Crazy for You ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 17, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Is there such a thing as a ‘tapa-palooza’?  If no one’s yet invented this neologism, I offer it up as a descriptor for Signature’s shiny, splashy production of Ken Ludwig and Mike Ockrent’s musical comedy, Crazy for You.  It’s the only way to explain the sensational tap extravaganza you’ll see from Director Matthew Gardiner and Choreographer Denis Jones.

Ashley Spencer as Polly Baker, Danny Gardner as Bobby Child ~ Photo Credit – C. Stanley Photography

Ashley Spencer as Polly Baker, Danny Gardner as Bobby Child ~ Photo Credit – C. Stanley Photography

Danny Gardner and Ashley Spencer play lead characters and love interests, Bobby and Polly, and they make the dance routines in LaLa Land look amateur.  Think Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell.  Spencer is light as a feather and Gardner, who is equally as nimble, mirrors her moves with dazzling athleticism.

The storyline is basic.  Banking scion Bobby Child wants to be on the stage, but his well-heeled mother, played to perfection by Sherri Edelen (who later appears as travel book author Patricia Fodor) wants none of it.  The ever-versatile Natascia Diaz as Bobby’s demanding girlfriend, Irene, wants marriage – and pronto.  But Bobby, ignoring their pleas, spends his time at the theater and its bevy of flashy, feathered, Follies girls presided over by Russian impresario Bela Zangler (Bobby Smith).  There are too many funny bits to mention, but key in on Smith’s hilarious bottle opening bit played in tandem with Polly, and hayseed Pete’s erudite interpretation of famous playwrights.  The silly one-liners and sight gags are sure to catch you off guard.  They did me.

Danny Gardner as Bobby Child, Sherri Edelen as Fodor Ashley Spencer as Polly Baker (these are the three people in the center), and the ensemble ~ Photo Credit – C. Stanley Photography

Danny Gardner as Bobby Child, Sherri Edelen as Fodor Ashley Spencer as Polly Baker (these are the three people in the center), and the ensemble ~ Photo Credit – C. Stanley Photography

Scenic Designer, Paul Tate dePoo III, gives us the look of New York’s Broadway by night – glamourous and glitzy, that is until Bobby’s mother sends him to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on an old family investment – a bankrupt theater where dePoo’s backdrop switches to Lank Hawkins’ (Cole Burden) saloon in a one-jalopy ghost town.  There, way before Vegas was a thing, Bobby falls for the feisty postmistress Polly who keeps company with a motley crew of miners and cowboys.  His plans to revive the theater and resurrect the town involve getting these drunken malingerers to dance and sing.  No mean feat, but with Polly’s help, and the arrival of eight sexy chorines from New York, they do whip the Deadrock deadbeats into shape.

I found myself utterly rapt while mentally singing along to all eighteen Gershwin tunes – like “Bidin’ My Time”, “Someone To Watch Over Me”, “Slap That Bass”, “Embraceable You”, and “Nice Work If You Can Get It” conducted flawlessly by Jon Kalbfleisch’s 14-piece orchestra.  But just watching these über-amazing performers dance their brains out whilst singing their lungs out was epic, especially in numbers that required complex props – farm tools and kitchen utensils to keep the beat – as in the mind-blowing number “I Got Rhythm” and the chain-rattling, floor-quaking, “Chin Up”, performed partly tabletop.

Cole Burden as Lank Hawkins and Natascia Diaz as Irene Roth ~ Photo Credit – C. Stanley Photography

Cole Burden as Lank Hawkins and Natascia Diaz as Irene Roth ~ Photo Credit – C. Stanley Photography

Costumes by Tristan Raines run the gamut from 1930’s sparkly glam gowns, elegant black tie and frothy chorus girl costumes to dusty Western wear.

Highly recommended.

Through January 14, 2018 at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

 

An Act of God ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

A gem of a comedy is holding fast at Signature Theatre.  Directed by 13-time Emmy-winning former head writer and Executive Producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, David Javerbaum, this hilarious sendup of God stars Tom Story.  Story, who took on the Herculean 40-role play Fully Committed at MetroStage last December, is a seven-time Helen Hayes Award nominee who proves in this off-the-wall, one-acter that he can take on the biggest role of all.  God.  Director Eleanor Holdrige makes certain nothing is sacred in this stick-in-the-eye comedy – especially not God himself whom Story plays with all the irrepressible wit, snark and snap in his toolbox.

