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Originally published Monday, September 24, 2012 at 7:56 PM

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The return of 'Memphis,' and how to wear a hoop skirt

Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur's weekly report on Northwest social and philanthropic events includes a visit to the opening-night performance of "Memphis" at the 5th Avenue Theatre and a HistoryLink luncheon.

Seattle Times staff columnist

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"Memphis" came home to Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre the other night, and it brought its Tony Award for Best Musical of 2010 back from New York. Really. It's in the lobby.

"Take a good look at it," the musical's producer Ken Alhadeff told the audience before Thursday's curtain. "Because it's yours."

Not one to brag, Alhadeff noted that "Memphis" was the 83rd-longest-running show in Broadway history. And it may start a new run across the pond.

"We do have our eyes on the West End of London," he said.

Of the 14 new musicals that have been launched at the 5th since 2000, seven have gone to Broadway. Can you name them?

(Don't scratch your noggin too hard; I'll put them at the end.)

Hoop skirt dreams

The play was the thing earlier in the day when HistoryLink held its annual luncheon at the Paramount Theatre. The free, online encyclopedia of Washington state history used the occasion to celebrate the recent creation of a Downtown Historic Seattle Theater District, made up of Town Hall, ACT, the Moore, the Paramount and the 5th Avenue theaters.

In that vein, this tidbit: When Sarah Bernhardt played Seattle in 1891, she spent her downtime bear hunting — at Green Lake. (Too bad she wasn't there the other week to get a gander at the Naked Guy of Duck Island).

"We are privileged to live in a community that values history," said Marie McCaffrey, who founded the website with her late husband, Walt Crowley.

Staff historian Cassandra Tate loves how HistoryLink stories can be updated and expanded as needed.

"Books are out of date before they get to the publisher," she said. "History is like a river, and we're flowing along with it."

A good part of the event (way too much, really) was spent calling out local politicians, who stood up to give us all a wave. I would rather have applauded for McCaffrey, nonprofit-arts leader Kate Becker ("Saint Kate," as King County Executive Dow Constantine called her) and the fine folks from Somewhere in Time, Unlimited (SITU), who strolled around in costume from 1910, when the theaters were first built.

Looking old is hard work.

"Sometimes the costumes are a little more challenging and it's like, 'Get me out of this!' " said SITU President Kimberly Brangwin. "Try to sit on a toilet in a hoop skirt."

Next chance I get.

Fifty shades of Seattle

"What book?" the girl asked her mother.

"It's an adult book," the woman said, leading her daughter out of Third Place Books on Saturday.

Inside, some 1,200 people waited for E.L. James, the British author of "Fifty Shades of Grey," to have their well-thumbed books signed. Four police officers stood around, amused.

While in Seattle, James took a tour of Escala, the high-end condominium building where she placed her leading man, Christian Grey. She found it online, she said, and toured the city using Google Maps.

James visited the Escala unit owned by the Diamond family ("It's very high up!" she said), and then did a signing for residents before heading to the bookstore in Lake Forest Park.

Third Place managing partner Robert Sindelar tried to keep the crowd amused by summoning each group of ticket holders with "Grey" phrases, based on the letters assigned to them: "L for 'libido.' " "K for 'kinky.' " That sort of thing.

Lisa Rodriguez flew in from New Jersey for the signing with her friends Clara Rivera and Kaileen Alston.

"I really love Christian," Rodriguez told me while Rivera and Alston nodded behind her.

"My husband's jealous of him. He said, 'You going to leave me for an effing book?' and I said 'No. He's not real.'

"If he was real, then we might have to talk about it."

Pencils down

The shows that the 5th has sent to Broadway since 2000? "Hairspray," "The Wedding Singer," "Catch Me If You Can," "Shrek the Musical," "Memphis" and upcoming productions of "A Christmas Story" and "Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson," which is being directed by 5th Avenue Artistic Director David Armstrong.

Parting words

From Killian Noe, executive director of the Recovery Cafe, which held its annual Standing in the Gap Breakfast the other morning:

"To turn our back on the suffering in our midst is to deny the oneness of the human family. We deny that oneness at our own peril, and at the risk of losing our very souls."

Names in Bold appears every Tuesday. Reach Nicole Brodeur at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

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About Nicole Brodeur's Names in Bold

On Tuesdays, I tell you about my travels through some of the week's social and philanthropic events — not just the ones for the swells, but those for work-a-day folks who care about making this region move and improve.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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