Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Inside Richard the Third’s Doom Rock Inspired Soundtrack

Shakespeare and doom rock are not two things one would associate. But in the world of Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s Richard the Third the two are intrinsically linked, thanks to composer Lindsay Jones. A lifelong lover of music, Jones has been playing since he was a teen and is entirely self taught. While working as an actor in Chicago, he began scoring plays as a side gig. Combined with his passion for music, it quickly became a legitimate career that’s seen him score a host of successful productions throughout the country. Now,  25 years into his career crafting innovative compositions for theatre, Jones lent his talent – and love for doom rock, punk and metal – to the score of STC’s dark performance.

OT: How did you come to work with Shakespeare Theatre Company on this play?
Lindsay Jones: When I first sat down with [artistic director] David Muse, he told me he wanted [the score] to be punk rock. I’ll be honest, I’m a huge fan of punk rock, but I never get asked to make punk rock. There just aren’t a lot of theatres in America looking for punk rock soundtracks. As he described it to me, he said he wanted it to start out very punk and full of energy, but as the play went on, to get distorted and ugly and dirty.

OT: How did you or the others involved in the play decide to approach the score using doom rock?
LJ: I started thinking of using doom rock, which is slow, and dirge-y but still super distorted – the soundtrack of your nightmares, basically. I wanted to start with punk rock [that became] doom rock as it went along. But it occurred to me that in the structure of Richard the Third, in the beginning of the play Richard says, “I’m planning this takeover, I’m going to slowly methodically knock out all of my enemies til’ I get to be king.” There’s not a lot of fast stuff in there. Once Richard is king, everything starts falling apart and becoming more frantic and crazy. Halfway through I realized I was doing this in reverse – it should start slower and speed up as it goes, so that’s what we did.

OT: What other elements played into the score’s composition?|
LJ: As I was walking out of David’s office after our initial meeting, he told me he had this other idea for the actors to be playing body percussion along with the music. I didn’t know how that was going to play itself out. They hired an amazing movement choreographer named Stephanie Paul, who in rehearsal worked with the actors to create complex sequences where they’re playing on their bodies with knives and sticks – all sorts of things. They’re pounding out complicated rhythms while sequences are happening. So I would watch videos of the actors doing these movement sequences, figure out what the BPM was and then create music that fit.

OT: That’s an incredibly unique element – and incredibly challenging to work with, I can imagine!
LJ: Rock music doesn’t usually have a lot of space for additional percussion. The whole idea is it’s super loud and regressive. The first challenge was just fitting everything in. We ended up [putting microphones on] the stage and performers, so I could pick up [the percussion] and amplify it to the same volume level as the recorded music.

The other challenge, which probably took us the longest time to sort out, is that these actors worked for several weeks creating percussion sequences and got pretty good at it, but they weren’t initially trying to perform these sequences along to anything else [like music].  As soon as I show up with recorded music at a certain tempo every time no matter what – it was a lot of telling them to start at a certain beat, keep up with a certain rhythm, listen to parts of the score – so they could hear the rhythm they have to keep up with.

So we’re telling them “okay actors, you’re going to speak, you’re going to play rhythm on your body and you’re going to attempt to stay completely in time with this recorded piece of music that’s playing along.” I have to give the cast a tremendous amount of credit. It was tricky but they hung in there, and wanted to make it work. When you see the performance now, it all seems like second nature. But at the time of putting it together, we definitely had moments of thinking “oh my god, what have we done?”

OT: How have your audiences received the score?
LJ: People who are casual theatre fans are really excited by it. The reviews have either said “wow, this is a totally crazy interpretation of this play and I really enjoyed it” or “oh my god, what did they do, I don’t know how I feel about it!”

One of the reviews called the score “post-Wayne’s World,” so if your relationship to hard rock music is Wayne’s World, I don’t know if there’s much I can do to help you.

