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Cyrano de Bergerac ~ Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 14, 2019

Maryam Najafzaga as Roxanne - Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

Talk about drama!  With a scant 24-hour notice Vato Tsikurishvili was thrust into the role of Cyrano when leading man Justin Bell fell ill.  Vato, a consummate performer and teacher, has performed in countless Synetic productions – his parents, Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, are co-founding Artistic Directors.  He has performed with the troupe since he was four and is a nine-time Helen Hayes Award nominee and five-time award-winning ensemble member with Synetic.  He is also the Director of this production of Cyrano de Bergerac and naturally knew all the scenes.  And since this is one of Synetic’s famed series wordless productions., at least he didn’t have to learn lines!  Crisis averted.

The Cast of Cyrano de Bergerac - Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

During the six years I have reviewed Synetic’s stagings, they have performed within many unique sets.  I once was blown away as they did the entire play in six inches of sand and another time for The Tempest the stage was constructed to hold six inches of water.  Once they surrounded the stage with tall plexiglass panels so the audience wouldn’t get drenched in Day-Glo paint that was splashed around in a massive hookah-smoking party scene.  But in this equally imaginative interpretation, one of their finest to date, there is no elaborate staging and no moving sets.  It is just pure theater – full of classical pantomime,  eye-popping dance and clever acrobatics.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Cyrano with Maryam Najafzada as Roxanne - Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

We all know the story of Cyrano.  Dismissed as a lover by his unappealing looks (the nose!), he nevertheless remains friends with Roxanne.  When his dashing friend Christian tells him of his love for the beautiful Roxanne, Cyrano takes a back seat, helping Christian write tender love letters while the men are off to war.  As a result, she falls madly in love with Christian and marries him only to discover after his death, that Cyrano is the author of those letters that so touched her heart.  Their re-uniting as old folks is what makes this an indelible and ageless love story.

Matt R. Stover as Christian with Maryam Najafzada as Roxanne - Photo credit is Johnny Shryock

Vato uses the 19th century play by Edmond Rostand as backdrop for this magnificent action ballet and pantomime starring Maryam Najafzada, a young classically-trained Azerbaijan ballerina.  We saw and raved about her last October in Synetic’s production of Sleepy Hollow.  Najafzada is as liquid as poured mercury.  She first appears as a swan bathed in a golden light.  Her dance is en pointe in a tutu that releases downy white feathers when she flutters.  Her facial expressions speak more words than words could.  She is magnificent.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Cyrano - Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

An invented character called Time is played by another Synetic regular, Ana Tsikurishvili, the daughter of Paata and Irina.  A thoroughly captivating dancer clad in harlequin tights and a tutu, she signifies the passage of time and the futility of hours wasted in unrequited love.  This delicate enchantress beckons Cyrano to make haste while life passes him by, appearing with fluttering doves in her attempt to end the war.

Ana Tsikurishvili as Time ~ Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

This action play owes much of its lyrical allure to Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography, especially in the pas de deux with Cyrano and Roxanne, and another with Time and Roxanne, as well as its immersive mood created by Konstantine Lortipanidze who weaves techno-pop with tango.

A feast for the eyes and heart.   Highly recommended.

With Matt R. Stover as Christian; Phillip Fletcher as De Guiche; and Anne Flowers as Priest.

Resident Composer & Sound Designer, Konstantine Lortkipanidze; Lighting Designer, Brian S. Allard; Adapter, Nathan Weinberger; Scenic Designer, Phil Charlwood; and Costume Designer, Alison Samantha Johnson.
Through March 10th 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.

Nell Gwynn ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 13, 2019 

For Playwright Jessica Swale, who cleverly mixes factual events with a lively imagination, Nell Gwynn (Alison Luff), the orange seller who rose from her mother’s Coal Pan Alley brothel to become King Charles II’s most adored paramour, is the perfect vehicle to celebrate the rise of women’s roles in the theater.  Swale, who was named “10 Brits to Watch for 2019” by Variety, earned an Olivier Award for “Best New Comedy” for the play when it debuted in London’s West End in 2016.  “The rags-to-riches story of Nell Gwynn is an important and timely one,” says Director Robert Richmond.  “Her tenacity, wit and honesty changed the theatrical landscape forever and won her a place in history.”

