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An Inspector Calls ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company at Sidney Harman Hall

Jordan Wright
November 28, 2018 

“We don’t live alone.  We are members of one society.  We are responsible for each other.  And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish.”  These are the words of the Inspector.  They are as applicable today as they were when J. B. Priestley penned this thriller during the time of the London Blitz.

(l-r) Jeff Harmas as Mr. Birling, Hamish Riddle as Eric Birling and Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft in An Inspector Call. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Inspired by the English poet John Donne who wrote the indelible phrase, “No man is an island”, Priestley was moved by his desire to see social change.  His play debuted in London in 1946.  This recent iteration, re-worked by Director Stephen Daldry of Billy Elliot and The Crown fame, is performed by the British cast and kicks off a major U. S. tour.  Winner of 19 major accolades, including multiple Tony, Olivier and Drama Desk Awards, it is the longest running revival of a play in history.  Shakespeare Theatre Company, in collaboration with the National Theatre of Great Britain, presents this classic play on the anniversary of philanthropist Sidney Harman’s 100th birthday.

Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole and the cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

The drama opens to haunting atmospherics.  Fog as thick as pea soup wailing sirens and the sound of bombs place us at the height of wartime London towards the end of the Edwardian Era.  The Birlings, well-ensconced in their elegant home, are celebrating their daughter Sheila’s engagement to Gerald Croft – who by all measure is cut from the same cloth.  The parents and son Eric are eager to welcome Gerald into their well-heeled family circle, though Mr. Birling, anticipating a knighthood that will propel him into the ranks of the royals, warns Gerald to be on his best behavior until then.  A small boy, acting as silent witness, appears to be a metaphor for the impending downfall of a family and the struggles of the most vulnerable, as he raises the curtain, lifting it up to afford himself a view of how the upper crust lives.  That the grownups will become entangled in the suicide of a beautiful, young woman is the train that drives the mystery.

Christine Kavanagh as Mrs. Birling, Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling and Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Hitchcockian overtones combined with a brilliant set design by Ian MacNeil, seemingly straight out of a Tim Burton movie, lend an eerie atmosphere to a plot that unfolds through Inspector Goole’s careful line of questioning.  And just when you think the story will have a predictable outcome, it goes all topsy-turvy, several times over.  In a bizarre chain of events that appears to tie the girl to each character, we watch a privileged family become unhinged and witness a whodunnit that will have you at the edge of your seat.

Diana Payne-Myers as Edna and Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling in An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

A rare treat for theatregoers.

With a brilliant cast consisting of Liam Brennan as Inspector Goole; Christine Kavanaugh as Mrs. Birling; Jeff Harmer as Mr. Birling; Andrew Macklin as Gerald Croft; Lianne Harvey as Sheila Birling; Hamish Riddle as Eric Birling; Diana Payne-Myers as Edna; and David Curry III as the boy.

Stephen Daldry, Director; Julian Webber, Associate Director; Ian MacNeil, Scenic and Costume Designer; Rick Fisher, Lighting Designer; Stephen Warbeck, Music; Sebastian Frost, Sound Designer; Charlotte Peters, Associate Director (Tour).

Through December 23rd at Sidney Harman Hall 610 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

The cast of An Inspector Calls. Photo credit: Mark Douet

Anything Goes ~ Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
November 10, 2018 

A feel-good, razzamatazz, hotsy-totsy lollapalooza musical just blew into town like a tornado.  And if you’ll pardon my saying so, it’s the Tower of Pisa, the Louvre Museum, it’s the Top (with apologies to Cole Porter).  You won’t have to head to Broadway to take in fabulous hoofing, gorgeous singing and shtick.  Director Molly Smith’s Anything Goes is the show to see right here and right now!  In the pantheon of American musicals, it’s one of the finest ever written, and fair warning: I expect it will be sold out, so grab your tickets STAT!

(L to R) Soara-Joye Ross (Reno Sweeney) and Corbin Bleu (Billy Crocker) in Anything Goes. Photo by Maria Baranova.