OT: Scoring any play, but especially a Shakespeare classic like Richard the Third, is no small task. Why do you think this job is so important, and what keeps you in this industry?
LJ: I’ve started teaching how to write theatre compositions recently and one of the things I like to tell my students is that music is really the emotional context by which you’re going to receive drama. This speech I’m giving right now about how music affects – you could imagine that while I’m giving it there’s a slow building underscore that’s really inspirational and exciting. That’s going to totally frame the context by which you’re getting this information. If I gave the same speech with dark scar music, it completely changes the context by which you see it because now you’re imagining something terrible is going to happen.

Music is incredibly powerful and influential. When you’re given the responsibility of creating music that’s going to match live drama, you really have a great responsibility to try to make the music as close to what the action is as possible, so that the audience is receiving the clearest and most expressive form of the story.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Richard the Third runs through Sunday, March 10 at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Tickets $44-$102. For more on composer Lindsay Jones, visit www.linsdayjones.com. You can find the punk, metal and doom rock songs that inspired Jones’ compositions below.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Richard the Third – tracks and influences

Track: Richard III 

Influence – Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath 

Track: This Is War

Influence – Boilermaker by The Jesus Lizard

Track: To The Sanctuary 

Influence: Bliss In Concrete by Pelican 

Track: Full Speed Ahead 

Influence: Otsegolectric by Static-X 

Track: Zadok The Priest 

Influence: The Prophet’s Song by Queen 

Track: A Needless Coward 

Influence: This Isn’t The Place by Nine Inch Nails 

Photo: Courtesy of Circus Siren Pod
Photo: Courtesy of Circus Siren Pod

Channel Your Inner Mermaid at MerMagic Con

It wasn’t until my chat last weekend with DC’s original mermaid Morgana Alba that I realized my affinity for the mythical creatures wasn’t all that unique. In fact, when I waxed nostalgic about growing up on The Little Mermaid and spending my moody middle school years reading Francesca Lia Block YA novels, Alba told me with some quiet assurance that my story sounded very familiar. And then it struck me that what I always thought was a quirky penchant for aquatic folklore was actually a shared millennial phenomenon, a form of escapism – or a firm embrace of an expansive fantasy world, depending on how you want to frame it – and one that drew Alba and other professional mermaids to a career in water performance.

This weekend, Alba and her Circus Siren Pod merteam – pro mermaids, bubble artists and water-based acrobats that make up one arm of Circus Siren Entertainment – will descend upon The Freedom Center in Manassas for the three-day MerMagic Con. Mermaid enthusiasts and performers alike are invited to mingle and participate in programming that runs the gamut from an open swim for the pros to how to choose the right mermaid tail for you. If you feel like getting fancy, wear your mermaid best to the Mermaid Gala at Wyndham Garden Manassas this Saturday, February 23 (Alba will be easy to spot in custom-made chain mail). Read on for Alba’s insight into why mermaiding is on the rise – so much so that she left her gig as a consultant for Microsoft to go full-time mermaid – and a sneak peek of what this weekend has in store for merheads. And check back here on Monday, February 25 for Shantel Mitchell Breen’s photo gallery of the weekend’s festivities.

On Tap: How did you become such a prominent mermaid in the DC area? 
Morgana Alba: A lot of it has to do with being first, honestly. I started in mermaiding in 2012 and that was before it had really taken off as a performance art. It was kind of the Wild West of a new developing art form, and a lot of people had to forge paths for themselves.

OT: What is mermaiding exactly?
MA: You have to think of it as a genre rather than an art by itself. You have mermaid models, you have performing mermaids that swim, you have people who make the tails – and all of it is art in its own way. But they’re not all the same kind of mermaid.

OT: Pardon the pun, but what do your mermaids’ performances entail? 
MA: We do synchronized swim shows and we have a woman who does bubble contortion – she’s got a bubble that floats on the water, and we’ll put mermaids in that from time to time as well. There’s a lot of flips and tricks.

OT: How did you build your team?
MA: Most of the performers on my team are people I knew through other performance art as aerialists or human statues who I hunted down and trained as mermaids because I knew this was brewing. I had more mermaid gigs than I could physically personally do, so the demand was there. But I come at it from the casino and festival background, so I was looking to really create it as an art form of its own.