Nell Gwynn (Alison Luff) with musicians left to right: Zoe Speas and Kevin Collins. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Set during the Restoration period when men played women’s roles – early drag, you might say – it was a time when theaters were filled with a mix of royals, rowdy-dows and drunkards.  Shakespeare cast men in women’s roles and that was the way of theater in the 17th century.  That is until King Charles II declared women could be on the stage.

King Charles II (R.J. Foster, left) consults with Lord Arlington (Jeff Keogh) on matters of the court. Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Fact: Discovered on Drury Lane by leading British actor, Charles Hart (Quinn Franzen), Gwynn proved to be a natural on the stage where her feisty, street-wise manner won over audiences.

Hart becomes Gwynn’s Pygmalion and lover, teaching her what he calls “the attitudes” – fear, terror, despair and desire.  She does so well that she usurps one of the principal actors in the King’s troupe, Edward Kynaston (Christopher Dinolfo), who must now sacrifice all the female parts to her. “A woman on the stage!  It will be the death of theater!” he cries out.  There is a delightfully bawdy bit when she shows off her acting chops by demonstrating the use of a fan to lure a lover.

Rose Gwynn (Caitlin Cisco, left) shares a somber moment with her sister Nell (Alison Luff). Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Gwynn soon comes to the attention of King Charles (R. J. Foster), who had a revolving door of glamorous mistresses who make their appearances along with the cuckolded Queen Catherine (Zoe Speas). Some of these women were well-known at court – Lady Castlemaine and Louise de Keroualle both played ladies by Regina Aquino.  Foster is mesmerizing as the vainglorious king who prefers women to edicts or wars.  He is the perfect foil for Ruff.

The sly Lord Arlington (Jeff Keogh), who has the most influence on the King and his courtesans, is determined to keep them at bay in order to maintain his power in the court.  Remember the famed poet and dramatist, John Dryden (Michael Glenn), from your English Lit classes?  Here he is portrayed as a bumbling, foppish playwright who takes direction from the actors.

The King’s Company in performance (left to right: Caitlin Cisco, Quinn Franzen, Christopher Dinolfo). Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

There are so many funny bits.  Dinolfo as Camille re-enacting his memory of an oak door in order to create a back story to a scene; Catherine Flye as Nancy, the terrified wardrobe mistress flung onto the stage when Nell quits in a huff; and, of course, Luff, who will rob you of any sense of decorum with her charm and comic timing.  Wait for the over-the-top hat scene mocking Louise de Kéroualle in Act Two.

A delicious royal romp!

With Nigel Gore as Thomas Killigrew; Caitlin Cisco as Rose Gwynn; Kevin Collins as Musician; and Alex Mitchell as Ned Spigett.

Original Music by Kim Sherman, Scenic Design by Tony Cisek, Costume Design by Mariah Anzaldo Hale, and Lighting Design by Andrew F. Griffin.

Through March 10th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

Ain’t Misbehavin’: The Fats Waller Musical Show ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Solomon Parker III, Iyona Blake, Nova Y. Payton, Korinn Walfall and Kevin McAllister. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Ain’t Misbehavin’, the show that opened on Broadway in 1978 starring Nell Carter is a revue of the compositions of the period, most notably Fats Waller’s.  Performed by five super-talented singers, all well-known to Signature fans, who deliver thirty-nine numbers, some in short form.  The music reveals the scope of Waller’s extensive repertoire and his mastery of the Harlem slide piano.  Many of the songs may be unfamiliar, but some are surprisingly well-known – “Honeysuckle Rose”, “The Joint is Jumpin’”, “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby”, “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie”, and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter”, recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Nat King Cole and Paul McCartney.

The show is a musical anthology rather than a story-driven theatrical production.  Its format is a singers’ showcase performed by a quintuple of song stylists who interpret the melodies in a range of styles through dance, mood and motion.  There are duets to revel in and sexy, sultry ballads that sizzle.  There is jitterbug and jazz, blues and boogie-woogie, and even a glee club-styled dirge in the number “Black and Blue” which was Waller’s response to the racism he experienced.  A particularly hot and rarely heard number, “The Viper’s Drag”, sung by Solomon Parker III, wows with a slinky dance and hep cat jam referencing his pipe dream of “a reefer five-feet long”.  Iyona Blake, Kevin McAllister, Korinn Walfall and Nova Y. Payton round out the cast of top-notch singers.

