Cinderella ~ A New Adventures Production ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
January 17, 2019 

MATTHEW BOURNE’S CINDERELLA. Liam Mower ‘The Angel – Cinderella’s Fairy Godfather’ and Ashley Shaw ‘Cinderella’ . Photo by Johan Persson.

If you’re looking for a Disney princess in a blue satin gown, go elsewhere.  In Sir Matthew Bourne’s ballet, Cinderella, there is nary a tiara-wearing royal – not a tutu nor a toe shoe. A pair of silver glitter pumps is involved, and there is a love story, but that’s where the similarity ends.  This Cinderella has step-brothers and step-sisters, and a step-mother reminiscent of Joan Crawford of “Mommy, Dearest” notoriety.  Bourne places the action in World War II London during the time of the Blitz.

Set to Prokofiev’s sweeping score, this glorious production opens with vintage black-and-white Pathé newsreels of the bombings as told by a cheerful, British reporter.  Buck up, Brits, his delivery suggests, and they did.  Bourne’s three acts take us from Cinderella’s stylish Victorian living room during the blackouts and air raids into apocalyptic scenes with girders crashing and buildings ablaze.  As Brits were urged to “carry on” with life as usual we find ourselves in the Café de Paris, a sophisticated nightclub where the elite forget their troubles in stylized 1940’s dances.  The sets and costumes by Lez Brotherston, in shades of grey with painterly touches of red, are nothing short of stunning.

Most thrilling is the fairy godmother role, here called The Angel.  Danced by Liam Mower (Billy in the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot the Musical), it is a prominent role unlike your fairy godmother of yore.  Clad in a silver satin suit with slicked-back white hair, and looking more than a bit like David Bowie, he alternately guides and rescues Cinderella as she dreams of her love, Harry, the Pilot, an RAF pilot who is not an actual prince, but is her prince.  Bourne’s choreography for The Angel is mesmerizing and Mower becomes nearly serpentine in Nijinsky-esque movements that are an exquisite blend of both classical and modern dance.

MATTHEW BOURNE’S CINDERELLA. Ashley Shaw ‘Cinderella’ and Andrew Monaghan ‘Harry’. Photo by Johan Persson

Ashley Shaw (Cinderella) is a marvel.  Known to those who saw her play Vicky Page in The Red Shoes during her US tour in 2016-2017 or in Bourne’s film and TV productions of Christmas, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.   Her beauty and lithe physicality coupled with her expressive gestural movements, make her performance a joy to behold.

With Ashley Shaw as Cinderella; Andrew Monaghan as Harry, The Pilot; Liam Mower as The Angel; Madelaine Brennan as Sybil, The Step-Mother; Alan Vincent as Robert, The Step-Father.  Step-Sister & Step-Brothers played by Sophia Hurdley, Anjali Mehra, Jackson Fisch, Dan Wright and Stephen Murray.  Boyfriends & Girlfriends played by Reece Causton, Ben Brown, Cordelia Braithwaite and Katie Webb.  Harry’s Friends played by Danny Reubens and Edwin Ray.  Café de Paris Bandleader played by Alan Vincent with Guests played by Seren Williams, Stephanie Billers, Joao Carino and Mark Samaras.

MATTHEW BOURNE’S CINDERELLA. Andrew Monaghan ‘Harry’, Ashley Shaw ‘Cinderella’ and The Company. Photo by Johan Persson

ARP Wardens, Spies, Gas Mask Dogs, Airmen & Bombers, Prostitutes & Rent Boys, The Salvation Army, Savoy Guests, Thugs, Doctors, Nurses, Servicemen & Women and their Families, “Brief Encounter” couple and the people of London – played by members of the company.

A perfectly spectacular production!  Highly recommended.

