A Modernized Evita Comes to Harman Hall

A Modernized Evita Comes to Harman Hall

Shakespeare Theatre Company and American Repertory Theater
Jordan Wright
September 21, 2023
Special to The Zebra

Shereen Pimentel in EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

 When we mention the names Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber we have reached the stratospheric pantheon of theatre’s most beloved musical composer/writer teams. Their blockbuster Evita is known as the pinnacle of their collaborations with a score so beautiful and so deeply affecting.

In a co-production with Massachusett’s American Repertory Theater, Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Simon Godwin presents the work of the show’s Director Sammi Cannold and includes the cast from the Boston production.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

Eva Perón was Argentina’s most storied heroines – despised, revered and adored. We are fascinated by her rise to power and are moved to wonder what is the allure of this woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps from abject poverty – from a life as a tango dancer deserted by a trail of lotharios? For many it is how she obtained the extraordinary power she wielded and how she used her husband’s position to get to the top. How did she fool an entire nation? In truth, it was by hook and by crook.

The show opens in 1952 at the funeral of Evita Perón. Considered the spiritual leader of the people of Argentina, she was a highly controversial figure – a First Lady who had risen from a life on the streets by her wits and beauty and a series of ever-more influential lovers. But her greatest success was marrying an ambitious soldier, Juan Perón (Caesar Samayoa). We hear this in the lyrics of Evita (Shereen Pimentel) and Juan’s duet, “I’d Be Surprisingly Good for You”. She wins him over and by the next number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, she and Juan have formed their indelible alliance – for better or for worse.

Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

As her protector, reality check and the story’s narrator, Che Guevara (Omar Lopez-Cepero), who later became one of the world’s most impactful revolutionaries, seeks to anchor Eva’s wild and self-absorbed lifestyle. Their duet “High Flying, Adored” is one of the most memorable numbers in the show and reflects the time when she is at the height of her popularity and public sanctification. In it he warns her, “Don’t look down. It’s a long way.”  But Eva ignores his advice, and her megalomania gets the best of her. When she appears in all her scintillating glory on the balcony of Casa Rosada, the grandiose presidential palace, he sarcastically remarks, “One has to admire the stage management.” And in one of the show’s most heartrending songs “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, we witness her narcissism as she cannily humbles herself to the adoring crowds.

There are no program notes from Director Cannold so we don’t really know her intention in this very modernized version taken broadly from the original Broadway production. Just know that it is very different.

Omar Lopez-Cepero (front), Shereen Pimentel (center) and the cast of EVITA (DJ Corey Photography)

Mona Seyed-Bolorforosh conducts the magnificent 16-piece orchestra. How can you not swoon for the music? Costumes by designer Alejo Vietti are grey – soldiers, officers, street people and dancers. Only Evita wears white throughout. Lighting Designer Bradley King frames the entire stage with red neon lights adding five white neon arches and a ceiling covered with lines of bright red neon rods. The significance of all that neon escapes me. Another unusual twist is the set by Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood that is devised of long neon-lined risers reaching across from stage left to stage right. These slender risers are topped with what appears to be old-fashioned fluffy attic insulation and lit with battery operated candles. Again, I am puzzled. Is it meant to represent the dirty streets she came from? Who knows? Perhaps, it will have greater meaning to you.

Lastly, there was a distinct buzz throughout the audience as to the poor sound quality – bass notes seemed to disappear; high notes were screechy. Others around me were having the same reaction to the poor audio and they were talking about it. It was so confounding and in sharp contrast to the usual excellent acoustics at Harman Hall that, upon leaving the theater, I asked the sound board engineer if he could explain it. He told me ART had brought their own sound system for this production. One can only hope it will be corrected by the time you read this review.

Caesar Samayoa (DJ Corey Photography)

Magaldi, Gabriel Burrafato; Young Cadet/Ensemble, Eddie Gutiérrez; Child/Ensemble, Melissa Parra or Ariadne Rose; Mistress/Ensemble, Naomi Serrano.

Choreography by Emily Maltby & Valeria Solomonoff; Sound Design by Connor Wang.

