Flashy and Fabulous Guys and Dolls Blows the Roof Off at the Kennedy Center

Flashy And Fabulous Guys and Dolls Blows the Roof Off at The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
October 18, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Steven Pasquale and Company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

A short run of this classic has left town already, but there’s a lingering thrill that can still be felt. The buzz had started as soon as the full cast had been announced – Kevin Chamberlain as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Jessie Mueller as Miss Adelaide, James Monroe Iglehart as Nathan Detroit, Phillipa Soo as Sarah Brown, Steven Pasquale as Sky Masterson, Allison Blackwell as Agatha, and Rachel Dratch of SNL fame as Big Jule. Broadway royalty such as we rarely see in a traveling production would be starring and the tickets were as scarce as hen’s teeth. From the get-go, major out-of-town papers were clamoring for seats and the thought that this would be the caliber of shows presented by Kennedy Center’s “Broadway Center Stage” series sent theatregoers into overdrive.

From racetrack handicappers in zoot suits to gangstas in loud plaids, pinstripes and spats, the colorful characters of Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows 1950 musical Guys and Dolls invite us into the underworld of horse racing, hoochie-coochie joints and floating crap games. And the funny thing is, we want in. Why? Because their bigger-than-life caricatures and pratfall personalities are hilarious. Hanging out with these street corner gamblers and their flashy dolls is flat-out fun.

Jessie Mueller and Phillipa Soo (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Back in the day the Salvation Army and its memorable band would march along Times Square seeking converts to attend their religious meetings. The Save-a-Soul Mission, led by the beautiful Sarah Brown and her avuncular grandfather form the spiritual grounding and counterpoint to the fast life of the lowlifes while the romance between Sky and Sarah provides the counterbalance to Adelaide’s show-stopping performances at the racy Hot Box cabaret.

On a stage set backdropped by rotating scenes of a neon-lit Broadway with tracer lights ablaze on both sides of the stage and two large onstage “dice” showcasing the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra on the big stage, this marvelous show captures New York’s underworld in exhilarating style. The Kennedy Center even managed to obtain and use the 1992 orchestrations from the show’s Broadway revival – an extraordinary coup and no mean feat.

Matthew Saldivar, Kevin Chamberlin, and Akron Watson (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Loesser wrote lyrics as catchy as “the sheep’s eye and licorice tooth” to paint a vivid picture of gritty writer Damon Runyon’s reflections on the 1950’s. Punctuating the show’s colorful characters are a bevy of male and female dancers who elicited gasps and spontaneous applause from the audience while performing flawless leaps and flips as though attached by wires. They weren’t.

Lady Luck showed up in the Eisenhower Theater that night and we witnessed Washington theatre history.

Jessie Mueller and the Hot Box Girls (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

With Jacqueline Antaramian as General Cartwright, Fred Applegate as Arvide Abernathy, Eden Marryshow as Lt. Brannigan, Matthew Saldivar as Benny Southstreet, Jimmy Smagula as Harry the Horse, and Akron Watson as Rusty Charlie/Hot Box MC.

Directed by the great Marc Bruni; choreographed spectacularly by Denis Jones; Scenic and Projection Design by Paul Tate Depoo III; Music Director Kevin Stites; Book by Jo Swerling; Costume Design by Mara Blumenfeld; Lighting Design by Cory Pattak; Sound Design by Kai Harad.

Next up on Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage will be Wicked opening December 8th and going through January 22, 2023. I wouldn’t miss it if I were you. For tickets and information visit www.Kennedy-Center.org or call the box office at 202 416-8000.

