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Richmond in Two Days and Two Nights

Richmond in Two Days and Two Nights

July 3, 2022
Jordan Wright
Special to The Zebra

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.(Photo/Jordan Wright)

Alexandria, VA – Nothing about Richmond is static. This ever-evolving Virginia capital offers top universities, art exhibitions, notable restaurants, breweries, world-class gardens, and leading museums that keep evolving with vibrant and exciting experiences.

Carrara marble statue of Thomas Jefferson in the Palm Court lobby of The Jefferson Hotel.(Photo/Jordan Wright)

One place stands out as the destination for guests looking to experience Richmond’s glorious Golden Age and to wonder at the magnificent architecture and rich history of The Jefferson Hotel. It is one of America’s grandest hotels. Built by tobacco heir Lewis Ginter in 1895, the Jefferson has welcomed such notables as Sarah Bernhardt, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Charles Lindbergh, Elvis, John D. Rockefeller, and Ray Charles. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was discovered waiting tables in the dining room. (www.JeffersonHotel.com)

Halibut Almondine with Almond Crust and Sauce Meunière at Lemaire.(Photo/Jordan Wright)

A recent stay had a packed schedule of a whirlwind of activities but allowed time to take in the hotel’s amenities between adventures. Pro Tip: Book the famous champagne Sunday brunch, sumptuous tea, or seasonal haute cuisine at the hotel’s Lemaire, where Executive Chef Patrick Willis riffs on New American Southern-influenced dishes. Pro tip: When making reservations, and you must, ask to sit on the terrace if it’s a nice evening or in the Grand Dining Room resplendent with crystal chandeliers, heavy silk draperies, and exquisitely carved period architecture. Consult knowledgeable Sommelier Nick Montes and request server Sean. Be sure to visit the hotel’s gift shop, where I found a chic garden ornament and magnolia sachets. (www.LemaireRestaurant.com)

After coffee and freshly baked breakfast pastries at Roastology (www.roastologycoffee.com), we headed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. This extraordinary museum hosts world-class exhibits you will never see in Washington or New York. “Whistler to Cassatt – American Painters in France” is on through July 31, featuring over 100 paintings by James Abbott McNeill, Whistler, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam and others.

A very different but no less thrilling experience is “Tsherin Sherpa: Spirits,” which features the Tibetan artist’s visionary Asian-influenced sculpture and paintings mixing traditional images with contemporary themes. While there, take in the museum’s fabulous Fabergé collection and if by now you’re hungry, grab a quick bite at the cafeteria or dine at Amuse Restaurant, where reservations are recommended.

Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of Dutch industrialist Willem van Heythuysen re-imagined as a Black man from Harlem sporting Sean John streetwear and Timberland boots at the VMFA. (Photo/Jordan Wright)

At the entrance to the museum, view the massive Kehinde Wiley statue “Rumors of War.” Wiley was President Obama’s official portrait artist. The VMFA sculpture re-imagines the statue of Confederate General Jeb Stuart that stood on Monument Avenue before it and other statues of Confederate military men were removed. The figure strikes a heroic pose on horseback, but in Wiley’s work, the rider is a young Black man with dreadlocks in a hoodie.

Inside the museum, check out Wiley’s hyper-realistic portrait of Dutch industrialist Willem van Heythuysen re-imagined as a street-smart Black man from Harlem sporting Sean John streetwear and Timberland boots. (https://vmfa.museum/)

Across the sculpture garden is the recently renovated $30M expansion of the Virginia Museum of History and Culture. It houses an array of Virginia-sourced artifacts and dioramas showcasing the Commonwealth and features lots of kid-friendly interactive exhibits and an immersive film centered on Virginia’s history. In the small gift shop, I snagged a few bags of a favorite coffee from Red Rooster Coffee, a terrific roastery in the Virginia highlands of Floyd, VA. (virginiahistory.org)

If Shakespeare is your jam, the Quill Theatre and Agecroft, an iconic Tudor mansion, are presenting the Richmond Shakespeare Festival in the mansion gardens from July 7 through July 31. (www.AgecroftHall.org)

