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The Tempest – The Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
December 14, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
Photo credit The Shakespeare Theatre Company

Sofia Jean Gomez as Ariel

Sofia Jean Gomez as Ariel

Lest you forget.  Ariel is the feisty sprite in The Tempest who flits around doing Prospero’s bidding.  And yes, here she flies, though aided by what appears to be a ship’s thick mooring line.  In a way, it’s refreshing to have it be obvious, unlike an aerialist’s metal wire that reveals itself from time to time.  Once you’ve gotten accustomed to it, it seems natural.  As if a floating fairy might be considered “natural”!

As you’ll recall Prospero (Geraint Wyn Davies), the former Duke of Milan, is endowed with magical powers and charges Ariel and her gang of harpies with fulfilling all of his commands – – from the murder of his brother, Antonio (Gregory Linington), who stole his dukedom while he was lost at sea, to assuring the love match of his daughter, Miranda (Rachel Mewbron), and her paramour, the smitten Ferdinand (Avery Glymph).  “They are both in either’s powers,” Prospero brags upon their first encounter.

Avery Glymph as Ferdinand and Rachel Mewbron as Miranda

Avery Glymph as Ferdinand and Rachel Mewbron as Miranda

All this makes Ariel a very busy little spirit who must also oversee her cohort Caliban (Clifton Duncan). Once the proud owner of this island of Sycorax, he has been reduced to a firewood gatherer by Prospero.  Sofia Jean Gomez plays Ariel, a hissing, clawing spitfire, with a duplicitous vulnerability.  “Pardon, Master, I will do my spriting gently,” she assures Prospero, hoping to gain her freedom through obedience.

(L to R) Dave Quay as Stephano, Clifton Duncan as Caliban and Liam Craig as Trinculo

(L to R) Dave Quay as Stephano, Clifton Duncan as Caliban and Liam Craig as Trinculo

Director Ethan McSweeny presents us with a spare sand-drenched set adorned with a single shipwreck.  This bold arrangement allows the playgoer to more fully absorb the characters’ relationships in this lightened up script of Shakespeare’s final play, though the stripped down interpretation yet gifts the audience with all the humor, skullduggery and romance the play affords.  And although there is plenty of bloodthirsty treachery plotted by both the duke’s brother Antonio and his coterie of royal thugs, there is much lighthearted whimsy to enjoy especially when Trinculo (Liam Craig), portrayed as a hapless jester, and Stephano (Dave Quay), a hilarious drunk, pair with Duncan to create a total riot fest in a classic scene of mistaken identity – – if you can mistake three men under a gabardine cloth for a spider.

Rachel Mewbron as Miranda and Geraint Wyn Davies as Prospero

Meanwhile the lords are plotting, as embittered royalty is wont to do, to murder Prospero.  But the Sorcerer’s magical powers prove too strong to overcome and Prospero drugs the lords.  “What’s past is prologue,” Antonio reminds us.

Adding to McSweeny’s vision Sound Designer Nevin Steinberg conjures up some jaw-dropping audio, producing a tempest filled with such thunder claps you’d be pardoned if you thought the entire theater might succumb to a roiling sea.  Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind augments the storm’s ferocity with a few masterful tricks of his own.

When at last our two lovers are joined Designer James Ortiz imagines the joyful goddesses Juno, Ceres and Iris as giant, diaphanously draped puppet masks, bringing to mind the fantastical puppetry of Julie Taymor, known best for her imaginary creatures in The Lion King.

Highly recommended.

Through January 11th at Sidney Harmon Hall, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20003. For tickets and information contact the Box Office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.shakespearetheatre.org.

Christmas Thrills and Chills for Every Theatregoer

Jordan Wright
December 8, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Nutcracker performed by The Washington Ballet

One of the best ways I know of to get excited about the Christmas season is to get thyself (and thy family) to the theatre where you can watch dancers soar in Septime Webre’s The Nutcracker performed by The Washington Ballet, sing your heart out to the National Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Kennedy Center, or be transported by the age-old charms of A Christmas Carol.  Whether you’re a traditionalist or modernist, there’s something for every taste, and plenty of holiday spirit for the kids too and plus a whole lot of ICE! to pretend we’re at the North Pole.

Signature Theatre

At Signature Theatre it’s zany adult fare with a new spin on the beloved seasonal revue, Holiday Follies.  Directed by Walter Ware III with musical direction by the inimitable Howard Breitbart, it’s an audience song choice evening featuring four fabulous singers, Gannon O’Brien, Stephen Gregory Smith, Delores King Williams and Bayla Whitten in a cabaret set list that changes with each performance.  For tickets and information visit www.Signature-Theatre.org or call the box office at 703 820-9771.

Peter Boyer (Scrooge)-Tracey Stephens (Charity Collector)  Tracey Stephens as Bob Marley (in the body of Mae West)

North Pole enthusiasts will enjoy thrills and chills at this year’s ICE! – now at the Gaylord National Resort.  The fun starts at the door of this glamorous resort when you lay eyes on the 60-foot tall glass tree glowing with over 2 million lights and gaze at the nightly indoor snowfall and musical “dancing” fountains.  There’s fun for the whole family at the “Christmas on the Potomac” celebration where Frosty the Snowman is the star attraction. For info visit www.ChristmasOnThePotomac.com.

60-foot tall glass tree with 2 million lights

Carved from more than 2 million pounds of brightly colored ice sculptures and kept at a crisp nine degrees, you’ll stroll through life-size scenes of Frosty coming to life, marching through the Town Square, taking a train to the North Pole and Santa coming to the rescue to make “melted Frosty” whole again.  Kids and grownups will want a turn on the two-story ice slide before checking out the interactive “Frostbite Factory”, where the Chinese artisans show off their master ice carving skills.

