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Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ August 8, 2017

Jordan Wright
August 8, 2017
Photo credit: J. Wright

Sofitel Launches Summer Menu – Baba Bar:  A Sexy Speakeasy Sans Password – Japanese Embassy Hosts Travel Writers – Peter Chang Opens Rockville Outpost – Silver Debuts Summer Menu – Hank’s Oyster Bar Proves Great Pairing for Nederburg Wines

 Let’s Play the French Way at Sofitel 

The lobby at the Sofitel

The lobby at the Sofitel

One of the most enjoyable ways to while away the hours is at the Sofitel Hotel DC where luxury is part of the brand.  Whether on the patio (large fans provide a breeze), in the intimate, modern-chic iCi Urban Bistro with its wraparound street-facing windows, or in the plush, loungy Le Bar, the hotel is a calming retreat, and a mere stone’s throw from the ongoing chaos of the White House.

(l-r) Salmon tartare with pickled Amish vegetables ~ Grilled octopus

(l-r) Salmon tartare with pickled Amish vegetables ~ Grilled octopus

Executive Chef Gyo Santa for prepares everything with great care and delicacy using the freshest ingredients with a perfectionist’s eye to alluring presentation.  Santa’s Asian-influenced spin on modern French cuisine is unlike anything being prepared in the city.  And we love it!

(l-r) Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille ~ Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille

(l-r) Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille ~ Classic Bouillabaisse avec rouille

This summer he imagines the dreamy lavender fields of Provence and the fruits de mer of the Côte D’Azur to conjure up flavors to pair exquisitely with rosés from Aix-en-Provence.  A bouillabaisse with rouille, a whole grilled branzino a la Provencal with sauce vierge or roasted moulard duck breast with sliced Brussels sprout, rainbow carrots and poached pear in a sweet wine glaze – each dish could sing “Le Marseillaise”!

Rosé is perfect with the summer menu at iCi Urban Bistro

Rosé is perfect with the summer menu

Summer-inspired cocktails are decidedly South of France – “Tango St. Tropez”, “Cannes Cachet” and “Carte Blanche”.  Of particular note is the luscious sounding, “St. Maxime Side” made with Absolut Elyx, lime juice, in-house made strawberry syrup and fresh basil.

Heavenly chocolate bombe at iCi Urban Bistro

Heavenly chocolate bombe

Pastry Chef Samantha Meissel is killing it with her Chocolate Almond Bomb made with gluten free almond sponge cake, amaretto syrup, dark chocolate mousse, honey almonds, and chocolate Chantilly.  Other scrumptious desserts include, a fantastic salty caramel ice cream and refreshing summer sorbets, plus Tropical Pavlova with meringue cookie, Chantilly, mango and strawberry, tropical sorbet, and mango gel; the Bourbon Vanilla Crème Brûlée with citrus Madeleines; and the Valhrona Caramelia Sundae with chocolate sauce, and Chantilly.

And if you’re coming in later in the day, the hotel has refreshed their delightful Le Goûter program.  It’s a French concept, used to break up the afternoon, and consists of light, small bites desserts.  This delightful interpretation incorporates a mini Napoleon, a macaron, two small fresh fruit tarts, a mini vanilla brulee, and a Valhrona dark chocolate panna cotta.  It is served between 2:00pm and 5:00pm every day with coffee, tea, or champagne.

 Le Gouter

Le Gouter

Sofitel Hotel DC, 806 15th Street, Washington, DC 20005 – 202 703.8800 www.Sofitel.com

Baba Bar – Clarendon 

Baba Bar's intimate lounge

Baba Bar’s intimate lounge

Down a dark stairway and into the candlelight, Baba Bar is the super, sexy, small plates speakeasy where you don’t need a password to get in.  Brought to you by the Ambar folks, who are right next door, this is a cozy hangout with banquettes and comfy armchairs, small tables and phenomenal cocktails where you can tuck into flavor-forward Balkan nibbles that, dare I say it, are healthy with lots of vegan and vegetarian options to go along with steak, salmon and seared scallops.  You can even find the famed “Forest Gnocchi” here.

