December 2, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
In between sending out cards, trimming the tree, wrapping gifts and drinking a dram or two of Christmas cheer, be sure to plan on seeing one or more of these fabulous holiday shows.
Family holiday shows are everywhere. But where can you find one that’s tailor made for teens…and non-denominational too? This year the Synetic Theatre Teen Ensemble is tackling the company’s Silent Shakespeare version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and it promises to be scintillating. In this beautifully reimagined production local teens star as Feuding Fairies, Lost Lovers and Merry Mechanicals in a production directed by Alex Mills.
There are two special events during the run of the show. Synetic will host a special “Party Night” for teens after the December 8th evening performance, where young adults will be able to hang out with the cast and dance to a DJ onstage. Also on the 8th at 2pm there will be a “Family Day and Holiday Party”. Expect a visit from Santa to include snacks and games in the company’s new theatre space.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs from December 5th through the 14th.
For tickets and information call 800 494-8497 or visit www.synetictheater.org. 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202
Peter Boyer, Tracey Stephens, Russell Sunday with puppets Want and Ignorance -
Photo credit: Chris Banks
Over at MetroStage it’s a rollicking sendup of the classic tale with A Broadway Christmas Carol. This is not your mama’s cup of eggnog. The endearingly outrageous three-person cast of Russell Sunday, Peter Boyer and Tracey Stephens will delightfully dissect your funny bone through parodies of thirty-one totally recognizable show tunes from the likes of Andrew Lloyd Weber, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and many more. Boyer is this year’s newcomer to the cast and he is absolutely phenomenal as Scrooge in this madcap holiday whirlwind of costume changes and characters sung by some of the best pipes in the biz. Look for Pianist Howard Breitbart to get into the act in “The Phantom of Christmases Yet to Come”. It’s all a hoot and a howl for adults only.
From November 21st through December 22rd; Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; Sundays at 3 and 7pm. For tickets and information call 800 494-8497 or visit www.metrostage.org. 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA
Gary Cramer (Bob Cratchit) – Erik Payton (Turkey Boy) – Valerie Chamness (Ghost of Christmas Past) – Photos by Eddy Roger Parker
At The Little Theatre of Alexandria it’s time once again for A Christmas Carol. Directed and adapted by Rachael Hubbard, this family-friendly Dickens’ classic will warm the cockles of everyone’s heart. Replete with elegant Victorian costumes, the accursed curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge, and the adorable Tiny Tim, you can almost smell the chestnuts roasting as ghostly guides transport you through Christmas past, present and future. Relive this Currier & Ives picture postcard of a show that reveals the true meaning of Christmas.
From November 30th through December 16th, Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, and Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and 5pm. For tickets and information call 703 683-0496 or visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com. 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314
Signature Theatre’s line-up for the holiday season has something for everyone. Holiday Follies is back with a wonderful wintry line-up of Signature’s closest friends and artists. There’s never been a better way to keep company on a cold winter’s night. The special holiday performance schedule for Holiday Follies in the ARK Theatre is December 17th at 7:30pm, December 18th at 7pm, December 19th at 8pm, December 20th at 8pm, December 21st at 2pm and 8pm, December 22nd at 2pm and 7pm and December 23rd at 7pm.
In addition Matt Conner will star in his very own show, A Matt Conner Christmas. Promising to be a cozy evening of Conner on piano sharing his favorite Christmas memories, the composer of Crossing, The Hollow and Nevermore says, “I’ll be blending them with some of my favorite Christmas songs, along with a few surprise guests. The show will range from bluegrass to classical with a lot in-between – - all full of holiday cheer.” At Signature’s ARK Theatre with performances on December 11th at 7:30pm, December 12th at 8pm, December 13th at 8pm, December 14th at 2pm and 8pm, and December 15th at 2pm and 7 pm.
Be sure to check out the special New Year’s Eve party and midnight toast for ticketholders of the theater’s latest extravaganza, Gypsy, one of the greatest American musicals ever written starring Sherri Edelen as Mama Rose.
For tickets and information visit www.signature-theatre.org or go through the Signature Box Office at 703 573-SEAT. 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206
November 24th, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
(L-R) Max Heimowitz, John Manzari, Maurice Hines, Leo Manzari and Sam Heimowitz, with members of the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, Photo by Teresa Wood.