Through January 20th in the Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

Miss Saigon ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
December 26, 2018

With the Vietnam War as dramatic backdrop, Miss Saigon is a poignant tale of star-crossed lovers amidst the horrors of war and its aftermath.  Under the direction of Laurence Connor of Broadway’s School of Rock and Les Misérables fame, this well-known interpretation of Puccini’s classic opera, Madama Butterfly, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil, has become one of the longest running shows on the American stage, and it remains indelibly powerful through its ability to capture love and loss.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Saigon in the spring of 1975 near the close of the great undeclared war brings together Chris (Anthony Festa), a young Marine, and Kim (Emily Bautista), a beautiful teenager forced into a life of prostitution in a seedy strip club called Dreamland.  Chris’s buddy, John (J. Daughtry), buys her attentions, gifting her to Chris who is searching for meaning in a country gone mad.  The club’s owner, a crafty con artist called The Engineer, senses the men’s keen interest in the innocent girl and ups the price.  “Men pay the moon to get fresh meat,” he snickers.

Red Concepción plays the sleazy Svengali to the hilt, delivering a phenomenal performance with equal parts charm, smarm and swagger.  “The Heat is On in Saigon” is a number a-swirl in strippers, pole dancers, beefy Marines and hustlers, especially notable for the introduction of Gigi, known as “The Sex Toy from Hanoi”.  When Gigi (Christine Bunuan), Kim and the other bar girls commiserate in “The Movie in My Mind”, we sense their despair for an inescapable life ruled by men and their whims.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

In one fateful night, Chris and Kim find love amidst the ruins and pledge to wed marry despite her father’s insistence on her marriage to Thuy (Jinwoo Jung) who has since become a high-ranking commissar under Ho Chi Minh and his torturous reunification program.  Through 28 glorious numbers, the musical takes us from the fall of Saigon and the chaos that became Ho Chi Minh City, to Chris’ new life in Atlanta with Ellen (Stacie Bono) and Kim’s escape to Bangkok where the glitz and glamour of the privileged few coexist with war’s forgotten ones.  While awaiting Chris’ return, Kim falls into the clutches of the Moulin Rouge’s fearsome owner played by Eric Badiqué.

Bautista’s formidable vocal range and emotional tenderness gifts us with a compelling portrayal of a young woman fighting for her dignity and a hoped-for future for her son.  Her delivery of “Sun and Moon” to their tiny son, Tam, will pull at your heartstrings.  She is well-matched by Festa whose voice proves a perfect complement to hers.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Theatergoers will be wowed by this new production with a cast that delivers in spectacular synch.  Kudos to Sound Designer Mick Potter for the rhythmically clanking and stomping, devil-masked dancers and dragon acrobats, and the thundering helicopter rotors in the iconic scene of the last plane out of Vietnam that coordinate seamlessly with Lighting Designer Bruno Poet’s blood red expression of Communist rule juxtaposed against B-girls cavorting erotically on multiple staircases.  Special effects and video projections help to envelop the audience in a sensory explosion of a sexier, raunchier, more emotionally tender production than ever before.

Highly recommended.

Through January 13th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The Play That Goes Wrong ~ Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
December 22, 2018 

Take a deep breath – or two – then prepare to fall down laughing.  From start to rollicking finish this steroidally hilarious play-within-a-play never misses a comedic beat as this splendid twelve-member cast proves that anything that can go wrong, will.  You know the old chestnut of Murphy’s Law, well, its tidy aphorism is cheekily born out here.  Someone must have said the forbidden word, “Macbeth” backstage, because the Cornley University Drama Society proceeds to offer up a shining example of the ineptest group of actors to ever tread the boards.  And it’s just delicious!

Peyton Crim, Yaegel T. Welch and Jamie Ann Romero ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

In trying to stage “The Murder at Haversham Manor”, this cockeyed amateur troupe shows that the play’s the thing – until it isn’t.  Pratfalls, mishaps, blown cues and botched exits abound, dead bodies won’t stay dead and malapropisms are the order of the day, all done with a straight face and a stiff upper lip.

Angela Grovey, Yaegel T_ Welch and Jamie Ann Romero ~ Photo by Jeremy Danie

It is the night of the engagement party of Florence Colleymore to Charles Haversham who has been found murdered. When Inspector Carter shows up to interrogate the estate’s fashionable guests, he doesn’t know whether to point the finger at Florence the sexpot, her supercilious brother Thomas, Charles’ cuckolding brother Cecil, Perkins the bumbling Butler, or Arthur the absent gardener.  But it hardly matters in this whodunnit.  With all the mayhem and mischief, everyone is under the microscope.