Solomon Parker III and Korinn Walfall. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Marquee lights, Art Deco pendant lamps hung from the ceiling and small shaded lamps affording a honeyed glow rest on cocktail tables positioned in front of the stage to transform the MAX Theatre into a Harlem nightclub – one with a seven-piece onstage band led by Mark G. Meadows as Fats Waller.  Glamourous costumes of the period – ladies dripping with fur and rhinestones and gents sporting crisply tailored chesterfields and spiffy black tie as conceived by Costume Designer Sarita P. Fellows.

Mark G. Meadows. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Thomas “Fats” Waller was a brilliant musician and fascinating character.  An accomplished classical pianist who found too many doors shut to him until he arrived in Harlem to become one of the greatest and most prolific composers of early jazz and syncopated rhythms as well as a stylish performer in his own right.  I tell you this up front, since, unlike other productions like Beautiful: The Carole King Story or the Gloria and Emilio Estefan musical On Your Feet! designed around the lives and works of the composers or the stars, this is a revue without a back story.

Iyona Blake and Solomon Parker III. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Perfect for date night!

Written by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Murray Horowitz and Directed by Joe Calarco.  Additional cast members Da’von T. Moody and Kanysha Williams.  Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway; Lighting Design by Sherrice Mojgani; Sound Design by Ryan Hickey; Choreography by Jared Grimes.  Musicians: Mark G. Meadows on piano; Michael Bowie on bass; Carroll “CV” Dashiel III on drums; Ed Walters and Grant Langford on reeds; Kieron Irvine on trumpet: and Christopher Steele on trombone.

Through March 10th 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 Music Man ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2019 

The Kennedy Center’s “Broadway Center Stage” series has yet again brought us one of America’s most beloved musicals.  Described as a “semi-staged concert format” in which the actors are meant to perform with their scripts in hand, this production of The Music Man goes far beyond that, offering a complete and beautifully staged rendering of this heartwarming Meredith Willson show.

Norm Lewis and CastPhoto by Jeremy Daniel

The story of the shyster showman (or as Mayor Shinn played by Mark Linn-Baker calls him, “a spellbinder”) who comes to River City to deliver the country folk from the evils of a newly installed pool table only to hoodwink them on the notion of a kids’ marching band, is as relevant today as it was when it won the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 1958.  What makes this show as fresh as corn husks off a cob, are the cast – well-known Broadway stars dazzling in leading roles and led by legendary director Marc Bruni – plus the sets and the snappy choreography.

Norm Lewis, Jessie Mueller, and Rosie O'Donnell ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Norm Lewis, who played the first African-American Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and garnered a Tony nom for Porgy and Bess, plays Professor Harold Hill to Jessie Mueller’s Marian (Madame Librarian).  Mueller another member of Broadway royalty earned her Tony noms for Waitress and On a Clear Day winning in 2014 as “Lead Actress” for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  You could just bathe yourself in her golden voice.  Other Broadway celebs are comic and TV star Rosie O’Donnell in the role of Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s Irish mother; veteran charmer Veanne Cox as Eulalie Mackechnie, the Mayor’s wife; and John Cariani whom you’ll recognize from his role in The Band’s Visit as Itzik and his Outer Critic’s Circle award-winning nom for Something Rotten!

Eloise Kropp, Veanne Cox, and Mark Linn-Baker ~Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The opening scene with traveling salesmen on a herky-jerky train ride brings it all back.  They are gossiping about Hill and his reputation as a conman and threatening to blow his cover.  But Hill is sitting in the back row, secretly listening and decides he’ll swindle the good-hearted folks of River City.

The music ranges from waltzes and marches to lively syncopated tunes and a sweetly mellifluous barbershop quartet who break into song whenever the tension ratchets up.

The Cast of The Music Man ~Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Enough can’t be said about the gorgeous set design and projections by Paul Tate dePoo III who gives us iconic floor-to-rafter scenes of small-town America.  And you will thrill to hear Conductor James Moore’s 20-piece orchestra in full view center stage.  Moore gifts us with knowing expressions allowing us to feel like we’re on the inside track.

Highly recommended.  If there is a ticket left, grab it and go!  And take the kids too.

Pro Tip:  Stay in your seats to hear the University of Maryland trombone section march down the aisles as the cast take their bows.  Its epic!

