Kennedy Center’s Funny Girl Has All the Razzamatazz of the Original

Kennedy Center’s Funny Girl Has All the Razzamatazz of the Original

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
July 5, 2022

Katerina McCrimmon as Fanny Brice (Photo/Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

If you hadn’t noticed before, revivals are having a moment. Merrily We Roll Along, Sondheim’s early 1981 musical recently garnered a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and although Cats had its final NY bow in 2017, shows like the latest B’way versions of Cabaret, Once Upon a Mattress and The Wiz are red hot.

Enter Funny Girlin its latest iteration, now on tour and spending a few months at the Kennedy Center. Until I saw it again, I had no idea how much I’d missed it. The story of a Jewish Brooklyn girl’s rise to the pinnacle of the Broadway stage to star in Flo Ziegfeld’s biggest revue, is one that inspired many a singer/actress with Barbra Streisand’s star-making performance.

Katerina McCrimmon and Stephen Mark Lukas (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

I’m unapologetically predisposed to fiercely loving this story. My maternal grandmother was a Ziegfeld “girl”, as they were known. Betty Morton (née Elisabeth Mortensen and 100% Danish) wore the massive headdresses in awe-inspiring vignettes, modeled for the leading fashion magazines of the day and married a millionaire – as there were very few billionaires in that gilded era. Forget chocolates and rose bouquets, these highly sought-after beauties were courted by kings and scions of American fortunes who would send diamond bracelets and ermine coats backstage just to procure a dinner date where they could be seen with these beautiful young women. But I digress.

In true Broadway fashion, this production has a phenomenal cast of hoofers and belters – precisely the splash, dash and razzamatazz you’d expect from a show about Broadway and played by ace performers. Katerina McCrimmon plays Fanny Brice, a sassy, take-no-prisoners chorine who by dint of chutzpah and her pal, Eddie Ryan (Iziah Montaque Harris – with standby, DC local, John Manzari), a choreographer and top-drawer hoofer, quickly scratches her way to the top under at the New Amsterdam Theatre. There’s tons of schtick, a kickin’ 17-piece orchestra enhanced by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and all the familiar tunes by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill. God, help me, I knew all the words and so did much of the audience who properly refrained from singing aloud.

First National Touring Company of Funny Girl (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

First there’s the mavens, Mrs. Brice, Mrs. Strakosh (Eileen T’Kaye) and Mrs. Meeker (Christine Bunaun) – a group of well-meaning mothers who pass the time meddling in the affairs of the neighborhood, and especially laser-focused on Fanny’s future. You’ll never guess in a million years who plays the part of Mrs. Brice – Melissa Manchester. Yes! That Melissa Manchester – the R&B songstress, actress and Carole Bayer Sager co-composer, who sang the hit song “Midnight Blue” back in the 80’s and “Come in From the Rain” in the 70’s. I was gobsmacked! She’s still got the stuff in spades.

When romance comes to Fanny, it comes in the form of gambler, Nick Arnstein (Stephen Mark Lukas), a slick, handsome mountebank who charms her, marries her and enjoys her new-found wealth as the biggest star on Broadway.

Melissa Manchester and Izaiah Montaque Harris (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

So many of the numbers from this show are not only memorable but unforgettable – “I’m the Greatest Star”, “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty”, “His Love Makes Me Beautiful”, “Sadie, Sadie”, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and the iconic “People” covered by, well, nearly every female singer in the world and made famous by, of course, Barbra.

So, if you’ve a mind to see fabulous costumes – feathered headdresses worn by sexy showgirls dripping with diamonds – the best hoofers and belters on stage today and a story that will melt the hardest heart – this one’s for you. God knows, it was for me!

