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Five Guys Named Moe Bring Razzle Dazzle to Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 24, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

(L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe in Five Guys Named Moe. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe and Paris Nix as Eat Moe in Five Guys Named Moe. Photo by C. Stanley

When asked to produce a musical for the first time in his career, award winning Director and playwright, Robert O’Hara, decided on a fresh approach to the musical revue.  Showcasing songwriter and saxophonist Louis Jordan’s “new” Jazz sound; music written expressly for the show; and other notably sassy songs from the era, O’Hara chose to update it by channeling the success of the “boy band”.  Now Five Guys Named Moe presents a new dynamic to the ever-popular show with crack dance routines, a crop of snappy singers and a razzle-dazzle pace that gets the audience dancing in their seats – and onstage too.

The revue is backgrounded by the story of Nomax, a young man whose gal has left him high and dry.  For comfort Nomax turns to his old Zenith radio and a bottle of hooch.  In his lonely stupor the broadcasts come to life and he finds himself in the company of five jammin’ and jivin’ entertainers dressed in sharkskin suits and brocade jackets ready to take him to the “Saturday Night Fish Fry”.

Paris Nix as Eat Moe and the cast of Five Guys Named Moe - Photo by C. Stanley

Paris Nix as Eat Moe and the cast of Five Guys Named Moe – Photo by C. Stanley

Lit by neon-colored twin staircases that rise above the stage-level live orchestra, the “Moes” try to cheer up the hapless fellow with song and dance routines strung together from the hit tunes of the 1940’s era.  They take him to the Funky Butt Club where there’s a whole lot of shimmyin’, shakin’ and tappin’ goin’ on.  Where the guys trade licks in a whirlwind of dance styles from Maurice Hines to In Sync to Gene Kelly, with a few Magic Mike moves thrown in for good measure.

The cast of Five Guys Named Moe - Photo by C. Stanley

The cast of Five Guys Named Moe – Photo by C. Stanley

The super talented cast consists of Jobari Parker-Namdar as No Moe, Sheldon Henry as Big Moe, Clinton Roane as Little Moe, Travis Porchia as Four-Eyed Moe, Kevin McAllister as Nomax and Paris Nix as Eat Moe.  And there is no way to single anyone performer out for praise.  Believe me, I tried.  In harmony their rich voices blend together seamlessly, yet in solos, each one has its own distinctive style throughout the 25 numbers.  Henry shows off a boogie-woogie rhythm in “Caldonia”; Parker-Namdar and Porchia backed by the group tear the place down with their funky chicken in “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”; Parker-Namdar on “Reet, Petite and Gone”; Clinton Roane tells Nomax “I’m a chubby chaser!” in “I Like ‘Em Fat Like That”; and Nix shows off a soulful blues vibe in “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying”. And they all shine bright backed by the smokin’ hot 6-piece orchestra led by Darryl G. Ivey.

Climb aboard the “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” with this “sepia symphonette”.  Through December 28th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Eight Compelling Reasons To See Little Dancer – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
November 21, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Little Dancer (Boyd Gaines and Tiler Peck in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Little Dancer (Boyd Gaines and Tiler Peck in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Let’s break down this listicle to see why I predict this ballet musical will get to Broadway tout de suite before going on to Hollywood and the big screen.

#1 – The Story

Described as “part fact, part fiction” a young ballerina fights for her independence against the backdrop of the cruelly competitive world of the Paris Opera Ballet.  The musical is inspired by Edgar Degas’s fourteen-year old muse and model whom he called “the winged urchin”.

What’s not to love about a poor street urchin with a preternatural talent for ballet? New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck plays Young Marie, a girl as enchanting as a butterfly and as feisty as a mad hornet.  Think Annie.  Think Cosette in Les Miserables.  Think Billy Elliott. 

#2 – The Collaboration

For the first time in history the National Gallery of Art has collaborated with the Kennedy Center.  The show’s opening dovetails with the NGA’s Degas exhibit of Little Dancer Aged Fourteen shown alongside 14 additional works from the Gallery’s private collection that include the iconic pastel Ballet Scene in addition to monotypes and smaller original statuettes.

