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As You Like It ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 28, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Rosalind (Lindsay Alexandra Carter) is suddenly taken aback at the Duke’s masked ball in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. (also pictured, l to r: Kimberly Chatterjee, Cody Wilson, Aaron Krohn, Brian Reisman.) On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Rosalind (Lindsay Alexandra Carter) is suddenly taken aback at the Duke’s masked ball in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. (also pictured, l to r: Kimberly Chatterjee, Cody Wilson, Aaron Krohn, Brian Reisman.) On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

This most irreverent version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It comes at a time when we could all use a little levity.  But it’s not just the humor that’s on point here.  It’s the performances by this outstanding cast that gives us the hopefulness that’s required in these uncertain times.

Director Gaye Taylor Upchurch has homed in on the irresistible Lindsay Alexandra Carter who plays our heroine Rosalind in this lively production.  Carter is a hundred times adorable, delightfully feisty and endearing as the woman who gets her man by pretending to be a sort of male Ann Landers to her love target, Orlando (Lorenzo Roberts).  As she schools him in how to capture the heart of, well, yes! herself, she delivers one of the best interpretations of the role of Rosalind.  And for that, we can be deliriously grateful.

Tom Story as the philosophic misanthrope Jaques in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. On stage January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Tom Story as the philosophic misanthrope Jaques in Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. On stage January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

All this plays out in the Forest of Arden where Rosalind repairs with Celia after being been banished from the kingdom by her uncle, the villainous Duke Frederick, father to Celia (Antoinette Robinson).  Frederick has stolen the royal lands from her father, Duke Senior, and banished him into exile in the Forest of Arden.  Oliver (Michael Glenn), Orlando’s elder brother, is the scoundrel who has stolen his fortune.  That they all wind up in the scary forests of Arden, is the coolest contrivance ever.

The witty Touchstone (Aaron Krohn) shows off his wooing prowess to Audrey (Kimberly Chatterjee) in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It. On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The witty Touchstone (Aaron Krohn) shows off his wooing prowess to Audrey (Kimberly Chatterjee) in Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It. On stage at Folger Theatre, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Others of note are Allen McCollough as both Dukes.  A bit restrained as Frederick, but far more convincing as Duke Senior.  The wonderful Tom Story as Jaques who philosophizes on man’s “seven ages” and has the “All the world’s a stage” lines we had to memorize in school.  His delivery of this iconic speech, carries the weight of justice served.  And Touchstone the courtier, played to perfection by Aaron Krohn, who presents us with a mashup of Steve Martin and Jim Carrey clad in the sort of outlandish suits you’d expect from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Costume Designer, Charlotte Palmer-Lane puts the characters in contemporary styles (Will Hayes as Charles in spandex), while Composer Heather Christian ties it together with a mashup of music that ranges from Blues to Beat Box and madrigals to Israeli folk tunes.  We are going to need a lot more of this lighthearted silliness to counteract the daily news feed.

Highly recommended to soothe the spirit and tickle the funny bone.

Through March 5th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

The cast of Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in exuberant song. On stage, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast of Folger Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It in exuberant song. On stage, January 24 – March 5, 2017. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Roe ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
January 22, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(L to R) Sarah Jane Agnew (as Sarah Weddington), Mark Bedard and Jim Abele in Roe at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, running January 12-February 19, 2017. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Sarah Jane Agnew (as Sarah Weddington), Mark Bedard and Jim Abele in Roe. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Coming hard on the heels of the historic Women’s March in DC, is Arena Stage’s presentation of Roe.  In the scheme of things, playwright Lisa Loomer’s unflinching piece couldn’t be a more relevant, timely piece of political theatre.  It speaks to a time when women and their families had no other choice than to undergo dangerous procedures to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.  And despite the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling to give women the right to an abortion, threats to overturn its groundbreaking decision have never been more ominous nor the country more polarized in its views.

