Hamilton ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
June 15, 2018 

So… HamiltonYes!  It’s beyond everything you’ve heard it is – and so much more – a ground breaking revolution in musical theater based on one of America’s most accomplished and influential American Revolutionary heroes.  Told in the poetry of hip-hop and rap and made emotional through bluesy ballads, this radical, freewheeling oeuvre heralds Hamilton’s arrival to America as a bastard immigrant (possibly mixed race) orphan whose groundbreaking achievements to establish a government and financial system – separate and apart from the oppression of King George’s England – helped form the foundation of our country.  Got it?  Unless you’ve recently reviewed your sixth-grade history, I suggest you Google the libretto and buy the show’s CD so you can be well prepared to (mentally, please!) hum along.  I tell you this because the rhyming patter comes at you in warp speed which is what makes it palpable, both on stage and in the quickened hearts of the audience who are breathlessly leaning in from the first note.

Hamilton Company - Photo credit Joan Marcus

If you’re familiar with Lin-Manuel Miranda (PBS has a terrific documentary running on the making of Hamilton), whose previous hit musical In the Heights catapulted him to fame, you can sense his mind at work here – his sensitivity to struggle, his compassion for the immigrant and his all-around, too-cool-for-school hipness that is in full view with every turn of phrase.  The man is a genius and an original.  In the same way that Shakespeare mixed stories of love and despair between commoners and landed gentry, Miranda has his pulse on the grand scheme of life.

Shoba Narayan, Ta'Rea Campbell and Nyle Sostre ~ Joan Marcus

One of the most engaging features of the show, is the constant motion of the performers.  Whether dancing, fighting or just rapping, the main stage rotates in a wide circle, affording the actors constant interplay and showing us just how interconnected our Founding Fathers were – Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Burr and the Marquis de Lafayette (Because, what would we have done without the French? Oh, right, lost the Revolutionary War.)  They all were so young when they birthed our nation.  American history brought to life and, as the song goes, we are in the room where it happened.

Miguel Cervantes and Jose Ramos ~ Photo credit Joan Marcus

Austin Scott as Alexander Hamilton is fierce.  We’re into him immediately.  His confidence and stride mark the character’s brash youthfulness, exactly as we would wish him to be.  Peter Matthew Smith in the role of King George provides the comic relief as the prissy king who believes the Americans will beg to return to British rule.  And for those of you fortunate enough to have seen it in New York, Carvens Lissaint, now plays Hamilton’s mentor, George Washington, and Nicholas Christopher, who was George Washington in the original cast, now plays Aaron Burr.  Gracing the female side, Julia K. Harrriman, displaying her stunning voice, plays Hamilton’s long-suffering wife, Eliza.

Rory O'Malley ~ Photo credit Joan Marcus

The program lists 34 songs, but as a sing through, it’s all vocals with full orchestra masterfully conducted by Julian Reeve.

Facts: Hamilton is the winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and was recently nominated for a record breaking 16 Tony Award® nominations, including Best Musical.  With book, music, and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, and musical direction and orchestrations by Alex LacamoireHamilton is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  Scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe.

Mathenee Treco, Jordan Donica, Ruben J. Carbajal & Michael Luwoye ~ Photo credit Joan Marcus

Additional cast members: Sabrina Sloane as Angelica Schuyler, Bryson Bruce as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, Chaundre Hall-Broomfield as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, Rubén J. Carbajal as John Laurens/Philip Hamilton, Isa Briones as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds, Alexander Ferguson as Philip Schuyler/James Reynolds/Doctor, Andrew Wojtal as Samuel Seabury, Robbie Nicholson as Charles Lee and Raymond Baynard as George Eacker.

This is the one you’ve been waiting for.  Go!

Through September 16th at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit online.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying ~ The Musical Comedy ~ The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
June 7, 2018 

Here’s a golden age show presented by Broadway Center Stage that everyone can get behind – frothy, lighthearted, funny and sweet.  It’s a story of a young up-and-comer who rises from window washer to CEO thanks to a DYI guide How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, a harbinger of the ever-popular “...For Dummies” manuals.  Following the manual as he achieves ever-higher positions in the company, its advice is spoken aloud by an unseen voice that sounds uncannily like Bebe Neuwirth, though she’s not mentioned in the playbill. (In fact, there’s no credit for this part.)

