Shout Sister Shout! is a Joyful, Scintillating, Knock-your-socks-off Musical at Ford’s Theatre

Shout Sister Shout! is a Joyful, Scintillating, Knock-your-socks-off Musical at Ford’s Theatre

Shout Sister Shout!
Ford’s Theatre
Jordan Wright
March 23, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe with (background) Jamal Antony Shuriah (Photo/ André Chung)

Torn from the pages of Gayle F. Wald’s book, “Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe” comes Cheryl L. West’s red hot musical, by the same name, Shout Sister Shout! Note the slightly different punctuation. It’s a story about the pioneer of rock and roll. Well known to modern day musicians like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Aretha and The Rolling Stones, Tharpe’s techniques were copied by many musicians, and she could play the piano and shred a guitar with the best of them. Her musical evolution from church-bred, come-to-Jesus gospel to jitterbug and rockabilly, to jazz, flat-out Black gospel and later pure R&B is mind-blowing.

Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and company (Photo/ André Chung)

When she finally broke free from her mother, Katie Bell (Carol Dennis from Broadway’s The Color Purple), a strict, bible-thumping, Pentecostal preacher, and her abusive husband, Reverend Tharpe (Sinclair Mitchell), she went all the way to the top of the charts playing Carnegie Hall, New York’s Cotton Club with Cab Calloway (Joseph Anthony Byrd), the iconic Apollo Theatre and sold-out concerts all over Europe. Little known fact: She played to a crowd of thousands of fans at DC’s Griffith Stadium.

This is a huge show featuring a large ensemble of dancers and singers showcasing multiple period dance styles, 22 musical numbers ranging four decades and very enthusiastic audience participation. The music encompasses all the aforementioned styles adding back-up trios and harmonizing quartets and tells the story of the duo act she took on the road with her paramour, Marie Knight (Broadway star Felicia Boswell). As popular as she was, she was somehow left out of the pantheon of musical celebrities. Today, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is considered the “Godmother of Rock-and-Roll”.

Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Photo/ André Chung)

This is a joyful, scintillating, knock-your-socks-off musical with the added thrill of a crack cast and starring pitch-perfect Carrie Compere (Broadway’s The Color Purple) as Rosetta Tharpe with Joseph Anthony Byrd as Reverend Tharpe; Joe Mallon as Richie/Tiny/Ensemble. Kelli Blackwell has a star turn as Mahalia Jackson, one of Tharpe’s influences. Many in the company played in Grace: The Musical recently at Ford’s Theatre. And you know how much I loved that one!

Highly recommended. Flat out fun!

Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Company (Photo/ André Chung)

With Nia Savoy-Dock as Leeannie/Showgirl/Ensemble; David Rowen as Neckbone/Lucky Millinder/Ensemble; Jamal Antony Shuriah as Nicholas Brother/Little Richard/Ensemble; Jaran Muse as Nicholas Brother/Russell Morrison/Ensemble; Raquel Jennings as Showgirl/Usher Nurse/Ensemble; Jalisa Williams as Showgirl/Ensemble; and Keenan McCarter as Dizzy Gillespie/Ensemble.

Directed by Kenneth L. Roberson; Choreographer William Carlos Angulo; Scenic Design by Tim Mackabee; Costume Design by Alejo Vietti; Orchestrator and Arranger Joseph Joubert.

Through May 13th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 347-4833.

Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures Brings Magical Realism to Japanese Culture at Signature Theatre

Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures Brings Magical Realism to Japanese Culture at Signature Theatre

Pacific Overtures
Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
March 22, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Eymard Meneses Cabling (Lord Abe) and the cast of Pacific Overtures. (Photo/Daniel Rader)

Thanks to the brilliance of multi-Emmy Award-winning Book writer, John Weidman (an early Sondheim collaborator), who has updated some of the 50-year-old material in Pacific Overtures, and the adaptation by the eminent Hugh Wheeler this production is now more relevant than it has ever been. It presents as a well-curated collection of precious gifts – each one a surprise. Throughout both acts I was in a constant state of wow. It differs from some other Sondheim musicals in that, although there is the distinct aspect of magical realism, there is also a political message cleverly couched between the indisputable lure of Asian culture and its bellicose history. Told by the Reciter (Jason Ma), it begins with a tea ceremony on the island empire and tells of a lowly fisherman Kayama (Daniel May) who navigates a complicated journey in the worst of times.

