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What’s Onstage in the DMV – March

What’s Onstage in the DMV

Jordan Wright
February 16, 2024
Special to The Zebra

(Photo via thelehmantrilogy.com)

The Lehman Trilogy
Where: Shakespeare Theatre Company
When: Feb 22 – Mar 24
Find more information at www.ShakespeareTheatre.org

The Book of Mormon
Where: National Theatre
When: Mar 5 – Mar 17
Find more information at www.TheNationalDC.com

Through the Sunken Lands 
Where: Kennedy Center
When: Mar 2 – Mar 17
Find more information at www.Kennedy-Center.org

Songbird
Where: Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center
When: Mar 9 – Mar 23
Find more information at www.Kennedy-Center.org

Company
Where: Kennedy Center
When: Mar 12 – Mar 31
Find more information at www.Kennedy-Center.org

Romeo & Juliet
Where: Synetic Theater
When: Now through Mar 24
Find more information at www.Kennedy-Center.org

(Photo via imagination Stage)

Inside Out and Backwards 
Where: Imagination Stage
When: Mar 2 – Mar 31
Find more information at www.ImaginationStage.org

Tempestuous Elements
Where: Arena Stage
When: through Mar 17
Find more information at www.ArenaStage.org

Little Shop of Horrors
Where: Ford’s Theatre
When: Mar 15 – May 19
Find more information at www.Fords.org

(Photo Via Port Tobacco Players)

9 to 5: The Musical
Where: Port Tobacco Players
When: Mar 1 – Mar 24
Find more information at www.PTPlayers.com

Coriolanus
Where: Avant Bard
When: through Mar 23
Find more information at www.AvantBard.org

Every Brilliant Thing
Where: Workhouse Arts Center
When: Mar 9 – Apr 14
Find more information at www.WorkhouseArts.org

Avaaz
Where: Olney Theatre Center
When: Mar 6 – Apr 7
Find more information at www.OlneyTheatrer.org

Migraaaaants
Where: Expats Theatre
When: Mar 16 – Apr 7
Find more information at www.AtlasArts.org

Más Aventuras de Don Quijote
Where: GALA Hispanic Theatre
When: Mar 9 – Mar 24
Find more information at www.GalaTheatre.org

School Girls: Or, The African Mean Girls Play
Where: NextStop Theatre Company
When: Mar 8 – Apr 7
Find more information at www.NextStopTheatre.org

(Photo via Signature Theatre)

Penelope 
Where: Signature Theatre
When: Mar 5 – Apr 21
Find more information at www.SigTheatre.org

The Princess and the Pea
Where: Creative Cauldron
When: Mar 8 – Mar 24
Find more information at www.CreativeCauldron.org

At the Wedding
Where: Studio Theatre
When: Mar 13 – Mar 21
Find more information at www.StudioTheatre.org

Moving and Unforgettable the Musical Private Jones Wows at Signature Theatre

Moving and Unforgettable the Musical Private Jones Wows at Signature Theatre

Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
February 16, 2024
Special to The Zebra

David Aron Damane, Alex De Bard, Amelia Hensley, Johnny Link (Gomer Jones) and Emily Steinhardt (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

A little birdie told me there’s a good chance Private Jones is headed to Broadway. What I’m saying, straight out of the gate, is don’t wait to snag your tickets because this show has everything. A fresh form and concept and a singular approach to a musical that is so thrilling that it has the all the elements to be a huge hit. Writer, Composer, Book, Director and DC native Marshall Pailet has the chops plus massive industry street cred. His former employers? DreamWorks and PBS productions, plus he’s written a few notable Off-Broadway musicals.

Due to Pailet’s massive talent, this world premiere production has already drawn in some high-level producers with Broadway experience. (I couldn’t get my nose out of the playbill scanning the multiple, italicized blockbuster shows and multiple theatre awards credited to this impressive creative team.)

What makes this war story so unique and so riveting is Gomer Jones (Johnny Link). Gomer is Deaf, a result of meningitis as a boy, as a result he has “remembered” speech and can lipread. (Notably, a few cast members are Deaf.) The program tells us World War I had Deaf soldiers who served in many capacities. Discovering this story drove Pailet to write this tri-lingual musical featuring signing in two languages – American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) and the script in spoken English.