Baba Bar "Forest Gnocchi" dessert

“Forest Gnocchi” dessert

Cocktails are listed under “Light & Refreshing”, “Strong & Boozy” and “Spicy & Smoky” to suit your mood.  The spirits range from cachaça to rum, pisco to barrel-aged bourbon.  Mezcal makes an appearance as does slivovitz and the Balkan firewater, rakia, of which they have more than half a dozen flavors.

Cocktails

Fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, many from Amish farms, are used in the preparation of these cocktails, or “mocktails” if you prefer.  It is one of the most excitingly diverse bar programs around.  Of course, you would know this if you had visited Ambar’s two other outposts, the one on Capitol Hill, or the other next door.

That this hip spot serves brunch from 8am till 3pm blows my mind.  Coffee is from the fantastic Philadelphia-based La Colombe.  It doesn’t get any better.  Good Morning, “La Colombe Martini”!  I’m serious. Order one.

(l-r) Wild mushroom toast with kajmak ~ Beet salad

Little known secret – the kajmak, a type of butter used in the “Wild Forest Mushrooms” on toast and also the “Scallop Trio”, adds pulverized nori, bacon and parmesan cheese to this addictive spread.  It is to die for!

(l-r) Salmon tartare ~ Seared scallops

Baba, 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201 – 703 312.7978  www.baba.bar

Silver 

Ype Von Hengst, Executive Chef at Silver

Ype Von Hengst, Executive Chef

Chef and Nutrition Guru Ype Von Hengst and Bob Giaimo have forged a powerful partnership with their Silver Diner restaurants. Last year we wrote about their latest venture, Silver, a stylish Art Deco-inspired restaurant in Bethesda that is a hugely popular neighborhood destination.  The night we visited was “Meet the Chef” night and Ype was there in full-on gracious mode – charming guests and overseeing details.  The monthly program was instituted this summer to introduce patrons to the congenial chef and it’s caught on – chiefly because of the Dutchman’s engaging personality.

Silver aims high.  Hoping to be everything to everyone it boasts a menu jam packed full of nutritionally-dense ingredients, many sourced from local farms, elevated diner fare and upscale casual dishes.  (Read more here – http://whiskandquill.com/nibbles-and-sips-around-town-december-26-2015)

(l-r) Goat cheese bruschetta ~ Avocado toast

(l-r) Goat cheese bruschetta ~ Avocado toast

On the night we visited the energetic Chef Ype, who has clearly discovered the fountain of youth, was dropping by each table with greetings for all the patrons.  He made a few suggestions which we were glad to follow – the menu is enormous! – and we tried his recommendations beginning with the excellent Goat Cheese Bruschetta and Avocado Toast.  Now I know they are ubiquitous these days, but these are exceptional.  The bruschetta is made with a pine nut pesto, tomato, sunflower seeds and balsamic drizzle.  See how many healthy ingredients are involved in this simple offering!  Ditto for the avocado toast which incorporates queso fresco, thinly sliced radishes, tomatoes, pomegranate seeds and basil oil with the smashed avocado that is then served on slices of fresh country bread.

(l-r) Creekstone Farms steak frites ~ Pan-seared ocean scallops

(l-r) Creekstone Farms steak frites ~ Pan-seared ocean scallops

Did we stop there?  No, because my dinner partner had a hankering for a fine steak, while I had my eye on pan-seared ocean scallops with lemon garlic sauce.  All the dishes listed on the menu are annotated with their respective calorie, fat, cholesterol, carb, fiber and protein counts.  You know what you’re getting even if the dish you choose might compromise what limits you set for yourself.

But we weren’t there to enumerate our caloric consumption, so we dug into dessert with abandon.  (Warning: Desserts do not come with calorie counts.  You’re on your own here, though “Hand-Spun Shakes” can be ordered low-fat.)  These are of the super yummy, over-the-top variety.  Both the “Campfire Sundae” and the “Pistachio Mousse + Chocolate Brownie” plus fresh raspberries were satisfyingly delicious.

(l-r) Pistachio mousse ~ Campfire sundae

(l-r) Pistachio mousse ~ Campfire sundae

Check out “Pups on the Patio” every Thursday from 4pm till 7pm.

Silver, 7150 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20815 – 301 652.9780  www.EatSilver.com

Nederburg Wines at Hank’s Oyster Bar Prove a Winning Combination 

Thanks to Nederburg and their we had a chance to revisit Hank’s where they paired their South African wines with some immaculately fresh seafood dishes and a heaven-can-wait lemon merengue pie.

