The Fantasticks ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 15, 2019
Special to The Alexandria Times

Back row left to right: Ilyana Rose as boy Mute & Lauren Sutton as girl Mute Front: Rachel Hogan as Luisa & Luis “Matty” Montes as Matt. Photographer: Michael deBlois

The greatly beloved The Fantasticks has been taken on by Director Eleanore Tapscott as LTA’s latest endeavor.  This quirky musical with a dreamy score by Harvey Schmidt has a long and storied history.  Its first New York incarnation was off-Broadway at the now shuttered Greenwich Village’s Sullivan Street Playhouse in 1960 where it lured avid theatregoers to venture far beyond the Great White Way to enjoy its charms.  Loosely based on the play, The Romancers (Les Romanesque) by Edmund Rostand, the musical incorporates a number of theatrical styles.  Thanks to its enduring popularity, in 2006 it enjoyed a revival, later drifting uptown to the Theater Center where it saw its final performance two years ago.  Notably, it is the world’s longest-running musical.

Left to right: Matt Liptak as Mortimore & Fred Lash as Henry. Photographer: Michael deBlois

This is a tender story of two young lovers who meet in secret outside the prying eyes of their respective parents – the boy’s mother, Hucklebee (Janice Zucker), and the girl’s button-maker father, Bellomy (Stephen P. Yednock), who have forbidden them to see each other.  Unbeknownst to the children, this denial of their love is a ruse concocted by scheming parents who are secretly plotting their nuptials.  The story cribs from the classics with a pair of mute harlequins, an idiot Indian (this characterization should be jettisoned ASAP), a criminal narrator, a Shakespeare-quoting actor for hire (Fred Lash), a swash-buckling bandit (Christopher Overly), the father who is pure schtick, and a dotty mother whose pastime is clipping hedges.  For an added note of whimsey, this hodge-podge of characters is joined by a band of traveling performers known as the Compagnia Gelosi Zanni.

Ilyana Rose as the boy Mute & Lauren Sutton as the girl Mute. Photographer: Michael deBlois

As Luisa (Rachel Hogan) and Matt (Luis “Matty” Montes) woo and squabble, it becomes clear that, despite their parents plans for them to wed, they are on the verge of breaking up.  Bellomy and Hucklebee cook up an abduction of Luisa so that Matt can appear to be her hero.  But their nefarious scheme awry in a heartbeat when it is revealed to be a ruse, and Luisa falls under the spell of El Gallo, the bandit.

Christopher Overly as El Gallo. Photographer: Michael deBlois

The music is unforgettable, lyrical and off-beat with some of the better-known tunes, “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “Try to Remember”, all-time classics.  Unfortunately, the performances are uneven at best and the staging is uninspired, despite the vocal chops of Montes and Hogan, the wonderful character interpretations of Matt Liptak, and the clever comic talents of Yednock who milks his vaudevillian character for all its worth.

In front: Rachel Hogan as Luisa & Luis “Matty” Montes as Matt. Photographer: Michael deBlois

With Ilyana Rose and Lauren Sutton as the Mutes, Paige Rammelkamp as The Pianist, Kristen Jepperson or Laura Stokes as The Harpist, and Marque Nelson as The Percussionist.

Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones, Choreography by Jason A. Ellis, Set Design by Michael deBlois, Lighting design by Marzanne Claiborne, Costume Design by Juliana Cofrancesco, and Sound Design by Alan Wray.

Through February 2nd at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

Dracula ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
October 16, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

 “We are all of us invented – cobbled together from cartilage and dust.”  Thus, speaketh Renfield, who finds himself chained to the wall in Dr. John Seward’s lunatic asylum.  Seward struggles to explain the young man’s sudden madness and thirst for blood.  “I will solve the mystery of your mind,” he claims forebodingly.

Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray and Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Tis the season of the witch and the spellbinding legend of Count Dracula of Transylvania… the time for telling ghostly tales and spreading terror in the hearts of our dear citizenry.  To that end, Director Jennifer Lyman gives us a horror story with a soupçon of laughter… all the better to cheer you up and frighten you half to death.

Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra and Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Two young women, Mina Murray, betrothed to Jonathan Harker, and her childhood friend, Lucy Westenra, live together in Lucy’s London home.  Lucy has three suitors, in particular Seward, who is eager to wed her.  But it is the unknown man who visits after all are tucked in their beds that has the most sway over Lucy’s sleepless nights and terrifying dreams.

Chris Andersen as Dracula ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

Soon Harker, who has been brokering a deal with the Count to purchase an estate in London, and Seward join forces to solve the mystery.  Professor Abraham Van Helsing, a man with serious street cred for driving out vampires, comes to their aid and the three sail to Transylvania and the castle of the Count hoping to drive a stake through his heart before the Count, aka ‘Nosferatu’, arrives in London to terrorize the city.  As a vampire of note, this Dracula is no ordinary neck-obsessed villain.  In his quest for victims, he is fearsome yet funny with a thick Romanian accent that delivers plenty of hilarious double entendres.

