Jesus Christ Superstar ~ At The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 24, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

When composers Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber brought their controversial musical sing-through to the Broadway stage in 1971, four-and-a-half decades ago, it wasn’t heralded by critics.  In fact, the mixed reviews didn’t bode well for the young men who at the time had only one successful musical to their credit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  But after thousands of national and international productions, a film and a recent NBC TV staging starring John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Brandon Victor Dixon and Alice Cooper, this musical hasn’t missed a beat or an audience.

Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth) and Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene) in Jesus Christ Superstar, now playing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

You know the story.  A gentle, charismatic carpenter from Nazareth with a devoted following is betrayed, abandoned, tormented and ultimately crucified by King Herod’s army.  His only faithful supporter remaining is a former prostitute, Mary Magdalene, played by Thea Simpson.  Director Jim Howard interprets the setting as INRI Inc., a subsidiary of Genesis, Ltd., a corporate headquarters where cell phones, laptops and iPads are the preferred mode of communication for text updates on Jesus’s status, and where millennials celebrate with fist bumps and high fives.

Carlos Antonio Ramirez (Judas) - Photo by Matt Liptak

Notwithstanding some mic glitches in Act One on opening night (“blessedly” corrected by Act Two), we could easily hear the powerful and chilling voice of Rishabh Bajekal as Jesus of Nazareth. Bajekal, had at first been cast as Judas when Howard asked him if he would like to play Jesus.  That left Howard to find his Judas, which he did when he discovered Carlos Antonio Ramirez, a local radio traffic reporter and sometime local band member who has an emotional, raspy, rock-and-roll voice that reaches far beyond the theater’s front door.  His star turn commences in the second number with “Heaven on Their Minds”, and from that moment on every time he solos, he rattles the theater’s foundations.  Sweet Jesus, this boy can rock out!

Thea Simpson (Mary Magdalene), Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes), Theo Touitou (Ensemble), Rishabh Bajekal (Jesus of Nazareth), Tyrone Brown Jr. (Ensemble), Michael Gale (Peter), Hilary Adams (Ensemble), Tracey Lucas (Ensemble) - Photo by Matt Liptak

Another pitch perfect belter is Cody Boehm who plays Simon Zealotes.  In the eponymous song from the middle of Act One, she sets a thunder-and-lightning tone that only Bajekal and Ramirez, and the fathoms-deep bass voice of Ryaan Farhadi as the evil Caiaphas can meet.  And Andy Izquierdo, coming off his success as Elwood P. Dowd in LTA’s recent production of Harvey, stuns in his role as the campy/snarky King Herod with a hilarious second act surprise in the number, “King Herod’s Song”.

Cody Boehm (Simon Zealotes) in the center with the ensemble in Jesus Christ Superstar, now performing at the Little Theatre of Alexandria. Photo by Matt Liptak.

The excellent 24-member cast is choreographed by Michael Page, veteran of five previous productions at LTA of which this one has the most dance numbers.  How, you may ask, can so many performers dance and sing on a relatively small community theater stage?  Very well!  Music Director Christopher A. Tomasino, a six-time WATCH Award winner, all for six LTA musicals, conducts this jammin' 21-piece band (including ten horns!).  Kudos to guitar soloists Ben Young and Danny Santiago who are outstanding.

Highly recommended, even if you’ve seen it a dozen times or more.

Additional cast members – Michael Gale as Peter, Amy Lapthorne as Annas, Emmy Kampe as Priest, Hans Dettmar as Pontius Pilate and a fifteen-member ensemble.  Lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley, Assistant Choreographer Liz Colandene and Set Design by Matt Liptak.

Through August 11th 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.

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

Harvey ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
April 23, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times


I find it surprising when a local tells me they’ve never attended a performance at our city’s 84-year old, multi-award-winning The Little Theatre of Alexandria.  Built in the 1960’s on the schoolyard grounds of the historic Alexandria Academy, the two-story brick building boasts a walled garden abloom with plants and flowers from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.  Surrounding the garden is a stunning wrought iron fence and gate circa 1873 from the White House.  Until they had their own theater, the actors performed in Gadsby’s Tavern and other locations around Old Town, where they have produced over 360 plays and shows.  If you’re looking to impress friends or out-of-town guests who have never experienced its delights, see this clever production under Frank Pasqualino’s astute direction with a wonderfully quirky cast who breathe fresh life into a comedy better known as a cinematic vehicle for veteran Hollywood actor, Jimmy Stewart.

Andy Izquierdo (Elwood P. Dowd) ~ Photos are by Matt Liptak.

Harvey is a story of an eccentric man, Elwood P. Dowd (Andy Izquierdo), who imagines a 6-foot white rabbit, Harvey, as his best friend.  Harvey is what is known in Celtic mythology as a “pooka”, a mystical and mischievous spirit in animal form.  American playwright Mary Chase, who won a Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Harvey, was touched by a stranger’s post-war sadness and wove the image from her Irish heritage into this tale of an American family.

