Bandstand ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 2, 2020 

The Tony Award-winning Bandstand opens with the sounds of war and of soldiers in the heat of battle.  It isn’t the first of many flashbacks for Donny Novitski, a down-on-his-luck vet whose best friend, Michael, was killed by a grenade when they came under attack.  Donny promises to find Michael’s widow Julia and share stories of the men’s friendship.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

As a teen, Donny had been a singer and pianist.  Upon returning from battle, he goes looking for a gig but is turned down for being too old or too out of touch with the current music scene.  The story really begins to blossom when Donny learns of a nationwide Big Band contest, decides to start his own band, and convinces Julia to front the group.  Their struggles and Donny and Julia’s romance form the basis of this poignant story of the aftermath of World War II.

Shaunice Alexander in the Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Donny’s band members experience PTSD, problems with drugs and alcohol, grief, and anger management issues.  How they conquer their disabilities and the ghosts of war to triumph against all odds, provides us with a story that is heartwarming, honest and hopeful.

This musical has all the song and dance elements of a big Broadway show.  Andy Blankenbuehler who choreographed Hamilton, keeps eleven dancers jitterbugging and swing dancing throughout.  And Donny’s band of sax, horn, drums, piano, bass, plus a five-piece orchestra create the Big Band sound of the 1940’s and bobby-soxer tunes of the early 50’s.  Tender ballads accompany some of the best-known songs from the show – “You Know Who Tells Me”, “Donny Novitski”, Julia’s mother June’s song, “Everything Happens”, “Welcome Home” and Julia and Donny’s snappy love song, “This Is Life”.  Twenty numbers keep the joint jumpin’ and the band cookin’.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

As the first stop in the show’s first National Tour, the cast of Bandstand has been focusing on presenting its story to all members of the armed forces and their families, which is quite nearly all of us.  To that end, the audience contained many invited vets including TAPS and Gold Star families.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

A song and dance bonanza!

Starring Zack Zaromatidis as Donny Novitski; Jennifer Elizabeth Smith as Julia Trojan; Roxy York as Mrs. June Adams; Rob Clove as Jimmy Campbell; Benjamin Powell as Davy Zlatic; Scott Bell as Nick Radel; Louis Jannuzzi III as Wayne Wright; Jonmichael Tarleton as Johnny Simpson; Shaunice Alexander as Jean Ann Ryan; Matthew Mucha as Andre; Taylor Okey as Oliver.

Music by Richard Oberacker; Book and Lyrics by Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker; Original Direction by Andy Blankenbuehler; Tour Director Gina Rattan; Conducted by Miles Plant; Scenic Design by David Korins; Costume Design by Paloma Young; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Original Broadway Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg.

Through Sunday, March 8th at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNational.com or call 1-800-514-3849.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The King’s Speech ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 12, 2020 

The unfolding drama in The King’s Speech is young Bertie’s ability to overcome a debilitating stammer.  Coupled with the issue of his brother David’s affair with the twice-divorced, utterly unsuitable Wallis Simpson, it forms the basis for this fascinating historical dramedy.  When their father George V dies, David becomes next in line to the throne.  However, it was no secret to the royal family that David (later known as the Duke of Windsor) and Wallis were Nazi sympathizers when England was fighting Hitler.  David’s affair and the couple’s affection for Hitler, made him an impossible candidate to ascend to the throne.   

Tiffany Scott as Wallis Simpson and Jeff Parker as David, Duke of Windsor ~ Photos by Liz Lauren.

You may recall the movie of the same name.  It won four Academy Awards and starred Colin Firth as King George (Best Actor) and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the King’s Aussie speech therapist.  But what you may not know, is that playwright David Seidler had always intended it to be staged and had gone so far as to obtain permission from the Queen Mother who insisted it not be staged until after her death.  Its North American premiere last fall at Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater, finally made Seidler’s dream a reality.

