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Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ December 2018

December 2018
Jordan Wright 

Del Mar at The Wharf DC ~ Kith + Kin ~ Baba Presents New Fall/Winter Menu ~ Hay-Adams’ Deluxe Dining with New Chefs ~ Elegant Holiday Teas at the Mandarin Oriental and the Hay-Adams ~ Santa Visits The Fairmont Hotel ~ Taco Bamba Taqueria ~ Lupo Verde 

Del Mar 

Menu cover art

For Fabio and Maria Trabocchi Del Mar is the culmination of their dreams and continuing proof of their domination in the pantheon of DC restauranteurs.  Located on The Wharf DC, this one is without doubt, the largest and the most glamorous to date of all their restaurants.

The downstairs bar

Soaring ceilings and massive windows overlooking the harbor give one the sense of being on a luxury liner ready to pull anchor and set sail.  Unfortunately, it is also the noisiest in their collection, as nothing seems to have been done to buffer the clattering sounds of servers and the chattering sounds of cheerful patrons.  Tile floors don’t help ameliorate the sound either.

An upstairs dining room

We climbed a sweeping staircase to dine in one of the many rooms where glittering chandeliers, made from suspended glass goblets and ancient murals depicting sea voyages in clipper ships, compete for attention with comfy, contemporary navy and red velvet chairs and brass sconces.  The room is framed by black-and-white tiled floors and velvet drapes.  It is a stunning space – more formal and brightly lit than the other dining rooms.  So bright and nautical, that as the evening progressed, I felt as if I’d be forced to confess to the crimes of my wayward ancestor – the notorious Blackbeard.  But I digress.  We came for the food informed predominantly by Maria’s Spanish heritage.

I have long been a fan of the gazpacho at the now-shuttered Casa Luca, their 9th Street bistro.  This version is different.  It is served with small bits of Spanish blue cheese – a concept borrowed from one of the servers whose Spanish grandmother serves it that way.  The velvety-smooth cold soup is done as a pour over and served with a sweet tomato sorbet.  It is heavenly.

Seafood paella

Paella is one of those iconic dishes that defines Spain’s cuisine all over the world.  Here it is served for two in a large paella pan with a sumptuous mélange of perfectly charred seafood.  It is a masterpiece to behold, and the servers know it.  They deliver its bounty to the table as though it were the Holy Grail.  Unfortunately for us the seafood was overcooked – thus dry – which is not reflected in the photo I took of it in all its glory.

Sobresada

The dish we went gaga over is an intriguing one with a back story.  It’s a recipe borrowed from Maria’s Spanish grandmother.  Sobresada is a spreadable sausage aged for one year in a pig’s stomach and hung in a cave.  Made for the restaurant in Chicago by a butcher who has the perfect conditions to properly cure it, this spreadable sausage is brought tableside encased in its birth home.  There the waiter carves out individual portions plated for each guest.  The basketball-sized pig container reveals the most delectable spread to smear on toasted bread.  It is divine.  You can even have it at the bar if you like.  Flown in weekly by the dozens of pounds, it is destination-worthy.  You will thank me.  All other dishes we dined on faded from memory.

Del Mar is located at The Wharf, DC, 91 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Kith + Kin 

Ever since I met Kwame Onwuachi this summer, I have been eager to experience his food and I’m not the only one.  Unfortunately, the first restaurant he opened, Shaw Bijou, had a set menu with a soaring price tag, and only the one-percenters could afford to dine on his much-lauded food even after his soaring success on Top Chef.

Chef Kwame of Kith + Kin

Alas, the restaurant shut its doors within three months after a great deal of controversy that he had bitten off more than he could chew, so to speak.  To his credit, the Brooklyn-born Nigerian dusted himself off, got a deluxe restaurant to helm and we 99 percent are all the better for it.

