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Broadway Center Stage presents – Footloose ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
October 12, 2019 

Yet another show with a huge fan base culled from those who have seen, or performed in, countless high school productions around the country.  Having been both a movie and a Broadway show it tells the story of a student who organizes his classmates to fight an ordinance that outlaws dancing.  See, students? You can change the status quo.

J Quinton Johnson, Peter McPoland, and Company ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

High school senior Ren and his single mom Ethel leave the bright lights of Chicago for Beaumont, Texas where Ethel’s sister and brother-in-law live.  As they try to adjust to small town minds and small town politics, Ren soon discovers he’s seen as an outsider and the girl he likes, Ariel, has a vengeful boyfriend.  “Everything you do is suspicious,” he’s told.  To make matters worse, Ariel doesn’t make it easy for Ren to court her since her father, the town preacher, wants to keep a tight rein on his rebellious daughter.  Naturally, Ren comes out the hero when he stands up to the town elders and convinces Ariel’s conservative dad that it’s time to let the kids put on a dance.  It’s a thin, predictable plot on which loosely hangs the dancing and singing.

J Quinton Johnson and Isabelle McCalla ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Although Spencer Liff’s choreography is an absolute wonder and the dancers are wildly talented, if it weren’t for the tight cast led by the mesmerizing J. Quinton Johnson as Ren, the huge vocal talents of Isabella McCalla as Ariel, and the adorable scene-stealing Peter McPoland as Willard, this show would be in the dust bin.

Lena Owens, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz, Isabelle McCalla, and Grace Slear ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Nevertheless, the audience went wild for the major chart toppers – “Footloose”, of course, and “Holding Out for a Hero”, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, and “Almost Paradise” by rock composers Kenny Loggins, Dean Pitchford, Tom Snow, Jim Steinman, Eric Carmen, and Sammy Hagar – plus another fourteen numbers added to the mix.

Maximilian Sangerman and Company ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Directed by Walter Bobbie with Judy Kuhn as Ethel McCormack, Michael Park as Reverend Shaw Moore, Rebecca Luker as Vi Moore, Michael X. Martin as Wes Warnicker, Michael Mulheren as Coach Roger Dunbar, Nicole Vanessa Ortiz as Rusty, Grace Slear as Urleen, Lena Owens as Wendy Jo, Joshua Logan Alexander as Chuck Cranston, Jess LeProtto as Lyle, J. Savage as Travis, Rema Webb as Lulu Warnaker, Eleanor Dunbar and Betty Blast, Jamar Williams as Jeter, Nick Martinez as Bickle, Gregory Liles as Garvin and Maximilian Sangerman as Cowboy Bob.

Through October 14th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape – to – Margaritaville ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2019 

Parrot Heads know where paradise is – on a beach with a tequila-laced cocktail in hand – and that’s exactly where this bio-musical will transport them.  Last night an audience filled with Jimmy Buffett fans were jazzed to hear a mix of his best-loved hits coupled with Broadway-style tunes designed to enhance the singer’s life story.

Company of the National Tour, Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The sweet love stories play out at a run-down hotel on a Caribbean island where two besties go for different reasons.  Rachel, a Harvard-educated environmentalist, is there to collect soil samples for a project she hopes to get funded and Tammy wants a beach blowout before her upcoming nuptials to Chad.  When they arrive, the beach party is in full swing with revelers dancing in minis and cutoffs and tropical drinks flowing.  The overarching theme is party hardy and Brick shakes up shooters like “Sex on the Beach”, “Screaming Orgasm” and “Long Slow Comfortable Screw” that are no doubt familiar within the drinking culture.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachelin Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Tully Mars and his friend, Brick, live on the island where they’ve carved out a laidback lifestyle – Tully as the beach party’s guitar-strumming singer and Brick as the bartender.  The guys time their affairs to the vacationers’ week-long stay.  As Tully puts it, “Relationships are designed to only last a week.”  Tammy puts it more succinctly, “Zip flop, namaste!” But the men soon find themselves falling in love – Brick when he discovers Tammy likes puns and the hokey pokey and Tully when he realizes Rachel is not his typical hookup. “Changes in Attitudes” is the forerunner to her opening up to Tully and his island life.

Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel and Chris Clark as Tully in Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The crowd eats this up, especially the Margaritaville song, yelling out “Salt, salt, salt!” between verses.  These are diehard fans, and if this isn’t your jam – tiki huts, Hawaiian shirts and tequila – you’re in the wrong place.  Despite the party atmosphere, there are lessons to be learned and everyone seems to arrive at nirvana at their own pace.  J. D., the island’s patch-sporting Yoda, finds love with Marley, Margaritaville Hotel’s charming owner, and it’s a kick to see where Buffett’s greatest hits turn up.  “Cheeseburger in Paradise” being one of the silliest when Tammy returns home to Cincinnati and breaks her diet in a dance with a trolley stacked high with her favorite junk food.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachelin Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Twenty-five songs sung by some top-notch vocalists backed by an eight-piece band are the glue that holds this fun-night-out musical together.  As Tully’s African American talent agent puts it when Tully thinks his songs won’t sell, “White people love this shit!”  And we all know how that turned out for Buffett.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Music by Jimmy Buffett, Book by Greg Garcia & Mike O’Malley, Directed by Amy Anders Corcoran, Choreography by Kelly Devine, Costumes by Paul Tazewell, Scenic Design by Walt Spangler, Lighting Design by Howell Binkley & Amanda Zieve with Orchestrations by Michael Utley.  Based on the Original Direction by Christopher Ashley.

With Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel, Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Rachel Lynn Fobbs as Marley, Patrick Cogan as J. D., Matthew James Sherrod as Jamal, Noah Bridgestock as Chadd, Diego Alejandro González as Jesús and DeVon Buchanan as Ted – plus a 12-person ensemble.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape – to – Margaritaville is part of The National’s 2019-2020 16-production series bringing the best of Broadway shows to DC.

Through October 13th at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNational.com or call 1-800-514-3849.

Escaped Alone ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 5, 2019 

Where will you be when the world comes to an end?  Will you be sipping tea and nibbling on biscuits in a hydrangea-filled English garden?  Will you notice the world’s decline outside your garden walls? Or will you be oblivious until it directly affects you?  In a purposely discordant collection of conversations, four women gossip about their lives, most especially the foibles and failures of their absent acquaintances.  They avoid discussions like the overarching collapse of the planet’s social and environmental systems and skirt around Vi’s six-year stretch in the penitentiary for the murder of her husband – it eventually comes up but only as a symptom of her social paralysis.  Platitudes are offered up as effortlessly as teacup refills.

Valerie Leonard as Mrs. Jarrett, Helen Hedman as Sally, Catherine Flyeas Vi and Brigid Cleary as Lena in Escaped Aloneat Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Sally’s daughter, Mrs. Jarrett, serves as narrator of Earth’s current state of anarchism and apocalypse.  Her news updates announce all the latest disasters – widespread disease, floods, mudslides, pollution, tidal waves, domestic violence, starvation, refugee camps, and more – nothing that’s not reported in our everyday news feeds.  Scenes toggle between the ladies nattering in non sequiturs and Mrs. Jarrett’s doomsday doses of reality.  The women don’t hear her and don’t care.  They have their own problems, picayune though they are.  Sally is cat-phobic and Lena is agoraphobic and without purpose.  Vi is wound up in her own malaise, and Mrs. Jarrett appears to have zero impact on the other ladies.  They’d rather revisit the past and dance to Petula Clark or blame the whole thing on God’s revenge for sexual dysphoria.  Notwithstanding the light-hearted conversations, we sense an undercurrent of depression and manic behavior.

Helen Hedman as SallyandCatherine Flye as Vi in Escaped Aloneat Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman

A brief but notable reference to the Book of Job, “I only am escaped alone to tell thee”, serves to explain the play’s title.  But who of these four will escape?  Their survival is neither promised nor suggested.  Legendary playwright Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine, Top Girls) wrote Escaped Alone as a short but compelling drama about ordinary people living in extraordinary times – much like ours.  It draws from the concept of British tea houses run by women for women who were free to discuss private matters apart from men.  It later became a sanctuary in which the women’s suffragist movement blossomed.  Expertly directed by Holly Twyford, it features a cast of highly respected, veteran actors.