Through October 15th at Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Jane Anger is Comedic Gold Starring Michael Urie and Amelia Workman

Jane Anger is Comedic Gold Starring Michael Urie and Amelia Workman

Jane Anger
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
December 29, 2022
Special to The Zebra


Amelia Workman in Jane Anger (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

Jane Anger (Amelia Workman) steps out onto center stage to address the audience. She is fierce and determined to prove herself. And though she makes excuses for her past – lack of education, undesirable gender for a Jacobean Period playwright, oh, right, and a former prostitute – she has a lot to say about what she wants and in no uncertain terms. She’s a woman on a mission and we love her already. Did I mention she’s a bit of a sorceress?

*Program notes tell us Jane Anger was a real person who wrote Defense of Women in 1589. She was a pioneer of the earliest of the women’s movements and an outspoken advocate of women’s rights.

Jane wants her due as a writer and she’s figured out how she’s going to get it. Buckle up, friends. In this zany, campy, off-the-wall hilarious sendup of Shakespeare (Michael Urie) stuck in a near fatal (okay, fatalistic) case of writer’s block, it’s Jane who has the final word. When she sneaks into his quarters by dressing up as a man, she presents him with a deal. Publish her play in exchange for a sex act. This upsets Shakespeare’s plan to write King Leir, despite the fact that she tells him it has already been written ten years before by Thomas Kidd. He is nonplussed, desperate for sex and agrees to her proposal.

Ryan Spahn, Michael Urie, and Talene Monahon (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

But The Plague has put a crimp in his style. He is quarantined with a newly hired, (by default) magnificently incompetent assistant, Francis (Ryan Spahn). As the delivery boy he was the only one available. They are confined to quarters and the Bard is going stir crazy. “They say it’s a new variant,” Shakespeare quips. And away we go with Shakespeare in full vaudevillian style and Francis his hapless sidekick. Think Laurel and Hardy.

Enter Anne Hathaway (Talene Monahon) who sneaks into the studio and befriends Jane. “Sometimes I wonder if my husband is dead, but then I read a review of one of his plays,” she deadpans. When Anne finds out the Dark Lady sonnets are not about her but about Jane, the two ladies conspire to get Jane’s play published.

By now everyone is rolling in the aisles with the wit and wisdom of playwright Talene Monahon who also plays Anne. Very well I might add. There are puns and pratfalls and how do I say it, but anything Michael Urie is cast in is one for the books. We last saw him in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in 2018 then the same year in the role of Hamlet – both at STC. Buckets of blood in Hamlet and a fair share here, but now a bloody scene is played for laughs. Urie is brilliant. His acting chops, ranging widely from tragedy to comedy, are magnificent.

Highly recommended.  Comedic gold!

Amelia Workman and Talene Monahon (Photo/DJ Corey Photography)

With Geoffrey Besser as Plague Screecher/Peasant Woman.

Directed by Jessica Chayes; Scenic Design by Kristen Robinson; Costume Design by Andrea Hood; Lighting Design by Stacey Derosier.

Through January 8, 2023 at Shakespeare Theatre Company Klein Theatre, 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information contact the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is a Highly Creative, Extraordinarily Elegant and Utterly Enchanting Exploration into the Genius of the Master

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is a Highly Creative, Extraordinarily Elegant and Utterly Enchanting Exploration into the Genius of the Master

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Klein Theatre
Jordan Wright
October 7, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Christopher Donahue and Kasey Foster (Photo/Scott Suchman)

In an homage to the genius of da Vinci, Writer/Director Mary Zimmerman brings us into the mind of the master through his observations. Presented in magical realism, she interweaves his observations on the science of the universe in extraordinarily elegant fashion, casting actors accomplished in the art of kinetic motion and physical expression through mime, gesture, and speech. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci is an elegant exploration into da Vinci’s thought-provoking revelations. “Instants are the boundaries of time,” Leonardo explains.

Da Vinci’s musings and experiments were far from pedestrian. He studied and analyzed everything from vanishing perspective to the dynamics of motion in order to achieve mathematical perfection through his painting. With his concept of the “18 positions of man” he devised modes of thinking to explain how the physical body should be portrayed on canvas through the “harmony of proportion”. “The body is a machine,” he concluded.

