(l to r) Curt Bouril (“Don Kirshner”), Liam Tobin (“Gerry Goffin”), Abby Mueller (“Carole King”), Ben Fankhauser (“Barry Mann”) and Becky Gulsvig (“Cynthia Weil”). Photo by Joan Marcus.
Where were you when you first heard The Righteous Brothers sing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles? Maybe you were dancing to “Locomotion” by Little Eva or “Up On the Roof” by The Drifters, all songs written by Brooklyn-born Carole King (AbbyMueller) and her husband Gerry Goffin (LiamTobin). Working for music producer Don Kirshner (CurtBouril), known as “The Man With the Golden Ear”, their partnership produced hit after hit keeping them on the pop charts throughout the 60’s.
During their early career lyricist Gerry and the precociously talented composer Carole churned out hits at Aldon Music, a music publishing house and hit factory in New York’s Brill Building, where they worked side-by-side with fellow hit makers, Cynthia Weil (BeckyGulsvig) and Barry Mann (BenFankhauser) in friendly competition.
Carnegie Hall. Abby Mueller (“Carole King”). Photo by Joan Marcus
Beautiful tells the story of their romance, marriage and tumultuous breakup. The simple story chronicles their struggles and successes and ultimately King’s solo career, which broke the pop mold with the release of her first album – the four-time Grammy Award-winning, “Tapestry”.
The show opens with a medley of hits from the 50’s before the duo got their start – “Poison Ivy”, “Love Potion #9”, “Yakety Yak” to name a few. Dressed in sharkskin suits and skinny ties, actors playing The Drifters appear to perform some of their numbers, as do the ersatz The Shirelles wearing their trademark beaded dresses with chiffon shoulder drapes, Little Eva (AshleyBlanchet), who had been their babysitter, and the entirely fictitious Janelle Woods (RebeccaE.Covington), a pop singer who becomes Gerry’s extramarital lover.
The Shirelles. (l to r) Britney Coleman, Rebecca E. Covington, Ashley Blanchet and Salisha Thomas // The Drifters. (l to r) Dashaun Young, Paris Nix, Josh A. Dawson and Noah J. Ricketts
The musical is heavy on songs, twenty-seven numbers backed by a twelve-piece orchestra, and light on script. But that’s just fine as you’ll probably be silently singing along recalling your first dance, or first kiss, to these memorable songs that are timed to reflect the state of Carole and Gerry’s rocky marriage. Goosebumps kick in with “Some Kind of Wonderful”, Gerry and Carole’s first duet, but the audience gives an collected audible sigh for The Righteous Brothers big number, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.
Scenic Designer Derek McLane captures the mood by drawing on the 1930’s architecture of the historic Brill Building, tricking it out with hundreds of neon-colored lights. Spare sets feature the mid-century modern furnishings of the period, while “On Air” signs suggest the atmosphere of a sound studio.
Abby Mueller does a fine job as Carole, especially at the end of Act Two when she lets loose her powerful voice on the biggest hits from “Tapestry” – “Natural Woman”, later covered by Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige, and “Beautiful”, a reflection of her coming of age as an independent composer and soloist.
See it if you love the music of this era, or even if you just like music with lyrics you can understand.
Through October 25th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.
Once, the show that won eight Tony Awards in 2012, is a poignant love story set in Dublin where Girl (Dani de Waal) meets Guy (Stuart Ward) on open mic night in a rundown pub. She’s a piano-playing emigrant from Czechoslovakia. He’s a lovelorn, guitar-playing, vacuum cleaner repairman who’s lost his sweetheart to the lures of New York City. The rest of the cast, brilliantly talented musicians, singers and dancers, are the onstage orchestra who, when not dancing or interacting on center stage, sit in full view of each other in rows on each side of the one-set stage. Shakespeare would love this.
Although this is a musical, it is a quantum leap from the razzle-dazzle shows we have come to expect from Broadway. Irish playwright Enda Walsh gives us a story with pure Celtic heart and soul, and Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova fill it up with memorable music and meaningful lyrics. Oh well, there is Guy’s goofy number “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy”, a paean to Girl and reference to his mundane day job.
There is plenty of dry humor and tongue-in-cheek wit, the sort we expect from Irish theatre, but here often unexpectedly delivered by the Czechs who speak in English with Czech accents while Czech translations are projected above the stage.