Two-story ice slide

Afterwards head to the Atrium where little ones can hop aboard the miniature Peeps & Company Potomac Express Train or join DreamWorks’ Gingy from Shrek to decorate a gingerbread house to take home.  Along the way play The Great Reindeer Roundup scavenger hunt throughout the hotel’s indoor gardens.

Potomac Express Train

To learn about the many other holiday plans at the resort and to make reservations for the Brunch with Santa at Old Hickory Steakhouse, a DreamWorks’ Madagascar Crack’ A Lackin’ Cook-in Character Breakfast or buffet Dinner, a Yule log pastry making class, or a wine and cheese pairing class with the Old Hickory’s Maitre d’Fromage visit www.GaylordNationalTickets.com or call 301 965-4000.

At MetroStage the Great White Way is celebrated in A Broadway Christmas Carol, a spoof of the classic tale featuring the usual suspects – – Marley, Scrooge, Mrs. Fezziwig, The Cratchits and Tiny Tim.  Set to familiar Broadway blockbusters this madcap Christmas special is performed by three phenomenal singer actors, Peter Boyer, Michael Sharp and Tracey Stephens plus alternating pianists, Howard Breitbart and William Knowles.

Peter Boyer (Scrooge)-Tracey Stephens (Want)-Michael Sharp (Ignorance) – Photo: Colin Hovde

Lyricist Kathy Feininger has concocted all the belly laughs you can handle in this riotous revue that draws its musical chops from all your fave shows like Oklahoma, Guys and Dolls, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, The Wiz and many, many more.  More than five-dozen tunes and a whirlwind of wacky costume changes jam-pack this hilarious parody directed and choreographed by Michael Sharp.  For tickets and information visit www.MetroStage.org or call the box office at 703 548-9044.

The Little Theatre of Alexandria  Scrooge (Mike Baker, Jr.)-Photos by Veronica Brunoo

For the traditionalist The Little Theatre of Alexandria presents its annual heartwarming classic, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ classic tale of transformation and redemption.  Set against the backdrop of Victorian England, the show has gorgeous costumes, ghastly ghosts and charming children.  Rachael Hubbard adapts and directs this picture perfect Christmas postcard for a family friendly show that reminds us all of the true meaning of the season.  If it’s a Currier & Ives Christmas you hunger for, this is the show for you.  For tickets and information visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-5778.

Beauty and The Beast – Synetic Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 8, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle, Vato Tsikurishvili as The Beast. Photo by Johnny Shryock

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle, Vato Tsikurishvili as The Beast. Photo by Johnny Shryock

In Ben and Peter Cunis’s original adaptation of Gabriel Bardot de Villeneuve’s classic tale of Beauty and the Beast, the audience finds themselves catapulted into a dark world of forest spirits, shapeshifters, a hideous horned beast and a vengeful beauty – – no, not the beautiful ingénue Belle – – but the prince’s spurned first love, Emmeranne, who morphs into a magnificent crow in a scene plucked straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds putting death and destruction foremost on her agenda and setting up the audience for an indelibly unique interpretation.  The scorned woman is an introduced character serving as the prince’s nemesis and his reality check.  In this telling she is hell-bent on revenge and retribution for his fickle-minded affections.

Renata Veberyte Loman plays the hauntingly vengeful Witch and Narrator, Emmeranne, who taunts and curses the man she has transformed into a terrifying beast. “Crows don’t talk.  And love never, ever hurts,” the enchantress proclaims, determined to demonstrate the opposite.  Don’t look for Disney’s saucy little teapot to make an appearance.  The Cunis brothers’ highly imaginative bedtime story is more in keeping with the fiendish fairy tales of the brothers Grimm, or the moralistic fables of Hans Christian Anderson.

Renata Veberyte Loman as Narrator/Witch “Emmeranne”. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Renata Veberyte Loman as Narrator/Witch “Emmeranne”. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Another introduced character is the top-hatted Fantome, the Beast’s magical servant.  Matthew Alan Ward gives a captivating performance in a silent role that draws on his elegant physicality and talent for mime.

Vato Tsikurishvili portrays the Prince and the Beast with both heart and soul, rendering him monstrous at times, at others, as sympathetic a character as Quasimodo.  Irina Kavsadze, a delicate beauty who is the perfect foil for the diabolical Emmeranne, the fearsome beast and the castle’s living candelabras that make up the ensemble, plays Belle.

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Irinka Kavsadze as Belle. Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Delivering the perfect alignment of creativity are Scenic Designer Daniel Pinha’s opulent sets and dual ramps providing both comedy and drama, Clint Herring’s original score blending new wave and classical sounds, Sound Designer Thomas Sowers’ eerily futuristic effects, Lighting Designer Brittany Diliberto’s clever transitions all of which combine to produce some splendid special FX throughout, including the Prince’s transmogrification and the creation of a projection screen in the shape of an egg through which the audience views a parallel universe depicted in silhouetted woodcuts.

Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography adds kinetic flair to a memorable slow motion fight-and-flight scene and a romantic danse è deux between Belle and the Beast, while Costume Designer Kendra Rae draws on leather, silk, fur to reflect lost elegance and folklorica to offer a comedic relief in the costumes of Belle’s ditzy sisters played by Anna Lane and Kathryn Elizabeth Kelly.

Lest you think it’s too scary for children (though I wouldn’t recommend it for the very young), as the theatre was letting out, I asked an eight-year old if the witch had frightened her.  “Not at all,” she declared, to which her father added, “She’s not afraid of anything.”

Utterly spellbinding.

Through January 11th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 866 811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

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.