La Traviata ~ Washington National Opera ~ Kennedy Center

Jordan Wright
October 19, 2018 

Much excitement has been generated by the hiring of new General Director and leadership partner, Timothy O’Leary, to the Washington National Opera’s senior leadership.  O’Leary served for ten years as General Director for Opera Theater of Saint Louis producing innovative programs that attracted a new audience of millennials to opera.  Working in partnership with Artistic Director Francesca Zambello it promises to be a formidable collaboration.  So, it was great anticipation that I attended his first production of the 2018 – 2019 season.  It did not disappoint.

Jacqueline Echols as Violetta ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

La traviata, Verdi’s classic grand opera of the young woman, Violetta, who finds love just as she has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, has been updated in a number of ways.  New cutting-edge, computer-controlled lighting now lends a more focused and instantaneous sense of place and mood with four fixed overhead spotlights - cyan, red, yellow and magenta – that dramatically highlight the performers.  It is the first time since the Ring cycle was presented here in 2016 that this lighting has been used in the Opera House.  For that production, ladders had to be used to mount the lights in the ceiling’s nether regions and then take them down at the end of the run.  Going forward, the lights will remain in place in the Opera House for all productions.

Violetta (soprano Jacqueline Echols) contemplates her fate in WNO's La Traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Adding to the thrill, are Tony Award-winning designer, Jess Goldstein’s gorgeous costumes, especially her replication of the scandalous satin gown from John Singer Sargent’s painting of ‘Portrait of Madame X’ from the turn of the 20th century.  Lavish red gowns and formal evening wear with red satin-lined capes for the men in the second act’s masquerade ball are breathtaking.  To further amplify the experience, new sets by Peter J. Davison incorporate swiveling ‘periactoi’ columns creating a sense of lavish elegance in the belle époque party scenes.

Zampello has switched things up too, moving Violetta’s Act Three death bed scene to the opening scene in Act One.  Flashbacks inform the rest of the opera when Violetta suddenly sheds her hospital gown to reveal a fashionable gown and the scene is transformed into a banquet.  “Pleasure is my drug of choice!” the beautiful young woman declares in a quick scene change to a Parisian party filled with glamorous guests.

Giorgio Germont (baritone Michael Chioldi) watches as his son Alfredo (tenor Mario Chang) learns that his love has betrayed him in WNO's La traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman.

Jacqueline Echols as Violetta is exceptional at the extremely difficult arias – holding the high notes while managing to soften their extensions and singing full tilt into the uppermost ranges.  Her supreme vocal talents are evenly matched with Mario Chang as Alfredo Germont her impassioned lover and Michael Chioldi as Georgio Germont, Alfredo’s manipulative dad.

Eye candy exceptionally performed.

With Deborah Nansteel as Flora Bervoix, Alexandria Shiner as Annina, Arnold Livingston Geis as Gastone, Michael Hewitt as Baron Douphol, Samuel Weiser as Marquis d’Obigny, Timothy J. Bruno as Doctor Grenvil, Aurelio Dominguez as Giuseppe, Rob McGinness as Messenger, Spencer Adamson as Flora’s Servant, the WNO Chorus, the WNO Dancers and the WNO Orchestra led by conductor Renato Palumbo.

Dancers and matadors enliven the party during WNO's La traviata 2018 ~ Photo credit Scott Suchman

Choreographed by Parker Esse with lighting design by Mark McCullough.  Music by Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave.

Through October 21st at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

The Color Purple ~ Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
August 7, 2018

So many plays and musicals on the African American human condition during slavery in America have been written since The Color Purple made its thunderous debut 13 years ago. Based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book of the same name, the heartbreakingly poignant musical returned to Broadway in 2016 earning it a Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical”.  And in 2017, against some mighty stiff competition, it garnered a Grammy Award for “Best Musical Theater Album”.  The musical’s arrival at Kennedy Center last week showed audiences that a story of women fighting for their survival against the tyranny of sexism and racism still has relevance.  Though set in the Deep South in 1909, after more than 100 years of oppression, we are still fighting against these very -isms with the rise of the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements.