Ned Noyes and Scott Cote ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The only ones who remain relatively unscathed in this twisted mystery are the unnamed Stage Manager and the Duran Duran fanboy whose miscues and mishaps on lights and sound add to the cast’s confusion and the audience’s delight when they too wind up on stage to fill in for cast members who have been knocked unconscious by falling portraits or secret revolving doors.  If you’ve ever acted in or staged a production, you’ll commiserate with props that aren’t where they’re supposed to be, actors who are self-absorbed hams, sets that fall apart, and doors that won’t open.  Especially funny is a dueling divas’ scene when Florence revives from an accident only to discover her role has been taken over by the lowly Stage Manager.  Meow!

The Play That Goes Wrong Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Highly recommended.  A clever goofball sendup that’s guaranteed to keep you guffawing long after you’ve left the theatre.

Presented by Mischief Theatre and written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields with Scott Cote, Peyton Crim, Brandon J. Ellis, Angela Grovey, Ned Noyes, Jamie Ann Romero, Evan Alexander Smith, Yaegel T. Welch, Blair Baker, Jacqueline Jarrold, Sid Solomon and Michael Thatcher.

Through January 6th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600.

Silent Night ~ At The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 12, 2018 

Guns fell silent on Christmas Eve 1914 on the Belgian Front during World War I.  Due to a peculiar string of events, this cease fire is one of the strangest tales to ever occur during this war – or any war for that matter.  It’s a story that was kept under wraps for decades, until it wasn’t.  Composer Kevin Puts and Librettist Mark Campbell put us deep in the heart of the fierce battles between the French, German and British (and Scottish) forces and the night they put aside their guns to embrace their humanity, find commonality and discover compassion.

Audebert (Michael Adams), Horstmayer (Aleksey Bogdanov) and Gordon (Norman Garrett) agree to a truce in WNO’s Silent Night. Photo credit Teresa Wood

Based on the 2005 film, Joyeux Noël, Silent Night was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and co-produced by the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  It was first performed in 2011 in Minnesota, going on to be one of the most performed contemporary operas in the U. S. in the past half-century and earning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music.  The significance of this current production marks the eve of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

Father Palmer (bass Kenneth Kellogg) leads Mass during the WWI ceasefire in WNO’s Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

The reasons for going to war are universal, but at the heart of it all is the killing and the chaos.  The soldiers speak of the glory of battle and their future careers, as well as the familiar themes of justice, honor, family, victory and pride of country.  It is crushingly familiar.  “War is not sustainable  when you come to know your enemy as a person.  When you see that the person you might be shooting has a child or a wife or has this life at home and they’re just not the enemy, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain  war,” said Campbell.

German Lt Horstmayer laments the end of the truce in WNO’s Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Since, surprisingly, I had never seen this masterpiece before, I do not know if it is typically staged in the same way as it is here – on a three-tiered stage with the different countries occupying a different tier – but it is massively impressive and intensely colorful.  Striking tableaus like illustrations in a book and soldiers captured in silhouette mark the concatenation of the battles through endless days and fearful nights.  But the story is more than battles.  It is about the camaraderie of the soldiers, their quest for home and their interconnectedness despite well-defined borders.  We discover one of the German soldiers is married to a Frenchwoman and another has fond memories of spending time in the village of his enemy.

German, Scottish and French troops pose for pictures during a ceasefire in WNO’s Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Harmonics are an outstanding element in this unique opera as it is written polystylistically with influences of Baroque music and the inclusion of bagpipes (over 1,000 bagpipers died in WWI).

For this production, Artistic Director, Francesca Zambello, has chosen to showcase artists who have been a member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, now in its 17th year.  Each cast member has benefitted from this prestigious program and there’s no use in singling out one or two performers out of a 26-member cast who were flawless.  Oh okay, just a few of the principals – Raquel González as Anna Sørensen for her a cappella aria of peace, Alexander McKissick as Nikolaus Sprink for his duet with Anna, and Aleksey Bogdanov as the German General who has a change of heart.

