United by a Cause

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Spotlight

SEQUIM — “Beauty and the Beast,” a “Cockeyed Optimist” and a jazz pianist are getting together behind one cause tonight and Saturday.

In two concerts informally called “guys, girls and gorillas” — these performers don’t take themselves too seriously — four singers and a pianist will offer a quick trip to Broadway for some beloved songs.

The entertainers are friends, brought together by stage productions in the past and by their desire to reach out to a faraway place.

With Readers Theatre Plus cofounders Jim and Carol Swarbrick Dries as organizers, they’re presenting a musical revue to benefit RwandaNow, a nonprofit supporting gorilla conservation and economic development in Africa. The revue will be staged at two locations: the Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road, at 7:30 tonight, and the Sequim High School auditorium, 601 N. Sequim Ave., at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Swarbrick Dries, Juliana Hansen and James Mulligan have all appeared in “Beauty and the Beast,” at various points in their careers. The Los Angeles-based Hansen has played Belle, Mulligan played the Beast, and Dries, who lives in Dungeness when not acting in regional theater productions, played Mrs. Potts. Then there was “The Wizard of Oz” at the Civic Light Opera in Redondo Beach, Calif. Hansen was Dorothy while Dries was the Wicked Witch.

So when Dries told Hansen about her plans to do a benefit for RwandaNow, Hansen’s response was: “Can I be in it?”

Delighted, Dries said yes. Hansen will sing “A Cockeyed Optimist” from “South Pacific,” “Home” from “Beauty and the Beast” and a duet with Dries of “No One Is Alone” from “Into the Woods.”

‘The Way We Were’

Dries, for her part, will offer “The Way We Were.” It’s to be a tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, with whom she worked in the Seattle Pops’ 2009 salute to Stephen Sondheim.

Hansen has also brought her boyfriend Mulligan on board. His resume ranges from the title role in “Jekyll and Hyde” and Chris in “Miss Saigon,” along with his Beastly part. He’s coming up from California, with Hansen, to sing songs such as “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” and “You’re Just in Love” in the benefit revue.

Dries sought out one of her favorite musicians to provide accompaniment: Linda Dowdell, a Sequim resident who is an internationally known composer, arranger and piano player. Dowdell moved here from New York City after serving as music director for organizations such as the Mark Morris Dance Group and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, and after making music for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and New York’s Summer Play Festival.

The benefit concerts have a youthful element too: Ashleigh Victoria Schoenle, a 17-year-old singer who moved from Chicago to Sequim last summer.

Ashleigh will sing two pop songs, “Armor” by her friend Lissa Lauria and Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar.”

The teenager was deeply affected by a church trip to Uganda, where she worked with a team of volunteers to build two orphanages in the slums of Jinja and Chivulu.

“It was an eye-opener for me,” Ashleigh said. “It made me realize how much we actually take for granted living here.

“I feel so honored,” she added, “to do this fundraiser ... I will continue to reach out to others through my voice [that] God has blessed me with.”

At both concerts, Seattle television journalist Penny LeGate will serve as mistress of ceremonies. She’s the one who introduced Dries to RwandaNow, a nonprofit established by Dr. Jode Garbe of Seattle.

RwandaNow’s mission is to promote environmentally and economically healthy communities in Rwanda through work with local residents, especially women.

The organization supports, among other programs, sanctuaries for Rwanda’s mountain gorillas.

Dries and her husband Jim have traveled to see the gorillas, and have been inspired ever since to help preserve them — along with sustainable tourism.

Tickets to the RwandaNow benefits are $25 per person at Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St., Sequim, and at Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., Port Angeles. If seats are still available, tickets will be sold at the door.

More information about the beneficiary awaits at www.RwandaNow.org, while details about the performances are at www.ReadersTheatrePlus.com.

Last modified: October 12. 2012 5:27AM
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