Categories

Find Us

Hamilton – A Founding Father in Revolutionary Rap and Rhyme

Hamilton – A Founding Father in Revolutionary Rap and Rhyme

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
August 9, 2020
Special to The Zebra

Company of HAMILTON National Tour – (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

WASHINGTON, DC – “Hamilton” is beyond everything you’ve heard it is. A radical departure from traditional musicals it is based on the life of one of America’s most accomplished and influential American Revolutionary heroes. Told in the poetry of hip-hop and rap and made emotional through stylized ballads, this freestyling oeuvre heralds Hamilton’s arrival to America as a bastard, mixed race, immigrant orphan whose groundbreaking achievements in establishing the United States government and our American financial system from under the oppressive bootheel of King George – helped form the foundation of our country. Unless you’ve recently reviewed your sixth-grade history, I would suggest you Google the libretto and listen to the show’s CD so you can be well prepared to (mentally, please!) hum along. I tell you this because the rhyming patter comes at you in warp speed, which is what makes it palpable in the quickened hearts of the audience who are anxiously leaning in from the first verse.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda whose previous hit musical “In the Heights” catapulted him to fame, sourced bits of classic rap and show tunes slipped into the libretto. See if you can catch a few. You can sense Miranda’s mind at work here – his sensitivity to class struggle, his compassion for the immigrant and his all-around, too-cool-for-school hipness in full view with every turn of phrase. The man is a genius and an original. In the same way that Shakespeare mixed stories of love and despair between commoners and landed gentry, Miranda has his pulse on the grand scheme of life.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez, Marcus Choi (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

One of the most striking features is David Korin’s set design. The background never changes, but center stage employs a rotating inner circle allowing for the constant motion of the performers. Whether dancing, fighting, singing or rapping, it rotates in a wide circle, affording the actors constant interplay and showing us just how interconnected our Founding Fathers were – Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Burr and the Marquis de Lafayette (Because, what would we have done without the French? Oh, right. We’d have lost the Revolutionary War.) They all were so young when they birthed our nation. Hamilton was only 19 years old when he began his meteoric rise in New York City. “Hamilton” is American history brought to life and, as the song goes, we are in the room where it happened.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Alexander Hamilton is fierce. We’re into him from the get go. His confidence and stride mark the character’s brash youthfulness, exactly as we would wish him to be. Neil Haskell in the role of King George provides the comic relief as the prissy king who believes the Americans will beg him to return to British rule. Marcus Choi now plays Hamilton’s mentor, George Washington, and Jared Dixon plays the duplicitous Aaron Burr. Gracing the female side Stephanie Jae Park (Nikisha Williams beginning August 23rd) plays Hamilton’s long-suffering wife, Eliza.

Company of HAMILTON National Tour (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

The program lists 34 songs, but as a sing through, it’s predominantly vocals with The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra masterfully conducted by Jay Crowder.

Facts: “Hamilton” is the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and garnered a record breaking 16 Tony Award® nominations, including “Best Musical” and winning 11 Tonys with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. “Hamilton” is based on Ron Chernow’s biography titled “Alexander Hamilton.”

Stephanie Jae Park, Ta_Rea Campbell, Paige Smallwood (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

Period Costume Design by Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Arrangements Alex Lacamoire and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Additional cast: Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler; Warren Egypt Franklin as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Desmond Sean Ellington as Hercules/Mulligan/James Madison; Paige Smallwood as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Nick Sanchez as Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor; Aaron Albano as Samuel Seabury; Gabriel Hyman as Charles Lee; and Trevor Miles as George Eaker; plus a dozen more actors in the ensemble.

It’s historic. Literally and figuratively. Go as if your life depended on it!

Through October 9th 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.

Michael’s Little Italy Restaurant Hosts LA TI DO Cabarets in Old Town

Michael’s Little Italy Restaurant Hosts LA TI DO Cabarets in Old Town

Jordan Wright
August 2, 2022
Special to The Zebra
 

LA TI DO is celebrating its ten years in show biz with the inauguration of their sizzling cabarets on the first Wednesday of every month at Michael’s Little Italy. August 3rd is the next one and is billed as “Duets with Don Mike”. The cabarets feature an eclectic range of local singers, spoken word artists and musicians many of whom perform in theaters around the DC Metro area. The company currently runs shows in Pittsburgh, New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas. Alexandria is indeed fortunate to be in such prestigious company with these major entertainment venues. Several years ago, at one of their DC cabarets, I saw the cast of The Sound of Music, who were at the Kennedy Center at the time, perform a selection of Broadway standards. It was a memorable evening, indeed.

Larry Gray

 

This unique company was founded by American University alum Don Mike Mendoza, an independent marketer currently serving on the American University Alumni Board. Tapping into his Filipino roots, Mendoza also serves as the first Director of Marketing & Media for the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles. As Executive Artistic Director of LA TI DO Productions, Mendoza has produced more than 400 cabarets, concerts, theatrical shows, and events throughout Washington, DC at Arena Stage, Shakespeare Theatre Company and The Kennedy Center; in New York City at the Dramatists Guild Foundation, Feinstein’s/54 Below and the Bowery Poetry Club. He includes Los Angeles and his hometown of Pittsburgh as other venues. Mendoza has also starred in many of these cabarets.

Local actor, singer and Stage Manager, Larry Grey, is the Associate Artistic Director for these special nights. Grey has been performing in the area for 17 years. Locals have seen him in Hairspray, Funny Money, Witness for the Prosecution, and Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria and at Dominion Stage, The Arlington Players, St. Marks Players and Aldersgate Community Church. Grey has been performing with LA TI DO Productions since 2015 and became an Associate Artistic Director in 2020.

Grey works alongside Music Director, Josh Cleveland. Josh is a teacher at Oneness-Family Montessori School and is active in the DC-area theater world as a music director, actor, singer, and accompanist. Add songwriter and lyricist to that impressive list of credentials. Josh’s recent credits include Music Director and Pianist for the Reston Community Players’ production of Bright Star, Creative Cauldron’s Daddy Long Legs and The Arlington Players’ Beauty and the Beast where he was Assistant Music Director and Pianist.

Perfect for date night or anytime you’re craving an intimate musical experience with some fine Italian cuisine. To get a taste of the caliber of talent, you can catch some of their earlier shows on the LA TI DO YouTube channel. And if you’re inclined to shine your own star, local artists who wish to audition can contact Larry Grey at larrygrey.ltd@gmail.com.

Monthly cabarets are held in the upstairs lounge at Michael’s Little Italy’s, 305 South Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets visit Eventbrite.com.

American Prophet – Frederick Douglass in His Own Words

American Prophet – Frederick Douglass in His Own Words

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
Jordan Wright
August 1, 2022
Special to The Zebra


Cornelius Smith Jr. as Frederick Douglass (Photo by Margot Schulman)

Who could have imagined Frederick Douglass’s words set to music? Two men did. Director Charles Randolph-Wright (recipient of Arena’s 2022 American Artist Award) who co-wrote the book with lyricist and composer Marcus Hummon believed it could be done and to that end the two men have put forth a sweeping historical musical that will henceforth be a must-see tribute to the great orator’s legacy.

American Prophet – Frederick Douglass in His Own Words draws from Douglass’s powerful speeches and writings the very words that inspired men and women to rise up against slavery and fight for their freedom against the cruel yoke of racism. A former slave who was later manumitted, Frederick became lauded and revered in England and America. Along with the critical support of his beloved wife, Anna, he brought pressure upon the U. S. government to liberate the slaves. Douglass achieved so much notoriety and influence that he was ultimately granted an audience with President Lincoln to whom he presented his non-negotiable demands. Fact: Before freeing the slaves, Lincoln’s original plan was to “send the slaves back to Liberia – to their own native land.”

Cornelius Smith Jr. (Frederick Douglass) and the cast of American Prophet (Photo by Margot Schulman)

Capturing Douglass’s power in song would seem insurmountable, but Hummon gifts us with sweeping orchestration, impassioned ballads filled with the sweet-sounding harmonies of a gospel choir and a few well-known spirituals. The story guides us sequentially through the horrific realities of the American slavery system and up to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Beautifully cast with 23 musical numbers, its message is delivered both emotionally and at times tenderly. Cornelius Smith, Jr. as Douglass gives a commanding performance with his riveting delivery and smooth baritone voice. Kristolyn Lloyd as Douglass’s wife, Anna Murray Douglass, is the perfect complement to Smith with her pitch-perfect voice as melodic and soothing as a lullaby.

Thomas Adrian Simpson (Abraham Lincoln / Garrison) and Cornelius Smith Jr. (Frederick Douglass) (Photo by Margot Schulman)

Other characters who appear throughout his life are Lincoln (Thomas Adrian Simpson) and his wife Mary Todd (Erica Aubrey), John Brown (Chris Roberts), the noted firebrand of the failed Harper’s Ferry raid, and William Lloyd Garrison (also Thomas Adrian Simpson), Douglass’s first publisher and head of the Anti-Slavery Movement. It is entirely possible to envision a wide audience for this important era in our American history.

Randolph-Wright and Hummon worked with the Douglass family who were adamant about recognizing Anna’s not inconsequential contribution to the cause. In Anna’s early solo “Your Star” we are reminded in both words and song how she helped him escape the bonds of slavery. “Frederick’s ability to move to freedom was all her doing. I feel passionate about everything,” Hummon said, “but I feel intensely passionate about the Anna part of the experience.” Both men have expressed the relevancy of Douglass’s words in the face of the country’s recent events.

Kristolyn Lloyd (Anna Murray Douglass), Cornelius Smith Jr. (Frederick Douglass), and the cast of American Prophet(Photo by Margot Schulman)

With Kurt Boehm as Reverend Gore/Edward Covey/Sec. Seward/Ensemble; Cicily Daniels as Betsey Bailey/Elizabeth Keckley/Ensemble; Christopher B. Portley as Demby/Ensemble; Correy West as Bill/Garnett/Dance Captain; Curtis Wiley as Gabe/Ensemble; Kanysha Williams as Sally/Ensemble.

Assistant Director Allyson Tucker; Musical Director/Orchestrations/Conductor Joseph Joubert; beautifully choreographed by Lorna Ventura; Set Design by Dan Moses Schreier; Dramaturgs Jocelyn Clarke and Otis Ramsey-Zoë.

Exclusively in the Ensemble – Carolyn Agan, Zoë Bryant, Christopher Michael Richardson and Brendon Schaefer.

Powerful and inspiring. Highly recommended.

Through August 28th at Arena Stage, 1101 6th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024. For tickets and information visit www.ArenaStage.org or call the box office at 202 488-3300.

Something Rotten! is a delightfully delicious, farcical musical

Something Rotten! is a delightfully delicious, farcical musical

The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
July 26, 2022
Special to The Zebra

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Rarely does a non-union, Off-Off-Broadway, local community theater have the guts, the heart and the talent to pull off such a delightfully delicious, farcical musical as Something Rotten!. Welcome to the Renaissance at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. This show is on fire!

Set in 1595 in London down-on-their-luck brothers Nick (Matt Liptak) and Nigel (Jack Dalrymple) Bottom are eager to one-up Shakespeare with a showstopper of their own creation. Noah Mutterperi plays The Bard in leather chaps as a mashup of Elvis and Adam Lambert. Nigel is a playwright and poet falling for poetry-loving Portia (Katie Conn) whose father Brother Jeremiah (Paul Caffrey) is a bible-toting Puritan. Heaven forfend! Nick and his feminist wife Bea (Anna Phillips-Brown) support Nigel’s aspirations.

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Pilfering from his wife’s savings, Nick pays Nostradamus (Chuck Dluhy) to divine a fresh idea for a play. The seer predicts it will be musicals. “Song and dance and sweet romance. No talking. All of the dialogue is sung,” he assures.

Convinced the idea will trump anything the Sultan of Sonnet could pen, Nick imagines a troupe of sexy Rockettes in giant ostrich feathers and gentlemen in codpieces. And, oh what swollen codpieces they sport! The show’s patron Shylock (Peter Fannon) has his doubts that “Ham Omelette: The Musical” will sell to the masses. Notwithstanding Shylock’s cautionary advice, critics agreed when this hilarious musical opened on Broadway nominating it no less than 34 times to garner two Tony Award wins. Here the fine cast is supported by an equally top-notch 12-piece orchestra and crew who handle over 200 light and sound cues. You know because I asked.