With a constitutional crisis at hand, David ultimately is forced to abdicate, and Bertie must face his fears to speak authoritatively and publicly at a time of war in his role as King George VI.  Tapped to be next in line to the throne, he must learn to overcome his speech impediment and speak with authority.  In desperation, his wife finds a questionable speech therapist, Lionel Logue, in truth a failed actor with whom he develops an unusual relationship, as King to commoner.  Recalling the words of his overbearing father, “Sitting on thrones is our business,” he reluctantly subordinates his royal status to Lionel’s unorthodox methods.

Much of the drama and hilariously snappy repartee are reflected in Bertie and Lionel’s fraught relationship, though some of it centers around, the charismatic Lionel and his wife, Myrtle, whose pressing desire is to return to Australia.  Scenes between Churchill and the diabolical Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, give historical weight to the palace intrigue surrounding the kingdom’s sudden shift of power.

Kevin Gudahl as Winston Churchill and John Judd as King George V ~ Photos by Liz Lauren.

Scenes that shift from Lionel’s shabby studio to the palace and ultimately Westminster Abbey are bolstered by Kevin Depinet’s wonderful set design and David Wollard’s period costumes.  Nick Westrate as Bertie, Michael Bakkensen as Lionel, and Jeff Parker as Bertie’s  brother, David, are electrifying in this tip-top production.

With Kevin Gudahl as Winston Churchill; John Judd as King George V; Elizabeth Ledo as Myrtle Logue; Noble Shropshire as Cosmo Lang; David Lively as Stanley Baldwin; Maggie Lacey as Elizabeth; and Tiffany Scott as Wallis Simpson.

Directed by Michael Wilson; Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Sound Design and Original Music Composition by John Gromada.

Through February 16th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 1.800.514.3849 or visit www.TheNationalDC.com

Jersey Boys ~ The Story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 17, 2019 

(l to r) Corey Greenan, Eric Chambliss, Jon Hacker and Michael Milton – Photo: Joan Marcus

In an era when Motown was delivering hit after hit and Black singing groups ruled the charts, a quartet of Italian kids from the blue-collar town of Belleville, NJ began their journey to stardom.  Most of them were small-time crooks who knew a hot hustle when they saw it.  Tommy, one of the original members, was street smart enough to keep the others out of the worst kind of trouble, though all of them wound up serving time in the pen.  After they all got out, they re-formed, playing local dives and bowling alleys – an arduous route followed by many bands.  Only a handful of these white quartets made it big.  How Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons achieved the pinnacle of success and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines this Tony, Grammy and Olivier-award winning musical.

Bob Crewe’s Apartment ~ (l to r) Michael Milton, Corey Greenan, Jon Hacker, Justin Albinder, Sean McGee and Eric Chambliss – Photo: Joan Marcus

Valli’s powerhouse falsetto and the group’s sweet harmonies, set them apart from other groups, but success didn’t come easily.  After years of struggle as unknown studio backup singers for big recording artists and a sleazy group member who put them over $1M in debt, the group finally found their identity when a young Joe Pesci (Yes! That Joe Pesci.) introduced them to a little-known singer/songwriter named Bob Crewe.  Crewe subsequently churned out mountains of hits for the group and apart from their personal troubles managed to keep them on the road and on the charts.  Of particular interest for me, was learning about Crewe, the most grounded, educated and philosophical of the band members.

Thanks to Murray the K, a popular New York City radio disc jockey, the group got airplay of their first release, “Sherry”.  It went straight to the top of Billboard’s pop charts selling one million records.  After that the hits, and the fans, kept coming – “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Dawn” and dozens more.

Snowflake Ladies ~ (l to r) Katie Goffman, Connor Lyon, Amy Wagner and Ashley Bruce – Photo: Joan Marcus

The plot, though somewhat predictable and thin as a minute, is based on their fortunes and misfortunes.  Think of it as the glue that supports the musical numbers.  Fans will hear over two dozen of their biggest hits plus a few of their earliest song stylings.  Sung by a quartet whose voices are a near perfect match to the originals, think of it as a Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons concert.  The harmonies are pitch perfect.

(l to r) Ashley Bruce, Amy Wagner and Connor Lyon – Photo: Joan Marcus

Former original Broadway cast member Jon Hacker as Frankie shows off an astonishing falsetto range accompanied by slick dance moves.  Expect James Brown-style splits and spins executed in retro sharkskin suits.  All the band’s songs are choreographed as are those for a sexy mini-skirted girl group that accompanies the boys on tour.