Skylar Astin and Betsy Wolfe ~ Photo by Teresa Wood

By following the book’s advice, our hero J. Pierrepont Finch (Skylar Austin), climbs to the top rung of a large company through a combination of savvy and sheer chutzpah, plus the help of Rosemary Pilkington (Betsy Wolfe) an adorable secretary who sets her cap on him.  As a new hire, ‘Perri’ starts in the mailroom, but he always seems to be in just the right place at the right time to overhear when positions are opening.  Using his guile, and the book’s instructions, he finesses his way around the CEO’s hapless nephew, Bud Frump (the inimitable Michael Urie) in his ambition to reach the top at any cost.

Michael Urie ~ Photo by Teresa Wood

I hadn’t seen the show in decades, but thanks to this top tier cast and their pitch perfect voices, I enjoyed its charms all over again.  Some of the greatest tunes to come out of Broadway musicals were by composer Frank Loesser and writer Abe Burrows.  “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm” (before the women’s movement, of course), “Been A Long Day”, “I Believe in You” and “A Secretary Is Not a Toy”, (unfortunately, still relevant).  Revivals of this musical comedy have proven wildly successful and the show won two separate Tony Awards for Best Musical when Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliff played the leads in different productions.

This Pulitzer Prize-winning musical masterpiece derives from a book of the same name by Edward “Shepherd” Mead in which the author recounts his real-life experiences navigating the corporate culture in an ad agency.  Does this sound like the premise for the TV show Mad Men?  To be sure!

Brilliant dance sequences choreographed by Denis Jones with the full Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, it also features DC songstress Nova Y. Payton who steals the show in the number “Brotherhood of Man”.

John Bolton and Ensemble ~Photo by Teresa Wood

I’d say, “See it!”, but it flew out of town in a few days.  Be sure to look for more of these semi-staged concerts produced by the Kennedy Center and get your tickets in advance as they sell out fast.

With Skylar Austin as J. Pierrepont Finch, Tally Sessions as Milt Gatch/Tonybee, Dwayne Clark as Joe Jenkins, Michael McGrath as Twimble/Wally Womper, Sean Bell as Tackaberry, John Michael Higgins as J. B. Bigley, John Bolton as Bert Bratt, Joaquina Kalukango as Smitty, Michael Urie as Bud Frump, Nova Y. Payton as Miss Jones, Becki Newton as Hedy LaRue, Katerina Papacostas as Miss Krumholtz, Vishal Vaidya as Johnson/Ovington/TV Announcer, Harris Milgram as Matthews, Colin Cunliffe as Peterson, and Casey Garvin as Davis.

Directed by Mark Bruni, set designed by Scott Pask, and conducted by Todd Ellison with Musical Direction by Jay Crowder and costumes by Amy Clark.

The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information for future shows call 202 467-4600 or visit www.Kennedy-Center.org.

An Iliad ~ at the Atlas Performing Arts Center

Jordan Wright
June 5, 2018 

Conor Bagley, director of An Iliad. Photo courtesy of Conor Bagley.

Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem The Iliad springs to life in a dramatic interpretation written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare.  DC native and twice Tony-nominated director, Conor Bagley, envisions an unadorned set and simple props to present this epic odyssey of the Trojan War.  The fresh concept introduces modern day parallels to the ancient war between the Greeks and the Trojans to illustrate the futility of all wars.  It’s an electrifying examination of man’s justification and theory for waging war.

Delving into the thoughts and emotions of both warriors and Gods, the drama shows us how groupthink provides countries with the impetus for every battle.  I kept thinking about Noam Chomsky who reminds us that there is always a first strike on which hangs all retribution thereafter.  Endless aggression and limitless blame.  Thus, the concepts of bravery, honor and glory, and not being dissed by other countries, become the fulcrum for each and every war.

Iason Togias, who plays the Poet in An Iliad. Photo courtesy of Iason Togias.

For those of us who slogged through Homer and its myriad of mythological Gods and creatures, An Iliad is a game changer.  Iason Togias, who plays a myriad of roles as Poet in this condensed version – including, but not limited to Achilles, Agamemnon, Patroclus, King Priam and Hector – gives a riveting and highly energized performance from beginning to end.  An especially salient moment is when he recites, at breakneck speed, every major war that has occurred around the world since the Trojan War.  It’s the point in the play where you sigh deeply and conclude that all men are made for war.

