Come From Away ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
December 13, 2019 

Come From Away is the heartwarming true story of the residents of Gander, Newfoundland who took in over 7,000 passengers when their flights were diverted during 9/11.  It is not a maudlin retelling of that terrifying moment in time when all U. S. airspace shut down.  Nor is it an historical or political exposé, but it is a testament to how extraordinarily kind and generous these small-town residents were when faced with a disaster of epic proportions.

The North American Tour of Come From Away Photo Credit Matthew Murphy

It’s a normal workday when news comes in that 38 international aircraft have been diverted to their local airport.  The bus drivers are on strike.  The local news reporter is on her first day on the job. The mayor is under siege and the SPCA lady is running late to the animal shelter.  Passengers on the aircraft have no idea why they are not headed to their destinations.  Forced to remain in their crowded planes on the tarmac for 28 hours with zip to do, they get rip-roaring drunk.  Who wouldn’t?

The North American Tour of Come From Away Photo Credit Matthew Murphy

Based on a true story, the musical parallels the strained emotions of the stranded passengers with the herculean efforts of the townspeople who struggled to provide food and supplies for adults, kids, babies, dogs, cats and a pair of bonobo chimpanzees.  Everything about this sweet, sweet, musical reaffirms one’s belief in the kindness and generosity of strangers in the face of adversity.  Remember how everyone pulled together in New York during that terrifying time?  Well, it feels just like that, only with a great deal of situational humor as the passengers settle into town life, struggle to adjust, and hit the local bars.

The North American Tour of Come From Away Photo Credit Matthew Murphy

Of particular charm are the townspeople’s Irish accents and Irish music, a result of the region’s Celtics roots.  Add to that the passengers’ diversity of ethnicities, religions, and predilections, to form an ad hoc United Nations.  Yet there is still fear amongst some of the passengers.  A gay couple worries they will be scorned.  A Muslim has to hide his prayer time.  A mixed-race couple is unsure if it’s realistic to fall in love under such superficial circumstances.

The staging is a brilliant achievement of complex choreography as the actors assume many roles and the simple sets toggle between scenes on the planes, the local watering hole, the SPCA and the mayor’s office.

The First North American Tour Company of COME FROM AWAY, Photo by Matthew Murphy,

Uplifting and exuberant with a gorgeous score and phenomenal singing to boot.  I loved every minute of it!

Book, Music and Lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein.  Directed by Christopher Ashley with Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Costumes by Toni-Leslie James; Scenic Design by Beowolf Boritt; Sound Design by Gareth Owen; Orchestrations by August Eriksmoen; and Arrangements by Ian Eisendrath.

Featuring Sharone Sayegh as Bonnie; Harter Clingman as Oz and others; Marika Aubrey as Beverly/Annette and others; Julia Knitel as Janice and others; James Earl Jones II as Bob and others; Kevin Carolan as Claude and others; Chamblee Ferguson as Nick/Doug and others; Nick Duckart as Kevin J./Ali and others; Danielle K. Thomas as Hannah and others; Julie Johnson as Beulah and others; and Christine Toy Johnson as Diane and others.

Through January 5th 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.

The Woman in Black ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
December 9, 2019 

Attention all Brits and Anglophiles!  The festive tradition of vying for the evilest stories during the Christmas season is very much intact.  Based on Susan Hull’s 1983 neo-Gothic novel came the play, the second-longest running production in London’s West End.  It puts us in mind of Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” featuring the spooky ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future.  This tale of “truth being quite other”, as it’s described, attempts to be a story of haunting and fear.  And the premise that, “It must be told,” becomes the basis for delivering this tale.

Daniel Easton, left, and Robert Goodale star in “The Woman in Black” at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Photo credit Tristram Kenton

In this atmospherically set two-hander, promoted as “spine-tingling”, the actors trade parts using different accents, subtle costume changes, and a few props, counting on the audience’s imagination to envision the characters’ motives and identities, rather than seeing it all played out.  Eerie sound effects – howling winds, thudding steps, screams, and things that go bump in the night – are the raison d’être for attempting to terrorize the audience.

In it, scenes toggle back and forth between an old man’s spooky story and a young solicitor (who also acts as acting coach to the old man) with the two men trading roles and adopting new ones at the drop of a bowler hat.  I must confess I found it rather sillier, and utterly predictable, than scary, though several audience members did squeal a few times.

