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The Color Purple ~ Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
August 7, 2018

So many plays and musicals on the African American human condition during slavery in America have been written since The Color Purple made its thunderous debut 13 years ago. Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, the heartbreakingly poignant musical returned to Broadway in 2016 earning it a Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical”.  And in 2017, against some mighty stiff competition, it garnered a Grammy Award for “Best Musical Theater Album”.  The musical’s arrival at Kennedy Center last week showed audiences that a story of women fighting for their survival against the tyranny of sexism and racism still has relevance.  Though set in the Deep South in 1909, after more than 100 years of oppression, we are still fighting against these very -isms with the rise of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.


Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery) and the North American tour cast of THE COLOR PURPLE. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017


Director and Set Designer John Doyle utilizes a simple wooden backdrop hung with chairs to depict the harshness of the characters’ personal landscapes. Using nothing more than those chairs and African woven baskets as props to tell the story of a young girl’s treacherous path to freedom and self-actualization, Doyle places these colorful and sympathetic characters into a tempestuous story featuring young Celie.  Played exquisitely by Adrianna Hicks, Celie steals our hearts from the start with her love for her sister, Nettie, and the heartless abduction of her babies.

Gavin Gregory (Mister) and Adrianna Hicks (Celie) in the North American tour of THE COLOR PURPLE. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017.


The show’s memorable songs by Allee Willis, Stephen Bray and Brenda Russell are sung by an excellent ensemble who present this complex crystallization of life-on-the-edge-of-nothing with Blues, Gospel and tender ballads intricately woven into this tender tapestry.  “I’m Here” Celie’s redemptive ballad and the notable red hot mama number “Push Da Button” sung by Shug, are guaranteed to thrill audiences. 

The North American tour cast of THE COLOR PURPLE. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017.


Starring Adrianna Hicks as Celie, Carla R. Stewart as Shug Avery, Carrie Compere as Sofia, N’Jameh Camara as Nettie, Gavin Gregory as Mister, Jay Donnell as Harpo, Mekhai Lee as Grady and Erica Durham as Squeak.  With Darnell Abraham as Adam, Gabrielle Reid as Olivia, Amar Atkins as Guard, Kyle E. Baird as Bobby/Buster, Angela Birchett, Brit West and Bianca Horn as Church Lady, C. E. Smith as Preacher/Ol’ Mister and J. D. Webster as Pa.

Book by Marsha Norman, Associate Director Matt DiCarlo, Musical Director/Conductor Darryl Archibald, Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting by Jane Cox and Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier.Through August 26th in the Eisenhower Theater at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Nibbles and Sips Around Town ~ July 2018

Jordan Wright
July 2018
Photo credit - Jordan Wright

Chlöe Heralds Haidar Karoum’s First Solo Restaurant; Pineapple and Pearls Twee Dining; Lupo Marino – A Taste of the Amalfi Coast; Pow Pow Caters to Vegetarians on H Street; Pappe Celebrates the Dishes of Northern India; Marib – Yemeni Classics in a White-Tablecloth Restaurant

Chlöe

Seating at the open kitchen - The lively bar scene

As co-owner of the Asian-inspired Doi Moi, Lebanese-born Karoum has devised a melding of the many profiles of Southeast Asian cuisine to great effect in a sleek, lively space in the heart of Logan Square.  Earlier this year he opened Restaurant Chlöe by Haidar Karoum on Fourth Street in the booming Washington Navy Yard neighborhood.  This globally-inspired cuisine lets Chef/Owner Karoum incorporate his past experiences cooking Spanish, Modern American and Asian dishes to their best effect.  A recent dinner there convinced us that he has achieved that confluence of diverse cultures with aplomb as he dreams up new and enticing combinations.

Chef Haidar Karoum

We began with Broiled Local Oysters, which may sound a bit pedestrian, but achieves elevated status with a Hollandaise-like sauce spiked with horseradish in one of the most alluring presentations – sitting atop multi-colored pebbles on a shiny rectangular tray.  My advice: Order several of these.  After that we allowed ourselves to be guided by our waiter who suggested the Green Papaya Salad with green beans, tomatoes and peanuts and dried shrimp in a tamarind dressing.  It encompasses all the elements of sweet, crunchy, tangy and vivacious while still being as light as a feather.

Green papaya salad ~ Broiled local oysters with horseradish cream

The Caramelized Cauliflower will prove a beacon to cauliflower lovers.  This Mediterranean-inspired dish is pinged with tahini, mint, garlic and toasted pine nuts for a smooth, fire-roasted result.