3# – The Cast

Little Dancer (Rebecca Luker in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Little Dancer (Rebecca Luker in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

The word sensational barely begins to describe the talent in this world premiere production – – the aforementioned Tiler Peck as Young Marie van Goethem, a compelling actress and utterly captivating dancer whose solos will take your breath away.  Rebecca Luker as the Adult Marie, whose elegant stage presence reaffirms her Tony Award nominations in Mary Poppins and The Phantom of the Opera.  The incomparable Boyd Gaines as Edgar Degas, a crusty, nearly blind, self-doubting artist ahead of his time; Janet Dickinson, poised and sympatico as Mary Cassatt, the liberated, barrier-breaking artist; Karen Ziemba, deeply affecting as Martine, Marie’s hardworking alcoholic mother; Sophia Anne Caruso as Charlotte, Marie’s younger sister, who reveals the pitch-perfect voice of a nightingale.  Could she be related to “The Great Caruso”?  Sean Martin Hingston as Philippe de Marchal, deliciously evil, he is one of the silk hatted patrons of the ballet school; and Jenny Powers as Antoinette who blends pathos, humor and infectious charm to her role as Marie’s elder sister.  Oh, and I can’t omit the adorable “rats”, a soubriquet for the young dancers in the corps de ballet.

Little Dancer (Karen Ziemba and Sophia Anne Caruso in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

Little Dancer (Karen Ziemba and Sophia Anne Caruso in Little Dancer, photo by Paul Kolnik)

4# – The Creative Team

Titans of the theatre that will undoubtedly take it to Broadway: Lynn Ahrens, Book and Lyrics – Susan Stroman, Director/Choreographer – Stephen Flaherty, Composer and Arranger – Scenic Designer Beowolf Boritt – Costume Designer, William Ivey LongDoug Besterman, Orchestrations – Shawn Gough, Music Director and Conductor.

#5 – The Music

Stephen Flaherty’s memorable score studded with emotionally charged ballads, love songs and even a bawdy French bar tune.  Absinthe, anyone?

#6 – The Costumes

Long draws from the period but more directly from Degas’s own works (though a barmaid’s garb recalls Manet’s famous painting of the period).  Ballerinas are dressed in a wide array of tutus – orange with butterfly wings, white with black velvet throat ribbons and colorful satin sashes, and bright aqua.  Even the ballet master, Monsieur Corbeil (Michael McCormick), is garbed in a linen suit taken straight from a Degas painting.  Victoriana dresses and garish Can Can costumes are authentically referenced.

#7 – The Sets

Boritt envisions the mood by surrounding the stage with a gilt frame as though the audience is peering inside a Degas painting.  Some of the backdrops reflect the artist’s Impressionistic pastels.

#8 – Choreography

Totally transcendent!  Susan Stroman delves into the world of the dancer creating moments of pure magic.

Highly recommended.  If you can get a ticket!

Through November 30th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

And be sure to see the exhibit “Degas’s Little Dancer” at the National Gallery of Art through January 11th 2015.  For information visit http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2014/degas-little-dancer.html.

To view video “Little Dancer: C’est le Ballet” click here.

 

Fiddler on the Roof Returns to Washington, DC – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 18, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye and the company of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Fiddler on the Roof  is a tender and uplifting tale inspired by the Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem who wrote them at the turn of the 20th century.  Set in the fictional Russian Jewish shtetl of Anatevka, the story centers on the lives of Tevye (Jonathan Hadary), a milkman, and his wife, Golde (Ann Arvia) and their five eligible daughters.  You’ll recognize his character instantly by the beloved tune “If I Were a Rich Man”.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jonathan Hadary as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tevye is eternally conflicted by the changing times, the frightening political climate and the corruption of the strict religious precepts laid down by the rabbi.  Fiercely traditional in a paternalistic society, he tries to rationalize his daughters’ unorthodox marital choices.  “On the other hand, look at my daughter’s eyes,” he muses trying to justify the adoration he sees in them for the men they love.  Unfortunately these men have not been pre-selected by Yente (Valerie Leonard), who is the Matchmaker for all of the women in the village.  The confused Tevye vacillates between keeping tradition and pleasing the daughters he clearly adores.  “Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof,” he maintains.

This embraceable story is buoyed by Jerome Robbins’ original choreography drawn from authentic folkloric dances and complemented by Paul Tazewell’s evocative period costumes.  In “The Dream” scene Tazewell takes inspiration from artist Marc Chagall’s fantasy creatures to create an eerily phantasmagorical imagining of Tevye’s nightmare – the one in which he will be forced to give his daughter Tzeitel (Dorea Schmidt) to the crusty old butcher Lazar Wolf (Erick Devine) chosen by the matchmaker to increase the family’s status in the community.  “I realize we are the chosen people, but sometimes couldn’t you choose someone else,” he laments.

