The Kennedy Center’s Moulin Rouge is a Maximalist’s Wet Dream

The Kennedy Center’s Moulin Rouge is a Maximalist’s Wet Dream

Moulin Rouge
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
August 6, 2023
Special to The Zebra

The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Moulin Rouge! – The Musical! is a maximalist’s wet dream. Glitz and glamour exude from all pores in this celebration of Paris’s bohemian underworld. The best way to enjoy this glorious extravaganza is to surrender to its magnificent excess, of which there is plenty. Directed by Alex Timbers with lavish costumes by Catherine Zuber and eye-popping sets by Derek McLane this explosive production stuns even the jaded eye. A massive blue elephant and the famous Moulin Rouge windmill frame the stage while the Eiffel Tower and Paris’s glittering night sky form the evocative backdrop.

Apart from the Champs Elysees boulevardiers whose lives entangle with Montmartre gigolos and prostitutes, the production’s glitz comes in the form of megawatt circus-atmosphere lighting design by Justin Townsend, flouncy petticoats and sexy dancewear set to vivid choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Add an erotic, jaw-dropping tango and the iconic cancan and you have a grand theatrical fantasy.

1047 – Gabe MartÍnez as Santiago and Libby Lloyd as Nini (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Leading lady Satine’s (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) illicit lover Christian (John Cardoza) writes a rock opera to woo her and it’s the start of their amour as well as the musical pop rock snippets that weave in and out of the dialogue. It’s a spectacular tribute to lyricists everywhere. The playbill lists none of the musical numbers of which there are over a dozen mostly in snippets. Their rhythms and arrangements are re-imagined and delivered to the recipients as dialogue, but I recognized most of them and you will too. The audience reveled in the songs that backgrounded their own love stories hearing songs like “Burning Down the House”, “Let’s Dance”, “Lady Marmalade”, “Royals”, “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Rolling in the Deep”, “Material Girl”, “Firework”, “Bad Romance”, “Chandelier”, “Your Song”, “Sympathy for the Devil” (of which we had not one drop – sung for the cruel Duke of Monroth (Andrew Brewer) whose aim is to control Satine and keep her as his lover.

Themes of La Boheme and Cabaret weave in and out of this glamourous den of iniquity. Think Satine as Mimi, but based on famed French cancan dancer, Jane Avril, and celebrated in Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous posters promoting the venue and its star performers

The North American Touring Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Harold Zidler (Austin Durant) as the ringmaster of this circus of chanteuses and chanteurs. Zidler touts the ambiance as a place where dreams come true and carnal desires are realized. Drawn from Baz Luhrmann’s and Craig Pearce’s eponymous motion picture, it tells the love story of Satine, the nightclub’s leading lady and Christian, a poor (yet extremely handsome!) budding American songwriter who comes to Paris to cavort among the revolutionaries. It is where he falls in league with Toulouse (Nick Rashad Burroughs on the night I saw it played beautifully by Denzel Tsopnang) and Santiago (Gabe Martinez) who are struggling to write a musical. They join forces and soon the trio pitches Christian’s musical to Satine at the Moulin Rouge where love blooms.

I would like to personally thank both John Cardoza and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer for their magnificent voices. And they should personally thank me for not running up to the stage at curtain to hug them both.

Book by John Logan, with Nicci Claspell as Arabia; Kamal Lado as Pierre; Gabe Martinez as Nini; Harper Miles as La Chocolat; Andrés Quintero as Baby Doll and a bevy of extraordinary dancers!

Highly recommended. C’est fantastique!

Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and the North American Touring Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Through September 24th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

Tony Award-winning “Best Musical” 1776 Celebrates Our Nation’s History with a Bang at the Kennedy Center

Tony Award-winning “Best Musical” 1776 Celebrates Our Nation’s History with a Bang at the Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
July 2, 2023
Special to The Zebra

“Sit Down, John” – The National Tour Cast of 1776. (Photo/Joan Marcus)

John Quincy Adams on celebrating America’s Independence Day – “It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward.”