Andrea San Miguel and Wai Yim (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Acrobatic Consultant Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi along with Movement Consultant Tracy Walsh present these complicated intellectual concepts in lyrically and quite often humorously choreographed vignettes designed to express da Vinci’s logic and conclusions as he strived to explain all earthly life.

As beautifully depicted as these complex ideations are, the spirit of the writer’s musings is the always the focus as expressed by an exceptional cast practiced in balletic movement and speech. It is sensuous, stunning and intellectually stimulating. There is nothing superfluous in its examination of the mind of the artist/inventor as he ponders the flight of a bird. “A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law.” He examined the dynamics of the folds of curtains with his theory on drapery as much as he did that of the complexities of nature.

The cast is credited with being all “Leonardos”. They are Adeoye, Christopher Donahue, Kasey Foster, John Gregorio, Anthony Irons, Louise Lamson, Andrea San Miguel, and Wai Yim. The harmony and grace of their physical interactions are utterly mesmerizing.

Wai Yim, Adeoye, Louise Lamson, and Andrea San Miguel (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Scenic Design by Scott Bradley who imagines Leonardo’s life as walls of wooden file drawers from which are pulled the many props used in the production; Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld whose clever interpretation gifts us with both athletic wear and Italian Renaissance period apparel; Lighting Designer T. G. Gerckens; Sound Design and Original Music by Michael Bodeen; Original Music by Miriam Sturm.

Wai Yim, Kasey Foster, and John Gregorio (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Highly creative, extraordinarily elegant and utterly enchanting, I would give it five stars (if I gave out stars, which as you know I do not).

Highly recommended.

Through October 29th at the Klein Theatre 450 7th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.



Our Town

Our Town

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
May 28, 2022
Special to The Zebra

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a production of Thornton Wilder’s American classic, Our Town. Chances are it was a high school production.  Maybe you could say the same. I’ll even venture to guess either you’ve been in this play or seen someone you know perform it. Written in 1938 and set at the turn of the 20th C in a small town in New Hampshire, Wilder draws on his New England roots to embrace the ordinariness of diurnal family life in Grover’s Corners. The zeitgeist captures the essence of the American family unit reminiscent of the homogenized 1950’s – think Norman Rockwell. Kids go to school, the milkman delivers, newspapers arrive by a boy on his bike and the whole family eats dinner together every night. To present this drama, Director Alan Paul employs a local and very diverse cast, a departure from casting big name, out-of-town actors. Lately, there’s been a demand for theaters to use locals in the cast and crew, and some directors have risen to the challenge. As Paul said on opening night, “Making theater now is kind of like a radical act.” And, I’d suggest, a gamble.

Local actors Holly Twyford, Natascia Diaz, Felicia Curry, Jake Loewenthal, Lawrence Redmund, Craig Wallace, Sarah C. Marshall and Erin Posner are a known commodity to those of us who have seen them in a variety of roles at many local theaters. Collectively, they can boast numerous Helen Hayes Awards and their performances and characters are as finely tuned here as in any of their previous work. That said, I’m not at all sure audiences are ready to embrace an old chestnut like Our Town which leans heavily toward White nostalgia for suburban life in the early Edwardian era. Is this what post-COVID audiences are looking for from dramatic productions? It seems to me audiences are looking to explore more complex themes, chuckle over satire and/or tap into the struggles of different cultures with eyes wide open. We expect to be immersed in something deeper in a play. What is universal in Our Town is the message of hopes denied and dreams deferred, but it’s quite a stretch to take it from small-town, White America and expect it to apply to all other cultures.

Scenic Designer Wilson Chin presents us with a Quaker-simple, pared down set in the round and dots it with wooden chairs and tables to laser-focus on the text and the families and townsfolk interactions. As stripped down as it is, I still yearned to see the moon to drop down from the rafters during Emily and George’s teen love scene. It’s appeared in every production I’ve ever seen, and I missed its dramatic metaphor for the wider world we live in and the tender emotions of young love in bloom.


