skating while juggling. Fortunately, that feat has already been mastered by Jorge Petite so that you don’t have to. Jorge appears in the amazing traveling show, Crystal by Cirque du Soleil coming to Everett from April 10-14, 2019.

I got a chance to meet Jorge and Julie Desmarais, a publicist for the show, to discuss this unlikely combination of ice skating and acrobatics. For Jorge, his story started in 2002 when he took ups juggling as a hobby in Chile.

“I just wanted to learn how to juggle three balls and then I started learning tricks from videos I found on the internet and then it became a very serious hobby,” he tells me. “I think five years after that I started doing acts and started performing a little bit. Thirteen years after that I went to École Nationale De Cirque (National Circus School) in Quebec and then started my professional career.”

I saved him from the jokes that I heard others commenting on that he must not have done a lot of ice skating while growing up in Chile, which then got me thinking. I wondered what the most annoying question people ask him was.

“If I juggle chainsaws,” he says. “They always ask me that.”

So, while Jorge may not risk his life, he is still pretty much a daredevil.

Jorge learned how to ice skate during the creation of Crystal about a year and a half ago and about three months before the soft premiere in Lafayette, Louisiana. And he wasn’t the only one. The whole crew had to learn how to ice skate for the company’s 42nd creation.

Unlike traditional circus show, this production has a storyline about a girl named Crystal trying to find her place in this world and finds it by diving into her own world of imagination. She’s young, creative and misunderstood by others. Her journey begins at a frozen pond where she sees her reflection and then falls through the ice. There, she finds herself in an upside down world where her reflection leads her to path to awaken her own creativity.

“The show Crystal is about looking at things from fresh angles, peeking through the veneer of everyday life, reframing one’s daily reality to see what one might have missed. Sometimes the only way to appreciate things is to look at them sideways,” says the show’s press materials.

So, how did this whole concoction of mixing ice with acrobatics come about? Cirque Du Soleil is known for always pushing the boundaries and creating a show on ice seemed like the next natural step for the company.

“We had to do a bit of research to see how we could implement acrobatics with ice skating,” says Julie. “We also did some workshops with ice skating coaches like Kurt Browning as well as acrobatic coaches and we experimented a lot of new things to see how this could be really possible.”

Jorge is just one of 43 performers in the show which includes trapeze artists, BMX ice bike riders, a clown and a three-person live band. The cast is about half acrobats and half ice skaters coming together as an ensemble performance.

Despite what you might think, Julie assures me that Crystal will present the same quality show usually found under their big top. Everything from the stage to the lights travels with this show in 17 semi-truck trailers traveling to more areas so that more people can experience a Cirque du Soleil show. In total, there are 90 people from 20 different countries that travel with the show for 10-12 weeks at a time. They take two weeks off and then hit the road again for about 300 shows a year.

Crystal will be presented in Everett at the Angel of the Winds Arena for eight shows over the span of five days from April 10-14, 2019. Shows will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 12:30 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Sunday before the hit the road again. Tickets start at $109 and can be purchase online. The arena is located at 2000 Hewitt Ave., Everett, WA 98201.