George Don’t Do That ~The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
March 13, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

If you were unfamiliar with famed British comedienne, Joyce Grenfell, you won’t be any longer with Catherine Flye’s tribute performance to Grenfell’s long and notable career.  In the second show of MetroStage’s Spring Solo Series, British-born Flye brings to life the singer, actress and monologist, and one of England’s most beloved entertainers.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show is a series of pastiches illustrating Grenfell’s best loved characters interwoven with songs and spoofs and remembered moments of humor and pathos.  You’ll even spot echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan.  Veteran performer Flye is accompanied delightfully by musical arranger and pianist Joseph Walsh playing music written by Richard Addinsell as well as standards like “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Don’t You Know” and “The Girl From Ipanema”.  Narrator Michael Tolaydo provides backdrop to the period.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

Flye, who devised the production, dons Grenfell like a second skin weaving the best of Grenfell’s British music hall follies as effortlessly and cheerily as Mary Poppins would.  This was the style of the day and audiences familiar with this era will have fond memories of the music and this particular form of humor.  She reminded me of Patricia Routledge’s character, Hyacinth Bouquet, in PBS’s long-running series Keeping Up Appearances.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show has been performed throughout the U. S., including the British Embassy in DC, East Africa and across the United Kingdom.

A treat for Anglophiles.

The second in a trio of one-woman shows at MetroStage through March 25th .  1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit online.

Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Synetic Theater ~ MetroStage ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria ~ ICE! at National Harbor ~ Christmas at Mount Vernon ~ Signature Theatre ~ Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia 

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Hansel and Gretel at Synetic Theater - During the bustle of holiday crowds, Gretel tries to keep her brother, Hansel, out of trouble while their babysitter leaves Gretel to fend for them both. As Hansel embarks on his own wonder-filled exploration of his everyday surroundings, he and his sister fall into a magical realm that takes them far away from home. In this wordless production, the well-beloved Grimm fairy tale embraces the fantastical through the eyes of those who see the world through a different lens.  Directed and choreographed by Elena Velasco and Tori Bertocci.  Through December 23rd at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets visit www.synetictheater.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull & Bush at MetroStage - Originally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage writer, director, and actor Catherine Flye will be transferring her 9-person troupe to a circa 1912 replica of the famed Hampstead, England pub to jolly up your holidays with food, 35 songs, jokes, dance, a sing-along and an abbreviated reenactment of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment runs through December 24th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – In a fresh interpretation by director Eleanor Tapscott, enjoy a return of the Christmas classic by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with diaphanous ghostly guides (beautifully choreographed by Ukranian Victoria Blum) through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays.  Complete with special effects, Victorian carols and Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets call 703.683.0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer atICE!” at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center – A 9-degree winter wonderland carved from over two million pounds of ice, a Christmas Village, merry-go-round, Glacier Glide ice skating rink, “JOY” – an eye-popping, Broadway-style holiday musical show, nightly snowfalls and dancing fountains at this first-class holiday destination.  Additional events are a Mistletoe Mixology class, Build-A Bear Workshop, photos with Santa, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and so much more. Through January 1st at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745.  For tickets and event times visit www.GaylordNationaltickets.com.

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Christmas at Mount Vernon Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling.  Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more.  For tickets and event times visit www.MountVernon.org.

Holiday Follies at Signature Theatre - Starring jazz singer Ines Nassara, David Rowen (Signature’s Diner) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s West Side Story) singing classic holiday songs.  Through December 16th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets visit www.SigTheatre.org.

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia in collaboration with the Office of the Arts presents a “Friday Evening Chamber Concert Series”.  The next concert “A Brass Christmas” is scheduled for Friday, December 15th at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron St.  For online tickets visit http://bit.ly/2vSKXRd.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Are you now, or have you ever been…MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Carlyle Brown’s play about the investigation and inquisition of Langston Hughes by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is a deeply moving, profoundly disturbing probe into the mind of a successful Black American poet.  Under the guidance of Joseph McCarthy, these televised courtroom investigations were led by the notorious Roy Cohn, advisor to Richard Nixon and later mentor to Donald Trump, the Senate Subcommittee turns their search to uncover Communists into a witch hunt the likes of which America had never seen.  Like Hitler’s civilian spies it turned the country into a nation of informants – with people putting forth names of co-workers and friends to save their own skin.  That many of them had no connection to the actual Communist Party, nor knew anything more than workers had rights and blacks were equal in the USSR, was of no consequence to these self-righteous Senators.

