The Phantom of the Opera ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

The news was worrisome and unexpected. A sudden trip to the hospital sent Phantom lead Chris Mann in for an emergency appendectomy, thus delaying media review night for an extra week. For the many who ask why we haven’t reviewed a show you’ve already seen, the reason is simple. An embargo exists for critics until the official press night. So even if we were to see a show on opening night, we couldn’t post our reviews until the day after press is brought in. So we waited and fretted for another week.

The Company performs “Masquerade.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The Company performs “Masquerade.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

But we needn’t have worried if Mann would be up for the task. He was. In spades. And on steroids. His powerful voice and physical prowess were not one bit compromised. The surprise came in the program on a tiny slip of paper announcing that the lead role of Christine Daaé would be filled by Julia Udine’s understudy Kaitlyn Davis. Again worries were quickly brushed aside in the first number, “Think of Me”, when Davis wowed the audience in a splendid display of her acting abilities and gorgeous, multi-octaved voice.

The promise of an exciting new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-running, multiple Tony Awarded opera slash musical, was kept by Producer Cameron Macintosh and the unusually named Really Useful Group, along with Director Laurence Connor. It is lavish and lush and as eerie as you’d expect. Thankfully there are no phantoms to jinx it.

Katie Travis (Christine))and Chris Mann (The Phantom). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Katie Travis (Christine))and Chris Mann (The Phantom). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The beauty of this show about a haunted Parisian opera house is that it is still thrilling. Webber’s music and Charles Hart’s lyrics grab you from the get-go and its sense of imminent danger keep the audience enthralled. As for its premise, I won’t attempt to examine the irony of a young ballerina thrust into a lead role as an understudy. (Truth was stranger than fiction on this night!) Or a young girl’s need for a muse to guide her to stardom as Webber did with Sarah Brightman, the cast’s original Christine. That would be too facile.

Just let yourself be taken away by the sweeping music of the night conducted by James Lowe and Dale Rieling, the eye-popping sets by Paul Brown, the pyrotechnics and illusions by Paul Kieve, and the dreamy 19th century costumes by the late Maria Björnson. The New Year’s Eve danse macabre in the song, “Masquerade” is absolutely mesmerizing.

Anne Kanengeiser (Madame Giry). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Anne Kanengeiser (Madame Giry). Photo by Matthew Murphy

Look for clues like the 666 lot number on the chandelier at the opera house’s auction, the singerie period music box and the flurry of anonymous notes to the producers insisting they cast Christine in the lead or else murder and mayhem will ensue. It does and it’s as enthralling and haunting as Paule Constable’s eerie lighting design.

Highly recommended.

Through August 20th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

The Bridges of Madison County ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
July 3, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Katie Klaus (State Fair Singer) and the company of the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Katie Klaus (State Fair Singer) and the company of the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

A huge applause erupted from the audience at the Kennedy Center when it was announced that the show’s composer, orchestrator and lyricist, Jason Robert Brown, would conduct the evening’s performance.  The three-time Tony Award-winning Brown, who also tours as a singer and pianist, brought both energy and depth to this lush, sweeping score and the 9-piece orchestra’s response was as palpable as the performances.

The Bridges of Madison County, the 2014 Broadway smash hit musical, evolved from Robert James Waller’s 1992 best seller of a married Italian immigrant who meets a handsome photographer documenting the covered bridges of Iowa for National Geographic.  It is a tender love story of mutual passion, appreciably devoid of the syrupy schmaltz that often passes as romance in this genre.  Leading man, Andrew Samonsky as Robert, who has movie star good looks and spectacular tenor’s pipes, is just part of the appeal.  Another is the steely charm, wry delivery and soaring operatic voice of Elizabeth Stanley as the conflicted housewife and mother, Francesca.

Over a period of four days, while husband Bud (Cullen R. Titmas) takes the children Michael (Bryan Welnicki) and Carolyn (Caitlin Houlahan) off to the Indiana State Fair to show Carolyn’s prize steer, the strangers connect.  And oh, how they connect.

Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) and Andrew Samonsky (Robert) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

In their exploration of one another’s motives, Robert sings, “Temporarily Lost”, admitting he has been looking to restore the light in his life.  By the ninth number, “The World Inside a Frame”, Samonsky’s heart-stopping solo, he has learned to trust again and Francesca regains her lust for life.  She is Italian after all.  (In a particularly seductive scene, Francesca removes Robert’s crisp white shirt from his tight blue jeans and a woman’s excited gasp could be heard throughout the theater to the audience’s delight.)

That Robert’s truck hasn’t left the farm in four days is well-noted under the watchful eyes of Marge (Mary Callanan), Francesca’s true friend, and Marge’s husband Charlie (David Hess), family friends who live within binocular range.  Callanan is wondrously comic as the neighbor who revels in Francesca’s forbidden tryst, while trying to get a rise out of her spouse in a what-would-he-do-if-it-was-her scenario.

Andrew Samonsky (Robert) and Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Andrew Samonsky (Robert) and Elizabeth Stanley (Francesca) in the national tour of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Bartlett Sher’s tight direction and Donald Holder’s superb lighting are crucial to the effect as many of the scenes play out on alternate sides of the stage sequentially as steamy love scenes unfold around a kitchen table or a large wrought iron bed.  Michael Yeargan’s pastorally-evocative sets animate the rural setting.

Through it all we root for the lovers to hightail it arm-in-arm into the gathering twilight in this fairy-tale fantasy.  We can dream.  Can’t we?

Highly recommended for its sensuality, brilliant singing and indelible score.

Through July 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.

Kinky Boots ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
June 21, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

A beacon of hope shone down mightily onto the stage at Kennedy Center’s Opera House this week.  It was more than hope, really.  It was a balm for the soul of Orlando’s LGBTQ community and their friends and supporters around the world.  A clearing of the clouds, if you will – if only for a few hours.

In this timely story of tolerance, love and self-acceptance, Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), a black drag queen from the seedier side of London, performs with her chorus line of queens.  When, in a stroke of fate, she meets Charlie (understudy, Adam Kaplan, who appeared to be struggling in the role), the reluctant scion of a fourth generation shoe factory in the hinterlands, she schools him in ‘dragdom’ and what it means to be absolutely fabulous in six-inch high-heeled boots.  When she alludes to the challenge of strutting her stuff in ladies’ boots, ill-designed to support the weight of a man, Charlie becomes sympathetic to her plight.

(l to r) Macho Don (Aaron Walpole) the floor manager and George (Jim J. Bullock). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

(l to r) Macho Don (Aaron Walpole) the floor manager and George (Jim J. Bullock). Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Intrigued by Lola, soubriquet “Kinky”, and the idea of making boots for a niche market, he offers her the job of Head Designer at his factory.  Unfortunately, it’s run by a crew of narrow-minded blue collar workers.  Lola, bullied by the male workers tries to fit in by wearing suits instead of dresses – a transition that falls flat.  Hoping to present Lola’s racy designs at the shoe show in Milan, the workers, especially the females of the crew who are enamored of Lola’s femininity, get on board.  Macho Don (Aaron Walpole) the floor manager and George (Jim J. Bullock) the numbers cruncher remain reluctant.  And therein lies the rub.

Contrary to what you may imagine, the romance in Playwright Harvey Fierstein’s six-time Tony Award winning musical is not between Charlie and Lola, but with Charlie’s fiancée, Nicola (Charissa Hogeland), who has grander ideas for their future in real estate development, and one of his employees Lauren (Tiffany Engen) who believes in his dreams.  Guess who wins out.

Jerry Mitchell, who received the Tony Award for his choreography in the original Broadway production, both directs and choreographs this production, along with famed Costume Designer Gregg Barnes, Scenic Designer David Rockwell and Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner.

Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and her Angels in ‘Kinky Boots.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Lola (J. Harrison Ghee) and her Angels in ‘Kinky Boots.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Ghee is a force of nature.  Fierce and fabulous with a leggy, Amazonian frame that complements an astonishingly versatile voice, he delivers a show-stopping performance tinged with raw emotion.  The duet with Kaplan in “Not My Father’s Son” is especially spell-binding.  And Engen too, will steal your heart with her solo, “The History of Wrong Guys”.  And should you ever question what drives men wild, Lola (aka Simon) sets us straight in “Sex Is in the Heel”, adding, “Red is for sex, and sex shouldn’t be comfy.”  Got it?

