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Cirque de Soleil’s Amaluna Comes to National Harbor

Jordan Wright
July 7, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

In a few weeks National Harbor will host Cirque de Soleil’s Amaluna, a production loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Amaluna is a fusion of the words ama, which refers to “mother” in many languages, and luna, which signifies “moon” – a symbol of femininity evoking both the mother-daughter relationship and the idea of goddess and protector of the planet.  Amaluna is also the name of the mysterious island where the story unfolds.

Water Bowel CWP

Water Bowel CWP

In this groundbreaking show that celebrates the work and voice of women, the audience is transported to a mysterious island governed by Goddesses, Amazon warriors and Valkyries and guided by the cycles of the moon.  Performed by a cast of 70% female artists, the story recreates an exotic female mythology of half-human, half-animal characters expressed through original compositions, dance and extreme acrobatics.

Goddess

Goddess

Rachel Lancaster, who previously worked on Corteo, brings her savvy to the show as a trained dancer with a theatre background.  She is excited that Amaluna is her first show as Artistic Director.  “All of our shows are so different.  In Amaluna we have used newer technology for the aerial events, something we didn’t have before.  The whole big top comes alive.  The most exciting aspect of this show is the physical and emotional power of the woman.  It’s really unique and features an all-female nine-piece band. It even has the only uneven bar act in the world.  It is incredibly beautiful with a different esoteric sense from other Cirque shows.”

Teeterboard

Teeterboard

Set in an island forest it tells the story of Miranda’s coming of age, using symbols and themes from Greek mythology.  Hera, the Greek Goddess of women, is expressed by a peacock feather decoration that refers to the legend of the bird’s protective eyes in its tail. The eyes are said to watch over women in all stages of their lives.

Tony Award-winning Director, Diane Paulus (Pippin – 2013) directs the amazing cast.  Her impressive theatre background reflects her position as Artistic Director at A.R.T. at Harvard University.  This year Paulus was recognized on TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world and Variety named her among its “2014 Trailblazing Women in Entertainment”.  “I didn’t want to build a ‘women’s agenda’ show,” she has said.  “I wanted to create a show with women at the center of it – something that had a hidden story that featured women as the heroines.”

Ama Prospera Miranda

Ama Prospera Miranda

I met with cast member Iuliia Mykhailova, a petite contortionist with muscles of steel, who plays Miranda – a leading role that requires her to be on stage throughout the show.  Discovered at a circus college in her hometown of Kiev, the twenty-nine-year old Ukrainian has performed in three other Cirque productions including Ovo, Kooza and Varekai.  In a recent interview she talked about her focus in performing her intricate and daring feats.  “We do ten shows per week so I really have to concentrate.  It’s easy to get distracted and slip…and I have.”  Dressed in one of her four costumes, a fitted cropped jacket with miniscule bloomers to match, the pony-tailed brunette described how the garments are constructed to accommodate the artists.  “If a sleeve constricts the arm movements, they make openings in the shoulders to allow more freedom of motion.”

Manipulation

Manipulation

I was fascinated to learn that Mykhailova travels with her young daughter, as do many of the artists.  While on the road, children are educated in on-site classrooms where programs are multi-level and multi-cultural to accommodate the myriad of nationalities, and languages, represented.  “There are around 30 children that travel with us.  We have teachers and school programs for them,” she remarked.

Images courtesy of Cirque de Soleil

Amaluna opens under National Harbor’s blue and yellow big top on July 31st.  For tickets and information visit www.CirquedeSoleil.com/Amaluna.

 

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The Lion King – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 23, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as ³Rafiki² in the opening number ³The Circle of Life² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney.  Photo Credit  Joan Marcus

Brown Lindiwe Mkhize as ³Rafiki² in the opening number ³The Circle of Life² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Disney’s The Lion King roars onto the stage with a procession of African wildlife in its opening number “Circle of Life”. Director Julie Taymor, who also serves as Costume Designer and Mask & Puppet Co-Designer with Michael Ward, sends her exquisitely conceived creatures – giraffes borne on stilts, a massive elephant and whirling birds held aloft on bamboo poles – streaming down the aisles of the Kennedy Center’s three-tiered Opera House in a fantastical African menagerie. Taymor, who studied Bunraku, the Japanese style of puppetry in which manipulators appear openly, and wayan kulit,the art of shadow puppetry, has magnificently incorporated these concepts into this spectacular production.