Quynh-My Luu (Photo/Shannon Finney)

In its representation of mid-19th century life in Japan, its formality, its chrysanthemum tea ceremonies, and its well-defined class structure under the emperor, we behold exquisite costumes – lavish kimonos and stylized papier maché hair designs. Newly hired Associate Artistic Director Ethan Heard has assembled a unique and uber-talented crew to flesh out all the details and it is mightily impressive. Silks are wafted like ocean waves and a circular stage that turns in the center to reveal all sides of the characters and their interactions. From behind Japanese scrims fan-twirling geishas hide and giggle as they plot their welcoming of the American sailors. The raking of sand sculptures imbedded in the stage floor show no hint of inner chaos. Stylized depictions of Kabuki theater allow each minute detail of Japanese culture to be honored and observed. It is both elegant and intentional.

Pacific Overtures’ charm is scintillating. Characters in hyper-distorted masks pop seemingly out of nowhere, some as hyper-politicized puppets, symbols of the way Japan saw America in the days of the Shogun, others as comical and cute in a nod to Japanese Manga comics.

Chani Wereley (Madam) and Jason Ma (Reciter) with Quynh-My Luu, Albert Hsueh, Andrew Cristi, and Christopher Mueller. (Photo/Daniel Rader)

The stage is divided into two major areas. A second story holds the largest Wadaiko drum on the East Coast. Played to accentuate the sword-wielding samurais and kenjutsu fighting, it is dramatic and thundering. Beside the drum high up under a gingko tree sits a life-like puppet of Emperor Meiji on his throne. He was only one year old when America entered the Japanese harbor and threatened to come ashore. Up until then no foreigner had ever been permitted to enter the country since 1603, but Commodore Perry was determined to open trade routes even if he had to bomb the country to smithereens. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and he weaseled his way into the country by hook and by crook.

Though the rarely produced Pacific Overtures has the distinct signature of Sondheim’s better-known musicals and complex plots, there is a charming Gilbert & Sullivan levity in some of its ditties. How perfect that this wonderful production should come to us at cherry blossom time.

Highly recommended!!!

The cast of Pacific Overtures at Signature Theatre (Photo/Daniel Rader)

With Quynh-My Luu as Tamate; Alex Koichi Beard as Manjiro; Eymard Meneses Cabling as Lord Abe; Andrew Cristi as Mother of Shogun; Albert Hsueh as Boy; Jonny Lee Jr. as Manjiro; Joey Ledonio as Mother of the Shogun understudy; Christopher Mueller as Warrior and others; Ashley D. Nguyen as Tamate/Madam understudy; Chani Wereley as Madam/Others; Nicholas Yenson as Perry/Others; Ryan Sellers as Lord Abe/Warrior/Perry understudy.

Direction and Musical Staging by Ethan Heard; Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim; Conducted by Alexander Tom; Orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick; Additional Material by Hugh Wheeler; Scenic Design by Chika Shimizu; Costume & Puppet Design by Helen Q. Huang; Lighting Design by Oliver Wason; Sound Design by Eric Norris; Kabuki Consultant Kirk Kanesaka; Fight Director Yoshi Amao; Taiko Consultant Mark H. Rooney.

Through April 9th at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 820-9771. 

Jagged Little Pill Explodes with Alanis Morissette’s Pop Musical at National Theatre

Jagged Little Pill Explodes with Alanis Morissette’s Pop Musical at National Theatre

Jagged Little Pill
Broadway at The National
Jordan Wright
March 15, 2023
Special To The Zebra

(L to R) Heidi Blickenstaff, Allison Sheppard and Jena VanElslander (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022)

 Inspired by the seminal rock album of the same name by seven-time Grammy Award winner Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning bio-musical, opened in DC at the National Theatre this week. It stars one of my favorite Broadway actresses, Heidi Blickenstaff (as Mary Jane Healey) who played the lead when it reopened on Broadway last fall. You may remember her in the role of Katherine in Disney’s Freaky Friday when it debuted at Signature Theatre before moving on to Broadway.

Broadway legend Chris Hoch plays the dad, Steve Healy. But even without such heavy hitters, this company is on fire. For these power singers (thirteen are in the chorus!) and gifted dancers, it’s the perfect showcase for these young and talented unknowns. Twenty-three iconic numbers give the cast a chance to shine. And, shine, they do! The show is packed with high energy, romance, and real-life drama, addressing issues of drug addiction and teen angst in a relatable way.