Stephen Mark Lukas (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Leah Platt as Emma/Mrs. Nadler, Ryan Rodino as John, David Foley, Jr. as Tom Keeney, Jackson Grove as Piano Player/Tenor/Actor/Porter, Jack Bianchi & Jackson Grove as Cornet Men, Jordon Taylor as Polly, Missy Marion as Bubbles, Dot Kelly as Maude, Walter Coppage as the iconic impresario, Florenz Ziegfeld, Kate E. Cook as Virginia, Alex Hartman as Vera, Sean Thompson as Bartender/Mr. Renaldi, Jack Bianchi & Travis Ward-Osborne as Rat-Tat-Tat-Tat Men.

Book by Isobel Lennart based on Directed by Michael Mayer, Tap Choreography by Ayodele Casel, Choreography by Ellenore Scott, Scenic Design by David Zinn, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Kevin Adams, Sound Design by Brian Ronan & Cody Spencer, Orchestrations by Chris Walker, with Music Director/Conductor Elaine Davidson.

Highly recommended!!!

Through July 14th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, Washington, DC, 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 416-8000 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.  

Alexandria’s Sam Landa Brings an Electrifying Acrobatic Hamlet to the DMV

Alexandria’s Sam Landa Brings an Electrifying Acrobatic Hamlet to the DMV

Hamlet
Jordan Wright
Special To The Zebra 

Alexandra Bilder and the ensemble of Hamlet. (Photo Emily Lord)

Twenty-four-year-old Alexandria, VA native Sam Landa will bring his New York Circus Project to our area to perform an electrifying acrobatic HamletStarting its DC run on July 31, he describes the interdisciplinary theater and circus company he founded in 2023 in this way. “Both circus and Shakespeare are perceived as aged forms. By matching the heightened sense of risk that circus delivers to a high-stakes narrative like Hamlet, the show exceeds the original intentions of each of the forms, delighting the audience in the process.” Landa, who will act as director for this groundbreaking show, continues his work as a consultant of acrobatic and aerial elements on Broadway productions.

Sam Landa (Photo Carrie Kizuka)

Apart from his parents’ lifelong support of his creative interests, Landa’s early influences in our region include his study with The Washington School of Ballet’s legendary Artistic Director and Choreographer Septime Webre. “When I danced at The Washington School of Ballet as a child Septime Webre was a very big influence on me. He used classic novels and great works of literature and turned them into ballets, sourcing from traditional stories that you wouldn’t expect to see a ballet come out of. The idea of working with non-traditional stories influenced me to choose Hamlet because it’s a bold choice. I wanted to look back and say, it might be risky, but I pulled it off.”

Other influences stem from his early education in Alexandria schools where he attended George Mason Elementary, GW Middle School and Alexandria High School before going to The National Circus School [École Nationale de Cirque] in Montreal where he studied under Cirque du Soleil’s masters. He told me one of his biggest influences here was his elementary school PE teacher. “Julie Westcott was always very supportive of me, even at a young age and especially for a boy interested in non-traditional performance art.” Another strong influence was his dance teacher Luis Torres at the Washington School of Ballet and now the Ballet Master of the Hong Kong Ballet, “He taught me to work hard. Every chance I get to see him I feel invigorated afterwards.”

The aerialist is Angela Zhang (Photo Emily Lord)

Many of the company’s performances are free outdoor performances– offering local communities the opportunity to experience live theater coupled with aerial acrobatics. Two years in the making, Landa’s version of Hamlet was his senior project at Columbia University. When I asked him why Shakespeare and why Hamlet, he replied, “I wanted to pick something that would intrigue people when they heard there was a circus based on Hamlet. I wanted people to not know what they were walking into, and Hamlet is a notoriously complex play. I didn’t want something that had been done in circuses. In the case of Hamlet, everybody knows the story and I can focus on the themes that I want to.”

Landa has owned the company’s rigging system since he first began to perform in circus eight years ago. “One thing that is really important to me is trying to change circus as an art and entertainment form. I see ballet and opera performances with sweeping and emotional stories, where singing and dance tell the stories, and I want audiences to view circus in the same way. This show is grounded in a narrative with a beginning, middle and end.”

