George Don’t Do That ~The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
March 13, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

If you were unfamiliar with famed British comedienne, Joyce Grenfell, you won’t be any longer with Catherine Flye’s tribute performance to Grenfell’s long and notable career.  In the second show of MetroStage’s Spring Solo Series, British-born Flye brings to life the singer, actress and monologist, and one of England’s most beloved entertainers.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show is a series of pastiches illustrating Grenfell’s best loved characters interwoven with songs and spoofs and remembered moments of humor and pathos.  You’ll even spot echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan.  Veteran performer Flye is accompanied delightfully by musical arranger and pianist Joseph Walsh playing music written by Richard Addinsell as well as standards like “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Don’t You Know” and “The Girl From Ipanema”.  Narrator Michael Tolaydo provides backdrop to the period.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

Flye, who devised the production, dons Grenfell like a second skin weaving the best of Grenfell’s British music hall follies as effortlessly and cheerily as Mary Poppins would.  This was the style of the day and audiences familiar with this era will have fond memories of the music and this particular form of humor.  She reminded me of Patricia Routledge’s character, Hyacinth Bouquet, in PBS’s long-running series Keeping Up Appearances.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show has been performed throughout the U. S., including the British Embassy in DC, East Africa and across the United Kingdom.

A treat for Anglophiles.

The second in a trio of one-woman shows at MetroStage through March 25th .  1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit online.

The Big Apple Circus is Big Time Fun ~ At National Harbor

Jordan Wright
March 12, 2018 

National Harbor is thrilled to host the Big Apple Circus to celebrate their 10th anniversary.  “We are delighted to bring such a highly acclaimed circus to National Harbor.  In honor of our 10th year, we’re welcoming several new premium events, including Big Apple Circus,” said Rachel Ball, Director of Events at National Harbor. “The performers with Big Apple Circus are extremely talented and it’s no surprise that they just received rave reviews throughout the east coast and currently for their show in Atlanta.”

Host and WJLA Weatherman Brian van de Graaff opened the show to an excited audience of children and adults who roared at the hilarious clowns (a slip-and-slide routine, high flying routine and plenty of fart jokes the kids ate up!), a beautiful contortionist, tons of tumblers, jugglers and acrobats along with eight clever dogs, precious mini-ponies and pretty horses all accompanied by an 8-piece live band.

Ringmaster Tyrone McFarlan welcomes the audience to the Big Apple Circus at National Harbor ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Led by Ringmaster Tyrone “Ty” McFarlan and famed for its one-ring, intimate and artistic style, this circus claims no seat is more than 50 feet from the performers.  And as we watched several audience members were called up to play jokes along with the clowns.  This intimate setting separates the Big Apple Circus from the style the now-defunct Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey made famous.  More importantly, there are no exotic animals – a practice that, rightly so, has finally been condemned.

Nik Wallenda and The Flying Wallendas perform their seven-person pyramid on the high wire ~ Photo credit Jordan Wright

Recently purchased by renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Neil Kahanovitz, who along with his wife performed as trapeze and acrobatic artists after college, the circus now celebrates its 40th  anniversary with a full lineup of global artist and acts, the biggest and best-known headliners being 10-time Guinness world record-holding high wire artist Nik Wallenda and The Fabulous Wallendas performing their famous seven-person pyramid on the high wire.  Nik is the seventh generation of Great Wallendas who trace their roots back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1780.  For Nik, whose motto is #NeverGiveUp, every walk is an expression of honor to his great-grandfather, the legendary Karl Wallenda who brought the family to America for The Greatest Show on Earth.  You’ll also thrill to see the daring quadruple somersault on the trapeze by The Flying Tunizianis for the first time in circus history that both legendary feats are performed under the same big top.

Jan Damm on the Rola Bola reaches new heights ~ Photo credit Jordan, Wright

These record-setting acts are joined by Dandino & Luciana, a dynamic duo who combine speed, acrobatics and daredevil grace on roller skates; award-winning contortionist Elayne Kramer; master juggler Gamal Garcia; Jan Damm on the Rola Bola; acclaimed Risley acrobats The Anastasini Brothers (who broke the World Record for most flips on Nov. 9, 2017); and the lovely Jenny Vidbel, who performs in the ring with 16 horses and ponies as well as six rescue dogs.

Jenny Vidbel with her mini ponies Photo credit Jordan Wright

Outside of the ring, Big Apple Circus continues to honor the essential and iconic characteristics that have set them apart for the past four decades with multiple community outreach programs and a vital no-wild-animals policy.  Their “Circus of the Senses” performances offer special enhanced experiences for audiences with autism, visual and auditory challenges and other special performances include ASL interpretation, assistive listening devices with live audio commentary, pre- and post-show touch therapy experiences, and a Braille program book. Sensory-friendly performances for Autistic audience members feature lowered light and sound levels, a descriptive picture book showing the different areas and acts involved with the circus, and a “calming center” that can be accessed at any point during the show.

