Kirk Mouser rounds up talent for city's resident musical theater company

by: TRIBUNE PHOTOS: JONATHAN HOUSE - A Portland native, Kirk Mouser has helped earn Stumptown Stages some national recognition through National Alliance for Musical Theatre.Kirk Mouser is the epitome of the local-boy-makes-good story, but there is so much more to the man than that.

True, Mouser, now 47, did graduate from Centennial High School, and he did go to Los Angeles and New York City and was a success on the stage in both places.

He’s been back in Portland for 10 years, and after again finding success on stages around the metro area and even on screen in TNT’s “Leverage,” he is now the executive artistic director and founder of Stumptown Stages.

“When I left New York City, people thought I would miss Manhattan, and I was nervous about that, but what I found here is the creative energy of the city,” he says, noting that all his friends in New York now want to come to Portland to perform.

With the “wonderful talent base here” and his connections all around the United States, Mouser can call on any number of friends to come to Portland to direct or appear in the musicals he produces for Stumptown Stages.

Wondering if there was a place for him when he returned to Portland, Mouser gathered together some key leaders in the local theatrical scene and discussed the need for a musical company in downtown Portland.

In 2005 he filed for nonprofit status for Stumptown Stages, saying that the group’s mission is to present “quality musical theater opportunities for a wide and diverse audience of musical-

theater lovers.”

After bouncing from venue to venue, Stumptown Stages settled into its new digs at Portland’5 Brunish Theatre in the Antoinette Hatfield Hall three years ago.

As executive artistic director, Mouser oversees all the creative decision-making, including casting, picking and choosing season offerings, and working with the design team.

But he also deals with practical matters like presenting a budget to the board, contracting talent, fundraising and more — what he calls “putting all the right pieces together.”

One of the things he is most proud of is Stumptown’s outreach program.

“We offer music, dance and theater to students in the underserved community or who are at risk,” Mouser says.

One such program is called Fridays at Stumptown, where for $22 a student can see the current show and sing, dance and act with the professional performers. Scholarships are available to those who can’t afford the fee, he says.

“This has a lot of positives. It brings students to the theater and supports young talent, and it is also building a sustaining patron base,” Mouser says.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Stumptown Stages newest production will be 'Ain't Misbehavin' ' at Brunish Theatre, May 9-25. Kirk Mouser promises one of the best productions of the musical in the country.

National attention

Mouser also is delighted to announce that Stumptown Stages is the only organization in Oregon to be accepted to the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing the creation, development, production and presentation of new musicals, and to provide a forum for musical-theater professionals to share resources and exchange information.

“This has catapulted us into the national limelight,” Mouser says.

He has always loved musicals, saying that winning the role of Marius in a touring company of “Les Miserables” in 1988 changed his life.

Musicals are “an art form with acting, music and dance. They’re entertaining, and that speaks to people.”

Bringing a classic to stage

And that brings us to “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” one of Mouser’s favorite shows of all time, opening May 9 at the Brunish Theatre, and continuing through May 25.

Stumptown’s Associate Artistic Director Julianne R. Johnson-Weiss has been in the show before and asked to do it, and Mouser knew he could assemble a first-rate cast, director and musical director from among his contacts.

“I have worked with each and every one of them, and to see them all together, bringing their talents and their voices, has been fun for me,” he says.

“Ain’t Misbehavin’” showcases the musical prowess of Fats Waller, while at the

same time providing “heart-wrenching social commentary,” Mouser says.

He adds, “I guarantee you are not going to see a better production of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’ anywhere else in the country. You will be entertained and impressed by the talent — this is a feel-good show.”

To find out more about Stumptown Stages and to buy tickets for “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” visit

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Director Roger Welch works with the cast of 'Ain't Misbehavin' ' and says, 'This show is infectious, funny and thoroughly entertaining - you'll be wanting more.'

Visiting director has local roots

Roger Welch, director of Stumptown Stages’ upcoming production of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” has a local-boy-makes-good story all his own. He is a graduate of Milwaukie High School who has been involved in the theater community in New York City on and off for 18 years, and has numerous directing credits to his name from theater groups around the country.

Welch met Kirk Mouser, executive artistic director of Stumptown Stages, when both were waiters at the Rheinlander German Restaurant in Portland.

Welch lives in New York, but his family still lives in Milwaukie, so he considers Portland his second home. This will be the fourth show he has directed at Stumptown.

What audiences will like best about “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is the stellar cast, Welch says, calling them the “dream team.”

He adds, “This show is infectious, funny and thoroughly entertaining — you’ll be wanting more.”

The only local performer in the cast is Stumptown’s Associate Artistic Director Julianne R. Johnson-Weiss, who was unavailable for an interview.

But the other four cast members were only too happy to talk about “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

Describing her character as sassy, yet vulnerable, Deidra Grace says hers is one of the more emotional characters in the show.

Audiences will like the show, because “it comes from a real and open place, and we have put our hearts into it,” she says.

Monte Howell says his character is “the essence of Fats Waller. He’s larger than life and fun loving.”

The show has “a ton of high energy and creativity,” and his favorite moment is the opening number, titled, unsurprisingly, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

“The viper” is the best way Terence Kelley has of describing his character, adding, “he’s a killer-diller of a guy and the slick hipster of the group.”

His favorite musical moment in the show is the “Jitterbug Waltz,” saying, “I can dive in and swim around in that number, and it is a beautiful piece melodically.”

Shanelle Leonard is the third female in the show, and she says her character is “fun, flirty, energetic and battling to prove herself.”

Audiences will respond to the humor in the show, but more importantly, she adds, “it will make them think.”