Carla R. Stewart (Shug Avery) and the North American tour cast of THE COLOR PURPLE. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017


Director and Set Designer John Doyle utilizes a simple wooden backdrop hung with chairs to depict the harshness of the characters’ personal landscapes. Using nothing more than those chairs and African woven baskets as props to tell the story of a young girl’s treacherous path to freedom and self-actualization, Doyle places these colorful and sympathetic characters into a tempestuous story featuring young Celie.  Played exquisitely by Adrianna Hicks, Celie steals our hearts from the start with her love for her sister, Nettie, and the heartless abduction of her babies.

Gavin Gregory (Mister) and Adrianna Hicks (Celie) in the North American tour of THE COLOR PURPLE. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017.


The show’s memorable songs by Allee Willis, Stephen Bray and Brenda Russell are sung by an excellent ensemble who present this complex crystallization of life-on-the-edge-of-nothing with Blues, Gospel and tender ballads intricately woven into this tender tapestry.  “I’m Here” Celie’s redemptive ballad and the notable red hot mama number “Push Da Button” sung by Shug, are guaranteed to thrill audiences. 

The North American tour cast of THE COLOR PURPLE. Photo by Matthew Murphy, 2017.


Starring Adrianna Hicks as Celie, Carla R. Stewart as Shug Avery, Carrie Compere as Sofia, N’Jameh Camara as Nettie, Gavin Gregory as Mister, Jay Donnell as Harpo, Mekhai Lee as Grady and Erica Durham as Squeak.  With Darnell Abraham as Adam, Gabrielle Reid as Olivia, Amar Atkins as Guard, Kyle E. Baird as Bobby/Buster, Angela Birchett, Brit West and Bianca Horn as Church Lady, C. E. Smith as Preacher/Ol’ Mister and J. D. Webster as Pa.

Book by Marsha Norman, Associate Director Matt DiCarlo, Musical Director/Conductor Darryl Archibald, Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting by Jane Cox and Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier.Through August 26th in the Eisenhower Theater at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Generation Gap…Or, How Many Millennials Does It Take To Teach A Baby Boomer To Text Generation X? ~ The Second City at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
July 3, 2018 

I’m not taking sides on this hot button generational debate.  But I am splitting my sides over The Second City’s latest gift to comedy at the Kennedy Center.  Breaking News: “Shear Madness” is on hiatus until late August after a 60 million-year run.  Ever since the Kennedy Center expanded its comedy offerings, big things have been happening on its storied stages and Second City is one of the most reliable comedy troupes the theater has ever produced.

(l-r) Frank Caeti, Asia Martin, Cody Dove, Holly Walker ~ Teresa Castracane Photography

Generation Gap…, a new series of hipster skits by a six-member cast, will agelessly rock your funny bone with its trendoid lingo and physical comedy shenanigans.  But woe betide to the boomer who isn’t up to speed on pop culture (Beyoncé, emojis, Tinder, G-Chat, Snapchat and sexting, to mention just a few), though it appeared this all-ages audience caught on quickly.  They certainly caught the spirit of it.  The Generation X kids were in hysterics.

The show is geared to poke fun at the divide between the older generation and today’s youth culture – getting awards for showing up, video dance games vs actual couple dancing (Egads! Touching while dancing!), fear of newspapers and preoccupation with selfies are just a few of the topics ripe for spoofing.  Here SCOTUS is replaced by Alexa and Twitter is described as a modern-day walkie-talkie.

(l-r) Evan Mills, Holly Walker ~ Teresa Castracane Photography

There are audience participation skits, something Second City is well known for.  In one, a young woman is invited on stage and challenged to write in cursive and, much to nearly everyone’s surprise, she actually nails it.  Kind of makes you want to go back every night just to see how that goes.  Another game brings up a semi-senior audience member to see if he understands emojis.  He doesn’t, and it’s hilarious to see what he thinks some of them are meant to represent.  Another reason to see it again.  It’s “on fleek”, as they say, meaning super cool or looking great.  Okay, that one I had to look up.

Show stoppers: A wildly accurate impression of one of those ridiculous wiggly balloon men at car dealerships.  Another scene where a mother tries to get her daughter to listen to her pleas, but is ignored by her serial texting child.

Top Row L­R Frank Caeti, Asia Martin, Maureen Boughey Bottom Row L_R Holly Walker, Evan Mills, Cody Dove photos taken by Teresa Castracane Photography

It’s a funny, frenetic, comedy that touches on issues every generation grapples with.  But, notwithstanding our differences, there is one thing we can all agree on, nobody wants to hear about their parents’ sex life, especially if they enjoy it! TMI!!!