OT: Why is the demand for pro mermaids picking up? 
MA: Mermaids have always been around. Every culture on the planet has some sort of legend that’s mermaid-related, so I think it’s something that’s fascinated humans for a very long time. But in the last couple of years, between the invention of less-expensive fabric tail options that are more available and the fact that mermaids who started out as performers back in the early 2000s have gotten more and more traction – just in this past Super Bowl, there were two different mermaid commercials – it’s definitely becoming more popular. In the coming year, they’re doing the live-action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid and they’re rebooting Splash. I think it’s only going to continue to grow as more people discover it as a hobby.

OT: What demographic is mermaiding most popular with? 
MA: I’ve done a number of studies on millennials – who are now one of the biggest buying powers in the country – and they’re big into escapism. Look at the way Comic-Cons and cosplay have grown. This is an intersection between cosplay and athleticism.

OT: What can we expect from MerMagic Con?
MA: The convention is really the first of its kind in that it’s more than just people who love mermaids get together. It actually has a lot of education around it. If you are a mermaid who wants to improve your safety skills or learn how to ethically interact with wildlife, there are classes for you to grow as a performer. But if you’ve never put on a tail before and just think mermaids are cool, we’ve got classes that will put you into a tail for the first time and teach you how to swim. So it’s really a way that anybody who’s even a little interested in it – or anyone who has made it their life – can have something new to learn.

OT: What’s in store for the hardcore mermaid fan?
MA: We’ve got a couple cool things for people who have been hardcore mermaid fans their whole lives. One of them is that we have the illustrator who drew Ariel for Disney’s The Little Mermaid. He’ll be giving a lecture on bringing The Little Mermaid to life. There’s also a number of vendors that I’m really excited about: people who make tails, people who make personalized mermaid art. All of these wonderful artisans from around the country are coming in to give people a chance to bring something home that’s their very own.

OT: What about Saturday’s Mermaid Gala?
MA: I would describe the dress code for the gala as Gaga-esque. You can’t possibly overdo it when it comes to your mermaid gala outfit. We have people coming in full-blown wedding gowns and people coming in nothing but body paint. The fashion is going to be mermaid haute couture. I’m supporting two different small businesses: a designer I love and a chain-mail artist. I’m wearing a combination of a beautiful skirt and a lot of chain mail.

OT: Why should mermaid newbies check out MerMagic Con?
MA:
 Mermaids are for everyone. The thing about mermaids – and the fact that they come from so many different mythologies and legends – is that there’s a mermaid archetype out there that you’re going to identify with. If you want to be the dark, dangerous siren of the deep who lures men to their doom a la Pirates of the Caribbean, there’s people that are into that aesthetic and those legends that will be your new mermaid family. If you prefer the Disney version of mermaids where they’re just fun and playful and you just want to put on a tail and splash around, there are people with that aesthetic. This is really something that I think adults of all walks of life gravitate toward because at the end of the day, there’s a mermaid out there for anyone.

Channel your inner mermaid this Friday, February 22 to Sunday, February 24 at Alba’s MerMagic Con at The Freedom Center in Manassas, and don’t miss the Mermaid Gala at the Wyndham Garden Manassas on Saturday, February 23 from 9 p.m. to midnight. Buy tickets here, and learn more about Alba and her Circus Siren Pod here.

MerMagic Con at The Freedom Center: 9100 Freedom Center Blvd. Manassas, VA; MetroMerfolk@gmail.com + Contact@CircusSirenEnt.com; www.mer-magiccon.com

Photo: benfolds.com
Photo: benfolds.com

Ben Folds “Declassifies” Music with Kennedy Center Series

In 2017, the Kennedy Center announced Ben Folds would join the National Symphony Orchestra as its first-ever artistic advisor. Never one to conform to an ascribed role in the music world, this appointment has seen Folds shape the NSO’s programming, most notably in the form of his Declassified series. On Friday nights at the Kennedy Center, Folds, the NSO and a number of multi-talented, multi-genre artists (think everyone from Sara Bareilles to Kishi Bashi) reinvent and reimagine pop music in the context of the orchestra.

