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A Perfect Production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” at Signature Theatre

A Perfect Production of Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” at Signature Theatre

Into the Woods
Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
November 23, 2022
Special to The Zebra

The cast of Into The Woods (Photo/Daniel Rader)

Smack dab in the heart of the holiday season comes Into the Woods. For fans of the legendary collaboration of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, this is the ultimate delight. This semi-autobiographical musical has brilliant lyrics, a stunning score and all-around silliness wrapped up neatly in a big red bow. It’s part farce and part tragedy – a metaphor for the vagaries of life played to the hilt by a formidable cast. I’ve seen it before on a grand stage and I have to say it didn’t feel as moving as this intimate staging by Director and Choreographer, Matthew Gardiner, who never ceases to amaze me with his brilliant reinventions of classic musicals.

Jake Loewenthal and Erin Weaver (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

Remember the Disney film version with Meryl Streep and a cast of Hollywood stars that debuted a few years ago? Okay, try not to. It was godawful. Well, this is nothing like that. It’s imaginative and intimate thanks to Lee Savage’s wonderful set design that features unique entrances and exits. It’s a sing-through and mash-up of Jack (the hilarious David Merino) and the Beanstalk, Cinderella (Katie Mariko Murray), Little Red Riding Hood (Alex De Bard) and Rapunzel (Simone Brown) and her Prince (Paul Scanlan),a giant (voiced by Phylicia Rashad), Cinderella’s mother (Maria Rizzo) and wicked stepsisters, Florinda (Adelina Mitchell) and Lucinda (Chani Wereley), and the Baker (Jake Loewenthal) and his Wife (Erin Weaver) whose despair at childlessness introduces us to all the storybook characters. There is a brief reference to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but they don’t make an appearance. We do meet Cinderella’s Mother (Crystal Freeman), Jack’s Mother the incomparable (Sherri L. Edelen) who also plays the Granny), Cinderella’s Father (Lawrence Redmond), the Wolf (Vincent Kempski who also plays Cinderella’s Prince) and Steward (Kurt Boehm). All thanks to the Narrator (Christopher Bloch who also plays Mysterious Man).

And though we despair of the plight of the baker and his barren wife we laugh wholeheartedly at the Witch’s demands that they deliver to her Jack’s beloved milky white cow, Red Riding Hood’s blood red cape, Rapunzel’s yellow-as-corn hair and the golden slipper from Cinderella – quite the tall order to ensure the wife’s fertility. As for keeping it light-heartedly silly, Sondheim gifts us with the three campy stepsisters and an enchantress Witch, who morphs into a sexy temptress. For those of you already familiar with Nova Y. Payton who plays the Witch you will swoon at her delivery of “Children Will Listen” and “Stay with Me”. I wanted to press ‘Repeat’, but alas.

Alex De Bard (Photo/Daniel Rader)

Meanwhile, amid all the wishes and fears of the characters, cue romance – as when the prince has an extramarital sylvan tryst with the baker’s wife and explains it away by asserting, “Foolishness can happen in the woods.” In fact, all the ills of the world are allegorically represented by the characters encountered in the woods where we find heroes and villains and those whom we imagine to be, but even they protest their typecasting. Why? Because as the Narrator tells us, “People make mistakes” and others have ulterior motives. Flaws are us, it seems to say. Deal with it.

Highly recommended.

Costume Design by David I. Reynoso; Lighting Design by Amanda Zieve; Sound Design by Eric Norris; with a fifteen-piece orchestra led by Jon Kalbfleisch,

The cast of Into The Woods (Photo/Daniel Rader)

Through January 29th in Shirlington Village at 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit www.SigTheatre.org or call the box office at 703 820-9771.