On a stage flanked by Mondrian-like color block panels reminiscent of 1960’s television shows, a 9-piece all-female orchestra is cranking out the sounds of “Did You Do That”. It’s an old tune by composer Stanley “Kay” Kaufman, an early creator, manager and conductor for the tap dancing brothers, Maurice and Gregory Hines. Back in the day Kaufman founded the original Diva Jazz Orchestra and now a new crop backs up the Broadway legend in “Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life”. The “Divas” as they are known in jazz circles from Lincoln Center to Birdland to the Apollo Theater, are smokin’ hot and Hines urges them on giving solo turns to noted sax player, Camille Thurman, trumpet player Liesl Whitaker and drummer, Dr. Sherrie Maricle, whom he likens quite accurately to Buddy Rich. Right from the start the joint is jumpin’ and the show has just begun.
The projection panels begin to come alive with intimate family photos, memories of segregation and show biz moments frozen in time. Interspersed between nineteen musical numbers, Hines shares deeply personal stories and his encounters with megastars like Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ol’ Blue Eyes – - the backstory to sixty-five years spent on stage and screen.
Maurice Hines in Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life – Photo by Teresa Wood.
Hines is captivating and stylish. His movements are silken – - his delivery both hipster and sophisticate. He does a modified “moonwalk”. “I love this step. It’s so sexy,” he croons. And it is. But I am waiting for him to tap. Isn’t everyone? He speaks sotto voce about a recent injury. Later he says, “You know I don’t tap much anymore.” But still, he’s suave in a black and white Armani jacket. And we’re totally enraptured by his shtick. Who doesn’t dig a song stylist with crazy, exquisite phrasing? The kind of phrasing that “owns” a song like Frank and Ella and Dino did. Hines learned it and honed it from the greatest of the greats and it shows as he segues seamlessly from Fats Waller honky-tonk to sophisticated ditties by Cole Porter to ballads like “All the Way”. In jazzed-up classic show tunes from Lerner and Lowe, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”, and “Get Me to the Church on Time”, in which Hines gives a thumbs up to DOMA, he lures the audience back to the 1950’s and nights at the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated nightclub in Vegas. Some of the songs even use the familiar Nelson Riddle arrangements. In “Luck Be a Lady” we are transported to Vegas sitting tableside with the Rat Pack at the Flamingo Hotel.
Finally in the eighteenth number Hines does a long spin, some rapid-fire tap moves, and a bit of soft shoe. Not a lot, but perfectly executed. And then the Manzari Brothers come on stage and dazzle, really stun with their electricity. They are formidable as expected. Sam and Max Heimowitz, young twins Hines recently discovered in DC, do a short turn with the virtuosos. Now everyone is tapping and all of a sudden the evening feels like a moment in musical stage history. Oh yes, Maurice. You are too “mahvelous” for mere words.
(L-R) John and Leo Manzari in Maurice Hines is Tappin’ Thru Life – Photo by Teresa Wood.
Through December 29th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SW, Washington, DC 20024.
For tickets and information call 202 484-0247 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.
November 11, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
Nyla Rose DeGroat (Ranger Wilson) & Shaina Higgins (Lucy Gale) – photo credit Michael deBlois.
Have you ever been curious about what goes on behind the scenes at battle reenactments? A type of “living history” that focuses on a singular moment in a particular battle and requires the participants to live outdoors, dress in hand-stitched period clothing, carry authentic arms, foodstuffs and field medicines, and speak in the manner of the day, it has become a popular pastime. In Shiloh Rules playwright Doris Baizly provides us not only with an intriguing behind-the-scenes interpretation of the type of people that participate in these activities, but also an exciting multi-layered script. As her character, veteran re-enactor Clara May Abbott (Jean Hudson Miller), puts it, “We play by Shiloh rules. There aren’t any.”
Factoid: Though there are more Civil War battlefields in Virginia than anywhere else in the country, the bloodiest of all the battles was the Battle of Shiloh in East Tennessee where 23,000 casualties were sustained. The hallowed land is now called the Shiloh Battlefield Park where the action takes place.