Sound pretentious? It’s not. Folds’ mission is to understand the intricate processes that weave a common thread between pop and orchestral movements that are hundreds of years old. Much like any case where someone tries to build a bridge between two worlds, it’s easy to misinterpret. However, it’s also easy to understand that all music has value and an immense attention to detail that goes into the placement of every note. By merging these worlds, Folds opens the orchestra to non-frequent visitors and performances with the intention for fans of all things classical to learn about the modern musical landscape.

We sat down with Folds before his last Declassified performance, featuring Regina Spektor, to pick the musician’s brain on everything about this series. In serving as the artistic advisor though the 2019-2020 season, Declassified continues with a Valentine’s Day-centric performance, featuring NSO Music Director Gianadrea Noseda and music from Folds himself.

On Tap: It seems like your philosophy in fusing pop with the symphony has been to ignore labels and appreciate the craft behind all music. How has this shaped your work on the Declassified series so far?
Ben Folds: I’m actually OK with labels, there’s just a time to dispense them for a moment. It’s helpful for when things don’t fit into categories nicely. One example would be a modern pop artist like Regina Spektor. You can call her pop, but that makes you think it’s something it’s not. Her melodies have a lot in common with melodies from 150 years ago – they’re timeless. If the melody had been written by Tchaikovsky, it would be treated differently. These are pop artists with great melodies, stories, motifs in their own right as artists. It’s interesting to hear [their music] through this centuries old orchestral process. I find people who attend the symphony often impressed with our new artists. That’s part of what I want to do as well – it’s a two way street.

OT: What does this process of fusing symphonic works with works of a modern pop artist look like? 
BF: It’s difficult to sift through all of it. At the same time as I want to sift through some “classical” music so that someone who has never attended the symphony will get the correct context, I want the people who attend the symphony regularly to get the correct context for modern popular music so that they don’t die thinking that it all sucks. This is not a time where we’re dumbing things down. We’re giving ourselves the short end of the stick if we think that. A lot of pop concerts with orchestras are, in my estimation, not done the right way to bring the orchestra in, and that’s something that I’m allowed to really fully work on [here].

OT: So it sounds like you’re more hands-on in the behind-the-scenes process. 
BF: It’s a lot of details – it’s not very sexy at all. It starts with the orchestration itself and works its way through the library to the sound people. You don’t amplify an orchestra, you don’t need to. But when you’ve got a pop artist, suddenly you have to turn the speakers on. That creates huge problems if you don’t understand why and how you’re using the orchestra. A good way to explain it would be that the orchestra is a built-in recording studio – built-in faders, production, arrangement, remixes, everything. Before there was recording, if you needed to hear more of an instrument you got them to play louder or you made two of them. There’s a real art to that. The art behind performing a piece of music with an orchestra can be obliterated with electric instruments.

OT: Why is it important for you to be so involved in the orchestration?
BF: There is snobbery in the world of the symphony. Some of it’s imagined, and some of it’s cultivated. If you bring in new people, you have to respect the symphony, which means letting those musicians exist in the environment that they’re paid to work in. The cultural divide is a real one. I can become a snob really fast if someone starts attacking the thing I feel like I’m good at. I try to listen and be in contact with all of the compartments.

OT: You’re the NSO’s first-ever artistic advisor. What has your experience been in this role so far? 
BF: My experience is in the blend of the orchestra with pop music. I see this as something that every orchestra in the country does. I would like the NSO to be leading the way in how it’s done. This is the nation’s symphony orchestra – it ought to be the one we look to for ideas. There should be things we can experiment with, we’ve got the money and the talent here to try it out. Maybe a small orchestra in a small town doesn’t have those resources, so we can take our programs – my office is stacked with scores – and amass a team of orchestrators who are young, between the world of rock and roll and classical music, who are there to do it the “right” way. To me it’s about littering the country with well-written, exciting charts and a method to follow.

