Fosse Classic “Chicago” Featured at the National Theatre

Fosse Classic “Chicago” Featured at the National Theatre

National Theatre
Jordan Wright
November 19, 2022

Jeff Brooks and Company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

First you see the hands – the famous jazz hands. Fingers spread wide and pivoting quickly from left to right. A moonwalk bit (a famous Fosse move before Michael Jackson came along) and the swaying of the arms behind the back with fingers again weaving and outstretched – another of famed choreographer Bob Fosse’s signature moves. Bodies slither snakelike across the floor long before “The Worm” dance brole out across the country. Gangsters, conmen, vengeful babes, and jailbirds rule the roost in Chicago, the show that debuted on Broadway in 1975 and has toured the world ever since.

Then you hear it. The sounds of the Roaring 20’s. Opening with the number “All That Jazz” and a ton of dancers, the razzamatazz never stops – throughout the murder scenes, the Cook County women’s prison and the passionate love songs. In this latest revival of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb’s smash hit Logan Floyd plays Velma Kelly with Katie Frieden in the role of her nemesis Roxie Hart, the cheating wife and boyfriend slayer, with Ed Gotthelf in the role of her lover, Fred Casely.

Katie Frieden (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

The plot isn’t much to write about, suffice it to say it serves as the underpinning for the song and dance. It’s all about the revolutionary Fosse dance routines and the sensual choreography by long legged, hard body dancers in sexy, black leather and lingerie. There’s only one set. It features the 10-piece orchestra on stage and serves as the scene of the prison, later doubling as the courtroom, where Velma Kelly and Roxie play out their rivalry as two vaudevillian murderesses. Their slick-as-a-brick lawyer, the movie star handsome, Billy Flynn (Jeff Brooks) is skilled at flimflamming juries with a sob story geared to spare the chorines the death penalty and grant their freedom.

In this den of gangster iniquity prison Matron “Mama” Morton (Christina Wells) takes care of her girls and her girls take care of her, handing over cash for prison favors. Mama gets a solo with “When You’re Good to Mama” and later in the duet “Class” with Velma.

Logan Floyd and company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Roxie’s cuckolded spouse, Amos Hart (Brian Kalinowski), gives his rendition of the iconic tune “Cellophane Man” about a man so ignored he is transparent to everyone. It’s a classic number.

Aside from the exceptional performances from the hoofers, the singing is weak, the acting weaker and the sound quality is off. The performers have little experience on the legit stage and, I’m sorry to say, it shows in the overall production. Not the quality we’ve come to expect from the National Theatre.

The Cellblock Tango (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Original Production Directed and Choreographed by Bob Fosse; Scenic Design by John Lee Beatty; Costume Design by William Ivey Long; Lighting Design by Ken Billington; Music Direction by Cameron Blake Kinnear.

Through November 27th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit www.BroadwayattheNational.com.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is An All-Out Rock Concert of Electrifying Proportion

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is An All-Out Rock Concert of Electrifying Proportion

Broadway at The National
National Theatre
Jordan Wright
October 9, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Naomi Rodgers as ‘Tina Turner’ (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

Anyone who has followed the struggles of Tina Turner’s young career launched by, and with, her abusive husband Ike Turner with The Ike and Tina Turner Revue to the moment she rejects his domination to forge her own path to stardom knows this story. Coming off its successful Broadway run, is the show that brings the story and the music to the stage – live and in vivid color.

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical follows little Anna Mae Bullock’s early life growing up poor in 1950’s Tennessee to her marriage to Ike Turner to the heights of her stratospheric solo career. The musical follows that tragic arc from the choir-singing daughter of a pastor to her early discovery of Buddhism and longing for recognition. The plot echoes her autobiography, “I, Tina: My Life Story” in that it catalogues the racism and marital strife she suffered before finding true love and becoming the 12-time Grammy Award winner and her comeback title as the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll”.

By the time Tina signs with Phil Spector and is backed by his famed Motown “Wall of Sound”, she is well on her way to leaving Ike after two kids and a 16-year abusive marriage to record the songs that would cement her career with “Proud Mary” and “I Don’t Want to Fight No More”.  Twenty-four phenomenal numbers, a fourteen-piece rock band, four Ikettes and I couldn’t count how many dancers turn this rock musical into an all-out rock concert of electrifying proportion. Audience members were literally jumping out of their seats from the energy and power pouring off the stage. If you’ve ever seen Tina perform either in film or live, this is what it feels like – nothing short of a live concert featuring the greatest hits of her career.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It as ‘Tina Turner’ (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

Songs like “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, “Private Dancer”, “River Deep – Mountain High”, “Disco Inferno”, “I Want to Take You Higher” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero” showcase the talents of the two leads that play Tina – Naomi Rodgers (who played Tina on press night) and Zurin Villanueva. When you see the musical, you will understand why there are two leads. No one actress could fulfill this role night after night. I couldn’t help wondering if the dramatic scenes, the intense vocals and the hard-driving, sweat-inducing dance numbers would last until the finale.

Set and Costume Designer Mark Thompson accurately channels each decade from the 1950’s backup singers’ demure dresses to 60’s sequined bell-bottoms and puffy sleeves, to gold lame and the flash of Tina’s well-known crystal-laden, fringed mini dresses. His sets are an eye-popping extravaganza of mood and moment alongside the rock concert vibe and laser lighting designed by Bruno Poet with noted Choreographer Anthony Van Laast nailing the popular dances of each era.

Standouts are six-time solo Grammy nominee Ann Nesby – as Gran Georgeanna; Ayvah Johnson – a tiny thing with a huge voice who plays Tina as a child; Roz White – well-known local actor as Tina’s mother Zelma Bullock; and Garrett Turner as the brutish, drug-addled Ike Turner.

Original Musical Supervision, Arrangements and Additional Music by Nicholas Skilbeck; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Hair, Wigs & Makeup by Campbell Young Associates.

Highly recommended!

Through October 23rd at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 628-6161 or visit www.TheNationalDC.com

The Simon & Garfunkel Story

The Simon & Garfunkel Story

Broadway at The National Theatre

By: Jordan Wright

January 30, 2022

It wasn’t until the 60’s when Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel abandoned their early rock and roll efforts and tapped into the zeitgeist of that era to create their unique folk rock sound.  As schoolmates they had spent time together in Queens, New York listening to the Everly Brothers and seeking their own groove. When they found it, they became one of the biggest-selling groups in the history of popular music. With a story-telling style, unusual harmonies, perfect pitch and angelic voices they came to be known for their deeply emotional, soul-baring lyrics. 

Framed by full-stage images and videos from the most generation-defining moments in American history, we glean a deeper understanding of their musical journey and the lyrics that moved millions of listeners. Unfortunately, there is no program offered for this national tour, so no way to hail the individual performers who portray Art and Paul, though they were spot on in cloning both the depth and signature harmonies of the duo’s original voices. Praise too for the 4-piece (plus Paul on electrified acoustic guitar) backup band who nailed all the hot licks.

As their individual personalities emerged and grew, from time to time they parted ways.  Art to London, Paul remaining stateside. But when “The Sounds of Silence” climbed the top of the charts and stayed there, they reunited and became fixtures on the music scene with huge hits like “Scarborough Fair”, “Homeward Bound”, “Mrs. Robinson”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Feelin’ Groovy” against the background of the Vietnam War protests, the space race and the civil rights movement. Years later they separated again becoming successful solo acts. 

Unlike other bio-musicals with a made-up plot and large casts, The Simon & Garfunkel Story plays out like a concert by one of the country’s most enduring groups who over the course of their lengthy careers went on to earn them music and humanitarian awards. Unlike most of today’s massive concert venues, experiencing it at The National, a stunning historic yet intimate-feeling theater, the audience can plug in to the emotionality and sheer beauty of their music. I counted 27 numbers, but there may have been more. Again, no program and only a two-night run. For fans of this iconic American duo with the purest harmonies this side of heaven, this is the epicenter. 

Visit www.TheSimonandGarfunkelStory.com for upcoming performances on their US/Canada national tour.