Valerie Leonard as Mrs. Jarrett in Escaped Aloneat Signature Theatre. Photo by Margot Schulman

Brigid Cleary as Lena, Catherine Flye as Vi, Helen Hedman as Sally, and Valerie Leonard as Mrs. Jarrett.

Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway, Costume Design by Alison Samantha Johnson, Lighting Design by Maria Shaplin, Sound Design by Victoria Deiorio.

Through November 3rd at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

The Tempest ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 1, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Take The Tempest.  Now place it on a stage holding 2,500 gallons of water, six-inches deep.  Got it?  Mix the technological wizardry of a cutting-edge audio/visual immersive experience with an electronic score and keep it utterly wordless.  This is the fantasy world created by Synetic Theatre’s version of Shakespeare’s familiar drama.  Born out of the seemingly limitless imagination of visionary Artistic Director, Paata Tsikurishvili, a Georgian-born, theatrical pioneer and his wife Irina Tsikurishvili, actress and choreographer, who together founded this uniquely transgressive, no-rules theatre company, the two theater idealists combined to reinvent the classics through the art of athleticism, aesthetics, futuristic sound, and physicality as no other theater company.

Irina Tsikurishvili as Prospera. “The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

As with early Shakespeare productions, gender reversal was the norm as men played all the roles, both male and female.  In this production Paata toys with gender, casting Prospero as a newly minted, “Prospera”, played by his wife, Irina, a dancer/choreographer and 33-time Helen Hayes Award nominee.  Ariel, the female sprite, is imagined as male and performed by the tremendously talented dancer/performer, Alex Mills, who appears as a pop-locking, anime-inspired superhero, stylistically reminiscent of Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer.

Alex Mills as Ariel. “The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Welcome to Synetic’s phantasmagoric world of enchantment and mysticism.  Overflowing with dizzying acrobatics, flips, and watery somersaults, it offers up a seemingly psychedelic experience far outside the realm of the Shakespeare you have come to know.  You will never see anything like it in your lifetime.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Caliban. “The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Cutting an elegant swath through an aqueous mist Prospera, the sorceress, cuts a majestic figure as she stands bravely amidst the sounds of crashing waves interwoven with electronica and futuristic synth-pop.  Hidden behind prison gates in a fiery-red grotto, lurks the malevolent monster, Caliban (Vato Tsikurishvili at his most magnificent).  He emerges stealthily, inching beneath the waves and the two lock horns as water spews across the stage, catching the light and spraying wildly onto the first three rows.  Dominated by splashing water, rainstorms, ferocious battles, amorphous sea creatures and playful comic scenes, this wildly atmospheric water world will be your new normal.

“The Tempest” at Synetic Theater. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

The entirety of this cast is outstanding in every respect.  In a production that redefines acting as both intensely physical and dramatically interpretive, the casting requires a unique kind of performer – one who is both classically trained in ballet and acrobatics, and who must be in top physical condition.  I was utterly blown away by the fearless athleticism and extraordinary acting expressed by this amazing cast.

Five stars! Bring the kids.

*** The first three rows are known as the “splash zone” and courtesy ponchos are graciously provided.  Request these seats when booking your tickets if you’re up for a totally immersive experience.

With Anne Flowers as Syncorax, Megan Khaziran as Antonia, Scott Brown as Ferdinand, Pablo Guillen as King Alonso, Katherine DuBois Maguire as Trinculo, Matt R. Stover as Stephano, and Scean Aaron and Katherine Frattini in the ensemble.

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili and choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili with Composer & Sound Designer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, Scenic & Costume Designer Anastasia Simes and Lighting Designer Andrew Griffin.