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

‘Kinky Boots’ National Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Through it all, pop diva Cyndi Lauper’s show-your-true-colors score is as sustaining as a hummingbird’s heartbeat and her emotionally-stirring ballads and electrifying show tunes add up to a winning night of crazy, funny, wonderful theatre.

Highly recommended for, according to Lola, “Ladies and Gentlemen, and those who have yet to make up their minds.”

Through July 10th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Ireland Celebrates the 100th Year of Its Independence with Irish Cultural Activities

Jordan Wright
May 12, 2016
Special to 
The Alexandria Times  

(l-r) Ambassador Kevin O’Malley, USA Ambassador to Ireland - President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Deborah Rutter -  Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Ambassador Anne Anderson to USA

(l-r) Ambassador Kevin O’Malley, USA Ambassador to Ireland – President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Deborah Rutter – Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Ambassador Anne Anderson to USA

A film narrated by Liam Neeson was the kick off event for Ireland’s celebratory year of its independence from British rule. Produced by Notre Dame, the documentary, 1916: The Rebellion, tells the story of the Easter Rising and the hard fought quest for Irish independence, and was hosted by Irish Ambassador Anne Anderson.

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Beginning next Tuesday, Kennedy Center will now be your go-to venue for dozens of events surrounding the celebration of Irish Culture.  The three-week festival runs from May 17th through June 5th and features Fiona Shaw as Artist-in-Residence.

IRELAND 100: Celebrating a Century of Irish Arts & Culture, is an international festival will feature more than 50 performances with the participation of more than 500 artists in venues throughout the theatre complex.  This extraordinary schedule of events highlights Ireland’s rich cultural legacy and its major contribution to the fields of theatre, literature, music and dance.

Colin Dunne in OUT OF TIME ~ photo by Peter Hallward

Colin Dunne in OUT OF TIME ~ photo by Peter Hallward

There will be more than 30 theater, music and dance groups; visual and theatrical installations; and JFK Centennial events.
Staged readings of six new “Tiny Plays for the Ireland 2 and America Literature Series”, and culinary events will also be featured.

Louis Lovett in The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badley (Theatre Lovett) ~ Image by Pt Redmond

Louis Lovett in The Girl who Forgot to Sing Badley (Theatre Lovett) ~ Image by Pt Redmond

Taking place in the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, the nation’s most well-known Irish-American President and the first sitting President to visit Ireland, the festival is also part of a yearlong celebration marking the centennial of JFK’s birth.  In addition, IRELAND 100 is the centerpiece in the United States of the global commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Mary Murray and Sorcha Fox in Fishamble's Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 ~ photo by Pat Redmond

Mary Murray and Sorcha Fox in Fishamble’s Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 ~ photo by Pat Redmond

The festival launches on May 17th with an opening performance in the Concert Hall directed and hosted by Fiona Shaw, one of the most acclaimed Irish actors and directors of our time, also known for her appearances in five of the Harry Potter movies.  The multidisciplinary event features the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of leading Irish conductor, David Brophy, as well as a host of Irish acts that will appear in performances throughout the festival, offering a glimpse at the gamut of Irish arts.  As the festival’s Artist-in-Residence, Shaw will also present a master class, a panel discussion with guest artists, and the premiere of her work Blowing the Heart Open.

Pan Pan Theatre ~ All That Fall ~ photo by Ros Kavanagh

Pan Pan Theatre ~ All That Fall ~ photo by Ros Kavanagh

IRELAND 100 also opens with three art installations in the Center’s public spaces.  The Ogham Wall, an architectural construct by Grafton Architects and Graphic Relief that is inspired by the Irish Ogham alphabet, will be on display in the Hall of Nations.  Meanwhile, the Hall of States will host two exhibits: William Close’s The Earth Harp, a large-scale installation designed specifically to fill this space and which will feature live musical demonstrations; and the Egan Harp, a portable harp from 1820 by Irish harp-maker John Egan, on loan from The O’Brien Collection.  All three exhibits will be open to the general public throughout the festival.

