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A Modernized Evita Comes to Harman Hall

A Modernized Evita Comes to Harman Hall

Shakespeare Theatre Company and American Repertory Theater
Jordan Wright
September 21, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Shereen Pimentel in EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

 When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we have reached the stratospheric pantheon of theatre’s most beloved musical composer/writer teams. Their blockbuster Evita is known as the pinnacle of their collaborations with a score so beautiful and so deeply affecting.

In a co-production with Massachusett’s American Repertory Theater, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Simon Godwin presents the work of the show’s Director Sammi Cannold and includes the cast from the Boston production.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

Eva Perón was Argentina’s most storied heroines – despised, revered and adored. We are fascinated by her rise to power and are moved to wonder what is the allure of this woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps from abject poverty – from a life as a tango dancer deserted by a trail of lotharios? For many it is how she obtained the extraordinary power she wielded and how she used her husband’s position to get to the top. How did she fool an entire nation? In truth, it was by hook and by crook.

The show opens in 1952 at the funeral of Evita Perón. Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure – a First Lady who had risen from a life on the streets by her wits and beauty and a series of ever-more influential lovers. But her greatest success was marrying an ambitious soldier, Juan Perón (Caesar Samayoa). We hear this in the lyrics of Evita (Shereen Pimentel) and Juan’s duet, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”. She wins him over and by the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, she and Juan have formed their indelible alliance – for better or for worse.

Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

As her protector, reality check and the story’s narrator, Che Guevara (Omar Lopez-Cepero), who later became one of the world’s most impactful revolutionaries, seeks to anchor Eva’s wild and self-absorbed lifestyle. Their duet “High Flying, Adored” is one of the most memorable numbers in the show and reflects the time when she is at the height of her popularity and public sanctification. In it he warns her, “Don’t look down. It’s a long way.”  But Eva ignores his advice, and her megalomania gets the best of her. When she appears in all her scintillating glory on the balcony of Casa Rosada, the grandiose presidential palace, he sarcastically remarks, “One has to admire the stage management.” And in one of the show’s most heartrending songs “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, we witness her narcissism as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.

There are no program notes from Director Cannold so we don’t really know her intention in this very modernized version taken broadly from the original Broadway production. Just know that it is very different.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (front), Shereen Pimentel (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh conducts the magnificent 16-piece orchestra. How can you not swoon for the music? Costumes by designer Alejo Vietti are grey – soldiers, officers, street people and dancers. Only Evita wears white throughout. Lighting Designer Bradley King frames the entire stage with red neon lights adding five white neon arches and a ceiling covered with lines of bright red neon rods. The significance of all that neon escapes me. Another unusual twist is the set by Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood that is devised of long neon-lined risers reaching across from stage left to stage right. These slender risers are topped with what appears to be old-fashioned fluffy attic insulation and lit with battery operated candles. Again, I am puzzled. Is it meant to represent the dirty streets she came from? Who knows? Perhaps, it will have greater meaning to you.

Lastly, there was a distinct buzz throughout the audience as to the poor sound quality – bass notes seemed to disappear; high notes were screechy. Others around me were having the same reaction to the poor audio and they were talking about it. It was so confounding and in sharp contrast to the usual excellent acoustics at Harman Hall that, upon leaving the theater, I asked the sound board engineer if he could explain it. He told me ART had brought their own sound system for this production. One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.

Caesar Samayoa (DJ Corey Photography)

Magaldi, Gabriel Burrafato; Young Cadet/Ensemble, Eddie Gutiérrez; Child/Ensemble, Melissa Parra or Ariadne Rose; Mistress/Ensemble, Naomi Serrano.

Choreography by Emily Maltby & Valeria Solomonoff; Sound Design by Connor Wang.

Through October 15th at Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van – A Zany Spoof with 100 Laughs at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van – A Zany Spoof with 100 Laughs at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
September 12, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Patrick Gallagher, Teresa Preston, and John Paul Odie (Photo/Fred Lash)

In Mary Lynn Dobson’s comedy Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van we become witness to the antics of a zany theatre troupe at The Neighborhood Actors Summer Fun Repertory Theatre. Due to the limited space in the troupe’s playhouse, the company spends time backstage and in a parking lot where volunteer and resident aging hippie, Vondo (Paul Donahoe), who has a predilection for playing the intro to Iron Butterfly’s Smoke on the Water and lives out of his van with fellow techie and volunteer Jeannie.

As they prepare for their production of Hello Dolly led by Eric (Ian Wade), an artistic director with a knack for turning every musical into a murderous, sex-crazed horror show, things immediately start to go awry. “See beyond the words!” Eric tells the cast coming up with bizarre alternate realities for the plot. There’s hilarious conflict aplenty when Mike, the director, tries futilely to rein Eric in telling Meredith who’s playing Dolly Levy that, contrary to what Eric has told her, Dolly is most assuredly not meant to be portrayed as a pimp.

Ian Wade (Eric) and Ann Brodnax (Meredith) (Photo/Fred Lash)

Meanwhile chorus boy Daniel (well played by Joe Neff) is determined to suck up to Jeff, the theater’s producer, begging him to produce his silent play, “Mime: The Musical”. Some of the play’s funniest bits are Daniel racing around miming and tap dancing and driving them all crazy. Think Pee Wee Herman.

John Paul Odie and Joe Neff (Daniel) (Photo/Fred Lash)

This is the broadest sort of comedy with tons of sight gags, pratfalls, silly costumes and daffy shenanigans. Think Mel Brooks meets Monty Python while keeping all the balls in the air. There’s Meredith (Ann Brodnax) an over-the-hill diva who desperately wants the part of the ingenue in The Sound of Music. The ingenue, Robyn (Naomi Bertha), who is cast as Medea, in a dress fitted out with exploding entrails. And calm, cool and collected Harriet (Eleanore Tapscott), a counterpoint to the angsty Robyn, who gets miscast in everything yet has the sassiest comeback lines to put everyone in their proper place. Mike offers the best description of Scott (Patrick Gallagher), the Wardrobe Master, “He knows the difference between purple and aubergine.”

Kirk Lambert (Jeff) and Eleanore Tapscott  (Photo/Fred Lash)

Thanks to a wonderfully lovable cast, Director Mike Donahue does a terrific job keeping the pace at breakneck speed in this outrageously funny farce that skewers anyone who has ever put on a show, experienced prop mayhem, or bolloxed up the sound cues with a nod to Charles Dragonette and Jenya Holbert for the wacky set design. Cheers to all actors and backstage crew who love the theater life and are celebrated in this madcap spoof.

See it for a hundred laughs.

Lighting Design by Ken and Patti Crowley; Sound Design by Janice Rivera; Costume Design by Robbie Snow and Ali Zaikouk.

Paul Donahoe (Vondo), Teresa Preston (Jeannie), John Paul Odie (Mike), and Eleanore Tapscott (Harriet) (Photo/Fred Lash)

Through September 30th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-5778 or visit

Cirque du Soleil’s ECHO Wows Audiences in its US Premiere at the Lerner Town Square.

Cirque du Soleil’s ECHO Wows Audiences in its US Premiere at the Lerner Town Square.

Cirque du Soleil
Jordan Wright
September 12, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Cirque Du Soleil

Welcome back, Cirque! It’s been a minute and we’ve missed you and your magical universe. Not since their production of Volta in July of 2019 has the famed troupe set up their blue-and-white tents in Tysons Corner at the Lerner Town Square. Echo is the US premiere of their highest-sold show in all of Cirque history.

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between Nature and the Environment through the importance of the human connection, is the theme for this 100-minute extravaganza. Expect jaw-dropping high-wire acts, eyeball-popping acrobatics, out-of-this-world juggling feats, rooftop-reaching teeter board leaps and flips, and an astonishing array of the sort of spectacular acts you’ve come to expect from this wildly creative Canadian production team and its super talented artists from around the world.

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Our two playfully curious leads are the young girl, Future, and her bestie, an adorably cute fox. The pair, who frequently race through the audience in pursuit of each other, are dressed in matching cloud prints. Together they explore a giant cube housing multiple compartments and where our inquisitive pair discover their new-found friends – cream-colored, frolicking animals. Oh my! The Cube is designed to open in random configurations to reveal a number of fantastical things like Ohmygosh! a high-wire slack-rope pair of daredevils or movable squares out of which pop different characters and props. The most awe-inspiring is a massive 50-foot – I’m guessing the height here – fully-articulated man who gingerly holds Future in the palm of his hand.

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Since the show is enhanced by atmospheric New Age music with a stronger rhythm for the most electrifying acts, Echo’s musicians and singers perform in all black costumes with felted antlers. The soothing mood music contrasts seamlessly with lighter-themed circus music that accompanies a pair of cleverly comical clowns. Some of the acts are so breath-taking they are nearly indescribable. A gasp-inducing, two-man tumbling act, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, beggars description. Ditto for the death-defying aerial acts – two women suspended by their hair, spinning wildly high above the stage. Keep a sharp eye out for the avian drones that fly high above the crowd, a contortionist that defies the known constraints of the human body and listen for the pulsing backbeat percussion that urges the artists onward to the top of the tent. The agility, grace and power are off the charts!

Highly recommended. See it and bring everyone you know!

(Photo/Jean-François Savaria)

Through October 22nd under the big top at Lerner Town Square at Tysons II. For tickets and information visit

A Farmer’s Wife Finds Passion and Purpose in America’s Heartland in The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre

A Farmer’s Wife Finds Passion and Purpose in America’s Heartland in The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre

The Bridges of Madison County
August 20, 2023
Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
Special to The Zebra 

Mark Evans (Robert Kincaid) and Erin Davie (Francesca Johnson) (Photo by Daniel Rader)

Readers will remember Robert James Waller’s wildly successful 1992 best-selling novel on which Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman bases this 2013 musical adaptation and followed the eponymous 1995 film starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood. With music and lyrics by the brilliant composer, Jason Roberts Brown, it garnered two Tony Awards for Best Score and Best Orchestrations in 2014.

Coming off his recent success with Pacific Overtures, Signature Theatre’s recently appointed Associate Artistic Director Ethan Heard directs this sweeping love story focusing on the indelible integrity of the score performed by its two leads, Erin Davie as the beautiful Francesca Johnson and Mark Evans as her lover, Robert Kincaid.

Rayanne Gonzales (Marge) and Christopher Bloch (Charlie)  (Photo by Daniel Rader)

The story is set in America’s heartland where iconic covered bridges can still be found and where Robert’s National Geographic assignment leads him to Winterset, Iowa to find and photograph all six of them. Francesca, a post-war Neapolitan transplant to America is married to “Bud” Johnson (Cullen R. Titmas) and the farming couple have two children, Michael (Nolan Montgomery) and Carolyn (Julia Wheeler Lennon). When Francesca begs off a family trip to Davenport for the Iowa State Fair, she revels in her solitude and friendship with neighbors, Marge (Rayanne Gonzalez) and Charlie (Christopher Bloch) in “You’re Never Alone”. Soon she is very much not alone when hot and hunky Robert turns into her driveway to ask directions to one of the covered bridges. In “What Do You Call a Man Like That?” she reveals stirrings of a fire she had tamped down after 18 years of marriage. Their subsequent 4-day forbidden love affair is a story of intense passion and the sexual reawakening of a woman who sacrificed her emotional needs to devote herself to farm and family.

Marina Pires (State Fair Singer) and the cast of The Bridges of Madison County at Signature Theatre. (Photo by Daniel Rader)

Davie’s and Evans’ perfectly complementing voices prove irresistible in Brown’s lush score. Their duets on “Get Closer/Falling Into You” and “Before and After You/A Million Miles” are magical. And I was pleasantly delighted by Marina Pires who holds multiple roles as Marian, Chiara, State Fair Singer, Ginny and Waitress. Her delivery of “Another Life” is outstanding.

 Between the rapturous love scenes on a quilt-covered brass bed, neighbors Marge and Charlie provide the levity as they examine their own marriage and their indelible connection to each other. Yes, marriage takes a healthy dose of humor!

Backed by Conductor William Yanesh’s 12-piece orchestra, this moving musical will steal your heart.

Music Directed by Laura Berquist; Choreography by Kelly Crandall d’Amboise; Scenic Design by Lee Savage; Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard; Lighting Design by Jesse Belsky; Sound Design by Eric Norris.

Highly recommended.

Mark Evans (Robert Kincaid) and Erin Davie (Francesca Johnson) (Photo by Daniel Rader)

Through September 18th at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 820-9771 or visit

The Kennedy Center’s Moulin Rouge is a Maximalist’s Wet Dream

The Kennedy Center’s Moulin Rouge is a Maximalist’s Wet Dream

Moulin Rouge
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
August 6, 2023
Special to The Zebra

The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Moulin Rouge! – The Musical! is a maximalist’s wet dream. Glitz and glamour exude from all pores in this celebration of Paris’s bohemian underworld. The best way to enjoy this glorious extravaganza is to surrender to its magnificent excess, of which there is plenty. Directed by Alex Timbers with lavish costumes by Catherine Zuber and eye-popping sets by Derek McLane this explosive production stuns even the jaded eye. A massive blue elephant and the famous Moulin Rouge windmill frame the stage while the Eiffel Tower and Paris’s glittering night sky form the evocative backdrop.

Apart from the Champs Elysees boulevardiers whose lives entangle with Montmartre gigolos and prostitutes, the production’s glitz comes in the form of megawatt circus-atmosphere lighting design by Justin Townsend, flouncy petticoats and sexy dancewear set to vivid choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Add an erotic, jaw-dropping tango and the iconic cancan and you have a grand theatrical fantasy.

1047 – Gabe MartÍnez as Santiago and Libby Lloyd as Nini (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Leading lady Satine’s (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) illicit lover Christian (John Cardoza) writes a rock opera to woo her and it’s the start of their amour as well as the musical pop rock snippets that weave in and out of the dialogue. It’s a spectacular tribute to lyricists everywhere. The playbill lists none of the musical numbers of which there are over a dozen mostly in snippets. Their rhythms and arrangements are re-imagined and delivered to the recipients as dialogue, but I recognized most of them and you will too. The audience reveled in the songs that backgrounded their own love stories hearing songs like “Burning Down the House”, “Let’s Dance”, “Lady Marmalade”, “Royals”, “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Rolling in the Deep”, “Material Girl”, “Firework”, “Bad Romance”, “Chandelier”, “Your Song”, “Sympathy for the Devil” (of which we had not one drop – sung for the cruel Duke of Monroth (Andrew Brewer) whose aim is to control Satine and keep her as his lover.

Themes of La Boheme and Cabaret weave in and out of this glamourous den of iniquity. Think Satine as Mimi, but based on famed French cancan dancer, Jane Avril, and celebrated in Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous posters promoting the venue and its star performers

The North American Touring Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Harold Zidler (Austin Durant) as the ringmaster of this circus of chanteuses and chanteurs. Zidler touts the ambiance as a place where dreams come true and carnal desires are realized. Drawn from Baz Luhrmann’s and Craig Pearce’s eponymous motion picture, it tells the love story of Satine, the nightclub’s leading lady and Christian, a poor (yet extremely handsome!) budding American songwriter who comes to Paris to cavort among the revolutionaries. It is where he falls in league with Toulouse (Nick Rashad Burroughs on the night I saw it played beautifully by Denzel Tsopnang) and Santiago (Gabe Martinez) who are struggling to write a musical. They join forces and soon the trio pitches Christian’s musical to Satine at the Moulin Rouge where love blooms.

I would like to personally thank both John Cardoza and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer for their magnificent voices. And they should personally thank me for not running up to the stage at curtain to hug them both.

Book by John Logan, with Nicci Claspell as Arabia; Kamal Lado as Pierre; Gabe Martinez as Nini; Harper Miles as La Chocolat; Andrés Quintero as Baby Doll and a bevy of extraordinary dancers!

Highly recommended. C’est fantastique!

Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and the North American Touring Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Through September 24th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

Freaky Friday – The Musical – A Solid Winner at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Freaky Friday – The Musical – A Solid Winner at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Freaky Friday
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
July 26, 2023
Special to The Zebra

(L-R) Sofia Cruz and Kristina Friedgen. (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Having seen and loved Disney’s Freaky Friday when it premiered at Signature Theatre seven years ago in its debut from film-to-stage production, I have been beside myself to revisit this wonderful musical collaboration between composer Tom Kitt and lyricist Brian Yorkey. Kitt, best known for his scores of If/Then, Next to Normal, SpongeBob SquarePants and Jagged Little Pill draws from a panoply of musical themes and rhythms to create indelibly catchy tunes – the kind you find yourself humming all the way home. Yorkey partnered with Kitt on Next to Normal and If/Then and both men are stalwarts of the Broadway musical scene. Blessed by top-notch crew and cream-of-the-crop local talent, Director Joanna Henry has made the best of this engaging and heartwarming musical.

The bizarro premise of a mother and daughter switching roles for one day after an accident with an hourglass may be familiar to those of you who recall the movie that opened in 1976. Based on the novel by Mary Rodgers, it starred the adorable Jody Foster as the daughter and Barbara Harris as her mother.  A later version in 2003 had the ever-talented Jaimie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan as the mother/daughter duo.

Patrick Byrns, Luke Martin, Joshua Mutterperl, Tucker Eskew, Michelle Stein, Kai Avila, Hannah Taylor, Eileen Parks and Sofia Cruz. (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Single-mom-with-issues Katherine (Kristina Friedgen) and her feisty daughter Ellie (Sofia Cruz) magically switch roles for a day. Katherine, who is about to marry the adoring Mike (Paul Caffrey) wants to shed the day-to-day responsibilities of parenting an angsty teen, and Ellie has had it with the restrictions and emotional upheavals of being a high schooler with a helicopter mom. When the roles are switched and Katherine takes Ellie’s place, she experiences the day-to-day bullying and body shaming her daughter endures and Ellie sees the daily grind of running a catering business while raising two kids without a father.

Tucker Eskew, Patrick Byrns, Kai Avila, Luke Martin, Sofia Cruz, Naja Bates and Eileen Parks. (Photo/Matt Liptak)

Eighteen glorious numbers, backed by Conductor Christopher A. Tomasino’s sixteen-piece band, fill the two acts, giving us a diverse score of touching ballads, 50’s rock styles and Latin beats sung by a cast with big, expressive voices. Stefan Sittig’s choreography is seamless even with a couple dozen actors on stage at the same time. It’s a massive cast who morph into their quirky roles with aplomb. Shining above all others is Sofia Cruz who manages not only to inhabit her role as if born to it, but Kristina Friedgen who brings both sweet emotion and the manic desperation of a mom at her wit’s end. In the same category of excellence is Lourdes Turnblom as Katherine’s Catering Assistant, Torrey, who dials up the wit’s end confusion while trying to decipher why Katherine is acting like a child and Ellie is bossing her around. And endearing as heck is Joshua Mutterperl as Adam, the high school cutie and scavenger hunt list master with a secret crush on Ellie – or is it for her mom’s sandwiches?

It’s everything we want from musical theater – laughs, beautifully sung, funny or meaningful tunes, and characters you can relate to. Special kudos to Costume Designers, Judy Whelihan and Robin Worthington, who perfectly capture the funky-cool energy of teen styles and grown-up outfits.

Highly recommended.

Kiril French and Kristina Friedgen. (Photo/Matt Liptak)

With James Campione or Kiril French as Fletcher Blake; Naja Bates or Eileen Parks as Savannah; Peter Fannon as Grandpa Gordon/Mr. Blumen/Parker’s Dad/Señor O’Brien/Security Guard; Brandy Reece as Grandma Helene/Gretchen’s Mom/Mrs. Luckenbill/Mrs. Time; Brenda Parker as Catering Staff/Danielle/Savannah’s Mom/Ms. Meyers/Officer Sitz; Michelle Stein as Hannah; Hannah Taylor as Gretchen; Patrick Byrns as Catering Staff/Louis; Tucker Eskew as Catering Staff/Student; Lourdes Turnblom as Torrey/Adam’s Mom; Eileen Parks as Florist/Laurel/Catering Staff; Luke Martin as Student/Fish Vendor/Dr. Ehrin/Pastor Bruno/Well’s Dad/Officer Kowalski; Kai Avila as Catering Staff/Wells.

Book by Bridget Carpenter; Hair and Makeup by Natalie Turkevich; Lighting by JK Lighting (Jeffery Scott Auerbach and Kimberly Crago); Sound Design by Alan Wray; Set Design by Myke Taister; Dance Captain Eileen Parks.

Through August 12th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-5778 or visit