L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, ­­­­­Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.

L to R) Maria Rizzo as Chava, ­­­­­Tracy Lynn Olivera as Rivka, Joshua Morgan as Motel and Shayna Blass as Shprintze in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Suzanne Blue Star Boy.

Lightning Designer Colin K. Bills provides full-throttle spotlights for the song and dance numbers and a comforting cocoon for the intimate scenes.  One of the most moving moments is the candlelit chorus slowly descending onto the stage from the topmost tier and reverently chanting the “Sabbath Prayer”.

Set Designer Todd Rosenthal keeps things simple with a series of weathered wood platforms, an eye-catching spiral perch for the fiddler, and a center stage trap door that provides a mind-bending entrance for Fruma-Sarah (Tracy Lynn Olivera).

L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

L to R) Ann Arvia as Golde and Valerie Leonard as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Margot Schulman.

After the show Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith, in recognition of Fiddler’s Washington, DC roots, its 50th Anniversary and citing deep appreciation for one of its legendary creators, presented celebrated 90-year old lyricist Sheldon Harnick with the theatre’s prestigious American Artist Award.  I asked Harnick about the night his show opened in DC.  “I was 40-years old when I wrote it,” he recalled with a mind as sharp as a blade.  “We were very worried because Zero [Mostel, who had originated the role of Tevye] was ill.  We weren’t even sure we would open.”  But open they did going on to Broadway and garnering nine Tony Awards for the longest-running musical of its time.  Harnick also heartily endorsed this staging saying, “They did a great job tonight!”

Through January 4, 2015 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.
For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Bad Jews – Studio Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 11, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

If you find the title Bad Jews off-putting, that’s precisely what Playwright Joshua Harmon is aiming for.  Go ahead.  Feel uncomfortable.  But you’ll laugh your head off while you’re squirming in your seat.

Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna), Maggie Erwin (Melody), and Alex Mandell (Liam). Photo: Teddy Wolff.

Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna), Maggie Erwin (Melody), and Alex Mandell (Liam). Photo: Teddy Wolff.

Three college-age cousins are gathered in the Manhattan apartment of Liam and Jonah for the funeral of their grandfather, Poppy.  In this funny-cause-it’s-true comedy they debate, denigrate and question each other over who has the right to have Poppy’s “chai”, a chain on which hangs the Jewish symbol for life.  Which one of them is most deserving of its ownership?  Which one of them is more Jewish?  Who is the True Believer?  Each offers a salient argument to the age-old question.

Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna). Photo: Teddy Wolff.

Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna). Photo: Teddy Wolff.

Daphna (Irene Sofia Lucio), a young woman with plans to take up rabbinical studies in Jaifa and later enlist in the Israeli Army, thinks she should have it since she is the most religious and insists her cousins respect the sacrifices that “Poppy” made to safeguard it during his internment in a concentration camp.  Jonah (Joe Paulik) is insistent that, by tradition, it should go to the eldest son – – especially since he wants to gift it to his Wasp girlfriend Melody (Maggie Erwin) as a symbol of his love, in the same way their grandfather presented it to their grandmother upon their engagement.  Liam (Alex Mandell), Jonah’s brother and a video game addict, is non-committal, determined to stay out of the fray, while all hell breaks loose around him.  He calls himself a “Bad Jew” for eating cookies on Passover and considers himself an atheist, leaving the debate to Jonah and Daphna, whom Jonah angrily refers to as “the Super Jew” for wanting to observe the most Orthodox interpretation of Jewish tradition.

There is so much vitriol flying around for the sake of determining the “best” Jew, that the audience literally gasped and groaned in shock – – not only for the meanness demonstrated by Daphna and Liam but also for the brutal honesty on often glazed over issues that can be ignored, hotly debated or even fervently embraced.  There is nothing facile in here.  Nonetheless it is riveting and hilarious in its presentation and the actors do a bang-up job interpreting their roles.

Alex Mandell (Liam), Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna), Maggie Erwin (Melody), and Joe Paulik (Jonah). Photo: Teddy Wolff.

Alex Mandell (Liam), Irene Sofia Lucio (Daphna), Maggie Erwin (Melody), and Joe Paulik (Jonah). Photo: Teddy Wolff.

Director Serge Seiden has a firm grip on the action, setting the characters in constant motion and keeping the pace locked and loaded for the next brawling barb.