Sara Bruner (as Norma McCorvey) and Gina Daniels, with Jim Abele (background), in Roe at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, running January 12-February 19, 2017. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Sara Bruner (as Norma McCorvey) and Gina Daniels, with Jim Abele (background), in Roe . Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

With its East Coast premiere, Director Bill Rauch draws on a stellar cast to present this co-partnership with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre.  It is a powerful, no-holds-barred story of the woman who was chosen to represent “Roe” and the unusual story of her recruitment as defendant Roe and her subsequent U-turn to the other side of the argument.

  (L to R) Sara Bruner (as Norma McCorvey), Sarah Jane Agnew (as Sarah Weddington) and Susan Lynskey (as Linda Coffee) in Roe at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, running January 12-February 19, 2017. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Sara Bruner (as Norma McCorvey), Sarah Jane Agnew (as Sarah Weddington) and Susan Lynskey (as Linda Coffee) in Roe. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

It tells the real life story of 22-year-old Norma McCorvey (Sara Bruner), as unlikely a candidate for women’s issues as could ever be imagined.  A former carnival worker, McCorvey was raised in a reform school and works as a bartender at The Red Devil a sleazy, lesbian bar in Dallas Texas.  She’s been raped by a white man, a black man and a Mexican, or that’s her story, finding herself pregnant and with no money for an abortion.  Back then the only options were to fly off to Mexico or find a “doctor” who would perform one illegally, usually under the most squalid of conditions.  Her other option being to self-abort.  “You are going to hell on a scholarship,” her friend warns her at a time when hospitals had entire wards for botched abortions.  Soon straight-out-of-law-school lawyer Sarah Weddington (Sarah Jane Agnew) and her legal adviser, Linda Coffee (Susan Lynsky who also plays Judy/First Pregnant Woman and Peggy), find Norma, agreeing to use her as a test case.

(L to R) Sarah Jane Agnew (as Sarah Weddington), Susan Lynskey, Amy Newman and Pamela Dunlap in Roe at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, running January 12-February 19, 2017. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Sarah Jane Agnew (as Sarah Weddington), Susan Lynskey, Amy Newman and Pamela Dunlap in Roe . Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

The play presents both sides of the argument – pro-life and pro-choice – exploring the issues while recalling the dangers inherent in illegal abortions.  It guides us through the early days of the women’s rights movement and later when Sarah becomes the President of NARAL.  The use of audio portions of the U. S. Supreme Court judges’ actual words and projections of televised broadcasts of the protests that preceded it, are particularly haunting.  And though it’s educational in its laying out of the history of the trial, there is hardly a moment when it’s not also hilarious and uplifting.

Bruner is riveting in her transformation from a trash-talking, drug-dealing, alcoholic hippie to her role as receptionist in a women’s clinic to self-righteous author and born-again Christian after a fateful meeting with Flip Benham (Jim Abele who triples as Jay Floyd, opposing attorney on the initial case, and later Ron Weddington, Sarah’s husband).  Flip appears in Act Two as the pro-life, bible-toting crusader and founder of Operation Rescue who uses every trick in the book to convert Norma to his cause.

(L to R) Zoe Bishop, Pamela Dunlap, Sara Bruner and Catherine Castellanos in Roe at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, running January 12-February 19, 2017. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

(L to R) Zoe Bishop, Pamela Dunlap, Sara Bruner and Catherine Castellanos in Roe . Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Lesser known in the drama was Henry Wade (Richard Elmore), the Dallas County District Attorney, who first heard the case and Norma’s longtime lover, Connie, played notably by Catherine Castellanos.

Particularly effective is Set Designer Rachel Hauck’s use of large sections of moving stage requiring the actors to leap across platforms to highlight individual scenes while Lighting Designer Jane Cox capitalizes on the drama by focusing on its intensity.

Special nod to Kenya Alexander in her compelling performance as Roxanne who embodies the spirit of the modern day college student confronted with the choice of having a child or continuing her education.

Super timely and highly recommended.