Karen Lawrence (Cecilia) & Shaina Higgins (LucyGale) – photo credit Michael deBlois
Director Mary Ayala-Bush has chosen to present the play in the round, a decision that creates a super-charged energy level. Drama and comedy converge when six women meet on the battlefield. Clara May, known as the “Angel of Antietam”, is on the Union side with young Meg (Jennifer McClean), a nursing school student. On the rebel front are Cecelia Delaunay Pettison (Karen V. Lawrence), the embodiment of the iron-fist-in-the-velvet-glove Southern woman, and Lucygale Scruggs (Shaina Higgins), a gung-ho first timer with a taste for blood in her youthful heart. Each describes a wartime profile of their character.
The rules of the re-enactors are created and overseen by the feisty Widow Beckwith (Adriana Hardy), the head of the “Authenticity Committee”, whose penchant for breaking the very rules she invents is outweighed only by her skewed sense of what is authentic. But Beckwith is outranked by Park Ranger Wilson (Nyla Rose DeGroat), a martinet whose adherence to the park’s rules threatens to upset the ladies’ adventures. Nonetheless it is Wilson, an African-American, puzzled by the women’s zeal to open up the old racist wounds of war, who raises the question, “Why keep fighting it?”
Adriana Hardy (Widow Beckwith) & Nyla Rose DeGroat (Ranger
Wilson) – photo credit Michael deBlois
When the battle begins before dawn before the bugler’s signal, all hell breaks loose. The rebels won’t “fall down”, real weapons are drawn and the action becomes all too real.
Ayala-Bush, who is also the Set Designer evokes the encampment with simple canvas tents on either side of the set – - one for the ladies of the North the other for the South.
left to right, Jennifer McClean, Adriana Hardy, Shaina Higgins, Jean Hudson Miller, Nyla Rose DeGroat & Karen Lawrence – photo credit Michael deBlois
Kudos to the entire cast who are in perfect synch in this outstanding production. Special recognition to Sound Designer Sean Doyle who does a “bang up” job recreating the fusillade of battle.
At Port City Playhouse at The Lab at Convergence, 1819 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria, VA 22302. Performances are on the following dates – Nov. 8, 19, 22, 23, 24, 27 & 28 at 8:00 p.m. Matinees on Nov. 16 & 23 at 2pm. For tickets and information visit www.portcityplayhouse.org.
November 5, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
A quiet train station becomes a place of little miracles in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
In the world premiere of Matt Conner’s play Crossing eight people wait at a weathered wood train station. The strangers come from different decades of the past century to share their stories of hope, disillusionment and missed opportunities. The characters are not given names but are loosely defined as Backpacker – 2013, Wealthy Man – 1929, Mother – 1917, Soldier – 1917, Woman with Flowers – 1977, Unknown Woman, Civil Rights Marcher – 1963, Woman in Pink – 1954, Child – 1954. If you’re counting, that’s nine of course. The Unknown Woman, who appears a bit later, seems to be an avatar for hope and change, as in each one hopes the train’s arrival will somehow change their lives. “The easiest journey starts with a small step,” we are reminded.
The Civil Rights Marcher (Ines Nassara) waits on her train in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
“Here I Am” is the opening number, a sort of anthem to self-actualization that aims to inspire the traveler, “to seek, to strive, to find, to seek a newer world.” High hopes. There is an undercurrent of American patriotism interwoven throughout the lyrics as well as the immediacy of each individual’s situation. Should the Civil Rights Marcher go to Selma? Should the Wealthy Man break free? “Without my money, who am I?” he queries. Should the Woman with Flowers take back her daughter who’s run off with the Jim Jones’ People’s Temple? Will the Woman in Pink ever get on a train to anywhere? Each has a step to take – - a life lesson to resolve as they wait for the train to pull in to the station.
The Woman with Flowers (Florence Lacey) anticipates the return of her estranged daughter in Crossing
- Photo by Teresa Wood.
In the number, “Someone, Something, Somewhere” the ensemble seems to agree, “I’m not looking behind. I’m taking what’s mine.”