Dear Evan Hansen – A Glorious and Deeply Moving Score Calls Out to Parents and Teens with Truth, Humanity and Humor

Dear Evan Hansen
A Glorious and Deeply Moving Score Calls Out to Parents and Teens with Truth, Humanity and Humor

John F. Kennedy Theatre for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
September 7, 2022
Special to the Zebra

Anthony Norman, John Hemphill, Lili Thomas, Alaina Anderson (Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

In this multi-Tony Award winning, coming-of-age musical written by Steven Levenson and directed by Michael Greif with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, we meet high school senior Evan Hansen (Anthony Norman) whose angst-ridden teen life has him downing anti-anxiety meds. Fearful of social interaction and his inability to make friends, he finds himself in a complicated position when school bully and fellow outcast Connor Murphy (Nikhil Saboo) signs his cast one day before committing suicide. Evan’s mother, Heidi (Coleen Sexton), encourages him to make friends, but it is that chance run-in with Connor that gives Evan a made-up story for his broken arm and a series of unconnected events gives Evan purpose and recognition from his entire school.

Anthony Norman (Evan Hansen), Alaina Anderson (Zoe Murphy) (Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

To back up the lies, super-techie Jared (Pablo David Laucerica) organizes a fake, back dated email account with friendly messages purporting to be from Connor to Evan. Using those as proof of their friendship Jared and Alana (Micaela Lamas) concoct a social media scheme to capitalize on Connor’s suicide. Enjoying the notoriety and encouraged by Ilona and Jared, Evan goes along with the scheme. Texts, Emails and Facebook posts soon fill in the blanks and Evan’s popularity soars.

When Ilona starts a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for “The Connor Project”, things quickly get out of hand. Texts, some kindly, some nasty, flood the internet and Evan is forced to keep up the lie to Connor’s parents, Cynthia (Lili Thomas) and Larry Murphy (John Hemphill), and his love interest, Connor’s sister Zoe (Alaina Anderson).

Anthony Norman as Evan Hansen

Unfortunately, the result proves how devastating Twitter and Facebook can be when used to promote a false narrative. In the fraught age of social media, it’s a warning to all parents and their children about the dangers and falsehoods within social media. On a larger scale it can be socially and politically devastating as we have witnessed in our national political system.

Fans will thrill to Anthony Norman’s beautiful voice in hits like “Waving Though a Window”, “For Forever”, “You Will be Found” and “Words Fail” which brings the house down. Another high point is the beautiful and lyrical intensity actor Coleen Sexton brings to the number, “So Big/So Small” which is when you wish you’d brought a handkerchief. Veteran actor John Hemphill brings sincerity and humanity to the role of Larry Murphy as does relative newcomer Nikhil Saboo, a gifted performer.

Anthony Norman (Evan Hansen), Coleen Sexton (Heidi Hansen) (Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade)

I was recently asked by a mother if she should bring her 11-year-old daughter to see the show. And because I had just seen an in-depth piece in the news about how doctors are asking very young children if they’ve ever had suicidal thoughts, I said yes, emphatically yes. This is a serious and recognized issue affecting young children as well as teens. So, although this musical made its debut seven years ago it continues to be relatable in today’s climate of bullying, social pressure and an increase in teen suicides.

Highly recommended with a memorable score both glorious and deeply moving. Dear Evan Hansen calls out to both parents and teens with truth, humanity and humor.

Music Supervision, Orchestrations & Additional Arrangements by Alex Lacamoire; Choreography by Danny Mefford; Scenic Design by David Korins; Projection Design by Peter Nigrini; Costumes by Emily Rebholz; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman; and Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; with the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

Through September 25th at The John F. Kennedy Theatre for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Hamilton – A Founding Father in Revolutionary Rap and Rhyme

Hamilton – A Founding Father in Revolutionary Rap and Rhyme

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
August 9, 2020
Special to The Zebra

Company of HAMILTON National Tour – (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

WASHINGTON, DC – “Hamilton” is beyond everything you’ve heard it is. A radical departure from traditional musicals it is based on the life of one of America’s most accomplished and influential American Revolutionary heroes. Told in the poetry of hip-hop and rap and made emotional through stylized ballads, this freestyling oeuvre heralds Hamilton’s arrival to America as a bastard, mixed race, immigrant orphan whose groundbreaking achievements in establishing the United States government and our American financial system from under the oppressive bootheel of King George – helped form the foundation of our country. Unless you’ve recently reviewed your sixth-grade history, I would suggest you Google the libretto and listen to 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 in the quickened hearts of the audience who are anxiously leaning in from the first verse.