Caramelized cauliflower

Entrées are a suggested share and we complied by ordering the chef’s signature dish – Spice Roasted Chicken.  Drawing from his Asian textbook, Karoum interprets it as a Vietnamese preparation that finds the golden-crusted half chicken paired with a side of sticky rice and fresh Asian greens accompanied by a lively chili and lime dipping sauce.

Vietnamese spice roasted chicken

The cocktail menu is just as intriguing.  Of particular note was “Carabao Kick” made with Edinburgh Gin, calamansi (this tiny citrus fruit, aka calamondin, is trending like mad), lime and tamarind syrup.  Or opt for the summer refresher, “Classic Coconut Daiquiri”, whose status derives from a 12-year old Flor De Cana Rum blended with lime, pandan syrup and coconut water.  An extensive wine list features affordable bottles carefully selected to pair perfectly with this unique and varied cuisine.

Chlöe by Haidar Karoum is located at 1331 4th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003 – 202.313.7007  www.restaurantchloe.com

Pineapple and Pearls

I don’t know what to make of the name of Aaron Silverman’s second Barracks Row restaurant.  Chef/owners seem to favor incorporating their grandmother’s, wife’s or children’s names.  Nonetheless, Silverman has got the Midas touch, if not in gold then certainly in pearls.  After all, he raised $1M in less than a year to launch Pineapple and Pearls, his latest endeavor.  Rose’s Luxury, which opened in 2013, is the chef’s first DC-based restaurant and, if the lines down the block are any indication, he has garnered a loyal following along with the multiple industry kudos he has received.

Silverman, who was raised in Bethesda, worked under Jonathan Krinn at the posh 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church before moving to Charleston, SC to work with Sean Brock at McGrady’s.  (Did you hear Sean Brock is leaving Charleston?!)  After returning to DC in 2011, he took time out to plot his next move… and it turned out to be a mad success.  Rose’s Luxury was named Bon Appétit’s “Best New Restaurant in the Country”.  It’s no wonder backers were willing to finance his next project.

Pineapple and Pearls has been the beneficiary of so much laudatory press you’d think you were at the feet of the great Escoffier himself.  That we chose the “Summer Bar Menu” at $150.00 sans alcohol (we did order a cocktail and glass of wine each) might have been a mistake.  It was certainly not the full court press guests in the main dining room were experiencing.  And though the food and presentation were creative, it was ultimately unsatisfying – all eight bites of it on a skinny barstool.

Foie Gras Nigiri ~ Summer squash tart

We began with a miniscule Summer Squash Tart with poppy seeds and ramp cream served on a stunning Christian LaCroix plate decorated with painted butterflies and crickets.  The little tart was followed by Fois Gras Nigiri, easily my favorite bite of the night.  Well, fois gras being that lusciously melty clump of pure goose liver fat, how could you go wrong?  That the single bite was purported to be prepared with Morita chiles and vegetable caramel, went unnoticed.  The unusual plate did not.  A Japanese anime line drawing of a dashing long-haired young dandy was centered on the two bits of foie gras appearing as though he was tossing the liver onto the plate.  It tasted as though it was sautéed in butter with a slight sweetness and that was just fine.  Just so you know, the food photos reflect portions for two diners – not one.

Smoked Potato & Date Agnolotti

Next at bat was Smoked Potato and Date Agnolotti with Robiola Bosina cream – a soft, mushroomy, Piemontese cheese – and wild rose vinegar.  Rustically presented and hidden beneath large leaves (basil?), the duet of walnut-sized agnolotti was light, tender, herbaceous and creamy.  I could have done with a large plate of this and been on my merry way.

House-Nixtamalized Corn Tortillas

Tortillas and tacos have wriggled their way onto every menu these days and this one was no exception. Two tacos the size of a beer coaster – one was duck croquette (Yes! A French taco!) with fig and juniper mole, the other, salmon boudin with basil salsa verde and kohlrabi cortido.  The duck was fiercely spicy.  Did I mention I love spicy?  This one burned the palate in its single bite.  The salmon, however, was as mild as expected.

