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MHS grad returns to direct Fats Waller musical

Some young men leave home to seek out theatrical careers and never look back.

by: PHOTO BY JONATHAN HOUSE - Roger Welch works with the cast of 'Ain't Misbehavin'' as they prepare for opening night at Stumptown Stages in Portland.Roger Welch is different. The 1985 Milwaukie High School graduate, who has lived in New York City on and off for 18 years, is pleased to be back in town directing Stumptown Stages’ current production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

The musical is his fourth project for Stumptown Stages, and it runs Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays through May 25 in the Brunish Theatre in downtown Portland.

Welch, 47, was involved with the drama department at MHS, playing Charlie Brown and Curley McDimple in various productions. He also delivered copies of the Milwaukie Review, now the Clackamas Review, while he was in school.

His parents and brothers still live in Milwaukie, which he considers his second home.

Fats Waller musical

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a musical revolving around the tunes of Fats Waller. In his director’s notes, Welch describes Waller as a “larger than life African-American cultural icon” who composed more than 400 original songs, including “Jitterbug Waltz” and “Honeysuckle Rose.”

What Portland audiences will like best about this production is “the stellar cast. I have worked with every one of them, and to bring the five of them together in the same cast — they are like the dream team,” he said. “They are each stars in their own right and this ensemble of five voices is spectacular.”

Welch has directed “Ain’t Misbehavin’” before, but that was 10 years ago, and it was more like a concert, set in a 1,200-seat auditorium.

The 150-seat Brunish Theatre is “a very different space, with the opportunity to make the show much more intimate. The audience is in the nightclub, they are part of the environment and will feel more drawn in and connected,” Welch said.

“The show is infectious, funny and thoroughly entertaining. It has a lot to offer and will leave audiences wanting more,” he said.

Stumptown ties

Welch has a funny story about how he met Kirk Mouser, a 1985 Centennial High School graduate who is the executive artistic director and founder of Stumptown Stages.

“I was a singing waiter at the Rhinelander in Portland and trained Kirk as a busboy,” he said.

Mouser went off to California shortly thereafter, and Welch went to Mt. Hood Community College. He had planned on going on to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, but instead was hired for a national tour. At that point, his career took off.

The two men met again in Chicago, where Mouser was on tour playing Marius in “Les Miserables.” Years later, when Welch was producing that show at Coeur D’Alene Summer Theatre, in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, he asked Mouser to direct it.

Mouser continued to direct for Welch for six seasons.

Welch just finished his 20th year at the Coeur D’Alene venue, and now Mouser has asked him to be the resident director at Stumptown Stages.

“I will direct one or two shows a year at Stumptown Stages, based on my availability. I will also hold New York City auditions for them if needed, and will serve as an artistic resource for the organization,” Welch said.

He added, “I am so pleased to be able to spend time directing in my hometown at a professional theater such as Stumptown Stages. I love my life in New York City, but there is something really wonderful about coming home.”

For more information about the production, or to purchase tickets, visit stumptownstages.org.



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