School of Rock ~ The Musical ~ At The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
January 19, 2019 

Cameron Trueblood in School of Rock Tour. Photo Matt Murphy

For anyone who has harbored fantasies of joining a rock and roll band, School of Rock is a flat-out fantastic, fun-loving musical with an Andrew Lloyd Webber score that hits all the right wah-wahs.  With screaming guitar and drum solos – from kids no less – this show will rock you out of your comfy zone.  Based on the movie that starred Jack Black, its story is simple.  Aging rocker, about to be evicted from his former band mates’ apartment for non-payment of his share of the rent, finagles (or shall we say, “cons”) his way into a substitute teaching job at a posh prep school and starts a band with kids who are still mastering their times tables.  Booted from his band for lack of sex appeal, Dewey (Merritt David Janes) is on his last dime and last pair of socks when he arrives at Horace Green prep and meets Rosalie Mullins (Lexie Dorset Sharp), the take-no-prisoners, hard-nosed principal whose secret passion is Stevie Nicks.  Thanks to Dewey the fourth-graders shed both their shyness and classical music studies to study Rock and Roll, while secretly preparing to compete in the Battle of the Bands.

School of Rock Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman-Matt Murphy

At home, the kids hide their intentions from parents who are too distant or too consumed by what they want their kids to become.  In “If Only You Would Listen” the children hope for better communications with parents who are too busy to care about their individual hopes and dreams.

Due to the many questions about the reality of the kids playing their instruments, Webber makes a pre-curtain, taped announcement to assure us that they do – backed by a nine-piece pit orchestra.  Though the set up and introduction of the characters is a tad slow going, by Scene 6 in Act 1 under the expert direction of Laurence Connor, the story comes alive when the students, with Dewey’s encouragement and guidance, lose their inhibitions and rock out.  As actor musicians you can sense their youthful enthusiasm which is as palpable as it is contagious.

School of Rock Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman-Matt Murphy

Of the kids in leading roles watch for outstanding performances from Sami Bray as the feisty, smarty-pants Summer; Leanne Parks as the stone-faced, pigtail-sporting, bass player Katie; Mystic Inscho as the hard-driving, moves-like-Jagger, lead guitarist Zack; Theo Mitchell-Penner as the nerdy, shy keyboard player; Grier Burke as Tomika the soulful singer who sheds her insecurities; and Cameron Trueblood as James the kick-ass drummer.

A cast of nearly three dozen, some in multiple roles – with Layne Roate as Ned, Madison Micucci as Patty, Arianna Pereira as Shonelle, Gary Trainor who also plays Dewey, Sinclair Mitchell as Snake/Mr. Mooneyham.

School of Rock Tour. Photo by Matt Murphy

Book by Julian Fellowes, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter; Scenic and Costume Design by Anna Louizos, Lighting Design by Natasha Katz, Sound Design by Mick Potter, Music Direction led by Martyn Axe with Julie Homi.

Through January 27th at the National Theater, Washington DC – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.org or call 202 628-6161.

Beautiful ~ The Carole King Musical ~ National Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 29, 2018 

Carnegie Hall. Sarah Bockel (Carole King) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Where were you when you first heard The Righteous Brothers sing “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles?  Maybe you were dancing to “Locomotion” by Little Eva or “Up on the Roof” by The Drifters, all songs written by Brooklyn-born Carole King (Sarah Bockel) and her husband Gerry Goffin (Dylan S. Wallach).  Working for music producer Don Kirshner (James Clow), known as “The Man with the Golden Ear”, their partnership produced hit after hit keeping them on the pop charts throughout the 60’s.

1650 Broadway. (l to r) James Clow (Don Kirshner), Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry Goffin), Sarah Bockel (Carole King), Jacob Heimer (Barry Mann) and Alison Whitehurst (Cynthia Weil). Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

During their early career lyricist Gerry and the precociously talented composer Carole churned out hits at Aldon Music, a music publishing house and hit factory in New York’s Brill Building, where they worked side-by-side with fellow hit makers, Cynthia Weil (Alison Whitehurst) and Barry Mann (Jacob Heimer) in friendly competition.

Beautiful tells the story of their romance, marriage and tumultuous breakup.  The simple story chronicles their struggles and successes and ultimately King’s solo career, which broke the pop mold with the release of her first album - the four-time Grammy Award-winning, “Tapestry”.

“The Locomotion.” The Touring Cast of Beautiful – The Carole King Musical. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The latest national tour has rearranged the order of the music.  It now opens with Carole on piano at Carnegie Hall.  She is singing “So Far Away”, accompanying herself and showing confidence with her trademark masses of wavy hair gowned in a blue-flowered maxi-dress.  It was not always so for the shy, yet ambitious teen who wrote songs for the top African American artists of that era.  The plot then takes us back to the beginning of Carole’s career, when as a whip-smart sixteen-year old, Carole bucked her Jewish mother Genie (Suzanne Grodner with plenty of comic relief), to peddle her tunes in the Big Apple where she has an auspicious meeting with Kirshner.

The Drifters. (l to r) Dimitri Joseph Moïse, Deon Releford-Lee, Nathan Andrew Riley and Michael Stiggers, Jr. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

A medley of hits from the 50’s includes some of the greatest hits from that era – “Poison Ivy”, “Love Potion #9”, “Yakety Yak” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to name a few.  Dressed in flashy sharkskin suits and skinny ties, The Drifters and The Shirelles in their trademark beaded dresses perform the couple’s greatest hits, along with Little Eva (Alexis Tidwell), discovered when she was their babysitter and the entirely fictitious Janelle Woods (McKynleigh Alden Abraham), a glamorous pop singer who becomes Gerry’s extramarital lover.