Opening at the Kennedy Center in time for Fourth of July celebrations, 1776, the Tony Award-winning “Best Musical”, recalls the struggles our forefathers endured to create a document as powerful, as meaningful, and as long-lasting as the Declaration of Independence, separating this newly minted, hodge-podge of colonies from the tyranny of Great Britain. This was the birth of the future of America.

From the moment the cast appears onstage changing out of day shoes into brass-buckled pilgrim shoes, rolling up short white socks over leggings to create knee breeches, and topping the ensemble with brocade frock coats, we know we’re in the room where it happened – that would be the Second Continental Congress convening in what was then our nation’s capital, Philadelphia.

Gisela Adisa as ‘John Adams’ (Photo/Joan Marcus)

All the superstars are there – John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson – plus lesser-known representatives from the original thirteen colonies. In this august setting we witness the fights (some were physical), the legal arguments raised and the staunch opposition from the southern states where plantation-owning aristocrats fought mightily to hold onto slavery.

John Adams (Gisela Adisa) considered a rabble-rouser, the skirt-chasing B. Franklin (Liz Mikel) and the politically conflicted T. Jefferson (Nancy Anderson) are in favor of seceding from British rule and are willing to support General George Washington encamped in New York and suffering heavy losses at the start of the Revolutionary War. Whether you’re a history buff or not, it’s as exciting as a cage fight. The main thrust of the musical is Adams’ singular ability to challenge the preponderance of naysayers. Oh, the arm-twisting, wrangling, dealmaking and high-minded debates! As Franklin tells Adams, “Don’t worry, John. The history books will clean it up.” And did they ever!

“Momma, Look Sharp” – (Left) Tiffani Barbour as ‘Andrew McNair’ and (center) Brooke Simpson as ‘The Courier’ and the National Tour Cast of 1776. (Photo/Joan Marcus)

Like the old TV show, “You Are There” hosted by Walter Cronkite, 1776 puts you firmly into the heart of that crisis. A very fine cast with a wide array of extraordinary voices (Just when I thought I had a favorite, another one blew me away.) and lovely violin playing from Nancy Anderson. Did you know Jefferson played the violin? His wife, Martha (Connor Lyon’s stunning operatic voice on “He Plays the Violin”) thought it was a turn on. You have to wonder if Sally Hemmings felt the same. And you can’t help but be moved by the emotional number, “Momma, Look Sharp” referencing death on the battlefield.

Oneika Phillips in the role of John Hancock, President of the Congress and in charge of the proceedings, is brilliant at herding cats which is the only metaphor I can think of to describe the rag-tag do-nothings whose singular motive is preserving the status quo and their reverence for King George III.

How they ever formed a perfect union is beyond the reckoning of every American History scholar, but seeing this musical and separating out those true patriots who were determined against all odds to see the nation become whole, will provide some insight and a whole lot of entertainment.

Liz Mikel as ‘Benjamin Franklin’ (Photo/Joan Marcus)

Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus with a company of artists representing multiple races and diverse gender identities. Additional cast – Karole Foreman as Robert Livingston of New York; Gwynne Wood as George Read of Delaware; Dawn Cantwell as Col. Thomas McKean of Delaware; Jill Marie Vallery as Cesar Rodney of Delaware; Tiffani Barbour as Congressional Custodian, Andrew McNair; Julie Cardia as Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island; Brooke Simpson as Abigail Adams/Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon of New Jersey; Shelby Acosta as Charles Thompson of New Jersey; Joanna Glushak as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania; Shawna Hamic as Richard Henry Lee of Virginia; Kayla Saunders as Joseph Hewes of North Carolina; Lulu Picart as Samuel Chase of Maryland; Kassandra Haddock as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina; Ariella Serur as Judge James Wilson of Pennsylvania; Anissa Marie Griego as Roger Sherman of Connecticut; Sav Souza as Dr. Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire and Candice Marie Woods as Courier.

Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards; Book by Peter Stone; Set Design by Scott Pask; Costume Design by Emilio Sosa; Lighting Design by Jen Schriever and Sound Design by Jonathan Deams.

Happy Fourth of July! It’s the perfect musical for the whole family.