Tom Story (God), Jamie Smithson (Gabriel) and Evan Casey (Michael). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Tom Story (God), Jamie Smithson (Gabriel) and Evan Casey (Michael). Photo by Margot Schulman.

In a Family Feud takeoff God is aided by His naughty archangels (“My wingmen.”) played by Evan Casey as Michael and Jamie Smithson as Gabriel.  Michael and Gabriel are adept at dashing into the audience and attributing to the unsuspecting guests pre-chosen questions that threaten to undermine God’s laws.  Heresy!  Beginning with the Creation of the World God confesses the six-day timeline wasn’t enough, and goes on to lay out a new version of the Ten Commandments, an original explanation of Adam and Eve (“I removed a non-load bearing rib.”) as well as a condemnation of the Ark’s fuzzy math and another pet peeve, the lack of modern science as in the impossibility of Abraham’s 90-year old wife’s miraculous birth of their son.  He is apoplectic at these biblical misinterpretations.   “I have wrath management issues,” He confesses.

In order to set the record straight, He explains his original intent.  In particular His Fourth Commandment, “Thou Shalt Separate Me and State”, in which He reviles those that claim to speak for him.  Oh, so popular these days.  And His Seventh Commandment, “Do Not Tell Me What to Bless”, wherein He blasts those worshippers who ask Him for a slam dunk or touchdown and protection from devils when sneezing.  He knows exactly who He will bless and who He will curse.  “I don’t want you to kill in my name.  I can do that all by myself.”

Evan Casey (Michael), Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Evan Casey (Michael), Tom Story (God) and Jamie Smithson (Gabriel). Photo by Margot Schulman.

 

Thanks to Costume Designer Robert Croghan’s pimped-out white suit with Gucci belt mega-church preacher style, God can say with total assurance, “I am a well-established brand.”  The Playbill agrees, crediting him as Playwright.  “God is the original multi-hyphenate and triple threat, an auteur and visionary whose bold creations and intelligent designs have earned Him international recognition since Day One.  He is also a writer whose previous literary efforts, The Old Testament and The New Testament, have collectively sold an impressive 7,000,000,000 copies.”

Credit also to Daniel Conway for his flashy scenic design giving God a suitably deluxe platform on which to pontificate and take selfies with His archangels and Alberto Segarra for lighting God and His pronouncements in all His extraterrestrial glory.

Highly recommended for a healthy dose of irreverence.

Through November 26th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

A Little Night Music ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
August 29, 2017 

Holly Twyford (Desiree Armfeldt) and Bobby Smith (Fredrik Egerman) in A Little Night Music at Signature Theatre. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Holly Twyford (Desiree Armfeldt) and Bobby Smith (Fredrik Egerman) . Photo by Christopher Mueller

The most difficult reviews to write are the ones in which there is nothing to critique – where the music washes over you like a waterfall, the Noel Cowardesque repartee is both witty and snarky, the voices luscious and the costumes, sheer Victorian elegance.  How do you argue perfection?  That’s the quandary I find myself in with Director Eric Schaeffer’s production of A Little Night Music.  Schaeffer has kicked off the new season with an eye-popping, ear-swooning production that will knock your socks off.  Not only is the cast superlative but the 13-piece orchestra led by Jon Kalbfleisch soars.

Bobby Smith (Fredrik Egerman) and Will Gartshore (Carl-Magnus Malcolm) . Photo by Christopher Mueller

Four-time Helen Hayes award-winning actress Holly Twyford stars as the glamorous femme fatale Desiree Armfeldt, a Swedish actress who is both feisty and vulnerable and comes armed with a rapier wit.  Twyford, who has never done a musical before, proves she can sell a song purely through tenderness and raw emotion.  Neither sharp, nor flat, nor off-key, her delivery of the iconic number “Send in the Clowns” is poignant, wry and edge-of-your-seat at the same time.  The entire show is, but for different reasons.