Robert Goodale, left, and Daniel Easton in “The Woman in Black.” Photo credit Tristram Kenton

It’s easy to intuit the plot as well as the outcome when the described setting is the dark salt marshes surrounding an isolated house in England’s barren countryside.  Factor in the Nine Lives Bridge that sinks with the tides, further enisling the property and add in a fog-filled graveyard that features prominently as a location for a visiting ghost.  I’m not entirely certain there weren’t baying hounds, but there could have been, so seamlessly would they have figured into this well-acted but clichéd story.

Ah well, you can’t win them all – ghosts notwithstanding.

Adapted by Stephen Mallatratt and directed by Robin Herford.  Set and Costume Design by Michael Holt, Lighting Design by Kevin Sleep.  Starring Robert Goodale as Arthur Kipps and Daniel Easton as The Actor.

Through December 22nd at the Michael R. Klein Theatre (formerly known as the Lansburgh Theatre) at 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007.  For tickets and information visit  www.ShakespeareTheatre.org/events or call the box office at 202.547.1122.

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.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
December 6, 2019 

Ken Ludwig, the prolific Olivier Award-winning and Tony Award-winning playwright, gifts us with an exquisite pentimento-inspired play drawing on his parents’ long-distance romance during the height of World War II.  This charming, world premiere two-hander is constructed in such a way that the actors act out their correspondence.  It’s a clever device that allows their letters to come to life.  Credit Director Jackie Maxwell for sorting through the mechanics of bringing it to the stage.  Separated on either side of the stage and speaking directly to the audience, is Jack, a soldier writing from his military posts and Louise, an aspiring actress residing in the Curtain Call Boarding House in New York City.

(L to R) Jake Epstein (Jack Ludwig) and Amelia Pedlow (Louise Rabiner) in Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise running November 21 through December 29, 2019 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The two young letter-writers couldn’t be more dissimilar.  Small town-bred Jack, a doctor, is shy, studious and committed to the care of his fellow soldiers, while Brooklyn-born Louise is high-strung, sardonic and witty.  They make the perfect case for opposites attracting.

While Jack awaits leave, the ultimate goal is for the two to meet in person, their letters become a lifeline to each others’ emotional well-being.  Louise gaily writes about her nerve-wracking auditions and later, about his parents’ efforts to meet her.  (They’re behind the whole thing.)  One of the funniest scenes is when she regales him with the story of how 45 members of his extended family meet her at the train station and later, how she fell out a window (or was pushed) by one of his undermining aunts.  All this after he has begged her not to meet his crazy family and sent letters to his battalion of aunts threatening to out their family secrets if they’re not on their best behavior.

Jake Epstein (Jack Ludwig) in Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Their correspondence focuses on the period from 1942 through 1945 including Jack’s time on the most dangerous battlefields in Europe and as Louise agonizes that she will never meet her heart’s desire.  It’s a sweet romance full of the poignancy, promise, fears, and gallows’ humor universally expressed in letters during wartime and these two actors synch up so symbiotically you can’t help but believe their transformative tale.  Ludwig said of his play, “I hope it’s a story about how this country rises to the occasion.” And, indeed it is.

Amelia Pedlow (Louise Rabiner) in Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Costumes by Linda Cho and hairstyles by Ellyn Miller are period-perfect, though Beowolf Boritt’s backdrop is more reminiscent of amoebas suspended in a test tube than a setting for a wartime dramedy.

If you like “A Wonderful Life”, and who doesn’t, this one’s for you.

(L to R) Amelia Pedlow (Louise Rabiner), Ken Ludwig (Playwright) and Jake Epstein (Jack Ludwig) in Ken Ludwig’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Starring Jake Epstein (originator of the role of Gerry Goffin in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical and Peter Parker/Spiderman in Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark) and Amelia Pedlow (lately featured in Doubt, Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Folger, and The Metromaniacs and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare Theatre Company).

Through December 29th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

 

Disney’s Newsies the Musical ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 16, 2019 

The high energy Tony Award-winning, Newsies, a lollapalooza of a musical, tapped, spun, swung, belted and leapt its way onto the Fichandler Stage to tremendous applause.  A sweetheart of a story about the scrappy young newsboys who went up against the powerful New York City-based newspaper barons, William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, it checks all the boxes for fabulous, family-friendly, action-packed entertainment.

