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Rooms ~ a Rock Romance ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2018 

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson) and Ian (Matthew Schleigh)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

If you were ever in a garage band, were a fan of the rock icons of the 70’s, or even dreamed of becoming a rock star, Rooms ~ a Rock Romance is calling your name.  This sweet love story of two Glaswegian teens who find each other against all odds is a rock opera on steroids.  Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson) is a self-proclaimed Jewish princess while Ian (Matthew Schleigh), her unlikely collaborator and composer, is Catholic from the rough side of the tracks.  She’s fire.  He’s ice.  Can they find success in show biz and romance?

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

After Monica hires Ian to write the music to a song she’s written for her friend’s bat mitzvah, she invites him to share Shabbat supper with her family and a trip to the temple the following day.  Ian likes her close-knit family, who are quite unlike his own.  His dad is a drunk.  His mom abused.  While her family is loving, successful and supportive.  He likes Led Zeppelin.  Her idol is Carly Simon.  She is set on a career as a rock star while introvert Ian prefers to stay in his room with his guitar.  When she finally convinces him to become a band, they decide punk rock is where the money is.  Together they form “The Diabolicals”, performing together in ever larger concert venues in London and America and becoming the rock stars Monica had dreamed of.  Famed New York City punk palace CBGB is referenced as one of their gigs.

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson) and Ian (Matthew Schleigh)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

The couple experiences love, breakup, success and failure, not necessarily in that order, but against the backbeat of a kick-ass five-piece band positioned in full-view on two-tiered scaffolding.  Paul Scott Goodman’s notable score underpins this high energy, sing-through musical giving us songs that are heart-meltingly memorable and ranging from rock to Scottish punk (remember The Clash?) to ballads.  “Never Gonna Leave This Room” soloed by Ian at his lowest ebb is as gut-wrenching and powerful as Monica’s tender solo ballad about her father’s betrayal of her mother.  In duets, their voices blend seamlessly.

Monica (Candice Shedd-Thompson)~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Directed by Thomas W. Jones II, Rooms ~ a Rock Romance was originally developed and presented at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and had its world premiere at MetroStage ten years ago when it received five Helen Hayes nominations and a win for Natascia Diaz for Outstanding Lead Actress.

Music Direction by Matthew Stephens, Co-book by Miriam Gordon, Set Design by Carl Gudenius, Light Design by Alexander Keen, Costume Design by Michael Sharp, Projection Design by Patrick W. Lord.  Matthew Stephens on keyboard, David Cole on guitar, Tony Harrod on guitar, Yusef Chisholm on bass and Greg Holloway on drums.

Thoroughly entertaining.  Rock on!

Through November 11th at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548.9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

Dracula ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

 “We are all of us invented – cobbled together from cartilage and dust.”  Thus, speaketh Renfield, who finds himself chained to the wall in Dr. John Seward’s lunatic asylum.  Seward struggles to explain the young man’s sudden madness and thirst for blood.  “I will solve the mystery of your mind,” he claims forebodingly.

Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray and Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Tis the season of the witch and the spellbinding legend of Count Dracula of Transylvania… the time for telling ghostly tales and spreading terror in the hearts of our dear citizenry.  To that end, Director Jennifer Lyman gives us a horror story with a soupçon of laughter… all the better to cheer you up and frighten you half to death.

Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra and Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Two young women, Mina Murray, betrothed to Jonathan Harker, and her childhood friend, Lucy Westenra, live together in Lucy’s London home.  Lucy has three suitors, in particular Seward, who is eager to wed her.  But it is the unknown man who visits after all are tucked in their beds that has the most sway over Lucy’s sleepless nights and terrifying dreams.

Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Soon Harker, who has been brokering a deal with the Count to purchase an estate in London, and Seward join forces to solve the mystery.  Professor Abraham Van Helsing, a man with serious street cred for driving out vampires, comes to their aid and the three sail to Transylvania and the castle of the Count hoping to drive a stake through his heart before the Count, aka ‘Nosferatu’, arrives in London to terrorize the city.  As a vampire of note, this Dracula is no ordinary neck-obsessed villain.  In his quest for victims, he is fearsome yet funny with a thick Romanian accent that delivers plenty of hilarious double entendres.

Jeff Elmore as Renfield ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

This creepy pot-boiler is jam-packed with thrills and chills and plenty of vampire paraphernalia to lift your 'spirits' – stakes, crypts, mirrors, strings of garlic, harpies, bats, crosses, clanking chains and more.  Most impressive are the production values – the aforementioned props, atmospheric lighting and billowing fog (Gratefully hyper-allergenic!), eerie music, ghoulish makeup and sinister sound effects.  Even the clever set design of a two-story castle with multiple entrances and exits commands high marks. 

Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, and Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

With Jeff Elmore as Renfield, Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, Chris Anderson as Dracula, Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing.

Director Jennifer Lyman, Assistant Director and Fight Choreographer Michael Page, Set Designer Matt Liptak, Properties Designer Michelle Hall, Lighting Designer JK Lighting Design, Sound Design Janice Rivera, Special Effects by Art Snow, with period Wardrobe Design by Shannon Robichaud.

Kudos to Gothic novelist Bram Stoker’s Victorian vampire and LTA’s cast and crew.  You’ve given us a monster of a ghoulish show this Halloween.

Through November 3rd 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.

Sleepy Hollow ~ Synetic Theater

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2018
 

Warning: This is not your childhood storybook version of Sleepy Hollow.  Thanks to Director Paata Tsikurishvili, Washington Irving just got woke.  This reimagining foretells a far darker, far cooler, swashbuckling horror story of a headless horseman and his nemesis, Ichabod Crane.  Zombie lovers, this one’s for you.

Photo credit : Synetic

Adding to their ever-popular wordless series of dramas, Synetic gives us a wholly different dynamic to ponder.  And, hey, it works.  You didn’t really expect the Headless Horseman to talk.  Did you?  Here the HH is presented in a more sympathetic light after he is beheaded by the marauding Ichabod in a bloody battle against Hessian troops.  Not only does the HH return to haunt and torment Ichabod, but he messes up Ichy’s romance with the beautiful and feisty Katrina Van Tassel.

Suitably ghoulish and intentionally macabre, Ichy finds the HH’s head and, clutching it like a trophy, dances with it.  There are hauntings by the ghosts of dead soldiers and a relentless chase to hunt down Ichabod and his cohorts.  The darker scenes are lifted by a lavish banquet, comical drinking scenes, and a passionate love scene between Ichabod and Katrina in which he pledges his troth.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Ichabod ~ Photo credit : Synetic

Acts of war and death seen through Katrina’s eyes become slow motion flashbacks. These vigorous fights are executed with the soldiers moving backwards and it is quite spectacular.  There is nothing like murder and mayhem done in slo-mo.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Ichabod cuts a most imposing figure.  His massive size and glowing bald head belie his graceful abilities in the fight scenes, but even more so in the height he achieves with his leaps, tumbles and lifts, striking a perfect contrast to the delicate Katrina.

Maryam Najafzada as horse puppet - Photo credit Synetic

But there is another fantastical creature that commands our attention in this fast-paced, riveting tale and it is the giant metal puppet of the horse portrayed with great expressiveness by Maryam Najafzada and her three puppeteers.  To watch her mimic the characteristic movements of a horse, twitching her long tail and pawing the air, is mesmerizing, and adds an important element of charm and vulnerability.

Phil Charlwood’s rafters-high, twisted metal ‘trees’ and branch-covered organ provide escape routes for the many chases, while Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s eerie electronica music and spooky sound effects put us in mind that Halloween is just over the horizon.

McLean Jesse as Katrina and the Puppeteers/Ensemble cast of Jordan Clark Halsey, Anne Flowers, Megan Khaziran and Matt Stover. ~ Photo credit: Synetic

Recommended for ghosts and goblins and those who love them.

With the beautiful McLean Jesse as Katrina, Scott S. Turner as the Headless Horseman, Justin J. Bell as Brom, Thomas Beheler as Van Tassel/Ensemble, and the Puppeteers/Ensemble cast of Jordan Clark Halsey, Anne Flowers, Megan Khaziran and Matt Stover.

Choreography by the inimitable Irina Tsikurishvili, Assistant Direction by Tori Bertocci, costumes by Erik Teague and lighting by Brian S. Allard.

Through November 4th at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA in Crystal City.  For tickets and information call 1-866-811-4111 or visit www.synetictheater.org.

La Traviata ~ Washington National Opera ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
October 19, 2018 

Much excitement has been generated by the hiring of new General Director and leadership partner, Timothy O’Leary, to the Washington National Opera’s senior leadership.  O’Leary served for ten years as General Director for Opera Theater of Saint Louis producing innovative programs that attracted a new audience of millennials to opera.  Working in partnership with Artistic Director Francesca Zambello it promises to be a formidable collaboration.  So, it was great anticipation that I attended his first production of the 2018 – 2019 season.  It did not disappoint.

Jacqueline Echols as Violetta ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

La traviata, Verdi’s classic grand opera of the young woman, Violetta, who finds love just as she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, has been updated in a number of ways.  New cutting-edge, computer-controlled lighting now lends a more focused and instantaneous sense of place and mood with four fixed overhead spotlights - cyan, red, yellow and magenta – that dramatically highlight the performers.  It is the first time since the Ring cycle was presented here in 2016 that this lighting has been used in the Opera House.  For that production, ladders had to be used to mount the lights in the ceiling’s nether regions and then take them down at the end of the run.  Going forward, the lights will remain in place in the Opera House for all productions.

Violetta (soprano Jacqueline Echols) contemplates her fate in WNO's La Traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Adding to the thrill, are Tony Award-winning designer, Jess Goldstein’s gorgeous costumes, especially her replication of the scandalous satin gown from John Singer Sargent’s painting of ‘Portrait of Madame X’ from the turn of the 20th century.  Lavish red gowns and formal evening wear with red satin-lined capes for the men in the second act’s masquerade ball are breathtaking.  To further amplify the experience, new sets by Peter J. Davison incorporate swiveling ‘periactoi’ columns creating a sense of lavish elegance in the belle époque party scenes.

Zampello has switched things up too, moving Violetta’s Act Three death bed scene to the opening scene in Act One.  Flashbacks inform the rest of the opera when Violetta suddenly sheds her hospital gown to reveal a fashionable gown and the scene is transformed into a banquet.  “Pleasure is my drug of choice!” the beautiful young woman declares in a quick scene change to a Parisian party filled with glamorous guests.

Giorgio Germont (baritone Michael Chioldi) watches as his son Alfredo (tenor Mario Chang) learns that his love has betrayed him in WNO's La traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Jacqueline Echols as Violetta is exceptional at the extremely difficult arias – holding the high notes while managing to soften their extensions and singing full tilt into the uppermost ranges.  Her supreme vocal talents are evenly matched with Mario Chang as Alfredo Germont her impassioned lover and Michael Chioldi as Georgio Germont, Alfredo’s manipulative dad.

Eye candy exceptionally performed.

With Deborah Nansteel as Flora Bervoix, Alexandria Shiner as Annina, Arnold Livingston Geis as Gastone, Michael Hewitt as Baron Douphol, Samuel Weiser as Marquis d’Obigny, Timothy J. Bruno as Doctor Grenvil, Aurelio Dominguez as Giuseppe, Rob McGinness as Messenger, Spencer Adamson as Flora’s Servant, the WNO Chorus, the WNO Dancers and the WNO Orchestra led by conductor Renato Palumbo.

Dancers and matadors enliven the party during WNO's La traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Choreographed by Parker Esse with lighting design by Mark McCullough.  Music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

Through October 21st 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.

A Comedy of Errors ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
October 3, 2018 

Let me start by saying, if Alan Paul is directing anything… anything!  Go!  His imaginative interpretations of the classics are both fabulous and stylishly modernistic.  In this send-up version of A Comedy of Errors, Paul sets the action in 1950’s mid-century modern Greece though it seems more like La Dolce Vita meets Saturday Night Fever meets SNL meets… oh, never mind.  It’s an indescribable mash-up of frothy, farcical slapstick as two sets of identical twins muddle through moments of mistaken identity at breakneck speed.  Opa!

Following the plots of Shakespeare’s plays that start off with voyagers lost in a storm at sea, here twins come together as grown men, unaware of each other’s fate... or identity.  One is married to Adriana (the slinky, foxy, Veanne Cox).  The other is in love with her sister Luciana (Folami Williams).  Separately they frequent the local hangout, Zorba’s Seafood café, where the fishmongers look like Super Mario and where you are just as likely to dine on a seafood tower as get in a food fight with octopi.  Opa!

Twin brothers, Antipholus of Syracuse (Gregory Wooddell) and Antipholus of Ephesus (Christian Conn), who coincidentally inherited a silver spoon life, tool around on a Vespa in GQ threads while insulting their twin servants and lusting for women at the Porcupine Club – a flashy nightclub where leather boys fan their feathers for a lusty mama played deliciously by Eleasha Gamble as the Courtesan.  “I’m glad I’ve got these quills.  They bring in dollar bills,” she croons.

With a plethora of entrances and exits that prevent chance meetings, the action is non-stop certifiably crazy, including ongoing chase scenes between Luce (J. Bernard Calloway in Madea drag) and Dromio.  Great job on the casting Carter C. Woodell.  Confusion reigns.  I don’t know which Dromio is which.  Opa!

There is tap-dancing by the local constabulary and singing with music composed by Michael Dansicker, a Twyla Tharp alum.  Bet you didn’t expect that!  Gabriel Berry’s costumes run the period gamut from Dior’s ‘New Look’ for Adriana to court jester garb for the twin servants, Dromio of Ephesus (Carter Gill) and Dromio of Syracuse (Carson Elrod).  The queenly Angelo (All hail, Tom Story!) reminds us of the disco looks of the 70’s with gold chains and open-to-the-waist, multi-colored polyester shirt.  Dr. Pinch (Sarah Marshall with an over-the-top, scene-stealing performance), a bible-toting revivalist preacher, arrives on scene in a white suit ready to horseback ride Dromio to his death before being interrupted by the Abbess Emilia (Nancy Robinette) and her nuns.

Highly recommended.  A crack cast plus talking parrot keeps audiences in hysterics.  Opa!

With Ted van Griethuysen as Egeon, Merchant of Syracuse; Matt Zambrano as Tailor/Second Merchant; Matt Bauman as Officer; and Matt Bauman, John Cardenas and Justin G. Nelson as Proteans.

Scenic Design by James Noone, Lighting by Mary Ellen Stebbins; Sound Design by Christopher Baine; Choreography by Karma Camp; Fight Choreography by David Leong; and Musical Direction by Victor Simonson.

Through November 4th at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547.1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.