Roasted Alina Duck

Here’s where things went horribly wrong.  The next “course” was beef filet and from the first bite it was unutterably over-salted.  I imagined it had been sitting in the ocean for a week or so.  Ditto for my companion’s.  Since it was completely inedible I asked to see our server.  I explained about the salt and asked the chef to taste it.  I was told the kitchen would substitute it for duck.  Very amenable.  When the manager came out with the duck, I asked if the kitchen had tasted the beef and What did they think?  He told me they hadn’t tasted it, but it had been salted by two different cooks, which upon later reflection, did not hold up.  The salt was not only on the outside, but throughout the meat.  Ditto for the ensuing duck, though by then we didn’t want to make another fuss.

Dessert was a small Coconut Tartufo enrobed in chocolate and Amareno cherries. The dessert was reminiscent of little ice cream bon bons.  Remember those?  All in all, the service was fantastic, the cocktails exquisite and the presentation super creative.

Red Bird cocktail

But, to gauge the restaurant’s cuisine, and do it justice, you’ll have to go the way of the full-on, 12-course tasting menu at $400.00 which is the only way dinner service is offered.  Maybe then you won’t go home hungry.

Pineapple and Pearls is located at 715 8th Street, SE, Washington, DC   202.595.7375  www.PineappleandPearls.com

Lupo Marino

Lupo Marino’s honey and blue dining room


Lupo Marino is one of the latest restaurants on DC’s fabulous District Wharf.  It’s the third restaurant by the team who brought you Lupo Verde and Lupo Osteria.  And you know how much I adore Lupo Verde.

Fair Warning:  It does not have a water view like many of the higher priced establishments which makes it way more affordable.  If it’s water view you want, take a stroll alongside the docks before or after dining.  This casual chic spot with a seaside décor is tucked away in one of the narrow side streets just off the cobblestone walkway.  It reminds me of the cozy ristorantes found in any piccolo villaggio en Italia where mamma and nonna are in the cucina and papà is a pescatore who brings in the fish fresh every afternoon.  In Italy, people go wherever the food is good and when it’s as good as this, it really only matters whom you’re breaking bread with.

The restaurant defines itself as Italian street food.  That said, we planned to take clear advantage of the fresh seafood specialties. But if you opt for pizzas, they are prepared in a handcrafted Marra Forni pizza oven that cooks your pizza at 900-degrees in three minutes.

The Marra Forni pizza oven

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen pasta or salad nor many of these dishes sold on the streets of Italy, so I can’t intuit why they call this “street food”.  It’s more akin to what you’d find in a wine bar – a very good wine bar – in Italy.  And speaking of vino, there are over 100 Italian wines to choose from!

Piccolina Spritz ~ Toto cocktail

In any case, what we did have I’d highly recommend.  Adorned with watermelon radish and fennel pollen, which lends a hint of anise, Tuna Carpaccio arrived drizzled with truffle vinaigrette speckled with microgreens and sitting on crisp flatbread.  It was summer in a bite and most welcome on this scorching day.

 

Tuna Carpaccio

Next, we dove straight into a plate of Fritto Misto which was as divino as any I’ve enjoyed on the Amalfi Coast during many summers spent in Positano.  A light coating of batter rendered calamari, sardines (they’re in season right now) and head-on prawns (the only way to eat them!) delectable.

Fritto Misto

A fire-grilled lemon half and creamy aioli provided the perfect tangy balance to this signature taste of the Mediterranean.

Seafood Paccheri

The menu reveals four types of handmade pasta and each one is quite different.  This is not your grandma’s red sauce ristorante.  The ingredients are more intriguing.  We chose Spaghetti Verde with wild pork carbonara and cured egg yolk topped with pickled ramps and Paccheri – a wide tubular pasta that went perfectly with the rich saffron broth, blue crab and shrimp.

Spaghetti Verde

Desserts are fairly predictable – tiramisu, espresso coffee bomb, and bombolini with nutella.  Stick with the gelati.

Be sure to check out the shelves against the backwall that feature many of the items used in the preparation of these dishes.  Snag some homemade pastas (especially the paccheri), EVOO, spreads, Italian sodas and the best canned tomatoes.

Lupo Marino is located at 40 Pearl Street, Washington, DC 20024.  www.LupoMarinoDC.com

Pow Pow

Tiger mural


Continuing with the Asian theme, which is ideal for hot summer nights, we found ourselves at Pow Pow, a small but popular vegetarian spot on H Street.  Close by the Atlas Performing Arts Center , this order-at-the-counter, eat-on-recyclable bowls joint caters to veggie lovers, and those who wouldn’t know it was vegetarian if they hadn’t been told.