The aerialist is Julia Baccellieri. (Photo by Maya Shkolnik)

A number of the company’s performers are alums from Cirque du Soleil. Costumes are by Designer Lily Cunicelli who works in film and theater on- and off-Broadway as do many of the performers.  Lighting Designer Nate Files has worked on American IdolDancing with the Stars and Blue Man Group as well as concerts for Miley Cyrus and Blackpink.

The contortionist is Ilse Baryshnikov. (Photo Howard Sherman)

Selecting Union Market Dock 5 to mount this production, Landa plans to build out the space to resemble a traditional theater setting. The Union Market District is entering a new phase in the development of entertainment arts, nightlife and theatrical shows and he is able configure the space to suit his needs. “I’m hoping this production with them is the start of a new relationship, because I would love to come back to the area.”

Hamlet poster designed by Sawyer Sadd, featuring Ilse Baryshnikov, Jacob Crow, and Madi Ward. (Courtesy photo)

Performances begin July 31 and run to August 11 at Union Market, Dock 5, 1309 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20002. For tickets and information visit NewYorkCircusProject.org/tickets or email [email protected]

The Kite Runner at Kennedy Center Proves Relevant and Compelling

The Kite Runner at Kennedy Center Proves Relevant and Compelling

The Kite Runner
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
June 28, 2024

The Kite Runner (Photo Via The Kennedy Center)

‘I became what I am today at the age of twelve,” recalls narrator and protagonist, Amir (Ramzi Khalaf) in the The Kite Runner. It opens in 1973 when Ari was a child living in a large house in Kabul with his father, Baba (Haythem Noor), a successful businessman. Young Hassan (Shahzeb Zahid Hussain also in the role of Farid) lived on the grounds in a nearby hut and was close to Amir’s age. The boys become inseparable, until Amir betrays him, abandons him and suffers from the guilt.

For a production that has enjoyed numerous versions since 2007, The Kite Runner is surprisingly relevant. This latest version landed at the Kennedy Center at the end of its national tour with a very short four-night run. If you didn’t catch it (there are two more nights) or have never seen it, I hope you can snag a few tickets. Set in Afghanistan after the fall of the monarchy, the Russian army’s ten-year occupation and battles against the mujahideen and other foreign factions, and the subsequent occupation by the ultra-conservative religious Taliban, who found new ways to suppress the culture while claiming they were helping the country get back to its roots, it recalls the struggles of a country that already had suffered from internecine religious and tribal conflicts.

Women were beaten in the streets if any parts of their bodies or hair were showing, school for females was shot down, flouters of the new rules were decapitated in public stadiums where attendance was required, dancing, radios and TV were banned and one of the nation’s most popular pastimes, kite flying was forbidden, which is what brings us to this compelling story from best-selling author, Khaled Hosseini.

The Kite Runner (Photo Via The Kennedy Center)

The parallels to current religious wars, massive refugee horrors, internecine tribal warfare and the slaughter of innocent civilians are all too familiar. In this gripping drama we have the advantage of gallows humor to ameliorate the horrors of war.

If you’re a news hound and have followed the trajectory of these stories over the years, you will find yourself satisfied and even amused by how everyday people navigate the most horrific situations. It’s somehow rewarding to appreciate the bravery and resilience of the ordinary citizen caught up in a insidious battle by forces craving domination of an entire culture.

The Kite Runner (Photo Via The Kennedy Center)

With a remarkable cast, several from the original Broadway cast, this production is a can’t miss. Compelling, gripping, slyly acerbic and, above all, necessary. You’ll wonder how Ari, a most unlikely hero, was able to escape the war, find a new life in America, a loving wife, Soraya (Awesta Zarif) and redemption from his past cowardliness under the most dangerous conditions.

With Jonathan Shaboo as Rahim Khan/Dr. Schneider/Omar Faisal; Haythem Noor as Baba; Hassan Nazari-Robati as Ali/Farid; Wiley Naman Strasser as Assef; Danish Farooqui as Wali/Doctor; Jade Zian as Kamal/Zaman; Sophie Zmorrod Ensemble/Pomegranate Lady/Andrews; Kevin Stevens Ensemble/Merchant/Russian Soldier; James Rana as General Taheri; Salar Nader as Tabla Artist.