This show is for you too, with tremendous performances by Evan Harrington as Billy, the beefy, and romantically inept, pub owner who plays guitar, percussion and ukelele; Dani de Waal on piano as Girl; Stuart Ward on a mean guitar as Guy; Scott Waara on mandolin as Da, Guy’s supportive father; John Steven Gard as Eamon a role that calls for him to play piano, percussion, melodica and harmonica; Benjamin Magnuson as the soft-hearted bank manager on cello and guitar; Alex Nee as Andrej on electric bass, ukulele, guitar and percussion; Matt DeAngelis as Svec, the wild and crazy, former heavy metalhead who rocks out on guitar, mandolin, banjo, drum set and percussion; Tina Stafford on raging accordion and concertina as Baruska; and the fantastic musical talents and duets of Erica Spyres on violin and percussion, and Erica Swindell on violin.
Back to the story, a romance played out in evolving vignettes to the tune of fierce Irish jigs, tenderhearted ballads and soul-stirring folk rock. Though we wonder if they’ll ever get together, fifteen musical numbers keep us guessing and provide tension to the plot. The show won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album, and though you may be more familiar with the bittersweet music of “Falling Slowly” and “Leave”, be prepared to take out the tissues for “Gold”, an a cappella showstopper in the second act. Sung by the entire company the goosebump-inducing tune fills the theatre with hope and longing and the sense that no matter where our star-crossed lovers end up, we have seen one of the most exquisitely electrifying musicals of our generation.
Through August 16th 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 BOOK OF MORMON National Tour Company Photo credit Joan Marcus
Hell fire and damnation figure neatly in the wacky and wonderful The Book of Mormon. With book, music and lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone, creators of the four-time Emmy Award-winning animated series South Park, you’ll luxuriate in all the irreverence you can handle. And then some. Winner of nine Tony Awards, the blowout show is legendary for its comedic take on Mormonism and its 21 unforgettably zany songs.
The story focuses on the bicycle-riding, young men with their skinny black ties and crisp white shirts who are eager to convert and skilled at proselytizing. Two-by-two they comb the earth seeking out sin and sinners and spreading The Word.
Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are two of the innocents. Recently sprung from the church’s Missionary Training Center, they are partnered up for their mission to Uganda where they’ll rendezvous with other eager young evangelists. Two more disparate comrades are hard to conceive. Price (David Strand) is handsome and self-centered, brimming with untested confidence. Ready to take on the world he is miffed to be conjoined with Cunningham (Cody Jamison Strand), a portly nerd with no sense of self-worth who clings to Price like a limpet mine to a submarine.
Monica L. Patton, David Larsen, Cody Jamison Strand Photo credit Joan Marcus
Hoping to prove they’ll be worthy in the afterlife, the two unlikely apostles set off on a journey that is so convoluted, so riotous and so ungodly that your hair risks catching fire. At a send off staged by their parents, replete with a dancing witch doctor who references The Lion King, the hapless lads are told, “You get out there and you baptize those Africans!”
Instead the boys realize converting the whole human race is not as easy as they had been led to believe. They discover the natives have their own brand of mythology, and it’s not any more far-fetched than Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s story of the never-seen-by-a-living-soul golden plates he personally excavated in upstate New York. These descriptive, Mormon-themed side skits are re-enacted hilariously by Smith (Christopher Shyer) and the Angel Moroni (Daxton Bloomquist) in dream sequences designed to compare the origins of the Latter Day Saints to the natives’ beliefs. But which of these tales are more fanciful?
Warlords and AIDS are on the minds of the Ugandans who have a middle-finger-raised musical response to God in the number “Hasa Diga Eebowai”. David Aron Damane plays the one-eyed General and bloodthirsty warlord who threatens to circumcise all the girls in the village by the end of the week.
7 Denèe Benton, Cody Jamison Strand Photo credit Joan Marcus
There’s a sweet love story between the beautiful Nabulungi (Candace Quarrels) and Cunningham, the most unlikely suitor, who woos her with dreams of paradise. In the beautifully sung number, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (a heavily accented pronunciation of Salt Lake City) she places her hopes in his hands.
