"In the tradition of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, we were hurtling across Oregon in a caravan of busses and beaver costumes," said Thomas Lauderdale, the bandleader of Pink Martini. "It was a dream come true!"
Lauderdale, with a characteristic impish grin in his voice, is referring to the singers, actors, and musicians who performed in Oregon! Oregon! 2009: A Sesquicentennial Fable in IV Acts. That might be an abnormally long title for a musical comedy, but it's the perfect one with which to celebrate Oregon's 150th birthday. In addition to the Pink Martini ensemble, the show features some of the state's best comedians and "Oregon's Own" 234th Army Band.
Oregon! Oregon! 2009 is actually an updated extension of a radio comedy that was written by Grammy-award winning radio comedian Stan Freberg. In 1959, the Blitz-Weinhard Brewing Company commissioned Freberg to write a musical skit in honor of the state's 100th birthday, and he invented a tale in three acts that was broadcast on radio and pressed on vinyl.
A few years ago, Lauderdale got wind of Freberg's creation and hunted down several copies of the LPs. He loved the far fetched story of two explorers, Harry and David, who, in 1859 want statehood for Oregon because, as they say "A Territory's Great But You Gotta Have a State." The rest of the story involves a bottle, a witch, and a Californian fruit inspector. It's corny and fun at the same time.
"Oklahoma is one of the very few states that have a musical named after it," said Lauderdale, "But at least we have Oregon Oregon. The first three acts that Freberg created came out of the Music Man, Guys and Dolls, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown era. There's a lot of patter and it's very clever. The challenge for us with the fourth act was to come up with memorable melodies, be zippy and snappy, and inclusive of the last 50 years."
To help him find just the right dollops of humor and music, Lauderdale collaborated with a team of writers from Livewire! and local luminaries, including Oregon First Lady Mary Oberst, Metro Council President David Bragdon, and the 92-year-old conductor of theChariots of Fire, Harry Rabinowitz.
He also worked with Sarah Dougher, who is a triple threat as a composer, director of PICA's Flash Choir, and a professor at PSU.
"I did a lot of writing on the front end of the fourth act," recalled Dougher. "Thomas and our director Greg Tamblyn, who is a veteran of musical theater have tweaked it. The new act reviews events around the state for the past fifty years and comes to a stunning, dramatic resolution. At one point, there's a giant, prehistoric beaver that comes onto the stage."
Oregon! Oregon! 2009: A Sesquicentennial Fable in IV Acts has been performed at the Oregon State Fair in Salem, the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, the Les Schwab Amphitheater in Bend, and the Oregon Zoo in Portland. With a little luck, it will make it onto a DVD; otherwise we will have to wait for Act 5 in 2059.