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Anything Goes ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 17, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney) = Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney) = Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Director Stefan Sittig is no stranger to big song-and-dance productions, and awards committees are no strangers to his considerable talent.  He’s directed and/or choreographed all the major blockbusters from Chicago to Evita, Showboat to Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line to West Side Story, and many more of our favorite Broadway shows, winning countless awards for his efforts.  But a show is only as good as its performers and thrillingly LTA’s Anything Goes has got a super cast of singers and hoofers – the most indelible being Mara Stewart as Reno Sweeney.  The young Stewart, a recent arrival to our area from Chicago’s stages, is a spectacular singer (think Liza Minelli, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand rolled into one) and comedian (conjure up Lucille Ball’s antics, and delving into the archives of vaudeville, Fanny Brice).  She is utterly captivating and surely destined for a stellar career.  Catch her here and you can say, I knew her when.

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Set in 1934, a disparate bunch of passengers and gangsters is sailing aboard a luxury liner to England.  Wall Street nabob Elisha J. Whitney (played deliciously by Dick Reed) is just one of the dupes being conned by Moonface Martin (Ken Kemp, a wickedly funny scene stealer) and his cohort, Bonnie (Jaqueline Salvador).  Billy Crocker (Marshall Cesena) is Whitney’s assistant, a starry-eyed boy wonder hopelessly in love with Hope Harcourt (the beautifully voiced Tori Garcia), a girl about to give her hand in marriage to the witless British lord, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (James Maxted).  If that doesn’t keep it lively enough, there’s the splashy celebrity diva and former evangelist, Reno Sweeney (the aforementioned Mara Stewart) and her four “Angels” – Chastity (Ashley Kaplan), Purity (Katie Mallory), Virtue (Elizabeth Spilsbury) and Charity (Caitlyn Goerner) her backup chorines.

Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Jon Simmons (Sailor), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity), Kurtis Carter (Sailor), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt), Katie Mallory (Purity), Drew Sese (Sailor), Michael Gale (Sailor) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Jon Simmons (Sailor), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity), Kurtis Carter (Sailor), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt), Katie Mallory (Purity), Drew Sese (Sailor), Michael Gale (Sailor) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Coward drew inspiration from the rarefied circles he traveled in, peppering his tales with the gangsters and crooks who plied their cons on the fringes of high society.  With his incomparable talent for witty repartee, Anything Goes is filled with bon mots and zingers on the SS American, where crooks are hapless and gold diggers are adorable.

Caitlyn Goerner (Charity), Katie Mallory (Purity), Jackie Salvador (Bonnie), Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Caitlyn Goerner (Charity), Katie Mallory (Purity), Jackie Salvador (Bonnie), Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

In typical Coward fashion, there’s mistaken identity and hilarious disguises, especially when Billy, in hot pursuit of Hope and against her mother’s wishes, becomes a chef, then a sailor and ultimately a nobleman, “Are you French or Spanish?”, Hope’s mother (Allie Cesena) wonders after he changes into a count with a phony beard cut from a swatch of her fur jacket.  “Neither,” he quips.  “I’m Chinchillian!”.

The best of British humorists, P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton wrote the book and it’s popping with Brit wit.  Kit Sibley and Jean Schlichting bring massive glamour to the costumes – from spangles, sequins and feather boas to sassy chorus girl sailor suits and gowns slit up to there with plenty of leg.  Sibley also does double duty on the terrific period hair and wigs.

Conductor and keyboardist Francine Krasowska leads a nine-piece, onstage orchestra who play a total of fourteen instruments in a glorious bonanza of 17 of Porter’s greatest hits – among them some of his most memorable – “You’re the Top”, “Let’s Misbehave”, “It’s De-Lovely” and “I Get a Kick Out of You”.

Highly recommended.

Through February 4th 2017 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

The Cast of "Anything Goes" performing "Anything Goes - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

The Cast of “Anything Goes” performing “Anything Goes – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Titanic ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 22, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Florence Lacey (Ida Straus) and John Leslie Wolfe (Isidor Straus) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Florence Lacey (Ida Straus) and John Leslie Wolfe (Isidor Straus) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Titanic is a story of man’s inability to predict the ramifications, and limitations, of state-of-the-art technology.  It is a tale of an ocean liner made of 46,000 tons of steel, measuring eleven stories high and one thousand feet long, that went down in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 carrying some of the wealthiest families in America who were aboard her maiden voyage.  That there were young men and women of Irish and English descent seeking their fortunes in the New World, and others who believed they and the ship were invincible, is an equal part of this historic maritime tragedy.