Through February 9th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information visit www.ArenaStage.org or call 202 488-3300.

Anything Goes ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 17, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney) = Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Mara Stewart (Reno Sweeney) = Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Director Stefan Sittig is no stranger to big song-and-dance productions, and awards committees are no strangers to his considerable talent.  He’s directed and/or choreographed all the major blockbusters from Chicago to Evita, Showboat to Jesus Christ Superstar, A Chorus Line to West Side Story, and many more of our favorite Broadway shows, winning countless awards for his efforts.  But a show is only as good as its performers and thrillingly LTA’s Anything Goes has got a super cast of singers and hoofers – the most indelible being Mara Stewart as Reno Sweeney.  The young Stewart, a recent arrival to our area from Chicago’s stages, is a spectacular singer (think Liza Minelli, Ethel Merman and Barbra Streisand rolled into one) and comedian (conjure up Lucille Ball’s antics, and delving into the archives of vaudeville, Fanny Brice).  She is utterly captivating and surely destined for a stellar career.  Catch her here and you can say, I knew her when.

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker) and Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Set in 1934, a disparate bunch of passengers and gangsters is sailing aboard a luxury liner to England.  Wall Street nabob Elisha J. Whitney (played deliciously by Dick Reed) is just one of the dupes being conned by Moonface Martin (Ken Kemp, a wickedly funny scene stealer) and his cohort, Bonnie (Jaqueline Salvador).  Billy Crocker (Marshall Cesena) is Whitney’s assistant, a starry-eyed boy wonder hopelessly in love with Hope Harcourt (the beautifully voiced Tori Garcia), a girl about to give her hand in marriage to the witless British lord, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh (James Maxted).  If that doesn’t keep it lively enough, there’s the splashy celebrity diva and former evangelist, Reno Sweeney (the aforementioned Mara Stewart) and her four “Angels” – Chastity (Ashley Kaplan), Purity (Katie Mallory), Virtue (Elizabeth Spilsbury) and Charity (Caitlyn Goerner) her backup chorines.

Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Jon Simmons (Sailor), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity), Kurtis Carter (Sailor), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt), Katie Mallory (Purity), Drew Sese (Sailor), Michael Gale (Sailor) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Jon Simmons (Sailor), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity), Kurtis Carter (Sailor), Marshall Cesena (Billy Crocker), Tori Garcia (Hope Harcourt), Katie Mallory (Purity), Drew Sese (Sailor), Michael Gale (Sailor) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Coward drew inspiration from the rarefied circles he traveled in, peppering his tales with the gangsters and crooks who plied their cons on the fringes of high society.  With his incomparable talent for witty repartee, Anything Goes is filled with bon mots and zingers on the SS American, where crooks are hapless and gold diggers are adorable.

Caitlyn Goerner (Charity), Katie Mallory (Purity), Jackie Salvador (Bonnie), Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity) - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Caitlyn Goerner (Charity), Katie Mallory (Purity), Jackie Salvador (Bonnie), Elizabeth Spilsbury (Virtue), Ashley Kaplan (Chastity) – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

In typical Coward fashion, there’s mistaken identity and hilarious disguises, especially when Billy, in hot pursuit of Hope and against her mother’s wishes, becomes a chef, then a sailor and ultimately a nobleman, “Are you French or Spanish?”, Hope’s mother (Allie Cesena) wonders after he changes into a count with a phony beard cut from a swatch of her fur jacket.  “Neither,” he quips.  “I’m Chinchillian!”.

The best of British humorists, P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton wrote the book and it’s popping with Brit wit.  Kit Sibley and Jean Schlichting bring massive glamour to the costumes – from spangles, sequins and feather boas to sassy chorus girl sailor suits and gowns slit up to there with plenty of leg.  Sibley also does double duty on the terrific period hair and wigs.