OT: Can you tell me about musician Regina Spektor performing in the series? What drew you to her work?
BF: Regina attended the symphony a lot as a little girl, so classical music is just in her bones. She was one of the first people I thought of to have in this Declassified series three years ago when we started it, and it took three years to talk her into it. She always wanted to do it, but she’s like me: I turned these things down a few times before, when I was roughly her age because we both respect the symphony orchestra so much. I think it’s a little daunting of an idea to go into their territory, and perhaps, bust it with a shitty pops concert. She wanted to have control over it but have respect for the orchestra. It meant a lot to her and it took a while for me to talk her down from the tree and tell her “we can do this.” She doesn’t do shit that she doesn’t mean or want to do. I don’t think there’s anyone with any more integrity –  almost to a fault because it took me so long get her in here. It’s essentially an homage to Russian music.

OT:  How are other performers involved such as the band and tap dancer Caleb Teicher?
BF: Caleb is premiering a piece called “Cascade,” which is one of the few classical pieces for tap dance and orchestra. One thing I want to get across about this program is that it’s not possible in a place that doesn’t have these kinds of resources. Normally when you premiere a new piece like Caleb’s, it’s a big deal. We’re just tossing it onto the front of the show. Every single Regina Spektor song is a brand new orchestration done especially for the show that may never see the light of day after. The expense of that, the effort, finding the orchestrators to do it – this band makes it look all too easy.

OT: What has the response been to the Declassified series so far?
BF:  Frankly, I’ve been really disheartened by the local journalistic criticism of the show, because I feel like maybe I didn’t do a good job of explaining what we’re trying to achieve. We made it look so easy that they’ve come in and had problems with certain things but I think if they knew what it was, you wouldn’t have a problem with it. The audience doesn’t have a problem with it because they understand that they’re there to learn something about classical music. I think if someone who is naturally a snob about it understands how much respect we have for what it is we’re doing and how we’re trying to integrate the two, the night becomes a little bit more of an experiment. I think we’ve been well understood by our audiences.

OT: Can you elaborate on the disconnect in criticisms that you’ve seen so far?
BF: The two criticisms I’ve seen of these shows weren’t particularly negative, they just didn’t understand what we’re trying to achieve. When you’re going to critique something, the first thing you have to know is ‘what are they trying to say?’ and ‘was that successful?’ So if you’re Bob Dylan and someone comes to the show thinking he’s going to sing like Pavarotti, you’d have a gross misunderstanding of what you were seeing and you might give him a terrible review. And in fact, Bob Dylan got a f–k ton of terrible reviews when he started. I think this is very similar. If someone says ‘well they’re not jumping through this hoop and this hoop and this hoop,’ we know that. But what we’re trying to do is so incredibly ambitious that it needs to be seen for the context of what it is. We give people who come to the shows a listening list, and we can see behind this internet curtain that they are actually listening to it after the show. That’s unheard of. So say we didn’t really kill the Beethoven last time – and I know that we didn’t, and the band knows that we didn’t, and the conductor knows that we didn’t – it’s just the way it happened. But people are still listening to that Beethoven piece on Spotify.

OT: So you can see that you’re making an impact and connecting with audiences and bringing these gaps, that’s exciting.
BF: That’s what we’re trying to do. I have one arranger on this show and he comes from rock and roll, he’s self taught, and he does a lot of stuff wrong. But I like having him because his brilliant creativity and even a little bit of his naivete leads to things we wouldn’t normally think of. Now maybe you can laugh at things in his charts, in a friendly way – the orchestra did at some points – and a lot of orchestras would have booed him out of the room. I’m trying to bring these things together so you actually get a result that’s creative. These aren’t ever to be sold as just Regina Spektor shows and she knows that, and that’s the reason she’s in it. It’s featuring her, and she does six tunes, but we’ve all worked really hard. That’s the other radical things about this show – by featuring the orchestra and it being a night about music, it’s easy to go “let’s sell it on someone coming in and we can do whatever we want.”

Ben Folds performs with NSO Music Director Gianandrea Noseda and other featured performers as part of the NSO Declassified series on Friday, February 15 at the Kennedy Center. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, Folds has curated a performance in the series with comedian Sarah Silverman, musicians Julien Baker and Danay Suarez, operatic soprano Leah Hawkins, and conductor Akiko Fujimoto. For more information on the NSO Declassified series, visit www.kennedy-center.org.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.com

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company
Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The opening line of Richard the Third would have you believe that all hardships are over and only good days are to come. But as theatergoers attending Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) upcoming production of Richard the Third will soon realize, anything but peace lies ahead.

