Silent Night ~ At The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 12, 2018 

Guns fell silent on Christmas Eve 1914 on the Belgian Front during World War I.  Due to a peculiar string of events, this cease fire is one of the strangest tales to ever occur during this war – or any war for that matter.  It’s a story that was kept under wraps for decades, until it wasn’t.  Composer Kevin Puts and Librettist Mark Campbell put us deep in the heart of the fierce battles between the French, German and British (and Scottish) forces and the night they put aside their guns to embrace their humanity, find commonality and discover compassion.

Audebert (Michael Adams), Horstmayer (Aleksey Bogdanov) and Gordon (Norman Garrett) agree to a truce in WNO's Silent Night. Photo credit Teresa Wood

Based on the 2005 film, Joyeux Noël, Silent Night was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and co-produced by the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  It was first performed in 2011 in Minnesota, going on to be one of the most performed contemporary operas in the U. S. in the past half-century and earning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music.  The significance of this current production marks the eve of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

Father Palmer (bass Kenneth Kellogg) leads Mass during the WWI ceasefire in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

The reasons for going to war are universal, but at the heart of it all is the killing and the chaos.  The soldiers speak of the glory of battle and their future careers, as well as the familiar themes of justice, honor, family, victory and pride of country.  It is crushingly familiar.  “War is not sustainable  when you come to know your enemy as a person.  When you see that the person you might be shooting has a child or a wife or has this life at home and they’re just not the enemy, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain  war,” said Campbell.

German Lt Horstmayer laments the end of the truce in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Since, surprisingly, I had never seen this masterpiece before, I do not know if it is typically staged in the same way as it is here – on a three-tiered stage with the different countries occupying a different tier – but it is massively impressive and intensely colorful.  Striking tableaus like illustrations in a book and soldiers captured in silhouette mark the concatenation of the battles through endless days and fearful nights.  But the story is more than battles.  It is about the camaraderie of the soldiers, their quest for home and their interconnectedness despite well-defined borders.  We discover one of the German soldiers is married to a Frenchwoman and another has fond memories of spending time in the village of his enemy.

German, Scottish and French troops pose for pictures during a ceasefire in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Harmonics are an outstanding element in this unique opera as it is written polystylistically with influences of Baroque music and the inclusion of bagpipes (over 1,000 bagpipers died in WWI).

For this production, Artistic Director, Francesca Zambello, has chosen to showcase artists who have been a member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, now in its 17th year.  Each cast member has benefitted from this prestigious program and there’s no use in singling out one or two performers out of a 26-member cast who were flawless.  Oh okay, just a few of the principals – Raquel González as Anna Sørensen for her a cappella aria of peace, Alexander McKissick as Nikolaus Sprink for his duet with Anna, and Aleksey Bogdanov as the German General who has a change of heart.

Nikolaus Sprink (Alexander McKissick) and Anna Sorensen (Raquel Gonzalez) refuse to separate in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Conducted by Nicole Paiement with the Washington National Opera Chorus and the Washington National Opera Orchestra and directed by Tomer Zvulun.  Set and Projection Design by Erhard Rom, Costume Design by Victoria (Vita) Tzykun, Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel, Sound Design by Kai Harada and Fight Master Joe Isenberg.

Highly recommended for its timely message and glorious production.

Through November 25th.  Check calendar for performances.  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.

Anastasia ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 6, 2018 

In Terrence McNally’s lavish musical Anastasia the luxe life of the dynasty that was the Romanovs collides head on with reality.  The Russian Revolution of 1917 proved to be the downfall of the gilded empire ruled by the Romanov family.  Collateral damage included the brutal murders of Tsar Nicholas, his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children.  But according to myth, one child was purported to have secretly escaped.  Or did she?  There hangs the tale.

Victoria Bingham (Little Anastasia) and Joy Franz (Dowager Empress) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman

It’s a fascinating legend and one that has captivated both scholars and modern society for decades.  Until her death in 1984, the woman who called herself Anastasia regularly regaled the media and anyone who would listen about her charmed life as a royal and her perilous escape to Paris and into the arms of her ex-patriot grandmother the Dowager Empress.  Was this child an imposter or the real deal?  “Somewhere down this road ? I know someone’s waiting. / Years of dreams just can’t be wrong! / Arms will open wide / I’ll be safe and wanted / Finally home where I belong.” – from “Journey to the Past” – Anastasia.

Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Evan Zimmerman.

Two grifters, one a royal familiar with the Russian court, find the child starving and sweeping the streets of St. Petersburg, alone and adrift and suffering from amnesia.  Together they teach her everything they know about the real Anastasia – her parents, her relatives and life at court – with the endgame to reap a huge reward by delivering her into the arms of her aging grandmother.  “We’re going to create a fairy tale,” Vlad tells Dmitry.  As her memory appears to return, the young girl surprises them by knowing of events only the real Anastasia would have known.

Lila Coogan (Anya) and Stephen Brower (Dmitry) in the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Evocative projections of the onion domes of St. Petersburg, snow swirling outside the grand palace, the bridges across the Neva River and the glory and glamour of Paris set the scene.  Most spectacular is a scene on a train as the trio, chased by Russian authorities, escape to Paris, a city where Russian émigrés struggle to maintain their dignity and former grandeur in the City of Lights.

Edward Staudenmayer (Vlad), Tari Kelly (Countless Lily) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

By now it is 1927 the height of the Roaring 20’s when they finally arrive in search of an audience with the Dowager Empress.  There they are stopped in their tracks by Countess Lily, a gatekeeper who attempts to keep the old woman from the stream of pretenders.  Look to enjoy grand waltzes and Cossack dances to the Charleston and snippets of ballet in Swan Lake from Choreographer Peggy Hickey to the accompaniment of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra conducted by Lawrence Goldberg.

Composer Stephen Flaherty and Lyricist Lynn Ahrens afford us a lush score that evokes the grandeur of the period with waltzes and folk ballads, comic ditties and heart-stopping solo numbers in a production that will wow the most jaded theatregoer.

Highly recommended.  This is a huge show with gorgeous, unforgettable production values and memorable casting.

Edward Staudenmayer (Vlad), Lila Coogan (Anya), Stephen Brower (Dmitry) and the company of the National Tour of ANASTASIA ~ Photo credit Mathew Murphy

In order of appearance – Victoria Bingham as Little Anastasia/Alexei Romanov, Joy Franz as Dowager Empress, Lucy Horton as Tsarina Alexandra, Michael McCorry Rose as Tsar Nicholas II/Count Ipolitov/Count Gregory, Fred Inkley as Count Leopold/Gorlinsky, Taylor Quick as Young Anastasia/Paulina, Brianna Abruzzo as Maria Romanov/Marfa, Claire Rathbun as Olga Romanov, Kourtney Keitt as Tatiana Romanov/Dunya, Tari Kelly as Countess Lily, Jason Michael Evans as Gleg, Stephen Brower as Dmitry, Edward Staudenmayer as Vlad, and Lila Coogan as Anya.

Directed by Darko Tresnjak with Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, breathtaking Costume Design by Linda Cho, Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Projection Design by Aaron Rhyne, and Orchestrations by Doug Best.

Through November 25th 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 The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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.