Meet Ovid-spouting Elwood – a tippler who lives with his socially correct sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Rachael Hubbard) and her daughter, the pretty, yet unmarried niece, Myrtle Mae Simmons (Catherine Gilbert).  Due to Elwood’s frequent forays to local bars with his fantastical imaginary friend, the family becomes the targets of gossip in their small Western town.  This grinds on the ladies’ last nerve and they conspire to commit him to the local sanitorium, Chumley’s Rest.  Only then can they take ownership of Elwood’s house and, with the scandal tamped down, Myrtle Mae can at last find a suitable spouse.  At least that’s their plan.

Catherine Gilbert (Myrtle Mae Simmons) and Rachael Hubbard (Veta Louise Simmons) ~ Photos are by Matt Liptak

But as well-laid plans often do, this one goes south when, due to the ineptitude of the sanitorium’s chief psychiatrist, Dr. Chumley (Chuck Leonard) and his awkward and equally inept associate, Dr. Sanderson (Richard Isaacs), Veta becomes the one committed in a case of the mistaken psychopath.

The audience can ponder the question.  Who is “sane” and who is “insane” and who is to say?  In this instance the doctors prove to be nuttier than the patient.  What’s key here is Elwood’s happiness and harmlessness vis a vis a society that regards him as a screwball.

Richard Isaacs (Lyman Sanderson, M.D.), Andy Izquierdo (Elwood P. Dowd), and Lindsey Doane (Ruth Kelly, R.N.) ~ Photos are by Matt Liptak

Izquierdo’s Elwood is a wonderful blend of the gestures of straight man Jack Benny and the unruffled dulcet-tones of Mr. Rogers.  Other stellar cast members in this three-act comedy include Lindsay Doane as the lovesick Ruth Kelly, RN, Dr. Sanderson’s nurse and love interest; Patricia Spencer Smith as Mrs. Betty Chumley, the sweetly ditzy doctor’s wife; Tony Gilbert as Judge Omar Gaffney, the family’s attorney; Brendan Quinn as Duane Wilson, the doctors’ thuggish attendant; Mary Jo Morgan as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet, the disapproving society lady; and David Featherston as E. J. Lofgren, a local cabbie.

With set design by Matt Liptak, lighting design by Ken and Patti Crowley, costumes by Jean Schlichting and Kit Sibley, and sound design by Alan Wray.

Tons of laughs throughout all three acts from this terrific cast.

Through May 12th 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

The Audience ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
March 5, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of playwright Peter Morgan’s The Audience may be the closest we’ll get to Buckingham Palace, Balmoral Castle and an audience with the Queen of England.  But no worries, as the Brits say.  This play will give you an insider’s peek, at least an imagined one, at Britain’s ruling monarch and the stream of prime ministers she faced down for over a half-century.

Nicky McDonnell as Queen Elizabeth II - Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Since her coronation in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II (played exquisitely by Nicky McDonnell) welcomed 12 British prime ministers to her private audience room for weekly tête-à-têtes.  There they would bring her up to speed on the affairs of state, and, just as often, their personal and professional travails.  And because England enjoys a constitutional monarchy, the Queen limits her responses to sage advice and a spot of whiskey.  She must receive the heads of both the Labour Party as well as the Conservatives and play her hand judiciously.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV.  It’s an excellent primer on diplomacy and restraint and a far cry from the monarchy’s sweeping powers from Ye Olde Medieval Ages.

(l-r) Robert Heinly as Winston Churchill and Will Cooke as Harold Wilson ~ Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Director Ruben Vellekoop has assembled a fine cast to depict the Queen’s seminal moments with some of England’s best known prime ministers – from Winston Churchill (Robert Heinly), Anthony Eden (Robert Heinly), Harold Wilson (Will Cooke), Margaret Thatcher (Janette Moman), John Major (Brian Lyons-Burke) and Tony Blair (Richard Isaacs) to Gordon Brown (Kirk Lambert) and David Cameron (Richard Isaacs) with Paul Donahoe playing the Queen’s equerry – witness to palace gossip, deliverer of both bad and glad tidings, and announcer of her august guests.  For you Anglophiles keeping track of the PMs of the period, Attlee, Douglas-Home, Edward Heath and James Callaghan are not represented.  They just didn’t make the cut.  Too dull, perhaps.