Referred to as “a ship of dreams” and a “human metropolis” the Titanic is nowhere to be seen in Director Eric Shaeffer’s version of the musical by Writer Peter Stone and Composer/Lyricist Maury Yeston.  But that doesn’t keep us from sensing its vast power and scale and immersing ourselves in the drama that played out on the high seas.

Christopher Bloch (Captain E.J. Smith), Nick Lehan (Harold Bride), Lawrence Redmond (J. Bruce Ismay), and Bobby Smith (Thomas Andrews) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Christopher Bloch (Captain E.J. Smith), Nick Lehan (Harold Bride), Lawrence Redmond (J. Bruce Ismay), and Bobby Smith (Thomas Andrews) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Re-imagining the Tony Award-winning musical, Schaeffer and Set Designer, Paul Tate dePoo III, give us a theatre-in-the-round that utilizes five steel gangways that reflect the massive scale of the multi-level luxury liner.  This creates a more intimate experience for the audience.  It also allows many of the 38 performers to remain in clear sight and in equal hearing range producing a magnificent harmonic convergence of vocal heft.  We have Choreographer Matthew Gardiner to thank for that too, as the players climb the ramps and position themselves at different heights to sing their numbers.  It is the most effective use of a theatre-in-the-round stage I’ve ever seen.

Particularly haunting is the 17-piece band perched on a separate elevated catwalk in full view of the audience.  Led brilliantly by Conductor James Moore, their constant presence is reminiscent of how they sacrificed their lives to play for the remaining passengers as the behemoth was devoured by the sea.

Sam Ludwig (Frederick Barrett) and Stephen Gregory Smith (Stoker) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Sam Ludwig (Frederick Barrett) and Stephen Gregory Smith (Stoker) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The story delves into not just one love story but many – the John Jacob Astors played by Matt Connor and Jamie Eaker and a touching story of romance below decks played by the exceptional Katie McManus (as Kate McGowan) and Hassani Allen (as Jim Farrell).  Other couples are revealed to have secrets – Lady Caroline Neville’s (Iyona Blake) illicit love affair with Charles Clarke (Chris Sizemore) and Alice Beane’s (Tracy Lynn Olivera) disappointment in her husband’s inferior social standing.

Ryan Hickey’s sound design keeps us in mind of traveling on a ship through the atmospheric use of fog horns, bells, and the slamming of the coal stokers’ fiery oven doors.  Another effective touch is Frank Labowitz’s turn of the century navy blue gowns, feathered picture hats and simple frocks, and Amanda Zieve’s suspended Edison lightbulbs and understage blue lights, keeping us in mind of a ship sailing over the sea.

Stephen Gregory Smith, Katie McManus and the cast in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Colin Hovde

Stephen Gregory Smith, Katie McManus and the cast in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Colin Hovde

But what keeps us in a state of high anxiety is the blame game and what-ifs between the Captain (Christopher Bloch), the ship’s owner J. Bruce Ismay (Lawrence Redmond), the ship’s master William Murdoch (Kevin McAllister) and the ship’s architect Thomas Andrews played spectacularly by Bobby Smith, as they wonder what they could have done differently and who’s at fault.

Ultimately as the ship goes down, and we knew it would, the drama is no less palpable, and we are drawn hook, line and sinker into the tragedy of despair and dashed dreams of the hundreds of lives lost.  It’s a visceral experience and Yeston’s heart-stopping score rises up to meet it. 

Highly recommended.  A triumph!

Through January 29th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

The cast of Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III

The cast of Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III

Wicked ~ The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
December 19, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda - photo by Joan Marcus

Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda – photo by Joan Marcus

The Stephen Schwartz (Composer)/Winnie Holzman (Book) collaboration on Wicked presents us with a fresh interpretation of the classic L. Frank Baum book “The Wizard of Oz”.  In this version Glinda the Good Witch is arch-frenemies with Elphaba the wicked witch.

We learn how they met as young girls at sorcerer’s school and how Elphaba became a vengeful witch.  “Are people born wicked?  Or do they just have it thrust on them?”  Simply stated, it delves into life lessons that the book never addressed.

I saw this production several years ago at Kennedy Center and it left me flat – so I was less than enthusiastic about a return viewing.  Thankfully, my fears were unfounded.  That afternoon I became as rabid a fan as many in the audience who have reveled in its music and redemptive story line many times over.  Straight up, this is a fantastic production of Wicked.  What’s different? Let’s check those boxes, shall we?

Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda – A cross between Reese Witherspoon (think Elle in “Legally Blonde”) and Kristin Chenoweth who originated the role on Broadway.  Bubbly appeal and killer comedic talent matched only by her soaring soprano voice.  A smashingly good witch with excellent sorcery credentials.

Jessica Vosk as Elphaba – A fearless, verdigris witch-with-a-heart who manages to make sisterhood with your fiercest enemy look appealing.  Her powerful, spot on vocal range will give you goose bumps.  After all, she’s reprising Idina Menzel’s role in the original.  She has to be THAT GOOD!

Isabel Keating as Madame Morrible – There’s nothing horrible about Madame Morrible, except her ability to cower children and perhaps her skill at malaprops.  Keating brings posh poise to the role of headmistress and sorcery cohort of the Wizard.

Jeremy Woodard as Fiyero & Jessica Vosk as Elphaba. Photo by Joan Marcus

Jeremy Woodard as Fiyero & Jessica Vosk as Elphaba. Photo by Joan Marcus

Jeremy Woodard as Fiyero (the Prince) – For his good looks, swagger and savoir faire.  Another killer voice that brings it home in spades.

Fred Applegate as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – A spit-and-polish old school wizard whose endearing charm balances out all the evil he conjures up.  “I told them the lies they wanted to hear.”  Sound familiar?

Kristen Martin as Nessarose – For her ability to transition seamlessly from loving sister to vindictive enemy.

Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond - photo by Joan Marcus

Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond – photo by Joan Marcus

Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond – The caprine professor with empathy.  He’ll pave a path into your heart while teaching about the dangers of discrimination.

Since this is such a huge production with so many atmospheric elements – flying monkeys, inclement weather (cyclone and thunder!), giant pendulums, and silver dragons with glowing eyes notwithstanding – it’s crucial the gears mesh seamlessly.  And they do.

Kenneth Posner on Lighting – Gives us hairy and scary in equal doses.

Susan Hilferty on Costumes – The best and most sparkly ever.

Tom Watson on Wigs – For towering pompadours and saucy curls.

Eugene Lee on Sets – Brighter, greener, more technically sophisticated and lavish than ever.

Highly recommended.

Through January 8th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ December 2016

Jordan Wright
December 2016
Photo credit – Jordan Wright

Virginia Distillery Debuts Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky – Ambar Opens in Clarendon – Hazel fuses Asian with Italian – Smoked and Stacked for Your Reubens – Buttercream, The New Kid on the Block – ICE! Returns to National Harbor 

Virginia Distillery Company Showcases New Whisky Flavor

We get excited about a lot of things around here, but the Virginia Distillery Company’s Port Finished Virginia Highland Malt Whisky has us leaping out of our comfy chairs.  The production facilities with factoid-rich whisky museum are located in beautiful Nelson County where this past September. whiskandquill.com/nelson-county.

If you like your whiskey smooth with a sweet finish, this small batch release is the one for you…and me too.  You’ll want to use it for cocktails and especially for after dinner sipping.  Toffee, dried fruit and dark cocoa notes linger on the palate, affording dyed-in-the-wool whisky lovers an excuse to drink it neat or perhaps, with a splash of branch water.

Cocktails from VDC

Cocktails

In addition, VDC adds a limited edition Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt to their ‘Commonwealth Collection’.  Finished in casks from Potter’s Craft Cider in Free Union, Virginia (I’d like to know the back story of the town’s name), it has distinct overtones of apple.

Gareth Moore of the Virginia Distillery Company at the Homestead Restaurant

Gareth Moore of the Virginia Distillery Company

At a recent gathering at Homestead restaurant in Petworth hosted by VDC’s owners Gareth Moore, son of the late founder Dr. George C. Moore, and his charming wife, Maggie, we had the pleasure of a tasting paired with Executive Chef Marty Anklam’s upscale comfort food.

A few nibbles from Executive Chef Marty Anklam of the Homestead

A few nibbles from Executive Chef Marty Anklam

VDC partners with Gearhart’s Chocolates for their signature truffles.  Chocolatier extraordinaire, Tim Gearhart, was on hand to demonstrate his technique for making VDC’s whisky-infused truffles.

Tim Gearhart hand rolls the whiskey truffles

Tim Gearhart hand rolls the whiskey truffles

This is how it would go in our house – bite of truffle, sip of port whisky, repeat till satisfied.