Book, Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda whose previous hit musical “In the Heights” catapulted him to fame, sourced bits of classic rap and show tunes slipped into the libretto. See if you can catch a few. You can sense Miranda’s mind at work here – his sensitivity to class struggle, his compassion for the immigrant and his all-around, too-cool-for-school hipness 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.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez, Marcus Choi (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

One of the most striking features is David Korin’s set design. The background never changes, but center stage employs a rotating inner circle allowing for the constant motion of the performers. Whether dancing, fighting, singing or rapping, it 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. We’d have lost the Revolutionary War.) They all were so young when they birthed our nation. Hamilton was only 19 years old when he began his meteoric rise in New York City. “Hamilton” is American history brought to life and, as the song goes, we are in the room where it happened.

Pierre Jean Gonzalez as Alexander Hamilton is fierce. We’re into him from the get go. His confidence and stride mark the character’s brash youthfulness, exactly as we would wish him to be. Neil Haskell in the role of King George provides the comic relief as the prissy king who believes the Americans will beg him to return to British rule. Marcus Choi now plays Hamilton’s mentor, George Washington, and Jared Dixon plays the duplicitous Aaron Burr. Gracing the female side Stephanie Jae Park (Nikisha Williams beginning August 23rd) plays Hamilton’s long-suffering wife, Eliza.

Company of HAMILTON National Tour (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

The program lists 34 songs, but as a sing through, it’s predominantly vocals with The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra masterfully conducted by Jay Crowder.

Facts: “Hamilton” is the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and garnered a record breaking 16 Tony Award® nominations, including “Best Musical” and winning 11 Tonys with book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire. “Hamilton” is based on Ron Chernow’s biography titled “Alexander Hamilton.”

Stephanie Jae Park, Ta_Rea Campbell, Paige Smallwood (Photo/Joan Marcus 2021)

Period Costume Design by Paul Tazewell; Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Arrangements Alex Lacamoire and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Additional cast: Ta’Rea Campbell as Angelica Schuyler; Warren Egypt Franklin as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; Desmond Sean Ellington as Hercules/Mulligan/James Madison; Paige Smallwood as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds; Nick Sanchez as Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor; Aaron Albano as Samuel Seabury; Gabriel Hyman as Charles Lee; and Trevor Miles as George Eaker; plus a dozen more actors in the ensemble.

It’s historic. Literally and figuratively. Go as if your life depended on it!

Through October 9th 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.

GRACE – Beyond the Stage

GRACE – Beyond the Stage

A Colloquium to Celebrate African American Foodways
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
at the REACH
Jordan Wright
July 17, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Left to right – Carla Hall, Erin Tucker-Oluwole – Nolan Williams Jr., Furard Tate, Dr. Lance London and Rock Harper (Photo/Jermoni K Dowd – Courtesy of NEWorks Productions)

As the rain poured down in sheets against the wraparound windows of the Reach, guests listened to vocals by local African American performers, bathed in the warm glow of storytelling and bonded together in recognition of shared experiences. During discussions and performances, we enjoyed samplings of African American cuisine with a modern twist, while panelists spoke on the history and culture of African American foodways.

The panels were led by Nolan Williams, Jr. who was appointed Social Practice Resident at the Kennedy Center in 2019. Williams, as you may recall, is the co-book writer, composer, lyricist and music director of Grace – the groundbreaking musical that ran from March to May at Ford’s Theatre. Williams is the recipient of ten Telly Awards including the Gold Prize for ‘Best TV Documentary”. Grace is a story of family, food and Black culture and references early African American chefs and modern Black restaurateurs who struggle against gentrification of their traditional Black neighborhoods.