Jena VanElslander and Company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL (Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022)

Mary Jane lives in the shadow of her two kids, Nick and Frankie, hiding her addiction to opioids from everyone. A pill-popping, hot yoga and spin-cycle-loving suburban mom, her gal pals think she’s the perfect mother (“Smiling” by Mary Jane and Company) when underneath the smooth veneer she’s scoring pills in a dark alley. Adopted daughter Frankie (Lauren Chanel) is Black, thinks she’s gay and doesn’t know where she fits in. To help her cope (“Ironic” sung by Frankie and Jo) girlfriend, Jo (Jade McLeod) tells her, “Your mom is one salad away from a psychotic break.”

When Nick (Dillon Lena) gets into Harvard, praise from friends and family rains down on the prodigal son until he experiences a wild night at a friend’s party and he is called upon to be a witness to date rape. Will he say he didn’t see anything, or will he step up despite his mom’s begging him to stay silent? There are powerful life lessons drawn from the differing perspectives of both parents and teens.

Dillon Klena and company (Photo/Matthew Murphy, Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade, 2022)

Watch for McLeod’s huge number in Act II “You Oughta Know” that brought the house down, Chanel’s big number in “Unprodigal Daughter”, the slo-mo dance in “Uninvited” when Mary Jane reflects on her younger self and Allison Sheppard as Bella singing “Predator”, reminiscent of a particular Senate confirmation hearing.

A terrific score by Morissette and Glen Ballard showcases some fantastic new and veteran voices with exciting choreography by Movement Director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to send this musical into orbit.

Highly recommended for teens and adults.

Heidi Blickenstaff and the company of JAGGED LITTLE PILL (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022)

With Jason Goldston as Andrew; Rishi Golani as Phoenix; Jordan Leigh McCaskill as Pharmacist/Therapist; Camella Taitt as Barista; Bligh Voth as Jill/Teacher; Delaney Brown as Denise; Jena VanElslander as Courtney; Daniel Thimm as Drug Dealer; and Lee H. Alexander as Doctor. Cydney Kutcipal, Lee H. Alexander, Justin Scott Brown and Kei Tsuruharatani fill out a thirteen-person chorus.

Director Diane Paulus; Book by Diablo Cody; additional music by Michael Farrell & Guy Sigsworth; Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernández; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Lighting design by Justin Townsend; Sound Design by Jonathan Deans.

Through March 26th at the National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information visit or in person at the box office.

Blue is a Must See All Black Cast Opera at the Kennedy Center

Blue is a Must See All Black Cast Opera at the Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
March 15, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Left to right: tenor Jonathan Pierce Rhodes (Police Officer Buddy 2/Male Congregant 2); bass-baritone Christian Simmons (Police Officer Buddy 3/Male Congregant 3); bass Kenneth Kellogg (The Father); Tenor Camron Gray (Police Officer Buddy 1/Male Congregant 1) (Photo/Scott Suchman)

On the nightly news a camera pans in for a tight closeup of a Black mother surrounded by her family and her community. She is grieving the loss of her son at the hands of the police. In this contemporary opera Blue takes us on a journey from the cradle to the grave.

Three years to the day the Washington National Opera’s Blue was scheduled to debut at the Kennedy Center. On March 13th 2020 everything shut down, the building went silent and the only sounds heard in the storied theater complex were the security guards roaming the vast structure. This March 13th marked the opera’s premiere and what a triumphant moment it was – a historic night for Librettist, Tazewell Thompson, he as director of a host of operas, and Composer Jeanine Tesori, she of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals Shrek The Musical, Fun Home, and Caroline, or Change. Blue features an all-Black cast including Black conductors, Joseph Young and Jonathan Taylor Rush.

– Bass Kenneth Kellogg (left) plays The Father; mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (right) plays The Mother (Photo/Scott Suchman)

To say Blue is the most exquisitely honed modern opera I have ever seen, is an understatement. It is modern Shakespearean tragedy at its finest with a story as relevant and relatable as if it popped out of today’s headlines. Thompson’s words express pure poetry in the urgent reality of a family whose personal experiences seesaw between both sides of the most polarizing issues of our day – the continuing shroud of racism and the demand for Black justice.