When Cole Porter wrote the music and lyrics in 1934 with humorist P. G. Wodehouse, who penned the sophisticated bon mots of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves the Butler, & Guy Bolton, the musical comedy writer, plus Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, it was a different era.  Some ideas were not as politically or socially correct as we would like.  Securing permission from the composer’s estate, Artistic Director Molly Smith received permission to update the musical.  The story remains intact – a boy and girl experience unrequited love on an ocean liner joined by an evangelist and her “angels”, a covey of crooks, a slew of sailors and a soupçon of society’s upper crust.  What’s fresh is the new book by Timothy Crouse & John Weidman and the diversity of the cast, a thoughtful interpretation of the action, sensational choreography and comic throwaway lines directed at the audience.  “C’mon it’s opening night,” Reno Sweeney calls out to the audience getting us pumped and prepped for what’s to come.  And just like that we’re off, crossing the Atlantic on the U. S. America ocean liner, pulling for them and yukking it up with every cliché, mishap and malapropism.

(L to R) Nicholas Yenson (Ensemble/Quartet), Maria Rizzo (Erma/Ensemble) and Mickey Orange (Ensemble/Quartet) in Anything Goes. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Here is a cast that surprises at every turn.  Soara-Joye Ross (Reno Sweeney) showcases her tremendous diva voice with heaps of attention-getting vibrato, captivating from the get-go with the immensely talented Corbin Bleu (Billy Crocker) and scene stealers Maria Rizzo as Erma, Thomas Adrian Simpson as Elisha Whitney, Jimmy Ray Bennett as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, and Stephen DeRosa as Moonface Martin.

Thanks to award-winning choreographer Parker Esse, there’s soft shoe, modern dance, waltz and eye-popping tap which gratefully is making a strong resurgence.  Think Gower Champion, Jerome Robbins and Tommy Tune all rolled into one.  It’s that good with heaps of singing and dancing up close and personal in the Fichandler’s theater-in-the-round.  Factor in the talents of Conductor/Musical Director Paul Sportelli whose orchestra outdoes itself with orchestration that soars on some of the musical’s most memorable numbers – “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “Easy to Love”, Anything Goes”, “It’s De-lovely” – and many more.

(L to R) Mickey Orange (Ensemble/Quartet), Ben Gunderson (Purser/Ensemble/Quartet), Soara-Joye Ross (Reno Sweeney), Brent McBeth (Ensemble/Quartet/Fred/Photographer) and Nicholas Yenson (Ensemble/Quartet) in Anything Goes . Photo by Maria Baranova.

With Lisa Helmi Johanson as Hope Harcourt, Lisa Tejero as Evangeline Harcourt, Jonathan Holmes as Captain, Ben Gunderson as Purser, Christopher Shin as Luke, Julio Catano-Yee as John, DeMoya Watson Brown as Purity, Kristyn Pope as Chastity, Andrea Weinzierl as Charity, and Maximillian Moonshine/Olly as “Cheeky” the dog.

Soara-Joye Ross (Reno Sweeney) and the cast of Anything Goe. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Set Design by Ken Macdonald, Costumes by Alejo Vietti, Lighting Design by Kimberly Purtell, Hair and Wig Design by Charles G. Lapointe.

Spunk, pizazz and sumptuous buffoonery in spades.  You’ll want to see this one over and over again.

Through December 23rd at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

Silent Night ~ At The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Jordan Wright
November 12, 2018 

Guns fell silent on Christmas Eve 1914 on the Belgian Front during World War I.  Due to a peculiar string of events, this cease fire is one of the strangest tales to ever occur during this war – or any war for that matter.  It’s a story that was kept under wraps for decades, until it wasn’t.  Composer Kevin Puts and Librettist Mark Campbell put us deep in the heart of the fierce battles between the French, German and British (and Scottish) forces and the night they put aside their guns to embrace their humanity, find commonality and discover compassion.

Audebert (Michael Adams), Horstmayer (Aleksey Bogdanov) and Gordon (Norman Garrett) agree to a truce in WNO's Silent Night. Photo credit Teresa Wood

Based on the 2005 film, Joyeux Noël, Silent Night was commissioned by the Minnesota Opera and co-produced by the Opera Company of Philadelphia.  It was first performed in 2011 in Minnesota, going on to be one of the most performed contemporary operas in the U. S. in the past half-century and earning the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for music.  The significance of this current production marks the eve of the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

Father Palmer (bass Kenneth Kellogg) leads Mass during the WWI ceasefire in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

The reasons for going to war are universal, but at the heart of it all is the killing and the chaos.  The soldiers speak of the glory of battle and their future careers, as well as the familiar themes of justice, honor, family, victory and pride of country.  It is crushingly familiar.  “War is not sustainable  when you come to know your enemy as a person.  When you see that the person you might be shooting has a child or a wife or has this life at home and they’re just not the enemy, then it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain  war,” said Campbell.