Maria Rizzo, Kevin McAllister, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nicki Elledge, Sam Ludwig, Holly Twyford, Will Gartshore, and Florence Lacey. Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III

Pulling from some of the finest singers in our area the range of voices from baritone to tenor and alto to soprano is breathtaking – their harmonies flawless.  It’s every singer’s dream to perform in this show, and Schaeffer has cast the best of the best.  There’s Bobby Smith as Fredrik Egerman, a well-heeled attorney in the throes of a mid-life crisis and married to the virginal Anne, played by the adorable Nicki Elledge, and Sam Ludwig, just coming off of Jesus Christ Superstar, who garnered a well-earned Helen Hayes nomination for last year’s lollapalooza Titanic, here playing the angst-ridden cellist Henrik Egerman.

Florence Lacey, who lays claim to a string of Broadway hits, plays the curmudgeonly sentimentalist, Madame Leonora Armfeldt.  Lacey was also in Signature’s Titanic – as well as another alum from the show, Tracy Lynn Olivera, here as the beleaguered, but shrewd, Countess Charlotte Malcolm.

Maria Rizzo (Petra). Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The sheer schadenfreude deliciousness between the characters creates the necessary tension behind some of the comic encounters, such as Petra’s tempestuous seduction of Henrik in “Soon”.  (Petra played by the voluptuous Maria Rizzo) and Fredrik’s suggestion to his old flame Desiree, “You must meet my wife.” To which she sarcastically replies, “Let me get my hat and my knife!”

Holly Twyford (Desiree Armfeldt) . Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Scenic Designer Paul Tate dePoo III gives us a stately banquet table that lowers from the rafters and a massive bed that features prominently as seducers and the seduced frolic with abandon in merry games of chase all choreographed by Karma Camp.  Lighting by the brilliant Colin K. Bills and the dreamy costumes by legendary designer Robert Perdziola.

Highly recommended.  Five stars, if I gave out stars, which I don’t.  Just go.

Through October 8th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

Jesus Christ Superstar ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 21, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times 

Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Margot Schulman

Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by Margot Schulman

Signature Theatre’s Artistic Director, Eric Schaeffer, has been upping the ante with big, bold Broadway shows.  His latest mega production is Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hyper hit Jesus Christ Superstar.  Casting some madly impressive voices in this blockbuster rock musical signals Schaeffer’s emphasis on the compelling music and lyrics, and drawing the theatre-goer’s attention to the story’s similarities to current culture.

Ari McKay Wilford (Judas) with Sam Ludwig (Annas), Thomas Adrian Simpson (Caiaphas) and Kara-Tameika Watkins (Priest) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Ari McKay Wilford (Judas) with Sam Ludwig (Annas), Thomas Adrian Simpson (Caiaphas) and Kara-Tameika Watkins (Priest) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

And that’s a good thing, because Director Joe Calarco strips away all semblance of a period piece.  Early versions, you may recall, stage it in biblical times.  But you’ll see none of that sentimentality here with Luciana Stecconi’s stripped-bare set of nine movable white platforms reconfigured throughout to represent the table at The Last Supper, or put to use as a soapbox for Jesus or Pontius Pilate to utter proclamations to their indecisive followers.  Again attention is focused on the music directed by Conductor William Yanesh, and not predominantly on costumes by Frank Labovitz who gives us monochromatic teen streetwear for Jesus’ apostles, sharkskin suits for Pontius Pilate, and sequined satin gospel dresses for the Soul Sisters.  No flowing robes here.  And an odd choice of using bibles as props, neglects the tiny detail that they hadn’t been written yet.  I’ll take it as a reference to “bible-toting” fanatics and give it a pass.

Look instead to Nicholas Edwards (as Jesus of Nazareth) who reprises the role made famous by actor Ted Neely.  Edwards is spellbinding, delivering a viscerally transformative performance that is a game changer for this role.  With his remarkable voice and ripped body, he exudes both passion and raw sexuality.  Another powerhouse performance comes from the very versatile Bobby Smith who plays Jesus’ evil nemesis Pontius Pilate as effortlessly as I’ve seen him play comedy.  Lean into his delivery of “Trial Before Pilate” to witness his nuanced performance.

Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) and Natascia Diaz (Mary) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) and Natascia Diaz (Mary) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Natascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene also offers a different interpretation of her role – one very different from the fiery female roles we’re accustomed to seeing her play.  Her strong voice seems tamer and often aimless with a surfeit of trills and superfluous flourishes in the ballads.  Though her believability in her affection for and defense of Jesus is where she shines.

Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) and Ari McKay Wilford (Judas) with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Nicholas Edwards (Jesus) and Ari McKay Wilford (Judas) with the cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Photo by C. Stanley Photography

Karma Camp’s choreography, seamlessly weaving 18 performers through complicated dance and fight scenes, is impressive and Zachary G. Borovay’s video projections of Hitler and the Nazis, 9-11, Syria and an assortment of social extremists to background the number “The Crucifixion”, reveal an eerie resemblance to racial violence and religious terrorism in modern society.

As a side note, I couldn’t help but wonder if my seat which was close to the stage was the reason the singers seemed to frequently be drowned out by the seven-piece orchestra.  I hope it was merely the sound levels which may be straightened out by now.  In any case I’d choose the upper level for this show since watching the actors at waist level is not the best perspective.

Through July 2nd at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org.

Midwestern Gothic ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
April 2, 2017 

Morgan Keene (Stina) with Jp Sisneros, Evan Casey, Chris Sizemore and Stephen Gregory Smith (Hired Boys). Photo by Margot Schulman

Morgan Keene (Stina) with Jp Sisneros, Evan Casey, Chris Sizemore and Stephen Gregory Smith (Hired Boys). Photo by Margot Schulman

Midwestern Gothic is an unexpected palate cleanser – a sharp-as-knives psychological thriller reminiscent of Fargo – the Coen Brothers brilliant cinematic drama of crime and revenge in America’s heartland.

In this twisted tale of jealousy, seduction and sexual domination, our focus falls on Stina (Morgan Keene), a honey blonde nymphette whose movie star dreams of James Dean and Natalie Wood lay far beyond the farmhouse she shares with her lascivious stepfather, Red (Timothy J. Alex) and four hired hands who form a harmonious Greek chorus of unfulfilled desire.  But this creamy-thighed siren has set her sights on Anderson (Sam Ludwig), a love-struck greenhorn who does her bidding – some of which involves neighborhood thieving, putting him squarely at odds with Sheriff Dwayne (Bobby Smith) who urges him to walk the “Straight and Narrow”.

Timothy J Alex (Red) and Rachel Zampelli (LuAnn) . Photo by Margot Schulman.

Timothy J Alex (Red) and Rachel Zampelli (LuAnn) . Photo by Margot Schulman.

Meanwhile Stina’s mother, Deb (Sherri L. Edelen), runs a shot-and-beer bar where she finds the attention she has been missing from Red.  In the number “Whiskey Courage” she works her boozy magic on Rodney (Evan Casey) spiking Red’s anger.  To get revenge he runs off with the town tramp, LuAnn (Rachel Zampelli), to put a hurtin’, as they say, on Deb.  But his revenge is not so sweet after all when Stina catches them back at the house in flagrante delicto.

Writer and Co-Lyricist Royce Vavrek and Composer Josh Schmidt set a complex balance in this World Premiere production adding quaint references to curling, cows, rednecks and Jesus while splicing in Stina’s dizzyingly cruel imagination and her powers of emasculation.

Sherri L Edelen (Deb) and Timothy J Alex (Red). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Sherri L Edelen (Deb) and Timothy J Alex (Red). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Keene, using a haunting flat-accented vibrato voice, is wonderfully cast as the beautiful and voracious sex kitten who lures, then punishes, every man within her small sphere.  A supporting cast, cleverly directed and choreographed under Matthew Gardiner, fairly flies through seventeen musical numbers encompassing a range of emotions, from Stina’s love song to a spring flower in “Tell Me a Story, Crocus” to “Saint Sebastian” with Stina, Anderson and the burly hired hands (Evan Casey as Rodney, Jp Sisneros as Evodio, Chris Sizemore as DJ and Stephen Gregory Smith as Brett), in a song that backgrounds a bizarre scene of crucifixion.

Timothy J Alex (Red), Sam Ludwig (Anderson) and Bobby Smith (Dwayne). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Timothy J Alex (Red), Sam Ludwig (Anderson) and Bobby Smith (Dwayne). Photo by Margot Schulman.

As the latest installment in Signature’s American Musical Voices Project, the musical is spellbindingly dark, think Truman Capote’s classic “In Cold Blood” and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita”, and yet utterly riveting.  An audience member likened it to TV’s Criminal Minds.

Highly recommended for adults only.

Through April 30th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.sigtheatre.org