Through July 16th in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit

The Lion King Roars into Town at The Kennedy Center

The Lion King Roars into Town at The Kennedy Center

The Lion King
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
June 27, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Darian Sanders as Simba (Photo/Deen-van-Meer)

In its opening number Disney’s The Lion King quite literally roars onto the stage with a procession of African wildlife racing down the aisles. With Elton John and Tim Rice’s epic score, it’s one of the greatest, most electrifying, openings of any show. Seeing it nine years ago on the Kennedy Center’s massive Opera House stage first opened my eyes to the wizardry of Director Julie Taymor’s puppeteering where near life-sized creatures stun even the most jaded theatregoer. The wow factor is jaw-dropping. These exquisitely conceived creatures – giraffes borne on stilts, a massive elephant and baby, whirling birds held high aloft on bamboo poles – stream down the aisles of the Kennedy Center’s Opera House in a fantastical African menagerie. Taymor, who studied Bunraku, the Japanese style of puppetry in which manipulators appear openly, and wayan kulit, the art of shadow puppetry, has magnificently incorporated these concepts into this spectacular production. As in the original production, Taymor also serves as Costume Designer and Mask & Puppet Designer along with Michael Ward.

It is expected that by now (the animated film version premiered in 1994 and in 1998 the stage version garnered six Tony Awards) that you are familiar with the story of the Simba (Darian Sanders) King Mufasa his wise and loving father played by Gerald Ramsey whose superlative voice cradles the emotions in “They Live in You” when he explains to young Simba, Mason Lawson (or Jackson Hayes), how his ancestors reside in the stars; Scar (Peter Hargrave), the evil uncle plotting to steal the throne from Simba; Rafiki the shaman (Gugwana Dlamini) and Zazu (Nick LaMedica) the Red-billed Hornbill. They all inhabit Simba’s life on the plains of Africa, along with the strong-willed Nala (Aniya Simone or Jaxyn Damasco), Simba’s childhood friend, Pumbaa (John E. Brady), the gassy warthog, and Timon (Nick Cordileone) the wise-cracking meerkat. Add hordes of stampeding wildebeests, a pride of lionesses and laughing hyenas (I counted 20 of the creepy beasts) lampooned by Pumbaa and Timon in the famous song “Hakuna Matata” meaning “no worries” in Swahili.

Circle of Life Cheetah and Giraffes ©Disney (Photo/Joan Marcus)

Even if you’ve seen it before, and it’s been making the international circuit well-nigh on 25 years, you should see it again because this production is bigger in so many ways. Let’s run the math. There are 38 cast members, scads of crewmembers, more than 300 costume changes, 573 lighting cues, and 17 orchestra members with 3 conductors and 15 musical numbers. I couldn’t help wondering… where do they all stay during its 5-week run?

Lyricist Tim Rice and Composer Elton John’s score is fabulous. The goosebump-inducing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is one of John’s biggest hits as is “Hakuna Matata” that kids adore. Some of the most beautiful and haunting moments are the Afro-spoken chants with the emphasis on Afro-cultural dance and movement. Hans Zimmer won an Oscar, two Grammys and a Golden Globe for the original film score and Soweto émigré, Lebo M, known as the “voice and spirit of The Lion King”, contributed the gloriously rich African rhythms and melodies.

Darian Sanders as Simba and Khalifa White as Nala ©Disney (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

Taymor’s costumes, using the vivid colors of tribal kente cloth, juxtapose Set Designer Richard Hudson’s backdrops of grassy savannas and cerulean skies, while in desert scenes she employs the earthy shades of patterned Malian mud cloth to accentuate Hudson’s parched earth-colored sets.

The Lion King is a lavish feast for the eyes and a paradise of music for the ears and an even more pumped-up version than the original. I’d gladly swing from a baobab tree limb to claim it as one of my favorite musicals ever.

Highly recommended!!!

Company of The Lion King on Broadway. Circle of Life ©Disney (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

With Allison Danielle Semmes as Sarabi; Martina Sykes as Shenzi; Forest VanDyke as Banzai; Robbie Swift as Ed.

Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Steve Canyon Kennedy; Hair & Makeup Design by Michael Ward.