Director Simon Godwin Delivers “Much Ado About Nothing” with a Healthy Dose of Hilarity and High Jinks

Director Simon Godwin Delivers “Much Ado About Nothing” with a Healthy Dose of Hilarity and High Jinks

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
November 17, 2022

 Rick Holmes and Kate Jennings Grant (Photo/Tony Powell)

I often hear complaints from lovers of Shakespeare’s works that they only want to see what they refer to as “classic Shakespeare” productions (familiar to some for bellowing actors in pantaloons). I try my darndest to convince them that the whole point of a modern interpretation is to show how wonderfully relevant Shakespeare’s works are to contemporary life. In Director Simon Godwin’s spin on the comedy classic Much Ado About Nothing he strips it to its very bones and shows us how Shakespeare squares up to modern life.

Plopping it down onto a live news set, convincingly named SNN for the Shakespeare News Network, Godwin’s vision mirrors the contemporary newscasts from the you-know-who cable news channel. His drop-dead irreverent sendup pokes cable newscasters and their ilk with a sharp stick in the eye. It yanks them off their self-important throne with vigor. And how refreshing is that?

Ryan Neely, Sarah Corey, Dina Thomas, Nicole King, Kate Jennings Grant, and Nehassaiu deGannes (Photo/Tony Powell)

Godwin inserts snippets from other Shakespeare plays into the “broadcasts”. They come at you so fast and so often you need to pay rapt attention to catch the delicious wordplay nuggets. All through the play I knew I wanted to see it again to catch some of the references I could have missed.

From their white leather and chrome swivel chairs at a large glass console table, co-anchors Benedick (Rick Holmes) and Beatrice (Kate Jennings Grant) spar relentlessly. Backgrounded by photo-murals depicting cherry blossoms and, of course, the Washington Monument, much mutual loathing ensues between the two rivals. A spiral staircase corkscrews to a second story control booth where it appears (falsely) that Hero’s reputation has been sullied by hot sex with another man. Ten TV screens flank the sides of the stage broadcasting Benedick’s arrest by a hapless security force who fits out the misogynist cad with an ankle tracker.

The Cast of Much Ado About Nothing (Photo/Tony Powell)

Godwin adds schtick, cribs lines from other Shakespeare plays and injects the choreography with fabulosity – a disco party with a conga line led by a Lizzo lookalike in a turquoise bustier? Why, yes! Scenes are reimagined and flipped on their heads. A revolving stage allows for a quick change of scenery. Look for Puck to deliver a weather broadcast, “Now is the winter of our discontent.”, along with news reports that spoof some of The Bard’s most dramatic battles. One report features Cleopatra, others murder and mayhem from Shakespeare’s classic dramas. By now we’re rolling in the aisles.

Props range from bags of Cheetos and golf balls to a madcap scene in which Benedict gets hosed by a fire hydrant and another where Beatrice escapes notice by leaping headfirst into a janitor’s cart. It’s crazy fun, topsy-turvy and so infectious you’ll find yourself laughing like the proverbial hyena.

Comedy at its finest. For God’s sake, go!!!

Rick Holmes and Kate Jennings Grant (Photo/Tony Powell)

An extraordinary cast includes Edward Gero as Leonato; Justin Adams as Don John; Carlo Albán as Don Pedro; David Bishins as Verges; Sarah Corey as Ursula; Michael Kevin Darnall as Borachio; Nehassaiu deGannes as Sister Francis; Paul Deo, Jr. as Claudio; Nicole King as Hero; Dina Thomas as Margaret; Quinn M. Johnson as Hugh Oatcake; Terrance Fleming as Cop; Dave Quay as Dogberry; Raven Lorraine as Belle Shazar/Georgina Seacoal.

Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge; Costume Design by Evie Gurney; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Fan Zhang; Composer, Michael Bruce; Dramaturg, Emily Burns; Choreographer & Intimacy Consultant, Jesse Kovarsky; Fight Consultant, Lorraine Ressegger-Slone.

Through December 11th at Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org or call the box office at 202 547-1122.

