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Oregon Cabaret premieres new musical

Songwriter Irving Berlin was so prolific, he penned a song to suit almost any occasion.

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre is tapping into his extensive oeuvre to stage a new musical. Rick Robinson, the theater company's managing director, wrote the script for "The Pine Mountain Lodge" and sprinkled in 13 Berlin songs for the music and dance numbers. 

"The music has to be an intrinsic part of the storytelling," Robinson says. "Irving Berlin has written thousands of songs. If I needed a song where a character talks about the love he has for his father, he wrote about that. He was so prolific, we were surprised we could find what we were looking for."

In "The Pine Mountain Lodge," a returning World War II veteran is tasked with shutting down his late father's flagging upstate New York hotel. But he discovers the hotel is haunted by two quarreling ghosts — former lovers and famous dance partners. The ghosts put aside past grievances to persuade the young man to stage one last show to save the hotel.

Meanwhile, a new male and female performing duo who arrive at the hotel are caught up in their own relationship troubles, opening the door for romance between the woman performer and the veteran.

A preview performance of the musical is at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at the theater, 241 Hargadine St., Ashland. Preview tickets are $21 for all seats.

The musical officially opens at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18. Evening performances at 8 p.m. continue Wednesdays through Sundays and select Tuesdays through Dec. 31. Additional matinee performances are at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $21 to $35. 

Student rush tickets for $10 are available 30 minutes before curtain time. Discounts of 20 percent are available for groups of 10 or more. 

Reservations are required for pre-show dinner or brunch. Appetizers, beverages and desserts are available without reservations. 

For more information or to buy tickets, call the Box Office at 541-488-2902 or visit www.oregoncabaret.com.

Robinson says he drew from personal experience to write "The Pine Mountain Lodge." 

In 2014, he and his wife, Valerie Rachelle, relocated from Los Angeles after buying the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, a popular and well-established theater in Ashland. They had hoped to have a gradual transition and learn from former owner Jim Giancarlo, but Giancarlo suddenly became ill and died.

Robinson and Rachelle can relate to the feelings of the veteran Danny — played by Lucas Blair — as he takes over the hotel following his father's death.

"Ultimately, despite the fantastical elements, every story you tell has to be personal," says Robinson. "'The Pine Mountain Lodge' is about someone who endures enormous pressure after taking over this sacred performing space from a beloved figure — which is certainly something Val and I can relate to."

Robinson includes references to real aspects of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, such as its chandelier, in the musical.

Audiences will hear familiar and lesser known songs by Berlin, including "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Let's Face the Music and Dance," "Shaking the Blues Away," "Let Yourself Go" and "You're So Easy to Dance With."

"There are all these great songs in the show that people are going to recognize right away, but also some beautiful, less common songs that really help to tell this story," Robinson says.

Writing an original musical with a modest cast size has helped the local theater overcome many of the challenges of staging a classic — and lavish — musical like "White Christmas," which also uses Berlin songs and has themes of veterans returning from war, a financially struggling hotel and a last-ditch performance to save the business.

"On the surface, it has a lot in common with Irving Berlin shows like 'White Christmas' and 'Holiday Inn,' but ours has an intimacy you won't find in those musicals and a ghost story twist that's going to be a lot of fun for audiences," says Rachelle, who directs the play.

The quarreling ghosts named George Edwards and Edie Arlen are modeled after performing teams like comedian George Burns and his wife Gracie Allen, as well as dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

When the pair were alive, their relationship was on the rocks and they were about to break up as partners. But they perished in a car accident on the way to their last performance and are doomed to haunt the hotel.

Actors John Stadelman and Jessica Blaszak play the ghosts. 

Natasha Harris and Tony Carter play the living performers who arrive at the hotel. The man in the duo mistreats the woman, but she still clings to him because of their partnership. John Lambie plays the current caretaker of the hotel and an old friend of the veteran's father.

"I love the actors. These are actors who have worked at the Cabaret. Everyone's just jumped right in," Robinson says. "Everyone has their eyes set on creating a wonderful new thing."

Lucas Blair plays Danny Hewitt and Natasha Harris is Moony Miller in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's production of 'The Pine Mountain Lodge.' Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta