I Did It My Way In Yiddish (In English) ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
April 17, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

“Some Say Yiddish is a dying language.  But I’m here to resurrect it!” quips Deb Filler, Kiwi comedian and Helen Hayes Award-winning nominee for her twenty-seven character show, Filler Up.  In I Did It My Way In Yiddish (In English), Filler schools her audiences in the culture and familiar phrases that formed the backbone of Jewish shtick and that gave rise to American vaudeville.  But you don’t have to be Jewish to get in on the fun.  In this one-woman show, she provides the word in English in her charming New Zealand accent.  If you didn’t already know meshuggeneh (crazy), mensch (a stand-up guy), or chutzpah (brazenness), you will.  As the common language among European Jews for over 1,000 years, it tied communities together as they navigated the unknown outside the Old Country.  Filler explains in her hilarious intro, “Yiddish is a combination of high German and mucous.”

Deb Filler's "I Did it My Way in Yiddish (in English)" ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Framed by her autobiographical story growing up in New Zealand with a stereotypical stage mother and Holocaust survivor and baker father, she regales her audiences with comic tales of her days in New Zealand, later coming to America and winding up in Canada.  Stories interwoven from her awkward but seminal teenage years and her kismet-style meetings with celebrities, are captivating.

Filler came of age in the 1960’s during the folk era bracketed by the rise of the Beatles.  Encouraged by her mother to perform in child talent contests where she sang and strummed Judy Garland songs, she finds herself at a Peter, Paul and Mary concert in Aukland where she has a chance meeting with the trio who ask her to join them onstage.  She does.  Though it doesn’t work out as well as she had hoped.  The group’s hottest gold record hits that she had practiced religiously in the hopes of usurping Mary’s role in the trio (She was just a kid!), were not offered and she was pressed into singing solo a Judy Garland song.

Deb Filler's "I Did it My Way in Yiddish (in English)" ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Along with a fondness for composer Leonard Bernstein, as a teenager she embraced folk music and poet songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Lenny Kravitz – all famous musicians she was fated to meet.  She shares those and other humorous stories emphasizing her father’s influence on her life with both love and humor.  Some tunes she translates into Yiddish.  Imagine “A Hard Day’s Night” in Yiddish.  It happens.  And so does a chance meeting and bonding over her father’s challah bread with famed composer Leonard Bernstein.  Her third Lenny!  During the show, Filler screens a heartwarming short she has written, and Francine Zuckerman has directed, on her girlhood meeting with Bernstein.

Her Jewish jokes and musical interstices are coupled with guitar-accompanied sing-alongs.  Who doesn’t remember these classic pop songs?  Pretty soon she has won the audience’s affection and this folk-singing comedian and water activist proves that if you can just flow with the vagaries of life, you too will find your niche.  (Look for her this summer in the upcoming FX TV series, Shark Lords.)

A heartwarming show filled with laughter and joy.  You’ll be kvelling (rejoicing) all the way home!

With direction by John Shooter and lighting design by Yehuda Fisher and Alex Keen.

Through April 29th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit www.metrostage.org.

George Don’t Do That ~The Music and Magic of Joyce Grenfell ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
March 13, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

If you were unfamiliar with famed British comedienne, Joyce Grenfell, you won’t be any longer with Catherine Flye’s tribute performance to Grenfell’s long and notable career.  In the second show of MetroStage’s Spring Solo Series, British-born Flye brings to life the singer, actress and monologist, and one of England’s most beloved entertainers.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show is a series of pastiches illustrating Grenfell’s best loved characters interwoven with songs and spoofs and remembered moments of humor and pathos.  You’ll even spot echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan.  Veteran performer Flye is accompanied delightfully by musical arranger and pianist Joseph Walsh playing music written by Richard Addinsell as well as standards like “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Don’t You Know” and “The Girl From Ipanema”.  Narrator Michael Tolaydo provides backdrop to the period.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

Flye, who devised the production, dons Grenfell like a second skin weaving the best of Grenfell’s British music hall follies as effortlessly and cheerily as Mary Poppins would.  This was the style of the day and audiences familiar with this era will have fond memories of the music and this particular form of humor.  She reminded me of Patricia Routledge’s character, Hyacinth Bouquet, in PBS’s long-running series Keeping Up Appearances.

Catherine Flye as British Comedian Joyce Grenfell ~ Photo credit Christopher Banks

The show has been performed throughout the U. S., including the British Embassy in DC, East Africa and across the United Kingdom.

A treat for Anglophiles.

The second in a trio of one-woman shows at MetroStage through March 25th .  1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information visit online.

Holiday Happenings

Jordan Wright
December 1, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Synetic Theater ~ MetroStage ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria ~ ICE! at National Harbor ~ Christmas at Mount Vernon ~ Signature Theatre ~ Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia 

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Raven Wilkes (Babysitter), Justin Bell (Hansel), and Sharisse Taylor (Gretel) Photo Credit: Johnny Shryock

Hansel and Gretel at Synetic Theater - During the bustle of holiday crowds, Gretel tries to keep her brother, Hansel, out of trouble while their babysitter leaves Gretel to fend for them both. As Hansel embarks on his own wonder-filled exploration of his everyday surroundings, he and his sister fall into a magical realm that takes them far away from home. In this wordless production, the well-beloved Grimm fairy tale embraces the fantastical through the eyes of those who see the world through a different lens.  Directed and choreographed by Elena Velasco and Tori Bertocci.  Through December 23rd at 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington in Crystal City.  For tickets visit www.synetictheater.org.

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush

The Old Bull & Bush at MetroStage - Originally staged in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage writer, director, and actor Catherine Flye will be transferring her 9-person troupe to a circa 1912 replica of the famed Hampstead, England pub to jolly up your holidays with food, 35 songs, jokes, dance, a sing-along and an abbreviated reenactment of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.  With Christmas crackers, British beers and sausage rolls for purchase, the classic British music hall entertainment runs through December 24th at 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets visit www.metrostage.org.

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

Larry Grey as Fezziwig and Hannah Pecoraro as Mrs. Fezziwig and cast ~ Photo credit Michael DeBlois

A Christmas Carol at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – In a fresh interpretation by director Eleanor Tapscott, enjoy a return of the Christmas classic by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserable Victorian humbug, travels with diaphanous ghostly guides (beautifully choreographed by Ukranian Victoria Blum) through Christmas past, present, and future to find the true meaning of the holidays.  Complete with special effects, Victorian carols and Tiny Tim. Through December 16th at 600 Wolfe Street.  For tickets call 703.683.0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer atICE!” at the Gaylord National Resort & Conference Center – A 9-degree winter wonderland carved from over two million pounds of ice, a Christmas Village, merry-go-round, Glacier Glide ice skating rink, “JOY” – an eye-popping, Broadway-style holiday musical show, nightly snowfalls and dancing fountains at this first-class holiday destination.  Additional events are a Mistletoe Mixology class, Build-A Bear Workshop, photos with Santa, Cookies with Mrs. Claus and so much more. Through January 1st at 201 Waterfront Street, National Harbor, MD 20745.  For tickets and event times visit www.GaylordNationaltickets.com.

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Photo credit Melissa Wood

Christmas at Mount Vernon Tour George and Martha Washington’s mansion by candlelight and make merry with 18th century dancing, fireside refreshments and caroling.  Meet Aladdin the Camel, watch holiday fireworks on December 15th and 16th, hear period music, experience a military encampment and more.  For tickets and event times visit www.MountVernon.org.

Holiday Follies at Signature Theatre - Starring jazz singer Ines Nassara, David Rowen (Signature’s Diner) and Katie Mariko Murray (Signature’s West Side Story) singing classic holiday songs.  Through December 16th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets visit www.SigTheatre.org.

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia in collaboration with the Office of the Arts presents a “Friday Evening Chamber Concert Series”.  The next concert “A Brass Christmas” is scheduled for Friday, December 15th at the Durant Arts Center, 1605 Cameron St.  For online tickets visit http://bit.ly/2vSKXRd.  Tickets are also available at the door.

Are you now, or have you ever been…MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Carlyle Brown’s play about the investigation and inquisition of Langston Hughes by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is a deeply moving, profoundly disturbing probe into the mind of a successful Black American poet.  Under the guidance of Joseph McCarthy, these televised courtroom investigations were led by the notorious Roy Cohn, advisor to Richard Nixon and later mentor to Donald Trump, the Senate Subcommittee turns their search to uncover Communists into a witch hunt the likes of which America had never seen.  Like Hitler’s civilian spies it turned the country into a nation of informants – with people putting forth names of co-workers and friends to save their own skin.  That many of them had no connection to the actual Communist Party, nor knew anything more than workers had rights and blacks were equal in the USSR, was of no consequence to these self-righteous Senators.

The investigation into, and “blacklisting” of, the lives of hundreds of actors, writers, gays, etc. ruined their lives, careers, and businesses – all in the name of rooting out a misperceived Communist and anti-Christian influence on American society.  It turned the country upside down at the time.

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor, as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

In this newly developed treatment of Brown’s play, Composer William Knowles adds verve to the drama adding original music to background life in 1953 Harlem and, later, the needle-sharp drama of the hearings.  Knowles incorporates period Blues, Jazz and Cabaret songs to animate the rhythms and patterns of Hughes’ famous poems.   It’s set in the period of the Harlem Renaissance when, as Hughes puts it, “Negroes were in vogue.”  Until they weren’t.

It is a sinuous story set to music that weaves in and out of Hughes’ most profound thoughts, highlighting his poetry and underpinning his trial in dramatic fashion.  For those familiar with Hughes’ poems it will be a pleasure to renew your acquaintance with “The Weary Blues”, The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “Harlem Dance Hall”, “Good Morning Revolution” and others.

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Director Thomas W. Jones II does an outstanding job with a diverse cast that brings the necessary gravitas to the story.  The six-member cast not only sings and dances in a number of styles of the period, but moves effortlessly through a number of roles and wardrobe changes, that is except for lead actor Marcus Naylor as Langston who tackles the role with virtuosity.  The one-acter builds to a crescendo with Hughes’ interrogation by Cohn (played impressively by Marni Penning) who eviscerates the poet piecemeal.  The parallels to today’s news are staggering.

Also notable is Wood Van Meter as David Schine, who has a wonderful voice and whose solos are explosive.  Michael Sharp as Senator Joseph McCarthy, Russell Sunday as Senator Everett Dirksen and Josh Thomas as Frank Reeves round out this excellent cast.

Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan employ an effective set design of large trapezoidal panels that allow for Hughes words, plus photos and videos of the period, to accommodate designer Robbie Hayes’ evocative projections.

Highly recommended.  An unforgettable night of theatre.

Through November 5th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

The Wizard of Hip (Or When in Doubt Slam Dunk) ~ MetroStage

Jordan Wright
August 21, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip - Photo credit Chris Banks

Getting schooled by Thomas W. Jones II, aka “Afro Joe”, is a lesson in growing up Black, Catholic, and urban hip – “sticky leg” and all.  Jones is a poet with a fusillade style of comedic delivery that gets under your skin with its beat-bopping rhythms and déjà vu tales of adolescence.  It’s a story about being Black in modern culture that transcends Blackness and goes to the heart of teen angst and family dynamics.  Jones is already cool.  At 60+ he’s still got all the moves including a dip in the hip (he assures us it’s not about hip replacement), when he’s demonstrating the art of getting the girl.  Or, at least, trying to get the girl, which doesn’t go well for Jones as a teenager until he realizes that making a well-rehearsed, slow-rolling, wordless entrance into a dance club isn’t at all the kind of approach that his target has in mind.  “You enter on an angle,’ he advises, twisting his agile frame into a slow-walking, undulating gait.  After a few rookie moves in which the women rebuff his advances, he switches gears and tries a little tenderness.  Cue the adoring girl.

Jones and his two, talented singer/actor sidekicks, Jasmine Eileen Coles as Lady Doo Wop 1 and Kanysha Williams as Lady Doo Wop 2, blast out street-funky, free-style, free-verse poetry filled with the pain and glory of growing up and growing cool in Queens, New York.  They dance, slide and do the funky chicken to James Brown, Sidney Poitier and other Black towers of power from the 1950’s rock n’ roll era as archival photos of the period, including Dr. J and Willie Mays, are projected behind them.

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip - Photo credit Chris Banks

Filling the black box stage, the indefatigable Jones peels off in warp speed with riffs on his youth.  One episodic piece delves into the sanctity of mamas and papas, as in “don’t talk about my mama”, a multi-character piece in which he is pitted against street toughs while defending his mother’s honor.  In it he goes from getting beat up (he’s a genius at morphing into two or more characters at once) to slip sliding off in dishonor with a panoply of excuses to go home – homework, dinner, mow the lawn.

In fact, “mow the lawn” becomes a particularly notable euphemism in the troubles he has with his father (whom Jones also plays).  The father figure is seen as a model of ineptitude and intransigence – forever diverting punitive decisions back onto mama while urging his son to step up his game and be a man.  This impossible balance of constantly maintaining peer-pressure hipsterness while trying to score with the ladies, is what keeps our hero rocked back on his heels as he deciphers what everyone wants and where he fits in.  Because in the gospel of Cool with a capital ‘C’, “You gotta be John Wayne in a Shirley Temple world.”

The Wizard of Hip

The Wizard of Hip - Photo credit Chris Banks

Jones is familiar to MetroStage as writer, director and choreographer on Three Sistahs, Ladies Swing the Blues and many other original productions that had their premieres here.  He’s also known for his performances at Studio Theatre and more recently at Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

Two veteran musicians keep pace with Jones high energy.  On keyboards is William Knowles, known to MetroStage aficionados as Music Director for his work on the Helen Hayes’ award-winning Cool Papa’s Party as well as Three Sistahs, Blues in the Night, Ella Fitzgerald: First Lady of Song, Blackberry Daze and more.  Knowles also provides original music to syncopate Jones’ kinetic style.  Keeping the backbeat is Greg Holloway on drums – a staple of many of MetroStage’s original productions.

See it, if you want to keep your cool.

Through September 17th at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.

For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.