On day two, we took a short hop over to Shockoe Slip, where the Poe Museum houses truly fascinating, super quirky exhibits of Poe arcana. Check the website for their special Poe-themed events in the home’s charming garden. It’s the museum’s 100th Anniversary and lots of activities are planned throughout the year. Author of classic Gothic horror tales, Edgar Allan Poe was a Richmond native. Many of these fascinating artifacts were donated by city residents, including the gold pocket watch that ticked away while he wrote “A Tell-Tale Heart.” Black cats stroll the property, adding magical realism to the overall aura. (www.PoeMuseum.org)

One of the black cats roams the Poe Museum gardens. (Photo/Jordan Wright)

Lunch beckoned, and we headed to the historic and very hip district of Scott’s Addition, where you’ll find breweries, distilleries, and cideries. Housed in an old warehouse is the upscale casual Pinky’s with Mediterranean-influenced menu items and craft cocktails. (www.pinkysrva.com)

If you want to shop, you’ll find plenty of cool shops in Carytown. One of my favorites is La Petite Boutique, with edgy designer collections of unique hats, accessories, and Krista Larson and Rundholz clothing. (www.LaPetiteBoutiquerva.com)

Insiders know The Stables, and our dinner there didn’t disappoint. The intimate restaurant and bar in the Museum District is in a building purportedly once used as stables and a carriage house for the Richmond Police. The asparagus vichyssoise soup was a standout, as was the Brown Butter Scallops served with Carolina Gold rice. (www.TheStablesRVA.com)

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens. (Photo/Jordan Wright)

On our last morning we had to choose between the extraordinary Lewis Ginter Gardens, a 50-acre dreamscape with a colossal Victorian glass conservatory, live butterfly exhibit, musical events at night, or the lavish 100-year-old mansion and 100-acre estate gardens plus Arboretum surrounding the magnificent Maymont. Both are eye-poppingly amazing. Whichever you choose, plan to visit the other on a return trip. (www.lewisginter.org), (www.Maymont.org)

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
June 28, 2022
Special to The Zebra

(l to r) Justin Mark (“Jem Finch”), Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Steven Lee Johnson (“Dill Harris”). (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

In what is referred to in the program as a “New Play” by famed playwright Aaron Sorkin, Harper Lee’s celebrated novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes on fresh meaning in a world still struggling with racial injustice. Sorkin propels the narrative of a Black man unfairly accused to a relevancy we’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to recognize as still capturing today’s headlines. Set in 1930’s Alabama in a plot laden with weighty themes and laced with levity, Sorkin’s laser-focused version of the courtroom drama crackles with the raw power and profound honesty intended to galvanize an audience’s emotional response.

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”) (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

In it, dramatic actor Richard Thomas plays Atticus Finch, a folksy Southern lawyer with the instincts of a coonhound treeing a possum. Thomas delivers a rock-solid portrayal so determinedly fresh and riveting it will make you forget you’d ever seen Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie version.

The great Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony Award in 2019 for “Best Direction of a Play” for the Broadway production, has found a way to stage this new production by leaning in on the threads of the story that matter most. Even on a stage as vast as the Opera House, he creates a space that reads like an intimate encounter. Brilliantly acted by a collaborative cast, Lee’s words fairly jump off the page with their universality.

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

When asked if she had plans to write another book, Lee cynically postulated to a reporter, “When you’ve hit the pinnacle, how would you feel about writing more?” Many years later, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lee declared, “Honey I already said everything I wanted to say.” And with weighty themes ranging from racism to alcoholism, justice, pedophilia and even murder too, the iconic Southern novelist had covered it all.