A+ for provoking honesty, evoking laughter and encouraging introspection and discussion.

Through December 21st at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St., Washington, DC 20005.  For tickets and information call 202 332.3300 or visit www.StudioTheatre.org.

As You Like It – Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
November 4, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Derek Smith as Jaques (center) with Matthew Schleigh, Nathan Winkelstein, Todd Scofield, Theodore Snead, Timothy D. Stickney and Luis Alberto Gonzalez in the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Derek Smith as Jaques (center) with Matthew Schleigh, Nathan Winkelstein, Todd Scofield, Theodore Snead, Timothy D. Stickney and Luis Alberto Gonzalez of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Director Michael Attenborough (“Sir Michael” is not the title the be-knighted director prefers) has brought an intriguing interpretation of Shakespeare’s timeless As You Like It to the Lansburgh Theatre.  It is so timeless that just to prove it, he has informed the play with an amalgam of period costumes from Elizabethan dresses and 40’s era fedoras and trench coats to hillbilly-inspired Daisy Dukes and Carhartt overalls.  Clearly Costume Designer Jonathan Fensom got the memo.  It is but one of the refreshing aspects of this reimagined production.

Zoë Waites as Rosalind in the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Zoë Waites as Rosalind of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Attenborough mixes up accents too.  Rosalind speaks in the crisp cadence of the British upper crust, and while her cohort Celia (and most of the other actors) sport ordinary American accents, a sexed-up Audrey (Tara Giordano) and her hapless suitor have Southern drawls.  It makes for an appetizingly approachable, far from grandiose, version of Shakespeare.

Fensom is also charged with creating the set design and his intricate use of texture within the spare sets is yet another clue as to what the director wants us to feel.  In lieu of lavish depictions of forests and castles, we are treated to billowing amber silk curtains strung across the stage on a rope that change direction to depict motion, alter mood and provide intimate locations for the changing of scenes.  Instead of trees to depict a woodland, Fensom has colored the scenes and costumes with shades of umber, moss green and ochre and the crimson hues of autumn leaves.

Zoë Waites as Rosalind and Andrew Veenstra as Orlando in the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Zoë Waites as Rosalind and Andrew Veenstra as Orlando of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

As you’ll no doubt remember the beautiful Rosalind, here played by Zoë Waites one of Britain’s most notable stage actors, has fallen head over heels for the tongue-tied Orlando (Andrew Veenstra).  In true Shakespearean style the lovers are ill-fated and to make matters worse, they are banished by their royal families.  To seek refuge Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone flee into the fantasy forest of Arden.  Unbeknownst to the trio Orlando has undertaken a mission to find Rosalind in the very same forest.  Yet unlike Romeo and Juliet our all of our adventurers reach a happily ever after conclusion.  You should know that going in since whatever befalls our frustrated lovers there is much frivolous hilarity and enough plot twists to fill an entire season of television rom-coms.  As Touchstone reminds us, “We that are true lovers run into strange capers. But as all is mortal in nature, so is all nature in love mortal in folly.”

There are so many marvelous actors in this play that it’s tricky to laud only a few – but I will – most notably Zoë Waites as the comely and feisty Rosalind, the self-appointed love expert; Timothy Stickney who adds heft, power and magnitude to the dual roles of Duke Senior and Duke Frederick; Adina Verson’s delicately girlish charm as Celia, counterbalancing Rosalind’s transformation into the rough-hewn boy Ganymede; Andrew Weems as the fantastically absurd motley fool, Touchstone; and Derek Smith, who is madly captivating as the snarkily haughty and delightfully melancholy cynic, Jaques.

And though we don’t see her until the last act, look for Valeri Mudek to lend a surprising appeal to the fickle Phoebe.

Zoë Waites as Rosalind, Adina Verson as Celia and Andrew Weems as Touchstone in the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Zoë Waites as Rosalind, Adina Verson as Celia and Andrew Weems as Touchstone  of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, directed by Michael Attenborough. Photo by Scott Suchman.

In the immortal words of Jaques, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their entrances and exits…” and we will be all the better for watching Attenborough’s original interpretation.

Highly recommended.

Take note:  STC has partnered with the U.S. Botanic Garden to present “Escape to the Forest of Arden”.  To watch a podcast featuring these spectacular gardens while listening to the bard’s poetry recited by some of DC’s finest actors, download here www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/Escape.

Through December 14th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre at 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.