Cock-Eyed Irreverence By South Park Creators Spells Utter Hilarity in the Side-Splitting The Book of Mormon at the National Theatre

Cock-Eyed Irreverence By South Park Creators Spells Utter Hilarity in the Side-Splitting The Book of Mormon at the National Theatre

The Book of Mormon
Broadway at The National
Jordan Wright
March 6, 2024
Special to The Zebra

Sam Nackman and Sam McLellan (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Hellfire and damnation figure neatly in the wacky and wonderful The Book of Mormon. With book, music and lyrics by Trey ParkerRobert Lopez and Matt Stone, creators of the four-time Emmy Award-winning animated series South Park, you’ll luxuriate in all the irreverence you can handle. And then some. Winner of nine Tony Awards, the blowout show is legendary for its comedic take on Mormonism and its 21 unforgettably zany songs plus tap dancing and sequin-clad chorus line.

The story focuses on the bicycle-riding, young men with their skinny black ties and crisp white shirts eager to convert and well-trained in proselytizing. Two-by-two they comb the earth seeking out sin and sinners and spreading “The Word”.

Sam McLellan and company (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Elder Price and Elder Cunningham are two of the innocenti. Recently sprung from the church’s Missionary Training Center, they are partnered up for their mission to Uganda where they’ll rendezvous with other eager young evangelists. Two more disparate comrades are impossible to conceive. Price (Sam McLellan absolutely brilliant comedic actor with a fantastic voice) is massively handsome, completely self-centered, and brimming with untested confidence. Ready to take on the world he is miffed to be conjoined with Cunningham (Sam Nackman who shines in his debut stage role), a portly nerd lacking self-worth and clinging to Price like a limpet mine to a submarine.

Hoping to prove they’ll be worthy in the afterlife, the two unlikely apostles set off on a journey that is so convoluted, so riotous and so ungodly that your hair may stand on end. At a send-off staged by their parents, replete with a dancing witch doctor who references The Lion King, the hapless accolytes are told, “You get out there and you baptize those Africans!”

Trinity Posey, Sam McLellan, and Sam Nackman (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

Instead, the boys realize converting the whole human race is not as easy as they had been led to believe. They soon discover the natives have their own brand of mythology, and it’s not any more far-fetched than Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s story of the never-before-seen-by-a-living-soul, golden plates he personally excavated in upstate New York. These Mormon-themed side skits are re-enacted hilariously by Joseph Smith (Trevor Dorner) and the Angel Moroni (Sean Casey Flanagan) in dream sequences comparing the origins of the Latter-Day Saints to the natives’ beliefs. But which of these tales are more fanciful?

Warlords and AIDS are on the minds of the Ugandans who have a middle-finger-raised musical response to God in the number “Hasa Diga Eebowai”. Dewight Braxton, Jr. plays the one-eyed General and bloodthirsty warlord who threatens to circumcise all the girls in the village by the end of the week.

The Book of Mormon North American Tour (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

There’s a sweet love story between the beautiful Nabulungi (Keke Nesbitt) and Cunningham, the most unlikely suitor, who woos her with dreams of a Mormon paradise. In her beautifully sung number, “Sal Tlay Ka Siti” (her African pronunciation of Salt Lake City), she places her hopes in his hands.

Though it takes a village, this is most certainly not The Sound of Music. And Nabulungi’s convincing her tribe to get baptized, isn’t based on truth – Cunningham has convoluted the church’s teachings to suit his ignorance of its contents. “I actually never read it,” he confesses. (If you’re wondering how the Mormon hierarchy reacted to the comedic blasphemy, the quote is, “You’ve seen the play. Now read the book.”) But Cunningham is determined to make Nabulungi his first convert and croons “Man Up”, describing Jesus’ bravery as “growing a pair”.