Notwithstanding Harper Lee’s reticence to discuss her work and her decision to abandon further writing, she had penned a forceful novel that burst off the pages with a trunk load of quotable lines tailor made to be spoken aloud. Sorkin’s treatment extracts the essence of her words to lend a new and exciting gravitas to this great American novel. Blessed with a tremendous cast to support Thomas, it stars Yaegel T. Welch (from the original Broadway cast) as Tom Robinson; Melanie Moore as Scout; Steven Lee Johnson as the tender-hearted Dill Harris (said to be fashioned after Lee’s friend Truman Capote); Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Scout’s brother; Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia the formidable, no-nonsense housekeeper to the Finch family; Anthony Natale as Link Deas; Travis Johns as Mr. Cunningham and Boo Radley; and Richard Poe as Judge Taylor. Imbued with worldly wisdom, they are the heroes that battle the play’s villains played by Joey Collins as the antagonist Bob Ewell and his tragically victimized daughter Mayella Ewell played by Arianna Gayle Stucki. Take note of Mary Badham in the small yet pivotal role of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, the cranky octogenarian who harasses the children as they pass her porch. Badham won an Oscar for her role as Scout in the movie.

Highly recommended. A defining production of what has been called America’s Greatest Novel.

Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Additional cast members include David Christopher Wells as Sheriff Heck Tate; Luke Smith as Horace Gilmer; Greg Wood as Mr. Roscoe/Dr. Reynolds; Travis Johns as Mr. Cunningham/Boo Radley; and Liv Rooth as Dill’s Mother/Miss Stephanie.

Scenic Design by Miriam Buether; Costume Design by Ann Roth; Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton; Sound Design by Scott Lehrer; Original Music by Adam Guettel.

Through July 10th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 0r visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Juneteenth

Celebrate Juneteenth at The National Museum for
African American History and Culture

Jordan Wright
June 17, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Photos Courtesy of Restaurant Associates

Freedom Day, Juneteenth, marks the moment in United States’ history on June 19, 1865 when the remaining 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Confederate states were legally declared free two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. In the century-and-a half since, the Juneteenth holiday represents a time to gather with family and community, to honor the present and to reflect on shared history and tradition. This year’s commemoration explores the “sense” of freedom by highlighting the music, food and experiences of African Americans.

For the first anniversary of this federal holiday, the museum plans include a variety of family-friendly virtual and in-person events and programs to celebrate Juneteenth. As you stroll through the galleries you will hear a newly created playlist by music curator Steven Lewis and see the museum’s display of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s original speech from the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on view from June 9th through June 20th in the “A Changing America” exhibition curated by NMAAHC Curator Joanne Hyppolite.

Head to the Sweet Home Café where Executive Chef Ramin Coles of Restaurant Associates has created a special menu to celebrate Juneteenth. The Café will be offering a number of delicious choices including Whole Hog BBQ, Yeast Rolls, Smoked half Chicken with Cherry BBQ sauce and House-made Pickles, St Louis Ribs with a choice of BBQ Sauces and White Bread, Louis Armstrong Red Beans and Rice with pork, Stewed Tomato, Okra and Corn, Coleslaw and Potato Salad. For a sweet home finish, two tempting desserts are on the menu with both Cherry Cobbler and Red Velvet Cake. Iced tea and Cherry Lemonade are available.

 

*Photos Courtesy of Restaurant Associates

Interview with Ramin Coles

Interview with Ramin Coles

Executive Chef of Sweet Home Café at
The Natual Museum of African American History and Culture
June 18, 2022
Jordan Wright
Special to The Zebra 

Photos Courtesy of Restaurant Associates

New Jersey native and longtime DC Metro area resident, Executive Chef Ramin Coles started out at Academie de Cuisine a mere two weeks out of high school. From there he earned an externship at the Clyde’s Group in Chevy Chase, later cooking at Kincaid’s where the legendary Bob Kincaid taught the teenager both cooking and life lessons. Staying in the area and working under some of DC’s best-known chefs, Coles partnered with Chef Tracy O’Grady to compete in the prestigious international Bocuse d’Or championship. With such diverse and extraordinary experiences under his belt, he went on to work with Jeff Black at Black Salt and then Black Market and credits him as the person who gave him the confidence to develop his own recipe ideas. From that intense growth period Coles went on to Founding Farmers and later to the catering operation with Wolfgang Puck at The Sunset Room. He is now the Executive Chef at Sweet Home Café.

Photos Courtesy of Restaurant Associates

Wright – Did you learn how to cook from your family members? What are some of your memories of growing up around food?

