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)
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)
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)
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.
June 21, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Having enjoyed this four-time Tony Award-winning musical on Broadway last month, I can firmly attest it has found a national touring company cast to do it justice. Author and lyricist, Robert L. Freedman, and composer and lyricist, Steven Lutvak, can rest assured that not a beat, a line, a dance step, a joke or note will fail to delight.
Here’s what to expect when you go, and you must, to be all the more prepared to sop it up. On your list of expectations should be dreamy love songs, a sinister Edward Gorey-like ambiance, delicious gallows humor, Fred Astaire-inspired dancing and droll Edwardian characters. Be assured there will be murder most foul and romance most delectably forbidden. All the elements of a ripping good show.
(L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D’Ysquith – Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
In A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder we find handsome bachelor, Montague Navarro (Kevin Massey), penniless and orphaned, bereft of employment prospects and in love with Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams), a strikingly gorgeous fortune hunter, who, though smitten with Monty, has her sights set on a wealthy scion.
(L-R) Lesley McKinnell as Miss Barley, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and John Rapson as Asquith D’Ysquith, Jr. – Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
Still mourning the loss of his mother Monty is visited in his shabby garret by Miss Shingle (Mary VanArsdel) a spinster who knew her well. The old lady tells Monty that his mother was disinherited by her family, the D’Ysquiths, for marrying beneath her station and that he is eighth in line for the title of Earl of D’Ysquith replete with the vast estates of Highhurst Castle. Devising a plan to jump the line of succession by whatever means necessary, our charming hero uses his wits, and some intricate plotting, to knock off the eccentric lords and ladies that precede him. “What can I take from the D’Ysquiths except their lives,” he merrily posits.
Commencing his fact-finding journey by touring Highhurst on Visitor’s Day, he runs into Lord Adelbert who, in full hunting regalia trills a snooty tune entitled, “I Don’t Understand the Poor”. Twenty-two numbers accompany Monty’s murderous plots while you find yourself cheering on his diabolical schemes.
John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith – Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
John Rapson, plays all eight D’Ysquith cousins, both male and female roles, ranging from the sputtering, apoplectic Lord Reverend and Lady Hyacinth, who has a monopoly on the downtrodden, to the gay athlete, Henry, who he humors in “Better with a Man”. As Monty continues to ingratiate himself with the others, he meets and falls in love with his cousin Phoebe (Adrienne Eller), the embodiment of the perfect Victorian lady.
(L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro, Matt Leisy, and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe – Photo credit: Joan Marcus
That lepers in the punjab and cannibals in deepest, darkest Africa figure into the plot is all part of the fun, though the Gothic chorus reminds us that, “suddenly they’re congregating under the sod”.
Amid all the lethal high jinks and criss-cross romance are the fabulous voices of the cast, Music Director Lawrence Goldberg’s 12-piece orchestra and Linda Cho’s turn-of-the-century costumes.
Through January 30th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit The Kennedy Center.