The Big Apple Circus 40th anniversary season is directed by Mark Lonergan, artistic director of three-time Drama Desk Award-nominated physical theater company Parallel Exit, with choreography and associate direction by Antoinette DiPietropolo and music direction by Rob Slowik. Tony Award-winning Lighting Designer Jeff Croiter (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten!), Scenic Designers Rob Bissinger (Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Legally Blonde – Assoc) and Anita LaScala (Magic Mike Live) of ARDA Studio, Inc, and Drama Desk-nominated Costume Designer Amy Clark (Heathers: The Musical, Chaplin) come together to create a vibrant environment to fit the momentous occasion.

Highly recommended for all ages. 

Through Sunday, April 1st.  For tickets and performance times visit or call 855-258-0718. Ticket prices range from $27.50 – $109 for VIP Ringside. Group tickets start at $17.50.  At 238 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Md. 20745 (intersection of Waterfront St. and St. George Blvd.).  Parking is available in the National Harbor St. George or Mariner garages.

Death By Design ~ A Comedy with Murder ~ Aldersgate Church Community Theater (ACCT)

Jordan Wright
March 12, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Bridgit: Emily Golden ~ Photo credit Howard Soroos

Oh, it’s murder alright and murder most foul and funny.  Ask Bridget (Emily Golden).  She’s the insolent maid with a penchant for solving mysteries.  It’s 1932 in the living room of the Bennett’s house in Cookham, England and Edward Bennet (James McDaniel) is fighting with his wife Sorel (Heather Norcross).  He’s a playwright.  She’s an actress and his muse.  Together they live a Noel Cowardesque life peopled with a bohemian, an activist and a politician.  In this zany bit of British froth, we are treated to a whirlwind of characters.

Edward and Sorel Bennett: James McDaniel and Heather Norcross ~ Photo credit Howard Soroos

Much to Edward’s dismay, Sorel has taken up with Walter Pearce (Larry Grey), a Conservative Party leader fresh from the hinterlands.  She’s invited him to stay the weekend at their country estate where insanity reigns supreme.  Walter is as naive as a kitten and ill-prepared for the Bennetts and their sophisticated hijinks.  He’s even more addled by Edward as the witness to his amorous undertakings with the delightful Sorel.

Bridgit and Jack: Emily Golden and Erik Rieloff ~ Photo credit Howard Soroos

Jack’s (Erik Rieloff) their chauffeur and he and Bridget have a thing.  Well, sort of – except Jack’s a Lothario which Bridget overlooks.  Then there’s Eric (Cal Whitehurst), the liberal activist and recent escapee from the local funny farm.  Got it?  You will.

Who is Dead: Elizabeth Replogle, James McDaniel, Heather Norcross, Carol Jean Clark, Cal Whitehurst and Erik Rieloff ~ Photo credit Howard Soroos

When Victoria Van Roth (Elizabeth Replogle) arrives swooning over her own artistic and psychic talents, Walter reacts with horror, “This is what comes from government funding of the Arts!” which gets a huge laugh from the audience.  This declaration, however, is Walter’s undoing in a house filled with artistes with guns and poisons, and the following morning he’s discovered dead as the proverbial doornail.  With the finger pointed at everyone else, the drinking begins in earnest, till everyone is decidedly sloshed and in firm possession of a reason to knock off Walter, including Victoria, Sorel’s kindred soulmate in Isadora Duncan dances and the contacting of the spirits.  Soon Alice (Carol Jean Clark), with connections to both Walter and Jack, arrives on the scene and Victoria is subsequently murdered.

It’s not easy to single out a few actors for recognition (it takes a village of cast and crew), but as the central character, Heather Norcross is marvelous.  Her part requires an excessive amount of over-the-top emoting and swanning about with a cocktail in hand – and she doesn’t miss a beat.  One minute she’s berating Edward and the next adoring him and just as suddenly she’s coddling the half-mad Eric or cavorting in impromptu skits with her pal Victoria.  I’d also like to single out Emily Golden as Bridget.  Golden gives us a strong, feisty character that centers the cast and provides the glue for this hilarious farce.

Director Eddie Page corrals the madness with excellent pacing by a fine cast of well-loved local actors.

Recommended for light “spirited” fun!

Through March 25th at the Aldersgate Church Community Theater, 1301 Collingwood Road, Alexandria, VA 22308.  For tickets and information on the performance, schedule visit

Front Row: James McDaniel and Heather Norcross Back Row: Erik Rieloff, Elizabeth Replogle, Larry Grey, Carol Jean Clark, Cal Whitehurst and Emily Golden ~ Photo credit Howard Soroos

Hold These Truths ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
March 5, 2018 

If you thought the Declaration of Independence was etched in stone, think again.  Remember the part about “Hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”?  In Jeanne Sakata’s drama, We Hold These Truths offers up a civics lesson in how that document didn’t apply to the more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II.

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in Hold These Truths. ~ Photo by Patrick Weishampel for Portland Center Stage.

