Trevor Noah

2018-2019 Performing Arts Guide: 25 Must-See Performances

Scattered among the hustle and bustle of DC’s bureaucracy, there are creative hubs of everyone from singers and actors to directors and writers, practicing day by day to give you exceptional shows this performing arts season. From upscale date nights at the Kennedy Center to intimate performances at Signature Theatre, we’ve collected some of the most enticing and need-to-know shows for lovers of the stage.

This year, there are the usual themes of love and Shakespeare adaptations, but have you ever seen Shakespeare set in a 1980s Manhattan dive bar where the love is as fluid as the music? Gender-bending and upbeat, you can catch Illyria at Gunston Arts Center. Or stick a little closer to the classics at National Theatre with the heart-fluttering magic of Finding Neverland, based on the Academy Award-winning film. We’re also excited for DC comedy this season, including Bentzen Ball returning this month with a wonderfully diverse lineup of the funniest voices out right now.

If you’re missing your summer vacation, you can catch a wave with Arena Stage’s Anything Goes, set on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean and starring Disney Channel’s Corbin Bleu. True crime nerds and future lawyers won’t want to miss the behind-the-scenes investigative journey of Netflix’s Making a Murderer at Lincoln Theatre. This season’s stories are like a bouquet of Edible Arrangements: completely enticing and with a performance for everyone. Don’t wait to pick your treat!

October

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18

Illyria
This WSC (Washington Shakespeare Company) Avant Bard production set in the 1980s is a colorful and music-heavy tale where gender is an afterthought. Illyria is freely adapted from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a story in which seemingly straight characters fall in love with someone despite their projected gender identity and not because of it. Ezra Tozian will be playing Viola in her cross-dressing performance as Cesario, taking the act to another level as a performance within a performance. What are the subtle mannerisms that she’ll take from gender to gender? What is it about Viola and Cesario that their admirers will fall in love with? The titular Illyria dive bar in Manhattan will intertwine the lives of multiple identities, all while bumping the music of love. Gunston Arts Center’s Theatre Two: 2700 S. Lang St. Arlington, VA; www.wscavantbard.org

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 20 & FRIDAY, OCTOBER 26 – SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27

Trevor Noah
You have no excuse to miss one of the fiercest names in comedy this fall. The South African comedian and The Daily Show host will make multiple appearances at DAR Constitution Hall in October, where he’ll continue to use his platform to discuss race and social justice in his home country and here in the U.S. We can’t think of a better way to round out your weekend than with Noah’s wit and wisdom. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25 – FRIDAY, OCTOBER 28

Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival
Comedian Tig Notaro has curated three nights of comedy just for DC. First up is Phoebe Robinson, from HBO’s 2 Dope Queens and Netflix’s Ibiza. Stick around for Amanda Seales’ presentation of “Smart, Funny, & Black.” You’ll know Seales from HBO’s runaway hit Insecure. And I can’t wait to hear what kind of funny disaster stories will be shared during “#Adulting” with Michelle Buteau and Jordan Carlos. Unfortunately, the exuberant jokester Jonathan Van Ness (of Queer Eye fame) is already sold out. You can still enjoy performances by the previously mentioned though, as well as Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. I love the idea of a festival full of diverse talent who are passionate about bringing their comedic style center stage. The Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 30 – WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 9

Billy Elliot
Ballet. Coal mining. Labor strikes. Following your dreams. An infectious soundtrack, courtesy of Sir Elton John himself. What do all of these things have in common? They’re all part of the iconic tale of the boy who loved to dance, coming to Arlington’s award-winning, intimate space at Signature Theatre. The singalong tale will run through the holidays, providing the perfect opportunity to show DC’s magnificent productions of classic theatre to your houseguests. Or sneak out and enjoy this feel-good, toe-tapping tale on your own. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Anything Goes 2

