“This is the first time I’ve been the main, lead part,” notes Jack Fleischmann, 12, one of the two boys playing of Oliver in The 5th Avenue Theatre production of “Oliver!” which opened in Seattle last week.
Speaking to him a few hours before opening night, Jack showed all the enthusiasm you’d expect for such a momentous occasion. His family, including grandparents, had been there for the final preview the night before and his mom and sister would be attending opening night.
“A lot of people are coming,” he said.
Jack demanded to start acting at the age of 3. His sister Hannah was appearing in a Broadway Bound drama school production and he insisted on the same. At age 4 he debuted in “How to Eat Like a Child” and “Jungle Book” and credits the program’s director, Jimmy Nixon, for encouraging him and getting him a successful audition for the movie “Switchmas.”
That “got me wanting to be in more professional things in theater,” he says.
After appearing in the chorus of “Elf: The Musical” at the 5th Avenue last year, he learned the theater was presenting “Oliver!” this year. He went into study mode, watching the movie, learning the music.
Oliver and Fagin’s gang are double-cast, and Jack shares the role with Mark Jeffrey James Weber. Divided into two teams, they perform three days on and three days off. Jack performed opening night and Jeffrey will perform closing night.
Having just started as a 6th grader at Seattle Academy this year, Jack says keeping up with schoolwork has been “a bit tougher than I imagined.” He’s keeping up with most classes, but will have much make-up work when the show ends on Dec. 31. The school has been supportive and even featured a notice about his role on its website.
When time permits, Jack enjoys playing soccer and basketball, “my favorite sport.”
The Jewish community is well represented among this kid-heavy cast, including Jasmine Harrick (featured in this column on Feb. 8, 2013 for her role in “Music Man”) and Eliana Harrick, Boaz Malakoff, Amalya Benhaim, Eliana Coe, and Sophie Poole. For more information on the show, visit the theater’s website at www.5thavenue.org.
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Uncle Bonsai bandmembers Arni Adler, left, Andrew Ratshin, center, and Patrice O’Neill. (Photo: Maria Camillo)
Meanwhile, on a stage on another shore, Seattle’s unique folk band Uncle Bonsai has begun its annual holiday tour. Starting in Framingham, Mass., and finishing in Tacoma on New Year’s Eve, the band is touring with Christine Lavin and singing songs from their “Just One Angel” and “Just One Angel v2.0” CDs.
Band leader Andrew Ratshin, originally from Tarrytown, N.Y., describes the two albums’ selections as “alternative” and “songs you wouldn’t hear on an elevator.” They include Uncle Bonsai originals, such as the sardonic “Doug’s Greatest Christmas Ever,” and other artists’ work. (“Doug,” the fictional subject of an ongoing series of songs and an album of that name, is Jewish.)
Uncle Bonsai formed in Seattle in the mid-1980s when three Bennington College grads — Andrew, Arni Adler and Ashley O’Keeffe — got together to sing Irish music. They busked outside the gates of Bumbershoot, Andrew recalls, made enough to get in, and the next year they were a featured act, opening for Fireside Theater.
After a few years, the band took a break and Andrew went solo as the Electric Bonsai Band (“it’s not electric, and it’s not a band”), and formed another singing group, The Mel Cooleys. In 1998 Uncle Bonsai reunited for a “one-off reunion concert.” The new songs Andrew wrote for that concert turned “into an album called ‘Apology,’” he says, which led to more reunion concerts. The band started touring regularly again about six years ago with Patrice O’Neill, replacing Ashley, who had moved away.
Uncle Bonsai’s unique sound blends Andrew’s high tenor with the two female vocalists. Their quirky, clever and sometimes poignant original songs are written primarily by Andrew, who sometimes collaborates with Arni on lyrics. A concert a couple of years ago at Salem, Oregon’s Temple Beth Sholom let them trot out all their Jewish-themed songs for an audience who got all of their jokes. They have even written a bedtime storybook for grownups, “The Monster in the Closet” (www.unclebonsai.com).
Andrew is married to classical guitarist Hilary Field. They live in Maple Leaf with their daughter Emma. When not writing, producing or performing music, Andrew says, “I wait to pick up my daughter and drive her someplace else.”