Ambar Opens Outpost in Clarendon 

I look forward to dining at Ambar any chance I can.  Its Balkan dishes are soothing soul food that speak of a complex diaspora of Turkish, Greek, Mediterranean, Austrian (an early conquerer) and Slavic influences.  In the past it’s meant a trip up to Capitol Hill and the small two-story Barracks Row restaurant Serbian owner Ivan Iricanin opened in 2013.  Fast forward and Iricanin has branched out into this hipster hood, staffing both kitchen and front of the house with his fellow compatriots, including General Manager Jovan Prvulovic.  After two return trips to this latest outpost, I can see it’s a huge hit.

In house made charcuterie platter

In house made charcuterie platter

Here are the dishes that speak of slow-cooking – sarmales (yummy cabbage rolls stuffed with meat in a tomato sauce), smoky grilled meats, home baked breads like somun and lovely spreads like ajvar made with red peppers, garlic and eggplant, the traditional hummus, a smoked trout spread, or the soothing urnebes made with feta, sour cream, lots of garlic, and paprika, and which translates amusingly to “chaotic spread”.

Hail the sausage, house made and wood-grilled.  This version is delicious as are all the meats including the house made charcuterie selection.

Ambar at dinner service is always mobbed

Ambar at dinner service is always mobbed

Recently Ambar launched both brunch and lunch.  The lunch features soups, salads, sandwiches, and an assortment of meat pies.  Freshly pressed juices include ‘Appleberry Lush’, apple, carrot and strawberry; ‘Beets & Treats’, beet, apple, carrot, orange and lemon, and ‘Green Cheer’, cucumber, spinach, lemon, apple and orange.

Brussels sprouts with lemon, garlic yogurt and bacon at Ambar

Brussels sprouts with lemon, garlic yogurt and bacon

Some of the highly creative salads are the Roasted Squash Salad with mixed greens, crispy bacon, roasted pepper, roasted squash and pomegranate dressing; Ambar Salad with mixed greens, zucchini, asparagus, broccoli and poppy seed dressing.  Their Creamy Mushroom Soup with crispy leeks, forest mushrooms and cream is the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s day.

From the ‘Sandwiches & Pies’ side of the menu choose from Cheese & Spinach Pie with crispy phyllo, cucumber yogurt and ajvar emulsion; Wild Boar Burger with arugula and pesto sauce; Fried Catfish with organic slaw and tartar sauce; Zucchini Burger with roasted sunflower seeds, tartar sauce, ajvar spread and smoked gouda; Grilled Shrimp with lettuce, tomato, pepper aioli and crispy prosciutto, and the Fried Chicken, almond and walnut crusted chicken with red onion and apple wasabi.

An assortment of Balkan sweets at Amba

An assortment of Balkan sweets

But there are plenty of other tummy-warming dishes to try.  Consider Stuffed Sour Cabbage with pork belly, jasmine rice, mashed potato and yogurt; Baked Beans & Sausage with paprika and house-made pork sausage; Slow Cooked Stuffed Pepper with house ground beef & pork, served with dill cream, and the Lamb Stew with sweet cabbage and horseradish, served with cornbread.  Some dishes from the ‘Rotisserie and Chefs Specials’ are the Mix Meat Platter with pork neck, sausage, kebab, chicken, Balkan fries and urnebes spread are available.

Cocktails at Ambar

Cocktails

Pair your meal with a handcrafted non-alcoholic cocktail like Rosemary Lemonade, Peach Ice Tea, Berry Hibiscus Soda, as well as Ginger Green Tea Soda.  Or go for it with ‘Session Cocktails’ like the ‘Orangeena’, vodka, lemon juice, orange puree and soda; ‘Cosmo Flip’, vodka, muddled grapes, mint syrup, lime juice and cranberry juice, or the classic ‘Mojito’, rum, mint and lime.

Ambar, 2901 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Virginia, 22201.

Hazel – The Talk of the Town 

The outdoor lounge at Hazel

The outdoor lounge

Hazel has had as much buzz as a beehive these days, and I’m not sure why.  I came wanting to fall in love with it, but my heart was crushed like a bug.  Though it is a stunning space both inside and out and includes an impressive wine list and tasty craft cocktails by Greg Engbert, I still can’t puzzle out the draw.  Trendy plateware from Cloud Terre, a staple in rustic-design destinations, aren’t enough to lure me in.  Been there.  Seen that.  After all the chatter I’m looking for the wow factor, but apparently I didn’t get the message.