Through October 20th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

August Wilson’s Fences ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 3, 2019

Hard on the heels of Arena Stage’s ongoing production of Jitney comes Fences, another August Wilson drama and the sixth play in Wilson’s ten-part series the American Century Cycle that chronicles 100 years of the African American experience.  (Jitney, Wilson’s first play in the series, was reviewed here earlier this week.)  It’s clear Wilson has further honed his vision to encapsulate pockets of Black culture with another deeply moving story reflecting both humor and pathos.  Fences depicts the struggles and complex interpersonal relations of the Maxsons, an American family living in a racist society.

Doug Brown, Jefferson A. Russell, Erika Rose and Craig Wallace – Photo by Scott Suchman.

In a family dominated by Troy Maxson, an emotionally detached father who blames his sons for his personal failures and cuckolds his devoted wife, each member is forced to carve out their own truth.  Both sons and wife Rose try to escape his unpredictable moods, but it’s his inability to express love that eventually takes its toll on everyone – including Troy, who lacks both education and basic human understanding.

Justin Weaks and Craig Wallace. Photo by Scott Suchman

Troy’s fifteen-year incarceration for murder took away his promising baseball career in the Negro Leagues and he is still bitter.  Forfeiting his future, he takes a menial sanitation job with the city of Pittsburgh to provide for his family and becomes resentful when his son Cory is offered a football college scholarship. As a result, his jealousy and arrogance fracture their relationship. “I’m the boss around here,” he warns the boy, insisting he doesn’t have to like him and that his only responsibility is to provide for his son’s basic needs.  When Troy refuses to sign a permission slip allowing Cory to accept the college scholarship, Cory tells his father, “You just scared I’m gonna be better than you.”

Erika Rose, Doug Brown, Justin Weaks and Craig Wallace. Photo by Scott Suchman

This is where I struggled to comprehend the sense of this father-son battle.  I wondered, if the father is so resentful of supporting his son, then why doesn’t he allow him to take the scholarship so he can be absolved of further financial responsibility?  How this could be?  As luck would have it, during intermission I had a discussion with an African American acquaintance who told me that he had grown up in a family with twelve children and Troy reminded him of his own father.  When I asked why that was, he told me his father was functionally illiterate like Troy and had no understanding of college.  Shockingly, his father believed it would be a place where his daughters would become prostitutes, and, as for the sons, he claimed their only choice was to learn a manual skill.  I thanked my friend for this insight and can only imagine that it reflects a time within a certain struggling African American community who believed they shouldn’t overstep their bounds.  The play is set in 1957 and opportunities were slow in coming.

Craig Wallace – Photo credit Scott Suchman

Rose is Troy’s long-suffering wife who cleans and cooks and stands by her man despite his drinking and womanizing.  Erika Rose (the actress shares the character’s name) proves to be the perfect counterpart to Craig Wallace’s Troy Maxson, not only in sheer emotionality, but also in fiery intensity.  And Doug Brown as Jim Bono, Troy’s former prison mate and best friend, grants us a character who tempers Troy’s hardheadedness with humor and country wit.

Erika Rose, Janiyah Lucas and Justin Weaks in the Ford’s Theatre production of August Wilson’s “Fences,. Photo by Scott Suchman

Eventually, Troy comes to need Rose in ways he never imagined, and they develop a marital détente.  It is at this point in their already strained relationship that Troy begins to find the words to describe his loneliness and fears of inadequacy, and finally comes to terms with the error of his ways. Troy’s tragedy is lack of compassion, the inability to see outside of himself, and jealousy of his own son’s success.  The result is that it eats him alive and, as we all know, a wooden fence can’t keep out death or the devil.

Highly recommended for a superb cast and Timothy Douglas’ splendid direction.

Additional cast members: KenYatta Rogers as Lyons Maxson, Jefferson A. Russell as Gabriel Maxson, Justin Weaks as Cory Maxson and Janiyah Lucas/Mecca Rogers as Raynell Maxson.

Scenic Design by Lauren Helpern, Costume Design by Helen Huang, Lighting Design by Andrew R. Cissna, Hair and Makeup by Danna Rosedahl, and Sound Design by Nick Hernandez.

Through October 27th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets call 888.616.0270 or visit www.Fords.org.