Queens College. Sarah Bockel (Carole King) and Dylan S. Wallach (Gerry Goffin) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

The musical is light on script, but heavy on songs, twenty-seven numbers backed by a twelve-piece orchestra.  But that’s just fine as you’ll probably be silently singing along, tapping your toes and recalling your first dance, first kiss or first breakup.  Goosebumps kick in with “Some Kind of Wonderful”, Gerry and Carole’s first duet, and The Righteous Brothers big number, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.

Scenic Designer Derek McLane captures the mood by creating a wall of instruments and tricking out the musical performances with hundreds of moving, neon-colored lights.  Mid-century modern furnishings reflect Carole’s home and office.

“Natural Woman.” Sarah Bockel (Carole King) ~ Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

 

Bockel does a superb job as Carole, especially at the end of Act Two when she lets loose her powerful voice on the biggest hits from the album “Tapestry” – “Natural Woman”, later covered by Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige, and “Beautiful”.  The musical reflects Carole’s coming of age as an independent composer and soloist who has emerged from pain and loss to find joy and recognition as an artist in her own right.

See it if you love the music of this era, or even for the music with its sweet harmonies and catchy lyrics that draws us back to an age of innocence.

Book by Douglas McGrath; Words and Music by Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil; Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski; Sound Design by Brian Ronan; Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Through December 30th at the National Theatre, Washington DC – 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information visit www.TheNationalDC.org or call 202 628-6161.

Waitress ~ The National Theatre

Jordan Wright
May 17, 2018 

I now know why New York critics went gaga over Waitress.  It earned Tony nominations for Best Musical and Best Original Score in 2016, won a Drama Desk Award, and an Outer Critics Award too.  This sweet, funny, big-hearted musical by composer Sara Bareilles continues its run on Broadway with its first national tour here in DC at the National Theatre.  How apropos!

Desi Oakley, Charity Angel Dawson and Lenne Klingaman in the National Tour of WAITRESS - Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Bareilles, if you recall, became successful as a singer/songwriter/actress and New York Times best-selling author.  Nominated for six Grammys, the California native has composed a score loaded with catchy tunes and tender ballads transforming the rather dark original movie version into a feel-good musical tailor made for foodies.  It’s Fried Green Tomatoes meets Nine to Five with the added attraction of a musical score.

Nick Bailey and Desi Oakley in the National Tour of WAITRESS - Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Set in a diner in a sleepy Southern town, waitress and amateur piemaker Jenna (Desi Oakley) discovers she is pregnant, just when she was planning to leave her abusive husband Earl (Nick Bailey).  Her co-workers and gal pals, Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and Becky (Charity Angel Dawson), and their boss Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin) try to keep her spirits up in spite of cranky customers and Earl’s insults.  “You’re no Sara Lee,” he tells her as she secretly makes plans to enter the state pie contest.

Maiesha McQueen, Desi Oakley and Bryan Fenkart in the National Tour of WAITRESS - Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Soon Jenna meets the handsome gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Bryan Fenkart) with whom she stealthily starts an affair.  Meanwhile addled-headed Dawn and wise-cracking Becky are busy looking for Mr. Right.  Soon Dawn finds Ogie, a poetry-spouting accountant á la Don Knotts who only eats white food and plays Paul Revere in reenactments.  He’s a perfect match to her Betsey Ross fantasies.  Recreating his Broadway role, scene-stealer Jeremy Morse plays Ogie.  Veteran Broadway actor Larry Marshall plays Joe, the diner’s octogenarian owner and perennial grouch.

Desi Oakley and Larry Marshall in the National Tour of WAITRESS - Photo Credit Joan Marcus

Standout numbers by Dawson in “I Didn’t Plan It”, Morse with “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” which brings the house down, and Oakley’s rendition of “She Used to Be Mine”, a tender ballad.

Ryan G. Dunkin and the Cast of the National Tour of WAITRESS - Photo Credit Joan Marcus

So, if it’s pie you want, be it ‘White Knuckle Cream Pie’, ‘Betrayed By My Eggs Pie’, ‘Mermaid Marshmallow Pie’, ‘Doesn’t Want The Baby Pie’ or any other of Jenna’s quirkily-named pies, you will love this sunny, funny, honey of a show.  Just remember sugar, butter, eggs are just the start.

Highly recommended.

Breaking news from the diner!  Six-time Grammy nominee and composer of Waitress, Sara Bareilles will be at the National Theatre to host “Cast Album Karaoke” following the 8pm show this Saturday, May 19.  Limited seats for that performance remain. Interested audience members at that show will be chosen at random for the chance to sing any song from Waitress on the National Theatre’s historic stage accompanied by the show’s band.  It’s the first time Sara Bareilles has hosted a post-show “Cast Album Karaoke” during the national tour of Waitress.

Two familiar faces from Washington, D.C.’s WUSA9 will host “Cast Album Karaoke” on Friday, May 25 and Friday, June 1: “Get Up DC!” host Reese Waters (May 25) and Andi Hauser from “Great Day Washington” (June 1).

Book by Jessie Nelson, orchestrations by Sara Bareilles, directed by Diane Paulus, conducted by Jenny Cartney, choreographed by Lorin Latarro, Set Design by Scott Pask, Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb, Lighting Design by Ken Billington and Sound Design by Jonathan Deans.

With Grace Stockdale as Mother, Jim Hogan as Father, Maiesha McQueen as Nurse Norma, Kyra Kennedy as Francine, and Alexa M. Lueck and Eva Pieja as Lulu.  With ensemble members Mark Christine, Donterrio Johnson, and Gerianne Pérez.

Through June 3rd, 2018 at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets call 202.628.6161 or visit online.