The investigation into, and “blacklisting” of, the lives of hundreds of actors, writers, gays, etc. ruined their lives, careers, and businesses – all in the name of rooting out a misperceived Communist and anti-Christian influence on American society.  It turned the country upside down at the time.

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor, as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

In this newly developed treatment of Brown’s play, Composer William Knowles adds verve to the drama adding original music to background life in 1953 Harlem and, later, the needle-sharp drama of the hearings.  Knowles incorporates period Blues, Jazz and Cabaret songs to animate the rhythms and patterns of Hughes’ famous poems.   It’s set in the period of the Harlem Renaissance when, as Hughes puts it, “Negroes were in vogue.”  Until they weren’t.

It is a sinuous story set to music that weaves in and out of Hughes’ most profound thoughts, highlighting his poetry and underpinning his trial in dramatic fashion.  For those familiar with Hughes’ poems it will be a pleasure to renew your acquaintance with “The Weary Blues”, The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “Harlem Dance Hall”, “Good Morning Revolution” and others.

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Director Thomas W. Jones II does an outstanding job with a diverse cast that brings the necessary gravitas to the story.  The six-member cast not only sings and dances in a number of styles of the period, but moves effortlessly through a number of roles and wardrobe changes, that is except for lead actor Marcus Naylor as Langston who tackles the role with virtuosity.  The one-acter builds to a crescendo with Hughes’ interrogation by Cohn (played impressively by Marni Penning) who eviscerates the poet piecemeal.  The parallels to today’s news are staggering.

Also notable is Wood Van Meter as David Schine, who has a wonderful voice and whose solos are explosive.  Michael Sharp as Senator Joseph McCarthy, Russell Sunday as Senator Everett Dirksen and Josh Thomas as Frank Reeves round out this excellent cast.

Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan employ an effective set design of large trapezoidal panels that allow for Hughes words, plus photos and videos of the period, to accommodate designer Robbie Hayes’ evocative projections.

Highly recommended.  An unforgettable night of theatre.

Through November 5th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

The Wizard of Hip (Or When in Doubt Slam Dunk) ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
August 21, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip - Photo credit Chris Banks

Getting schooled by Thomas W. Jones II, aka “Afro Joe”, is a lesson in growing up Black, Catholic, and urban hip – “sticky leg” and all.  Jones is a poet with a fusillade style of comedic delivery that gets under your skin with its beat-bopping rhythms and déjà vu tales of adolescence.  It’s a story about being Black in modern culture that transcends Blackness and goes to the heart of teen angst and family dynamics.  Jones is already cool.  At 60+ he’s still got all the moves including a dip in the hip (he assures us it’s not about hip replacement), when he’s demonstrating the art of getting the girl.  Or, at least, trying to get the girl, which doesn’t go well for Jones as a teenager until he realizes that making a well-rehearsed, slow-rolling, wordless entrance into a dance club isn’t at all the kind of approach that his target has in mind.  “You enter on an angle,’ he advises, twisting his agile frame into a slow-walking, undulating gait.  After a few rookie moves in which the women rebuff his advances, he switches gears and tries a little tenderness.  Cue the adoring girl.

Jones and his two, talented singer/actor sidekicks, Jasmine Eileen Coles as Lady Doo Wop 1 and Kanysha Williams as Lady Doo Wop 2, blast out street-funky, free-style, free-verse poetry filled with the pain and glory of growing up and growing cool in Queens, New York.  They dance, slide and do the funky chicken to James Brown, Sidney Poitier and other Black towers of power from the 1950’s rock n’ roll era as archival photos of the period, including Dr. J and Willie Mays, are projected behind them.

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip - Photo credit Chris Banks

Filling the black box stage, the indefatigable Jones peels off in warp speed with riffs on his youth.  One episodic piece delves into the sanctity of mamas and papas, as in “don’t talk about my mama”, a multi-character piece in which he is pitted against street toughs while defending his mother’s honor.  In it he goes from getting beat up (he’s a genius at morphing into two or more characters at once) to slip sliding off in dishonor with a panoply of excuses to go home – homework, dinner, mow the lawn.