Also starring Damon J. Gillespie, Arlo Hill, Todd Horman, Eloise Kropp, Emmy Elizabeth Liu-Wang, Liz McCartney, Sam Middleton, David Pittu, Hayley Podschun, Jimmy Smagula, Nicholas Ward, Malcolm Fuller, Denis Lambert, Katerina Papacostas, Vivian Poe, Noelle Robinson, local actor and recent Helen Hayes Award winner Blakely Slaybaugh, Ryan Steele, Owen Tabaka, Daryl Tofa, Diana Vaden and Jessica Wu.

Choreographed by Chris Bailey with Lighting Design by Cory Pattak and Sound Design by Kai Harada.

Through February 11th in the Eisenhower Theater 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.

Three Sistahs ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
February 3, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Torn apart by three funerals – Momma, Daddy and brother André – three sisters meet in their family’s home to share their memories and secrets in this heart-warming, redemptive musical.  Eldest sister Olive, middle sister Marsha, and the youngest, Irene, have grown up in a staunchly military family and have come together to mourn André recently killed in Vietnam.  Since the Bradshaw women are scattered across the country, Olive has decided to sell their childhood home sparking reflections of childhoods long past.  Like all siblings, they squabble, but when they do, their hopes and dreams and personal impressions are revealed.

Ayana Reed, Kara-Tameika Watkins and Roz White ~ Photo Credit: Chris Banks

From Olive’s description of losing her virginity in the basement to smooth-talking Cadillac Johnson to Irene’s childlike vision of her mother’s secret dances in the attic, there is plenty of humor between the pathos.  Each woman brings to the table a different view of the father they feared and loved, and we see how their lives were formed. “Daddy believed in that uniform.  He was a hard man born in a hard time, “ Olive explains to Irene whose anti-war stance is anathema to her sister.  For Irene, a street-wise activist who dropped out of college to pursue her political leanings, finding her footing in a city torn apart by riots and looting, is her singular focus.

Written and directed by Thomas W. Jones III with music by William Hubbard, Three Sistahs is a big-hearted show, filled with passion and soulful spirit.  Based on 19th C Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”, its twenty-one songs reflect a deep well of inspired musicality from Gospel to Motown to Rhythm & Blues sung by vocal royalty.  This four-time MetroStage production has a new, more expansive staging that allows the performers to step into the audience for some of the numbers.

Roz White - Photo credit Chris Banks

The award-winning actress, Roz White, who reprises her role as Olive the spinster sister left behind to care for her ailing parents, is one of the most sought-after voices on the DC theater scene.  She is a commanding and captivating performer who teaches master classes at Howard University and The Duke Ellington School of the Arts.  Her rendition of the gospel favorite, “There’s a Leak in This Old Building”, paired with the electrifying harmonies of Reed and Watkins, will take you right up to the front pew.

Ayana Reed, Kara-Tameika Watkins and Roz White - Photo credit Chris Banks

Ayana Reed has been on my radar since seeing her perform in four different productions and I am utterly blown away by her stage presence and the gorgeous vulnerable quality in her voice.  Reed has performed at the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Theatre, and was outstanding in MetroStage’s Blackberry Daze and Master Class, and also in Avant Bard’s The Gospel at Colonus.  Last August we saw her play Marie in Marie and Rosetta at Mosaic Theatre in DC to Roz White’s Rosetta in a show that was a triumph for both performers.  In Three Sistahs she shows the same intensity and vulnerability with her soulful delivery of “Letter One” and “In My Dreams”.

Kara-Tameika Watkins - Photo credit Chris Banks

Kara-Tameka Watkins (Marsha) is another veteran of both local and national stages.  Frequently seen in numerous major productions at Signature Theatre and Arena Stage, Watkins has that pure, pitch-perfect, spot-on voice that lends itself to these exquisite harmonies.

Highly recommended.  This cast is on fire.  As Randy Newman once wrote, “You can leave your hat on,” though it may get blown off when these women raise the roof.

Story by Janet Pryce; conducted by William Knowles on piano; Greg Holloway on drums; and Yusef Chisholm on bass.  Set Design by Carl Gudenius, Costume Design Michael Sharp, Lighting Design by Alexander Keen, and Sound by William G. Wacker.

Through February 24th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.