There is a lot of wishing and hoping and planning and scheming in this set piece. “If you’re tired or hungry or scared, keep going!” the Unknown Woman urges the Civil Rights Marcher, who struggles to believe she alone can make a difference. Unfortunately many lyrics are repetitive, patriotism is a handy conceit, and dreams are ultimately unfulfilled. “Life is just a distraction from Death,” the Wealthy Man decrees. The only hopeful traveler is the Backpacker (Christopher Mueller) who is not hampered by existentialist questions, but is eager to explore the world and seize love where he finds it.
A reappearing butterfly suggested by a spot of orange light on the stage floor becomes a metaphor for freedom and change. But no one appears to be changing or getting liberated. Hoped for love connections are dashed and sage advice is not taken. “If only I were braver – - younger,” the ensemble sings. Ultimately the only happy camper is the Backpacker.
The Woman in Pink (Tracy Lynn Olivera, left) meets the Soldier (Austin Colby) in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
The cast is the bravest element in a show that needs cheering up. Thankfully Christopher Mueller displays the passion and energy to keep the play’s grim reaper in check, while Tracy Lynn Olivera as the Woman in Pink affords us a tender portrayal of a woman who cannot bring herself to commit to a happy future. Nova Y. Payton plays the Unknown Woman, a beacon of light for all the weary travelers in the world. Her spectacular delivery in the reverential solo number “After the Rain”, in which she urges the strangers to find their life’s path, and then a cappella gospel song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, make you wish you had sat in her train car the entire trip.
The Unknown Woman (Nova Y. Payton) endows the train station with a touch of magic in Crossing – Photo by Teresa Wood.
Through November 24th 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.
October 29, 2013
Special to The Alexandria Times
The 39 Steps is a rollicking send up of and tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. References to his classics abound – - The Birds, Dial M for Murder, North by Northwest, Psycho, Rear View Window and more. You’ll have fun picking out some of your faves.
Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison (Everyone else) with Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
We come upon our hapless hero, Richard Hannay (Jeff McDermott) in a state of high anxiety. His life is worthless, he claims, because nothing exciting ever happens to him. “Find something mindless,” he suggests to himself aloud. “I know – - a trip to the theatre!”, a remark which gives the audience their first clue that this is going to be a night of cooked-up hilarity. “It’s music hall and vaudeville – - pure theatricality,” Ted Deasy told me in March of 2010 when I interviewed him at DC’s Warner Theatre where he played the lead.
Elizabeth Keith (Pamela) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
At the theatre Hannay sits beside a glamorous lady in red (Elizabeth Keith) who quickly insinuates herself into his uneventful life with a beguiling tale of German spies, an unsolved murder and a clandestine rendezvous in a castle on the Scottish moors. Intrigued he takes her back to his flat for a nightcap, where she is stabbed by a mysterious stranger. It becomes our hero’s challenge to solve this wacky whodunit.
The play is an adaptation of the eponymous Hitchcock classic. Borrowing on the 1935 film, writers Nobby Dimon and Simon Corble came up with a version to be played by four actors who perform between 130 to 150 roles. Some “roles” are actually inanimate objects and some of the actors change characters over and over, often playing three characters simultaneously.
The trick is to make the mayhem look effortless. The effect is achieved by piling on schticks from vaudeville, comedia and slapstick using old theatrical styles and even Shakespearean asides. The physical part is done in a supersonic pace that leaves the audience breathless.
Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) and Bob Cohen (Everyone else) – Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
McDermott is on stage throughout giving the play its anchor, while Elizabeth Keith plays the three female roles (though there is a bit of cross-dressing in some of the roles) quite handily. Bob Cohen and Erik Harrison, whose comic timing is, shall I say, “drop dead” perfect, manage to portray the dozens of others.
The 1930’s mood is cleverly set by lighting designers Ken and Patti Crowley who created over 150 evocative atmospheres for this electrifying production using both a flat-screen TV and a projection screen for some of the images. How they manage to suggest bi-plane bombadiers is for me to know and for you to find out.
Elizabeth Keith (Pamela), Bob Cohen (Everyone else) and Jeff McDermott (Richard Hannay) -
Photos by Keith Waters/Kx Photography
Through November 16th 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