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Flashy and Fabulous Guys and Dolls Blows the Roof Off at the Kennedy Center

Flashy And Fabulous Guys and Dolls Blows the Roof Off at The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
October 18, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Steven Pasquale and Company (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

A short run of this classic has left town already, but there’s a lingering thrill that can still be felt. The buzz had started as soon as the full cast had been announced – Kevin Chamberlain as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Jessie Mueller as Miss Adelaide, James Monroe Iglehart as Nathan Detroit, Phillipa Soo as Sarah Brown, Steven Pasquale as Sky Masterson, Allison Blackwell as Agatha, and Rachel Dratch of SNL fame as Big Jule. Broadway royalty such as we rarely see in a traveling production would be starring and the tickets were as scarce as hen’s teeth. From the get-go, major out-of-town papers were clamoring for seats and the thought that this would be the caliber of shows presented by Kennedy Center’s “Broadway Center Stage” series sent theatregoers into overdrive.

From racetrack handicappers in zoot suits to gangstas in loud plaids, pinstripes and spats, the colorful characters of Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows 1950 musical Guys and Dolls invite us into the underworld of horse racing, hoochie-coochie joints and floating crap games. And the funny thing is, we want in. Why? Because their bigger-than-life caricatures and pratfall personalities are hilarious. Hanging out with these street corner gamblers and their flashy dolls is flat-out fun.

Jessie Mueller and Phillipa Soo (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Back in the day the Salvation Army and its memorable band would march along Times Square seeking converts to attend their religious meetings. The Save-a-Soul Mission, led by the beautiful Sarah Brown and her avuncular grandfather form the spiritual grounding and counterpoint to the fast life of the lowlifes while the romance between Sky and Sarah provides the counterbalance to Adelaide’s show-stopping performances at the racy Hot Box cabaret.

On a stage set backdropped by rotating scenes of a neon-lit Broadway with tracer lights ablaze on both sides of the stage and two large onstage “dice” showcasing the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra on the big stage, this marvelous show captures New York’s underworld in exhilarating style. The Kennedy Center even managed to obtain and use the 1992 orchestrations from the show’s Broadway revival – an extraordinary coup and no mean feat.

Matthew Saldivar, Kevin Chamberlin, and Akron Watson (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

Loesser wrote lyrics as catchy as “the sheep’s eye and licorice tooth” to paint a vivid picture of gritty writer Damon Runyon’s reflections on the 1950’s. Punctuating the show’s colorful characters are a bevy of male and female dancers who elicited gasps and spontaneous applause from the audience while performing flawless leaps and flips as though attached by wires. They weren’t.

Lady Luck showed up in the Eisenhower Theater that night and we witnessed Washington theatre history.

Jessie Mueller and the Hot Box Girls (Photo/Jeremy Daniel)

With Jacqueline Antaramian as General Cartwright, Fred Applegate as Arvide Abernathy, Eden Marryshow as Lt. Brannigan, Matthew Saldivar as Benny Southstreet, Jimmy Smagula as Harry the Horse, and Akron Watson as Rusty Charlie/Hot Box MC.

Directed by the great Marc Bruni; choreographed spectacularly by Denis Jones; Scenic and Projection Design by Paul Tate Depoo III; Music Director Kevin Stites; Book by Jo Swerling; Costume Design by Mara Blumenfeld; Lighting Design by Cory Pattak; Sound Design by Kai Harad.

Next up on Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage will be Wicked opening December 8th and going through January 22, 2023. I wouldn’t miss it if I were you. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 416-8000.

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is An All-Out Rock Concert of Electrifying Proportion

Tina – The Tina Turner Musical is An All-Out Rock Concert of Electrifying Proportion

Broadway at The National
National Theatre
Jordan Wright
October 9, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Naomi Rodgers as ‘Tina Turner’ (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

Anyone who has followed the struggles of Tina Turner’s young career launched by, and with, her abusive husband Ike Turner with The Ike and Tina Turner Revue to the moment she rejects his domination to forge her own path to stardom knows this story. Coming off its successful Broadway run, is the show that brings the story and the music to the stage – live and in vivid color.

Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Katori Hall with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins and directed by Phyllida Lloyd, Tina – The Tina Turner Musical follows little Anna Mae Bullock’s early life growing up poor in 1950’s Tennessee to her marriage to Ike Turner to the heights of her stratospheric solo career. The musical follows that tragic arc from the choir-singing daughter of a pastor to her early discovery of Buddhism and longing for recognition. The plot echoes her autobiography, “I, Tina: My Life Story” in that it catalogues the racism and marital strife she suffered before finding true love and becoming the 12-time Grammy Award winner and her comeback title as the “Queen of Rock n’ Roll”.

By the time Tina signs with Phil Spector and is backed by his famed Motown “Wall of Sound”, she is well on her way to leaving Ike after two kids and a 16-year abusive marriage to record the songs that would cement her career with “Proud Mary” and “I Don’t Want to Fight No More”.  Twenty-four phenomenal numbers, a fourteen-piece rock band, four Ikettes and I couldn’t count how many dancers turn this rock musical into an all-out rock concert of electrifying proportion. Audience members were literally jumping out of their seats from the energy and power pouring off the stage. If you’ve ever seen Tina perform either in film or live, this is what it feels like – nothing short of a live concert featuring the greatest hits of her career.

Naomi Rodgers performing ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It as ‘Tina Turner’ (Photo/Matthew Murphy)

Songs like “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, “Private Dancer”, “River Deep – Mountain High”, “Disco Inferno”, “I Want to Take You Higher” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero” showcase the talents of the two leads that play Tina – Naomi Rodgers (who played Tina on press night) and Zurin Villanueva. When you see the musical, you will understand why there are two leads. No one actress could fulfill this role night after night. I couldn’t help wondering if the dramatic scenes, the intense vocals and the hard-driving, sweat-inducing dance numbers would last until the finale.

Set and Costume Designer Mark Thompson accurately channels each decade from the 1950’s backup singers’ demure dresses to 60’s sequined bell-bottoms and puffy sleeves, to gold lame and the flash of Tina’s well-known crystal-laden, fringed mini dresses. His sets are an eye-popping extravaganza of mood and moment alongside the rock concert vibe and laser lighting designed by Bruno Poet with noted Choreographer Anthony Van Laast nailing the popular dances of each era.

Standouts are six-time solo Grammy nominee Ann Nesby – as Gran Georgeanna; Ayvah Johnson – a tiny thing with a huge voice who plays Tina as a child; Roz White – well-known local actor as Tina’s mother Zelma Bullock; and Garrett Turner as the brutish, drug-addled Ike Turner.

Original Musical Supervision, Arrangements and Additional Music by Nicholas Skilbeck; Sound Design by Nevin Steinberg; Hair, Wigs & Makeup by Campbell Young Associates.

Highly recommended!

Through October 23rd at The National Theatre 1321 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 628-6161 or visit

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



Robinette Shines in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful – A Heartwarming Family Drama

Robinette Shines in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful – A Heartwarming Family Drama

Ford’s Theatre
Jordan Wright
October 3, 2022
Special to The Zebra

(L-R) Nancy Robinette as Mrs. Carrie Watts and Emily Kester as Thelma
(Photo/Scott Suchman)

Set in Houston, Texas in 1953, The Trip to Bountiful is a nostalgic family drama that was made into an award-winning film starring Geraldine Page whose performance garnered her an Oscar for “Best Actress in a Leading Role” and then remade with Cicely Tyson who won the Tony for “Best Actress in a Play”. In Ford’s Theatre’s season opener, Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Horton Foote couldn’t ask for a better actor to play the part of Mrs. Carrie Watts than Nancy Robinette. As DC theater royalty Robinette has been seen at Ford’s Theatre in Driving Miss Daisy, Carpetbagger’s Children and State of the Union – three plays that draw on her extraordinary ability to morph into a variety of leading roles. She has appeared at all the major theaters both here and around the country and, proof that she is one of the most beloved actors we have, she has received the Helen Hayes Lifetime Achievement Award and is still a force of nature. Going in I knew I would be in for a treat, and the lady didn’t disappoint. Her portrayal of a determined retiree whose only wish is to revisit her childhood home in Bountiful in her dotage, demonstrates her immense talent for inhabiting a character.