Nolan Williams, Jr (Photo/Marvin Joseph – Courtesy of NEWorks Productions_

Kennedy Center’s VP and Artistic Director of Social Impact, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, introduced the impressive lineup of panelists that included TV celebrity chef and author Carla Hall; Joanne Hyppolite, Supervisory Museum Curator of the African Diaspora at the National Museum of American History and Culture; Psyche Williams-Forson, Ph.D. Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland; Furard Tate, Owner of Inspire Hospitality Group and Co-Founder and Organizer of DMV Black Restaurant Group; Erinn Tucker-Oluwale, Ph.D. Associate Professor of the Practice at Georgetown University, Director of the Global Hospitality Leadership master’s program at Georgetown University and Co-Founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week; and Dr. Lance London, Founder/Owner of The Carolina Kitchen. These speakers offered historical context and explored the social impact of food history.

In addition, there were soul-stirring performances of songs from the musical by well-known local singers Nova Y. Payton, who starred in Grace, Kevin McAllister, Monique Steele Griffiths and Anitra Raquel and conducted by pianist Leigh Delano.

Inaugural Grace Awards were presented to Dr. Lance London, Dr. 5, Chef Furard Tate and Culinary Pioneer Virginia Ali, Founder/Owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ali opened Ben’s in 1958 when DC was a segregated city. “U Street was known as Black Broadway,” she recalled. “Now young, educated professionals have moved in and we’re no longer known as ‘Chocolate City’.”

Williams-Forson, who explained that “Soul food is an experience,” was pleased to announce the release of her new book, “Eating While Black: Food Shaming and Race in America”.

Carla Hall was one of my first interviewees and I am a huge fan of her work. In 2009 she invited a group of her friends to a watch party at CulinAirie, her DC-based cooking school. She was a finalist on the TV show Top Chef.  She didn’t win that year but took it gracefully.  “Winning to me was feeling good about what I did,” she told me that night.

During the discussions, Hall reminded attendees of the foods that originated from Africa like benne seeds, watermelon, yams (I learned “sweet potato” was a made-up name to please the American consumer.), bananas, millet, okra, sorghum and many more we take for granted in our American kitchens including the Coca-Cola and potato chips invented by a Black man and later stolen by Lay’s. Hall also spoke of the popularity of “Nashville hot chicken” created at a roadhouse called Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. “I will always call it Prince’s Hot Chicken,” she promised.

Hall has graciously given me permission to publish three of her fabulous recipes for the dishes served at the event.

(Photo/Jordan Wright)

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Sweet Potatoes and Fennel

Hot Sauce Vinaigrette by Carla Hall
8 servings

  • 2 cans black-eyed peas, drained
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/4” cubes)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 fennel bulbs, diced (1/4”)
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • ½ small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves only
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • ½ cup finely cut chives or scallions
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon salt

Hot Sauce Vinaigrette:

  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup canola or vegetable oil
  • S&P to taste

Heat a large nonstick skillet to medium high.

Place the cubed sweet potatoes in a large bowl, then drizzle with the olive oil and toss with the salt and pepper until well-coated. In two batches, spread the sweet potatoes in a single layer in the hot pan. Leave them for 1 minute, toss the sweet potatoes, continue to allow them to brown. Cook for 3-4 minutes until they are dotted with color and al dente. Remove the potatoes from the pan and place on a sheet pan or large plate in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining potatoes.

Prepare the Hot Sauce Vinaigrette: Put all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss the roasted sweet potatoes and diced fennel in lime zest/juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the black-eyed peas, onions, garlic, thyme, chili flakes and chives. Toss to combine. Start by adding ½ cup vinaigrette, and gently stir to combine. Add the sweet potato/fennel mixture to the black-eyed peas.

Add more vinaigrette, if desired, and salt and pepper to taste.

 

(Photo/Jordan Wright)

Potato Chip Shortbread Cookies by Carla Hall

 

Makes 2 dozen

  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup crushed potato chips plus an additional 1/2 cup for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Confectioner’s sugar (for dusting)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (melted)

Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Reduce speed to low and add the 3/4 cup potato chips and mix until incorporated, and then add the vanilla, and mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and mix until just combined — do not over mix the dough!