Fosse Classic “Chicago” Featured at the National Theatre

Fosse Classic “Chicago” Featured at the National Theatre

National Theatre
Jordan Wright
November 19, 2022

Jeff Brooks and Company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

First you see the hands – the famous jazz hands. Fingers spread wide and pivoting quickly from left to right. A moonwalk bit (a famous Fosse move before Michael Jackson came along) and the swaying of the arms behind the back with fingers again weaving and outstretched – another of famed choreographer Bob Fosse’s signature moves. Bodies slither snakelike across the floor long before “The Worm” dance brole out across the country. Gangsters, conmen, vengeful babes, and jailbirds rule the roost in Chicago, the show that debuted on Broadway in 1975 and has toured the world ever since.

Then you hear it. The sounds of the Roaring 20’s. Opening with the number “All That Jazz” and a ton of dancers, the razzamatazz never stops – throughout the murder scenes, the Cook County women’s prison and the passionate love songs. In this latest revival of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb’s smash hit Logan Floyd plays Velma Kelly with Katie Frieden in the role of her nemesis Roxie Hart, the cheating wife and boyfriend slayer, with Ed Gotthelf in the role of her lover, Fred Casely.

Katie Frieden (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

The plot isn’t much to write about, suffice it to say it serves as the underpinning for the song and dance. It’s all about the revolutionary Fosse dance routines and the sensual choreography by long legged, hard body dancers in sexy, black leather and lingerie. There’s only one set. It features the 10-piece orchestra on stage and serves as the scene of the prison, later doubling as the courtroom, where Velma Kelly and Roxie play out their rivalry as two vaudevillian murderesses. Their slick-as-a-brick lawyer, the movie star handsome, Billy Flynn (Jeff Brooks) is skilled at flimflamming juries with a sob story geared to spare the chorines the death penalty and grant their freedom.

In this den of gangster iniquity prison Matron “Mama” Morton (Christina Wells) takes care of her girls and her girls take care of her, handing over cash for prison favors. Mama gets a solo with “When You’re Good to Mama” and later in the duet “Class” with Velma.

Logan Floyd and company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Roxie’s cuckolded spouse, Amos Hart (Brian Kalinowski), gives his rendition of the iconic tune “Cellophane Man” about a man so ignored he is transparent to everyone. It’s a classic number.

Aside from the exceptional performances from the hoofers, the singing is weak, the acting weaker and the sound quality is off. The performers have little experience on the legit stage and, I’m sorry to say, it shows in the overall production. Not the quality we’ve come to expect from the National Theatre.

The Cellblock Tango (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Bob Fosse; Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Ken Billington; Music Direction by Cameron Blake Kinnear.

Through November 27th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit www.BroadwayattheNational.com.

Arena Stage Presents a Timely and Powerful Drama on Immigration

Area Stage Presents a Timely and Powerful Drama on Immigration

Sanctuary City
Arena Stage
Jordan Wright
October 29, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Hernán Angulo (B) and María Victoria Martínez (G) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Dreamers. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Like two lovers planning a life together, like Chagall’s painting “Lovers and Sunflowers” of a couple embracing and swirling among the flowers beneath a full moon. This is not that. It is something entirely different. Sanctuary City tells a story of anguish, hopes dashed, fear of discovery, futures in jeopardy. It is the real real of illegal immigrants who have been subsisting on the fringes in America – many who have been working, raising children, going to school, paying taxes, buying homes – with hopes on hold buffeted about by the ever-changing political winds.

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Martyna Majok knows this world. As a Polish immigrant, she became one of America’s leading drama writers and it’s no surprise that she is more than capable of turning her pen to this controversial issue. Here Majok focusses on two teenaged schoolmates who navigate their way through the intricacies of the American judicial system. Through school and menial jobs, through ever-constant fears of deportation, they try to make a life in America, but it’s a day-by-day struggle. Hopes and dreams are on hold. Incarceration and deportation loom large.

Kim Fischer (Henry) in the West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Sanctuary City

B (Hernán Angulo) and G (María Victoria Martínez) have been in the country for 10 years. Everything they know is here, including the stress of discovery and living on expired visas. B finds himself in a dizzying dilemma when his mother returns to Mexico leaving him on his own. At the same time G’s mother finally becomes a naturalized citizen, which gives G American citizenship too.