The Gloaming ~ Photo by Rich Gilligan

The Gloaming ~ Photo by Rich Gilligan

Newly announced programs include: screenings of three documentary films chronicling President Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963; a performance showcase and unveiling of a special installation honoring the 99th anniversary of JFK’s birth on May 29; free performances on the Millennium Stage; a literary series designed by Maureen Kennelly of Poetry Ireland and Paul Muldoon, which features over 20 Irish and American writers and musicians; and highly anticipated culinary events, including a free cooking demonstration and lecture by Irish chef, Cathal Armstrong, of Alexandria’s Restaurant Eve, as well as tasting events showcasing Irish whiskey, beer, and cheese.  The updated announcement also highlights a Family Day, and calls all redheads, and redheads at heart, to participate in special free activities for all ages, and the addition of an outdoor green space—which allows for further free performances and workshops, picnicking, and Irish food and drinks.

Notable performances include Abbey Theater’s The Plough and the Stars, regarded as an Irish masterpiece; the U.S. debut of Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 and America, performed by the Irish theater company Fishamble and directed by Jim Culleton; the U.S. premiere of A Girl’s Bedroom, the second in a series of theatrical installations created by Enda Walsh in collaboration with the Galway International Arts Festival; and the D.C. debut of The Gloaming, a contemporary Irish music supergroup comprised of vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, pianist Thomas Bartlett, hardanger player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, violinist/fiddler Martin Hayes, and guitarist Dennis Cahill.

Anthony Kearns of the Irish tenors

Anthony Kearns of the Irish tenors

Also of note will be a performance by world-renowned Irish tenor Anthony Kearns on opening night May 17th.  Kearns will also headline on May 23rd with Tara Errnaiuught, fresh off the Washington National Opera’s Cinderella.

Ambassador Anne Anderson, Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, said: “We are delighted to partner with the Kennedy Center on this exciting festival to commemorate Ireland’s 100-year journey from the 1916 Rising and the early days of independence to today.  The centenary year has had a profound resonance in the United States. The United States has the greatest concentration of our Diaspora and the contemporary ties between Ireland and the US are of extraordinary depth and breadth. This festival will give us an opportunity to express our gratitude for the support that the U.S. has provided to Ireland in so many ways, and will help to renew and strengthen the bonds of friendship for the future.”

For tickets and information visit the IRELAND 100 webpage or purchase in person at the Kennedy Center box office.  202 467-4600.

The Kennedy Center Announces Its 2016-2017 Season

Jordan Wright
March 16, 2016

On March 8th The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced its 2016-2017. The Center announced plans for a yearlong celebration of the centennial of President Kennedy’s birth, offering a wide range of programs reflective of Kennedy’s vision, ideals, and legacy.

Yo Yo Ma ~ Photo by Jason Bell

Yo Yo Ma ~ Photo by Jason Bell

In addition they have announced three newly appointed roles and key relationships with legendary cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma (Artistic Advisor At Large), superstar soprano and arts advocate Renée Fleming (Artistic Advisor At Large), and renowned Hip Hop artist and cultural pioneer Q-Tip (Artistic Director for Hip Hop Culture).

Hip Hop - Q-Tip, Courtesy of the Artist

Hip Hop – Q-Tip, Courtesy of the Artist

As artists, curators, and thought leaders, these three new advisory roles will advance important institution-wide initiatives and explore new facets of the arts.

Renee Fleming ~ Decca Photo by Andrew Ecoles

Renee Fleming ~ Decca Photo by Andrew Ecoles

The Kennedy Center’s diverse theater season features the work of some of the most acclaimed directors working in theater today, including Sulayman Al Bassam (Petrol Station), Peter Brook (Battlefield), Carlos Díaz (Antigonón, Un contingente épico), Lev Dodin (Three Sisters), Robert Lepage (Needles and Opium), Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall (Cabaret), Richard Nelson (The Gabriels: Election Year in the Life of One Family), Jack O’Brien (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music), Bartlett Sher (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I), and Susan Stroman (The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville), among many others. The season also includes an array of hit musicals and plays, including The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Into the Woods, Wicked, Chicago, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

The Performances for Young Audience season includes seven new Kennedy Center commissions, highlighting work from icons in the fields of jazz, classical music, Hip Hop, dance, poetry, and theater, as well as a wide variety of other performances that will present young audiences with challenging ideas in an accessible and entertaining setting.