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Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 3, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush – Originally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage, this delightful show harkens back to the famed Hampstead, England public house circa 1918.  The 6-person variety show promises to jolly up your holidays with Vaudeville-era tunes, Christmas carols, silly jokes, a sing-along and a moving tribute, Christmas in the Trenches, honoring the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment starring Sherri L. Edelen and Brian O’Connor runs through December 30th at MetroStage - 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Jimmy Mavrikes, Katherine Riddle, and Sherri L. Edelen ~ Photo credit C. Stanley Photography

My Father’s Dragon - Dragons are real and imaginations soar in this exciting production directed and choreographed by Tori Tolentino. Join Elmer Elevator on Wild Island to rescue a captive baby dragon accompanied by a cat companion.  With flying puppets and a ride-on dragon, this wordless fantasy-filled adventure is sure to please all ages. Through January 6th at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets and information visit www.SyneticTheater.org.

Photo credit Johnny Shyrock

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – Enjoy a return of the Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic wherein Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with ghostly guides through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays. Directed by local actor, Shelagh Roberts, the show is complete with special effects, Victorian carols and, of course, the adorable Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets call 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

(l-r) Larry Grey and Brittany Huffman in "A Christmas Carol" in Holiday Happenings ~ Photographer: Rich Farella

Christmas at Mount Vernon – Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling on December 7th, 8th and 16th. Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more. Evening fireworks on December 14th and 15th. Activities for children include making ornaments, hearing Christmas stories told by the Washingtons’ friends and family, and chocolate making demonstrations. Some events are ticketed. For tickets and all other information visit www.MountVernon.org.

Christmas illuminations at Mount Vernon ~ Courtesy of Mount Vernon

 

Billy Elliot the Musical Matthew Gardiner directs and choreographs this spectacular Tony, Grammy and Oscar Award® winner with a thrilling score by Elton John. Based on the acclaimed film of an 11-year-old whose dream is to dance, in a blue-collar coal mining town in Ireland, it’s boxing his dad sees for the boy’s future. This heartwarming story, with a hilarious scene of Margaret Thatcher stealing back the kiddies Christmas gifts, swept the Tony, Drama Desk and Olivier Awards for “Best Musical”.  Through January 6th at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information visit www.SigTheatre.org.

Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot) and the cast of Billy Elliot at Signature Theatre. ~ Photo by Christopher Mueller

Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
December 11, 2018 
Special to The Alexandria Times

Katherine Riddle & Jimmy Mavrikes ~Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

If visions of sugarplums are dancing in your head, then this probably isn’t the show for you.  No, Virginia, this is for those that see Christmas as a time to carouse, occasionally reflect, and celebrate camaraderie, but most assuredly it will not be seen as a Victorian postcard with angels in flight wearing halos of mistletoe.

This is how this clever holiday variety show might have been performed at the famed Hampstead, England public house circa 1918 – witty, silly and a lot risqué.  Written and directed by well-known DC actor Catherine Flye (Catch her now as Grandma in Billy Elliott at Signature Theatre), this 6-person British variety music hall show is sure to jolly up your holidays with Vaudeville-era tunes, Christmas carols, silly jokes, a sing-along and a moving tribute, Christmas in the Trenches, an homage to this year’s 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.

Sherri L. Edelen and Albert Coia ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

The Chairman, played by Brian O’Connor, is a nattily dressed, elegant gent who is emcee to a small troupe of performers – Miss Florrie Forde (Sherri L. Edelen), an endearing, middle-aged singer and hoofer (Neat fact: Florrie Forde was a famed Australian music hall songstress, who graced British stages with her incomparable voice for half a century.), Miss Daisy May (Katherine Riddle), a pretty ingenue with the voice of a nightingale, Mr. Bertie Ramsbottom (Albert Coia), an endearing, dipsomaniacal comedian, Mr. Percival Pennyfeather (Jimmy Mavrikes), Daisy’s dashing love interest, and Maestro Peabody (Joseph Walsh), the music hall’s pianist.