Through July 29th at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit

A Resounding Mais Oui! for the Beloved Les Miserables at The Kennedy Center

A Resounding Mais Oui! for the Beloved Les Miserables at The Kennedy Center

Les Miserables
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
April 16, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Nick Cartell as Jean Valjean (Photo/Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

The year was 1985 when Les Miserables hit London’s West End. It wowed critics then – Patti Lupone won the Laurence Olivier Award (Britain’s equivalent of an Oscar) for “Best Actress in a Musical” in her role as Fantine – and the musical was further nominated for two awards for “Best Actor in a Musical” (Colm Armstrong for Jean Valjean and Alun Armstrong for Thénardier). Through all its reincarnations, the operatic sing-through, based on the novel by Victor Hugo and backdropped by the French Revolution, still fills theaters around the world.

The spirit of this musical is as relevant as if Hugo had just set pen to paper. Let’s reflect on Louis XVI’s Ancien Régime’s agenda, shall we? Alienate the lower classes through starvation, then ignore science and reason. Keep monarchical rule in place amid mass resistance and cut taxes on the privileged nobles thus keeping the peasants and rising middle class at bay. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Didn’t work out so well for old Louis who was guillotined for his Draconian policies. Ah, well, he did help us out financially during the American Revolution.

“One Day More” from (Photo/Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

At its very soul is the heartbreaking love story of the abandoned prostitute Fantine (Haley Dortch) and the reformed thief Valjean (Nick Cartell) and Valjean’s death bed promise to adopt Fantine’s daughter Cosette (Cora Jane Messer as Cosette as a child and Addie Morales as Cosette all grown up). The story fans out with the heartwarming love story of the innocent Cosette and the idealistic Marius (Gregory Lee Rodriguez) with the tragic Éponine (Christine Heesun Hwang) and her unrequited love for her compatriot Marius. Set amid the glory and desperation of a revolution led by Enjolras (Devin Archer) that arose from social and economic inequality, there hasn’t been a story with as much 18th century history, nor as much inspirational music, till Hamilton arrived on the scene. And you know how that’s turned out.

Bawdier, rougher and lustier than I remember when I last saw it six years ago, this national touring company staging with its three-story sets has the fiery intensity of both the battle and escape scenes greatly realized with projections by Finn Ross and Fifty-Nine Productions who have drawn inspiration from the apocryphal paintings of Victor Hugo. And as grim as the story may be, the drama of Valjean’s misery is lightened up decidedly by the characters of Madame Thénardier (Christina Rose Hall) and her husband Thénardier (Matt Crowle) a hilariously dastardly duo who are the innkeepers of the iniquitous Au Sergent de Waterloo in Montfermeil where Cosette is raised in the cruelest of indentured servitude. Yet always chasing his past, Valjean repeatedly comes up against Javert (Preston Truman Boyd) who is determined to arrest him for his past crimes.

“Fall of Rain” – Christine Heesun Hwang as Éponine and Gregory Lee Rodriguez as Marius (Photo/Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

Whether you’ve seen it once or a dozen times, as I suspect many in the enthusiastic opening night audience had, Co-directors Laurence Connor and James Powell give us an awe-inducing production so magnificently staged, so brilliantly performed and so powerfully sung. Kudos too, for the evocative golden-hued scenes by Lighting Designer Paule Constable who conjures up street scenes reminiscent of Dutch artist Petrus van Schendel’s firelit paintings. Edge-of-your-seat new orchestrations by Christopher JahnkeStephen Metcalfe and Stephen Brooker are gloriously conducted by Music Director Jay Crowder’s Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra along with the show’s Traveling Orchestra led by Brian Eads.

On the night I saw it the magnificent voice of Nick Cartell received a well-deserved standing ovation and rousing cheers for his performance of Jean Valjean. I clung on his every note. Let me die right here! On his solos “Who Am I” and “Bring Him Home” wanting to run up to the stage and thank him personally. Also Gregory Lee Rodriguez’s tremendous solo “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” which is a powerful ballad about survivor’s guilt. In an eyebrow-raising surprise, the audience stayed through all the bows and not one person fled before the lights went up. A rare sight in today’s theaters.

Absolutely brilliant in every way. Highly recommended!!!

“Red and Black” – Devin Archer as Enjolras and company

Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer; Original French Text by Alain Boubil and Jean-Marc Natel; Costumes by Andreane Neofitou.

Through April 29th at The 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

Blue is a Must See All Black Cast Opera at the Kennedy Center

Blue is a Must See All Black Cast Opera at the Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
March 15, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Left to right: tenor Jonathan Pierce Rhodes (Police Officer Buddy 2/Male Congregant 2); bass-baritone Christian Simmons (Police Officer Buddy 3/Male Congregant 3); bass Kenneth Kellogg (The Father); Tenor Camron Gray (Police Officer Buddy 1/Male Congregant 1) (Photo/Scott Suchman)

On the nightly news a camera pans in for a tight closeup of a Black mother surrounded by her family and her community. She is grieving the loss of her son at the hands of the police. In this contemporary opera Blue takes us on a journey from the cradle to the grave.

Three years to the day the Washington National Opera’s Blue was scheduled to debut at the Kennedy Center. On March 13th 2020 everything shut down, the building went silent and the only sounds heard in the storied theater complex were the security guards roaming the vast structure. This March 13th marked the opera’s premiere and what a triumphant moment it was – a historic night for Librettist, Tazewell Thompson, he as director of a host of operas, and Composer Jeanine Tesori, she of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals Shrek The Musical, Fun Home, and Caroline, or Change. Blue features an all-Black cast including Black conductors, Joseph Young and Jonathan Taylor Rush.

– Bass Kenneth Kellogg (left) plays The Father; mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (right) plays The Mother (Photo/Scott Suchman)

To say Blue is the most exquisitely honed modern opera I have ever seen, is an understatement. It is modern Shakespearean tragedy at its finest with a story as relevant and relatable as if it popped out of today’s headlines. Thompson’s words express pure poetry in the urgent reality of a family whose personal experiences seesaw between both sides of the most polarizing issues of our day – the continuing shroud of racism and the demand for Black justice.

Blue, as in men in blue, signifies the color of a policeman’s uniform and The Father (Kenneth Kellogg) in this story is a cop working the beat as a rookie in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. His wife, The Mother (Briana Hunter), is a local restaurant owner. The couple joyfully awaits the birth of their baby. While pregnant The Mother’s three close friends warn her, “We talked, argued and debated. Thou shalt not bring forth no Black boys into this world.” Each woman knows the dangers that lie ahead for Black boys. Conversely, The Father’s friends express their envy that he’s having a son and ask how he feels. “I feel like the first man on the moon,” he replies. Later we hear him voicing the words of “the talk” every Black parent gives to their sons.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg (left) plays The Father; tenor Aaron Crouch (right) plays The Son (Photo/Scott Suchman)

There are tender and even funny moments of The Father learning to hold his baby and of the relationship between The Mother and her stalwart trio of “sistahs”. We see his parents believing the future immeasurable for their child and later meet The Son (Aaron Crouch) as a teenager rebellious and disdainful of his father’s profession. On the surface it appears to be the eternal generational conflict, but to the son, his life has so much more meaning when he becomes an activist – protesting injustice in the Black community and the brutality of law enforcement. There are harsh words between his policeman father and son and the music swells to reflect the tension.

Left to right: soprano Katerina Burton (Girlfriend 2/Congregant 2); mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (The Mother); soprano Ariana Wehr (Girlfriend 1/Congregant 1/Nurse); mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell (Girlfriend 3/Congregant 3) (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Blue is not only a showcase for African American talent but features several impressive singers who are either alumni or current members of the Cafritz Young Artist Program. Outstanding and indelible is Aaron Crouch, whose performance was brilliant. I plan to follow him on social media and go to the ends of the earth to witness his next performance.

Blue expresses an aching poignancy in every note and line – one that sent my heart fairly leaping out of my chest in concert with the emotion of the music. Many in the audience were moved to tears at the beauty of the words and music blending mellifluously. I promise you there is a hopeful ending, one you will long for and hold fast.