It is expected that by now (the animated film version premiered in 1994 and in 1998 the stage version garnered six Tony Awards) that you are familiar with the story of Simba the young lion, King Mufasa his kindly father, Scar the evil uncle, Rafiki the baboon shaman, and Zazu the Red-billed Hornbill. They all inhabit Simba’s life, along with the strong-willed Nala, Simba’s childhood friend, Pumbaa the gassy warthog and Timon the wise-cracking meerkat. These are not the only characters we are treated to. There are hordes of wildebeests that stampede onto the stage, a pride of lions that dance around and lurking laughing hyenas who are lampooned by Pumbaa and Timon in the famous song “Hakuna Matata” meaning “no worries” in Swahili.

Lyricist Tim Rice and Composer Elton John’s score is beyond fabulous. “Can You Seen the Love Tonight” is one of John’s biggest hits. But it was Hans Zimmer who won an Oscar, two Grammys and a Golden Globe for the original film score and Soweto émigré, Lebo M, known as the “voice and spirit of The Lion King”, who contributed the gloriously rich African rhythms and melodies.

Jordan A. Hall as ³Simba² and the ensemble in ³He Lives in You² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney.  Photo Credit  Joan Marcus

Jordan A. Hall as ³Simba² and the ensemble in ³He Lives in You² from THE LION KING National Tour. Copyright Disney. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Most memorable are Simba, played by the adorable Jordan A. Hall who stalks and pounces his way into your heart. “I hate public pools,” he jokes after a dangerous dunk in the river; L. Steven Taylor as Mufasa, whose superlative voice cradles the emotions in “They Live in You” when he explains to Simba about his ancestors who reside in the stars; and Tshidi Manye as the wise Rafiki, whose evocative South African voice burns brightly in “Circle of Life” and “He Lives in You”.

Taymor’s costumes, using the vivid colors of tribal kente cloth, juxtaposes Set Designer Richard Hudson’s backdrops of grassy savannas and cerulean skies, while in desert scenes she employs the earthy shades of patterned Malian mud cloth to accentuate Hudson’s parched earth colored sets.

The Lion King is a lavish feast for the eyes and a paradise of music for the ears. I’d gladly swing from a baobab tree limb to claim it as one of my favorite musicals of all time.

Through August 17th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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Side Show – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 20, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

 (l-r) Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, Emily Padgett as Daisy, Erin Davie as Violet, Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster. Photo by Joan Marcus.

(l-r) Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, Emily Padgett as Daisy, Erin Davie as Violet, Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster. Photo by Joan Marcus.

In the late 19th and up to the mid-20th century, before The Age of Political Correctness, the public’s fascination with human oddities was an acceptable form of entertainment. Traveling freak shows, pop-up circuses and dime museums were part of our culture and there was hardly a man, woman or child who had not been enthralled by a pinheaded man, a giant or a person with extra appendages. Midgets Chang and Eng, Andre the Giant, and Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy were headliners, as were the “Siamese” twins known as the Hilton Sisters. Side Show brings to life that bizarre era in American show business with the true and tragic story of the talented twins and the exploitation they endured.

Beautifully directed by Bill Condon (Oscar-winning screenwriter of Gods and Monsters) with gorgeous music by Grammy-Award winning composer Henry Krieger of Dreamgirls fame, and a touching story by veteran Broadway lyricist Bill Russell, this musical drama is a tumble down the rabbit hole into an “odditorium” where a tattooed lady with a propensity for dining on live chickens shares stage space with a three-legged man, a cannibal king, the lizard man, and a dozen other exotic creatures.

The story opens in Texas during the Depression, where the twins lead a dismal life performing in a San Antonio tent show with other “freaks”. Handsome talent scout Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) discovers the girls, offering his credentials along with his partner Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik) in the jaunty and pun-laden tune, “Very Well Connected”. In all there are 24 smashing songs by Krieger.

The company of the Kennedy Center production of Side Show. Photo by Joan Marcus

The company of the Kennedy Center production of Side Show. Photo by Joan Marcus

The entire cast is a marvel. Many of the members play up to eight separate roles, led by the joined-at-the-hip Hiltons, performed spectacularly by Erin Davie as Violet and Emily Padgett as Daisy. Matching stride for stride, they dance, duet and, in one hilarious scene, pantomime a mock tennis match. The only thing they don’t do together is fall in love. In “A Private Conversation”, the show’s Phantom of The Opera moment, Silverman captivates in a duet with Padgett.

Robert Joy soars in the role of the archetypal slime ball, Sir, the sideshow’s manager, as does David St. Louis who plays his compassionate assistant Jake. St. Louis’s commanding bass-baritone in “You Should Be Loved”, moves earth and sky.

