A View from the Bridge ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
November 16, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Company of A View From the Bridge - Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

Company of A View From the Bridge – Photo by Jan Versweyveld.

A fresh interpretation of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge streaked across the stage like a fireball at the Eisenhower Theatre last night.  Credit Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter who has endeavored mightily to give us contemporary productions, edgy, young musicians, playwrights, hip hop artists, and an exciting group of artistic directors.  Produced by the prestigious Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and directed by Ivo Van Hove, this avant-garde production won the Tony Award this year for “Best Revival of a Play”.  And it’s no surprise.  This one has muscle and bone.

Set in Red Hook a rough neighborhood with a view to the Brooklyn Bridge, the story is told by Alfieri (Thomas Jay Ryan), a local lawyer.  (Miller claimed it was true, as told to him by a lawyer who represented longshoremen).  Alfieri acts as witness, arbitrator and conscience to Italian-American longshoreman, Eddie Carbone (Frederick Weller).  Eddie still operates under the code of omertà, or silence, and the unimpeachable honor code of rispetto, spelled R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Ignore that and you’re six feet under.

- Photo by Jan Versweyveld

Alex Esola, Catherine Combs, Dave Register and Frederick Weller – Photo by Jan Versweyveld

In the dramatic opening scene two men, drenched in blood red lighting and a rising mist, are putting on their clothes as Alfieri begins his narration.  It is immediately reminiscent of the intense boxing series’ paintings by American Realist George Bellows, and lends a foreboding of dark and murderous things to come.  Designer Jan Versweyveld, who won two Tony Awards this year for “Best Scenic Design of a Play” and “Best Lighting Design of a Play” for this production, gives us a stripped down set framed out by glass panels topped by benches, all the better to home in on the characters’ body language and the raw power of Miller’s words.

Eddie is old school Sicilian married to Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) the family mediator.  Together they raise his orphaned niece, Catherine (Catherine Combs), a teenager looking to spread her wings, but still a “baby” to her Uncle Eddie.  When Beatrice’s cousins, Marco (Alex Esola) and Rodolpho (Dave Register), arrive in the country to work illegally, they live on the QT with the couple, getting longshoreman jobs through the local Mafia.  Trouble comes when Rodolpho and Catherine fall in love and Eddie’s unsubstantiated fears surface, threatening the couple’s marriage plans.  He accuses Rodolpho of wanting to marry her to get his citizenship, or, perhaps worse to Eddie, that he prefers men.

A View From the Bridge_Photo by Jan Versweyveld

A View From the Bridge_Photo by Jan Versweyveld

Two devices are used here to great effect.  The haunting overlay of sacred Medieval music lends context and heft to the drama and a series of slow drumbeats between lines emphasizes the searing conflict between the family members.

What is surprising, however, is Van Hove’s decision not to use regional accents of any kind.  So don’t expect Italian accents from the immigrant cousins, or Brooklynese from Catherine, Eddie or his friend, Louis (Howard W. Overshown), even though they speak in the language of dese-dems-and-dose with the occasional ain’t.  The focus here is on the dialogue and the story.  The cast is just the vehicle, but a fine, well-honed vehicle they are.

Highly recommended.

Through Saturday, December 3rd 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 Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time ~ Kennedy Center Opera House

Jordan Wright
October 11, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Adam Langdon and The Curious Incident North American Tour Cast 2016 Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Adam Langdon and The Curious Incident North American Tour Cast 2016 Photo Credit Joan Marcus

A most unusual and fascinating wonder of a show burst onto the stage of the Opera House theatre last week.  Packed with drama, pathos and indelible charm, this stupendous Tony Award-winning show explodes with energy.  It’s an unusual premise and a real thinking person’s show with power and magnetism.  You’d be well-advised to afford it the space in your head to spirit you away on its “curious” journey.

(L to R) Adam Langdon, (Background) Felicity Jones Latta and Gene Gillette of The Curious Incident North. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

(L to R) Adam Langdon, (Background) Felicity Jones Latta and Gene Gillette of The Curious Incident North. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Simon Stephens’ play, based on the novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a story of a high-functioning autistic boy, Christopher Boone (Adam Langdon), whose parents are about to get divorced.  Christopher is a brilliant, precise and very detailed 15-year old who loves math, astronomy and all things formulaic.  When his neighbor’s beloved dog, Wellington, is mysteriously killed, he sets about, to the consternation of his father, to solve the crime.

The crime itself is the thread employed to delve into Christopher’s complicated and challenging world, as well as the vehicle for our understanding of his fears and challenges.  But it by no means defines the magnetic experience of climbing inside the mind of an autistic, quasi-savant teen.

(L to R) Adam Langdon, (Background) Maria Elena Ramirez and Gene Gillette. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

(L to R) Adam Langdon, (Background) Maria Elena Ramirez and Gene Gillette. Photo Credit Joan Marcus

For example, Christopher takes metaphors at face value, which is hilarious, especially when you think of the things we say every day that are not near as dire or nor as realistic as the descriptive words we use.  Langdon portrays Christopher’s tenderness and his clashing emotions with a captivating performance.  He is well-matched by Gene Gillette in his ability to portray both anger and compassion in the role of his father, Maria Elena Ramirez, as his patient and loving schoolteacher Siobhan, and Felicity Jones Latta as his irresponsible mother Judy.  The rest of the crack cast appear in a myriad of revolving roles.

Director Marianne Elliott crafts an intricate adventure with precision and comedic intrigue, which is mesmerizingly pulled off by the complex choreography of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly.  Thanks to a spectacular light show using pixel-mapping technology on a grid with roving arc lights and pulsing strobes mastered by Paule Constable; and a sound system engineered by designer Ian Dickson for Autograph, the energy level is mind-blowing.  For all you techies out there, Constable uses an ETC EOS Titanium system guaranteed to knock your socks off.  Kudos to Finn Ross for crafting the eye-popping video design.  It’s like attending a rock concert sans music, but with a heartwarming and emotionally charged story.

Highly recommended.

Through October 23rd 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 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.