Blue, as in men in blue, signifies the color of a policeman’s uniform and The Father (Kenneth Kellogg) in this story is a cop working the beat as a rookie in New York’s Harlem neighborhood. His wife, The Mother (Briana Hunter), is a local restaurant owner. The couple joyfully awaits the birth of their baby. While pregnant The Mother’s three close friends warn her, “We talked, argued and debated. Thou shalt not bring forth no Black boys into this world.” Each woman knows the dangers that lie ahead for Black boys. Conversely, The Father’s friends express their envy that he’s having a son and ask how he feels. “I feel like the first man on the moon,” he replies. Later we hear him voicing the words of “the talk” every Black parent gives to their sons.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg (left) plays The Father; tenor Aaron Crouch (right) plays The Son (Photo/Scott Suchman)

There are tender and even funny moments of The Father learning to hold his baby and of the relationship between The Mother and her stalwart trio of “sistahs”. We see his parents believing the future immeasurable for their child and later meet The Son (Aaron Crouch) as a teenager rebellious and disdainful of his father’s profession. On the surface it appears to be the eternal generational conflict, but to the son, his life has so much more meaning when he becomes an activist – protesting injustice in the Black community and the brutality of law enforcement. There are harsh words between his policeman father and son and the music swells to reflect the tension.

Left to right: soprano Katerina Burton (Girlfriend 2/Congregant 2); mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (The Mother); soprano Ariana Wehr (Girlfriend 1/Congregant 1/Nurse); mezzo-soprano Rehanna Thelwell (Girlfriend 3/Congregant 3) (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Blue is not only a showcase for African American talent but features several impressive singers who are either alumni or current members of the Cafritz Young Artist Program. Outstanding and indelible is Aaron Crouch, whose performance was brilliant. I plan to follow him on social media and go to the ends of the earth to witness his next performance.

Blue expresses an aching poignancy in every note and line – one that sent my heart fairly leaping out of my chest in concert with the emotion of the music. Many in the audience were moved to tears at the beauty of the words and music blending mellifluously. I promise you there is a hopeful ending, one you will long for and hold fast.

Highly recommended whether you are an opera aficionado or never cared a fig for opera.

Bass Kenneth Kellogg (back) plays The Father; mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter (front) plays The Mother (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Additional Cast Members – Joshua Conyers as The Reverend; Ariana Wehr as Girlfriend/Congregant/Nurse; Katerina Burton as Girlfriend/Congregant; Rehanna Thelwell as Girlfriend/Congregant; Camron Gray as Policeman/Male Congregant; Christian Simmons as Policeman/Male Congregant.

Costume Designer Jessica Jahn; Set Designer Donald Eastman; Sound Designers Kai Harada and Haley Parcher; Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel.

With the Washington National Opera Orchestra.

Performance dates – March 11th, 13th, 19th, 22nd, and 25th.  In the Eisenhower Theatre at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street, NW, Washington, DC. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

A Deeply Moving Drama Unfolds at Signature Theatre

A Deeply Moving Drama Unfolds at Signature Theatre

Selling Kabul
Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
March 8, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Yousof Sultani and Awesta Zarif (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

As the repercussions ripple out across the world after the U. S. retreat from the war in Afghanistan, its people continue to be deeply affected in a myriad of ways. This neatly crafted play focuses on one family’s struggles to navigate the frightening and endless fallout. In award-winning writer Sylvia Khoury’s play Selling Kabul, family members Taroon (Mazin Akar), his sister Afiya (Awesta Zarif) and her husband Jawid (Yousof Sultani) are living in a small one-bedroom flat in Teheran. They are barely surviving. Taroon, who acted as translator for American soldiers, is in hiding from the Taliban who are actively hunting down all Iranians who aided the Americans. He knows, if captured, he will be tortured and killed. The lives of his friends and family members are similarly endangered if they are found to be collaborating in any way.

In a crumbling economy, Jawid tries to support his wife and son-in-law sewing Taliban uniforms in his family’s tailor shop while Afiya brings in additional income by mending their uniforms. They hope their familiarity with the soldiers will protect them. Jawid observes guiltily, “I sold Kabul for a television set.”

The Taliban’s harsh edicts and the soldiers’ omnipresence make daily life a constant struggle. They are all in danger from prying eyes like those of their neighbor and Afiya’s best friend, Layla (Neagheen Homaifar), whose unannounced visits terrify them forcing Taroon to hide in an armoire. While Taroon awaits a message from the U. S. Immigration approving his asylum, his wife is in hospital giving birth to their first child. A wrenching decision is made by the family. He must not risk a visit to see his newborn son.

Awesta Zarif and Neagheen Homaifar (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

When after four months in hiding Taroon receives no word from America, Jawid and Afiya conspire to smuggle him out of the country with the help of a fixer. There is no guarantee he will make it out alive. Afiya tells him, “You will leave without a visa or without your head!”

This tightly knit drama shows us the human costs of a country at war with its own citizens and the agonizing and uncertain decisions its people are forced to make just to stay alive.

The small cast shines with a tenacious incandescence under the superb direction of Shadi Ghaheri.