The show’s creative team gives us three-time Helen Hayes Award-winner Paul Tazewell, whose imaginative costumes span half a century from the twins’ Dickensian upbringing to Chicago’s Orpheum Theatre and on to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood where they become the toast of the town. Paul Kieve, whose stage and film illusions are legendary, dramatizes one of the most memorable scenes of the production when Javier Ignacio, performing a breathtaking illusion as Harry Houdini, sings “All in the Mind” in his haunting three-octave voice. I wished his were more than a cameo role.

Famed Special Effects/Prosthetics Designers, Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey who devised creatures for both Star Wars and Where the Wild Things Are, provide the rivetingly recognizable freaks.

Highly recommended.

Through July 13th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

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Cloak and Dagger Or the Case of the Golden Venus – Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
June 16, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Fat Tony (Ed Dixon), Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter) and Gino (Christopher Bloch) sing “Who Put the Mob In” in “Cloak and Dagger,”Photo by Margot Schulman.

Fat Tony (Ed Dixon), Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter) and Gino (Christopher Bloch) sing “Who Put the Mob In” in “Cloak and Dagger,”Photo by Margot Schulman.

If you want to be cast in a major part, or nail half a dozen roles in the same production…and if you want the music to be heavy on the romance, comedy and pathos…maybe you should just write your own damn material which is exactly what Helen Hayes Award Winner Ed Dixon did.  He set out to create the perfect platform for his talents, penning the book, music and lyrics to Cloak and Dagger or The Case of the Golden Venus, now having its world premiere at Signature Theatre.  In his madcap homage to 1950’s film noir, Dixon wrote himself into over a dozen separate roles, giving Director Eric Schaeffer one hot hit.  The energetic four-person cast is listed as Man One, Man Two, Nick and Helena, but there are countless reincarnations by Man One played by Dixon, and Man Two, played by Helen Hayes Award Winner, Christopher Bloch.

The story:  Nick Cutter is a private dick on the downswing.  Holed up in a shabby one-desk office in Manhattan, his world is tanking when in walks sexy, sharp-tongued firecracker, Helena Troy.  (All puns intended by the playwright throughout.)  Helena is being chased by gangsters-with-gats led by her goombah fiancé, Fattoni, a deese-dems-and-dose lowlife in pursuit of a purloined solid gold Venus statue.  Can the adoring Nick save her from The Mob and solve the mystery of the statue?  Not before combing every nook and cranny of New York, from Chinatown and Little Italy to Canal Street and 42nd Street, and every hellhole in between.  “Follow the stench – cheap cologne and despair,” the frowzy landlady advises Nick as she tries to woo him in the tune “A Real Woman”.

Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter, center) and Pinsky’s Chorus Girls sing “Shake Your Maracas” - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Nick Cutter (Doug Carpenter, center) and Pinsky’s Chorus Girls sing “Shake Your Maracas” – Photo by Margot Schulman.

“You may be onto to something,” Nick acknowledges.  “I’d like to be!” she retorts with a wink.  When he worries Helena might already be a corpse, she suggests, “I’m sure she’s alright unless she fell in holy water in direct sunlight.”  The gags come fast and furious and in a wealth of different accents.  You gotta keep up.

Doug Carpenter, an appealing and handsome lead actor with a matchless voice to boot, is Nick Cutter.  Some of the most moving numbers in the show are his – “The Worst of Times” and “The Best of Times”, the two opening numbers, and “Love Is” which comes after he’s fallen head over heels for Helena.  Another terrific song is “Opium” sung with Man One, Man Two, Nick and Helena.  It could easily spring Cole Porter from his grave dripping with envy.  Erin Driscoll is Helena.  Though her petite frame is somewhat overshadowed by the big galoots, she makes up for it as a belter who can sell a tune to a flock of nightingales…and does.

Helena Troy (Erin Driscoll) strikes a seductive pose in “Cloak and Dagger,”  -  Photo by Margot Schulman.

Helena Troy (Erin Driscoll) strikes a seductive pose in “Cloak and Dagger,” – Photo by Margot Schulman.

Behind a simple set of three doors, Bloch and Dixon weave in and out donning umpteen crazy costumes and emerging totally transformed in record breaking time.  It’s a bonanza of double entendres, men in drag (Dixon does a potty-mouth Mae West), and some vaudeville-style hoofing (in “An Agent”, Bloch conjures Jimmy Durante and dances to “Hava Nagila”).