Conductor and keyboardist Francine Krasowska leads a nine-piece, onstage orchestra who play a total of fourteen instruments in a glorious bonanza of 17 of Porter’s greatest hits – among them some of his most memorable – “You’re the Top”, “Let’s Misbehave”, “It’s De-Lovely” and “I Get a Kick Out of You”.

Highly recommended.

Through February 4th 2017 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

The Cast of "Anything Goes" performing "Anything Goes - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

The Cast of “Anything Goes” performing “Anything Goes – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Titanic ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
December 22, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Florence Lacey (Ida Straus) and John Leslie Wolfe (Isidor Straus) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Florence Lacey (Ida Straus) and John Leslie Wolfe (Isidor Straus) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Titanic is a story of man’s inability to predict the ramifications, and limitations, of state-of-the-art technology.  It is a tale of an ocean liner made of 46,000 tons of steel, measuring eleven stories high and one thousand feet long, that went down in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 carrying some of the wealthiest families in America who were aboard her maiden voyage.  That there were young men and women of Irish and English descent seeking their fortunes in the New World, and others who believed they and the ship were invincible, is an equal part of this historic maritime tragedy.

Referred to as “a ship of dreams” and a “human metropolis” the Titanic is nowhere to be seen in Director Eric Shaeffer’s version of the musical by Writer Peter Stone and Composer/Lyricist Maury Yeston.  But that doesn’t keep us from sensing its vast power and scale and immersing ourselves in the drama that played out on the high seas.

Christopher Bloch (Captain E.J. Smith), Nick Lehan (Harold Bride), Lawrence Redmond (J. Bruce Ismay), and Bobby Smith (Thomas Andrews) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Christopher Bloch (Captain E.J. Smith), Nick Lehan (Harold Bride), Lawrence Redmond (J. Bruce Ismay), and Bobby Smith (Thomas Andrews) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Re-imagining the Tony Award-winning musical, Schaeffer and Set Designer, Paul Tate dePoo III, give us a theatre-in-the-round that utilizes five steel gangways that reflect the massive scale of the multi-level luxury liner.  This creates a more intimate experience for the audience.  It also allows many of the 38 performers to remain in clear sight and in equal hearing range producing a magnificent harmonic convergence of vocal heft.  We have Choreographer Matthew Gardiner to thank for that too, as the players climb the ramps and position themselves at different heights to sing their numbers.  It is the most effective use of a theatre-in-the-round stage I’ve ever seen.

Particularly haunting is the 17-piece band perched on a separate elevated catwalk in full view of the audience.  Led brilliantly by Conductor James Moore, their constant presence is reminiscent of how they sacrificed their lives to play for the remaining passengers as the behemoth was devoured by the sea.

Sam Ludwig (Frederick Barrett) and Stephen Gregory Smith (Stoker) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Sam Ludwig (Frederick Barrett) and Stephen Gregory Smith (Stoker) in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

The story delves into not just one love story but many – the John Jacob Astors played by Matt Connor and Jamie Eaker and a touching story of romance below decks played by the exceptional Katie McManus (as Kate McGowan) and Hassani Allen (as Jim Farrell).  Other couples are revealed to have secrets – Lady Caroline Neville’s (Iyona Blake) illicit love affair with Charles Clarke (Chris Sizemore) and Alice Beane’s (Tracy Lynn Olivera) disappointment in her husband’s inferior social standing.

Ryan Hickey’s sound design keeps us in mind of traveling on a ship through the atmospheric use of fog horns, bells, and the slamming of the coal stokers’ fiery oven doors.  Another effective touch is Frank Labowitz’s turn of the century navy blue gowns, feathered picture hats and simple frocks, and Amanda Zieve’s suspended Edison lightbulbs and understage blue lights, keeping us in mind of a ship sailing over the sea.