(l-r) Assortment of local oysters ~ Fried scallops and calamari and shrimp seviche

(l-r) Assortment of local oysters ~ Fried scallops and calamari and shrimp seviche

Hosted by Andrea Freeborough, the Cellar Master of Nederburg, we heard the story of Nederburg and got a primer on the latest vintages.  Established in 1791 the historic winery is on the Western Cape province of South Africa where they use a progressive and pioneering approach to winegrowing and winemaking that has earned them a wealth of respect worldwide.

We loved how nicely their wines from the new ultra-premium “Heritage Heroes” line sidled up to the seafood dishes as we tasted vintages from Nederburg’s latest vintages which includes The Brew Master, named for Johann Graue, a brew master in his native Germany who bought Nederburg in 1937 and adapted his experience to pioneer viticulture and winemaking in South Africa; The Young Airhawk that pays tribute to Johann Graue’s son, Arnold; and The Anchorman named for Nederburg’s founder, Philippus Wolvaart, who bought the farm in 1791 and planted Chenin Blanc, amongst other varietals such as the Winemaster’s Reserve Chenin Blanc.  These vintages dovetail seamlessly into the summer season.

Key lime pie

Key lime pie

Hank’s Capitol Hill, 633 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20003 – 202 733.1971 www.HanksOysterBar.com and for Nederburg winess visit www.TerlatoWines.com

Japanese Embassy Offers Culture and Cuisine to Travel Writers

The display from the Japanese National Tourism Organization

The display from the Japanese National Tourism Organization

 The Japanese Embassy and the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) along with JAL and purveyors of fine food and spirits presented a dazzling array of authentic musicians, sushi chefs and other traditional Japanese cuisine to excite travel writers and travel agents.

Kyoto musician

Kyoto musician

Held at the magnificent Ambassador’s residence on Nebraska Avenue, the seminar and reception was to celebrate the International Pow Wow (IPW), one of the country’s largest events to promote travel.  The focus was on Tohuku, and featured some of their regional sakes.  Tohuku is an area hard hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and which is now welcoming tourists to their charming

(l-r) Waterfalls in the Japanese tea gardens ~ The formal gardens at the Japanese Ambassadors's residence

(l-r) Waterfalls in the Japanese tea gardens ~ The formal gardens at the Japanese Ambassadors’s residence

The event host was Kelley Ferro, an award-wining travel journalist and filmmaker who visited Tohoku and created videos of her experience.  Watch here – Tohoku.

Representatives from Shiki-Shima, Japan’s new ultra-luxurious, high speed sleeper train that travels from Tokyo to off-the-beaten track places like Tohuku, greeted visitors.  H. E. Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae gave opening remarks before turning over the microphone to Keith Kirkham, Incoming Minister for Commercial Affairs for the embassy.

(l-r) Buffet supper features Japanese delicacies ~ Sakes from Tohoku

(l-r) Buffet supper features Japanese delicacies ~ Sakes from Tohoku

A toast was made, “Kanpai” followed by Kelley Ferro and a lavish dinner reception before Ryoichi Matsuyama, President of JNTO, gave closing remarks.

Peter Chang Opens Q in Rockville

A soft opening at Q

A soft opening at Q

Peter Chang’s empire keeps growing.  This is his seventh restaurant and all are located within Maryland and Virginia – all the better for Chang and his partner Jen Lee to check on their cooks and keep the standards up to snuff.

Peter Chang (right) cuts up with his Chef de Cuisine at Q

Peter Chang (right) cuts up with his Chef de Cuisine at Q

Their latest venture Q by Peter Chang is in a tony section of Rockville and boasts a glitzy outpost tailor made to showcase Chang’s fine Szechuan cuisine.  A large sunken slate patio, with spaciously arranged tables, dresses up the street side.  Inside it is ultra-modern with geometrically-shaped chandeliers and a concrete floor befitting Chang’s contemporary approach.  Walls are paneled with carved dark woodwork and angular wood tables run alongside the green leather banquettes.

The sunken patio at Q

The sunken patio at Q

If you’ve ever dined in Chang’s other locations you’ll know that he doesn’t hold back on the heat.  Seasonings can be fiery hot.  Tiny Szechuan red chiles take center stage in many dishes, but ask and your server will point you to milder fare.