A high energy concert-styled musical set in a retro 60’s music scene, it features all their greatest hits.

Highly entertaining.  (Note: This show is appropriate for ages 12+ only due to strong language throughout.)

Directed by Des McAnuff; Written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo; Music by Bob Gaudio; Lyrics by Bob Crewe; Lighting by Howell Binkley; Costume Design by Jess Goldstein; Orchestrations by Steve Orich.

Starring Sean McGee as Bob Crewe; Michael Milton as Nick Massi; Eric Chambliss as Bob Gaudio; Corey Greenan as Tommy DeVito; Ashley Bruce as Mary Delgado/Angel. The rest of the cast all play multiple roles.

Through January 5th at the National Theatre – Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.com or call 1.800.514-3849.

Fiddler on the Roof ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 11, 2019 

An exhilarating and fresh new production of Fiddler hit the National Theatre this week.  The Tony-nominated revival comes in at number eight in the venue’s 2019-2020 “Broadway at the National” series – a series that includes an unprecedented 17 productions.  As with many a national touring show, it is only here for a few performances before hitting the road and straight on to yet another U. S. city.  Catch it if you can.  The voices, as well as the production values, are sublime, and the energy and dance numbers are at full throttle.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Written at the turn of the 20th century, the story of the lone fiddler is inspired by the Yiddish stories of Sholem Aleichem.  In this funny and sweetly endearing folk tale set in the fictional Russian Jewish shetl called Anatevka, live Tevye, a milkman, his wife, Golde and their five eligible daughters.  In their small village the rabbi, or rebbe, is the ultimate authority on Jewish tradition and Yente the Matchmaker, who is the Dolly Levi of arranged marriages, has the final say in whom the young women will marry.

Yehezkel Lazarov, Jonathan Von Mering & the Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Alas, poor Tevye.  He is eternally conflicted by the changing times as he wrestles with the frightening political climate, the ever-looming pogroms, and the strict religious precepts laid down by the rabbi.  Fiercely traditional in a paternalistic society, he tries to rationalize his daughters’ unorthodox marital choices.  “On the other hand, look at my daughter’s eyes,” he muses, trying to justify the adoration he sees in them for the men they love.   We see Tevye at odds between keeping tradition or accepting the decisions of his beloved daughters.  “Without tradition our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof,” he warns them.

Natalie Anne Powers, Mel Weyn & Ruthy Froch. Photo by Joan Marcus.

This tender and uplifting story is directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific, The King and I) with all-new spectacular choreography (including the epic bottle dance) by famed Israeli Choreographer, Hofesh Schechter are drawn from authentic folkloric dances and by Jerome Robbins original choreography.  As an added treat, Tevye is played by the critically acclaimed Israeli theatre, film, and TV star Yehezkel Lazarov.  Altogether the cast is seamless.  Notable, too, is Noa Luz Barenblat, as Chava, who reminds me of a young Shirley Jones.

Carolyn Keller, Michael Hegarty, Maite Uzal & Yehezkel Lazarov. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“Tevye’s Dream”, a scene featuring the ghost of Fruma-Sarah, is especially stunning with gargantuan creatures inspired by artist Marc Chagall’s images.  Together they serve as an eerie and phantasmagorical imagining of Tevye’s nightmare – the one in which he and Golde must face the marriage of their independent-minded daughter Tzeitel to the crusty old butcher Lazar Wolf.  “I realize we are the chosen people,” he tells God, “but sometimes couldn’t you choose someone else.”

Olivia Gjurich, Yehezkel Lazarov & the Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

You’ll revel in “If I Were a Rich Man”, “Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, “Miracle of Miracles”, and “Sunrise, Sunset”, all the time-tested tunes that background the important moments of our lives.

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Highly recommended whether you’ve seen it once or a hundred times.