Tokyo Roboto

When we arrived, we found the open kitchen active with hipsters rushing in to pick up their take away orders and others enjoying their dishes in the limited table space.  It’s a good choice for a pre-theatre bite if time is at a premium and/or you don’t want a sleep-inducing carb-attack during the show.

Purity bowl

The mock meat offerings are deceiving.  With so many warm spices and tangy sauces it’s hard to discern that the ribs are vegan, the chicken is plant-based, and the fried mozzarella sticks are made from cashews.

Taiwanese fried mozzarella

Even the Nutella in the Chimi Chimi Pow Pow dessert is dairy-free.  Though they call the menu vegetarian, I’m not sure I wouldn’t say it was vegan.  Just ask.  All I can say is that it’s a veggie-lover’s wet dream.

Pow Pow is located at 1253 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 – 202.399.1364   www.eatpowpow.com.

Pappe

The busy dining room


A sliver of an Indian restaurant on 14th Street just above N Street is newcomer Pappe based on the authentic Northern Indian cuisine of New Delhi, with a few dishes from the Southern Indian region around Goa where vindaloo was invented.

Indian spice watermelon cocktail

The 85-seat restaurant has three owners Vipul Kapila, Sanjay Mandhaiya and Shankar Puthran, with Mandhaiya and Puthran Head Chefs.  The partners chose the name Pappe meaning ‘brother’ in Punjabi.  That’s how close they are.  As co-owner and co-chef of Pappe and Saffron in Ashburn, Mandhaiya brings a wealth of experience to the kitchen. Altogether they made the decision to celebrate their favorite dishes from home.  Curries like fiery Vindaloo; Palak with spinach, garlic ginger and tomato curry; Malabar, a coconut curry; and Korma made with cashews, mace, nutmeg and saffron.  Most of these are familiar to Western palates acquainted with Indian food – but these are nothing like the store-bought packaged meals, nor your dumbed down curries.  These renditions have personality and spark.

Lamb Korma

There are plenty of vegetarian options too.  Palak Paneer and Punjabi Aloo Gobi are familiar to many, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a dish I never knew – Baingan Bartha – a roasted eggplant dish with tomatoes.

Naan is one of those wonderful breads that can only be properly made in a woodfired oven.  There it takes on a smoky, crispy, doughy profile.  I like mine with garlic and herbs and plenty of butter.  Here you’ll find naan with green chiles and minced lamb and roti too.

Aloo Papdi Chaat

Two of us shared Aloo Papdi Chaat, Palak Paneer, garlic naan, Palaak with Cod and Chicken Pista Korma with a sauce of pistachio nuts.  We barely had room for sweet carrot pudding.  But for your sake, dear readers, we ordered it and were glad we did.

Carrot pudding

Over dinner I had a chance to chat with Kapila, a successful IT guy who shared his knowledge of the dishes and the specialty cocktails that are made from scratch and exotically spiced.  Kapila insisted I return for the super spicy Vindaloo, which he claims is the best outside of India.  I’m game.  Are you?

Pappe is located at 1317 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 – 202.888.8220  www.Pappe.com www.SaffronVA.com

Marib

We stumbled across Marib while eager to satisfy our Middle Eastern food cravings.  There are countless kabob spots in the burbs, but Yemeni?  Even Arab friends hadn’t heard of this place.  After two visits, I’m hooked.

Located in a strip mall in Springfield, we were pleasantly surprised to enter a large, off-the-radar, ethnic restaurant with uniformed waiters and white-tablecloth dining.  Most of the places in this area are ultra-casual and primarily dedicated to take away and catering.  Here tables have ample space between and the service is prompt and polite.  And though there are dishes that may be unfamiliar, servers are keen to answer any questions.

Shafout

Start with Shafout, described as a “chilled appetizer with layers of buttermilk, chopped almonds and walnuts, spring onions and mint leaves”.  This beautiful dish floats atop a flat bread called “lahoh” similar to the better known Ethiopian injera – though it seemed a cross between injera and pita.  Ruby red pomegranate seeds prove the perfect foil both for sweetness and lovely color against the cool green of the shafoutA handful of chopped lettuce, red onion, carrots and tomato lay perched in the center.  It is irresistible.