Coles – My grandmother and mom are both great cooks and my mom would make most anything for me. When I was young, I would sometimes stay with my great-grandmother and she taught me how to make pancakes, because my mom wouldn’t let me eat pancakes. As a family we would go fishing a lot. We would go out on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay and and and my mom would catch rockfish. There was a guy on the dock would scale it and clean it and wrap it up for us. One day my grandmother, who was a seamstress, made the fish with Stovetop stuffing – sewed it up with a needle and thread. It was so delicious. I got to see a lot of different things through them.

When I was a kid my stepfather’s family had food trucks parked at the Smithsonian, so I spent a lot of time around here. I think my dad bribed the guards to look after me so I wouldn’t get kidnapped.

In summers they took me to the Italian neighborhoods in New Jersey where my grandmother made certain I tried a lot of different types of food. One day when I was in Middle School, I robbed a beehive. It was like a Disney cartoon. We cracked open the floorboards at this old house and took out five gallons of honey from the hive – wax and all. My grandmother said we had to process it right away otherwise the bees would follow the honey back to our house.

Wright – How did you decide what to prepare for the Museum’s Juneteenth menu?

Coles – I did some research and the museum jumped on it even before it was named a federal holiday. I was inspired by Texas barbecue. I use red in a lot in the dishes. It’s color of the holiday that stands for the blood of the people or the resilience of the people. So, we highlighted recipes to reflect that and incorporated a few of the recipes from the Sweet Home Café cookbook. It’s the first time we’ve done whole hog barbecue. We’ll serve different sauces on the side. One is made with cherry cola, cherries and chiles that we cook down and then add tomatoes. The mustard sauce represents South Carolina and comes from my stepfather Uncle Oliver’s recipe handed down to my mom and then how I figured it out. The vinegar sauce is from North Carolina. Once on a trip we found a lady selling barbecue out of her barn on white bread with mustard sauce. That was years ago but it was the best I’d ever had.

This interview was condensed and edited for content.

Jersey Boys

Jersey Boys

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
June 17, 2022
Jordan Wright

Photo/Joan Marcus

In an era when Motown was delivering hit after hit and Black singing groups ruled the charts, a quartet of Italian kids from the blue-collar town of Belleville, NJ began their journey to stardom. Most of them were small-time crooks who knew a hot hustle when they saw it. Tommy, one of the original members, was street smart enough to keep the others out of the worst kind of trouble, though most of them wound up serving time. After their release, they re-formed, playing local dives and bowling alleys – an arduous route followed by many bands back in the day. How Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons achieved the pinnacle of success and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines this Tony, Grammy and Olivier-award winning musical.

Valli’s powerhouse falsetto and the group’s sweet harmonies, set them apart from other groups, but success didn’t come easily. After years as unknown studio backup singers for big recording artists, the group finally found their identity when a young Joe Pesci (Yes! that Joe Pesci.) introduced them to a little-known singer/songwriter named Bob Gaudio, who became the newest member of the group. Under Producer/Hitmaker, Bob Crewe they subsequently churned out megahits and apart from their personal troubles he kept them on the road and on the charts.

Jersey Boys

Thanks to Murray the K, a popular New York City radio disc jockey, the group got airplay of their first release “Sherry” which went straight to the top of Billboard’s pop charts selling one million records. Soon after, the hits and the fans kept coming – “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “Dawn” and dozens more.

Based on their fortunes and misfortunes and the vagaries of their love lives, the plot is the glue that supports the musical numbers. Fans will hear over two dozen of their biggest hits plus a few of their earliest song stylings. Sung by a quartet whose voices are a pitch perfect match to the originals, it comes off as a Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons live concert.

Photo/Joan Marcus

Former original Broadway cast member Jon Hacker plays Frankie. On press night his understudy the fabulous Justin Albinder filled in showing an astonishing falsetto range accompanied by slick dance moves. Expect James Brown-style splits and spins executed in retro sharkskin suits. All the band’s songs are choreographed as are those for a sexy mini-skirted girl group that accompanies the boys on tour. As Tommy puts it, “We put Jersey on the map.”