Togias vividly recounts the enormity of the nine-year war – 10,000 Greek ships anchored off shore with each ship carrying 120 men – factoring in plagues and disease as vengefully commanded by the Gods.  Is not religion still used to justify the brutal acts of war?  In many countries it is the primary reason to do battle.

The play is translated from The Iliad by Robert Fogles and singlehandedly enacted by Togias who gives a vivid and memorable performance.  I only wish I could have had Togias as my professor for just about any topic I ever studied, including the mystery and history of the Greeks.

With Matt Chilton as Muse and Composer.  Produced by Susannah Clark and Annie Ottali.  Production Design by Daniel Prosky.

Through June 9th at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts - 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002.  For tickets info on post show discussions, special rates and discounts visit Mosaic Theater or call the box office at 202.399.7993 ext. 2.  Valet parking at 1360 H Street, NE.

The Scottsboro Boys ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
June 2, 2018 

The Scottsboro Boys races down the tracks like a runaway train from Chattanooga through Alabama and bound for hell.  On that train, on that fateful day in Alabama in 1931, a group of nine young, innocent, black teenagers – two brothers, the rest strangers – became horribly and inextricably tied to two white women.  They had all been “hoboing”, riding the rails without tickets.  Once caught, the women afraid of being jailed, accused the boys of rape.  That this gripping tale is a true story, may strike some as unfathomable.  But it is.  And it was.  Leave it to the brilliant composer + lyricist team of Kander & Ebb to turn a national crime story into a blockbuster musical in the form of a minstrel show.  They had colossal success with Cabaret (Nazis and gay performers in wartime Germany) and Chicago (a murder set in a prison and played out in a courtroom).  Nobody does it better.

Chaz Alexander Coffin (Mr. Tambo), Stephen Scott Wormley (Mr. Bones) and the cast of The Scottsboro Boys. Photo by Christopher Mueller

Minstrelsy shows were popular touring variety shows performed predominantly by whites in blackface from the early 19th century till the 1940’s.  African-Americans also had troupes who painted on exaggerated white lips and portrayed watermelon-eating stereotypes in overalls or minstrels in colorful suits in plaid and stripes.  They were led by a Master of Ceremonies who was white.  Here he is called the Interlocutor (skillfully played by Christopher Bloch) and he could be a dead ringer for Colonel Sanders.  In The Scottsboro Boys the boys are depicted as black minstrels playing out their lives on a stage under the control and direction of the Interlocutor.

How do you turn a Death Row, Depression era story into an entertaining one? First you address the country’s racist history and then you crack it wide open with a breathtaking amalgam of talent, eighteen unforgettable songs and a hard-driving story that just won’t quit.  Under the fine direction of four-time Helen Hayes Award-winner, Joe Calarco, this production breathes fire and fury in your face – and in your heart – from start to powerful conclusion.

Lamont Walker II (Haywood) and the cast of The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

Led by Haywood Patterson (Lamont Walker II), the boys form deep friendships to gird themselves against the women’s baseless charges, their cruel prison guards, an all-white jury and the lynch mob mentality of the South.  Walker will steal your heart with his deeply emotional portrayal of a teenager who pines for his mother and a life unfulfilled.

Backed by an 8-piece band enhanced by the sounds of tuba, banjo and tambourine, the travesty unfolds within the framework of a minstrel show depicting the boys’ trials and tribulations specifically their arrest and two of their eight trumped-up trials.  This colorful musical is set to a variety of period musical styles and features spectacular tap dancing.  Wowza!

Felicia Curry (The Lady) in The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

This staging is especially timely as it coincides with the recent opening of The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama in a city where a nine-foot statue of Jefferson Davis still stands in front of the Alabama State Capitol.

Absolutely takes your breath away!  Highly recommended.