November

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 23

Anything Goes
As the SS American carries away its passengers from London to New York, it also sails a little secret across the ocean. There’s a passionate love stowed away between Billy and the countess Hope Harcourt. She’s meant to get married to the wealthy Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (please pronounce in your snootiest voice – it’s probably an accurate descriptor of the character). Of course, Billy doesn’t have the riches, but he does have determination and that has to count for something, right? He manages to get some fellow passengers on board (ha) with his mission, and the rest is for you to find out. I’ll be rooting for Billy mostly because he’s played by a familiar face, Disney Channel’s own Corbin Bleu. Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 5

Inside Netflix’s Making a Murderer
The documentary series centered on Steven Avery’s wrongful conviction of sexual assault and attempted murder at the age of 23 offers a deeper dive into the stories from the lawyers in the courtroom with him. Avery spent 18 years in prison before his exoneration, only to be convicted of another murder two years after his release. Anyone who gets a thrill from cold cases will love this discussion, with time for audience questions. Attorneys David Rudolf and Jerry Buting will share the ins and outs of their work on the cases, reminding us all that true crime stories aren’t just tales for our entertainment. These cases are the culmination of investigation, interviews, anxiety and a search for truth spanning decades. The in-depth event will be moderated by NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35. The Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10 – SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11

Comedy Get Down
Four of the biggest names in comedy – Eddie Griffin, George Lopez, D.L. Hughley and Cedric The Entertainer – reunite to bring their individual comedic talents to one night of comedy at MGM Theatre. The incredibly accomplished lineup returns for two nights of laughs after their wildly successful, sort-of-scripted (but always real) series based on the 2017 version of the tour aired on BET. No matter your preferred brand of comedy, you’re guaranteed a good time at one of these performances. The Theater at MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com

Elf the Musical

December

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 9 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 6

Elf The Musical
Everyone’s favorite modern Christmas classic hits the stage just in time for the holiday season. In case you’ve never seen Will Ferrell’s magnum opus (just one gal’s humble opinion), this absurd and endearing comedy sees an orphaned boy raised in the North Pole by elves venture to the Big Apple in search of his father during the most wonderful time of the year. A night of wholesome, wintry laughs is guaranteed. I’m so excited I could cram 11 cookies into my VCR. Olney Theatre Centre: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 6

The Panties, The Partner and The Profit
German playwright Carl Sternheim is an unsung hero in the art of satire. Playwright David Ives and Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC) are bringing meditations on the middle class to the U.S. with this adaptation of Sternheim’s trilogy of plays about the Mask family – this time set across America and spanning the 1950s to the 1980s. In addition to bringing this adaptation stateside, Ives will collaborate with STC Artistic Director Michael Kahn for the final time as he rounds out his 30-year role with the theatre company. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 6

The Play That Goes Wrong
This is a classic case of whodunnit that will make you…laugh? The play’s premise has a group putting on their own play, The Murder at Haversham Manor, and the cast is about as great as if your uncle wrangled his five kids and your grandmother together to perform at the holiday party. The murder mystery is less thrill and suspense, more bizarre and meant to make you cry of laughter rather than fear. The production describes itself as the illegitimate Broadway baby of Sherlock Holmes and Monty Python, and satirizes the idea of a terribly untalented production of actors through purposeful missed lines and breathing “corpses.” Fire extinguishers put out a person – not a fire – and doors hit actors and fall off the hinges entirely. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Nell Gwynn

January

FRIDAY, JANUARY 18 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Twelve Angry Men
The American justice system exists in tumult, and this classic play shows us that it has been in that state for a long time. For those of you who somehow made it out of a high school government class without watching the movie adaptation of Twelve Angry Men, the story follows 12 men who are identified only by their juror numbers as they contentiously deliberate the fate of a young Hispanic boy accused of killing his father. Race, justice, age and community are examined in this classic and evergreen story. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fordstheatre.org

SUNDAY, JANUARY 20

Step Afrika! 25th Anniversary Celebration
Traditional stepping has origins in South Africa and has since made its way into American pop culture and the traditions of historically black fraternities and sororities. Despite centuries-old history, Step Afrika! is the first professional stepping company. Combining influences from other dance forms, their high-energy and heart-pumping performances tell a story through stomps, claps and synchronized techniques. Though their moves seem on par with Olympic-level gymnastics, some dances are impressively elevated when performed in business wear – belts, vests and all. This year’s performance is special in more ways than one for the company, as 2019 commemorates 25 years since President Nelson Mandela’s election. $34-$75. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

