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Evita – Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
October 6, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron and Caroline Bowman as Eva - Photo credit Richard Termine

Sean MacLaughlin as Juan Peron and Caroline Bowman as Eva – Photo credit Richard Termine

When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we are floating around in the pantheonic stratosphere of most beloved collaborators ever to hit the stage, and their blockbuster Evita is certainly one of the finest and most memorable shows they have ever written.  Drawing on the talents of Tony and Olivier Award-winning Director Michael Grandage, and Tony Award-winning Choreographer Rob Ashford to present the seven-time Tony Award-winning musical, the Kennedy Center brings this reinterpretation of the original Broadway production to a new dimension – and it is simply smashing.  There is so much to remark upon and so many to give credit to, but I must start with Lighting Designer Neil Austin and Projection Designer Zachary Borovay who create a mood that reflects the period.

It is 1952 at the funeral of Eva Peron.  Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure.  The curtain opens to reveal old newsreels projected across the backdrop of the stage. The First Lady who had risen from a life of poverty by her wits and beauty, and a series of ever-more influential lovers, had achieved her greatest success by marrying Juan Peron.

A haunting black-hooded, candle-lit chorus is chanting a requiem for her through a smoky blue haze.  It is a very dramatic opening, both ghostly and reverential.  The scene then shifts to a lowly tango hall in the provinces where Eva, at 16, became a nightclub singer with dreams of a life in Buenos Aires.  The shabby spot is lit with strings of bare light bulbs and bathed in sepia – the atmosphere appearing as though lifted from a vintage photograph.  In a later scene Austin uses amber-lit chandeliers to evoke the period.  Scenic & Costume Designer Christopher Oram continues the theme with muted-colored retro dresses for the women further expressing the drab shades worn during the Depression era.

Caroline Bowman as Eva - Photo credit Richard Termine

Caroline Bowman as Eva – Photo credit Richard Termine

From the moment Caroline Bowman (Eva) enters the stage her presence is  riveting.  Captivating and lithe, almost balletic in her movements, with a voice that is strong, fluid, totally capable of the huge range expected by the part.  But why do her low notes disappear, the high notes sound screechy?  When the dialogue begins everyone sounds garbled.  If you didn’t know the lyrics or the story, you would struggle to make out what they are singing or, for that matter, saying.  I can’t explain it, but others around me in the orchestra section were having the same reaction to the poor audio.  One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.

Yet there’s no denying the magic on stage.  The fireworks between Eva and Juan (Sean MacLaughlin) begin with the song, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You” and by the time the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” is sung, Eva and Juan have formed their alliance, for better or for worse.

“One has to admire the stage management,” Che sarcastically remarks before Eva arrives onto the balcony of Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.  In one of the show’s most heartrending songs, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” we witness her narcissistic manipulation as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.

Max Quinlan is brilliant as Che, Eva’s protector and reality check.  In his memorable duet with her, “High Flying, Adored” reflecting the time when she is at the height of her popularity, he warns, “Don’t look down.  It’s a long way.”  But Eva ignores his sage advice and her megalomania gets the best of her.  I’d quote her reaction if only I could have heard it.

Yet the orchestra is boffo, the set designs are killer, and the music is heaven on earth.  See it, love it, adore it…and try not to sing out loud.

Through October 19th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

TRAILER – Evita at The Kennedy Center – Washington, DC

Memphis and The Blues Trail in a 2015 Hyundai Sonata

Jordan Wright
October 1, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times

Photo credit to Jordan Wright

Driving Old Highway 61 in the new turbo-charged Hyundai Sonata

Driving Old Highway 61 in the new turbo-charged Hyundai Sonata

The Plan:   A road rally in the Hyundai 2015 Sonata.  When Hyundai contacted me and asked if I’d like to be part of a road rally in Memphis, I couldn’t wait to rev up its 7-speed dual clutch (automatic plus stick) transmission.  At least that’s how they described it in an email.  That it had more bells and whistles than I had time to grasp in 36 hours under a tight schedule, was unfortunate.