Johnny Link (Gomer Jones) and the cast of Private Jones at Signature Theatre (Photo/Daniel Rader_

As a boy Gomer’s father teaches him to shoot the wild dogs that vex their sheep. Though he balked initially, the experience taught him to become a crack shot. As for the audience’s ability to translate sign language, you needn’t worry. There are surtitles which I found useful as the characters speak with a Welsh dialect which can get tricky, and then there’s The Storyteller (Amelia Hensley) who narrates the plot.

The story is set in Breconshire in South Wales. The town’s young men are being called to duty and Gomer wants to go. But at his medical exam the doctor realizes he’s Deaf and turns him away. Disappointed he goes back to the village and his sheep farm. One day he shoots a wild dog but doesn’t kill it. He takes it to a sympathetic nurse, Gwenolyn (Leanne Antonio), who saves the dog. “Every soul’s a soul.” Telling him he is needed in the war effort, she finds him a job at a munitions factory. Later with the rising toll of battle fatalities, Gomer fakes his hearing test and gets into the British army where he becomes an elite sniper aided by his “spotter” King (Erin Weaver in one of her finest roles).

Alex De Bard, Johnny Link (Gomer Jones) and Erin Weaver (King) (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

There Gomer meets up with his fellow Breconshire “borderers”. They figure out he’s Deaf and learn to communicate through a smattering of sign language. All this sounds rather tame, but the tension and raw emotions of the front are palpable, and the sounds of war are everywhere as Gomer faces the frightening scene – in the heat of a battle he cannot hear.

This is a gritty, pulsing, edge-of-your-seat drama lightened with bawdy gallows humor and a sweeping score with 22 beautiful ballads. How that is achieved is due in no small part to a strategically-cast, perfectly meshed ensemble, mood-setting lighting and effects by Lighting Director Jen Schriever and the gorgeous music and lyrics written by Marshall Pailet.

Highly recommended!!! Moving and unforgettable.

Vincent Michael (Edmund) and the cast of Private Jones at Signature Theatre. (Photo/Daniel Rader_

Leanne Antonio as Gwenolyn/Evans; Deimoni Brewington as Bailey; David Aron Damane as Father/Drill Sergeant/Major; Dickie Drew Hearts as Henry; Vincent Michael as Edmund; Jake Loewenthal as Redvers. Ensemble Members – Alex De BardVincent MichaelGeorge Psomas, and Emily Steinhardt.

Director of Artistic Sign Language Alexandria Wailes; Choreographed by Misha Shields; Music Directed by Myrna Conn; Costume Design by Phu’ong Nguyen; Sound Design by Eric Norris; Scenic Design by Christopher & Justin Swader; Video Design by Patrick W. Lord; Dialect Coach Catherine Flye; Orchestrations by Ryan O’Connell. Dance Captain, Emily Steinhardt; Artistic Sign Language Captain, Amelia Hensley; and Fight Captain, Vincent Michael.

Through March 10th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in the Village at Shirlington, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit www.SigTheatre.org

Mega-Musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations – Now at the Kennedy Center

Mega-Musical Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations – Now at the Kennedy Center

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
February 15, 2024
Special to The Zebra

(L – R)- Michael Andreaus, Jalen Harris, Harrell Holmes Jr., Elijah Ahmad Lewis, E. Clayton Cornelious (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Ain’t Too Proud debuted on the Kennedy Center stage in 2018 when it opened in DC before heading directly to Broadway. We thrilled to the musical and the extraordinary performances then. But since going to Broadway the show has amped up every single production value from the electrifying choreography by Sergio Trujillo, to the scenic design by Robert Brill and Projection Design by Peter Nigrini. For two and half hours, time stops. If you blink, you’ll miss everything cool you ever knew. Your heart will race, your jaw drop and your feet won’t stop toe-tapping. This is one of the most exciting musicals you will ever see. It is sheer entertainment from curtain up to the final wild applause.

Brittny Smith, Amber Mariah Talley, Shayla Brielle G. (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Jam-packed with hits from America’s number one R&B/Soul/Funk/Pop group of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, this bio-musical from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre is a blast-from-the-past, an oldies-but-goodies mega hit. Told through the eyes of Otis Williams (Michael Andreaus), the group’s founding member, the story takes us on a top-of-the-pops journey from the original foursome’s Detroit roots on Euclid Avenue through its heyday under über producer Berry Gordy (Jeremy Kelsey) with songs written by Smokey Robinson (Derek Adams who also plays Damon Harris).