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Groan-worthy wordplay, over-the-top pastiches and silly costumes abound along with plague doctors carrying scythes who afford a stunning entrance as do eggs who appear as both freshly hatched and prepared as Western omelettes. Egg-cellent, of course. It’s a mash-up of some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines cobbled together with the best of Broadway musical numbers and a tapping chorus line in a wild and crazy plot that fills the stage with ye olde rock and roll and vaudeville razzmatazz.

(Photo/Matthew Randall)

Broadway babies will recognize snippets from thirty-one of the top musicals of their day like CatsThe Sound of MusicMusic ManWest Side StoryFiddler on the Roof, even Mary Poppins makes the cut. Twenty-three numbers sung and danced by a stellar cast under the brilliant direction of Frank D. Shutts II. You couldn’t do better if you were seeing it on Broadway.

If I handed out stars, which I don’t, I’d give it five stars. This will be sold out in a hurry. (N.B. Shakespeare invented the word “hurry” and I guess he meant get your tickets now!

With Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, and Produced by Rachel Alberts, Bobbie Herbst and Russell M. Wyland with Musical Direction by Christopher A. Tomasino, and Choreography by Stefan Sittig.

Additional Cast – Paul Caffrey as Brother Jeremiah, Brian Ash as Lord Clapham/Master of Justice, Luke Martin as Tom Snout, Evan Zimmerman as Robin, Daniel Boos as Quince, Andrew Sanchez as Snug, J. P. McElyea, Josh Mutterperl as Horatio/Bard Boy.

Bard Boys – Marcus Barbret, Luke Martin, Josh Mutterperl, Eddie Perez, Andrew Sanchez.

Additional ensemble – Amanda Mason, Mary Rodrigues, Lourdes Tumblom, Julia Hornok (Dance Captain), Brittany Bollick, and Odette Gutierrez del Arroyo.

Set Design by Robert S. Barr Jr., Lighting Design by Ken and Patti Crowley, Costume Design by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley.

Through August 13th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information visit www.TheLittleTheatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-0496.

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
July 22, 2022
Special to The Zebra 

Blue Man Group Drumbone, Courtesy of Blue Man Productions

As you enter the Eisenhower Theater to take your seats for the Blue Man Group the red velvet curtains have already been pulled back to reveal the set. A massive five-story scaffolding chock-a-block with a myriad of lights and computer technology fills the stage. Waiting for the show to begin, we played a game of Let’s See If We Can Identify These Throwback Screens. Together we spied the winged blades of a LEO-SAT (low earth orbiting satellite), an Atari ping pong screen, an MS-DOS operating system – busy coding, a sound oscilloscope, asteroids, search engines, a geometric screen saver and a colorful goldfish screensaver. Wires and dials and switches are tucked into every nook and cranny. The single-page program reads, “The People here are mailing codes to space. They are receiving letters from space, in the form of codes. The codes are being delivered all around us, on paths, making an invisible architecture.” Hmmm… We remind ourselves that over 35 million people around the world love the Blue Man experience.

Blue Man Group (Photo/Evan Zimmerman)

When the three blue men plus a two-piece band emerge on stage, we thought we were prepared. The drummer had over a dozen clear plexiglass drums in his kit and the guitarist occasionally removed his guitar to join him on a smaller kit. What we didn’t predict was how highly orchestrated the lighting and sound effects would be and that the blue men would play their own array of cobbled-together instrumentation and how silly and clever their antics – absurdity coupled with unrestrained creativity. Wow!

Blue Man New Tour (Photo/Evan Zimmerman)

The level of electronika, phosphorescence, lights and percussion is mind-blowing. It’s a paradise for techies and those of us who are in total wonder at the wizardry of it all. Are they space aliens or computer nerds left alone to play in a giant warehouse filled with stuff? I couldn’t help but wonder. Whatever your conclusion the show is a non-stop sensory explosion of gizmos, gadgets and goofy gags. Their innocent antics befuddle the blue men themselves while keeping the audience in both wonder and hysterics. Rubber chickens cross paths with virtual reality headsets and one wild scene has a man tossing dozens of marshmallows into another’s mouth from the opposite side of the stage. Yes, he catches every last one and mushes them into his mouth!

Blue Man New Tour, (Photo/Evan Zimmerman)

Dressed in camouflage suits, the creatures step off the stage and into the audience half a dozen times to bring a member up to the stage to engage them in some nutty skit. In one of these, they woo two women with gifts and a ring, engineer a mock wedding between them, handcuff them, lose the key, then politely ask them to play Twister. All in pantomime. The women found it as hilarious as the rest of us.