Told in stop-action snapshots of their friendship we learn the toll it takes on their everyday lives. When G offers B a legal way out through marriage she discovers a part of B that she never knew. Before G goes off to college leaving B to his menial dishwasher job, they rehearse the interminable questions ICE will at a home visit ask to determine if theirs is a real marriage and if they are truly a couple. They know that getting caught in a lie or a false step means a quarter of million dollar fine plus five years in prison if they are caught trying to manipulate the system.

Hernán Angulo (B) and María Victoria Martínez (G) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Will they go through with it? Will they be believed? Will they succeed in becoming citizens? Green cards, and hopefully permanent citizenship for B, are straws in the wind, but only if they play it right. And can they show their fondness for each other when Henry (Kim Fischer) arrives to throw a wrench in their plans?

This timely drama features the two lead actors from the original cast from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre under the original direction by David Mendizábal. It is set in 2001 through 2006 in Newark, New Jersey and its environs where Majok grew up.

A powerful and important perspective on immigration that everyone should see.

Through November 27th at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information visit www.ArenaStage.org or call the box office at 202 554-9066.

Design for Murder is a Crafty, Clever, Comedic Nailbiter

Design for Murder is a Crafty, Clever, Comedic Nailbiter

The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
October 19, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Erin Gallalee (Martha), James Lorenzin (David), Kathy Ohlhaber (Celia) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

If you’re looking for a whodunit – something crafty, clever and comedic – look no further than Design for Murder. It’s got all the elements necessary to curdle your blood and engage your brain. This nifty mystery has more twists and turns and schools of red herrings than you can count. In fact, no matter who you think is doing the killing, you will undoubtedly be mistaken because it takes until the final scene before all is revealed. It’s a nailbiter on steroids.

Mourning her late husband, is Celia Granger (Kathy Ohlhaber), an elegant châtelaine whose drawing room is center stage for all the chaos. The first to be knocked off is Kathy (Elizabeth Loyal), a flirty maid who is having a fling with David Granger (James Lorenzin), Celia’s son and scion to the family fortune, or what’s left of it. We never meet Eunice, David’s fiancé, a Southern belle with buckets of dough and whom he refuses to marry – much to the dismay of his dear, sweet mother who’s counting on all that cash to bail them out. Louisa Cortlandt (Janice Zucker), Celia’s gal pal and astrology dabbler, has her own kooky opinions which are taken quite seriously because she’s married to a judge which gives the doddering old lady credibility plus favored social standing. Martha Brand (Erin Gallalee), Celia’s sister, mocks the septuagenarian, but all defer to her vaunted status in a town where keeping up appearances is de rigeur.

Elizabeth Loyal (Kathy) and James Lorenzin (David) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

We are soon introduced to Carlin (Brendan Chaney), the chauffeur and terminal Lothario who pitches woo to every woman in the household including the aged housekeeper, Mrs. Hamilton (Patricia Spencer Smith). Maybe he’s just sharpening his chauvinistic skills for the next maid, Nora Taylor (Pete Leggett), a pretty little waif (too pretty according to Celia) who appeals to the Grangers’ sympathy and begs for the job after it’s vacated by Kathy’s untimely demise. For Chrissake! Who would want to work there? Don’t answer that.

Everyone’s a suspect and motives seem to pop out of the woodwork at the old Hudson Valley estate. Enter Detective Carlin (Brendan Chaney), an ersatz Columbo, replete with trench coat and questions for Celia, a woman he knew and secretly loved when she was a girl. Carlin’s on the case like a bloodhound, but will he get to the bottom of it with this hodgepodge of addled suspects? Wait and see. Though it’s a wonder anything gets sorted in a house where brandy is consumed for every shocking revelation.

Janice Zucker (Louisa), Pete Leggett (Nora), Erin Gallalee (Martha) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

Director Jessie Roberts has assembled a fine cast who mesh beautifully with one another, leading the ever-heightening suspense to its ultimate denouément. Especially outstanding are Kathy Ohlhaber, Patricia Spencer Smith, Pete Leggett and Brendan Chaney.

Additional cast member, Frank Cooper.

Produced by Carol Strachan with Hilary Adams as Assistant Producer; Fight Choreography by Stefan Sittig; Set Design by Julie Fischer; Lighting Design by Cleo Potter and Jay Stein; Costume Design by Judy Whelihan.

Kathy Ohlhaber (Celia), Patricia Spencer Smith (Mrs Hamilton) (Photo/Brian Knapp Photography)

Through November 5th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-0496.

Synetic’s Dracula is Sexy and Slick

Dracula

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
October 18, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward, Philip Fletcher as Holmwood, and Renata Loman as Van Helsing, with Rachael Small (floor, center) as Lucy. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Just in time for us to get our spooky senses aroused for Halloween season, Synetic stages a revival of one of their classics. The opening, wherein Count Dracula vanquishes the Turks to defend his Transylvanian homeland in a sensory-explosive battle, may be one of the company’s most spectacular. Known for their magnificent fight scenes (performers are trained in fight choreography), this one is an explosion of dramatic warfare unleashed from the depths of depravity. Underscored by eerie narration, a terrifying demon spirit and a trio of Dracula’s wives undulating to the strains of Gregorian choirs and electronika, English solicitor, Jonathan Harker travels via coach to the Count’s castle to obtain Dracula’s signature in a land deal. He is led by the Count’s three wives who transmogrify into Harker’s horses spiriting him away to his doom.

Dan Istrate as Dracula and Jacob Thompson as Jonathan Harker. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

When Harker returns to his lover, Mina, in Edwardian London, we find the female vampires mingling with London society at a grand ball replete with a dance of the coffins and with the prime intention of, oh, well, let’s just say what you were already thinking, biting their necks and turning them into future vampires. In a scene straight from the Theatre of the Absurd, they capture Mina’s friend, the beautiful and feisty Lucy, absconding her body back to the castle and the lustful Count who finds her to his “taste”.

Ghouls and grave hunters pepper the sinister landscape as the blood-thirsty vampires follow their sexual desires in a dizzying whirlwind of fantastic dance and dramatic displays of mortal combat. Lighting too plays a key role. You’ll notice scenes lit as though in an Old Dutch masterpiece with shafts of golden light falling on the victims as though they are bathed in heavenly rapture.

Dan Istrate as Dracula and Rachael Small as Lucy. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Who will be Dracula’s next victim and who will be saved from his sanguineous clutches is the burning question for zombie lovers to deduce. Meanwhile, you will most assuredly find a lot to “chew on” in this seductively mordant interpretation of Bram Stoker’s classic tale rendered as erotically salacious as it is bloodthirsty.

Most assuredly NOT for the kiddies, although there is a smattering of oddly out of place tongue-in-cheek humor that tends to disrupt the ghoulish vibe.

Dan Istrate as Dracula. (Photo/Chris Ferenzi)

Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili; Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili; Fight Choreography by Vato Tsikurishvili; Assistant Director and Sound Design by Irakli Kavsadze; Adapted by Nathan Weinberger; Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze; Costumes Designed by Kendra Rai; Lighting Design by Ian Claar.

Starring Dan Istrate as Dracula; Jacob Thompson as Jonathan Harker; Renata Loman as Van Helsing; Nutsa Tediashvili as Mina; Rachael Small as Lucy; Philip Fletcher as Holmwood; Irakli Kavsadze as Renfield; Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward; Justin J. Bell as Quincey; Lev Belolipetski as Captain; Rodin Ruiz as Villager; Maryam Najafzada as Dracula’s Wife; Irene Hamilton as Dracula’s Wife; and Anna Tsikurishvili as Dracula’s Wife.

Through November 6th at Synetic Theater at National Landing, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information visit www.Synetictheater.org or call the box office at 703 824-8060.