Through the years the group gained and lost members from the originals – David Ruffin (played by the spectacular Elijah Ahman Lewis), Eddie Kendricks (a riveting Jalen Harris), Melvin Franklin (the silken bass of Harrell Holmes, Jr.) and Paul Williams (E. Clayton Cornelious – played without missing a beat by understudy Brian C. Binion on opening night). The group’s veteran agent, Shelly Berger (Ryan M. Hunt), was tasked with guiding their sound and keeping them in line.

Brittny Smith (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Though the story guides us through their triumphs and tragedies and the ebb and flow of group member changes, the show hangs on fiercely to their mega-hits – hits that a generation of us danced to, made out to and even got married as we sang along to their soulful love songs. But don’t think for a minute that the audience was a bunch of aging baby boomers clinging to memories of their teenage years. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I looked around to see who was there – who was tapping their toes, mouthing the lyrics and bobbing their heads, and they were all ages. Because you cannot sit still to this energy-pumping, concert-style musical – certainly not while watching the performers execute the highly-stylized, synchronized dance movements The Temptations made famous or the exquisite harmonies of the group of five performing 30 of their platinum hits. These were the tunes that backgrounded family BBQs, birthday parties, dance parties and discothèques. Melodies that were listened to on car radios and record players and on street corners where quartets would spring up like weeds. There is so much joyfulness in the early music – “My Girl”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, “Cloud Nine” and so many more.

National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

When the scene changed with the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, the group’s music – “War”, “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ball of Confusion” – reflected societal upheavel. Just as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” reflected the psychedelic era.

The musical is backdropped with period-centric projections by Peter Nigrini of Sponge Bob Square Pants and Amélie fame and choreographed to a gold standard by Sergio Trujillo known for his work on Jersey Boys and On Your Feet. Familiar with Dancing with the Stars? Orchestrations are by the show’s 18-year veteran musical director, Harold Wheeler with music directed and arranged by the legendary Kenny Seymour. Multi Tony Award-winning Director Des McAnuff puts it all together and it’s as tight as the group’s pegged trousers and trim sharkskin jackets or the sequined gowns worn by Diana Ross and The Supremes who make an appearance along with music icon Tammi Terrell (Shayla Brielle G.), all of whom are costumed by Paul Tazewell veteran designer of Hamilton and a ton of other blockbuster Broadway hits.

Book by Dominique Morisseau.  Based on the book “The Temptations” by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski. Music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog.

Highly recommended! If I gave out stars, which I don’t, I would give it five stars!

National Touring Company of Ain’t Too Proud (Photo Credit: ©2023 Emilio Madrid)

Through February 18th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Studs Terkel’s Seminal Book “Working” Brought to Life at Creative Cauldron

Studs Terkel’s Seminal Book “Working” Brought to Life at Creative Cauldron

Working
Creative Cauldron
February 12, 2024
Jordan Wright
Special to The Zebra

Sally Imbriano, Erin Granfield, Molly Rumberger, Oscar Salvador, and Chelsea Majors (Photo/William T. Gallagher Photography)

Back in 1974 American writer/historian/actor/broadcaster, Studs Terkel, wrote a seminal book on ordinary workers. Its subtitle was “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do”. A fascinating, deep dive into the often monotonous, constantly challenging lives of everyday American workers. I read it then and it changed my perspective on life and the people who are its driving force. That long lasting impression left me eager to see the musical produced by the small but mighty Creative Cauldron. Proudly celebrating its 22nd anniversary, the regional theater has been thrilling audiences with its often daring, always fascinating productions.

Directed by notable and Helen Hayes award-winning director Matt Conner, who has been commissioned by Creative Cauldron to write an original work for the next five years, Working is a project he has long had his sights on. The entire creative team is well-respected in local theater and includes Helen Hayes nominees Choreographer Stefan Sittig, Music Director Paige Rammelkamp and Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin.

Molly Rumberger, Sally Imbriano, Oscar Salvador, Tony Lemus, Chelsea Majors, and Erin Granfield (Photo/William T. Gallagher Photography)

Fourteen, storytelling, musical numbers by a six-person cast fill the small stage and keep the action moving swiftly as the cast delivers songs by notable songwriters Lin Manuel-MirandaStephen SchwartzJames TaylorMicki GrantMary RodgersSusan Birkenhead, and Craig Carnelia.

The stories they tell are moving and poignant. Conner has included videos of real-life locals including the Mayor of Falls Church, the building developer of their soon-to-be-completed, brand new theater, a local government agency retiree and an endearing series made up of local children talking about what they want to be when they grow up. The videos are interspersed within the music and connect us to the universal hopes and dreams of the workforces of the past, present and future.

Characters include Freddy Rodriguez, a fast-food delivery worker; Delores, a waitress, “It’s an art! I’m not just a waitress, I’m a one-woman show.”; Frank, an interstate trucker who doesn’t see much of his family until it’s too late; Rose, a third grade school teacher, “Everything has to be fun!” she declares as she deals with unruly students; Raj, a tech support guy; Rex, a hedge fund manager, “Unless you have winners you can’t have losers.”; Kate, a stay-at-home mom, “What I do only matters to three people.”; Grace, an assembly line millworker; Sharon, a receptionist, “I call it the land of no phone,”; Anthony, a stone mason; Utkarsh, an eldercare worker; Mike, a father longing for more family time; Maggie a cleaning woman; and Theresa, a nanny, raising other people’s children. Taken altogether they are a sea of dashed hopes and longings.

Sally Imbriano, Chelsea Majors, and Erin Granfield (Photo/William T. Gallagher Photography)

An energetic cast of six, plays numerous roles – gliding in and out of the many characters with ease. Treated as an ensemble, the playbill lists them by not assigning the performers to their individual roles. There are some fine performances by Molly RumbergerSally Imbriano and Erin Granfield. Other cast members include Tony LemusOscar Salvador and Chelsea Majors.

Scenic and Costume Design by Margie Jervis; Lighting Design by Lynn Joslin; terrific Video Projections and Lighting by James Morrison.

Through March 3rd at Creative Cauldron, 410 Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA 22046 – For tickets and information call the box office at 703 436-9948 or visit www.CreativeCauldron.org

An Unforgettable Production of Next to Normal at Round House Theatre

An Unforgettable Production of Next to Normal at Round House Theatre

Next to Normal
Round House Theatre
Jordan Wright
February 6, 2024
Special to The Zebra

The cast of Next to Normal at Round House Theatre (Photo by Margot Schulman)

How do you make a story about a bi-polar mother having a nervous breakdown palatable to musical theatre audiences? First, you make the characters poignantly identifiable – Dan (Kevin S. McAllister), a loving husband and father devoted to keeping his family intact; Natalie (Sophia Early), their angsty teenage daughter living in the shadow of her dead baby brother, Gabe, and fighting her own demons; Henry (Ben Clark), her boyfriend committed to seeing her through her pain; and Gabe (Lucas Hinds Babcock), the ghost of the dead child who haunts Diana in her darkest moments. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal with its deeply emotional story might seem highly unlikely to resonate with theatregoers, but it truly does. Thanks in large part to the unforgettably lush score by composer Tom Kitt with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the show is impossible to resist.

Lucas Hinds Babcock (Gabe) and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Diana) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Ignoring the needs of her family, Diana (Tracy Lynn Olivera) is prescribed more and more pills to dull the memory of the loss of her child and heal her break with reality. Her struggle to keep it all together for the sake of her family, is thwarted by Gabe’s constant demands to be remembered. In the song, “I’m Alive”, he tells his mother he must never be forgotten.

As Diana descends into a manic state in a fog of despair from a plethora pills, she begins to question the meds, the therapy, and even her psychiatrist, Doctor Madden (Calvin McCullough), whom she pictures as a rock star – one of the funnier bits.  “What happens if the break was not in my mind or my blood, but in my soul,” she asks Dan after the constant “hauntings” by Gabe. Dan, struggling to hold the family and their tenuous marriage together, wonders aloud, “Why would you want to remember the things that hurt you?” In her manic state these questions are impossible to contemplate… and even more difficult to explain.