Aramie Payton (Eugene Williams), Joseph Monroe Webb (Olen Montgo mery), Darrell Purcell Jr (Clarence Norris), Lamont Walker II (Haywood Patterson), Malik Akil (Charles Weems), C.K. Edwards (Roy Wright), DeWitt leming, Jr. (Ozie Powell), and Jonathan Adriel (Andy Wright) in The Scottsboro Boys at Signature Theatre. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

With Jonathan Adriel as Andy Wright, Malik Akil as Charlie Weems and Victoria Price, Chaz Alexander Coffin as Mr. Tambo, Felicia Curry as The Lady, C. K. Edwards as Roy Wright, DeWitt Fleming, Jr. as Ozie Powell and Ruby Bates, Andre Hinds as Willie Roberson, Aramie Payton as Eugene Williams and Little George, Darrell Purcell, Jr. as Clarence Norris and Preacher, Joseph Monroe Webb as Olen Montgomery and Stephen Scott Wormley as Mr. Bones.

Book by David Thompson, choreography by Jared Grimes, music direction by Brian P. Whitted, lighting by Sherrice Mojani, costume design by Emilio Sosa, sound design by Ryan Hickey and scenic design by Daniel Conway.

Through July 1 in the MAX at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

The Nance ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
June 4, 2018 

Bravo to The Little Theatre of Alexandria for their bold choice of The Nance.

Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles - Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Opening just in time for Pride Month, this little gem tells the story of a performer who plays a gay performer, who is actually gay.  Just to explain, in 1930’s New York with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and the League of Decency in control, this was cause for prosecution.  These were fraught times for gays both in public and in the theatre where frequent police raids terrorized performers and foreshadowed the demise of burlesque.  If you think that sounds far-fetched, Alexandria had a Blue Law, still on the books in the 1980’s, that forbade homosexuals from being waiters.  Former Mayor Jim Moran struck it from the books when a resident threatened to sue a King Street restaurant that had pencil drawings of nude males on the wall.

Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles - Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

The Nance, the three-time Tony Award-winning play, taped by PBS for its “Live From Lincoln Center” series, is enjoying its first DC-area production.  It stars Chuck Dluhy as Chauncey Miles, an endearingly elegant elderly “nance” whose mincing ways in comic musical parodies with stage sidekick and straight man, Efram (Jack B. Stein) are packing them in at the Irving Theatre in Greenwich Village.

As is his nightly habit, Chauncey is cruising the talent at Horn & Hardart’s, a gay pickup spot where he meets the handsome Ned (John Paul Odle).  Young Ned has been on the streets since he left his wife for the gay life.  Chauncey, thinking him “trade”, invites him home for a quickie.  But complications arise when Ned falls in love with his footloose benefactor.

(l-r) Sylvie (Charlene Sloan), Joan (Danielle Comer) and Carmen (Janice Rivera) ~ Photo credit The Little Theatre of Alexandria

On the marquee with Chauncey are strippers Sylvie (Charlene Sloan), Joan (Danielle Comer) and Carmen (Janice Rivera) whose risqué bumps and grinds are also being targeted by the Mayor and his morality police.  The girls know there are spies in the audience and warn Chauncey to tone down the “pansy” stuff so they can keep their jobs.  “Don’t camp it up!”  they plead.  But Chauncey’s not alarmed.  He calls himself a Conservative, hates Roosevelt, thinks all liberals are Commies and that LaGuardia is just on a temporary tear awaiting his re-election – until the night the theater gets raided and Chauncey winds up beaten, bloodied and in jail.

Frank D. Shutts II has assembled a terrifically capable cast, though I was particularly captivated by Dluhy’s strong performance on a par with that of original cast member Nathan Lane – shtick for shtick – replete with eyerolls, double takes and pratfalls.  No small feat!  A five-piece band provides bada-bing-bada-booms for the strippers who are sometimes center stage but can also be seen spotlighted while stripping off to the side, thanks to the clever three-sided revolving set design by Dan Remmers.  And a serious hat tip to Ken and Patti Crowley’s lighting that conceives the show-within-a-show as beyond the confines of the stage, as well as the property design by Kirstin Apker for the hilarious personality switcheroo machine and so much more.

With Sarah Gale and Sarah Holt as Rose, the Wardrobe Mistress.  Music Direction by Christopher A. Tomasino, choreography by Stefan Sittig and conducting by Matthew Popkin.

Kudos to LTA!

Through June 23rd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com