The dining room at Kith + Kin

Kith + Kin is beautifully ensconced in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf DC.  The restaurant itself is an extended rectangle – a beautiful space, light and airy and decorated in soft, cream and grey tones.  Separated from the picturesque harbor by a narrow cobblestone street, it boasts high ceilings and large windows that open in fair weather.  Everything we ate was first rate including the service and the cocktails, but most especially Onwuachi’s style of cooking that ranges from Nigerian and Jamaican to West African, the Caribbean and the American South where his travels have taken him over his 25 years.

Mom Dukes Shrimp

We swooned over Mom Dukes Shrimp, Mushroom Forest and Rouget Escovitch, a Jamaican red snapper dish served with red beans and plantains, and a deeply indulgent Chocolate Rum Cake with Carrot Ice Cream, Milk Foam Tuiles and Sorrel.

Jamaican Red Snapper with Red Beans and Rice

The cake was ultra-chocolatey and the carrot ice cream… who knew?... scrumptious.  Flavors were familiar and not.  There was always that elusive ingredient which added to the mystery and that we played a guessing game trying to pin down.

Chocolate Rum Cake with Carrot Ice Cream and Milk Foam Tuiles

Kith + Kin is located in the Intercontinental Hotel at The Wharf DC. 801 Wharf Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Lupo Marino 

Lupo Marino’s new chef is Juan Prieto.  Formerly of Miami Beach where he worked at the ultra-modern Juvia, Stephen Starr’s brasserie Le Zoo in Bal Harbour, and two Art Deco properties – The Vintro and the Japanese-inspired Katsuya at The Raleigh where he specialized in seafood.

I have written about this cozy restaurant which has had its hits-and-misses, but is now settled in nicely and in a busy spot in The Wharf neighborhood.  Apart from its small plates, wood-fired pizzas, and aperitivos, the restaurant will feature a special dish on weekends through December.

Lobster Cacciucco

I am absolutely crazy about this dish (I had a preview last month) and the careful way Prieto prepares it.  It’s called cacciucco – a rich, tomato-based, Tuscan fish stew with lobster, mussels and head-on shrimp.  Don’t miss it!  Pro tip:  Pick up some of their Italian products to take home.  I brought back a pound of the paccheri – ziti on steroids – perfect as a base for slow-cooked meat sauces.

Lupo Marino is located at The Wharf DC at 40 Pearl Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

In Which I Finally Get to Taco Bamba Taqueria 

What took me so long?  A rare trip to Vienna (Virginia!) found me in a small strip mall where I spied a Taco Bamba outpost.  Fortune favors the adventurer.  Victor Albisu, a RAMW “Chef of the Year”,  is showing the burbs how amazing tacos and carnitas made with a vivid imagination and unique ingredients can be.

Two tacos - Pulpo al Pastor and Bulgogi Bullfight

Charred octopus, slow-cooked goat, tripe and tongue are among the more unusual, with poutine taco offered at the Falls Church location only.  A Mick Nugget taco surprises with crispy fried chicken.  Look for the Japanese ingredients that can be found throughout the extensive menu.

Quick report: I returned a few more times to sample some of the other offerings.  With tacos, nachos, seviche and house made salsas you could eat there a dozen times and never have the same thing twice.  Try the pozole – pork stew with hominy – tis the season for this tummy-warmer – and finish with a slice of trés léches cake.  It’s the bamba!  For all locations visit Taco Bamba.

Game Changer at the Hay-Adams with a New Chef de Cuisine and Pastry Chef 

From the left Hay-Adams Executive Chef Nicolas Legret, Pastry Chef Elenor Apollonio-Frantz and Chef de Cuisine Jacopo Beni

A recent dinner in The Lafayette at the Hay-Adams Hotel showcased the talents of new Chef de Cuisine Jacopo Beni and Elenor Apolonio-Frantz as Pastry Chef. The duo, who have  Michelin experience under their toques, will work under the direction of Executive Chef Nicolas Legret producing contemporary American cuisine in The Lafayette fine dining restaurant, as well as my favorite hangout near the White House, the legendary Off The Record bar where the burgers and politico sightings are off the chain.