Stephen Gregory Smith, Katie McManus and the cast in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Colin Hovde

Stephen Gregory Smith, Katie McManus and the cast in Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Colin Hovde

But what keeps us in a state of high anxiety is the blame game and what-ifs between the Captain (Christopher Bloch), the ship’s owner J. Bruce Ismay (Lawrence Redmond), the ship’s master William Murdoch (Kevin McAllister) and the ship’s architect Thomas Andrews played spectacularly by Bobby Smith, as they wonder what they could have done differently and who’s at fault.

Ultimately as the ship goes down, and we knew it would, the drama is no less palpable, and we are drawn hook, line and sinker into the tragedy of despair and dashed dreams of the hundreds of lives lost.  It’s a visceral experience and Yeston’s heart-stopping score rises up to meet it. 

Highly recommended.  A triumph!

Through January 29th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

The cast of Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III

The cast of Titanic at Signature Theatre through January 29. Photo by Paul Tate DePoo III

Wicked ~ The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
December 19, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda - photo by Joan Marcus

Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda – photo by Joan Marcus

The Stephen Schwartz (Composer)/Winnie Holzman (Book) collaboration on Wicked presents us with a fresh interpretation of the classic L. Frank Baum book “The Wizard of Oz”.  In this version Glinda the Good Witch is arch-frenemies with Elphaba the wicked witch.

We learn how they met as young girls at sorcerer’s school and how Elphaba became a vengeful witch.  “Are people born wicked?  Or do they just have it thrust on them?”  Simply stated, it delves into life lessons that the book never addressed.

I saw this production several years ago at Kennedy Center and it left me flat – so I was less than enthusiastic about a return viewing.  Thankfully, my fears were unfounded.  That afternoon I became as rabid a fan as many in the audience who have reveled in its music and redemptive story line many times over.  Straight up, this is a fantastic production of Wicked.  What’s different? Let’s check those boxes, shall we?

Amanda Jane Cooper as Glinda – A cross between Reese Witherspoon (think Elle in “Legally Blonde”) and Kristin Chenoweth who originated the role on Broadway.  Bubbly appeal and killer comedic talent matched only by her soaring soprano voice.  A smashingly good witch with excellent sorcery credentials.

Jessica Vosk as Elphaba – A fearless, verdigris witch-with-a-heart who manages to make sisterhood with your fiercest enemy look appealing.  Her powerful, spot on vocal range will give you goose bumps.  After all, she’s reprising Idina Menzel’s role in the original.  She has to be THAT GOOD!

Isabel Keating as Madame Morrible – There’s nothing horrible about Madame Morrible, except her ability to cower children and perhaps her skill at malaprops.  Keating brings posh poise to the role of headmistress and sorcery cohort of the Wizard.

Jeremy Woodard as Fiyero & Jessica Vosk as Elphaba. Photo by Joan Marcus

Jeremy Woodard as Fiyero & Jessica Vosk as Elphaba. Photo by Joan Marcus

Jeremy Woodard as Fiyero (the Prince) – For his good looks, swagger and savoir faire.  Another killer voice that brings it home in spades.

Fred Applegate as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – A spit-and-polish old school wizard whose endearing charm balances out all the evil he conjures up.  “I told them the lies they wanted to hear.”  Sound familiar?

Kristen Martin as Nessarose – For her ability to transition seamlessly from loving sister to vindictive enemy.

Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond - photo by Joan Marcus

Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond – photo by Joan Marcus

Chad Jennings as Doctor Dillamond – The caprine professor with empathy.  He’ll pave a path into your heart while teaching about the dangers of discrimination.

Since this is such a huge production with so many atmospheric elements – flying monkeys, inclement weather (cyclone and thunder!), giant pendulums, and silver dragons with glowing eyes notwithstanding – it’s crucial the gears mesh seamlessly.  And they do.

Kenneth Posner on Lighting – Gives us hairy and scary in equal doses.

Susan Hilferty on Costumes – The best and most sparkly ever.

Tom Watson on Wigs – For towering pompadours and saucy curls.

Eugene Lee on Sets – Brighter, greener, more technically sophisticated and lavish than ever.

Highly recommended.

Through January 8th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.