The Place:  Memphis, Tennessee to Clarksdale, Mississippi on Old Highway 61 returning to Memphis.

Neon BBQ sign on Beale Street

Neon BBQ sign on Beale Street

There are few cities that deliver the intensity of the American music experience and the culture of the old Deep South as Memphis does.  For starters visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music where Otis Redding and the Staple Singers cut records, the National Civil Rights Museum and the iconic Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

The Lorraine Motel - scene of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination

The Lorraine Motel – scene of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination

To see luthiers make some of the world’s most famous guitars, there’s the Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum.  Another must see is The Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum.  Developed by Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, it describes itself as a place where “musical pioneers and legends of all racial and socio-economic backgrounds who, for the love of music, overcame obstacles to create the musical sound that changed the world.”

The Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum

The Gibson Guitar Factory and Museum

From there you’ll hop the shuttle to Sun Studios where Rock and Roll legend Elvis Presley recorded his first song, “That’s All Right, Mama”; where Howlin’ Wolf first recorded before his Chicago Blues influence; Johnny Cash recorded “I Walk the Line”; Jerry Lee Lewis kicked off his career with “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”; and Carl Perkins laid down tracks for “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis got ahold of it.  Only one member of what was known as the “Million Dollar Quartet” became “The King”, so for many fans a visit to the 1950’s cosmic bubble, Graceland, is somewhat of a sacred pilgrimage.

All that said, I couldn’t figure out why on God’s green earth friends thought I wouldn’t like Memphis.  Maybe they thought I wouldn’t cotton to the honky-tonk culture, or the snail’s pace of life along verdant banks where riverboats still ferry passengers along the mighty Mississippi.  Maybe they thought I wouldn’t take to leathered up bikers and their cigarette smokin’ mamas who stand beside hundreds of tricked out choppers.  Or that on a warm night you can hear the blues filtering out through the open windows of the clubs along Beale Street.  Or maybe they knew that some of the best barbeque and juke joints are outside city limits at rundown roadhouses in towns with no traffic lights – – just a single run-in store selling jars of pickled pig’s feet and tortillas for the seasonal migrant workers.

A tricked out Lamborghini bike wows the crowd on Beale Street

A tricked out Lamborghini bike wows the crowd on Beale Street

They should have known I’d pass up the cheesy Elvis impersonators to listen to raw-boned blues cranked out nightly by first-rate studio musicians, and that I’d satisfy my curiosity for the Peabody Hotel ducks with a bourbon and branch water while listening to a tuxedoed piano player recall cabaret songs from the 1930’s, and where just outside the lobby a Cinderella carriage will take you on a horse-drawn tour past historic sights.

The Italianate lobby of the Peabody Hotel

The Italianate lobby of the Peabody Hotel

I loved Memphis – the sights and the sounds.  From sidewalk street jammers playing rockabilly, rock n’ roll, Delta blues, gospel and soul to an unnamed group kickin’ it at an impromptu concert in a vest pocket park. They were all mining the roots of American music – preserving the sound that had bubbled up from both white and black musicians so long ago.

Day Two:  After a morning briefing and vehicle assignment we received our triplogs.  Twenty-four test drivers and twelve 2015 Sonatas left from the Westin Hotel on Beale Street and headed south out of the city along Old Highway 61.  Known as the “Blues Trail”, the road took us to Clarksdale, Mississippi with Driver Switch Points at Mhoon Landing Park in Tunica, MS and Arkabutla Lake in Coldwater, MS.

At the Rum Boogie

At the Rum Boogie Cafe

The veteran car writers on the team were eager to check out the subtle, and not so subtle differences.  They were keen on features like LED tail lights, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, lane change assist and rear and side window sunshades.  A hands-free trunk was noted as was the ventilated front seat, Blue Link touch screen infotainment system, Pandora Internet Radio, Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto that sends and receives text messages and can give fuel prices and movie times.  The fact that the turbo-charged ECO model with quad-exhaust comes in nine colors (I loved the Quartz White Pearl), was mostly overlooked by the men.

Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Ground Zero Blues Club, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Driving along back roads we passed rusted silos and cornfields to Clarksdale, Mississippi where the Delta Blues Museum tells the story of early blues legends, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and where we stopped to chow down at actor Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club, a funky, fried green tomatoes, BBQ-fueled roadhouse that roars with the sound of electric guitars – – even at high noon.

After a dinner of BBQ (You can eat it twice a day!), cornbread and sides at the vintage 1948 Rendezvous restaurant back in Memphis, I wondered.  With all that history and all those blues, would I find my inner Eric Clapton?  Easily!  At the Westin I was able to order up a gold vintage Gibson guitar equipped with amplifier and headphones that was delivered to my room for the night.  Sweet dreams, Mr. Clapton.  Sweet dreams, Layla.

Charles Vergo's Rendezvous

Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous

Westin Memphis Beale Street – www.westinmemphisbealestreet.com
Ground Zero Blues Club – www.groundzerobluesclub.com
Charles Vergo’s Rendezvous – www.hogsfly.com

Human Rights Campaign’s “Chefs For Equality” Evening Scores Big with DC Chefs and Their Fans

Jordan Wright
September 25, 2014
Photo credit – Jordan Wright
Special to DC Metro Theater Arts

 

Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie

Event Chair David Hagedorn in lime green tie

When Washington Post food writer David Hagedorn is doing the asking, big name chefs and restaurateurs respond.  Though we didn’t see her there, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who married David and his partner, Michael Widomski, last fall, are on his speed dial.

The noted cookbook author chaired the Human Rights Campaign LGBT “Chefs For Equality” evening of food and fun Tuesday night at the Ritz-Carlton West End in one of the most delicious events of the season.  Two hundred chefs and their crews, plus some of the city’s top mixologists (if you hate that moniker, move along) prepared tastings for the guests who were dazzled by splashy drag queens, assorted pols and a ballroom filled with damned good looking men and their gal pals.

VIP Table Setting

VIP  table settings

Some of the most scrumptious bites came courtesy of Todd Gray and Chris Edwards  of Salamander Resort & Spa (the concord grape jelly made from a neighbor’s vines was to die for); Michelle and Christophe Poteaux of Bastille whose foie gras mousse was topped with pear confit and toasted hazelnuts; Tim Ma of Water & Wall and Maple Avenue who served an Asian Chicken Soup; and Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery whose Chocolate Moonshine Cake (a Mason jar filled with the local firewater from Belmont Distillery) was a mouthful of pillowy, boozy chocolate cake.

(Left to Right) Brian Noyes - Tim Ma - Brent Sick Del Frisco's Grille

(Left to Right) Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery – Tim Ma of Water & Wall – Brent Sick Del Frisco’s Grille

We also noshed on nibbles and sips from K. N. Vinod of Indique Heights, Mitch Berliner of MeatCrafters, Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar, Gina Chersevani of Buffalo & Bergen, Aaron McCloud of CedarRis Lacoste of RIS, Tarver King of The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, Jeff Faile of Neighborhood Restaurant Group and David Guas of Bayou Bakery whose American Grilledshow is on the Travel Channel.

(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar - Michael Abt of Le Diplomate - Michael Friedman of The Red Hen

(Left to Right) Aaron McCloud of Cedar – Brinn Sinnott of Le Diplomate – Michael Friedman of The Red Hen

Salt & Sundry provided swag bags for the VIPs who sat together at tables lavishly decorated by their individual hosts.  Their specialty dinners were prepared by uber-chefs Robert Wiedmaier (Marcel’s), Michel Richard (Central Michel Richard), Patrick O’Connell (The Inn at Little Washington), Frank Ruta (now baking with Mark Furstenberg at Bread Furst), Peter Chang (soon to open in Bethesda) Tony Conte (The Oval Room), Scott Drewno (The Source), Jeremiah Langhorne (formerly of McCrady’s soon to open a DC outpost), and Fabio Trabocchi (Fiola and Casa Luca).