At the four-course dinner we were served on some of restaurant’s lovely new Wedgewood china that sports a pattern used only in one other hotel in the world.

The Hay-Adams new Wedgewood china

We began with hors d’oeuvres and cocktails before taking our seats for a parade of sumptuously prepared dishes.  Consider, if you will Beef Wellington. Though it was prepared without the foie gras interior, it was heavenly and a divine treat when you’re aiming to impress or out celebrating a special occasion.

Beef Wellington carved at table

I dined there early this year and note the menu is braver with the inclusion of more seasonal vegetables accompanied by classic sauces.  Think French, not the heavy cream sauces of yore and with locally-grown ingredients. I have always thought Legret was a master in the kitchen, and now he has Beni to teach and, as well, be influenced by Beni’s experience cooking in some of the leading restaurants of the world.

Beef Wellington receives its red wine sauce pour over

For the holiday season Legret and Beni are creating a traditional celebratory menu featuring flavorful delights for teatime.  Guests enjoy a selection of tea sandwiches including English Cucumber with tomato and mint; Farmhouse Egg Salad with Bibb lettuce; Smoked Salmon and Lemon Chive Cream Cheese; and Tarragon Celery Tuna Salad.  Children will relish their own special menu featuring Hot Chocolate and Fruit Teas, Assorted Tea Sandwiches, including Ham & Cheese, Peanut Butter & Marmalade, and fresh fruit salad.

The Hay-Adams dressed up for the holidays

For the sweet side of tea service, Pastry Chef Elenor Apolonio-Frantz plans a selection of Viennese and French confectioneries. Highlights include Warm Orange and Cherry Scones with Devonshire cream and organic strawberry preserve; Raspberry Pistachio Opera Cake; Chocolate Choux Puffs; French Fruit Tartlets, Passion Fruit, Coconut, Mango and Pineapple Vacherin and Salted Caramel Macarons. Teas are from the Mighty Leaf Tea Company. Now doesn’t that sound divine?

The Hay-Adams is located at 800 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC20006. For reservations call 202 638-6600. .

 

Baba Restaurant & Cocktail Bar Continues Its Evolution 

Little Baba, one of the coziest, most intimate speakeasies around, has launched its new winter menu, and it’s filled with plenty of Serbian soul food.  Unlike the brightly lit, white-tile and fern décor of its upstairs sister restaurant, Ambar, this small spot urges you to plant yourself into a comfy banquette and veg out while devouring small bites and a menu of specialty cocktails.  Perfect for date night or a small group of friends, owner Ivan Iricanin and partner Uros Smiljanic keep their culinary compass constantly set on re-fresh mode.  It seems Baba is their personal test lab for new dishes culled and updated from classic Serbian recipes.

On a recent visit we taste tested a dozen dishes and came away wowed.  From one of the best steak tartares to an interesting twist on the typical bacon-wrapped dates.

Tuna and beet tartare

Here tender prunes sub for dates – a far superior combination.  Wrapped in a smoky bacon, they are stuffed with creamy goat cheese and drizzled with balsamic glaze.

Sautéed forest mushrooms with polenta and truffles

Other delicious small plates are salmon tartare with beets, quinoa and pine nuts, sautéed forest mushrooms with crispy polenta and truffles, sumptuous five-hour lamb, barley risotto with vegetables and mascarpone, and eggplant with apricots, feta, toasted almonds and Kalamata jam.

Eggplant with apricots, feta, toasted almonds and Kalamata jam

Appetite whetted?  Find your favorites.  Chacun à son goût!

Steak tartare

On the cocktail front,  award-winning mixologist Esteban Ordonez has created some new winter-warmers.  As is his style, Ordonez uses fresh herbs and fruits, house made syrups, and Serbian liqueurs to concoct these un-ordinary cocktails.  The bar boasts 36 varieties of rakia, the Serbian liqueur that’s employed in several of the cocktails.  Fun Fact:  It take 40 pounds of raspberries to make one bottle of rakia!

For music lovers: After 8pm till closing, it’s Acoustic Night on Wednesdays and Latin Night with a DJ on Thursdays.

Coming soon: The owners’ Street Guys Hospitality Group is busy totally transforming the former La Tasca into the Mexican-themed, Buena Vista.  It’s directly across the street.  How convenient!

Baba is located at 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201.  www.Baba.bar

Christmas at the Mandarin Oriental 

In the spirit of the holiday season the Mandarin Oriental DC is celebrating with festive décor, culinary treats, relaxing spa treatments, and special visits from the North Pole. The halls are decked with holiday cheer featuring an edible replica of the neighboring Jefferson Memorial created by Executive Pastry Chef Christophe Frigara.

Make a date for the Holiday Tea set amid a backdrop of seasonal décor and boasting of multiple tiers of cakes, cookies, and savory treats for children and adults alike. Friday through Sunday through December 23rd at 2:30 - 4:30pm.  The Holiday Tea will host Santa Claus on December 15th, 16th, 22nd, and the 23rd.

Gather the family and enjoy an elegant Christmas Day brunch buffet at Muze by Executive Chef Stefan Kauth with traditional holiday favorites and specialty selections including an omelet station, cheeses and charcuterie, salads, carving station, sushi, dim sum, and little fans buffet. December 25th, 2018, 12-4pm.  The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is located at 1330 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024.

Holiday Tea at The Fairmont Hotel 

Sleigh bells are ringing at Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown where Santa has checked into his DC residence bringing comfort and joy to all who believe in the magic of the holiday season. And we do!  Check out Pastry Chef Charles Froke’s Georgetown University’s Healy Hall crafted in gingerbread.  On display in the hotel’s Santa Suite and free for guests to visit on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am – 3pm.

Georgetown’s Pastry Chef Charles Froke, has created Georgetown University’s Healy Hall in Gingerbread.

All children, naughty or nice, are invited to stop by Santa’s suite with their parents on Saturdays and Sundays between 11am and 3pm through December 23rd.   Each child will enjoy yummy treats and a holiday keepsake to commemorate the visit. Those writing a letter to Santa, while in his suite, will receive one back.  Due to his busy schedule he will depend on the postal service, rather than his sleigh, to deliver his response.

Georgie, Fairmont’s new Canine Ambassador is a 12-week old yellow Labrador.  She was adopted by the hotel from Guiding Eyes for the Blind and she loves to meet families. You can find her in the Santa Suite on Saturdays.

Georgie, Fairmont’s new Canine Ambassador, visits the Santa in his Suite on Weekends-

In preparation for Santa’s check-in, Fairmont has partnered with elves who have been busy transforming his suite into a whimsical winter wonderland.  Exquisitely decorated trees twinkle with a host of enchanting details – from an elegant, mirrored dining table set with places for Santa and his special guests to a letter-writing station for leaving holiday wish lists.

Santa’s Suite is available for family visits at no charge, however guests are encouraged to make a donation to Horton’s Kids during visits. For complimentary admission acquire tickets on Eventbrite. Fairmont Hotel is located at 2401 M Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.

Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 3, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush – Originally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage, this delightful show harkens back to the famed Hampstead, England public house circa 1918.  The 6-person variety show promises to jolly up your holidays with Vaudeville-era tunes, Christmas carols, silly jokes, a sing-along and a moving tribute, Christmas in the Trenches, honoring the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment starring Sherri L. Edelen and Brian O’Connor runs through December 30th at MetroStage - 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Jimmy Mavrikes, Katherine Riddle, and Sherri L. Edelen ~ Photo credit C. Stanley Photography

My Father’s Dragon - Dragons are real and imaginations soar in this exciting production directed and choreographed by Tori Tolentino. Join Elmer Elevator on Wild Island to rescue a captive baby dragon accompanied by a cat companion.  With flying puppets and a ride-on dragon, this wordless fantasy-filled adventure is sure to please all ages. Through January 6th at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information visit www.SyneticTheater.org.

Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – Enjoy a return of the Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic wherein Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with ghostly guides through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays. Directed by local actor, Shelagh Roberts, the show is complete with special effects, Victorian carols and, of course, the adorable Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets call 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

(l-r) Larry Grey and Brittany Huffman in "A Christmas Carol" in Holiday Happenings ~ Photographer: Rich Farella

Christmas at Mount Vernon – Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling on December 7th, 8th and 16th. Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more. Evening fireworks on December 14th and 15th. Activities for children include making ornaments, hearing Christmas stories told by the Washingtons’ friends and family, and chocolate making demonstrations. Some events are ticketed. For tickets and all other information visit www.MountVernon.org.

Christmas illuminations at Mount Vernon ~ Courtesy of Mount Vernon

 

Billy Elliot the Musical Matthew Gardiner directs and choreographs this spectacular Tony, Grammy and Oscar Award® winner with a thrilling score by Elton John. Based on the acclaimed film of an 11-year-old whose dream is to dance, in a blue-collar coal mining town in Ireland, it’s boxing his dad sees for the boy’s future. This heartwarming story, with a hilarious scene of Margaret Thatcher stealing back the kiddies Christmas gifts, swept the Tony, Drama Desk and Olivier Awards for “Best Musical”.  Through January 6th at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information visit www.SigTheatre.org.

Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot) and the cast of Billy Elliot at Signature Theatre. ~ Photo by Christopher Mueller

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
December 11, 2018 
Special to The Alexandria Times

Katherine Riddle & Jimmy Mavrikes ~Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

If visions of sugarplums are dancing in your head, then this probably isn’t the show for you.  No, Virginia, this is for those that see Christmas as a time to carouse, occasionally reflect, and celebrate camaraderie, but most assuredly it will not be seen as a Victorian postcard with angels in flight wearing halos of mistletoe.

This is how this clever holiday variety show might have been performed at the famed Hampstead, England public house circa 1918 – witty, silly and a lot risqué.  Written and directed by well-known DC actor Catherine Flye (Catch her now as Grandma in Billy Elliott at Signature Theatre), this 6-person British variety music hall show is sure to jolly up your holidays with Vaudeville-era tunes, Christmas carols, silly jokes, a sing-along and a moving tribute, Christmas in the Trenches, an homage to this year’s 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Sherri L. Edelen and Albert Coia ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

The Chairman, played by Brian O’Connor, is a nattily dressed, elegant gent who is emcee to a small troupe of performers – Miss Florrie Forde (Sherri L. Edelen), an endearing, middle-aged singer and hoofer (Neat fact: Florrie Forde was a famed Australian music hall songstress, who graced British stages with her incomparable voice for half a century.), Miss Daisy May (Katherine Riddle), a pretty ingenue with the voice of a nightingale, Mr. Bertie Ramsbottom (Albert Coia), an endearing, dipsomaniacal comedian, Mr. Percival Pennyfeather (Jimmy Mavrikes), Daisy’s dashing love interest, and Maestro Peabody (Joseph Walsh), the music hall’s pianist.

Brian O'Connor ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

Here are the titles of a smattering of the 34 classic tunes, seven of which are audience participation – lyrics provided, thank you very much.  It should give you an idea of what’s in store from this delightful veteran cast – “Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy”, “Spotted Dick” and “The Night She Cried in my Beer”.  These are interspersed with traditional English carols like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Good King Wenceslas” and vaudeville-era songs like the tear-jerker “Sonny Boy”, the cockney-inspired “Lambeth Walk”, and more.  In the euphemistic tune, “Please Don’t Touch My Plums”, Miss Forde croons, “You can grope me cantaloupes and stroke me artichokes, but please don’t touch my plums.”

Expect more than cheeky humor in this series of vignettes played by these lovable cast members, when the troupe performs a snippet from “The Christmas Carol” and a reading of John McRae’s wartime classic, “In Flanders Field” when Brits lost so many of their sons and fathers.  Especially poignant is Katherine Riddle’s exquisite voice and tender rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, once named the best Christmas carol in a poll of the world’s leading choirmasters.