Adapted by Matthew Spangler; Directed by Giles Croft; Scenic and Costume Design by Barney George; Lighting Design by Charles Balfour; Sound Design by Drew Baumohl; Projection Design by William Simpson; Composer & Music Supervisor Jonathan Girling.

Through June 30th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org

Bye Bye Birdie Knocks It Out of The Park With Broadway Headliners at the Kennedy Center

Bye Bye Birdie Knocks It Out of The Park With Broadway Headliners at the Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Broadway Center Stage
Jordan Wright
June 11, 2024

Christian Borle and Krysta Rodriguez (Photo/Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Music publisher slash songwriter, Albert Peterson, is in love with his secretary, Rose Alvarez. Head of Almaelou Music Corp. Named after his mother Mae, Lou his beloved dead dog and Al his late father, Albert’s a momma’s boy and as much as he loves Rosie, his super savvy, gorgeous Latina girlfriend, he has commitment phobia. After eight years of devotion to Albert, Rosie is ready to move on.

Albert’s biggest star is rocker Conrad Birdie, an utterly unmanageable sot with a massive fan club of nubile teens. Dreaming up a clever publicity stunt, Albert orchestrates a press event culminating with Conrad kissing the president of Conrad’s fan club on the Ed Sullivan Show. From a stack of fan mail, he chooses the beautiful but recently pinned, Kim Macafee, proud resident of Sweet Apple, Ohio, and President of the Conrad Birdie Fan Club.

Ephram Sykes and Company (Photo/Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

Predictably, things go south, but not before we meet Alberts’s mother, Mae, Kim’s mom, Doris Macafee, her cranky, authoritarian  dad, Harry Macafee, little brother, Randolph, her fellow fan club members, her steady, Hugo Peabody, and a host of truckers in Charles Maude’s low-down bar in Sweet Apple, fondly known as “The Bellybutton of America”.

This huge revival with its 50’s costumes, 50’s mores and 50’s technology is just as relevant today as it was when it opened on Broadway in 1958, one year after Elvis was drafted into the U. S. Army. So, yes, it has elements of the phenomenon of crazed teenage fans high on their idol, but this Tony Award-winning blockbuster has brilliant choreography, buckets of laughs, unforgettably catchy numbers by the Tony Award-winning collaborators – Composer, Charles Strouse and Lyricist Lee Adams and a Broadway cast that delivers in spades.

Sweet Apple Teens (Photo/Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

You’ll either recall or swoon to the big numbers – “A Healthy, Normal American Boy”, Rosie’s big song-and-dance solo, “Spanish Rose”, “Honestly Sincere”, “One Last Kiss”, “A Lot of Livin’ to Do”, “Kids”, and the beautiful ballad sung by Albert to Rosie “Baby, Talk to Me”.

Backed by the Kennedy Center’s Opera House Orchestra, 22-strong members who remain onstage, it is a song and dance fest, featuring some of the most amazing voices from both stage and screen. The acting chops are spot on, the comedic timing unparalleled, the dancing hyper-energetic and the story – absolutely irresistible. This tremendously loveable musical has everything, and I adored every minute of it.

Miguel Gil and Ashlyn Maddox (Photo/Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

You’ll recognize many of the cast – Christian Borle as Albert, who has garnered several “Best Actor” Tony Awards and starring TV roles (he reminded me of the mega-star Dick Van Dyke the ace dancer and comedian); Richard Kind as Kim’s dad, Harry, whom you’ll recognize as the award-winning character actor from stage and screen with his memorable roles in A Serious ManYoung SheldonThe ProducersCurb Your EnthusiasmThe Goldbergs and many more; Krysta Rodriguez, a brilliant hoofer with a mega-watt smile who has starred on Broadway, TV sitcoms and film in such blockbusters as Argo and Tick, Tick… Boom.

Ditto for multi-Tony, Drama Critic and Outer Critics Circle nominee, Ephraim Sykes, as Conrad who was seen on Broadway in Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations, Hamilton and Newsies.

1Ephraim Sykes and Company (Photo/Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

And featuring the queen of the slow burn, Caroline Aaron, who plays Mrs. Mae Peterson, Albert’s mother and the consummate “New Yawker” Jewish mother whom you’ll recognize as Shirley Maisel in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, plus far too many top roles on stage and screen to mention here.

It’s not just a host of big-time singers, hoofers and comedians, but a cast that meshes magnificently in one cohesive, laugh out loud, crazy-wonderful show.

Five Stars (if I gave out stars which I don’t) for Best of the Best Musicals on a DC stage!

Christian Borle and Caroline Aaron (Photo/Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman)

With the stunning voice of Ashlyn Maddox as Kim Macafee, Sarah Chu as Helen, Dori Waymer as Nancy, Kelly Lomonte as Margie, Jalen Michael Jones as Freddie, Luke Kolbe Mannikus as Karl, Maria Cristina Posada Slye as Penelope, Victor De Paula Rocha as Harvey, Rennell Taylor as Charlie, Evan Kinnane as Mike, Jackera Davis as Ursula Merkle, Miguel Gil as Hugo Peabody, Jennifer Laura Thompson as Mrs. Doris Macafee, Kevin Ligon as Mayor, Allison Blackwell as Mayor’s Wife, Kevin McAllister as Mr. Merkle and Charles F. Maude, Linda Muggleston as Mrs. Merkle, Megan Sikora as Gloria Rasputin and Mrs. Johnson, and Henry Kirk as Randolph Macafee.

Director Marc Bruni, Music Director John Bell, Choreographer Denis Jones, Music Director John Bell, Book by Michael Stewart, Scenic Design by Lee Savage, Costume Design by Linda Cho, Lighting Design by Cory Pattak, Sound Design by Haley Parcher, Production Design by Nathan Scheuer, Hair & Wig Designer Tom Watson.

Through June 15th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-center.org

Mark Twain’s Hilarious Farce Is He Dead? at the Little Theatre of Alexandria

 Mark Twain’s Hilarious Farce Is He Dead? at the Little Theatre of Alexandria

Mark Twain’s Is He Dead?
The Little Theatre of Alexandria
Jordan Wright
May 29, 2024
Special to The Zebra

Sarah Keisler, Lanny Warkentien (Photo/Matthew Randall)

How to pump up the audience and give them a taste of what’s to come? Open with the soundtrack of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and, bam! We’re in Paris. That’s how Director Joey Pierce prepares the audience for Mark Twain’s Is He Dead?  Set in the Barbizon area, it’s a zany comedy about how an artists’ works are worth buckets more dough when he’s dead. The trick is convincing buyers that the artist is truly dead and not just on the Barbary Coast, which is their big, thankfully unchallenged, lie. Three friends and the artist himself, all very much in debt and needing money to escape jail, ignominy and poverty, conjure a way out of their fraught situation, offering up lots of absurdities for us to gobble up.

Mark Twain (pen name of the great American writer, Samuel Clemens) represents all the irreverence and general societal nose-thumbing I found exquisitely redeeming as a young reader. Like me, many of his fans are unfamiliar with his little-known foray into playwriting. This recently unearthed comedy should set the record straight and serve to bring new fans to his work.

Hanlon Smith-Dorsey, Brendan Chaney, Zachary Litwiller, Lanny Warkentien (Photo/Matthew Randall)

Discovered by Twain scholar, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, in an archive of his works at UC Berkeley, the farce was brought to Broadway in 2007 with the help of contemporary playwright, David Ives, who adapted the production.

It tells a fictional story of the famed pastoral painter, Jean-Francois Millet (Lanny Warkentien), who is in love with the beautiful Marie Leroux (Sarah Keisler) but in debt to Bastien Andre (Kirk Lambert). If Millet can’t come up with the dough, Andre wants to marry Marie. The action opens at Millet’s studio where he and his pals, Agamemnon Buckner “Chicago” (Brendan Chaney), Phelim O’Shaughnessy (Zachary Litwiller) and Hans von Bismarck “Dutchy” (Hanlon Smith Dorsey) are plotting to get Millet out of imminent danger. This trio of copains are as disparate as could ever be conjured up. Here’s where the plot is hatched to fake Millet’s death. They will rake up the prices and invite Basil Thorpe (Justin Beland), a villainous British art dealer art dealer to return. Naturellement, nothing goes as planned and that’s when the fun begins.

They invite him to return on the pretext of announcing the terrible news and he falls for it, buying up all the paintings at hugely inflated prices. Disguising Millet as Millet’s grieving widow is the first step and Warkentien steals the show in a hot pink satin frock with over-sized paniers. I thought of Milton Berle and Jonathan Winters – both comedians well-known for their cross-dressing characters. Two elderly ladies, Mdme. Bathilde (Beverly Gholston) and Mdme. Caron (Anne Shively), friends of the artist who know nothing about the switcheroo, come for tea with the “widow” and pass off “her” odd behavior as a woman grieving the loss of her husband.

Kirk Lambert, Brendan Chaney, Lenny Warkentien, Sarah Keisler, Alayna Theunissen (Photo/Matthew Randall)

From a humble artist’s atelier in the first act to a lavish set design of a drawing room in Act Two of the now, well-to-do widow’s 19th century maison attended by her nutty butler Charlie (Justin Beland), we are privy to a sea change in Millet’s fortunes. Drawing on burlesque this witty comedy exposes the perils and deceptions of the art world.

This cast clicks, but it’s Brendan Chaney as Chicago and Lanny Warkentien who are both the glue and the energy that take this farce to the next level.

Great fun and a terrific summer romp!

With the cast in multiple roles and a slew of costume changes. Alayna Theunissen as Cecile Leroux; Leo Mairena as Papa Leroux; Lanny Warkentien as Jean-Francois Millet and the Widow Tillou; Beverly Gholston as Madame Bathilde and Emperor of Russia; Anne Shively as Madame Caron and the Sultan of Turkey; Justin Beland as Basil Thorpe, Reporter, Charlie and the King of France. Understudy Justin von Stein plays Millet/Tillou on May 22, 31and June 1.

Original adaption by David Ives; Set Design by Matt Liptak; Lighting Design by Adam Konowe; Sound Design by Alan Wray and Christine McShay; Costume Design by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley; Makeup and Hair Design by Sue Pinkman.

Through June 8th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information visit www.The Little Theatre.com or call the box office at 703 683-5778.

Folger Theatre’s Metamorphoses Is a Wild and Wacky Trip

Folger Theatre’s Metamorphoses Is a Wild and Wacky Trip 

Folger Shakespeare Theatre
Jordan Wright
May 16, 2024
Special to The Zebra

The Water Nymph (Miss Kitty) introduces us to the mythical tales of Ovid (Photo/Brittany Diliberto)

Playwright Mary Zimmerman is a national treasure. With two productions currently running in DC theaters and last year’s Helen Hayes Award-winning production of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, her reputation in our area is firmly cemented. I’ll see anything with her name on it. You should too.

In Metamorphoses Zimmerman uses stories from David Slavitt’s translation of the Latin poet Ovid’s masterpiece written in 8 A.D. to form the foundation of this dramedy that puts these ancient myths in modern context describing the history of the world in a hilariously topsy-turvy vision of the classic.

Hunger (Yesenia Islesias, left) breathes spirit into Erysichthon (Gerrad Alex Taylor) (Photo/Brittany Diliberto)

Most of the vignettes here are the familiar cautionary tales of greed, lust, incest…oh let’s just proffer the seven deadly sins and call it a day. Under Director Psalmayene 24’s singularly creative interpretation we find an all-Black ensemble playing multiple parts in a flurry of costume changes to express the multiple roles each actor portrays within the individual vignettes.

Psalmayene has conjured up one of the most explosive openings seen on DC stages. It is so stunning that the audience goes utterly silent. Led by the Water Nymph (Miss Kitty) the entourage parades through the center aisle, tribal dancing, whirling, summoning the Gods with African music as they arrive onstage. There they undergo an a sort of transmogrification – as captured slaves undergoing the Middle Passage from their ancestral lands. Tossed by a tempest at sea, their journey reflects the pain and degradation of a slave market. From that dramatic unveiling, our storytellers find themselves in dire circumstances humorously expressed through costume, character and morphing appearance. Because the actors play multiple parts, I found it tricky to puzzle out who played which character. That’s a testimonial to the extraordinary costume design by Mika Eubanks, who has created here some of the most beautiful, zany, over-the-top and imaginative costumes I’ve seen all year.

Cast sings “King Fisher” song in Folger Theatre’s staging of Metamorphoses. Pictured top: DeJeanette Horne and Billie Krishawn; bottom, left to right: Manu Kumasi, Kalen Robinson, and Yesenia Iglesias. (Photo/Brittany Diliberto)

Imagine the goddess, Iris, sporting a pink Afro with a frilly rainbow-hued and ruffled tutu – another character super fly in full-on glittering gold and white and the morphing of Alcyone (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) who with her beloved husband take the form of birds, reflecting the well-known phrase ‘halcyon days”.

There’s a lot to be said for brevity when it comes to complex themes of love and loss and in these stories, the objective is clear. In each piece we meet the hapless cast of characters and learn of the hot mess they’ve gotten themselves into challenged and complicated by the muse or god positioned on high – in this case upon the balcony. The frailties and passions of mere mortals are highlighted, while the gods, busy spewing their edicts and curses, become fodder for ridicule with the moral of the story revealed after each vision quest.

Narcissus (Gerrad Alex Taylor) accepts a flower from the Water Nymph (Miss Kitty) (Photo/Brittany Diliberto)

The choice of Midas (brilliantly played by Jon Hudson Odom) as the opening myth, is a good one, since we all know the tale of the greedy king who wished everything he touched turned to gold unfortunately that included most his beloved daughter (Kalen Robinson). Clad in a green velvet jacket and crown, Midas rues the day he threw over his daughter for the golden touch and goes on a mission to undo the terrible curse. Odom, totally tricked out, returns as Orpheus busting Motown moves to James Brown’s “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)” and Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”. And, boom! We are laughing our tailfeathers off.

Metamorphoses shows that it is possible to speak of enigmatic things when they are creatively and hilariously interpreted and passionately performed by an ensemble of such high calibre.

Lighting Designer William K. D’Eugenio and Scenic Designer Lawrence E. Moten III have crucial tasks since there are no set changes and no curtains to draw. Along with Sound Designer and Composer Nick Tha 1DA Hernandez, ambiance is key to support the stories. And because the wigs and hair designs are so over the top, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Designer Rueben D. Echoles.

Highly recommended!

The cast of Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses (Photo/Brittany Diliberto)

With Edwin Brown as Third Man: Phaeton and others; Dejeanette Horne as First Man: Zeus and others; Renea S. Brown as Third Woman: Myrrha and others; Yesenia Iglesias as First Woman: Aphrodite and others; Billie Krishawn as Second Woman: Eurydice and others; Manu Kumasi as Fourth Man: Vertumnus and others; Gerrad Alex Taylor as Fifth Man: Bacchus and others.

Artistic Director, Karen Ann Daniels; Choreographer, Tony Thomas; Original Composer, Willy Schwarz; Sound Designer, Nick Tha 1DA Henrnandez; Props Designer Deb Thomas; Dramaturg, Faedra Chatard Carpenter PhD.

Through June 16th at the Folger Theatre, Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC – For tickets and information visit www.folger.edu or call the box office at 202 544-7007.