Kevin S. McAllister (Dan), Sophia Early (Natalie), and Tracy Lynn Olivera (Diana) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Thirty-six numbers turbo-charge this sing-through with joy, pathos, passion and anguish too. The cast is superb – their voices exquisitely blended and nuanced. Olivera is a well-known, well-respected commodity in area theaters and here her subtly powerful performance is balanced beautifully – shining but not outshining this remarkable ensemble. Audiences will be moved by McCallister’s rich baritone and commanding presence as the father who must keep the family from falling apart at the seams. A surprise casting is the clearly up and coming young actor, Lucas Babcock, as Gabe’s ghost. His voice and performance will tear your heart out. It stopped me in my tracks. This is a big role – physically and emotionally demanding and I’m excited to see what’s next for this straight-out-of-college young actor’s future.

Ben Clark (Henry) and Sophia Early (Natalie) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Director Alan Paul (Whatever he directs, for god’s sake, just go!) has assembled the best cast with top-drawer performances plus Chris Youstra’s staging that brings it all seamlessly together. This is the one to see now!

Choreographer, Eamon Foley; Music Director, Christopher Youstra; Scenic Designer, Wilson Chin; Costume Designer, Helen Huang; Lighting Designer, Sherrice Mojgani; Sound Designer, Ken Travis; Dramaturg, Naysan Mojgani.

Highly recommended!

Through March 3rd at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814. For tickets and information contact the box office at 240 644-1100 or visit www.RoundHouseTheatre.org

AT the Kennedy Center tick, tick…BOOM! Shines with Jonathan Larson’s Lush, Emotional and Extraordinary Music

Tick, tick…BOOM!

Broadway Center Stage at
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
February 2, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Brandon Uranowitz and the Cast of tick tick BOOM (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Tic, tic, boom is the sound Jon (Brandon Uranowitz) hears in his head as he feels himself falling into obscurity as a musical composer. Looming large is his 30th birthday. With nothing to show for decades of laying his soul bare in words and rhymes, he ponders the wisdom, or idiocy, of taking a job in the corporate world like his former roommate and best friend, Michael (Grey Henson). Michael is flying high on success and shows Jon that having a luxury penthouse and flashy BMW can erase the pain of failure and a respite from their 6-floor walk-up.

At the same time Jon’s beloved, Susan (Denée Benton), is bent on leaving the city and getting a home in the country where their lives would be less stressful. This is not an option for Broadway hopeful Jon whose raison d’être is inextricably tied to the stage. His keyboard forms the nucleus of the limited props.

Denée Benton and Brandon Uranowitz (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Playwright, composer and lyricist Jonathan Larson’s real life was a tragedy in itself. Drawing from his own bohemian life and inspired by Puccini’s La bohème, he wrote the wildly successful rock opera Rent. His own poverty and struggle for recognition were undoubtedly its inspiration. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here since Larson died at 36 years-old on the night before its Broadway opening in 1996.

Fast forward to the 2021 film adaptation of tick, tick…BOOM! which you may have seen on Netflix and is definitely worth your time. It was directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda and roundly praised.

Brandon Uranowitz and the tick tick BOOM cast (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

Director Neil Patrick Harris comes to this stage production with some strong connections to its early-stage iterations when in 2005 he was cast as Jon in the London premiere. He’s performed in Rent and feels a personal connection to Larson’s work.

Bringing this semi-autographical musical tick, tick…BOOM! to a new audience has inspired Harris to re-invent its earlier productions. He has added a four-person ensemble to the three-hander. Why? More voices? More harmonies? It inserts a bit of Broadway pizazz (We’re a musical with song and dance!!!), but at what cost? It’s distracting. In this staging, actors are over-choreographed – shuffling chairs and other furnishings around the stage in a kind of chorus line does not sharpen the mood. Background video projections distract without providing connections to the script. The Georges Seurat painting used as the promo poster for Sunday in the Park with George popped up for a nanosecond, but it didn’t dovetail with any of Jon’s lines referencing his relationship with Sondheim.

Grey Henson and Brandon Uranowitz (Photo by Teresa Castracane)

An accurate reflection on Larson’s lean years, it drips with sarcasm and angst and is reminiscent of Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch”. It is the heartbeat of his life in New York City and reflects the nucleus of his despair. To be sure there are some very funny bits as in the tune “Sunday” which references Larson’s time waiting tables at the Moondance Diner trying to appease difficult diners during brunch service. As to diminishing its focus, you’re left to wonder if the decision to plump it up with extra actors wasn’t made by an ad hoc committee. If you go, love it for the music which is lush, emotional and extraordinary. Thirteen numbers flesh out the story backed by a four-piece band. It really doesn’t need more than that.

Through February 4th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org