As important as the jokes are, the music is even more critical.  And one way to gauge the value of a musical is not just by the score, but also by the lyrics.  Would a singer choose any of these songs for a nightclub or cabaret act?  Well, yes!  Dixon has given songsters catchy tunes, creative lyrics and romantic ballads to choose from.  There are nineteen numbers played by four musicians that trick us into thinking they’re an orchestra.  Twenty-two year old Jordon Ross Weinhold, one year out of grad school, did the orchestrations and he is a veritable whiz kid.

It’s a clever detective story done in burlesque. What’s not to like?

Through July 6th 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.

Video Credit on Preview Video is James Gardiner and Justin Chiet

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Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite Tickles the Funny Bone at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 16, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley escorts Elynia Betts as Mimsey Hubley to her wedding - photo credit to Matthew Randall

Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley escorts Elynia Betts as Mimsey Hubley to her wedding – photo credit to Matthew Randall

Neil Simon’s Plaza Suite is a series of three vignettes set in Room 719 at New York’s famed Plaza Hotel.  For this production Director Shawn g. Byers has chosen to represent three different eras throughout the hotel’s hundred-year history changing decors for each period.  To set the mood and showcase the hotel’s glorious past, vintage photos of celebrities living it up in the hotel’s famed Palm Court and Oak Room are projected across the stage while music of the era plays in the background.  It opens with the lovely lilting voice of songstress Alicia Keyes.

It is 2007 and Karen Nash (Amy Solo) greets her workaholic husband.  Though he doesn’t recall, it is their anniversary and she has excitedly booked the same room where they honeymooned.  Though they don’t even agree on that.  “We’re some lousy couple,” he concedes.

Amy Solo and Jack Stein as wife and husband Karen and Sam Nash celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Plaza Hotel - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Amy Solo and Jack Stein as wife and husband Karen and Sam Nash celebrate their wedding anniversary at the Plaza Hotel – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Preoccupied with her age and weight, she has become a doormat to her svelte husband, Sam (Jack B. Stein), pardoning his insults and ignoring his foibles while they bicker and flatter with equal measure.  Enter the sexy secretary, Jean McCormack played by Michelle Sumner.  She drops by with “important” papers for Sam to sign, but with a suggestive tossing of her locks lets us know what’s up between them.

Michelle Sumner as Jean McCormack and Jack Stein as Sam Nash - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Michelle Sumner as Jean McCormack and Jack Stein as Sam Nash – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

If you think this is a clone of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, you may not know Simon, a playwright fond of exploiting everyday human frailties with a massive dose of one-liners, sarcasm and slapstick more akin to the Marx Brothers and their style of physical comedy.

The second act takes place in the 1960’s.  Photos of the Beatles, the Rat Pack and that most celebrated of all couples from the jet setter days Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, blaze across the stage.  Slick Hollywood producer, Jesse Kiplinger (Richard Isaacs), tries to reignite a high school romance with 30-something Muriel Tate (Shelagh Roberts).  Fueled by multiple vodka stingers and Muriel’s single-minded fascination with gossip about Jesse’s movie star cronies, an elaborate cat-and-mouse game ensues with the Lotharian Jesse trying every trick in the book to stop Muriel from leaving.

Richard Isaacs as Jesse Kiplinger romances Shelagh Roberts as Muriel Tate - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Richard Isaacs as Jesse Kiplinger romances Shelagh Roberts as Muriel Tate – photo credit to Matthew Randall 

The final act references suite 719 at the turn of the 20th century – the hotel’s centennial.  The very Victorian Norma Hubley (Anne Paine West) and husband Roy (Bernard Engel) have booked the Plaza’s Grand Ballroom for a posh wedding for their daughter, Mimsey (Elynia Betts).  But the young woman has locked herself in the suite’s bathroom with a fierce case of wedding jitters.  “Think about my life,” Norma pleads to her daughter through the keyhole.  “Your father will kill me!”

Anne Paine West as Norma Hubley and Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley explains their daughter’s wedding day jitters to fiancée Bordon Eisler played by Erblin Nushi - photo credit to Matthew Randall.

Anne Paine West as Norma Hubley and Bernie Engel as Roy Hubley explains their daughter’s wedding day jitters to fiancée Bordon Eisler played by Erblin Nushi – photo credit to Matthew Randall.

In the film version Walter Matthau played all three male leads, and you will see echoes of his bumbling everyman style in Roy Hubley, whose approach to Mimsey vacillates between sweet talking to pounding down the door.

Set Designer Marian Holmes along with Set Dresser Larry Grey nail the changing décor of Suite 719, complementing the vintage “mod” fashions designed by Heather Norcross and Ashley Adams Amidon.

The entire ensemble gives solid performances throughout, delivering a tidily crafted version of the long-running Broadway show.

Through July 5th 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

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