Nikolaus Sprink (Alexander McKissick) and Anna Sorensen (Raquel Gonzalez) refuse to separate in WNO’s Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Conducted by Nicole Paiement with the Washington National Opera Chorus and the Washington National Opera Orchestra and directed by Tomer Zvulun.  Set and Projection Design by Erhard Rom, Costume Design by Victoria (Vita) Tzykun, Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel, Sound Design by Kai Harada and Fight Master Joe Isenberg.

Highly recommended for its timely message and glorious production.

Through November 25th.  Check calendar for performances.  At The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Anastasia ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 6, 2018 

In Terrence McNally’s lavish musical Anastasia the luxe life of the dynasty that was the Romanovs collides head on with reality.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 proved to be the downfall of the gilded empire ruled by the Romanov family.  Collateral damage included the brutal murders of Tsar Nicholas, his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children.  But according to myth, one child was purported to have secretly escaped.  Or did she?  There hangs the tale.

Victoria Bingham (Little Anastasia) and Joy Franz (Dowager Empress) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman

It’s a fascinating legend and one that has captivated both scholars and modern society for decades.  Until her death in 1984, the woman who called herself Anastasia regularly regaled the media and anyone who would listen about her charmed life as a royal and her perilous escape to Paris and into the arms of her ex-patriot grandmother the Dowager Empress.  Was this child an imposter or the real deal?  “Somewhere down this road ? I know someone’s waiting. / Years of dreams just can’t be wrong! / Arms will open wide / I’ll be safe and wanted / Finally home where I belong.” – from “Journey to the Past” – Anastasia.

Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman.

Two grifters, one a royal familiar with the Russian court, find the child starving and sweeping the streets of St. Petersburg, alone and adrift and suffering from amnesia.  Together they teach her everything they know about the real Anastasia – her parents, her relatives and life at court – with the endgame to reap a huge reward by delivering her into the arms of her aging grandmother.  “We’re going to create a fairy tale,” Vlad tells Dmitry.  As her memory appears to return, the young girl surprises them by knowing of events only the real Anastasia would have known.

Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Evocative projections of the onion domes of St. Petersburg, snow swirling outside the grand palace, the bridges across the Neva River and the glory and glamour of Paris set the scene.  Most spectacular is a scene on a train as the trio, chased by Russian authorities, escape to Paris, a city where Russian émigrés struggle to maintain their dignity and former grandeur in the City of Lights.

Edward Staudenmayer (Vlad), Tari Kelly (Countless Lily) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

By now it is 1927 the height of the Roaring 20’s when they finally arrive in search of an audience with the Dowager Empress.  There they are stopped in their tracks by Countess Lily, a gatekeeper who attempts to keep the old woman from the stream of pretenders.  Look to enjoy grand waltzes and Cossack dances to the Charleston and snippets of ballet in Swan Lake from Choreographer Peggy Hickey to the accompaniment of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Goldberg.

Composer Stephen Flaherty and Lyricist Lynn Ahrens afford us a lush score that evokes the grandeur of the period with waltzes and folk ballads, comic ditties and heart-stopping solo numbers in a production that will wow the most jaded theatregoer.

Highly recommended.  This is a huge show with gorgeous, unforgettable production values and memorable casting.

Edward Staudenmayer (Vlad), Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA ~ Photo credit Mathew Murphy

In order of appearance – Victoria Bingham as Little Anastasia/Alexei Romanov, Joy Franz as Dowager Empress, Lucy Horton as Tsarina Alexandra, Michael McCorry Rose as Tsar Nicholas II/Count Ipolitov/Count Gregory, Fred Inkley as Count Leopold/Gorlinsky, Taylor Quick as Young Anastasia/Paulina, Brianna Abruzzo as Maria Romanov/Marfa, Claire Rathbun as Olga Romanov, Kourtney Keitt as Tatiana Romanov/Dunya, Tari Kelly as Countess Lily, Jason Michael Evans as Gleg, Stephen Brower as Dmitry, Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad, and Lila Coogan as Anya.

Directed by Darko Tresnjak with Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, breathtaking Costume Design by Linda Cho, Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne, and Orchestrations by Doug Best.

Through November 25th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.