Only in the third act of this lengthy drama, when ghosts of her past haunt Emily during her voyage between death and the afterlife, do we glimpse the crux of the play. They advise her not to review her life nor attempt to make contact with any of the others – living or dead. They advise Emily to just give up – to cede to the inevitable. It is at this point that Paul dispenses with the miming of props and surprises us with a rising glass box featuring Mrs. Webb preparing pancakes and surrounded by props to wow us.

If you love these actors, as I do, you will want to see this production.  But, then again, you’ve probably seen it a hundred times.

With Holly Twyford as Stage Manager; Eric Hissom as Dr. Gibbs; Hudson Koonce as Joe Crowell/Si Crowell; Christopher Michael Richardson as Howie Newsome; Chinna Palmer as Emily Webb; Natascia Diaz as Mrs. Gibbs; Felicia Curry as Mrs. Webb; Jake Loewenthal as George Gibbs; Maisie Ann Posner as Rebecca Gibbs; Josh Decker as Sam Craig; Tommy Nelson as Wally Webb; Kimberly Schraf as Professor Willard; Craig Wallace as Mr. Webb; Lawrence Redmond as Simon Stimson; Sarah C. Marshall as Mrs. Soames; Elliot Dash as Constable Warren; Suzanne Richard as Joe Stoddard; Quinn M. Johnson, Ensemble; Summer Wei, Ensemble.

Costume Designer, Sarafina Bush; Sound Designer, Lighting Designer, Phillip Rosenberg; John Gromada; Composer, Michael John LaChiusa; Music Director, Jay Crowder.

Through June 11th at Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Jordan Wright
March 29, 2022

Held in the recently rebranded The Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh, Director and Obie Award-winner, Arin Arbus’s modernist vision of The Merchant of Venice is an exercise in portraying Shylock as a sympathetic character and his Venetian enemies as the vile racist snobs they are. Starring the brilliant actor, John Douglas Thompson, as Shylock, the play reveals a dreadful era when Venetian society frowned on Jews and other minorities but depended on their business acumen in times of financial woe. We cannot fail to see the relevance to our current state of the world.

Shakespeare purists with not be at home with the modern-day costumes, occasional American slang, and reworking of the characters. For me, it only proves Shakespeare’s relevance to our modern lives. Has anything changed since Jessica uttered, “Love is blind.”?  When the Princes of Morocco and of Aragon choose the casket they hope will win the fair Portia, they foolishly reveal their egos and cupidity. Even the Prince of Morocco, who admits, “All that glisters is not gold,” failed to heed that sage advice. When Portia rhymes “lead” with “dead” to as a hint to Bassanio, he ignores both the gold and the silver caskets to win her hand with the lowly lead casket.

How to handle Shylock in this play is the director’s challenge. He is both a sympathetic character and a vengeful man and that is made clear. Still, we are drawn into his dilemma of his daughter Jessica who betrays him, Antonio who takes advantage of him and all those others who degrade him. Lessons in morality and religion are not readily solved here. Ego and intransigence bring everyone down. Nevertheless, The Bard is always on top of morality and, of course, women dressing in drag to fool the men! In fine form, Arbus ends with Jessica reconnecting with her father as they recite the centuries-old Kol Nidre Hebrew prayer.

A simple stage set focusses on the unfolding drama, and we are treated to a memorably powerful portrayal of Shylock by Thompson counterbalanced by the engaging Isabel Arraiza as Portia. Shirine Babb, Portia’s backup bae, shines as Nerissa. Nate Miller brings much-needed comic relief as Lancelet and Alfredo Narciso brings the requisite evil as Antonio.

With Varin Ayala as Prince of Aragon; Jeff Biehl as Balthazar; Sanjit De Silva as Bassanio; Danaya Esperanza as Jessica; Yonatan Gebeyehu as Solanio; David Lee Huynh as Lorenzo; Maurice Jones as Prince of Morocco/Duke/Tubal; Nate Miller as Lancelet Gobbo; Haynes Thigpen as Gratiano; and Graham Winton as Saliero.

Lighting by Marcus Doshi; Scenic Design by Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design by Emily Rebholz; Original Music and Sound Design by Justin Ellington.

Through April 24th at The Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh.