German Lt Horstmayer laments the end of the truce in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Since, surprisingly, I had never seen this masterpiece before, I do not know if it is typically staged in the same way as it is here – on a three-tiered stage with the different countries occupying a different tier – but it is massively impressive and intensely colorful.  Striking tableaus like illustrations in a book and soldiers captured in silhouette mark the concatenation of the battles through endless days and fearful nights.  But the story is more than battles.  It is about the camaraderie of the soldiers, their quest for home and their interconnectedness despite well-defined borders.  We discover one of the German soldiers is married to a Frenchwoman and another has fond memories of spending time in the village of his enemy.

German, Scottish and French troops pose for pictures during a ceasefire in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Harmonics are an outstanding element in this unique opera as it is written polystylistically with influences of Baroque music and the inclusion of bagpipes (over 1,000 bagpipers died in WWI).

For this production, Artistic Director, Francesca Zambello, has chosen to showcase artists who have been a member of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, now in its 17th year.  Each cast member has benefitted from this prestigious program and there’s no use in singling out one or two performers out of a 26-member cast who were flawless.  Oh okay, just a few of the principals – Raquel González as Anna Sørensen for her a cappella aria of peace, Alexander McKissick as Nikolaus Sprink for his duet with Anna, and Aleksey Bogdanov as the German General who has a change of heart.

Nikolaus Sprink (Alexander McKissick) and Anna Sorensen (Raquel Gonzalez) refuse to separate in WNO's Silent Night ~ Photo credit Teresa Wood

Conducted by Nicole Paiement with the Washington National Opera Chorus and the Washington National Opera Orchestra and directed by Tomer Zvulun.  Set and Projection Design by Erhard Rom, Costume Design by Victoria (Vita) Tzykun, Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel, Sound Design by Kai Harada and Fight Master Joe Isenberg.

Highly recommended for its timely message and glorious production.

Through November 25th.  Check calendar for performances.  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 www.Kennedy-Center.org.

Billy Elliot the Musical ~ Signature Theatre

Jordan Wright
November 10, 2018
Special to The Alexandria Times

The ensemble of Billy Elliot. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The story of Billy Elliot is a tender tale of a boy who dreams of becoming a dancer while growing up in a working-class mining town in Ireland.  But it’s so much more.  It’s a universal story of hope, identity and overcoming the odds when everything seems stacked against you.  Battling against a macho culture dictated by generations of miners who believe a boy’s education requires boxing lessons (all the better to defend themselves in a drunken pub fight, I suppose), young Billy shows indomitable grit in overcoming the rigidly proscribed barriers to self-fulfillment.

Liam Redford (Billy Elliot) and Jacob Thomas Anderson (Michael McCaffrey) in Billy Elliot. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Backdropped against a year-long miners’ strike brought on by the repressive politics of Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative Government, the town rallies in a show of solidarity by vowing not to cross the picket lines.  Billy’s dad and big brother Tony picket daily, battling a phalanx of police who crack heads and terrorize the protesters.  “It’s about our history.  It’s about our rights,” Billy’s dad proclaims.

Owen Tabaka (Billy Elliot), Chris Genebach (Dad) and the ensemble of Billy Elliot. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Megastar Sir Elton John wrote the music in collaboration with Lee Hall, who wrote the book and lyrics for the film and the musical, as well as the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.  Making its Broadway debut in 2008, this electrifying musical won Tony, Grammy and Academy Awards for “Best Musical”.

Director/Choreographer Matthew Gardiner gifts us with an astonishing cast led by Liam Redford and Owen Tabaka alternating as Billy; the spectacular Nancy Anderson as Billy’s gutsy dance instructor, Mrs. Wilkinson; Chris Genebach as Billy’s widowed dad, Jackie; Dan Manning as George, the boxing coach; the incomparable Catherine Flye as Billy’s Grandma; and a remarkable young actor/tap dancer/singer, Jacob Thomas Anderson, as Billy’s comic, crossdressing playmate, Michael.