As a frequent theatergoer, I particularly loved their response from the stage when a couple arrived after the show had begun. With mics turned up, they trained a spotlight on the couple as they made their way down the aisle singing this little ditty repeatedly, “You’re late! You’re late!”. You’ll be thrilled to learn that the audience roared and applauded until the beleaguered duo found their seats. The Takeaway: Don’t ever be late to a Blue Man Group show!

Highly recommended. Perfect for the whole family.

Through July 31st at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit www.Kennedy-Center.org or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

SIX: The Musical

SIX: The Musical

Broadway at The National
Jordan Wright
July 20, 2022
Special to The Zebra

The North American Tour Aragon Company of SIX. (Photo/Joan Marcus)

Six Tudor “roses” burst onto the stage with such fire and ferocity the audience breaks into cheers. From the opening number the cast of queens holds the audience in their thrall. Backed by a sizzling hot, three-piece band, the ex-wives of Henry the VIII seductively invite us to respond to their shout-outs to the crowd as they recount tales of their spousal experiences – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. It’s a quirky mnemonic learned by British schoolchildren to recall the fates of all six wives.

Olivia Donalson as Anna of Cleves (center) (Photo/Joan Marcus)

It seems a quantum leap to take that device and turn it into a pop slash hip-hop slash rap musical, but it is what it is and as such it becomes the vehicle for female empowerment. Based on their individual experiences, they regale us with the cruelties and vagaries of a notorious king.  But, as we all know, payback’s a bitch. Suffice it to say the from the get-go the audience is in on the fun… and what fun this crazy, amazing show is!

Here’s what I wasn’t expecting. SIX The Musical is a pop music concert – a flashy, splashy, glam and glitzy, rap concert with nine memorable numbers that toggle back and forth betwixt the wives’ accounts of what they suffered under the king’s edicts. Laid out as a contest for the audience to offer a final vote on which of the ladies suffered the worst injustices and penultimate punishments, they each make their case in a mix of street-smart jargon and Valley Girl slang. It’s “herstory” against “his-story” and now’s their chance to come back from the grave with a royal vengeance to weigh in. Breaking the fourth wall to appeal to the audience, the Queens settle their scores with song and dance while vying to win our vote. As these divas say, they have “the riffs to ruffle your ruffs”.

The Aragon Company of SIX. (Photo/Joan Marcus)

In sequential order we hear from Catherine of Aragon (Khaila Wilcoxon) who channels Beyoncé and Shakira in “No Way” to Anne Boleyn (Storm Lever) whose inspiration is Lily Allen and Avril Lavigne in “Don’t Lose Ur Head” to Jane Seymour (Jasmine Forsberg) in “Heart of Stone” who is inspired by Adele and Sia to rap/sing her story, to fourth wife Anna of Cleves (Olivia Donalson) in “Get Down” whose “Queenspirations” are Nicki Minaj and Rihanna to Katherine Howard (Didi Romero) with “All You Wanna Do” who nails a combination of Ariana Grande and Britney Spears, and lastly, survivor Catherine Parr (Gabriela Carrillo) with the killer ballad “I Don’t Need Your Love” and whose avatars are Alicia Keys and Emeli Sandé.

Didi Romero as Katherine Howard (center) (Photo/Joan Marcus)

With book, music and lyrics by Tony Marlow and Lucy Moss and directed by Lucy Moss, SIX has garnered a total of 23 awards including the Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and Lyrics) and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Musical and the show’s album has reached stratospheric streaming heights in its first month.

Originally performed in England by the Cambridge Musical Theatre Society, the costumes are sensational, the lighting is laser-sharp and the onstage band is on point. And although I thought I heard shades of Madonna in the Catherine of Aragon character and Lizzo in Donalson’s portrayal of Anne of Cleves, you will no doubt detect the vocal stylings of some of your own favorite pop stars.

Choreography by Carrie-Anne Ingrouille, Scenic Design by Emma Bailey, Costume Design by Gabriella Slade, Lighting Design by Tim Deiling, Sound Design by Paul Gatehouse and Orchestrations by Tom Curran.

Highly recommended!!!

Through September 4th at National Theatre DC, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.com or call the box office at 202 628-6161.