Credit to Directors Casey Nicholaw and Trey Parker plus Jennifer Werner for Direction and Choreography; Scott Pask for the Scenic Design; Sound Design by Chad Parsley; Costumes by Ann Roth; Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt and the 12-piece kick-ass orchestra directed by Larry Hockman and Stephen Oremus. Twenty-two numbers and a nine-piece orchestra make this musical irresistible.

Highly recommended!!!

The company of the Book of Mormon North American Tour (Photo/Julieta Cervantes)

With Vince Klassen as Mormon; Sean Casey Flanagan as Moroni/Elder McKinley; Trevor Dorner as Price’s Dad/Missionary Voice/Elder McKinley/Mission President; Gideon Chickos as Cunningham’s Dad; Trinity Posey as Mrs. Brown; DeVon BuchananJustin Forward and Thomas Ed Purvis as Guards; Lamont J. Whitaker as Mafala Hatimbi; Jarret Martin as Doctor. Ensemble – Jarius Miquel CliettMatthew DantJustin ForwardCraig FrankeLars HafellKisakyeEvan LennonJoey MyersAlexis Ijeoma Nwokoji, and Chelsea M. Smith.

Through March 17th at National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit  

Pretty Woman: The Musical – A Spicy, Sunny, Splashy Romcom Musical at the National Theatre

Pretty Woman: The Musical – A Spicy, Sunny, Splashy Romcom Musical at the National Theatre

Pretty Woman
National Theatre
Broadway at the National
December 14, 2023
Jordan Wright
Special to The Zebra

(L to R) Chase Wolfe and Ellie Baker (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Having seen the movie starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere won’t prepare you for this bright, sunny musical that shines a light on both sides of Hollywood – the hotshot millionaires and the nighttime denizens plying their trade on the seamier side of town. “Welcome to Hollywood. Everyone’s got a dream,” sings Happy Man (Adam Du Plessis) who calls himself “Hollywood Boulevard’s fairy godmother.”

Surrounded by “hookers” and set in the 1980’s before the politically correct term sex workers, is our heroine, Vivian Ward (Ellie Baker) who longs to leave “the Life” with the number Anywhere but Here. She’s smart, funny, savvy and sexy and longing for a better life for herself.

Rae Davenport and The Company of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Soon we meet wheeler dealer Edward Lewis (Chase Wolfe), who catches her eye with the number Something About Her. He invites her to his penthouse suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel and pays her to stay with him, and play with him, for six nights. Vivian is wowed by the posh digs as is her best friend and fellow sex worker, Kit De Luca (Rae Davenport).

Much of the comic relief is provided by Guilio (Joshua Kring), a bellboy extraordinaire who becomes one of Vivian’s supporters along with the Mr. Thompson the Hotel Manager who is one of many roles played by top banana Adam Du Plessis.

(L to R) Chase Wolfe and Ellie Baker (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

The tunes run the gamut from country rock with Freedom sung by Edward, to Tango, Jazz and ballads and, of course the classic Roy Orbison and Billy Dees collaboration Pretty Woman all led by Conductor Shane French who masterfully leads twenty-one numbers. Look for Sarah Wang’s stunner of a star turn in the La Traviata aria.

This frisky musical romance stays bubbly throughout thanks to its high-energy, young cast. Composed by Bryan Adams (Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter and winner of three Academy Awards) and Jim Vallance holder of dozens of Gold and Platinum album awards and collaborator with some of the top recording artists), the musical hits all the right notes thanks to the genius of Garry Marshall icon director of 18 major motion pictures.

The Company of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

With Liam Searcy as Philip Stuckey; Charlie Fusari as Landlord; Bethany McDonald as Susan/Ensemble; Devyn Trondson as Rachel/Ensemble; Steven Gagliano, as Fred/Hotel Staff/Alfredo/Ensemble; Hank Santos as Senator Adams/Ensemble; Sarah Wang as Violetta/Ensemble.

Additional Ensemble: Matthew BlumBrianna ClarkKerry D’JovanniLauren EsserMatt HenningsenChristian Maxwell HenryAlexandra KinsleyJoshua KringTaylor M. Sheppard.