TUESDAY, JANUARY 29 – SUNDAY MARCH 10

Nell Gwynn
At first blush, this is the tale of the life and times of one of King Charles II of England’s many mistresses: the titular Nell Gwynn. Dig deeper and you’ll find a glimpse into the transformative history of women breaking boundaries while cracking jokes. Nell is caught heckling performers at a play, and instead of being cast out for her behavior, it leads her to be one of the first women cast as a player in the King’s company. This eventually finds Nell in the arms of the King, but her personal journey is more captivating than any love story. If someone in 17th-century England can concede that women – even ones who heckle – are funny, we can surely stop arguing about that today. Don’t miss Nell’s remarkable ride this winter. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

BLKS

February

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

BLKS
Sex and the City has a way different meaning for Octavia, a New York City native who had a serious STD scare. Like any rational 20-something undergoing a stressful, possibly life-changing trauma, she decides she’ll need the help of her best girlfriends, June and Imani, to navigate her next steps. The trio experience much of what you’d expect when gallivanting around the city after dark: interactions with attractive men and women whose words and personalities ruin any romantic and sexual pursuit. The way the girls’ encounters interact with their identities is a prominent message in this production. They’re women, they’re millennials and they’re black – and even though they’re close, this one night has them jumping over hurdles that will either strengthen their bond or completely break through it. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8 – SUNDAY, MARCH 10

The Heiress
It is an unfortunate worldwide truth that money cannot replace the love of another person. Catherine Sloper, the heiress in question, is a prime example. She’s been raised in 1840s New York and is monetarily wealthy but poor in affection. Any shred of her father’s warmth has been guarded since her mother died during childbirth – and she’s never been one with many admirers. She’s socially awkward – much more relatable than inherited wealth – and not obviously beautiful. Catherine has long learned to be complacent with what she has, until a cute guy takes interest in her and she finally feels the adoration she’s missed her whole life. This live love story may or may not make you cry. Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 23 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

Finding Neverland the Musical
With just a bit of faith, trust and pixie dust, playwright J.M. Barrie gave us the classic, dreamy tale of Peter Pan and Neverland – a sweet escape from bedtimes and lecturing fathers. Finding Neverland the Musical offers a behind-the-scenes look at Barrie’s inspiration, introducing the real George, Michael and Peter in his life. Just when Barrie stopped believing, he met the family that sparked the magic he needed in his own career as a writer. There’s something heartwarming about the story that sprouted imagination in so many children being born from the real make-believe games of young boys. If there’s anything that connects us all through time and geography, it’s our longing to see more than what appears and create new worlds. Don’t miss the spectacular reimagining of the story behind the story. Tickets $54 and up. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.findingneverlandthemusical.com

Queen of Basel

March

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 26 – SUNDAY, MARCH 31

Vanity Fair
Playwright Kate Hamill takes William Makepeace Thackeray’s “novel without a hero” to the stage with new eyes for the character’s complex, vivacious inner lives. This adaptation sees good friends Amelia and Becky make their way through the world in a society that’s unforgiving to women regardless of appearance, wealth or status. At the heart of Hamill’s take is the beauty and strength of female friendship that allows the women to overcome the patriarchal boundaries that attempt to restrict them. And while the original novel was written in the mid-1800s, the story is just as relevant today. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6 – SUNDAY APRIL 7

Queen of Basel
Anyone rich and famous on the Sunshine State’s coast is partying away for the week-long Art Basel. It seems like a high point for Julie, whose father’s savvy hotel property investments got her the extra star treatment in a swanky room. She’s engaged, it’s her hotel and nothing can go wrong. But before the party ends, she’s single again and stuck in a tight space with hotel employees. Julie learns of the other side of Miami from Floridians who live in the slums – still the luckier side of the coin compared to Venezuela, where employee Christine fled from political dangers. Julie never expected to celebrate Art Basel hiding from her loved ones, but what she gains from speaking with Christine is more valuable than what a price tag can note. Tickets $20-$80. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 – SATURDAY, APRIL 6