Brian O'Connor ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

Here are the titles of a smattering of the 34 classic tunes, seven of which are audience participation – lyrics provided, thank you very much.  It should give you an idea of what’s in store from this delightful veteran cast – “Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy”, “Spotted Dick” and “The Night She Cried in my Beer”.  These are interspersed with traditional English carols like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Good King Wenceslas” and vaudeville-era songs like the tear-jerker “Sonny Boy”, the cockney-inspired “Lambeth Walk”, and more.  In the euphemistic tune, “Please Don’t Touch My Plums”, Miss Forde croons, “You can grope me cantaloupes and stroke me artichokes, but please don’t touch my plums.”

Expect more than cheeky humor in this series of vignettes played by these lovable cast members, when the troupe performs a snippet from “The Christmas Carol” and a reading of John McRae’s wartime classic, “In Flanders Field” when Brits lost so many of their sons and fathers.  Especially poignant is Katherine Riddle’s exquisite voice and tender rendition of “In the Bleak Midwinter”, once named the best Christmas carol in a poll of the world’s leading choirmasters.

Front Row: (l-r) Albert Coia and Brian O'Connor - Back Row (l-r) Sherri L. Edelen, Katherine Riddle, Jimmy Mavrikes ~ Photo credit ~ C. Stanley Photography

Foot-stomping (ordered by The Chairman) lends a party atmosphere to this lively show chock-a-block with enough wink-wink double entendres to warm the cockles of your irreverent, Christmas-loving heart.

Set Consultant, Carl Gudenius, Costume Design by Michael Sharp and Lighting Design by Alexander Keen.

Christmas crackers, British beers, cider, mince pies and sausage rolls for purchase at the bar, Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush runs through December 30th at MetroStage - 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Indecent ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2018 

Paula Vogel’s Indecent is not your typical holiday entertainment.  It’s dark and foreboding.  Opening during the season of  Hanukkah, it strikes one as an unusual period to put on a tale about the travails of a group of Polish Jewish actors who meet a terrible end in Nazi Poland.  Vogel’s play arose out of her interest in the misinterpretation of Sholem Asch’s play God of Vengeance written in 1907.  It attempts to revisit that play and its impact and separate the two from Asch’s original intent – what he truly meant to express and how devastated he was when critics and rabbis disapproved of it.  As a period, Yiddish play, written during the heyday of Yiddish theater, Asch was devasted when his play augured the demise of that beloved form of entertainment.

(L-R) Susan Lynskey (The Middle: Halina/Ensemble) and Emily Shackelford (The Ingenue: Chana/Ensemble), with Ben Cherry (Lemml) in background. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

We meet the young Sholem and his wife in their bedroom.  She is reading his first play and encourages him to produce it.  “It’s wonderful!  It’s so sad,” she tells him.  He presents it in a private salon for playwrights at the home of a producer who agrees to stage it.  Others in attendance see it as degrading to Jews because it has racy scenes.  It was later to become a play so reviled by American Jews because it dared to present them as human with all its messy faults and foibles.

Nonetheless, one man, Lemml, a modest tailor, endorses Asch’s craft and becomes the play’s stage manager.  Over the years God of Vengeance is performed throughout Europe and Russia to great acclaim, though the unusual story of a Jewish brothel owner, the trashing of the Torah and a romance between two women, portrays Jews as less than holy.  When the actors go to America in 1921, the play is censored.  The original Asch play opened on Broadway in 1923 and featured the first kiss by two women on the Broadway stage.  This innocent and playful scene has the women dancing in the rain as they celebrate their love.  The upshot was that the entire troupe was arrested for obscenity, later resulting in an investigation of the playwright by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Ben Cherry (Lemml) and the cast of Indecent. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Violin, clarinet, accordion, and what appeared to be a balalaika, serve as a mournful background to the destruction of the socialists’ high ideals.  Well-acted, it reflects a turbulent time during the days of politically-motivated censorship of those in the arts.