Scenic Design by Tony Cisek; Costume Desgin by Moyenda Kulemeka; Lighting Design by John D. Alexander; Sound Design by Matt Otto; Cultural Consultant & Dramaturg, Humaira Ghilzai.

For more information the theater suggests three organizations:

Aschiana Foubndation at; Afghan_American Foundation at; and Afghan-American Women’s Association at

ousof Sultani and Awesta Zarif (Photo/Christopher Mueller)

Through April 2nd at Signature Theatre in Shirlington Village, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 820-9771.

Synetic’s Beauty and the Beast Conquers All

Synetic’s Beauty and the Beast Conquers All

Beauty and the Beast
Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
March 7, 2023
Special to The Zebra


Irina Kavsadze as Belle with Zana Gankhuyag as the Beast (Photo/Elman Studios)

With his son Vato by his side, a standing ovation greeted Synetic co-founder, Paata Tsikurshvili as he stood onstage for the opening night of Beauty and the Beast. Paata had been in a serious car crash last December and seeing him in good health thrilled the audience of longtime supporters. As Founding Artistic Director of the highly creative Georgian troupe, Paata along with his choreographer wife, Irina, has continued to shepherd their wildly successful productions since their formation in 2009.

The troupe, which was to star father and son for the first time together on stage in years, had scheduled War of the Worlds for the March slot, but with Paata’s accident in mind pivoted to a version of one of their earlier successes. It was a night filled with anticipation and emotion.

Rachael Small as Emmeranne (Witch), Nutsa Tediashvili as Claudette (Sister), Irina Kavsadze as Belle, and Irene Hamilton as Marie (Sister) (Photo/Elman Studios)

“Everyone knows that crows don’t talk,” quoth Emmerane (Rachael Small) clad as a Goth crow who is both keeper of the legend and narrator of the story. In this ancient folk tale, lies the myth of the prince turned into a beast and restored to his former self through the love of a beautiful and kindly woman. In typical Synetic fashion, humor is interspersed with raging fight scenes, extraordinary acrobatics and romantic dance.

The opening scene finds the beautiful Belle (Irina Kavsadze) with her two adorably silly sisters Claudette (Nutsa Tediashvili) and Marie (Irene Hamilton) as they prepare to bid farewell to their father, John Paul (Irakli Kavsadze), off to retrieve his ship laden with fine goods. Claudette and Marie comically primp and pose, begging their father to bring them back jewels and finery. They tussle over Avenant (Jacob Thompson) a handsome prince who has eyes only for Belle. When Belle becomes lost in the woods while searching for her father, The Beast (Zana Gankhuyag) portrayed as half-man half-forest animal, rescues her from a pack of hungry wolves and takes her to his castle. The story remains close to the original with the addition of the astounding, gravity-defying physicality and clever mime routines.

Rachael Small as Emmeranne (Witch) with Irakli Kavsadze as Jean Paul (Father), Irina Kavsadze as Belle, Nutsa Tediashvili as Claudette (Sister), and Irene Hamilton as Marie (Sister) (Photo/Elman Studios)

To great effect, Director/Adaptor Ben Cunis features some of the chase scenes with black-and-white, backlit, silhouette artistry reminiscent of Arthur Rackham’s beautifully illustrated “Sleeping Beauty”. With this original interpretation there are breathtaking dramatic scenes mixed with deeply emotional poignancy – all with very little speaking. Some of the most incredible battle scenes you’ll ever witness in a theater come from the creative minds of Co-Director and Fight Choreographer Vato Tsikurishvili and Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili.

I must confess I was particularly taken by Gankhuyag as The Beast. His terrifying entrance morphing seamlessly into a kind and caring lover, is both haunting and memorable and notable too is Small in the role of Emmerlane who held the audience captive as her speaking role predicated the story line. In the fight scenes both Synetic alum Philip Fletcher as Magnificent and Jacob Thompson as Avenant were utterly captivating with their dead falls and eye-popping leaps that catapulted the duo across the stage to audible gasps from the appreciative audience.

We all need fairy tales and this one is immortal. Not for children, but teens and adults will love it. Highly recommended.

Irina Kavsadze as Belle with Zana (Photo/Elman Studios)

Ensemble members Osama Ashour and Lev Belolipetski.

Co-Adaptor, Peter Cunis; Original Music by Clint Herring and Andrew Gerlicher; Puppet Designer, Zana Gankhuyag; Original Costume Designer, Kendra Rai; Remount Costume Designer, Delaney Theisz.

Through April 2nd at Synetic Theater at Crystal City, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 824-8060 x 117.