The cast of Disney’s Newsies running November 1 through December 29, 2019 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

This David meets Goliath story pits orphan newsboys against greedy publishers setting the stage for a tender love story between the strike’s brash young leader, Jack Kelly, and the publisher’s daughter, budding theatre critic, Katherine Plumber.   This is where I mention Daniel J. Maldonado who plays Jack.  Remember that name.  He’s not only ferociously talented and fiercely captivating, but a total heartthrob.  Okay, we got that out of the way.

(L to R) Edward Gero (Joseph Pulitzer) and Jamie Smithson (Nunzio/Guard/Policeman/Teddy Roosevelt) in Disney’s Newsies running November 1 through December 29, 2019 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Here’s the set up.  To raise his profits, Pulitzer jacks up the price the kids must pay to the middlemen, leaving them little to subsist on.  Led by Kelly and fellow newsie, David, the boys decide to form a union and strike for better wages and decent working conditions.  The period musical is set in 1899 when other citywide unions, from the trolley workers to child labor unions, had tried and failed to gain traction for their demands.  When it looked as though workers were winning support, the bosses sent thugs to rough them up portrayed here as the Lower East Side Delancey Brothers.

Nova Payton (Nun/Medda) in Disney’s Newsies running November 1 through December 29, 2019 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Jack forms a bond with David, a bright kid whose father lost his job and is forced to work to so the family can eat.  David, along with his little brother, Les, are both the force and inspiration for the orphans’ dreams.  Another shining star is local talent Josiah Smothers as Les.  Not only can he dance and sing with the best of them, but he is utterly endearing.

(L to R) Daniel J. Maldonado (Jack Kelly) and Erin Weaver (Katherine) in Disney’s Newsies running November 1 through December 29, 2019 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Performed in the round, the actors utilize all the aisles and all four entry points to create an all-encompassing experience.  Ken MacDonald’s set design from Pulitzer’s swank office and Medda’s swanky nightclub to the fire escapes of the Lower East Side, provides the perfect climate for the ultimate showdown.

Rounding out the core cast, is Edward Gero, spot on as the crochety Pulitzer, the gorgeous Erin Weaver as Katherine with a voice like an angel, and the irrepressible Nova Y. Payton, who plays Medda Larkin, a hotsy-totsy cabaret singer whose soulful powerhouse voice shakes the rafters.  The rest of the ensemble showcases some of the best hoofers and singers anywhere.  Remember.  If you see Disney in front of a show’s title, it will be spectacular! 

Highly recommended.

Through December 29th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org. 

Directed by Molly Smith with book by Harvey Fierstein and 18 wonderful numbers written by Jack Feldman, composed by Alan Menken, based on the Disney film written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White.  Dazzling choreography by Parker Esse with Dance Arrangements by Danny Troob; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti and Sound Design by Daniel Erdberg.

Additional cast members  in alphabetical order – Rory Boyd as Oscar Delancey/Bill/Ensemble; Matthew Davies as Specs/Ensemble; Javier del Pilar as Bunsen/Stage Manager/Ensemble; Wyn Delano as Snyder/Ensemble; Christian Douglas as Seitz/Ensemble; Hazel Hay or Josiah Smothers as Les; Michael Hewitt as Morris Delancey/Darcy/Ensemble; Michael John Hughes as Romeo/Spot Conlon; Carole Denise Jones as Nun/Hannah/Ensemble; Tomás Matos as Finch/Ensemble; Joe Montoya as Crutchie; Emre Ocak as Mush/Ensemble; Shiloh Orr as Albert/Scab/Ensemble; Tanner Pflueger as Henry/Buttons/ Ensemble; Bridget Riley as Splasher/Nun/Ensemble; Tro Shaw as Tommy Boy/Scab/Fight Captain; Thomas Adrian Simpson as Tommy Boy/Scab/Ensemble/Fight Captain; Jamie Smithson as Nunzio/Teddy Roosevelt/Ensemble/ Luke Spring as Elmer/Scab/Ensemble; Ethan Van Slyke as Davey Jacobs; Chaz Wolcott as Race/Ensemble; and Kelli Youngman as Jo Jo/Ensemble.