The Music Man ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
February 10, 2019 

The Kennedy Center’s “Broadway Center Stage” series has yet again brought us one of America’s most beloved musicals.  Described as a “semi-staged concert format” in which the actors are meant to perform with their scripts in hand, this production of The Music Man goes far beyond that, offering a complete and beautifully staged rendering of this heartwarming Meredith Willson show.

Norm Lewis and CastPhoto by Jeremy Daniel

The story of the shyster showman (or as Mayor Shinn played by Mark Linn-Baker calls him, “a spellbinder”) who comes to River City to deliver the country folk from the evils of a newly installed pool table only to hoodwink them on the notion of a kids’ marching band, is as relevant today as it was when it won the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 1958.  What makes this show as fresh as corn husks off a cob, are the cast – well-known Broadway stars dazzling in leading roles and led by legendary director Marc Bruni – plus the sets and the snappy choreography.

Norm Lewis, Jessie Mueller, and Rosie O'Donnell ~ Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Norm Lewis, who played the first African-American Phantom in Phantom of the Opera, and garnered a Tony nom for Porgy and Bess, plays Professor Harold Hill to Jessie Mueller’s Marian (Madame Librarian).  Mueller another member of Broadway royalty earned her Tony noms for Waitress and On a Clear Day winning in 2014 as “Lead Actress” for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.  You could just bathe yourself in her golden voice.  Other Broadway celebs are comic and TV star Rosie O’Donnell in the role of Mrs. Paroo, Marian’s Irish mother; veteran charmer Veanne Cox as Eulalie Mackechnie, the Mayor’s wife; and John Cariani whom you’ll recognize from his role in The Band’s Visit as Itzik and his Outer Critic’s Circle award-winning nom for Something Rotten!

Eloise Kropp, Veanne Cox, and Mark Linn-Baker ~Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The opening scene with traveling salesmen on a herky-jerky train ride brings it all back.  They are gossiping about Hill and his reputation as a conman and threatening to blow his cover.  But Hill is sitting in the back row, secretly listening and decides he’ll swindle the good-hearted folks of River City.

The music ranges from waltzes and marches to lively syncopated tunes and a sweetly mellifluous barbershop quartet who break into song whenever the tension ratchets up.

The Cast of The Music Man ~Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Enough can’t be said about the gorgeous set design and projections by Paul Tate dePoo III who gives us iconic floor-to-rafter scenes of small-town America.  And you will thrill to hear Conductor James Moore’s 20-piece orchestra in full view center stage.  Moore gifts us with knowing expressions allowing us to feel like we’re on the inside track.

Highly recommended.  If there is a ticket left, grab it and go!  And take the kids too.

Pro Tip:  Stay in your seats to hear the University of Maryland trombone section march down the aisles as the cast take their bows.  Its epic!

Also starring Damon J. Gillespie, Arlo Hill, Todd Horman, Eloise Kropp, Emmy Elizabeth Liu-Wang, Liz McCartney, Sam Middleton, David Pittu, Hayley Podschun, Jimmy Smagula, Nicholas Ward, Malcolm Fuller, Denis Lambert, Katerina Papacostas, Vivian Poe, Noelle Robinson, local actor and recent Helen Hayes Award winner Blakely Slaybaugh, Ryan Steele, Owen Tabaka, Daryl Tofa, Diana Vaden and Jessica Wu.

Choreographed by Chris Bailey with Lighting Design by Cory Pattak and Sound Design by Kai Harada.

Through February 11th 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.

Harlequinade ~ American Ballet Theatre in a Co-Production with the Australian Ballet at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
January 30, 2019 

Stella Abrera in Harlequinade. Photo: Erin Baiano.

If your taste runs to ballet en pointe in the classique style, then you are going to adore Harlequinade.  Set in a medieval town at the crack of the 20th century in Italy, this charming love story has all the elements of Shakespeare.  Boy from the provinces falls for well-to-do ingenue and her father heartily disapproves.  Yet with a little magic in the form of a Good Fairy, love finds a way.  It’s no spoiler to reveal the happy ending, it’s what we’d expect.

What’s exciting is ABT’s adoption of Marius Petipa’s original choreography which received its world premiere at the Hermitage Theater in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1900.  Petipa had by then been principal choreographer at the Mariinsky Theatre for 30 years and had created such iconic ballets as The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Don Quixote.

Stella Abrera and Thomas Forster in Harlequinade. Photo: Doug Gifford

In the mid-60’s George Balanchine had his hand in it with the New York City Ballet and the pas de deux choreographed by Ben Stevenson with costumes by Ray Delle Robbins, had wowed audiences at the Met with Rebecca Wright and Kirk Peterson in 1979.  In 1983 Balanchine reprieved the ballet with Cheryl Yeager and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

How did the company discover Petipa’s original steps?  The notations were in the Harvard Theatre Collection!  Costumes and sets are inspired by the original production, so basically, you are seeing the ballet as it would have been experienced in the Russian capital in 1900.

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside in Harlequinade. Photo: Marty Sohl

Tuesday’s opening night production of Harlequin was danced by James Whiteside, who was aerially spectacular as he leapt to incredible heights and turned like a spinning top, and the enchantingly delicate wisp, Isabella Boylston in the role of Columbine, his beloved, with Alexei Agoudine as Cassandre (Columbine’s papa) and Thomas Forster as Pierrot providing much of the humor.  Stella Abrera was indelibly riveting as Pierette, and I will keep an eye out for in future productions.  It’s an enormous cast with seven principals, dozens of minor roles and 34 of the most adorable children – students from The Washington School of Ballet.

Scene from Harlequinade. Photo: Erin Baiano.

And, oh, the fanciful costumes and millinery confections – from mobcaps to tricorns to feathered frippery.  Harlequin in diamond-patterned satin leotards and Pierrot in a comical white satin jumpsuit with elongated sleeves making him appear a bit like those blow-ups on car lots when they catch too much breeze.

Recommended for lovers of classical ballet and those with fanciful imaginations.

Seen with Alexei Agoudine as Cassandre; Thomas Forster as Pierrot, Cassandre’s Servant; Stella Abrera as Pierette, Pierrot’s Wife; Duncan Lyle as Léandre, Columbine’s Wealthy Suitor; and Tatiana Ratmansky as the Good Fairy.

The Kennedy Center Orchestra conducted by David LaMarche with Staging and Additional Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky; Assisted by Tatiana Ratmansky; Music by Riccardo Drigo; Scenery and Costumes by Robert Perdziola; Lighting by Brad Fields.

Through February 3rd in the Opera House 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.

Cinderella ~ A New Adventures Production ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
January 17, 2019 

MATTHEW BOURNE'S CINDERELLA. Liam Mower 'The Angel - Cinderella's Fairy Godfather' and Ashley Shaw 'Cinderella' . Photo by Johan Persson.

If you’re looking for a Disney princess in a blue satin gown, go elsewhere.  In Sir Matthew Bourne’s ballet, Cinderella, there is nary a tiara-wearing royal – not a tutu nor a toe shoe. A pair of silver glitter pumps is involved, and there is a love story, but that’s where the similarity ends.  This Cinderella has step-brothers and step-sisters, and a step-mother reminiscent of Joan Crawford of “Mommy, Dearest” notoriety.  Bourne places the action in World War II London during the time of the Blitz.

Set to Prokofiev’s sweeping score, this glorious production opens with vintage black-and-white Pathé newsreels of the bombings as told by a cheerful, British reporter.  Buck up, Brits, his delivery suggests, and they did.  Bourne’s three acts take us from Cinderella’s stylish Victorian living room during the blackouts and air raids into apocalyptic scenes with girders crashing and buildings ablaze.  As Brits were urged to “carry on” with life as usual we find ourselves in the Café de Paris, a sophisticated nightclub where the elite forget their troubles in stylized 1940’s dances.  The sets and costumes by Lez Brotherston, in shades of grey with painterly touches of red, are nothing short of stunning.

Most thrilling is the fairy godmother role, here called The Angel.  Danced by Liam Mower (Billy in the original Broadway cast of Billy Elliot the Musical), it is a prominent role unlike your fairy godmother of yore.  Clad in a silver satin suit with slicked-back white hair, and looking more than a bit like David Bowie, he alternately guides and rescues Cinderella as she dreams of her love, Harry, the Pilot, an RAF pilot who is not an actual prince, but is her prince.  Bourne’s choreography for The Angel is mesmerizing and Mower becomes nearly serpentine in Nijinsky-esque movements that are an exquisite blend of both classical and modern dance.

MATTHEW BOURNE'S CINDERELLA. Ashley Shaw 'Cinderella' and Andrew Monaghan 'Harry'. Photo by Johan Persson

Ashley Shaw (Cinderella) is a marvel.  Known to those who saw her play Vicky Page in The Red Shoes during her US tour in 2016-2017 or in Bourne’s film and TV productions of Christmas, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.   Her beauty and lithe physicality coupled with her expressive gestural movements, make her performance a joy to behold.

With Ashley Shaw as Cinderella; Andrew Monaghan as Harry, The Pilot; Liam Mower as The Angel; Madelaine Brennan as Sybil, The Step-Mother; Alan Vincent as Robert, The Step-Father.  Step-Sister & Step-Brothers played by Sophia Hurdley, Anjali Mehra, Jackson Fisch, Dan Wright and Stephen Murray.  Boyfriends & Girlfriends played by Reece Causton, Ben Brown, Cordelia Braithwaite and Katie Webb.  Harry’s Friends played by Danny Reubens and Edwin Ray.  Café de Paris Bandleader played by Alan Vincent with Guests played by Seren Williams, Stephanie Billers, Joao Carino and Mark Samaras.

MATTHEW BOURNE'S CINDERELLA. Andrew Monaghan 'Harry', Ashley Shaw 'Cinderella' and The Company. Photo by Johan Persson

ARP Wardens, Spies, Gas Mask Dogs, Airmen & Bombers, Prostitutes & Rent Boys, The Salvation Army, Savoy Guests, Thugs, Doctors, Nurses, Servicemen & Women and their Families, “Brief Encounter” couple and the people of London – played by members of the company.

A perfectly spectacular production!  Highly recommended.

Through January 20th in the Opera House 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

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.