Jeff Elmore as Renfield ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

This creepy pot-boiler is jam-packed with thrills and chills and plenty of vampire paraphernalia to lift your 'spirits' – stakes, crypts, mirrors, strings of garlic, harpies, bats, crosses, clanking chains and more.  Most impressive are the production values – the aforementioned props, atmospheric lighting and billowing fog (Gratefully hyper-allergenic!), eerie music, ghoulish makeup and sinister sound effects.  Even the clever set design of a two-story castle with multiple entrances and exits commands high marks. 

Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, and Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing ~ Photographer: Doug Olmsted

With Jeff Elmore as Renfield, Heather Benjamin as Mina Murray, Lynley Peoples as Lucy Westenra, Brendan Quinn as Jonathan Harker, Griffin Voltmann as Dr. John Seward, Chris Anderson as Dracula, Kirk Lambert as Abraham Van Helsing.

Director Jennifer Lyman, Assistant Director and Fight Choreographer Michael Page, Set Designer Matt Liptak, Properties Designer Michelle Hall, Lighting Designer JK Lighting Design, Sound Design Janice Rivera, Special Effects by Art Snow, with period Wardrobe Design by Shannon Robichaud.

Kudos to Gothic novelist Bram Stoker’s Victorian vampire and LTA’s cast and crew.  You’ve given us a monster of a ghoulish show this Halloween.

Through November 3rd 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.

August: Osage County ~ The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
September 9, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

In the time-tested tradition of portraying dysfunctional families as a device, playwright Tracy Letts gifts us with a slyly engrossing gem about the Weston family – their children and their spouses.  Set in a country home in Osage County, Oklahoma, Violet Weston holds her extended family emotionally hostage… and it’s riveting.  I mean, who doesn’t want to witness another family’s meltdowns?  It’s the stuff Shakespeare (and soap operas!) are made of.  Schadenfreude – the perfect prescription for diminishing our own problems.

Katarina Frustaci as Johnna Monevata, Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston
Photographer: Matt Liptak

Beverly Weston is a man of letters – published, pedantic and alcoholic – the poet patriarch of his large family.  When he goes missing and family members arrive to help in the search, Violet is free to wreak havoc.  Armed with a battery of opioids and anti-depressants, this pill-popping drama queen gleefully bullies and guilts her three daughters into disinheriting themselves.  Divorce is a popular theme too.  Within a mere three acts Letts throws every accusation and guilt trip on one and all.  Expect a delectable bouillabaisse of toxicity in every caustic remark.

Gratefully, a superb cast subsumes our angst at their hair-raising conflicts delivering some of the funniest lines ever.  I wanted desperately to memorize a few of these snarky barbs.  You will too.  They might come in handy at your next family gathering.  In one particularly funny/crazy/menacing scene at the supper table, as all the members are gathered around bemoaning Beverly’s fate, Violet toys with her knife, twisting it gleefully while alternately threatening and accusing each one in turn.  Think Nurse Ratched, Virginia Wolfe and Miss Hannigan rolled into one tyrannical villainess.  Fun, right?

Frustaci as Johnna Monevata, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as Mattie Fae Aiken, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Diane Sams as Violet Weston, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Balancing out the madness is Johnna Monevata (Katarina Frustaci), a soft-spoken Cheyenne girl, Beverly hired as housekeeper before he disappeared, and who proves to be the heroine of the whole psychologically damaged lot.

Director Susan Devine is skillful at extracting a wide range of conflicting emotions from her cast as their respective characters veer wildly out of control from love to hate to sympathy. 

Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston ~ Photographer: Matt Liptak

Notable performances from Diane Sams as Violet, Gayle Nichols-Grimes as her bossy sister-in-law Mattie Fae Aiken, Tom Flatt as Charlie Aiken, Mattie’s browbeaten husband, and Nicky McDonnell as Barbara Fordham, one of Violet’s three daughters and a central character in the conflicts.

With Fred C. Lash as Beverly Weston, Carlotta Capuano as Ivy Weston, Michael Fisher as Bill Fordham, Camille Neumann as Jean Fordham, Paul Donahoe as Sheriff Deon Gilbeau, Elizabeth Keith as Karen Weston, Eric Kennedy as Steve Heidebrecht and Greg Wilczynski as Little Charlie Aiken.

Set Design by Dan Remmers, Lighting Design by Franklin Coleman, Sound Design by Alan Wray and Costume Design by Beverley Benda.

Highly recommended – especially for those with perfectly behaved families.

Through September 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

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