Highly recommended whether you are an opera aficionado or never cared a fig for opera.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg (back) plays The Father; mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (front) plays The Mother (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Additional Cast Members – Joshua Conyers as The Reverend; Ariana Wehr as Girlfriend/Congregant/Nurse; Katerina Burton as Girlfriend/Congregant; Rehanna Thelwell as Girlfriend/Congregant; Camron Gray as Policeman/Male Congregant; Christian Simmons as Policeman/Male Congregant.

Costume Designer Jessica Jahn; Set Designer Donald Eastman; Sound Designers Kai Harada and Haley Parcher; Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel.

With the Washington National Opera Orchestra.

Performance dates – March 11th, 13th, 19th, 22nd, and 25th.  In the Eisenhower Theatre at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard Glows with Hollywood Glamour Starring Broadway Royalty Stephanie J. Block

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard Glows with Hollywood Glamour Starring Broadway Royalty Stephanie J. Block

Sunset Boulevard
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
February 4, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Derek Klena and Company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage productions differ from a Broadway production in that the orchestra here is smack dab on stage with the performers who are major Broadway luminaries. These performances rely neither on complex set designs nor a wealth of props (although creamy white velvet fainting couches feature prominently here) but on the talents of the performers, the plot, the music, the powerful strains of the full Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, and the thrill of these hot-ticket shows. That said, this short run features no less a luminary than Stephanie J. Block in the lead role of the glamourous Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s multi-Tony winning Sunset Boulevard. Ms. Block is so beloved a performer that a standing ovation with accompanying hoots and whistles follows her every number.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot it’s set in Hollywood in the 1940’s and based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 film noir classic starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. Here a backdrop of black & white movie stills and old clips sets the mood of the period and a pair of grand staircases leading up to the rafters fill opposite sides of the stage.

Stephanie J Block and Company

The big draw is Stephanie Block who won her most recent Tony Award for her role in The Cher Show for “Best Leading Actress in a Musical”. Block has garnered innumerable awards and the playbill features a bio as long as my arm. Audiences show their adoration with standing O’s after each number she belts out with her powerful voice and commanding stage presence. Block could sing the phone book, if we still had them, and fans would rush to witness it. Here she is bracketed by other leading B’way stars and the whole equals the sum of its supporting actors’ parts. What you can expect to hear is stunning voices with a notable Webber score.

Sunset Boulevard is a sordid story of ageism, sexism and raw power in Hollywood – former leading ladies are put out to pasture; young, movie star-handsome, aspiring actors who long to hang out with the Hollywood elite to further their careers and fill their pockets; and the cruelty of studio heads wielding excessive power over their stable of impressionable actors. Is it relevant? You betcha. Refer to the recent Harvey Weinstein incident and the #MeToo movement for background.

Auli’i Cravalho and Derek Klena (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Norma is kept in the dark by her butler, Max Von Mayerling (Nathan Gunn) who fake-writes her fan mail and encourages her desire to play Salome in a script she has written and that her boytoy, Joe Gillis (Derek Klena), is revising while being held hostage in her Beverly Hills mansion. Joe plays her game, reluctantly at first, “I’m touched by her folly.”, later fulfilling her every desire while enjoying the perks of the luxe life. His alternate love story is his business relationship with Betty Schaefer (Aul‘i Cravalho), a wannabe screenwriter who eventually becomes his main squeeze. Just so you know, if you didn’t already, there is a happy ending.

Also starring Paul Schoeffler as Cecil B. DeMille; Michael Maliakel as Artie Green; Kevin Pariseau as Sheldrake; Tyley Ross as Manfred; and Lance Roberts as Sammy. A fifteen-person ensemble gifts us with even more dancing and singing.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Book and Lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton; Directed by Jeffrey Finn; Scenic and Production Design by Paul Tate dePoo III, Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Cory Pattak; Music Direction by Ben Cohn; Choreography by Emily Maltby.

Derek Klena and Michael Maliakel

Through February 8th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 467-4600 or visit

For Block fans: Block will be starring in Kennedy Center’s upcoming Into the Woods. The show runs from February 23rd through the 28th. Check the website for dates and times.