(L-R) Kimberly Gilbert as Jessie Mae Watts, Joe Mallon as Ludie Watts and Nancy Robinette as Mrs. Carrie Watts
(Photo/Scott Suchman)

There is some fine casting in this play most especially in scenes with Carrie and Thelma (Emily Kester), a poised young woman Carrie meets at a bus stop after she’s escaped from the clutches of her son Ludie (Joe Mallon) and his abusive, neurotic shrew of a wife Jessie Mae (Kimberly Gilbert) whose single-mindedness of purpose is getting her hands on Carrie’s pension check. The play’s tension comes in the form of Carrie’s desire to find the right time to run away from her oafish son and daughter-in-law without getting caught and dragged back to a life of sameness and city living in a one-bedroom apartment. Her loss of dignity is the driving force of her need to return to a life of open fields, birds on the wing and the Texas coast where she seeks the solace and sense of self that has been denied her. Gilbert and Robinette are a beautifully balanced pair of opposite ages and their conversations at the bus stop are by far the most heartwarming part of the play as Thelma and Carrie comfort each other by swapping tales and singing hymns.

Nancy Robinette as Mrs. Carrie Watts (Photo/Scott Suchman)

Choosing Michael Wilson to direct the production is quite the coup. Wilson directed the premieres of Foote’s The Carpetbaggers Children, The Death of Papa and The Orphans’ Home Cycle for which he won both the Drama Desk Award as well as the Outer Critics Circle Award and he is currently collaborating with Foote’s daughter, Daisy Foote (who was in the audience on opening night), on a new musical based on Foote’s Oscar-winning film, Tender Mercies.  

All this goes to say that the production was at the highest level for fans of Foote’s work, although, if he were still alive, I would urge him to rewrite the ending so that Carrie would find the boyfriend of her youth waiting for her return to Bountiful.

Additional Cast: Marty Lodge as Houston Ticket Agent/Sheriff; Michael Glenn as Second Houston Ticket Agent/Voice; Christopher Bloch as Roy/Voice; with Will Cooke, Nicola Daval, Drake Leach and Mary Myers as Townspeople and Travelers.

Scenic Design by Tim Mackabee; Costume Design by Ivania Stack; Lighting Design by Rui Rita.

Through October 16th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call the box office at 202 347-4833 or visit

Action-Packed Host & Guest Draws on Epic Battles to Deliver a Powerful Message About War

Action-Packed Host & Guest Draws on Epic Battles to Deliver a Powerful Message About War

Synetic Theater
Jordan Wright
September 2022
 Special to The Zebra

Dan Istrate as Joqola (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

In one of the most exhilarating productions Synetic Theater has ever mounted Host & Guest transports the audience into a world of epic wars and hand-to-hand fighting so explosive and exciting I felt I was watching a 3-D action-packed, superhero movie loaded with special effects. The musical score by Vato Kakhidze and with Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze was as dramatic as one you’d expect from Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer. Using a combination of spoken word and mime to express the conflicts arising from warring factions, numerous battles rage against a backdrop of tribal politics, ancient laws and religious differences. The parallels to the war in Ukraine cannot be overlooked.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Zviadauri and Dan Istrate as Joqola (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

The story takes place in a remote mountain locale beside a gorge. Joqola (Dan Istrate) finds himself wounded and battle-weary at the home of Zviadauri (Vato Tsikurishvili) who welcomes him in as his guest. Neither Zviadauri nor his wife Agaza (Irina Tsikurishvili) are aware he is the enemy. Soon Musa (Irakli Kavsadze), the village leader discovers he has let the “infidel” into their midst and organizes the villagers to assault Joqola and murder his guest.

There is a ninja-like quality to the battles and a sense of geometry in the choreography by Synetic Co-Founder, Irina Tsikurishvili. In one epic scene the women prepare the men for battle. In unison and in mime they gird the warriors with their weaponry, helmets and shields. Their militaristic movements are precise and the sounds of their lances hitting the floor with staccato-like echoes are indeed haunting.

Ensemble (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

When empathy for the enemy is punished and humanity is ignored, we see how forces unite under a charismatic leader. With an extraordinary cast to underpin its deepest meaning Roland L. Reed’s play based on Vazha Pshavela’s poem by the same name reveals itself to be an existentialist exercise in the futility of war and Shakespearean in its broadest scope.

Director and Co-Founder Paata Tsikurishvili names Synetic’s 20th anniversary season, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and dedicates this production “to the brave people of Ukraine.” His Director’s Note remarks are a powerful warning and a poignant remembrance.

“For more than six months, the civilized world has watched in horror as true tyranny, the Evil Empire, rocks the European continent as they have time and time again for nearly 80 years. The brutal and unprovoked attack on the peaceful nation of Ukraine is cut from the same bloody cloth as the murderous campaigns of Hitler and Stalin, and has the same basic source: A small, petty man ruled by the small, petty need to feed his own warped ego and megalomania. It is a continuation of the endless, cyclical violence portrayed in Vazha Pshavela’s original poem, on which this production is based, and many of our cast and company have seen this violence with their own eyes. Like many of history’s atrocities, the war crimes we are witness to began with someone small and insignificant, but, left unchecked, they have, as we now see every day, spiraled into global disaster.”