Lime cooler

Our server, Abdul, steered us towards the Lime Juice with Mint which is a typical Yemeni cooler.  It arrives at the table in a carafe frothy, citrusy and thirst quenching.  Add this to your order.  After dinner there is Yemeni coffee made with unroasted coffee husks and powdered ginger, or black tea with condensed milk and spices.  Both are uniquely warming.

Hummus with seared chicken, peppers and onions

On our second trip we had a party of six which allowed for more dishes to share.  This time we enjoyed the baba ganoush and hummus – each whipped to perfection and smooth as silk.  You can also order your hummus topped with seared meats (chicken, beef or lamb), peppers and onions.  It seems like a meal in itself, but don’t stop there.

Fahsa and Saltah

It’s an extensive menu with chicken, beef, lamb and shrimp all well represented.  Most of us went for the lamb prepared in many different ways.  Stewed with vegetables, slow cooked on the bone or shredded.  I chose haneeth both times.  Falling off the bone and served atop rice pilaf, it is meltingly tender and savory too with a myriad of spices from the marinade and accompanying sauce.  The stews, chockful of root vegetables, are equally as soul-stirring.  All the portions are large so plan on taking home leftovers which they are happy to box up.

Haneeth

Save room for dessert!  There are several that may seem unfamiliar but detailed descriptions are provided on the menu.  One of the most unusual combinations I have ever come across proved to be another two thumbs up.  Harking from the Arabian Peninsula, Areekah is made with tandoori bread, smashed bananas, fresh cream, ghee, cheddar cheese!!! and honey and topped with a sprinkling of nigella seeds.  You may wonder how on earth cheese could find its way into a dessert, but it does, and we were amazed at how creamy, tangy and delicious it is.

Areekah

Marib is located at 6981 Hechinger Drive, Springfield, VA 22151 - 703.376.3388  www.MaribRestaurant.com

Dave ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
July 29, 2018 

Frustrated with the current administration’s wackadoodle politics and its daily grind of mean-spirited tweets?  Then let Dave be your panacea.  This uplifting story is drawn from the 1993 eponymous movie written by Gary Ross and starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver.  Remember that?  Well, it’s now a musical written by Tony Award-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then, Bring it On: The Musical, Freaky Friday and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical) and book writer/lyricist Nell Benjamin (co-writer with her husband Laurence O’Keefe of Legally Blonde, Mean Girls, Life of the Party, Huzzah!).  We need this.  We really, really need this!

Drew Gehling (Dave Kovic/President Bill Mitchell) in Dave, running July 18-August 19, 2018 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Director Tina Landau (SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical and many more) has achieved an astonishing assemblage of A-Plus experienced cast, crew and creators to produce a musical that soars in every category – choreography, sets, actors, musical numbers and lighting.  Set Designer Dane Laffrey and Projection Designer Peter Nigrini have conceived a sensational, floor-to-the-rafters cyclorama embedded with LED projections that changes scenes at the proverbial drop of a hat.  It’s not just cleverly conceived, it’s mind-blowing.

Set in Washington, DC, our hero, Dave Kovic (Drew Gehling) is a recently fired liberal-leaning, Abraham Lincoln-loving high school teacher who decides to take up posting YouTube videos of himself doing impressions of the current President, Bill Mitchell (also Gehling).  When POTUS suffers a stroke whilst in flagrante delicto with his girlfriend, Randi (Rachel Flynn), Dave is summoned to act as his secret stand-in.  He’s so convincing that FLOTUS, Ellen (Mamie Parris) and VP Nance (sounds like… oh, never mind… played by Jonathan Rayson), can’t tell it’s not Mitchell.  The only ones in on the ruse are the Secret Service, his Director of Communications, Susan Lee (Bryonha Marie Parham), and his devious Chief of Staff, Bob Alexander (Douglas Sills).

(L-R) Drew Gehling (Dave Kovic/President Bill Mitchell), Bryonha Marie Parham (Susan Lee) and Douglas Sills (Bob Alexander) in Dave, running July 18-August 19, 2018 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Up till the switcheroo, Lee and Alexander had been serving a President who was a self-consumed, self-aggrandizing idiot, demeaning to his wife while unceremoniously wrecking the country.  Sound familiar?  Meanwhile, Dave becomes more and more irreplaceable as his poll numbers continue to soar and the country (along with the audience!) cheers on his progressive agenda.  While POTUS is still in a coma, Dave feels guilty continuing the subterfuge until the ghosts of former Presidents – Buchanan, Taft, Harding, Harrison, Johnson, Hayes and John Quincy Adams – appear to him in the Lincoln Bedroom to convince him otherwise in one of the show’s most hilarious scenes.  Imagine the Secret Service as an armed-and-dangerous chorus line fronted by the President’s Chief of Staff.  Now, you’ve got the picture.

