A wacky bedroom farce that opened last Sunday on Broadway puts the name of Puget Sound's largest employer up in lights — twice over...

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A wacky bedroom farce that opened last Sunday on Broadway puts the name of Puget Sound’s largest employer up in lights — twice over.

“Boeing Boeing” is no product-placement gimmick, though. It’s the hit revival of a 1960s French play whose improbable plot takes off when airlines shift to a new generation of faster planes.

The original show enjoyed huge success in Europe, but flopped in the U.S. after just 23 performances. A forgettable movie version with Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis was advertised as “the big comedy of nineteen-sexty-sex.”

The last time a company name got such prominent billing on stage or screen was probably the stoner comedy flick “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.” And the last time the words “Boeing” and “sex” shared headlines, a CEO lost his job. But never mind that.

Some trademark watchdogs would take umbrage, or legal action, if the corporate name were hijacked by Broadway. Imagine the lawyers circling a production called “Starbucks Starbucks.”

But Boeing’s vice president of brand and market positioning, Rob Pollack, sees no downside.

“It’s kind of fun; it doesn’t talk about airplanes very much,” he says. “From a branding standpoint I don’t have any problem with it. It’s a lot better than ‘Airbus Airbus.’ “

Not that Airbus was around when Marc Camoletti concocted the premise of the piece: An American in Paris who is carefully juggling simultaneous engagements to three stewardesses.

All is well so long as each of them travels for days at a time, working on the slow-flying 707. But the playboy’s arrangements start to unravel with the debut of speedier jets from Boeing and others.

Judging by the buzz for the current production, it could be headed for a Tony nomination next week. That would help keep “Boeing Boeing” aloft a lot longer this time around.

New jobs for some

laid-off WaMulians

Competitors have pounced on some of the 3,000 people laid off when WaMu shuttered its home-lending offices last month.

Wells Fargo picked up the entire 30-person downtown Seattle unit, confirms spokeswoman Lara Underhill. The group will be installed in a new office that opens Monday at the bank’s regional headquarters at 999 Third Ave.

The entire Bellingham office has joined Wells Fargo, too, say people familiar with the move.

One of the Seattle hires is Ross Thomas, who spent 30 years at Seattle-based WaMu before his job as a loan consultant in the downtown Seattle office was eliminated.

Ross says he and his colleagues “had a number of offers as a group” after talking to JP Morgan Chase and mortgage lenders First Horizon and Countrywide.

Unlike WaMu, Wells Fargo is “definitely not cutting back,” Underhill says. The local hires will help San Francisco-based Wells expand its network of 40 lending offices in the state.

Chase, the big New York-based bank occasionally rumored to be interested in acquiring WaMu, has also hired from its rivals recently.

“We’ve picked up mortgage teams in the San Francisco Bay Area and Salt Lake City, and other smaller hires through out the West” since the first of the year, says spokeswoman Mary Jane Rogers.

She says the industry shakeout offers an opportunity to add “strong and experienced mortgage originators, and some of them are indeed from Washington Mutual.”

In Washington state, she adds, Chase has hired 20 “experienced mortgage professionals” and additional support staff from competitors, mostly in the Puget Sound area.

WaMu president Steve Rotella told Sunday Buzz last month that in California and elsewhere, “whole loan offices are going to work for other companies, and we’re trying to help them in that transition.”

However, a spokeswoman declined to give any specifics on how that outplacement effort has gone.

Starbucks, Ethiopia

find common ground

Ethiopia’s ambassador to the United States visited Seattle this past week to chat with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about the company’s plans to promote Ethiopian coffee and open a farmer-support center there this year.

In an interview, Ambassador Samuel Assefa explained how Starbucks and Ethiopia resolved a conflict last year that gained worldwide attention and had Oxfam International decrying Starbucks’ opposition to Ethiopia’s attempt to trademark the names of three of its best coffees — Yirgacheffe, Sidamo and Harar.

“It went badly for quite a while between us,” said Assefa. “It was a classic fair-trade battle, and a big one.”

About one-fifth of Ethiopia’s population, or 15 million people, depend on coffee for their livelihoods, he said. These include farmers and traders, who sometimes transport coffee on their backs or on mules.

The Ethiopian government, which owns the coffee trademarks that have now been granted in 28 countries, doesn’t charge royalties. Instead, it asks companies that sell the three types of coffee to sign agreements to promote the Ethiopian varieties. Already the agreements have led to greater recognition and higher prices, Assefa said.

“No matter how much we’d spend, it would never approach the way Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and others promote us,” he said.

Starbucks signed the agreement last June after a meeting in Seattle between Assefa and Schultz that the ambassador calls “a magical moment.”

Starbucks came around partly for business reasons, he said. If farmers find more-profitable crops, they will tear up coffee plants and cultivate something else. That happened when coffee prices dove in 2002. Coffee is now 35 to 40 percent of Ethiopia’s exports, down from 60 to 70 percent a decade ago.

The company also has “a sense of self-image, and I don’t mean just propaganda. Howard Schultz had definitely agonized. So it was a combination of good business sense and compassion,” Assefa said.

Ethiopia now has U.S. trademarks on its Yirgacheffe and Sidamo coffees and is awaiting a decision on Harar.

— Melissa Allison

Comments? Send them to Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@-

seattletimes.com or 206-464-8541