As expected in a coal mining town, the language is salty – magnificently salty with f-bombs tempered by that particularly appealing, hilariously dry, Irish-accented wit.  Not suitable to quote those in a family newspaper, I offer this somewhat restrained line.  “It’s not a bloody tea dance,” George chastising a reluctant Billy to bash his pal in boxing class, “Whack him in the head!”

Simone Warren (Keeley Gibson), Sissy Sheridan (Susan Parks), Nancy Anderson (Mrs. Wilkinson), Noelle Robinson (Angela Robinson) and Annie Dodson (Alison Summers) in Billy Elliot. Photo by Margot Schulman.

But let’s talk about the dancing.  Press night gave us the mind-blowing talents of Liam Redford, a kid you couldn’t take your eyes off of.  Highly accomplished in ballet, tap, modern dance, aerial acrobatics (move over Peter Pan wannabes) and singing too, of course, Redford mesmerizes the audience with his elfin charm and precise moves – also notable is his seemingly effortless ease and emotional depth in connecting with the other cast members.  More than two dozen kids and adults are also dancers in this production giving us enough hoofing, boogieing and pirouettes for two shows plus – all to the sounds of a nine-piece orchestra led by Tom Vendafreddo.

Heartwarming, electrifying and highly recommended.

With Sean Watkinson as Tony, Jamie Ecker as Billy’s late mother, Olivia McMahon/Vivian Poe as Debbie, Stephawn P. Stephens as Big Davey, Harrison Smith as Mr. Braithwaite, Grant Richards as Older Billy, and Solomon Parker III as London Dancer.

Scenic Design by Jason Sherwood, Costume Design by Kathleen Geldard, Lighting Design by Amanda Zieve, Sound Design by Ryan Hickey with Assistant Director and Dialect Coach Rex Daugherty.

Through January 6th 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.

LightUp Fest, the Largest Holiday Lights Festival on the East Coast, Comes to Loudoun County

Jordan Wright
November 10, 2018

LightUPFest ~ Tunnel of Lights

Beginning November 8th LightUP Fest will be open every day from 5:30pm till 10:30pm through January 2, 2019 in Loudoun County.  Named a “Top 5 Holiday Light Show” in North America by USA TODAY, this spectacular light show hosts an exhibit combining traditional Chinese lanterns with modern lighting technology.  Spanning 20 acres, the eight-week long exhibition will be the largest light display on the East Coast, featuring a wondrous delight for the whole family.  Attendees will able to enjoy the displays, as well as partake in entertainment, food, interactive craft activities and much more.

LightUPFest ~ Panda

With 77 eye-popping themed installations made up of more than 1 million lights, LightUP Fest will be a magical experience.  The exhibit’s four major themes are “Tour of Fantasy”, “Freedom America”, “Mysterious East” and “Magical World”.  These dynamic displays will combine the latest in lighting technology with artisan-crafted lanterns showcasing the rich heritage, tradition and culture worldwide.

LightUPFest ~ Interactive Kids

In addition to the incredible artisan-crafted light show, LightUP Fest will also feature daily performances from acrobats, dancers and musicians.  An eclectic food court offering a variety of unique cuisines will also be on site.  Look to enjoy the interactive craft and art section to showcase the intricate culture and tradition of craftsmanship with hands-on activities such as sugar puppet making, calligraphy, portrait sketching and rice carving for all ages to participate in. 

LightUPFest ~ Ocean Scenes

One Loudoun www.OneLoudoun.com is an urban-inspired, mixed-use community located in the heart of Loudoun County at Rt. 7 and the Loudoun County Parkway, Easthampton Plaza, Ashburn, VA 20147. Admission to the event is $29.99 for an adult and $19.99 for kids ages 3 - 12. Children under 3 are FREE.  Discounted family packages and special rates for students and seniors.  Military, police and firefighters with proper identification are welcome to attend for free every Tuesday.  A portion of the proceeds will go to the non-profit Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Campus.

LightUPFest ~ Eiffel Tour

 LightUP Fest is designed by Zigong Lantern Festival and Trade Group, which has over 30 years of experience producing displays in more than 300 cities in China and over 30 countries worldwide. The Festival was first brought to the U.S. in 2014 in Atlanta and has since been held multiple times in Houston and Phoenix.  For more information, please visit www.thelightupfest.com

LightUPFest ~ Lights of the North