Once Upon a One More Time

Once Upon a One More Time

Inspired by the Music Performed and Recorded by Britney Spears

Shakespeare Theatre Company

By: Jordan Wright

December 23, 2021

Justin Guarini (center) and Company
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Going in I wondered if I would know any of the pop diva’s songs. It turns out a few were instantly recognizable, though you need not have them on your playlist to have heard them somewhere. This is the direction bio-musicals have been taking lately. Sourcing songs that are already tried and true. Add backstory and it’s on. For Once Upon a One More Time the writers chose “Pop Princess” Britney Spears who inspired this musical. No surprise she would get her due. With hundreds of millions of records sold worldwide, the show should bring in legions of her fans. So, far be it from me to critique a show that has already broken all box office records at the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

There are shows I felt were not ready for their expected B’way debuts, which is where this is headed as soon as we can get past this damn pandemic. And I fear this could be one of them. Most, by the time they open in New York, have been trimmed down, beefed up, graced with better lighting, slick video projections and new sets. I hope this run will give the show the polish it needs before it hits the big time. Again, haters keep your claws drawn. It’s only my opinion. Stick with me. 

What I did find was a wonderful plot that echoes the “Me Too” movement – before little girls grow up and face misogyny, glass ceilings and male domination. It’s Keone and Mari Madrid’s creative direction and Jon Hartmere’s book that shoots down that clichéd fantasy and teaches girls about self-empowerment in a light-hearted and tuneful way. For decades, these fairy tales have been eagerly served up to little girls from the time they can sit still long enough to listen to a bedtime story. “Your prince will come and your dreams of being rescued by a tall, dark and handsome (and rich) man will be realized,” we tell them. This version destroys the myth that Prince Charming will come along and solve your lack of confidence, money and/or singlehood. Of course, these fairy tale girls are ravishing and conveniently, have a prince in their neighborhood. Oh, how we indoctrinate little girls into being subservient to men. This should dispel that myth in a heartbeat.

Here the wicked stepmother, who equates female empowerment with witchcraft, features prominently as do the snippy stepsisters, Belinda and Betany. Drawing on Betty Friedan’s feminist book, “The Feminine Mystique”, the Original Fairy Godmother alerts Cinderella to the power of activism and self-actualization and she encourages them to go on strike against the curmudgeonly Narrator. “If you wanna hang on to your slippers,” OFG advises Cinderella, “you gotta learn to put your foot down.” This is where I totally buy in.

Accordingly, Prince Charming has few redeeming social qualities. He is a womanizer who is charming, handsome and vapid but never has an actual name in any of the fairy tales. Think about that! There are silly jokes, sight gags, physical comedy and tons of dance numbers with some of Spears’ songs created with new lyrics designed to underpin the plot. Other songwriters like Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry have contributed material. What this all has to do with Britney’s real life, I have no idea, although I suppose you could connect it to her court case against her father – appointed her conservator years ago and recently defeated in court. That’s a sort of happy ending in and of itself.

The huge cast features Briga Heelan as Cinderella; Brooke Dillman as Original Fairy Godmother; Aisha Jackson as Snow White; Belinda Allyn as Belle; Justin Guarini as Prince Charming; Wonu Ogunfowora as Rapunzel; Morgan Weed as Princess and the Pea; Jennifer Florentino as Little Red Riding Hood; Selene Haro as Gretel; Amy Hillner Larsen as Goldilocks; Emily Skinner as Stepmother; MiMi Scardulla as Belinda; Tess Soltau as Betany; Raymond J. Lee as Clumsy/Prince Ebullient; Ryan Steele as Prince Erudite; Stephen Brower as Prince Suave; Stephen Scott Wormley as Prince Affable; Joshua Johnson as Prince Brawny; Kevin Trinio Perdido as Prince Mischievous; Michael McGrath as Narrator; Adrianna Weir or Mila Weir as Little Girl.

Creative Design and Choreography by Keone and Mari Madrid; Creative Consultant David Leveaux; Scenic Design by Anna Fleischle; Lighting by Sonono Nishikawa; Costume Design by Loren Elstein; and Sound Design by Andrew Keister.

Through January 2, 2022 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

Brooke Dillman, Briga Heelan and Company
(credit: Matthew Murphy)

Cast of Once Upon A One More Time
(credit: Matthew Murphy)