With Ben Cherry as The Stage Manager: Lemml; Susan Lynskey as The Middle: Halina/Ensemble; John Milosich as Moriz Godowsky/Musician/Ensemble; Victor Raider-Wexler as The Elder: Otto/Ensemble; Susan Rome as The Elder: Vera/Ensemble; Emily Shackelford as The Ingénue: Chana/Ensemble/Dance Captain; Maryn Shaw as Nelly Friedman/Musician/Ensemble; Alexander Sovronsky as Mayer Balsam/Musician/Ensemble; Ethan Watermaier as The Middle: Mendel/Ensemble; and Max Wolkowitz as The Ingénue: Avram/Ensemble.

(L-R) Emily Shackelford (The Ingenue: Chana/Ensemble) and Max Wolkowitz (The Ingenue: Avram/Ensemble) in Indecent. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Diercted by Eric Rosen; Choreography by Erika Chong Shuch; Music Direction and Original Music by Alexander Sovronsky; Set Design by Jack Magaw; Costume Design by Linda Roethke; and Lighting Design by Josh Epstein.

Through December 30th at Arena Stage - 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Beautiful ~ The Carole King Musical ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 29, 2018 

Carnegie Hall. Sarah Bockel (Carole King) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Where were you when you first heard The Righteous Brothers sing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles?  Maybe you were dancing to “Locomotion” by Little Eva or “Up on the Roof” by The Drifters, all songs written by Brooklyn-born Carole King (Sarah Bockel) and her husband Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach).  Working for music producer Don Kirshner (James Clow), known as “The Man with the Golden Ear”, their partnership produced hit after hit keeping them on the pop charts throughout the 60’s.

1650 Broadway. (l to r) James Clow (Don Kirshner), Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry Goffin), Sarah Bockel (Carole King), Jacob Heimer (Barry Mann) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil). Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

During their early career lyricist Gerry and the precociously talented composer Carole churned out hits at Aldon Music, a music publishing house and hit factory in New York’s Brill Building, where they worked side-by-side with fellow hit makers, Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) in friendly competition.

Beautiful tells the story of their romance, marriage and tumultuous breakup.  The simple story chronicles their struggles and successes and ultimately King’s solo career, which broke the pop mold with the release of her first album - the four-time Grammy Award-winning, “Tapestry”.

“The Locomotion.” The Touring Cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The latest national tour has rearranged the order of the music.  It now opens with Carole on piano at Carnegie Hall.  She is singing “So Far Away”, accompanying herself and showing confidence with her trademark masses of wavy hair gowned in a blue-flowered maxi-dress.  It was not always so for the shy, yet ambitious teen who wrote songs for the top African American artists of that era.  The plot then takes us back to the beginning of Carole’s career, when as a whip-smart sixteen-year old, Carole bucked her Jewish mother Genie (Suzanne Grodner with plenty of comic relief), to peddle her tunes in the Big Apple where she has an auspicious meeting with Kirshner.

The Drifters. (l to r) Dimitri Joseph Moïse, Deon Releford-Lee, Nathan Andrew Riley and Michael Stiggers, Jr. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

A medley of hits from the 50’s includes some of the greatest hits from that era – “Poison Ivy”, “Love Potion #9”, “Yakety Yak” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to name a few.  Dressed in flashy sharkskin suits and skinny ties, The Drifters and The Shirelles in their trademark beaded dresses perform the couple’s greatest hits, along with Little Eva (Alexis Tidwell), discovered when she was their babysitter and the entirely fictitious Janelle Woods (McKynleigh Alden Abraham), a glamorous pop singer who becomes Gerry’s extramarital lover.

Queens College. Sarah Bockel (Carole King) and Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry Goffin) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The musical is light on script, but heavy on songs, twenty-seven numbers backed by a twelve-piece orchestra.  But that’s just fine as you’ll probably be silently singing along, tapping your toes and recalling your first dance, first kiss or first breakup.  Goosebumps kick in with “Some Kind of Wonderful”, Gerry and Carole’s first duet, and The Righteous Brothers big number, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.