Front Row: (l-r) Albert Coia and Brian O'Connor - Back Row (l-r) Sherri L. Edelen, Katherine Riddle, Jimmy Mavrikes ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

Foot-stomping (ordered by The Chairman) lends a party atmosphere to this lively show chock-a-block with enough wink-wink double entendres to warm the cockles of your irreverent, Christmas-loving heart.

Set Consultant, Carl Gudenius, Costume Design by Michael Sharp and Lighting Design by Alexander Keen.

Christmas crackers, British beers, cider, mince pies and sausage rolls for purchase at the bar, Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush runs through December 30th at MetroStage - 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Indecent ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2018 

Paula Vogel’s Indecent is not your typical holiday entertainment.  It’s dark and foreboding.  Opening during the season of  Hanukkah, it strikes one as an unusual period to put on a tale about the travails of a group of Polish Jewish actors who meet a terrible end in Nazi Poland.  Vogel’s play arose out of her interest in the misinterpretation of Sholem Asch’s play God of Vengeance written in 1907.  It attempts to revisit that play and its impact and separate the two from Asch’s original intent – what he truly meant to express and how devastated he was when critics and rabbis disapproved of it.  As a period, Yiddish play, written during the heyday of Yiddish theater, Asch was devasted when his play augured the demise of that beloved form of entertainment.

(L-R) Susan Lynskey (The Middle: Halina/Ensemble) and Emily Shackelford (The Ingenue: Chana/Ensemble), with Ben Cherry (Lemml) in background. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

We meet the young Sholem and his wife in their bedroom.  She is reading his first play and encourages him to produce it.  “It’s wonderful!  It’s so sad,” she tells him.  He presents it in a private salon for playwrights at the home of a producer who agrees to stage it.  Others in attendance see it as degrading to Jews because it has racy scenes.  It was later to become a play so reviled by American Jews because it dared to present them as human with all its messy faults and foibles.

Nonetheless, one man, Lemml, a modest tailor, endorses Asch’s craft and becomes the play’s stage manager.  Over the years God of Vengeance is performed throughout Europe and Russia to great acclaim, though the unusual story of a Jewish brothel owner, the trashing of the Torah and a romance between two women, portrays Jews as less than holy.  When the actors go to America in 1921, the play is censored.  The original Asch play opened on Broadway in 1923 and featured the first kiss by two women on the Broadway stage.  This innocent and playful scene has the women dancing in the rain as they celebrate their love.  The upshot was that the entire troupe was arrested for obscenity, later resulting in an investigation of the playwright by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Ben Cherry (Lemml) and the cast of Indecent. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Violin, clarinet, accordion, and what appeared to be a balalaika, serve as a mournful background to the destruction of the socialists’ high ideals.  Well-acted, it reflects a turbulent time during the days of politically-motivated censorship of those in the arts.

With Ben Cherry as The Stage Manager: Lemml; Susan Lynskey as The Middle: Halina/Ensemble; John Milosich as Moriz Godowsky/Musician/Ensemble; Victor Raider-Wexler as The Elder: Otto/Ensemble; Susan Rome as The Elder: Vera/Ensemble; Emily Shackelford as The Ingénue: Chana/Ensemble/Dance Captain; Maryn Shaw as Nelly Friedman/Musician/Ensemble; Alexander Sovronsky as Mayer Balsam/Musician/Ensemble; Ethan Watermaier as The Middle: Mendel/Ensemble; and Max Wolkowitz as The Ingénue: Avram/Ensemble.

(L-R) Emily Shackelford (The Ingenue: Chana/Ensemble) and Max Wolkowitz (The Ingenue: Avram/Ensemble) in Indecent. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Diercted by Eric Rosen; Choreography by Erika Chong Shuch; Music Direction and Original Music by Alexander Sovronsky; Set Design by Jack Magaw; Costume Design by Linda Roethke; and Lighting Design by Josh Epstein.