A high energy concert-style musical set in the retro 60’s and 70’s music scene, it features their greatest hits.

Highly recommended.

(Note: This show is appropriate for ages 12+ only due to strong language throughout.)

Photo/Joan Marcus

Directed by Tony Award-winner Des McAnuff; Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice; Choreographed by Sergio Trujillo; Music by Bob Gaudio; Lyrics by Bob Crewe; Lighting by Howell Binkley; Costume Design by Jess Goldstein; Orchestrations by Steve Oric, Scenic Design by Klara Zieglerova; Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy. The Jersey Boys Orchestra is directed by Noah Turner and Anthony Brindisi.

Starring Sean McGee as Bob Crewe/Donnie/Accountant/Finney/and others; Matt Faucher as Nick Massi; Eric Chambliss as Bob Gaudio; Devon Goffman as Tommy DeVito; Katie Goffman as Mary Delgado/Angel. The rest of the cast play multiple roles.

Through June 26th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

Nollywood Dreams

Nollywood Dreams

Round House Theatre
Jordan Wright
June 15, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Yao Dogbe (Gbenga Ezie), Ernaisja Curry (Ayamma Okafor), Renea Brown (Dede Okafor), and Joel Ashur (Wale Owusu) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Fact: Fashioned after India’s Bollywood film industry, Nollywood is the second most productive film industry in the world with over 1,000 movies produced a year.

It’s hard to stress the huge influence of movies over daily life in Nigeria. Watched by millions, they feature formulaic melodramas reminiscent of the early days of Hollywood cinema. A fascination with Nigerian movie stars forms the basis of Nollywood Dreams, a romantic comedy about this gargantuan industry and its stars. Award-winning Ghanaian Playwright Jocelyn Bioh is currently writing the live screen adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Once on This Island for Disney. She is eager to school us in African culture and she does it with a pencil-sharp wit. “I’m a comedic writer and I think comedy’s simply a funny way of being serious, and I’m able to get across messages that do have a lot of universality to them, even if the people are very specific.”

Yao Dogbe (Gbenga Ezie), Ernaisja Curry (Ayamma Okafor), Renea Brown (Dede Okafor), and Joel Ashur (Wale Owusu) (Photo/Margot-Schulman)

Sisters Dede (Renea S. Brown) and Ayamma (Ernaisja Curry) run their family’s Okafor travel agency in the capitol of Lagos. One day Ayamma hears of an open casting call for the female lead in an upcoming movie by famed Director Gbenga Ezie (Yao Dogbe) starring their girl crush, the handsome Nigerian screen star Wale Owusu (Joel Ashur).

Ayamma, with no prior acting experience yet determined to make her mark, reads for the part with Wale as the love interest. Although Wale finds her adorable and Gbenga sees her as his first choice, the glamorous movie star and Gbenga’s favorite leading actress Fayola (Yetunde Felix-Ukwu) intends to wage battle for the part – even if it takes blackmail or magical powers.

04 – Joel Ashur (Wale Owusu) and Jacqueline Youm (Adenikeh) (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Scenic Designer, Jonathan Dahm Robertson treats us to three sets on a cleverly constructed revolving stage. One for the travel agency, another for Gbenga’s Nollywood Dreams Studios and the third, a television interview set for Adenikah (Jacqueline Youm), Nigeria’s version of Oprah Winfrey. Throughout the story, Adenikah is seen hosting the celebs wearing ever higher dhukus (head-wraps) and resplendent asoebis (dresses) to reflect her star status. All costumes by designer Brandee Mathies are reflective of the African fashions of the day.

Director Raymond O. Caldwell heightens the humor and extracts terrific performances from the well-cast characters who speak in the lovely, lilting patois of Nigeria and display a singular talent for the kind of physical comedy we know from Charlie Chaplin and Lucille Ball.

A super fun, audience participation comedy with a happy ending.  What’s not to like?

With Sound Design by Nick Hernandez; Projection Design by Kelly Colburn; and Vocal/Dialect Coach Dawn-Elin Fraser.

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