Chicken with chiles at Q

Chicken with chiles

I’ve learned that when the salt factor rises, it ameliorates the ferocity of the spiciness somewhat, as does the addition of some sweetener to the accompanying sauce.  But don’t be surprised, even if you think you know Szechuan cuisine, if you’ll have to recalibrate your palate to adjust to these authentic dishes.  And be sure to check out the dim sum platter. Served only at lunch, it consists of nine samplings rotated seasonally.

(l-r) Pan-fried scallion and scallop dim sum – Scallop dim sum

Faves:  Pan-fried shrimp dumplings, scallion bubble pancakes, pork with chiles, roast duck pancakes, cumin lamb chops, “big buns”, pan-fried scallop or shrimp buns.

(l-r) Cumin lamb chops – Peking duck

Q by Peter Chang, 4500 East West Highway, Rockville, MD 20814 – 240 800.3722  www.qbypeterchang.com

Shangri-La Restaurant ~ Bethesda, Maryland

Samantha Lee
Contributing Food Writer
Photos by S. Lee

I discovered Shangri-La, a Nepali and Indian Restaurant, at the Taste of Bethesda.  Though opened in 2008, it went under new management in January 2016 and is named after the Nepalese paradise of Shangri-La with its stunning white peaks in the Kunlun mountains.

From the outside, you’ll notice the front window frames of the modest spot are neon-lit with the orange and green colors of the Indian national flag.  Inside the décor reveals framed pictures of life on the hillsides of Nepal, temple scenes, and the signature wooden windows of the old heritage houses in Nepal.  On top of the cash register there sits a golden statue of Ganesha, the god of prosperity.  Though small, the dining room can seat up to 60 people comfortably and can accommodate larger parties with some advance notice.

General Manager Babu Subedi and Chef Singh Maharjan co-manage the restaurant.  Babu Subedi, who received a BBA and a MBA in Hospitality, has been here since it opened.  Prior to working at Shangri-la, he worked in European and Indian restaurants.  Chef Singh Maharjan is from the Newari ethnic group in Nepal.  With over 15 years of culinary experience, his passion for cooking was learned from his mother. Prior to cooking at Shangri-la, Maharjan worked at Tandoori Nights from 2006 to 2015.

Chef Singh Maharjan

The menu is broken down into several categories: Appetizers, Soup, Salad, Specials, Thali, Seafood, Tandoori, Chicken, Rice/Biryanis, Lamb, Vegetable, Breads, Sides, Children’s Menu, Dessert, Tea/Coffee, Soft Drinks, and Wine. Each dish is made with high quality fresh ingredients, locally grown organic produce and blends of Nepalese and Indian spices.

We started with drinks.  My friend ordered Kingfisher, the world’s number one selling Indian beer while I ordered the Masala Chai, a Darjeeling milk tea served with sweetener on the side, and Mango Lassi, a sweet yogurt drink with mango pulp.  The Kingfisher tasted like a generic beer with a fuller body than an American lite beer and a hint of sweetness. The Masala Chai, served hot, has a sweet aroma and creamy texture. The Mango Lassi was semi-sweet, refreshing, and not too thick.

Kingfisher Beer – Mango Lassi

We started our meal off with the Cho-E-La, a boneless duck marinated in a blend of ingredients that includes Nepalese herbs and spices. This dish was cooked with onions in a clay oven and served with beaten rice. It was good but bitter at times when you combined the meat with beaten rice.

Cho-E-La

We also shared the Chicken Momos, steamed dumplings filled with minced chicken marinated with fresh ginger, garlic, and Nepali spices and paired with a mildly spicy tamater chutney.  It was served with shredded lettuce, cucumber, carrots, and julienne of red bell pepper. The Chicken Momos had strong, sweet overtones of fenugreek.

Chicken Momos

For entrees, I ordered the Butter Chicken – boneless white meat chicken prepared in a deliciously creamy tomato sauce.  It was sweet and savory, and mild enough for people who don’t care for spicy food.  In addition to the Butter Chicken, I ordered Garlic Naan, freshly baked white bread topped with garlic, butter and fresh herbs.  It was salty and savory and paired nicely with the chicken.

My friend ordered the Lamb Biryani, which consisted of lamb cooked to perfection and served with basmati rice richly flavored with saffron, nuts and raisins.  The dish gave off a floral aroma and was served with Raita, a fresh yogurt sauce of cucumber, tomatoes, onions and herbs. When consuming the Lamb Biryani, the raita brings the heat of dish down.

Clockwise from the left – raita, naan, lamb biryani, basmati rice, butter chicken, and chai tea

Unfortunately, we didn’t save any room for dessert. Overall, the service was very good and our meal was delicious, leaving us with the urge to return.

Shangri-La is located at 7345-A Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD 20814.  Buffet style lunch is served on weekdays from 11:30am to 2:30pm, regular lunch on weekends from 11:30am to 2:30pm, and dinner daily from 5:00pm to 10:00pm.

The Mark of Cain ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
July 21, 2017 

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Philip Fletcher (God) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Philip Fletcher (God) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

In his apocalyptic vision of the end of the world Georgian-born Director and Adaptor Paata Tsikurishvili offers up a slo-mo intro to the birth of Evil.  In it he provides God (Philip Fletcher) with a large mobile Modernist statue with serpentine arms from whence to rule his kingdom.  This Tree of Knowledge representation is where Adam (Scott Brown) and Eve (Tori Bertocci) meet their fate in the Garden of Eden.

Synetic has long been a theatrical vehicle for the interpretation of world politics and has consistently sought out ways to parallel their productions to the ills of modern society.  Describing his inspiration for The Mark of Cain with Machiavelli’s immortal words, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  We see this popping up everywhere,” he adds suggestively.  Tsikurishvili’s latest fantasy after a five-year dry spell, reads like a graphic novel of the world’s ills.

In committing their original sin, the doomed couple bite into the shiny red apple symbolized by a balloon in a cage.  We see God’s tears begin to fall from white balloon “eyes” encased in a pyramid – like the eyes on the U. S. dollar – and backlit by flashlights.  There will be many more balloon symbols indicating sadness, death and destruction.  It’s an awkward device at best, but you’ll get the drift.

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Dallas Tolentino (Abel) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Ryan Sellers (Cain), Dallas Tolentino (Abel) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Our jeans-clad lovers soon encounter the Dark Angel (Kathy Gordon) and her minions before running off to give birth to their twins, Cain (Ryan Sellers) and Abel (Dallas Tolentino).  This colorless Garden of Eden may augur the evils to come, but it seems an unnecessarily grim setting for paradise.  Abel is the sensitive one of the two, representing Culture and the Arts – playing stringed instruments woven from strips of white fabric.  Cain is the penultimate destroyer, torturing the dancers that frolic to Abel’s music.  More balloon eyes “cry” and a death is symbolized by the popping of a red balloon filled with red dust.  We will come to see this again and again as it depicts Death symbolized by black balloons.  After Cain kills off his entire family and appears to briefly mourn their loss, the use of dancers carrying helium filled black balloons is yet again employed while God marks Cain for life with red powder, a device used to symbolize blood, anger and/or defeat.

Kathy Gordon (Dark Angel), Ryan Sellers (Cain) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Kathy Gordon (Dark Angel), Ryan Sellers (Cain) ~ Photographer: Johnny Shryock

When the Dark Angel again returns she anoints Cain with a wreath of golden laurel leaves.  As his conquests mount ever more elaborate “crowns” serve to describe the level of power that Cain has achieved.  In a banquet scene in which all the guests wear crowns, they kill each other off in a dramatic fight scene.  Some inexplicably return to march to Music Director Irakli Kavsadze’s choice of Ravel’s “Bolero” as Cain becomes power mad and the wars increasingly militaristic.  The music is perfectly timed to mirror the staccato sounds of machine guns.  At this point we have transitioned into modern day warfare and thankfully there are no balloons to distract from this electrifying scene.

Tori Bertocci (Ensemble), Ryan Sellers (Cain), Megan Khaziran (Ensemble) Photographer: Johnny Shryock

Tori Bertocci (Ensemble), Ryan Sellers (Cain), Megan Khaziran (Ensemble) Photographer: Johnny Shryock

I don’t want to be the spoiler, but let’s just say Cain appears as Trump in elongated red tie and aviator sunglasses spewing executive orders and looking noticeably smug.  You don’t want to know what miseries he has in mind to wreak upon the world at large.  As with Synetic’s famous “Silent Shakespeare” series, this play is wordless which is hardly noticeable for the wealth of dance expression choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili, the fierce battle scenes by Vato Tsikurishvili, and the use of electronica composed by Konstantine Lortkipanidze.  Trust me.  You’ll get the picture.

Through August 13th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

Legally Blonde: The Musical ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(l-r); Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Ashley Kaplan as Delta Nu, Benita Adams as Pilar, Halle Kaufax as Serena, Rachel Cahoon as Margot, Courtney Caliendo as Delta Nu, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Heather Gifford as Brooke. Photo courtesy of LTA.

(l-r); Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Ashley Kaplan as Delta Nu, Benita Adams as Pilar, Halle Kaufax as Serena, Rachel Cahoon as Margot, Courtney Caliendo as Delta Nu, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Heather Gifford as Brooke. Photo courtesy of LTA.

The Laurence O’Keefe/Nell Benjamin frothy musical comedy of the airhead blonde with smarts who goes to Harvard and makes good, is an inspiring tale for young women who sublimate their dreams to snag a man.  Elle Woods (the effervescent Morgan Arrivillaga) is the adorably peppy sorority president who gets dumped by her rich beau, Warner Huntington III before he goes off to college.  Warner, whose old-line family have chosen a Kennedy-style future for him that doesn’t include Elle, is played convincingly by Brendan Quinn.  No stretch for the suavely handsome Quinn, who is a Harvard Law student offstage too.

Unfortunately for Malibu-bred Elle she’s not in his league, (NOCD – Not our class, dear, as the upper crust say), or so he tells her, “My future’s all planned out.  Time for me to get serious.”  Elle, believing she can win him back, tells her parents she will follow him to Harvard Law, and with a razzle-dazzle in-person dance routine assisted by her Delta Nu sorority sisters, she convinces the Approval Committee to grant the Fashion Merchandising major acceptance to the ivied halls.  “Pink is my signature color,” she perkily pronounces.

(l-r); Brendan Quinn as Warner and Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods Photo credit LTA.

(l-r); Brendan Quinn as Warner and Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods Photo credit LTA.

The 25-person cast is impressive giving us a slew of Elle’s high-energy sorority sisters (all of who look like they are out of Central Casting for cheerleaders) as well as her fellow Harvard students most of whom snub the party princess.  There’s Enid Hoops, the Brainiac activist (Karen Kelleher), Vivienne Kensington, Warner’s snooty new girlfriend (Elizabeth Gillespie) and Emmett Forrest (the silken-voiced Kaylen Morgan) the handsome African American student on scholarship who helps Elle get serious about studying rather than man-chasing.

(l-r); Row 1 Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods, Shawn Cox as Callahan, Marcelo Guzman as Ensemble; Row 2 Ryan Walker as Ensemble, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Maria Ciarriocchi as Mom Track. Photo credit LTA.

(l-r); Row 1 Morgan Arrivillaga as Elle Woods, Shawn Cox as Callahan, Marcelo Guzman as Ensemble; Row 2 Ryan Walker as Ensemble, Rebecca Weiss as Delta Nu, Carlie Smith as Delta Nu, Maria Ciarriocchi as Mom Track. Photo credit LTA.

The gritty Elle soon realizes that there is more to life than pom-poms and Warner’s affections and shows her supporter and love interest Emmett she’ll get down to business while planning to nab a prestigious law internship with the crusty Professor Callahan (Sean Cox).  Meanwhile she meets Paulette (played hilariously by the very talented Katherine Lipovsky), owner of the Hair Affair who commiserates with Elle over their lost loves.  Elle teaches Paulette how to get a man with the “Bend and Snap”, a bend-at-the waist-stick-out-your-fanny move that’s one of over 23 lively musical numbers.  One of the funnier moments is when Paulette falls for the UPS guy (the hunky Sean Garcia) and she puts her new-found skill to good use.

(l-r); Katherine Lipovsky as Paulette and Sean Garcia as “UPS Guy” Kyle. Photo credit LBA

(l-r); Katherine Lipovsky as Paulette and Sean Garcia as “UPS Guy” Kyle. Photo credit LTA

Director Hans Bachmann (who doubles as Elle’s Dad) has assembled a fine cast of actors/singer/dancers to pull off this stage-filled romp and Stefan Sittig delights with complex choreography, managing lively dance and cheerleading routines that often demand the entire cast to be on LTA’s challengingly-small stage at the same time.  Numerous set changes are smoothly accomplished thanks to Set Designer Dan Remmers and crew, while Orchestra Director Christopher A. Tomasino’s 14-piece band keeps the party rocking.