Scenic Designer Derek McLane captures the mood by creating a wall of instruments and tricking out the musical performances with hundreds of moving, neon-colored lights.  Mid-century modern furnishings reflect Carole’s home and office.

“Natural Woman.” Sarah Bockel (Carole King) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

 

Bockel does a superb job as Carole, especially at the end of Act Two when she lets loose her powerful voice on the biggest hits from the album “Tapestry” – “Natural Woman”, later covered by Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige, and “Beautiful”.  The musical reflects Carole’s coming of age as an independent composer and soloist who has emerged from pain and loss to find joy and recognition as an artist in her own right.

See it if you love the music of this era, or even for the music with its sweet harmonies and catchy lyrics that draws us back to an age of innocence.

Book by Douglas McGrath; Words and Music by Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Brian Ronan; Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Through December 30th at the National Theatre, Washington DC – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.org or call 202 628-6161.

An Inspector Calls ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall

Jordan Wright
November 28, 2018 

“We don’t live alone.  We are members of one society.  We are responsible for each other.  And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”  These are the words of the Inspector.  They are as applicable today as they were when J. B. Priestley penned this thriller during the time of the London Blitz.

(l-r) Jeff Harmas as Mr. Birling, Hamish Riddle as Eric Birling and Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft in An Inspector Call. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Inspired by the English poet John Donne who wrote the indelible phrase, “No man is an island”, Priestley was moved by his desire to see social change.  His play debuted in London in 1946.  This recent iteration, re-worked by Director Stephen Daldry of Billy Elliot and The Crown fame, is performed by the British cast and kicks off a major U. S. tour.  Winner of 19 major accolades, including multiple Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk Awards, it is the longest running revival of a play in history.  Shakespeare Theatre Company, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Great Britain, presents this classic play on the anniversary of philanthropist Sidney Harman’s 100th birthday.

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole and the cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

The drama opens to haunting atmospherics.  Fog as thick as pea soup wailing sirens and the sound of bombs place us at the height of wartime London towards the end of the Edwardian Era.  The Birlings, well-ensconced in their elegant home, are celebrating their daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft – who by all measure is cut from the same cloth.  The parents and son Eric are eager to welcome Gerald into their well-heeled family circle, though Mr. Birling, anticipating a knighthood that will propel him into the ranks of the royals, warns Gerald to be on his best behavior until then.  A small boy, acting as silent witness, appears to be a metaphor for the impending downfall of a family and the struggles of the most vulnerable, as he raises the curtain, lifting it up to afford himself a view of how the upper crust lives.  That the grownups will become entangled in the suicide of a beautiful, young woman is the train that drives the mystery.

Christine Kavanagh as Mrs. Birling, Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling and Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Hitchcockian overtones combined with a brilliant set design by Ian MacNeil, seemingly straight out of a Tim Burton movie, lend an eerie atmosphere to a plot that unfolds through Inspector Goole’s careful line of questioning.  And just when you think the story will have a predictable outcome, it goes all topsy-turvy, several times over.  In a bizarre chain of events that appears to tie the girl to each character, we watch a privileged family become unhinged and witness a whodunnit that will have you at the edge of your seat.

Diana Payne-Myers as Edna and Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

A rare treat for theatregoers.

With a brilliant cast consisting of Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole; Christine Kavanaugh as Mrs. Birling; Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling; Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft; Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling; Hamish Riddle as Eric Birling; Diana Payne-Myers as Edna; and David Curry III as the boy.

Stephen Daldry, Director; Julian Webber, Associate Director; Ian MacNeil, Scenic and Costume Designer; Rick Fisher, Lighting Designer; Stephen Warbeck, Music; Sebastian Frost, Sound Designer; Charlotte Peters, Associate Director (Tour).

Through December 23rd at Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet