The Fantasticks ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 15, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Back row left to right: Ilyana Rose as boy Mute & Lauren Sutton as girl Mute Front: Rachel Hogan as Luisa & Luis “Matty” Montes as Matt. Photographer: Michael deBlois

The greatly beloved The Fantasticks has been taken on by Director Eleanore Tapscott as LTA’s latest endeavor.  This quirky musical with a dreamy score by Harvey Schmidt has a long and storied history.  Its first New York incarnation was off-Broadway at the now shuttered Greenwich Village’s Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960 where it lured avid theatregoers to venture far beyond the Great White Way to enjoy its charms.  Loosely based on the play, The Romancers (Les Romanesque) by Edmund Rostand, the musical incorporates a number of theatrical styles.  Thanks to its enduring popularity, in 2006 it enjoyed a revival, later drifting uptown to the Theater Center where it saw its final performance two years ago.  Notably, it is the world’s longest-running musical.

Left to right: Matt Liptak as Mortimore & Fred Lash as Henry. Photographer: Michael deBlois

This is a tender story of two young lovers who meet in secret outside the prying eyes of their respective parents – the boy’s mother, Hucklebee (Janice Zucker), and the girl’s button-maker father, Bellomy (Stephen P. Yednock), who have forbidden them to see each other.  Unbeknownst to the children, this denial of their love is a ruse concocted by scheming parents who are secretly plotting their nuptials.  The story cribs from the classics with a pair of mute harlequins, an idiot Indian (this characterization should be jettisoned ASAP), a criminal narrator, a Shakespeare-quoting actor for hire (Fred Lash), a swash-buckling bandit (Christopher Overly), the father who is pure schtick, and a dotty mother whose pastime is clipping hedges.  For an added note of whimsey, this hodge-podge of characters is joined by a band of traveling performers known as the Compagnia Gelosi Zanni.

Ilyana Rose as the boy Mute & Lauren Sutton as the girl Mute. Photographer: Michael deBlois

As Luisa (Rachel Hogan) and Matt (Luis “Matty” Montes) woo and squabble, it becomes clear that, despite their parents plans for them to wed, they are on the verge of breaking up.  Bellomy and Hucklebee cook up an abduction of Luisa so that Matt can appear to be her hero.  But their nefarious scheme awry in a heartbeat when it is revealed to be a ruse, and Luisa falls under the spell of El Gallo, the bandit.

Christopher Overly as El Gallo. Photographer: Michael deBlois

The music is unforgettable, lyrical and off-beat with some of the better-known tunes, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “Try to Remember”, all-time classics.  Unfortunately, the performances are uneven at best and the staging is uninspired, despite the vocal chops of Montes and Hogan, the wonderful character interpretations of Matt Liptak, and the clever comic talents of Yednock who milks his vaudevillian character for all its worth.

In front: Rachel Hogan as Luisa & Luis “Matty” Montes as Matt. Photographer: Michael deBlois

With Ilyana Rose and Lauren Sutton as the Mutes, Paige Rammelkamp as The Pianist, Kristen Jepperson or Laura Stokes as The Harpist, and Marque Nelson as The Percussionist.

Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones, Choreography by Jason A. Ellis, Set Design by Michael deBlois, Lighting design by Marzanne Claiborne, Costume Design by Juliana Cofrancesco, and Sound Design by Alan Wray.

Through February 2nd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Miss Saigon ~ The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
December 26, 2018

With the Vietnam War as dramatic backdrop, Miss Saigon is a poignant tale of star-crossed lovers amidst the horrors of war and its aftermath.  Under the direction of Laurence Connor of Broadway’s School of Rock and Les Misérables fame, this well-known interpretation of Puccini’s classic opera, Madama Butterfly, with music by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. and Alain Boublil, has become one of the longest running shows on the American stage, and it remains indelibly powerful through its ability to capture love and loss.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Saigon in the spring of 1975 near the close of the great undeclared war brings together Chris (Anthony Festa), a young Marine, and Kim (Emily Bautista), a beautiful teenager forced into a life of prostitution in a seedy strip club called Dreamland.  Chris’s buddy, John (J. Daughtry), buys her attentions, gifting her to Chris who is searching for meaning in a country gone mad.  The club’s owner, a crafty con artist called The Engineer, senses the men’s keen interest in the innocent girl and ups the price.  “Men pay the moon to get fresh meat,” he snickers.

Red Concepción plays the sleazy Svengali to the hilt, delivering a phenomenal performance with equal parts charm, smarm and swagger.  “The Heat is On in Saigon” is a number a-swirl in strippers, pole dancers, beefy Marines and hustlers, especially notable for the introduction of Gigi, known as “The Sex Toy from Hanoi".  When Gigi (Christine Bunuan), Kim and the other bar girls commiserate in “The Movie in My Mind”, we sense their despair for an inescapable life ruled by men and their whims.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

In one fateful night, Chris and Kim find love amidst the ruins and pledge to wed marry despite her father’s insistence on her marriage to Thuy (Jinwoo Jung) who has since become a high-ranking commissar under Ho Chi Minh and his torturous reunification program.  Through 28 glorious numbers, the musical takes us from the fall of Saigon and the chaos that became Ho Chi Minh City, to Chris’ new life in Atlanta with Ellen (Stacie Bono) and Kim’s escape to Bangkok where the glitz and glamour of the privileged few coexist with war's forgotten ones.  While awaiting Chris’ return, Kim falls into the clutches of the Moulin Rouge’s fearsome owner played by Eric Badiqué.

Bautista’s formidable vocal range and emotional tenderness gifts us with a compelling portrayal of a young woman fighting for her dignity and a hoped-for future for her son.  Her delivery of “Sun and Moon” to their tiny son, Tam, will pull at your heartstrings.  She is well-matched by Festa whose voice proves a perfect complement to hers.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

Theatergoers will be wowed by this new production with a cast that delivers in spectacular synch.  Kudos to Sound Designer Mick Potter for the rhythmically clanking and stomping, devil-masked dancers and dragon acrobats, and the thundering helicopter rotors in the iconic scene of the last plane out of Vietnam that coordinate seamlessly with Lighting Designer Bruno Poet’s blood red expression of Communist rule juxtaposed against B-girls cavorting erotically on multiple staircases.  Special effects and video projections help to envelop the audience in a sensory explosion of a sexier, raunchier, more emotionally tender production than ever before.

Highly recommended.

Through January 13th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Photo credit Matthew Murphy

The Play That Goes Wrong ~ Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
December 22, 2018 

Take a deep breath – or two – then prepare to fall down laughing.  From start to rollicking finish this steroidally hilarious play-within-a-play never misses a comedic beat as this splendid twelve-member cast proves that anything that can go wrong, will.  You know the old chestnut of Murphy’s Law, well, its tidy aphorism is cheekily born out here.  Someone must have said the forbidden word, “Macbeth” backstage, because the Cornley University Drama Society proceeds to offer up a shining example of the ineptest group of actors to ever tread the boards.  And it’s just delicious!

Peyton Crim, Yaegel T. Welch and Jamie Ann Romero ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

In trying to stage “The Murder at Haversham Manor”, this cockeyed amateur troupe shows that the play’s the thing – until it isn’t.  Pratfalls, mishaps, blown cues and botched exits abound, dead bodies won’t stay dead and malapropisms are the order of the day, all done with a straight face and a stiff upper lip.

Angela Grovey, Yaegel T_ Welch and Jamie Ann Romero ~ Photo by Jeremy Danie

It is the night of the engagement party of Florence Colleymore to Charles Haversham who has been found murdered. When Inspector Carter shows up to interrogate the estate’s fashionable guests, he doesn’t know whether to point the finger at Florence the sexpot, her supercilious brother Thomas, Charles’ cuckolding brother Cecil, Perkins the bumbling Butler, or Arthur the absent gardener.  But it hardly matters in this whodunnit.  With all the mayhem and mischief, everyone is under the microscope.

Ned Noyes and Scott Cote ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The only ones who remain relatively unscathed in this twisted mystery are the unnamed Stage Manager and the Duran Duran fanboy whose miscues and mishaps on lights and sound add to the cast’s confusion and the audience’s delight when they too wind up on stage to fill in for cast members who have been knocked unconscious by falling portraits or secret revolving doors.  If you’ve ever acted in or staged a production, you’ll commiserate with props that aren’t where they’re supposed to be, actors who are self-absorbed hams, sets that fall apart, and doors that won’t open.  Especially funny is a dueling divas’ scene when Florence revives from an accident only to discover her role has been taken over by the lowly Stage Manager.  Meow!

The Play That Goes Wrong Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Highly recommended.  A clever goofball sendup that’s guaranteed to keep you guffawing long after you’ve left the theatre.

Presented by Mischief Theatre and written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields with Scott Cote, Peyton Crim, Brandon J. Ellis, Angela Grovey, Ned Noyes, Jamie Ann Romero, Evan Alexander Smith, Yaegel T. Welch, Blair Baker, Jacqueline Jarrold, Sid Solomon and Michael Thatcher.

Through January 6th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600.

Oh, God ~ A Divine Comedy ~ Mosaic Theater Company of DC

Jordan Wright
December 20, 2018 

Kimberly Schraf (left) and Mitchell Hebert (right) - Photo credit Stan Barouh

When God arrives to your office dressed as Orson Welles, you had better take him seriously.  In Anat Gov’s comedic tale God takes on the persona of a distressed patient seeking advice from Ella, a Jewish psychologist with an autistic son, Lior.  Ella has only 60 minutes to set God straight before he destroys the world and she’s already fed up with his overactive ego.  As part of the company’s 18th annual Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival, this is the first comedy Artistic Director Ari Roth has produced and it’s sharp, witty and searingly funny.

Ella finds God at his wit’s end with humankind, wishing he’d stopped creating the heaven and earth on the fifth day before Adam and Eve’s apple mishap which started all the earthly miseries.  I was grateful that some of my rudimentary religious training stuck since the questions Ella poses to God are plucked straight from the chapters of the bible.

Mitchell Hebert (left) and Kimberly Schraf (right) - Photo credit Stan Barouh

Ella, suspicious that God would come to her with his problems, tries to put him off, “I’m non-secular.  I eat shrimp wrapped in bacon.”  When he persists in his claim to be the all-powerful, she reminds him, “You didn’t have a mother, so who can we blame for everything you’ve done?”

Their back-and-forth banter is clever and incisive.  What would God really say?  How would he explain why he did such terrible things? Why did he turn his back on Job?  She suggests he has been looking for love even though he gets it more than anyone else. And when she brings up the first commandment. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, she claims that it came from his fear of abandonment.

(l to r) Sean McCoy, Kimberly Schraf, and Mitchel Hebert ~ Photo credit Stan Barouh

Ella is a tough inquisitor posing questions that have gone unexplained for millennia.  We are just as curious as she is to hear his answers, but he bobs and weaves around the truth causing Ella to diagnose him as abusive and infantile.  By the time they come to some sort of détente - when God accepts his diagnosis and Ella returns to her faith – we have melted into pools of laughter.

(l to r) Sean MCoy and Kimberly Schraf - Photo credit Stan Barouh

Recommended for those that are searching for God sunny side up.  A seasoned cast captures the funny bone from the get-go.

With Kimberly Schraf as Ella, Mitchell Hébert as God and Cameron Sean McCoy as Lior.

Translated from the Hebrew by Anthony Berris and Margalit Rodgers and directed by Michael Bloom with set design by Jonathan Dahm Robertson and lighting design by Brittany Shemuga.

Through January 13th at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts - 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.  For tickets info on post show discussions, special rates and discounts visit www.MosaicTheater.org or call the box office at 202.399.7993 ext. 2.  Valet parking at 1360 H Street, NE.

The Panties, The Profit and The Partner ~ Scenes from the Heroic Life of the Middle Class Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
December 14, 2018 

The curiously clever and titillating thread that runs through David Ives’ hilarious trio of comedies is a pair of red silk panties that keeps turning up in the oddest places.  If that doesn’t make you sit up and beg to know more, I don’t know what will.

Ives has taken inspiration from Carl Sternheim whose writings were between the repressive era of Wilhelmine Germany and the chaos of the Weimar Republic.  These, however, are set it in modern times.  As Ives notes, it is very, very loosely based on Sternheim’s satirical work about a socially ambitious, middle class family.  The production is directed by the brilliant Michael Kahn.

If you enjoyed Ives’ “translaptations” of French comedies – The Metromaniacs, The Liar and The School for Lies – you will fall hard for this riotous gem.  “The Panties” is set in 1950 in Boston, Massachusetts on the July 4th holiday.  A young couple goes into town to watch a parade when the wife’s white panties burst their elastic moorings and go southward as witnessed by their neighbors.  Oh, the humiliation, as Joseph berates his wife, Louise, whose friend, Trudy, gifts her a pair of red silk panties – all the better to seduce the couples’ newest tenant Jock Revere and cuckold her husband.  “A white cloud about her feet,” rhapsodizes Jock, a self-proclaimed poet who swooned over her panties’ descent.

Unfortunately for Jock, Louise falls for another new tenant, this one the hapless, Jewish hairdresser, Benjamin, who’s a bit of a perv.  At the same time, Joseph locks eyes with new neighbor, Jones, a lady gym coach, and the game’s afoot. 

In “The Profit”, we are fast forwarded to the coke-fueled, mid-80’s where Wall Street go-getter Christian is desperate to make partner in the Wasp-dominated Hamilton, Shaker & Shaw.  His sponsor is his paramour, Sybil, a blue-chip heiress whose recommendation demands hot sex, peppered by blackmail.  When his blue-collar parents arrive to spoil his scion façade, will he play it her way or not?  Let’s just say there’s a body in the closet and much mayhem to consider when the airhead daughter of the firm’s CEO, William Hamilton, arrives.

 

Lastly, in “The Profit”, we are transported to modern day Malibu and the fabulous seaside home of Louise who is having an emotional breakdown.  Her sister, Ursula, clad in sackcloth and rocking a New Age mindset, has dissolved the family fortune and Louise will lose her billionaire LA lifestyle along with her umbilically attached cellphone and in-house robot.  A rabbi, a homeless surfer dude and a giant sea snake augur the end of the world in this madcap folly.  Did I mention they are related?  You will see.  And you will love it.  The cast is formidable and fierce.

Highly recommended.

With Carson Elrod as Joseph Mask and Joe Jones; Kimberly Gilbert as Louise Mask; Julia Coffey as Trudy Rezner, Sybil Rittenhouse and Omega; Tony Roach as Jock Revere, William Hamilton and Jack Revere; Kevin Isola as Benjamin Mandelshtam, Christian Mask and Rabbi Mandelshtam; and Turna Mete as Young Woman, Milly Hamilton and Ursula Mask.

Costumes by Frank Labovitz, Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, Lighting Design by Nancy Schertler, and original music and sound design by Elisheba Ittoop.

Through January 6th at the Lansburgh Theatre  - 450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547.1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

 

The Cast