The National Theatre is located at 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20004. To visit the theater, you must be masked and vaxxed. Strict COVID protocols are in place. For information on upcoming shows go to www.BroadwayAtTheNational.com  

Tootsie

Tootsie

Broadway at the National Theatre

December 9, 2021

By: Jordan Wright 

Cast of Tootsie at The National Theatre

Ah, struggling actors who work in restaurants in New York City. Sound familiar? That’s the premise for Tootsie, the musical-within-a-musical based on the original story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart. You probably remember the blockbuster movie by the same name starring Dustin Hoffman as the actor who becomes a drag queen in order to land a role in a musical. Co-star Jessica Langesnagged an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in her role as the girlfriend.  In 2018 Composer David Yazbek turned it into a musical. And, by the by, that’s Yazbek of Broadway’s smash hits The Band’s Visit; The Full Monty; Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and more. Robert Horn, who wrote the book won the 2019 Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critic’s Circle Awards for his work on Tootsie.   

According to his agent, 40-year-old Michael Dorsey, erstwhile waiter at Steakhouse on the Bone, is persona non grata at auditions. His insistence on demonstrating his “truth” has gotten him tossed out on his ear from every production in town and casting agents are weary of his egotistical outbursts.

Frustrated and demoralized, he decides to try out for a female part using the stage name Dorothy Michaels.  He, as she, catches the eye of Rita, the producer who appreciates a feisty female and despite the protestations of the director gets the lead role – rewriting the entire script in the process and falling head over heels for a female cast member who admires this tough cookie.

What I didn’t know going in was that this was as much a comedy as a musical.  Think Mel Brooks funny.  Think Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.  Now you’ve got the picture. This show is a gag-a-licious funfest from opening lines to the final curtain. Twenty-one fabulous songs spotlight the performers artistry and put us in the mood for a rom-com on female empowerment wrapped in a love story.  And, although there are no big names in the cast, they are all superb. Lead actor, Drew Becker, emerges as a new funny face and accomplished singer.  Kudos too to comedienne Peyton Reilly as his gal pal, Sandy Lester, “I just learned a new yoga position – downward spiral!”, and Jared David Michael Grant who slays as his roomie, Jeff Slater. Check your funny bone for his second act number, “Jeff Sums It Up”.

Thanks to Tour Set Designer, Christine Peters, it has all the dazzling sets you’d expect for a full-on B’way production plus an 11-piece orchestra led by Andrew David Sotomayor.

Directed by Dave Solomon with Choreography by Denis Jones and Costume Design by William Ivey Long.

Additional cast members include Ashley Alexandra as Julie Nichols; Lukas James Miller as Max Van Horn; Kathy Halenda as Rita Marshall; Steve Brustien as Stan Fields; Adam Du Plessis as Ron Carlisle; Alex Ruiz as Carl; Connor Allston as Stuart; and Dominique Kempf as Suzie.

Totally embraceable Tootsie runs through December 12th at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.BroadwayATTheNational.com.  All COVID-19 safety protocols in place for a safe theater experience.

Bandstand ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
March 2, 2020 

The Tony Award-winning Bandstand opens with the sounds of war and of soldiers in the heat of battle.  It isn’t the first of many flashbacks for Donny Novitski, a down-on-his-luck vet whose best friend, Michael, was killed by a grenade when they came under attack.  Donny promises to find Michael’s widow Julia and share stories of the men’s friendship.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

As a teen, Donny had been a singer and pianist.  Upon returning from battle, he goes looking for a gig but is turned down for being too old or too out of touch with the current music scene.  The story really begins to blossom when Donny learns of a nationwide Big Band contest, decides to start his own band, and convinces Julia to front the group.  Their struggles and Donny and Julia’s romance form the basis of this poignant story of the aftermath of World War II.

Shaunice Alexander in the Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Donny’s band members experience PTSD, problems with drugs and alcohol, grief, and anger management issues.  How they conquer their disabilities and the ghosts of war to triumph against all odds, provides us with a story that is heartwarming, honest and hopeful.

This musical has all the song and dance elements of a big Broadway show.  Andy Blankenbuehler who choreographed Hamilton, keeps eleven dancers jitterbugging and swing dancing throughout.  And Donny’s band of sax, horn, drums, piano, bass, plus a five-piece orchestra create the Big Band sound of the 1940’s and bobby-soxer tunes of the early 50’s.  Tender ballads accompany some of the best-known songs from the show – “You Know Who Tells Me”, “Donny Novitski”, Julia’s mother June’s song, “Everything Happens”, “Welcome Home” and Julia and Donny’s snappy love song, “This Is Life”.  Twenty numbers keep the joint jumpin’ and the band cookin’.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

As the first stop in the show’s first National Tour, the cast of Bandstand has been focusing on presenting its story to all members of the armed forces and their families, which is quite nearly all of us.  To that end, the audience contained many invited vets including TAPS and Gold Star families.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

A song and dance bonanza!

Starring Zack Zaromatidis as Donny Novitski; Jennifer Elizabeth Smith as Julia Trojan; Roxy York as Mrs. June Adams; Rob Clove as Jimmy Campbell; Benjamin Powell as Davy Zlatic; Scott Bell as Nick Radel; Louis Jannuzzi III as Wayne Wright; Jonmichael Tarleton as Johnny Simpson; Shaunice Alexander as Jean Ann Ryan; Matthew Mucha as Andre; Taylor Okey as Oliver.

Music by Richard Oberacker; Book and Lyrics by Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker; Original Direction by Andy Blankenbuehler; Tour Director Gina Rattan; Conducted by Miles Plant; Scenic Design by David Korins; Costume Design by Paloma Young; Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter; Original Broadway Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg.

Through Sunday, March 8th at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNational.com or call 1-800-514-3849.

Bandstand First National Tour – Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The King’s Speech ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
February 12, 2020 

The unfolding drama in The King’s Speech is young Bertie’s ability to overcome a debilitating stammer.  Coupled with the issue of his brother David’s affair with the twice-divorced, utterly unsuitable Wallis Simpson, it forms the basis for this fascinating historical dramedy.  When their father George V dies, David becomes next in line to the throne.  However, it was no secret to the royal family that David (later known as the Duke of Windsor) and Wallis were Nazi sympathizers when England was fighting Hitler.  David’s affair and the couple’s affection for Hitler, made him an impossible candidate to ascend to the throne.   

Tiffany Scott as Wallis Simpson and Jeff Parker as David, Duke of Windsor ~ Photos by Liz Lauren.

You may recall the movie of the same name.  It won four Academy Awards and starred Colin Firth as King George (Best Actor) and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the King’s Aussie speech therapist.  But what you may not know, is that playwright David Seidler had always intended it to be staged and had gone so far as to obtain permission from the Queen Mother who insisted it not be staged until after her death.  Its North American premiere last fall at Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater, finally made Seidler’s dream a reality.

With a constitutional crisis at hand, David ultimately is forced to abdicate, and Bertie must face his fears to speak authoritatively and publicly at a time of war in his role as King George VI.  Tapped to be next in line to the throne, he must learn to overcome his speech impediment and speak with authority.  In desperation, his wife finds a questionable speech therapist, Lionel Logue, in truth a failed actor with whom he develops an unusual relationship, as King to commoner.  Recalling the words of his overbearing father, “Sitting on thrones is our business,” he reluctantly subordinates his royal status to Lionel’s unorthodox methods.

Much of the drama and hilariously snappy repartee are reflected in Bertie and Lionel’s fraught relationship, though some of it centers around, the charismatic Lionel and his wife, Myrtle, whose pressing desire is to return to Australia.  Scenes between Churchill and the diabolical Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang, give historical weight to the palace intrigue surrounding the kingdom’s sudden shift of power.

Kevin Gudahl as Winston Churchill and John Judd as King George V ~ Photos by Liz Lauren.

Scenes that shift from Lionel’s shabby studio to the palace and ultimately Westminster Abbey are bolstered by Kevin Depinet’s wonderful set design and David Wollard’s period costumes.  Nick Westrate as Bertie, Michael Bakkensen as Lionel, and Jeff Parker as Bertie’s  brother, David, are electrifying in this tip-top production.

With Kevin Gudahl as Winston Churchill; John Judd as King George V; Elizabeth Ledo as Myrtle Logue; Noble Shropshire as Cosmo Lang; David Lively as Stanley Baldwin; Maggie Lacey as Elizabeth; and Tiffany Scott as Wallis Simpson.

Directed by Michael Wilson; Lighting Design by Howell Binkley; Sound Design and Original Music Composition by John Gromada.

Through February 16th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 1.800.514.3849 or visit www.TheNationalDC.com