But this isn’t The Sound of Music, though it takes a village. And Nabulungi’s convincing of her tribe, isn’t based on truth – – Cunningham has convoluted the church’s teachings to suit his ignorance of its contents. “I actually never read it,” he confesses. (If you’re wondering how the Mormon hierarchy reacted to the comedic blasphemy, the quote is, “You’ve seen the play. Now read the book.”) But Cunningham is determined to convert the girl and croons “Man Up”, describing Jesus’ bravery as “growing a pair”.
Credit to Directors Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker; Scott Pask for the scenic design; Ann Roth for costumes, Brian MacDevitt for lighting and the 12-piece kick-ass orchestra directed by Adam Laird and David Truskinoff. Many of the talented performers from the first Broadway production are in this touring company making it just as bawdy and blasphemous as the original.
Highly recommended. But you already knew that if you’ve tried to snag a ticket.
Through August 16th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.
When MGM’s movie Gigi debuted in 1958 legions of little girls were captivated by the City of Lights and its magical allure. I know. I was one of them, listening hours on end to the vinyl soundtrack by Maurice Chevalier, Hermione Gingold, Louis Jourdan and Leslie Caron who transported us to a place we could only dream of.
Raised by her grandmère Mamita a calligraphy teacher and her spotlessly mannered grande dame, Aunt Alicia, the spunky Gigi was a paragon of insouciance. We embraced her joie de vivre, studied our français more diligently and longed for a soigné and très riche gentleman like, Gaston Lachaille, to sweep us off our feet. Indeed postwar Paris was everyone’s dream of the most exciting place in the world to be.
Fifteen years later Gigi was brought to the stage and another generation embraced Alan Jay Lerner’s and Frederick Lowe’s spectacular score and heartwarming tale. And now, 37 years hence, Director Eric Schaeffer has revived the musical in all its glorious splendor. I asked myself if it could have the same impact on a new audience as it did in the late 50’s. Does Gigi’s indelible charm translate to a more technologically absorbed generation of little girls?
Howard McGillin as Honore Lachaille and Victoria Clark as Mamita
To insure it does, Schaeffer has wisely cast Vanesa Hudgens as Gigi. An adorable and multi-talented actress, best known for her role in the wildly popular High School Musical series, Hudgens proves her acting, dancing and singing have the snap, crackle and pop to earn her the lead role against such seasoned Broadway actors and opera-caliber voices as Victoria Clark (Mamita), Dee Hoty (Aunt Alicia), Howard McGillin (Honoré Lachaille) and Steffanie Leigh as Liane d’Exelmans, Gaston’s mistress.
As you may recall Gigi is raised by her grandmother in a modest flat in Paris where the pair play frequent hosts to Gaston (Corey Cott), a dashing and well-to-do man about town who is an old family friend. Her sister Alicia, determined to marry Gigi off to a wealthy gentleman, is consumed with tutoring the girl in the art of feminine allure, including how to tell a real sapphire from a faux. “A girl must think constantly – – unless a man can tell,” she instructs her.
It is La Belle Epoque, Maxim’s is in its heyday, and all of Paris is très gai. Set Designer Derek McLane captures the mood of the era with drop-dead sets evocative of the period. Maxim’s becomes a wonderland of Can Can girls high-kicking amid red velvet banquettes and flower-shaped chandeliers, while Paris is evoked with the massive curved iron girders of the Eiffel Tower and the beach at Trouville, where Gaston sees Gigi in a new light and his Uncle Honoré revives a romance with Mamita, is a splendid seascape.
Steffanie Leigh as Liane of Exelmans, Howard McGillin, Victoria Clark, Vanessa Hudgens, Corey Cott as Gaston Lachaille
From five-time Tony Award-winning Costume Designer Catherine Zuber, we are treated to dreamy chiffon gowns, elegant frock coats, feathered picture hats, glittering jewels, bellmen in carmine britches and so much more extravagance. James Moore conducts the soaring strains of the 13-piece orchestra through the memorable songbook including “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”, “The Night They Invented Champagne” and sixteen other wonderful numbers. Emmy Award-winning Choreographer for the late, yet beloved, TV show Smash, Joshua Bergasse, enlivens the dancing with electrifying Broadway-bound energy.
Through February 12th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.
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)
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)
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 Long – Doug 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.