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Mini-musical 'Oregon! Oregon!' features Pink Martini

Here's something you don't see every day: the Britt stage packed to the wings in a campy, vampy, Broadway-esque show with a big military band, a little orchestra, a bunch of actors and a giant beaver.

The occasion was the Sunday night performance of "Oregon! Oregon!" a comic mini-musical written for Oregon's centennial in 1959 and updated by Thomas Lauderdale and friends for this year's sesquicentennial. Joined by Oregon's 234th Army Band, Pink Martini and a dozen actors presented the show Sunday night in Jacksonville after performances Friday and Saturday in Salem and Bend. It will have its last performance Saturday in Portland.

Rodgers and Hammerstein it ain't. Written by '50s funnyman Stan Freberg but credited to one M. Goose, the tale riffs on the plot of "Rumpelstiltskin." Two explorers named Harry (Todd Tschida) and David (Joe Theissen) discover Oregon, which The Witch (Margie Boulé) lets out of her bottle (a giant prop stage left) with all its wonders. But unless somebody can guess The Witch's name, back in they all go — and their little salmon, too.

It's schlocky and fun and full of Oregoniana. Early on it's all mountains and desert and fir trees and an ocean. Later it's winemakers, Mount St. Helens, microbreweries, medical marijuana, Ken Kesey, marionberries and "Louie Louie." But — gasp! — The Witch releases an elixir of fragmentation, and Oregonians fall to fighting among themselves. Can anything save them?

How about a giant beaver? But this is no ordinary giant rodent. It's a rare visitor from the Pleistocene, and it has a multicultural motivation. Its message, delivered sotto voce, in Beaver, is translated into English by The Witch: In Oregon, our diversity makes us stronger.

If you thought the beaver looked familiar, it's a stage version of the one artist and former Portland resident Malia Jensen installed in the Wieden and Kennedy Building in Stumptown a few years back.

Oregon's 234th Army Band opened the show with a rousing set of martial music. Note to Chief Warrant Officer Ashley Alexander, who conducted: We know you guys are used to exercising your considerable talents at military bases and functions. But you might want to consider tailoring your program — no biggie, just mix it up a little — to a civilian audience that has come mainly to see a band that plays sexy, foreign-language versions of cabaret and cocktail lounge tunes, and is led by a guy that looks like a miniature Elton John.

Also, many of us didn't quite know what to make of that march for the field artillery, with the rifles and the shooting and the banging and the muzzle flashes on the stage.

But anything with Pink Martini ain't over until the diva next door sings. That would be China Forbes, Lauderdale's musical partner in sultry multicultural madness for a small orchestra.

The band led off with "Tempo Perdido," the obscure, romantic Carmen Miranda song from the 1930s that was on "Hey Eugene." That led to the brassy "Anna," urged on by Gavin Bondy's trumpet work, which in turn led to "Sympathique," the classic Forbes/Lauderdale tune about not wanting to work, in French.

"Didn't you love 'Oregon! Oregon!' " asked Forbes, who often danced around to the music in a gown that looked like a zebra.

Forbes' "Hey Eugene" evoked the perils of having too much to drink at a party as it proved once again to be a perfect little gem of a narrative.

There were new songs from the band's coming album, including "Tuca Tuca," a sensual Italian song about touching. There was Uskudar, an Eartha Kitt song from Turkey with more blistering trumpet. There was a cinematic ballad called "Over the Valley," about the view from Forbes' house.

The only flat stretch in the set was "Que Sera Sera," which is tasked with achieving fabulosity but never managed to rise above the level of an old Doris Day radio hit, and "Splendor in the Grass," the title tune from the new CD, which sounds like a million other songs.

The climax was a lush, energetic take on Ary Barroso's samba classic "Brazil." The tune has been done by everybody and his uncle, but it's seldom sounded richer or more exciting than this. Then, tomorrow was another day, and the morning found them miles away.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com. Because of a scheduling error, this review was inadvertently left out of Monday's paper.

Mini-musical 'Oregon! Oregon!' features Pink Martini