In fact, “mow the lawn” becomes a particularly notable euphemism in the troubles he has with his father (whom Jones also plays).  The father figure is seen as a model of ineptitude and intransigence – forever diverting punitive decisions back onto mama while urging his son to step up his game and be a man.  This impossible balance of constantly maintaining peer-pressure hipsterness while trying to score with the ladies, is what keeps our hero rocked back on his heels as he deciphers what everyone wants and where he fits in.  Because in the gospel of Cool with a capital ‘C’, “You gotta be John Wayne in a Shirley Temple world.”

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip - Photo credit Chris Banks

Jones is familiar to MetroStage as writer, director and choreographer on Three Sistahs, Ladies Swing the Blues and many other original productions that had their premieres here.  He’s also known for his performances at Studio Theatre and more recently at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Two veteran musicians keep pace with Jones high energy.  On keyboards is William Knowles, known to MetroStage aficionados as Music Director for his work on the Helen Hayes’ award-winning Cool Papa’s Party as well as Three Sistahs, Blues in the Night, Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song, Blackberry Daze and more.  Knowles also provides original music to syncopate Jones’ kinetic style.  Keeping the backbeat is Greg Holloway on drums – a staple of many of MetroStage’s original productions.

See it, if you want to keep your cool.

Through September 17th at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.

For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

Master Class ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
May 9, 2017

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

Ilona Dulaski dons Maria Callas like a full-length mink coat in Terrence McNally’s Master Class now at MetroStage.  Dulaski morphs utterly into the famed and feisty opera diva in all her forms, from the tough broad she was to the tragic figure she became.  Aiming dead eye at the audience, as though we are fellow students of the opera, the prima donna doles out life lessons like lollipops.  So convincing is Dulaski’s delivery that when she demands a pencil be produced for a forgetful student, we begin searching our pockets.  “I always had a pencil.  I never had an orange,” she chides, explaining a youth of deprivation.  And again, insulting each female student for their unprofessional clothing choices, demanding they “have a look”.  “It’s important to have style and élan,” she insists.  And we, the audience, begin to do a mental check on what we wore to the theater.  It’s that visceral.  I kept flashing on Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard for reference and I’m still not sure why.

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

(l-R) Ayana Reed as Sharon and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

Nick Olcott, who also directs opera productions for Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Washington National Opera, has cleverly cast talented, young local opera singers as Callas’s students – Emily Hanzel as Sophie, Ayana Reed (who we loved in MetroStage’s recent production of Blackberry Days) as Sharon, and Daniel Noone as Tony the tenor (Joshua Baumgardner fills in for Noone on May 18th and 19th).  Singing arias from Tosca and Verdi, the budding performers are a joy to hear, and as neophytes it makes for a credible rapport with Madama Callas as she puts them through their paces like a sergeant barking insults to a group of raw recruits.  “Non-actor” and piano accompanist, Joseph Walsh, better known for conducting opera, does a fine job as wary foil to Callas’s slights.

(l-R) Daniel Noone as Tony and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

(l-R) Daniel Noone as Tony and Ilona Dulaski as Maria Callas. Photo credit: Chris Banks

Rhe’a Roland dresses the set to resemble a large classroom at Julliard and Jingwei Dal’s costumes reflect the year 1971 when Callas conducted master classes at the renowned conservatory.  And to set the period further Projection Designer Gordon Nimmo-Smith uses a triptych of screens with photographs of Callas’s lover and abuser Aristotle Onassis who dumped her unceremoniously after a ten-year relationship to marry widow, Jacqueline Kennedy.  Additional footage of Callas’s first marriage to an elderly industrialist shares space with photos and classic recordings of her triumphant performances at La Scala and New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.  It is during these pentimentos that Dulaski, toggling between the voice of Onassis and her own, reenacts conversations from their thorny affair.

Dulaski’s ability to be both poignant and terrifying is riveting.  In a scene depicting Callas’s response to those who bring up her rivals she sizzles with sarcasm, “How can you have rivals when nobody else can do what you do?”McNally portrays the artist as the complex woman she was – driven to succeed through discipline, fear of failure and pluck while subservient to a man who claimed he owned her.  It seems a sort of willful paradox that she allowed men to control her and yet fought tooth and nail against their insults.  To Sharon she warns, “You will in time know how much suffering there is for a woman.”

Highly recommended.

Through June 11th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.