A fun and frothy musical comedy that aims to beat the summer heat.

Through August 12th 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 King and I – A Royal Hit ~ The Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 22, 2017 

The Cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The Cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Under the expert direction of Barlett Sher we allow ourselves to be transported to the magic and majesty of the Kingdom of Siam.  It’s 1862 and the King (as played by Jose Llana) is fearful of France taking over his kingdom as learns they have done in Cambodia.  To prove his British-ruled country is worldly wise, he employs Anna Leonowens (Laura Michelle Kelly) a charming British schoolteacher to educate his extended family.  Recently widowed and accompanied by her young son, Louis (Graham Montgomery), the story begins with Anna and Louis arriving into Bangkok harbor.  It’s a breathtaking opening scene featuring an enormous wooden ship against the background of a fiery sunset and a scene of Siamese villagers going about their daily tasks in silhouette – figures toting baskets hung on poles and sporting coolie hats.  The menacing King’s guards arrive to terrify the locals into submission.  Cue the kowtowing – an issue we will see addressed by Anna and Prince Chulalonghorn (Kavin Panmeechao) later in the story.

Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna and the Royal Children. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Laura Michelle Kelly as Anna and the Royal Children. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Anna is soon greeted by Kralahome (Brian Rivera) the king’s aide, an intimidating figure who tells her the King’s instructions demand they live in the palace rather than a separate house.  “The King doesn’t always remember what he promises,” the King smugly pronounces upon their meeting.  This is the plot device that sets Anna and the King at sixes and nines as Anna strives to get her footing in a household filled with the King’s many children and favorite wives, most especially Lady Thiang (Joan Almedilla) and the beautiful, star-crossed Tuptim (Manna Nichols).  But it’s Anna’s sense of propriety, anti-slavery stance and insistence on female equality that especially trips her up with the King.  “I believe women are just as important as men,” she asserts.  The most hilarious moments derive from their contretemps.

Meanwhile the King in his “puzzlement”, as he refers to his indecision, compares his predicaments with that of Western world leaders.  “What would Lincoln do? What would Queen Victoria do?” he asks Anna whose advice he begrudgingly seeks as their love for each other grows deeper.

Manna Nichols and Kavin Parmeechao. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Manna Nichols and Kavin Parmeechao. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

This outstanding musical provides a rich tapestry of emotional connection and unrequited love framed by sumptuous costumes ranging from Anna’s Victorian hoop-skirted silk dresses to lavishly encrusted golden chada hats and jewel-toned silks by designer Catherine Zuber.  Choreography that includes Thai dancing and intricate ballet, as well as Anna and the King’s waltz is by Christopher Gatelli and Greg Zane and faithfully based on Jerome Robbins’ original dance sequences.  The sets by Michael Yeargan, plus a mega-sized golden Buddha, are designed to blow your socks off.  And they do.  One of the most spectacular scenes is Tuptim’s play set to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s historic story “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, here called “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”.  It is a rich tale performed in traditional Thai ballet and elaborate costume and written by the lovelorn maiden to bring awareness to the country’s treatment of women as slaves.

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Laura Michelle Kelly and Jose Llana. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

There are so many powerful voices and goose-bump solos it’s hard to know who to single out.  Naturally Kelly as Anna, Almedilla as Lady Thiang, Nichols as Tuptim, and Llana as the King of Siam, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera as the King is fond of saying.  Of course, you’ll revel in the sweeping score with classic songs like “I Whistle a Happy Tune”, “Hello Young Lovers”, “Getting to Know You”, “Something Wonderful” and “Shall We Dance” as the most memorable.  And the royal children are so endearing, we awaited their entrances at every turn.

Brought here by the wildly successful national touring company, Ambassador Theatre Group, this production is top drawer.  My plus one and I reveled in memories of the first Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway blockbuster starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr and weren’t disappointed by this faithful reprise for a New York minute.

Highly recommended for the whole family.

Through August 20th in the Opera House at The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.