With Maite Uzal as Golde; Kelly Gabrielle Murphy as Tzeitel; Ruthy Froch as Hodel; Emma Taylor Schwartz as Shprintze; Carly Post as Bielke; Carol Beaugard as Yente; Nick Siccone as Motel the tailor; Nick Casaula as Perchik; Jonathan Von Mering as Lazar Wolf; Danny Arnold as Mordcha; David Scott Curtis as Rabbi; Cam Cote as Mendel; Kelly Glyptis as Fruma-Sarah; Jack O’Brian as Constable; Sam McClellan as Fyedka; Ali Arian Molaei as The Fiddler.

Conducted by Michael Gildin with Set Design by Michael Yeargan; Costume Design by Catherine Zuber; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; and Sound Design by Scott Lehrer & Alex Neumann.  Book by Joseph Stein, Music by Jerry Bock and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick.

At the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.com or call 1.800.514.3849.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape – to – Margaritaville ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2019 

Parrot Heads know where paradise is – on a beach with a tequila-laced cocktail in hand – and that’s exactly where this bio-musical will transport them.  Last night an audience filled with Jimmy Buffett fans were jazzed to hear a mix of his best-loved hits coupled with Broadway-style tunes designed to enhance the singer’s life story.

Company of the National Tour, Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The sweet love stories play out at a run-down hotel on a Caribbean island where two besties go for different reasons.  Rachel, a Harvard-educated environmentalist, is there to collect soil samples for a project she hopes to get funded and Tammy wants a beach blowout before her upcoming nuptials to Chad.  When they arrive, the beach party is in full swing with revelers dancing in minis and cutoffs and tropical drinks flowing.  The overarching theme is party hardy and Brick shakes up shooters like “Sex on the Beach”, “Screaming Orgasm” and “Long Slow Comfortable Screw” that are no doubt familiar within the drinking culture.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachelin Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Tully Mars and his friend, Brick, live on the island where they’ve carved out a laidback lifestyle – Tully as the beach party’s guitar-strumming singer and Brick as the bartender.  The guys time their affairs to the vacationers’ week-long stay.  As Tully puts it, “Relationships are designed to only last a week.”  Tammy puts it more succinctly, “Zip flop, namaste!” But the men soon find themselves falling in love – Brick when he discovers Tammy likes puns and the hokey pokey and Tully when he realizes Rachel is not his typical hookup. “Changes in Attitudes” is the forerunner to her opening up to Tully and his island life.

Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel and Chris Clark as Tully in Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The crowd eats this up, especially the Margaritaville song, yelling out “Salt, salt, salt!” between verses.  These are diehard fans, and if this isn’t your jam – tiki huts, Hawaiian shirts and tequila – you’re in the wrong place.  Despite the party atmosphere, there are lessons to be learned and everyone seems to arrive at nirvana at their own pace.  J. D., the island’s patch-sporting Yoda, finds love with Marley, Margaritaville Hotel’s charming owner, and it’s a kick to see where Buffett’s greatest hits turn up.  “Cheeseburger in Paradise” being one of the silliest when Tammy returns home to Cincinnati and breaks her diet in a dance with a trolley stacked high with her favorite junk food.

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachelin Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. ~ Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Twenty-five songs sung by some top-notch vocalists backed by an eight-piece band are the glue that holds this fun-night-out musical together.  As Tully’s African American talent agent puts it when Tully thinks his songs won’t sell, “White people love this shit!”  And we all know how that turned out for Buffett.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Music by Jimmy Buffett, Book by Greg Garcia & Mike O’Malley, Directed by Amy Anders Corcoran, Choreography by Kelly Devine, Costumes by Paul Tazewell, Scenic Design by Walt Spangler, Lighting Design by Howell Binkley & Amanda Zieve with Orchestrations by Michael Utley.  Based on the Original Direction by Christopher Ashley.

With Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel, Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Rachel Lynn Fobbs as Marley, Patrick Cogan as J. D., Matthew James Sherrod as Jamal, Noah Bridgestock as Chadd, Diego Alejandro González as Jesús and DeVon Buchanan as Ted – plus a 12-person ensemble.

Jimmy Buffett’s Escape – to – Margaritaville is part of The National’s 2019-2020 16-production series bringing the best of Broadway shows to DC.

Through October 13th at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNational.com or call 1-800-514-3849.