(Left to Right) Felicia Beefeater aka A. J. Dronkers with Jordan Wright - Todd Gray and Chris Edwards with team from Salamander - Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Hospitality

(Left to Right) Felicia Beefeater aka A. J. Dronkers with Jordan Wright – Todd Gray and Chris Edwards with team from Salamander – Gus DiMillo and Jeff Tunks of Passion Food Hospitality

But it was all one big happy family there to celebrate this year’s Gay Rights successes and to push for Marriage Equality in Virginia.  Star power came courtesy of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe who wooed the joyful crowd with his promise of support for gay marriage in the “Virginia is for Lovers” state.

Bryan Sorrentino's cake from Charm City Cakes

Bryan Sorrentino’s cake from Charm City Cakes

The Shoplifters – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
September 21, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times 

(L to R) Jane Houdyshell as Alma and Delaney Williams as Otto -Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Jane Houdyshell as Alma and Delaney Williams as Otto -Photo by Teresa Wood.

Alma is a career shoplifter.  In the stock room of a supermarket Dom, an overly zealous security guard trainee, is attempting to interview the crafty old woman.  The evidence: Two enormous steaks wrapped in white butcher paper upon a long wooden table.  And though Dom claims they tumbled out from under her dress,  Alma refuses to admit her part in it, going to great lengths to demean him as an amateur interrogator.  “Theft is not a motive.  It’s a consequence,” she instructs.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma - Photo by Teresa Wood.

Jayne Houdyshell as Alma – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The eager gumshoe is no match for the veteran thief and she outmaneuvers him at every turn, twisting his words with theoretical gamesmanship and a knack for intellectualizing crime as a product of societal decay.  “Are you familiar with the myth of Prometheus?” she challenges, suggesting that her theft might be interpreted as a universal benefit to society.

L to R) Adi Stein as Dom and Delaney Williams as Otto -  Photo by Teresa Wood.

L to R) Adi Stein as Dom and Delaney Williams as Otto – Photo by Teresa Wood.

Two more characters enter the scene – Otto, Dom’s superior, a socially conscious  rent-a-cop who plans on retiring after training Dom, and Phyllis, Alma’s partner in crime, a spiritually inclined neurotic who prefers her job as a coat check girl to abetting Alma’s sociologically motivated schemes.

Canadian playwright and director, Morris Panych, has scripted a magnificently layered comedy, turbo-charged with hilarious one-liners, that on closer inspection is not a simple dissection of an interrogation and hoped for confession, but instead an absurdist exercise that would make Kafka proud.  Panych’s use of Otto as the questioner with a lenient view of criminal behavior is as intriguing as his portrait of Dom the bible-thumping do-gooder.  “We are not barbarians!” Otto admonishes Dom, in hopes that he’ll agree to release the women.  But Dom has other ideas and as soon as Otto and Alma leave the room he evangelizes Phyllis.  “Bad things happen for a good reason,” he cheerfully offers.

(L to R) Delaney Williams as Otto, Adi Stein as Dom, Jayne Houdyshell as Alma and Jenna Sokolowski as Phyllis - Photo by Teresa Wood.

(L to R) Delaney Williams as Otto, Adi Stein as Dom, Jayne Houdyshell as Alma and Jenna Sokolowski as Phyllis – Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast is wonderful, especially given the complex duality of the characters.  Jayne Houdyshell in the role of Alma segues seamlessly from haughty sophist to stink-eyed cynic; Delaney Williams as Otto gives a textured performance as both her accuser and savior; Adi Stein as Dom, the foil, gives a keen portrayal of the overeager cop with psychological issues; while Jenna Sokolowski as Phyllis keeps the energy level high as the neurotic with a conscience.