It’s a feel good, validating, change-the-world, political comedy musical with a flawless cast that will have you cheering all the way home.

Highly recommended.  A total hoot from beginning to end.

Drew Gehling (Dave Kovic/President Bill Mitchell) and the cast, in Dave, running July 18-August 19, 2018 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

With Jenny Ashman (Reporter, Ensemble), Jared Bradshaw (Reporter, Harding, Ensemble), Josh Breckenridge (Duane Bolden), Dana Costello (Reporter, Montana Jefferson, Ensemble), Trista Dollison (Reporter, Harrison, Ensemble), Sherri L. Edelen (Tour Guide, Mrs. Smit, Taft, Ensemble), Kevin R. Free (Murray Stein, Adams, Ensemble), Adam J. Levy (Mr. Wheeler, Ensemble), Erin Quill (Reporter, Hayes, Ensemble), Jonathan Rayson (Gary Nance, Johnson, Ensemble) and Vishal Vaidya (Paul, Ensemble)

Book by Thomas Meehan and Nell Benjamin, Set Design by Dane Laffrey, Choreography by Sam Pinkleton, Orchestrator Michael Starobin, Music Director Rob Berman, Costume Design by Toni-Leslie James, Lighting by Japhy Weideman, Sound Design by Walter Trarbach, Projection Design by Peter Nigrini.

In the Kreeger Theater through August 19, 2018 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Jesus Christ Superstar ~ At The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

When composers Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber brought their controversial musical sing-through to the Broadway stage in 1971, four-and-a-half decades ago, it wasn’t heralded by critics.  In fact, the mixed reviews didn’t bode well for the young men who at the time had only one successful musical to their credit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  But after thousands of national and international productions, a film and a recent NBC TV staging starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Brandon Victor Dixon and Alice Cooper, this musical hasn’t missed a beat or an audience.

Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth) and Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene) in Jesus Christ Superstar, now playing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

You know the story.  A gentle, charismatic carpenter from Nazareth with a devoted following is betrayed, abandoned, tormented and ultimately crucified by King Herod’s army.  His only faithful supporter remaining is a former prostitute, Mary Magdalene, played by Thea Simpson.  Director Jim Howard interprets the setting as INRI Inc., a subsidiary of Genesis, Ltd., a corporate headquarters where cell phones, laptops and iPads are the preferred mode of communication for text updates on Jesus’s status, and where millennials celebrate with fist bumps and high fives.

Carlos Antonio Ramirez (Judas) - Photo by Matt Liptak

Notwithstanding some mic glitches in Act One on opening night (“blessedly” corrected by Act Two), we could easily hear the powerful and chilling voice of Rishabh Bajekal as Jesus of Nazareth. Bajekal, had at first been cast as Judas when Howard asked him if he would like to play Jesus.  That left Howard to find his Judas, which he did when he discovered Carlos Antonio Ramirez, a local radio traffic reporter and sometime local band member who has an emotional, raspy, rock-and-roll voice that reaches far beyond the theater’s front door.  His star turn commences in the second number with “Heaven on Their Minds”, and from that moment on every time he solos, he rattles the theater’s foundations.  Sweet Jesus, this boy can rock out!

Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene), Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes), Theo Touitou (Ensemble), Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth), Tyrone Brown Jr. (Ensemble), Michael Gale (Peter), Hilary Adams (Ensemble), Tracey Lucas (Ensemble) - Photo by Matt Liptak

Another pitch perfect belter is Cody Boehm who plays Simon Zealotes.  In the eponymous song from the middle of Act One, she sets a thunder-and-lightning tone that only Bajekal and Ramirez, and the fathoms-deep bass voice of Ryaan Farhadi as the evil Caiaphas can meet.  And Andy Izquierdo, coming off his success as Elwood P. Dowd in LTA’s recent production of Harvey, stuns in his role as the campy/snarky King Herod with a hilarious second act surprise in the number, “King Herod’s Song”.

Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes) in the center with the ensemble in Jesus Christ Superstar, now performing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

The excellent 24-member cast is choreographed by Michael Page, veteran of five previous productions at LTA of which this one has the most dance numbers.  How, you may ask, can so many performers dance and sing on a relatively small community theater stage?  Very well!  Music Director Christopher A. Tomasino, a six-time WATCH Award winner, all for six LTA musicals, conducts this jammin' 21-piece band (including ten horns!).  Kudos to guitar soloists Ben Young and Danny Santiago who are outstanding.

Highly recommended, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times or more.

Additional cast members – Michael Gale as Peter, Amy Lapthorne as Annas, Emmy Kampe as Priest, Hans Dettmar as Pontius Pilate and a fifteen-member ensemble.  Lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley, Assistant Choreographer Liz Colandene and Set Design by Matt Liptak.

Through August 11th 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.

Kelli Schollard-Sincock Creates Prison Arts Program for City of Alexandria and Fairfax County

Jordan Wright
July 16, 2018
for the Alexandria Times 

When Forensic Sketch Artist Kelli Schollard-Sincock, who holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Washington and completed the BFA program in Printmaking from George Mason, was thinking about how she could make an impact in her community, she recalled a casual comment a friend made during a lecture at Lorton the two women attended.  The talk featured prisoners’ art the guards had collected either through barter or outright payment and she was duly impressed by the caliber of the work.  Her friend said, “You should do that,” meaning teach art within the prisons.  The offhand remark didn’t really register with her until she read a report that the new administration planned to cut funding for the arts.  She felt it was a call to action.

Taking the bull by the horns, she approached Lt. Marybeth Plaskus at the Alexandria Detention Center and asked if they had a need for a prison arts program.  Plaskus gave her the nod, and the first class was held in February 2017.  “We started from scratch with one classroom that was immediately filled with about 25 male students.  That was such positive reinforcement for me.  They were always thankful I was there,” she says.  Since its inception the program has not only been hugely popular, but it has grown rapidly and now includes classes for women at the Fairfax facility.

Piggybacking on her success at the Alexandria prison, she then reached out to the Fairfax County Detention Center and began her arts program there in August 2017.  She now teaches there twice a week plus one day a week in Alexandria.  Yet there is still more demand.  Schollard-Sincock’s goal is to hire more teachers to fill the many requests for additional classes.

Kelli Schollard-Sincock teaching at the Fairfax County Detention Center

Initially the challenge was to find art supplies which are not funded by state or local counties.  She had to get creative.  Well, that’s what artists do.  Right?  In a stroke of good fortune, she discovered the ‘Buy Nothing Project’, an online sharing organization for free items that operates locally through Facebook.  There she put out a call for art supplies and had such a positive response that for four weeks she drove all over the county gathering an immense amount of materials.

Photo from Alexandria County Detention Center Prison Art Program courtesy of Kelli Schollard-Sincock

Del Ray Artisans heard about her classes and thought they could help.  The gallery’s Fundraising Director Joe T. Franklin, Jr. and Acting President Drew Cariaso wanted to learn about the program and have her give a talk to their members.  Member artists were so impressed with her outreach program that they held a fundraiser including an in-house drive for materials.  “People have really taken ownership of the program,” she adds.  Subsequently the gallery has been instrumental in helping her set up a non-profit to be called ‘Inspiration Matterz’ which will allow her to expand the program with the help of additional art teachers.  She credits Program Directors Lenora Murphy and Latanya Ervin at the William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center with keeping her program ongoing and her husband Austin and son Gregory for their support and encouragement.

Photo from Fairfax County Detention Center Prison Art Program courtesy of Kelli Schollard-Sincock

Schollard-Sincock chooses the subjects that are executed in a variety of mediums.  “Men and women respond totally differently to the programs.  My intention is to teach tangible skills not just doing crafts.  My very first student was an older gentleman.  He told me, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.  The best you’re going to get out of me are stick figures.” She says he really clicked when he started painting and is now painting photorealistic drawings.  “He is like the case study of why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Over the past year she has seen a huge change in their attitude.  “It’s empowering to learn that you have developed a skill.  The biggest thing in these classes is getting them to trust me and not give up.”

Director of the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Leslie Mounaime, reached out to her and offered their site for a show.  On Friday, July 20th, Del Ray Artisans will host the opening night reception for “Off The Grid” in the Torpedo Factory’s Site 2 Community Gallery showcasing 49 framed drawings from Schollard-Sincock’s prison art program.  The opening reception is from 7-9pm. The show runs through August 31st.

Kelli Schollard-Sincock’s own work can be found on her website www.KelliSincock.com.