Kirk Mouser keeps musical theater lively

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Kirk Mouser of Lake Oswego is the artistic director of Stumptown Stages, which is dedicated to the production of musicals and development of original musicals.“How are you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris?”

Those popular song lyrics from World War I could very well be applied to the life of Lake Oswego’s Kirk Mouser. How could Portland possibly hold a candle to the actor’s life in New York City? Lucky for us, Mouser is quite content to be “down on the farm” and has a very satisfying creative outlet working as the artistic director for Stumptown Stages, a musical theater group he founded eight years ago.

The theater has always been an important part of Mouser’s life. He grew up in east Multnomah County and graduated from Centennial High School, where his mother, Janet Mouser, was his drama teacher. His first job in the theater business was with Oregon Cabaret as a production stage manager.

“I ordered the food and lots of other things,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I figured I could figure it out.”

Like many teens with an artistic bent, Mouser could hardly wait to get out of town and head for the bright lights of Los Angeles. He moved to LA and attended the Theatre Academy at Los Angeles City College, and earned his union cards. He worked with many notables at the time, including Jo Ann Worley (of “Laugh-In” fame), but, he said, “ I knew I needed to go to New York. I needed that energy! What LA is to film, New York is to live stage.”

While in Los Angeles he attended an open call for the cast of “Les Miserables” and got the part he wanted. He toured with the show for 18 months. When the tour ended in Chicago he considered staying there, but New York’s pull was too great. He moved to the Big Apple and stayed his first week at the famed Milford Plaza Hotel.

Mouser took advantage of every acting opportunity he could in New York City and with regional theater groups in the surrounding area.

“The wonderful draw of Broadway and all the talents — if it was within driving distance of New York, I did it,” he said, and in the process got to work with many of the big names of the stage, including American lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who wrote the songs for “Fiddler on the Roof,” and Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis. He signed on as the assistant managing director at LUNA Stages, bringing musical comedy and improvisation to the stage under one roof.

“I learned a lot,” he said. “I thought I’d never come back.”

However, he came back to Oregon for what he thought was a quick trip, reconnected with a high school flame and stayed.

“Portland Civic Theater had closed. Downtown Portland was a void. There was no musical theater. So, eight years ago Stumptown Stages started.”

Mouser created Stumptown as an artistic outlet for himself with a mission to present a diversity of original works.

“Portland is so creative, and opportunities abound,” he said. He said he willed success to happen, through networking, thinking outside of the box and collaborating with people in Portland’s theater world, such as Julianne Johnson, Corey Brunish and Michael Allen Harrison, to name just a very few of the luminaries.

This year Stumptown Stages took residency in Brunish Hall at Portland Center for the Performing Arts. The season opened with “Dracula, A Musical Nightmare,” followed by the world premiere of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

“Wonderful Life” sold out and overnight became a new holiday tradition for Portland audiences. Janet Mouser wrote the book, and music and lyrics were by Michael Allen Harrison, Alan Berg and Julianne Johnson. Johnson serves as Stumptown’s association artistic director and Janet Mouser is the director of play development.

The final production for season eight is “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” which Mouser will direct. Music and lyrics are by David Nehls with a book by Betsy Kelso.

Stumptown publicity material states that “the story of the musical is that there is a new tenant at Armadillo Acres and she’s wreaking havoc all over Florida’s most exclusive trailer park. When Pippi, the stripper on the run, comes between the Dr. Phil-loving, agroraphobic Jeannie and her tollbooth collector husband, the storms begin to brew.”

Beth Sobo Turk appears as Pickles, Roger Welch plays Norbert, Stephanie Heuston plays Pippi, Debbie Hunter plays Jeannie, Laurie Campbell-Leslie plays Linoleum Lin, and Lisamarie Harrison plays Betty and choreographed the show. Nartan Woods plays Duke.

Welch is the artistic director for Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Summer Theater.

“We worked together at the Der Rheinlander (when they were in high school),” Mouser said. “He has me come each summer to direct his summer musical. We’ve done ‘Miss Saigon,’ ‘Les Mis,’ ‘Hairspray,’ ‘Sound of Music.’” This summer’s production hasn’t yet been announced.

Mouser said he still loves New York, and New Yorkers love Portland.

“Why not bring New York here?” he said. He plans to host a meeting in February for theater people from Portland, Seattle, Coeur d’Alene and New York to discuss forming a new regional group.

Mouser just might cause a change in lyrics of the old song to, “How are you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Portland.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - The Great American Trailer Park Musical is Stumptowns next production. The musical opens Feb. 21 and runs through March 10.

Get tickets now for The Great American Trailer Park Musical

Stumptown Stages' production of The Great American Trailer Park opens Feb. 21 and runs through March 10 in Brunish Hall at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range in price from $15 to $30 and can be purchased by calling 503-946-7272, online at or at the PCPA box office.

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