After long interviews with Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee and religious pacifist Gordon Hirabayashi, Sakata used her imagination to bring to life the dramatic story of his struggles against the U. S. Government.   From his Seattle childhood to his college days at the University of Washington in the 1940’s and into his later years, the play take us through his refusal to sign the document that would have sent him to one of the camps.  He fought for his rights in a case that went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court.  There is so much more to the story of the camps and the negligence and the secrecy of the government that most of us never knew.  Did you know Japanese-American citizens had to sign a letter agreeing to relocation?  Did you know their Issei parents and grandparents did too?  Why would they?  Did you know their homes and businesses were destroyed?  Did you think this couldn’t happen to American citizens?  Think again.  It did.

Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in Hold These Truths. ~ Photo by Chris Bennion for ACT-A Contemporary Theatre.

Gordon “Gordy” Hirabayashi, was an All-American college kid and Nisei (a person of Japanese descent born in the U. S.).  An A student who worked after school at the YMCA and attended a Quaker Meeting House on Sundays.  Gordy and his pals were as American as apple pie.  Until…they weren’t.

Directed by Jessica Kubzansky, Ryun Yu plays Gordy with power and humor, his lithe frame using all the real estate on and off the stage as he morphs into the many characters from the social activist’s fascinatingly fraught life.  Yu assumes the personalities and dialects of all the other characters, from Boston to Brooklyn and drawl to twang to the sing-song cadences of his Japanese parents.

A difficult subject, there is a great deal of humor and sweetness too as Gordy finds both freedom and true love through persistence and self-sacrifice while standing up for his rights and yours too.

Recommended for everyone you know.

Through April 8th 2018 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit online.

The Audience ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 5, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of playwright Peter Morgan’s The Audience may be the closest we’ll get to Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle and an audience with the Queen of England.  But no worries, as the Brits say.  This play will give you an insider’s peek, at least an imagined one, at Britain’s ruling monarch and the stream of prime ministers she faced down for over a half-century.

Nicky McDonnell as Queen Elizabeth II – Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Since her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II (played exquisitely by Nicky McDonnell) welcomed 12 British prime ministers to her private audience room for weekly tête-à-têtes.  There they would bring her up to speed on the affairs of state, and, just as often, their personal and professional travails.  And because England enjoys a constitutional monarchy, the Queen limits her responses to sage advice and a spot of whiskey.  She must receive the heads of both the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives and play her hand judiciously.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV.  It’s an excellent primer on diplomacy and restraint and a far cry from the monarchy’s sweeping powers from Ye Olde Medieval Ages.

(l-r) Robert Heinly as Winston Churchill and Will Cooke as Harold Wilson ~ Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Director Ruben Vellekoop has assembled a fine cast to depict the Queen’s seminal moments with some of England’s best known prime ministers – from Winston Churchill (Robert Heinly), Anthony Eden (Robert Heinly), Harold Wilson (Will Cooke), Margaret Thatcher (Janette Moman), John Major (Brian Lyons-Burke) and Tony Blair (Richard Isaacs) to Gordon Brown (Kirk Lambert) and David Cameron (Richard Isaacs) with Paul Donahoe playing the Queen’s equerry – witness to palace gossip, deliverer of both bad and glad tidings, and announcer of her august guests.  For you Anglophiles keeping track of the PMs of the period, Attlee, Douglas-Home, Edward Heath and James Callaghan are not represented.  They just didn’t make the cut.  Too dull, perhaps.

{l-r) Janette Moman as Margaret Thatcher and Kirk Lambert as Tony Blair ~ Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Queen Elizabeth would be a tough role for any actress (Dame Helen Mirren starred in The Audience in 2013 at the Gielgud Theatre in London and later in New York in 2015), but McDonnell is clearly up to the task.  She brings both intimacy and a incisively dry humor while maintaining the regal haughtiness the role demands.  When Major admits, “I never thought I’d win.” she replies coolly, “Why don’t you resign?” Touché, Queenie!

Nicky McDonnell and Evie Graham Jewett as Queen Elizabeth II and Young Elizabeth – Photographer: Kyle Reardon

You’ll feel like an insider watching Morgan’s imagined Queen justify her role as monarch of Great Britain despite mounting resistance to the monarchy and pressure from her citizenry to modernize.  Watch for Janette Moman who inhabits the feisty “Iron Lady” Thatcher as she goes toe-to-toe with the unflappable Queen, making for some delicious and snappy repartee and spot-on pacing.  Ditto for the rest of the cast including the adorable Evie Graham Jewett who plays Elizabeth as a child and nails some lengthy monologues.

Lighting effects by Ken and Patti Crowley lend drama to the stately meet-and-greets and costumes by Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword reflect the Queen’s penchant for matchy-matchy ensembles.  Another clever touch is Ken Brown’s revolving stage that allows everyone to enter and exit with graceful sangfroid.

Recommended for all Anglophiles and royals watchers.

Through March 17th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit online.