Fire Panda sauce // Gnocchi Bokki a Pork kimchi ragu with sesame seeds and smoked pecorino

Fire Panda sauce // Gnocchi Bokki a Pork kimchi ragu with sesame seeds and smoked pecorino

Many of the dishes have an Asian-Italian influence which I found to be curious and ultimately unsatisfying.  Noted chef Rob Rubba of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, has come up with some unusual combinations like gnocchi with kimchee and barbecued carrots with buttermilk which I found to be palate-confusing.

Asian-Italian fusion octopus // Asian-Italian fusion

Asian-Italian fusion octopus // Asian-Italian fusion

A few forkfuls in I wondered exactly what I was eating and why.  And sadly, desserts by one of the city’s best pastry chefs, Naomi Gallego, formerly of Blue Duck Tavern, were uninspired and didn’t show off her wonderful baking skills.  On a positive note, I did come to love Fire Panda – a house made hot sauce that makes sriracha taste like ketchup.  If you go, be sure to take home a bottle or two.

Hazel, 808 V Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

Head to Smoked and Stacked for Your Next Reuben 

Smoked and Stacked's hot pastrami sign

Smoked and Stacked’s hot pastrami sign

Craving a Reuben sandwich?  This newly minted spot is where the bread is baked fresh and the meats are cured overnight.  But plan on taking it to go or eating briskly.  It isn’t built for comfort, there are only few tables and a smattering of stools, and heretically, no Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda – nor any type of throwback sodas, only a soda dispensing machine.

Smoked and Stacked's hot pastrami sign

Smoked and Stacked’s hot pastrami sign

There’s a limited menu on the blackboard and you’ll want to order ‘The Messy’.  Unlike the original Reuben made with thick slices of corned beef (New York’s crown jewel of Jewish delis, Katz’s, classic springs to mind), this version uses pastrami instead, keeping the traditional sauerkraut and Swiss cheese served on rye and properly sautéed in butter on a flat top grill.  Here the dressing is called Thousand Island dressing.  In New York we call it called Russian dressing.

Top Chef finalist, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, thinks of her place as a go-to for breakfast sandwiches served on ‘milk bread’ and a neighborhood destination for pastrami lovers.

Close by the Walter Washington Convention Center between M and N Streets, it’s at 1239 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001.

The Adorable Buttercream Bake Shop 

Buttercream Bake Shop

Buttercream Bake Shop

You want it.  Now!  Scrumptious baked goods, cute and yummy cupcakes, flaky biscuits and buttery croissants, pies, soaring three-layer cakes, cookies with big chunks of chocolate and cake truffles dotted with rainbow sprinkles.  It’s all here and it’s all delicious.

Lemon Merengue Bars at Buttercream Bake Shop

Lemon Meringue Bars at Buttercream Bake Shop

Across the street from Smoked and Stacked, the Buttercream Bake Shop is where you’ll find Espresso Ho Hos and Pistachio Macarons for the sophisticated kid-at-heart and Lemon Bars sporting swirls of soft meringue.  Each day something different fills the refrigerated cases or sits atop pretty cake stands.

Sky high Coconut Cake at Buttercream

Sky high Coconut Cake at Buttercream

I took a seat with my coffee and coconut cake and watched as mothers with fancy baby carriages flooded through the doors, some with children in tow (a perfect excuse to visit, but not entirely necessary) and some with other mothers in what looked to be an after-the-playground reward session.

Espresso Ho-Hos at Buttercream

Espresso Ho-Hos at Buttercream

Pastry Chef, Tiffany MacIsaac and partner, Alexandra Mudry, have taken a visit to the corner bake shop and elevated it to new heights in this charming spot.  The women also run a successful catering business for parties, as well as bespoke wedding cakes.

Buttercream Bake Shop, 1250 9th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001   

ICE! Returns to National Harbor 

ICE! at National Harbor

ICE! at National Harbor

The Christmas tree inside the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center is new.  This year the tree in the Atrium has a patriotic flair lit up in red, white and blue, though the one beside the harbor remains more traditional.

Patriotic Christmas tree in the Atrium of the Gaylord

Patriotic Christmas tree in the Atrium of the Gaylord

The Potomac Express train ride still fills the air with choo-choo sounds and the dancing fountains’ light show still delights children with its leaping flumes while grownups can enjoy cocktails at the Old Hickory bar overlooking the nightly indoor “snowfalls”.

The Potomac Express in the Atrium at the Gaylord

The Potomac Express in the Atrium at the Gaylord

You’ll see a new crop of characters ringing in the season this year and get a chance to eat with Lucy, Charlie Brown and the gang for Food & Fun Peanuts-themed breakfasts.  Be sure to make reservations for these fun character dining events.