{l-r) Janette Moman as Margaret Thatcher and Kirk Lambert as Tony Blair ~ Photographer: Kyle Reardon

Queen Elizabeth would be a tough role for any actress (Dame Helen Mirren starred in The Audience in 2013 at the Gielgud Theatre in London and later in New York in 2015), but McDonnell is clearly up to the task.  She brings both intimacy and a incisively dry humor while maintaining the regal haughtiness the role demands.  When Major admits, “I never thought I’d win.” she replies coolly, “Why don’t you resign?” Touché, Queenie!

Nicky McDonnell and Evie Graham Jewett as Queen Elizabeth II and Young Elizabeth - Photographer: Kyle Reardon

You’ll feel like an insider watching Morgan’s imagined Queen justify her role as monarch of Great Britain despite mounting resistance to the monarchy and pressure from her citizenry to modernize.  Watch for Janette Moman who inhabits the feisty “Iron Lady” Thatcher as she goes toe-to-toe with the unflappable Queen, making for some delicious and snappy repartee and spot-on pacing.  Ditto for the rest of the cast including the adorable Evie Graham Jewett who plays Elizabeth as a child and nails some lengthy monologues.

Lighting effects by Ken and Patti Crowley lend drama to the stately meet-and-greets and costumes by Ceci Albert and Lisa Brownsword reflect the Queen’s penchant for matchy-matchy ensembles.  Another clever touch is Ken Brown’s revolving stage that allows everyone to enter and exit with graceful sangfroid.

Recommended for all Anglophiles and royals watchers.

Through March 17th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit online.

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 23, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Mario Font as Vanya and Lorraine Bouchard as Masha ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

Mario Font as Vanya and Lorraine Bouchard as Masha ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

In playwright Christopher Durang’s Tony Award-winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, characters and themes from Chekhov are resurrected in a Bucks County, PA farmhouse.  Sonia (Lorraine Bouchard) and Vanya (Mario Font), have been caretakers to their ailing actor/professor parents for fifteen years and know no other life than their childhood home – a remote farmhouse with a view to their beloved pond and cherry orchard.  The two reclusive siblings include Sonia, a melancholy spinster with slim marital prospects and Vanya, who has not worked out his future (nor his sexual identity) either.  When the last of their parents dies, the two must confront their unknowable future and reconcile the sacrifices they have made to their parents.

: Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra and Mario Font as Vanya - Photos by: Keith Waters

: Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra and Mario Font as Vanya - Photos by: Keith Waters

Their flighty housekeeper, Cassandra (Marilyn Pifer), a self-proclaimed seer fond of reciting grim snippets from Greek tragedies, warns the siblings to beware of many things – especially a character oddly named ‘Hootie Pie’ – who she predicts will upend their comfortable existence.  Despite their doubts the siblings admit that some of her forecasts have actually come to pass – others not so much.

The set-up is hilarious and factors in their successful sister, Masha (Carol Preston), a Hollywood film star and five-time married cougar who soon arrives for the weekend with her young studly beau, Spike (John Paul Odle), aka ‘Vlad’, yet another Chekhov reference.  Amid much canoodling with Spike, Masha tells them she can no longer continue to underwrite the expenses of maintaining the family home.  Throwing a wrench into the evening before it begins, she reveals she has put their house on the market and they must make arrangements to leave.  But first she insists they accompany her to a neighbor’s costume party that night at the former home of Dorothy Parker, where they will go as entourage dwarves to her Snow White and Spike’s sexy Prince.  She tells them their costumes have been arranged by her assistant, Hootie Pie.

Meanwhile, Spike meets Nina (Hannah-Lee Grothaus), a neighbor’s pretty niece, and Masha’s claws come out.  The aging actress’ fierce jealousies and cruel insults to Sonia, leave Vanya to put out the family fires.

: (Back) Carol Preston as Masha, John Paul Odle as Spike, (Front) Hannah-Lee Grothaus as Nina, Mario Font as Vanya, Lorraine Bouchard as Sonia and Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

: (Back) Carol Preston as Masha, John Paul Odle as Spike, (Front) Hannah-Lee Grothaus as Nina, Mario Font as Vanya, Lorraine Bouchard as Sonia and Marilyn Pifer as Cassandra ~ Photos by: Keith Waters

References to known locations in Bucks County, a writer/theater community within commuting distance of New York City, will delight and amuse those familiar with its history and famous denizens.  I got a chuckle from a reference to the New Hope Wawa, the only spot open after 6pm for miles around. (My family frequented that very convenience store for over 50 years as their source for emergency groceries.) 

Director Howard Kurtz does his best to pull this lifeless production together, but it never congeals, despite its humorously drawn characters, hilarious one-liners and Vanya’s rousing diatribe on Spike’s addiction to modern technology. “Our lives are all disconnected,” he howls.  And though the cast individually have their moments, there is no cohesion between the actors and the sense that everyone is acting in a different play, on varying levels of intensity, undercuts its success.  Indeed, the whole does not amount to the sum of its parts.

Through November 11th 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