Use a spoon to scoop small 1-inch balls of dough onto a lightly greased sheet pan, spacing them at least two inches apart. Dust each of the cookies with a bit of confectioner’s sugar, and press flat.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown, and allow to cool. Dip each of the cookies in melted chocolate. While the chocolate is still soft, dip the cookies in the crushed potato chips. Allow to set before serving.

The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
July 10, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Sasson Gabay and Janet Dacal. (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

The Band’s Visit is a timeless musical, a romantic intrigue and a wryly funny tale based loosely on a true story. You may have seen the movie, but the musical allows the story to be fully fleshed out bringing to life the story of a 7-piece Egyptian classical music band known as the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, and its conductor, Colonel Tewfiq, and their mistaken journey to a tiny, desert town in Israel where no one is expecting them. Winner of ten Tony Awards including “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score”, the sultry number “Omar Sharif” was performed on the night of the 2018 awards. Countless other prestigious theater awards have showered down upon this tenderhearted tale with original screenplay written by Eran Kolirin, book by Itamar Moses, composer/lyricist David Yazbek, and soulfully directed by David Cromer. It stars Sasson Gabay, who played Tewfiq in the 2007 film version and Janet Dacal as his love interest, Dina.

The company of The Band s Visit North American Tour. (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.)

Tel Aviv 1996: Egyptian music and movies are now banned even though generations of Israelis have thrilled to the haunting voice of the internationally famous singer Umm Kulthum and films starring the suave Egyptian box-office idol, Omar Sharif who starred in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago. It is a fraught time, not so different from today, when cultures separated by politics or war and borders, real or imagined, are redrawn or redefined. It is where Tewfiq and the beautiful and exotic Dina find their mutual connection to music.

Joe Joseph. (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.)

When the flirtatious Haled (Ali Louis Bourzgui), distracted by a pretty ticket seller, miscommunicates the wrong name for their destination, it sends the musicians on a bus to Bet Hatikva, translation “House of Hope”, a tiny town where nothing ever happens and where the hilarious song “Waiting” describes the residents’ unrelenting boredom. At the café the Arabs meet the lovely and fiery Dina, owner of the town’s sole eatery. Dina finds the men homes to stay for a single night till the next day’s bus can take them to their correct destination in time for them to give a concert dedicated to Arab Israeli cultural exchanges.

The company of The Band’s Visit (Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade.)

The musicians who play traditional Arab instruments perform all the numbers onstage in a sort of musical ballet upon a rotating stage. The beautifully expressed musical accompaniment weaves together the characters’ personal stories and enhances their shared communion with their temporary hosts. This deeply emotional, sweetly comic story centers around the initial awkwardness of the two cultures attempting to understand each other’s cultural differences, ultimately discovering that they are more similar than not, and that love, family and the universality of music are at the heart of the human connection.

With Clay Singer as Itzik; Coby Getzug as Papi; Yoni Avi Battat as Camal; David Studwell as Avrum; James Rana as Simon from the original Broadway cast; Billy Cohen as Zelger; Ali Louis Bourzgui as Haled; Joshua Grosso as Telephone Guy; Kendal Hartse as Iris; Layan Elwazani as Julia from the Broadway cast; Marc Ginsburg as Sammy and Ariel Reich as Anna.

The Band: Conductor/Keyboard – Adrian Ries; Associate Conductor/Keyboard – Jeff Cox; Violin – Yoni Avi Battat; Cello – Wick Simmons; Clarinet/Saxophone/Flute – Brian Krock; Darbouka/Riq – Roger Kashou; Oud/Guitar – Kane Mathis; Electric & Acoustic Bass – Mark Ziegler; Drums/Arabic Percussion – Shai Wetzer.

Choreography by Patrick McCollum; Scenic Design by Scott Pask; Costume Design by Sarah Laux; Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau; Israeli Dramaturg and Dialect Coach Zohar Tirosh-Polk; Orchestrations by Jamshied Sharafi.

Through July 17th in the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit www.Kennedy-center.org or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
June 28, 2022
Special to The Zebra

(l to r) Justin Mark (“Jem Finch”), Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Steven Lee Johnson (“Dill Harris”). (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

In what is referred to in the program as a “New Play” by famed playwright Aaron Sorkin, Harper Lee’s celebrated novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes on fresh meaning in a world still struggling with racial injustice. Sorkin propels the narrative of a Black man unfairly accused to a relevancy we’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to recognize as still capturing today’s headlines. Set in 1930’s Alabama in a plot laden with weighty themes and laced with levity, Sorkin’s laser-focused version of the courtroom drama crackles with the raw power and profound honesty intended to galvanize an audience’s emotional response.

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Jacqueline Williams (“Calpurnia”) (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

In it, dramatic actor Richard Thomas plays Atticus Finch, a folksy Southern lawyer with the instincts of a coonhound treeing a possum. Thomas delivers a rock-solid portrayal so determinedly fresh and riveting it will make you forget you’d ever seen Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie version.

The great Bartlett Sher, who won a Tony Award in 2019 for “Best Direction of a Play” for the Broadway production, has found a way to stage this new production by leaning in on the threads of the story that matter most. Even on a stage as vast as the Opera House, he creates a space that reads like an intimate encounter. Brilliantly acted by a collaborative cast, Lee’s words fairly jump off the page with their universality.

Melanie Moore (“Scout Finch”) and Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”). (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

When asked if she had plans to write another book, Lee cynically postulated to a reporter, “When you’ve hit the pinnacle, how would you feel about writing more?” Many years later, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lee declared, “Honey I already said everything I wanted to say.” And with weighty themes ranging from racism to alcoholism, justice, pedophilia and even murder too, the iconic Southern novelist had covered it all.

Notwithstanding Harper Lee’s reticence to discuss her work and her decision to abandon further writing, she had penned a forceful novel that burst off the pages with a trunk load of quotable lines tailor made to be spoken aloud. Sorkin’s treatment extracts the essence of her words to lend a new and exciting gravitas to this great American novel. Blessed with a tremendous cast to support Thomas, it stars Yaegel T. Welch (from the original Broadway cast) as Tom Robinson; Melanie Moore as Scout; Steven Lee Johnson as the tender-hearted Dill Harris (said to be fashioned after Lee’s friend Truman Capote); Justin Mark as Jem Finch, Scout’s brother; Jacqueline Williams as Calpurnia the formidable, no-nonsense housekeeper to the Finch family; Anthony Natale as Link Deas; Travis Johns as Mr. Cunningham and Boo Radley; and Richard Poe as Judge Taylor. Imbued with worldly wisdom, they are the heroes that battle the play’s villains played by Joey Collins as the antagonist Bob Ewell and his tragically victimized daughter Mayella Ewell played by Arianna Gayle Stucki. Take note of Mary Badham in the small yet pivotal role of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, the cranky octogenarian who harasses the children as they pass her porch. Badham won an Oscar for her role as Scout in the movie.

Highly recommended. A defining production of what has been called America’s Greatest Novel.

Richard Thomas (“Atticus Finch”), Yaegel T. Welch (“Tom Robinson”) and The Company of To Kill a Mockingbird. (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Additional cast members include David Christopher Wells as Sheriff Heck Tate; Luke Smith as Horace Gilmer; Greg Wood as Mr. Roscoe/Dr. Reynolds; Travis Johns as Mr. Cunningham/Boo Radley; and Liv Rooth as Dill’s Mother/Miss Stephanie.

Scenic Design by Miriam Buether; Costume Design by Ann Roth; Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton; Sound Design by Scott Lehrer; Original Music by Adam Guettel.

Through July 10th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 0r visit www.Kennedy-Center.org