Highly recommended.

Ensemble (Photo/Johnny Shryock)

With Philip Fletcher as Mula; Nutsa Tediashvili as Zviadauri’s Wife; Maryam Najafzada as Deer. Villagers are portrayed by Irene Hamilton, Josh Cole Lucas, Justin Bell, Natan-Maël Gray, Robert Bowen Smith, Lev Belolipetski, and Sebastian Newman. Emma Ruckh plays Daughter.

Scenic Design by Phil Charlwood; Costume Design by Carolan Corcoran; Set Design and Costumes in the Original Production by Gogi Alexi Meskhishvili; Lighting Design by Brian Allard; Sound Design by Irakli Kavsadze.

Through October 2nd at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA 22202. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 824-8060 or visit

Local Veteran Song-and-Dance Man Bobby Smith Hits All the Right Notes in No Place to Go

Local Veteran Song-and-Dance Man Bobby Smith Hits All the Right Notes in No Place to Go

Signature Theatre
Jordan Wright
September 10, 2022
Special to The Zebra

Grant Langford (Sal) and Bobby Smith (George) (Photo by Christopher Mueller)

In an off-beat musical with shades of existentialism, veteran song-and-dance man Bobby Smith channels the travails of the working man. Woman would fit here too. In fact, anyone who has ever had a job they loved or hated. Smith, who has appeared in 28 Sig productions, is tailor made for the role. His singular ability to perform while drawing upon a wide range of emotions has always been his stock-in-trade. Winner of two Helen Hayes acting awards, Smith is a local crowd favorite and this is the perfect vehicle for him to prove why.

No Place to Go tells the story of George, married with children and living in a small company town in upstate New York. We like George because he is a thinking man with views on everything from politics to the Arts. George is an “information refiner”, a job that turns facts into information. We don’t need to understand what that means, we only need to recognize that George is content with his work and nestled in an office environment with co-workers he enjoys. What he’s not entirely comfortable with is his twelve-year employment as a part-timer – no benefits, no paid holidays and especially no job security. When the company decides to move its headquarters to “Mars” as George refers to the new location, he must decide whether to relocate. “I’m standing on the slenderest thread of magical thinking.”

As with many stories of companies down-sizing and moving to far-flung towns to slash salaries and force out employees, the thought of a drastic transition is bitter for him. “They’re the ones who are breaking up with me.” As he weighs the pros and cons of moving to a new town, he imagines several scenarios. Will his in-laws move in and help with expenses, should he self-incorporate (Oh, the benefits!)? At 50 years old, his options are limited and his blueprint for change looks bleak. We want to see George resolve his very relatable personal dilemma, maintain his dignity and come out on top.

Grant Langford (Sal), Bobby Smith (George), Tom Lagana (Jonah), and Ian Riggs (Duke) (Photo by Christopher Mueller)

Moments of dark humor and silly schticks – a forlorn sandwich awaits – temper the seriousness of the subject matter and Smith manages to swing from cheery to somber in a heartbeat. Three accomplished musicians accompany Smith and set the mood for each number. It’s a mix of philosophy and humor bracketed by 12 original songs featuring Blues, Cool Jazz, Merengue, Beatbox, Country Rock, Folk and Mambo. Some numbers are fast paced and Smith’s ability to move like Jagger is impressive. Others, especially the ballads, speak to George’s anxiety about change and longing and here’s where Smith’s talent at emotional candor and his chameleon-like style shine through.

Having seen this staged ten years ago in Manhattan’s Joe’s Pub, a cabaret club and live showcase venue in New York, Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner waited for the right moment and the right performer. It was worth the wait.

Written by Ethan Lipton with music composed by Ethan Lipton, Eben Levy, Ian M. Riggs and Vito Dieterle. Directed by Matthew Gardiner with Scenic Design by Paige Hathaway; Costume Design by Frederick P. Deeben; Sound Design by Matt Rowe; and Arrangements by Ian M. Riggs. Musicians: Tom Lagana as Jonah, Grant Langford as Sal and Ian M. Riggs as Duke.

Through October 9th at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue in Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 703 820-9771.