Hands on a Hardbody
This new take on a truly American experience deals with relationships, immigration, transportation and more. Ten Texans from all different walks of life vie for a truck in a “hands on a hardbody” contest in the hot summer sun. As they fight for a new set of wheels, this off-the-wall environment brings truths about the contest, each contestant and their community to light. Based on a documentary of the same name that premiered in 1997, the story feels every bit as relevant more than a decade later. Tickets begin at $52. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

Grand Hotel

April

THURSDAY, MARCH 28 – SATURDAY, APRIL 20

Columbinus
It’s been 20 years since the Columbine High School massacre, and tragically, the United States has not seen improvement in keeping students safe from school shootings. A new wave of teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are continuing to push the fight forward. This docudrama comes at a compelling time to remind us all of where we started, and how it hasn’t gotten better two decades later. Among all the difficulties and growing pains that characterize “teenage angst,” it’s unimaginable to feel the way the Columbine and MSD students did. Columbinus combines real interviews from the time of the shooting with survivors, the parents and others in the community. For those involved in the debate or who are passionate about reform, this is likely to generate new discussions on the matter. 1st Stage: 1524 Spring Hill Rd. Tysons, VA; www.1ststagetysons.org

TUESDAY, APRIL 2 – SUNDAY, MAY 12

Grand Hotel
Berlin in the 1920s was a precious period of creative and economic prosperity. What better way to peek into the lives of Berlin’s personalities than visiting a hotel? The Grand Hotel sees many swinging its doors and booking rooms, causing lots of mix-matches to collide and mingle – like the ballerina who jetés into the hotel and has unlikely interactions with a bookkeeper, as well as a typist and a baron. This musical will feature some special performances including discussion nights, a pride night and a performance with open captioning. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24 – SUNDAY, MAY 19

Oslo
This three-hour play is based on the true story of a husband-and-wife diplomat team who, unbeknownst to the proper channels, organized instrumental meetings between Israel and Palestine during the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s. As the conflict between those two countries rages on nearly 25 years later, this play provides eloquent insight into a very real and very modern attempt to solve one of the most complicated conflicts in human history. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Capture

May

WEDNESDAY, MAY 1 – SUNDAY, JUNE 2

The Children
Two retired nuclear physicists live on an island and require stringent routines to get through each day. They’re seemingly making it work, surrounding themselves with healthy food and yoga practice – despite the fact they’re living in a post-apocalyptic world in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. The couple’s calculated days are brought to a screeching halt with the unexplained appearance of a former coworker, who comes bearing a nasty nosebleed and an even nastier secret. A slow-burning meditation on humankind’s responsibility as stewards of the earth, there couldn’t be a better time to experience this critically acclaimed modern tale. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 15 – SUNDAY, JUNE 16

Sooner/Later
With To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and other rom-coms dominating the film industry, it’s still unlikely to follow the dating life of a woman who is the single mother of a teenage girl. We usually view the story solely from the teen perspective. This production gives Gilmore Girls vibes, with the charming closeness of a mother and daughter who have a friendly, supportive relationship rather than a strictly parent-child one. But enter one more character who kind of disrupts the dynamic: the man, the love interest, the newcomer. Mosaic Theater Company describes its production as navigating the pains and pleasure of romance, marriage and parenting with a “metaphysical twist.” You’ll want to watch this play sooner rather than later (ha). As a lesser-heard type of story, Sooner/Later needs support to get more stories like it onstage – and maybe you can even bond with your own mom at a performance. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.mosaictheater.org

FRIDAY, MAY 17 AND SUNDAY, MAY 19

An Evening of Verdi
The Maryland Lyric Opera has brought numerous works to the DC area since its founding in 2014, and its 2019 season will be no exception. The opera’s talented cast brings the works of famed Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi to the Music Center at Strathmore’s halls. The performance is the perfect outing for opera lovers or those just being introduced to the craft. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org