Santa with Rudolph carved from ice

Santa with Rudolph carved from ice

We’ve come to see ICE! the show that’s lured families like a siren to its frozen statuary.  This year’s theme is “Christmas Around the World” and each icy diorama reflects the flags and cultures of many lands.  Over two million pounds of ice were carved to create this year’s fantastic experience, including the thrilling! and chilling! two-story ice slide.

The merry-go-round in the Christmas Village

The merry-go-round in the Christmas Village

Be sure to check out the latest offerings – a full-size merry-go-round, Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunts, an expanded gift shop, photos with Santa and cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus, and a Build-A-Bear workshop – all in the new Christmas Village.

A traditional tree lines the harbor with the Capital Wheel in the distance

A traditional tree lines the harbor with the Capital Wheel in the distance

Through January 1st at 165 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745. For tickets, hours and special overnight packages visit www.ChristmasonthePotomac.com.

Sleeping Beauty ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
December 15, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Irina Tsikurishvili, the Witch - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Irina Tsikurishvili, the Witch – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

A rather streamlined presentation of what we’ve come to expect from Synetic Theater’s no-dialogue series, is Sleeping Beauty.  We half-mad aficionados of this famed Georgian troupe have been spoiled by a cast of thousands (well at least more than the ten cast members we have here), extraordinary water features, terrifying physical battles and surprisingly innovative visuals.  But for this incarnation of the classic fairy tale written by Charles Perrault, later reinterpreted by the Brothers Grimm, we will have to be satisfied with a more balletic approach by a Prince played by veritable heartthrob and company member, Zana Gankhuyag, and his inamorata, Briar Rose, played by the delicate-as-a-feather Eliza Smith.  Notwithstanding our immodest expectations, there is a sort of magic in the simplicity of Director Paata Tsikurishvili’s version and its brand of story-driven fantasy.

Eliza Smith, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Zana Gankhuyag, the Prince Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Eliza Smith, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) and Zana Gankhuyag, the Prince Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Paata envisions the Witch, played wonderfully by real-life wife, Irina Tsikurishvili, as a sympathetic creature haunted by the destruction of the forest and its animal denizens by the king’s huntsmen.  Leaning heavily on moral relativism to re-interpret her motives, Paata views her as a fierce protector of nature, a sort of anarchical environmentalist, if you will, who wreaks vengeful havoc on both the Prince (who in this version is the Witch’s son) and his intended, Briar Rose.  The fairies (Kathy Gordon, Francesca Blume, Emily Whitworth) are imagined as a trio of ditzy butterflies who hover over the Prince and Briar Rose as protectorates against his mother’s fury.

Eliza Smith, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Zana Gankhuyag, the Prince and Irina Tsikurishvili as the Witch - Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Eliza Smith, Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Zana Gankhuyag, the Prince and Irina Tsikurishvili as the Witch – Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

As usual in these wordless renditions, the most popular of which have been the much lauded series of wordless Shakespeare productions, we must exercise our imaginations around the basic story as we are enveloped and transported by the classical sounds of Tchaikovsky’s ballet mixed with Phillip Glass-inspired electronica, the original musical compositions of Konstantine Lortkipanidze and Thomas Sowers’ oftimes frighteningly real sound effects.

Francesca Blume, Kathy Gordon and Emily Whitworth as the Fairies with Eliza Smith as Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Francesca Blume, Kathy Gordon and Emily Whitworth as the Fairies with Eliza Smith as Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Dallas Tolentino, who also plays the King, designed the fight scenes to play up Gankhuyag’s strengths, which are indeed impressive.  Taking vicious battle blows from both his mother and demons with thorn-covered swords, he weightlessly tosses his lithe body in a gravity-defying series of leaps, tumbles and somersaults.  It is gorgeous to see.  Credit too, goes to Irina who, doubling as choreographer, has lent elements of charm to the reindeer that frolic in the wood.  Scenic designer, Phil Charlwood, informs the fast-moving action through the use of silken panels, creating separation, inclusion and high-flying dramatic elements.  Special multimedia effects by Riki Kim heighten the nefarious activities of the dark spirits who act as sentinels and familiars to the witch.

Though this isn’t my favorite Synetic production, I took a friend who had never witnessed the company’s highly imaginative work and she was gobsmacked.  I’d made a convert.  So perhaps, you’ll do the same.  Invite a friend.  Start small and build to a crescendo – that’s how it’s done in the theater.

Through January 8th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.