Two-time Tony Award-winning Director and Choreographer Jerry Mitchell; Original Score by Grammy winner Bryan Adams; Costume Design by Gregg Barnes; Choreography recreated by Rusty Mowery; Direction recreated by DB Bonds; Music Supervision, Arrangements and Orchestrations by Will Van Dyke; Tour Scenic Design by Christine Peters; Sound Design by John Shivers; Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner and Philip S. Rosenberg.

Super professional production and tons of fun!

Through December 17th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit

Hadestown – A Sensational Musical Carnival Travels to Hell and Back at The National Theatre

Hadestown – A Sensational Musical Carnival Travels to Hell and Back at The National Theatre

The National Theatre
Broadway at The National
Jordan Wright
June 7, 2023
Special to The Zebra


Hannah Whitley J. and Antonio Rodriguez and Company (Photo by T Charles Erikson)

If you haven’t brushed up on your Greek mythology lately, you may easily be excused. Yet surely you recall the parable of the doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and the goddess Persephone. Hades forced his lady love to live with him in hell for half the year and in sunlight for the other half — a seasonal arrangement that strained their unique relationship. Hadestown, the eight-time Tony Award winning musical, borrows from these myths to create a sensational story of love and loss and the power of dreams.

This colorful, theatrical carnival evokes Thomas Hart Benton’s paintings of everyday American life, the unfettered dancing of Josephine Baker, the ground-breaking jazz of Louis Armstrong, the soft sultry ballads of American folk music and the syncopated rhythms of Basin Street’s Afro-Caribbean diaspora with its familiar syncopated “strut.” It’s a fascinating polyglot of N’awlins’ roots and shoots plunked down into a parable as old as time.

Nathan Lee Graham (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

While it is a wildly exciting piece of musical theater, it also offers up a huge dose of consciousness-raising. Super slick, Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn), as King of the Underworld, is as ruthless as the early American coal and oil barons, recklessly stripping the earth of precious resources and enslaving miners when union-busting proved deadly.

With his extraordinary, multiple-octave range, J. Antonio Rodriguez as Orpheus sings of his love for the waif, Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) as he despairs of the deplorable conditions of the workers and the destruction of the Earth by power-hungry Hades. Quinn’s magnificent baritone voice is eerily evil… in a good way. Defending his ruthlessness, Hades sings of his need for “The Wall” to keep the haves from the have-nots. “The enemy is poverty. We build the wall to keep us free. To keep out poverty.”  Sound familiar?

Hadestown is a social and moral construct cleverly tucked into a musical and written by two women. It has a tender love story (two, in fact) cleverly cached in the universal struggle for freedom from oppression and the quest for basic human rights. Be careful or you’ll miss it, wooed as you will be by the harmonizing harpies (The Fates), the stewpot of Cajun and Creole, the red-hot sexpot Persephone (Maria-Christina Oliveras), Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham) as the slithery, smooth, storytelling dandy, and the dazzling lighting effects.

Company of Hadestown (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

Backed melodically by The Fates (Dominique Kempf, Belén Moyano and Nyla Watson),

heartthrob and guitarist Barasch croons the especially soulful “Wait for Me” to Eurydice before she is cast into the Underworld and into the vile clutches of Hades himself.

As in several modern musicals, the musicians are on stage throughout, affording us a close-up of the shiny glint and soulful wah-wahs of the trombone (Emily Fredrickson who plays a mean solo); the pleasant strains of the violin by Kyung Leblanc; with Kely Pinheiro on cello; Calvin Jones on double bass; drums and assorted percussion by Eladio Rojas; a haunting honky-tonk accompaniment by Eric Kang on upright piano; with Belén Moyano on accordion, an important component in New Orleans Zydeco music. The score is filled with minor chords adding to the heart-wrenching sense of longing and doom.

With the stunning harmonies of the Workers Chorus featuring Jordan Bollwerk, Shavey Brown, Jamal Lee Harris, Courtney Lauster and Racquel Williams.

Music, Lyrics & Book by Anaïs Mitchell with Rachel Chavkin; superb Choreography by Chita Rivera Award– winner David Neumann; Scenic Design by Rachel Hauck; Costume Design by Michael Krass; Lighting Design by Bradley King; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz; and Dramaturg Ken Cerniglia.

A massive must-see!!!

Company of Hadestown North American Tour (Photo by T Charles Erickson)

Through June 18th at The National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit or in person at the box office.


A Splendiferous Aladdin Wows Audiences at the National Theatre

A Splendiferous Aladdin Wows Audiences at the National Theatre

Broadway at the National
National Theatre
Jordan Wright
April 20, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Marcus M. Martin (Genie) and Company (Photo/Deenvan Meer)

For those in love with fantasy and adventure with a whole heap of razmatazz, Disney’s Aladdin sits at the at the pinnacle of Broadway extravaganzas. There hasn’t been a production with more glitter, more sequins, more light-reflecting crystal beads, bolts of diaphanous chiffon and soaring feathered turbans (what’s the plural of fez?) since the Ziegfeld’s Follies! The pyrotechnics and flashy projections alone make this a must-see. It’s all glitz and glamour set in an exotic imaginary city somewhere in Arabia.

Everything you might expect from a showstopper is all here in eye-popping splendor thanks to multiple Tony Award-winning Set Designer Bob Crowley. Moorish minarets loom over sword-wielding royal guardsmen and whirling dervishes as the handsome ne-er-do-well Aladdin (Adi Roy) encounters Princess Jasmine (Senzel Ahmady). Jasmine is determined to choose her own husband (She’s a liberated woman!) and experience life outside the stifling walls of the castle. To that end she has fled the overly protective arms of her father the Sultan (Sorab Wadia) and found her way to the marketplace among the commoners. Jasmine is one smart cookie and fiercely independent taking no guff from the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar (Anand Nagraj) and his comic minion, Iago (Aaron Choi).

Adi Roy as Aladdin (Photo/Deenvan Meer)

Aladdin and his pals Babkak (Jake Letts), Omar (Ben Chavez) and Kassim (Colt Prattes) live a life of petty thievery while Jasmine is trapped in a gilded cage. Nothing is easy in the kingdom of Agraba, but there’s a lot that’s hilarious. As Genie (played gloriously by Marcus M. Martin) explains in his in his usual wry tone, “Everyone here has zero body fat…” except for Genie who is a full-figured, jive-talking bundle of high-stepping, street-smart exuberance who can nail a medley of Disney show tunes as readily as he can grant three wishes.

There’s drama and frolic and frolicsome drama as Aladdin finds himself in the aurelian ‘Cave of Wonders’ having been sent by the wicked Jafar to fetch the Genie’s golden lamp. Predictably it’s a set up as Jafar plans to do away with our hero and keep the lamp for his nefarious machinations.

Jake Letts, Ben Chavez, and Roy Colt Prattes (Photo/Deenvan Meer)

But wait! Did I mention the magic carpet? Where would we be without a magic carpet to highlight Aladdin and Jasmine’s amorous vows to wed despite all odds? Traveling through the starry sky the pair soar above the stage in a flight of fantasy and wonder professing their love with one of the musical’s most memorable numbers “A Whole New World”.

A splendiferous production! Highly recommended. Bring your kids. Bring all the kids in the neighborhood!

Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Chad Beguelin; Book by Chad Beguelin; Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw; Costume Designs by Gregg Barnes; Lighting Design by Natasha Katz; Music Director/Conductor James Dodgson; Orchestrations by Danny Troob; Sound Design by Ken Travis.

Senzel Ahmady as Jasmine and Company (Photo/DeenvanMeer)

Through April 30th at the National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20004. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 628-6161.

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

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