Ken MacDonald’s brilliant set design consisting of 800 cardboard boxes frames the action.  Soaring to the height of the stage the toast-hued cartons sport the recognizable logos of familiar supermarket brands, further juxtaposing the familiar with the ridiculous.  Tucked between the boxes, randomly placed backlit niches highlight a small collection of everyday jewel-toned grocery items, giving them the illusion of precious objects.

Highly recommended.

Through October 19th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.                     For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Three Sistahs – At MetroStage

Jordan Wright
September 23, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Three Sistahs-Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Three Sistahs-Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins – Photo credit: Chris Banks

I’m not sure why I’m writing a review of Three Sistahs, Thomas W. Jones II’s multi-award winning musical comedy-drama that opens MetroStage’s 30th season. Thrice presented by Producing Artistic Director, Carolyn Griffin, it has become one of their most beloved productions. (I’m telling you this up front so you’ll call the box office for your tickets before it’s standing room only.)

Rarely do we see so magical a collaboration as this one between Writer/Director Thomas Jones, Composer William Hubbard and Music Director William Knowles with original story by Janet Pryce. Based on 19th C Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” it tells a tale of the Bradshaws – Olive, Marsha and Irene, three sisters in the post-Vietnam War era of Washington, DC who gather in the family’s home for the burial of their soldier brother, Anton.

Three Sistahs-Ashley Ware Jenkins, Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White - photo credit :Chris Banks

Three Sistahs-Ashley Ware Jenkins, Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White – photo credit : Chris Banks

Twenty-one musical numbers form a hypnotic web of stories as the women describe their childhoods, their growing up years and their dreams for the future. So closely does the dialogue weave itself into the music that the transitions between the two are nearly imperceptible.

The incomparable actresses Bernadine Mitchell (Olive) and Roz White (Marsha) reprise their roles from the original production. New to MetroStage is Ashley Ware Jenkins in the role of the feisty Black Power radical, Irene. Jenkins could be Angela Davis’ doppelganger, if you added a major adorableness factor.

Set to a score of Rhythm & Blues and Gospel, with a dollop of Motown, the trio begin to describe their alternate perceptions of life with an autocratic West Pointer for a father whose dream it was to see his only son follow in his military footsteps. The plot is simple but the emotions are not. Each woman brings to the table a different view of the man they feared and loved and we begin to 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.

Marsha who calls herself “the middle underprivileged” married early and wonders if there couldn’t be more to life than a husband and six children. Olive, who stayed behind to care for their ailing father and become a university professor, longs for a husband, and Irene who dropped out of college to pursue her political leanings, “Our anger is righteous!” she insists, is finding her footing in a city torn apart by riots and looting. To quash her sisters’ protests, she references Martin, Medger and Malcolm to make her point.

Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins - Photo credit: Chris Banks

Bernardine Mitchell, Roz White, Ashley Ware Jenkins – Photo credit: Chris Banks

The show evokes both laughter and tears. One audience member sobbed uncontrollably listening to the heart-wrenching song “Hold Me” in which Olive and Marsha comfort Irene. And there were many moments when I had to focus on taking notes to hold back the tears so powerfully evocative were the emotions of the performers (and audience members) and the memories of the Civil Rights struggles.

But just as quickly as the tears come so does the laughter. In a “Basement Kind of Love” Olive reminisces about her first boyfriend, Cadillac Johnson. After much simulated bumping and grinding, she admits to losing her virginity many times and still looking for it. Mitchell closes Act One to the old gospel tune, “There’s A Leak In This Old Building”, which shows off her gorgeously mellifluous voice to its finest advantage, pairing it to the electrifyingly precise harmonies of White and Jenkins.

Be prepared for a whopper of a show filled with heart and soul and some of the most intoxicatingly glorious voices you have ever heard.

Highly recommended.

Through November 2nd at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314. For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.