Created by Asia Martin, directed by Anthony LeBlanc, written by Carisa Barreca, Asia Martin, Jay Steigmann, Jamison Webb, and the Casts of Second City.

Starring Maureen Boughey, Frank Caeti, Cody Dove, Asia Martin, Evan Mills and Holly Walker.

A fun night out.  Bring the teens.  Anybody’s teens.

The Kennedy Center’s upcoming District of Comedy Festival begins July 19th and runs through the 25th.  Check the website for listings and stay tuned for the upcoming featured solo acts by Jeff Foxworthy, Miranda Eisenberg, Colin Quinn, Lily Tomlin, Maz Jobrani, Brian Regan and more.

Through August 12th in the Theatre Lab at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Ain’t Too Proud ~ The Life and Times of The Temptations ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
July 1, 2018 

Ephraim Sykes, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, and James Harkness in Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, now playing at The Kennedy Center. Photo by Doug Hamilton.

Jam-packed with hits from America’s number one R&B/Soul/Funk/Pop group of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, this bio-musical from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre is a blast-from-the-past, an oldies-but-goodies mega hit.  Told through the eyes of Otis Williams (Derrick Baskin), the group’s founding member, the story takes us on a top-of-the-pops journey from the original foursome’s Detroit roots on Euclid Avenue through its heyday under producer Berry Gordy with songs written by Smokey Robinson (Christian Thompson). Through the years the group gained and lost members like David Ruffin (played by the spectacular Ephraim Sykes), Eddie Kendricks (a riveting Jeremy Pope), Melvin Franklin (the silken bass of Jawan M. Jackson) and Paul Williams (James Harkness).

Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin, Jared Joseph, James Harkness. Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Production of Ain't Too Proud. Photo by Kevin Berne

Though the story guides us through their triumphs and tragedies, and multiple group member changes, over the years, the show hangs on their hits – hits that a generation of us danced to, made out to and even got married to back when we grooved to the lyrics of their love songs.  Don’t think for a minute that the audience was a bunch of aging baby boomers clinging to memories of their teenage years.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  I looked around to see who was there – who was tapping their toes, mouthing the lyrics and bobbing their heads, and there were all ages.  Because you just can’t sit still to this rockin’ out, concert-style musical – certainly not while watching the highly choreographed synchronized dance movements The Temptations made famous or the 31 platinum hits presented here.  These were the tunes that backgrounded family BBQs, birthday parties, dance parties and early discos.  Melodies that were shared in cars and parks, and on street corners where quartets would spring up like weeds.  There is so much joyfulness in the early music – “My Girl”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”, “Cloud Nine” and so many more.  Eventually though the scene changed with the death of Martin, John and Bobby and the group’s music – “War”, “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Ball of Confusion” – reflected those days.  Just as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” reflected the psychedelic era.

Ephraim Sykes, Jeremy Pope, James Harkness, Jared Joseph, Derrick Baskin_Photo by litwin

The musical is backdropped with period-centric projections by Peter Nigrini of Sponge Bob Square Pants and Amélie fame and choreographed to a gold standard by Sergio Trujillo known for his work on Jersey Boys and On Your Feet.  Familiar with Dancing with the Stars?  Orchestrations are by the show’s 17-year veteran musical director, Harold Wheeler with music directed by the legendary Kenny Seymour.  Multiple Tony Award-winning Director Des McAnuff puts it all together and it’s as tight as the group’s pegged trousers and slim fit, sharkskin jackets and the sequin-gowns worn by Diana Ross and The Supremes who make an appearance along with Tammi Terrell, all of whom are costumed by Paul Tazewell veteran designer of Hamilton and a ton of other blockbuster Broadway hits.

Taylor Symone Jackson, Candice Marie Woods, and Nasia Thomas_Photo by Kevin Berne.j

Taylor Symone Jackson, Candice Marie Woods, Nasia Thomas. Berkeley Repertory Theatre's Production of Ain't Too Proud. Photo by Kevin Berne.

I’d copy the playbill for you word for word if I could, because the cast includes some of the most successful and talented black performers from the original Broadway casts whose voices, bios and acting chops, are well known within the spheres of musical theater, film and TV.  These are multi-talented actors from Broadway productions of Motown: The Musical; Beautiful: The Carole King Musical; Memphis; Sister Act; The Scottsboro Boys and The Lion King with voices and moves to die for.  The only issue I have is why, oh why, were we teased with a too brief solo by Rashidra Scott’s heart-stopping voice on “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”?   Just when we had goosebumps.  It could have been as powerful a moment as Jennifer Holliday’s Dreamgirl number, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”.

So now the Kennedy Center has two major hits with Hamilton and Ain’t Too Proud.  Do you need any other reason to go?  Take this advice from the exhortation by one audience member who called out in appreciation at the end of “Losin’ You”. “Jesus!” she uttered loud and clear to an audience that was feeling the same thing at just that moment – that this music is the coolest, grooviest, most soulful music we can ever know.

Book by Dominique Morisseau.  Based on the book “The Temptations” by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski. Music and lyrics from The Legendary Motown Catalog.

Highly recommended.  See it before it heads to Broadway when tickets will be as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Through July 22nd at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Hamilton ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
June 15, 2018 

So… HamiltonYes!  It’s beyond everything you’ve heard it is – and so much more – a ground breaking revolution in musical theater based on one of America’s most accomplished and influential American Revolutionary heroes.  Told in the poetry of hip-hop and rap and made emotional through bluesy ballads, this radical, freewheeling oeuvre heralds Hamilton’s arrival to America as a bastard immigrant (possibly mixed race) orphan whose groundbreaking achievements to establish a government and financial system – separate and apart from the oppression of King George’s England – helped form the foundation of our country.  Got it?  Unless you’ve recently reviewed your sixth-grade history, I suggest you Google the libretto and buy the show’s CD so you can be well prepared to (mentally, please!) hum along.  I tell you this because the rhyming patter comes at you in warp speed which is what makes it palpable, both on stage and in the quickened hearts of the audience who are breathlessly leaning in from the first note.

Hamilton Company - Photo credit Joan Marcus

If you’re familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda (PBS has a terrific documentary running on the making of Hamilton), whose previous hit musical In the Heights catapulted him to fame, you can sense his mind at work here – his sensitivity to struggle, his compassion for the immigrant and his all-around, too-cool-for-school hipness that is in full view with every turn of phrase.  The man is a genius and an original.  In the same way that Shakespeare mixed stories of love and despair between commoners and landed gentry, Miranda has his pulse on the grand scheme of life.

Shoba Narayan, Ta'Rea Campbell and Nyle Sostre ~ Joan Marcus

One of the most engaging features of the show, is the constant motion of the performers.  Whether dancing, fighting or just rapping, the main stage rotates in a wide circle, affording the actors constant interplay and showing us just how interconnected our Founding Fathers were – Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Burr and the Marquis de Lafayette (Because, what would we have done without the French? Oh, right, lost the Revolutionary War.)  They all were so young when they birthed our nation.  American history brought to life and, as the song goes, we are in the room where it happened.

Miguel Cervantes and Jose Ramos ~ Photo credit Joan Marcus

Austin Scott as Alexander Hamilton is fierce.  We’re into him immediately.  His confidence and stride mark the character’s brash youthfulness, exactly as we would wish him to be.  Peter Matthew Smith in the role of King George provides the comic relief as the prissy king who believes the Americans will beg to return to British rule.  And for those of you fortunate enough to have seen it in New York, Carvens Lissaint, now plays Hamilton’s mentor, George Washington, and Nicholas Christopher, who was George Washington in the original cast, now plays Aaron Burr.  Gracing the female side, Julia K. Harrriman, displaying her stunning voice, plays Hamilton’s long-suffering wife, Eliza.

Rory O'Malley ~ Photo credit Joan Marcus

The program lists 34 songs, but as a sing through, it’s all vocals with full orchestra masterfully conducted by Julian Reeve.

Facts: Hamilton is the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was recently nominated for a record breaking 16 Tony Award® nominations, including Best Musical.  With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and musical direction and orchestrations by Alex LacamoireHamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  Scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Mathenee Treco, Jordan Donica, Ruben J. Carbajal & Michael Luwoye ~ Photo credit Joan Marcus

Additional cast members: Sabrina Sloane as Angelica Schuyler, Bryson Bruce as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, Chaundre Hall-Broomfield as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Rubén J. Carbajal as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Isa Briones as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds, Alexander Ferguson as Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor, Andrew Wojtal as Samuel Seabury, Robbie Nicholson as Charles Lee and Raymond Baynard as George Eacker.

This is the one you’ve been waiting for.  Go!

Through September 16th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit online.