Through December 30th at Arena Stage - 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Beautiful ~ The Carole King Musical ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 29, 2018 

Carnegie Hall. Sarah Bockel (Carole King) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Where were you when you first heard The Righteous Brothers sing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles?  Maybe you were dancing to “Locomotion” by Little Eva or “Up on the Roof” by The Drifters, all songs written by Brooklyn-born Carole King (Sarah Bockel) and her husband Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach).  Working for music producer Don Kirshner (James Clow), known as “The Man with the Golden Ear”, their partnership produced hit after hit keeping them on the pop charts throughout the 60’s.

1650 Broadway. (l to r) James Clow (Don Kirshner), Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry Goffin), Sarah Bockel (Carole King), Jacob Heimer (Barry Mann) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil). Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

During their early career lyricist Gerry and the precociously talented composer Carole churned out hits at Aldon Music, a music publishing house and hit factory in New York’s Brill Building, where they worked side-by-side with fellow hit makers, Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) in friendly competition.

Beautiful tells the story of their romance, marriage and tumultuous breakup.  The simple story chronicles their struggles and successes and ultimately King’s solo career, which broke the pop mold with the release of her first album - the four-time Grammy Award-winning, “Tapestry”.

“The Locomotion.” The Touring Cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The latest national tour has rearranged the order of the music.  It now opens with Carole on piano at Carnegie Hall.  She is singing “So Far Away”, accompanying herself and showing confidence with her trademark masses of wavy hair gowned in a blue-flowered maxi-dress.  It was not always so for the shy, yet ambitious teen who wrote songs for the top African American artists of that era.  The plot then takes us back to the beginning of Carole’s career, when as a whip-smart sixteen-year old, Carole bucked her Jewish mother Genie (Suzanne Grodner with plenty of comic relief), to peddle her tunes in the Big Apple where she has an auspicious meeting with Kirshner.

The Drifters. (l to r) Dimitri Joseph Moïse, Deon Releford-Lee, Nathan Andrew Riley and Michael Stiggers, Jr. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

A medley of hits from the 50’s includes some of the greatest hits from that era – “Poison Ivy”, “Love Potion #9”, “Yakety Yak” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to name a few.  Dressed in flashy sharkskin suits and skinny ties, The Drifters and The Shirelles in their trademark beaded dresses perform the couple’s greatest hits, along with Little Eva (Alexis Tidwell), discovered when she was their babysitter and the entirely fictitious Janelle Woods (McKynleigh Alden Abraham), a glamorous pop singer who becomes Gerry’s extramarital lover.

Queens College. Sarah Bockel (Carole King) and Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry Goffin) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The musical is light on script, but heavy on songs, twenty-seven numbers backed by a twelve-piece orchestra.  But that’s just fine as you’ll probably be silently singing along, tapping your toes and recalling your first dance, first kiss or first breakup.  Goosebumps kick in with “Some Kind of Wonderful”, Gerry and Carole’s first duet, and The Righteous Brothers big number, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.

Scenic Designer Derek McLane captures the mood by creating a wall of instruments and tricking out the musical performances with hundreds of moving, neon-colored lights.  Mid-century modern furnishings reflect Carole’s home and office.

“Natural Woman.” Sarah Bockel (Carole King) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

 

Bockel does a superb job as Carole, especially at the end of Act Two when she lets loose her powerful voice on the biggest hits from the album “Tapestry” – “Natural Woman”, later covered by Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige, and “Beautiful”.  The musical reflects Carole’s coming of age as an independent composer and soloist who has emerged from pain and loss to find joy and recognition as an artist in her own right.

See it if you love the music of this era, or even for the music with its sweet harmonies and catchy lyrics that draws us back to an age of innocence.

Book by Douglas McGrath; Words and Music by Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Brian Ronan; Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Through December 30th at the National Theatre, Washington DC – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.org or call 202 628-6161.