Directed by David Muse for STC and running from February 5 through March 10, Shakespeare’s Richard the Third follows the titular role of Richard on his ambitious quest for the crown. A spiteful megalomaniac, Richard (Matthew Rauch) will stop at nothing until he sits on the throne, and thus invites the audience into a world of murder, villainy and even dark fun.

“Yes, Richard does horrific things in this play,” Rauch says, “but my hope and David’s [Muse] hope, I think, is that at least for the first part of the play, the audience reaction will not be ‘Oh, what a terrible person,’ but ‘Oh, isn’t he just deliciously evil’ and it’s terrible, but it’s fun to watch.”

Rauch emphasizes that just because the title of the play is Richard the Third, it doesn’t mean the story is only about him.

“It’s very easy with a face on the poster and the title of the play, for people to think there’s only one person involved,” Rauch says. “The truth is there’s about a hundred people involved and all of them are crucial.”

Some of those crucial people are the women around Richard, including his mother the Duchess of York, Margaret of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth. Rauch points out that while Richard can brilliantly manipulate people and events, these particular women don’t bend easily to his will and disprove the outdated notion that Shakespearean women are damsels in distress.

But a fourth woman equally as important to the play’s development, Lady Anne of Neville (Cara Ricketts), is the person who perhaps best understands Richard.

“Richard sees himself in [Anne] and she sees herself in him, in a way that she probably feels like she may break through to him,” Ricketts says. “He pretends it’s a possibility and she falls for it.”

Bust because Anne is ultimately manipulated by Richard, this doesn’t make her simple.

“My Anne is not a pushover,” Ricketts says. “There’s nothing soft about these women. The foundation for these characters has never been soft women.”

Ricketts adds she is ready to play Anne the way an audience 70 years ago may not have let her.

“During the 50s, you had preconceived notions about what a woman was in terms of society so that’s what you got,” Ricketts says. “Now I’ve got a chance to let loose the girdle and make it rip, so that’s what I’m doing while respecting what that character is.”

These preconceived notions of Shakespearean women are not the only ideas cast and crew hope prove outdated. Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the play is the “wooing scene” where Richard interrupts Anne’s mourning of her father-in-law.

Rauch stresses that while many feel the scene is “creepy” and Richard comes off as “sexually predatory,” this is not the way they plan to portray Richard.

“The only event that needs to happen in the scene is that Anne consents to come to Richard’s house. Nothing else is implied in that scene or on the page and my hope is that it will not come off as sexually creepy,” Rauch says. “David [Muse] and I were never interested in a Richard who was sexually predatory, not because it’s not politically correct, but because we didn’t believe there was anything in the text that supported that.”

Changes in the character’s tones will not be the only noticeable differences in STC’s Richard the Third production. About 40 percent of the original text – mostly obscure English history – has been cut for a streamlined production.

“The Shakespeare Theatre is, I would argue, literally the best classical theater in the United States,” Rauch says. “They know how to do this here and they have created such a web of support.”

Rauch adds that despite the play’s age, audience members will find a lot of similarities between the 500-year-old story and modern society.

“[This is] a story about a deeply complicated, manipulative, brilliant person who rises to power and the people who are complicit in his doing so,” Rauch says. “All you need to do is read the front page of the New York Times to find parallels to that story.”

See Richard the Third at Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 5 through March 10. Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $44. For more information, click here.

Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: DiruPhoto
Photo: DiruPhoto

LGBTQ Dance Party BENT Looks to Connect People

“The LGBTQ community is thriving in DC, and personally, I’ve been living my best gay life,” proclaims Steve Lemmerman, a.k.a. DC-based DJ Lemz.

DC has one of the largest LGBTQ communities in the country, and with new LGBTQ businesses and events popping up every year, there is a wide variety of ways to celebrate pride in the city. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow. Since wildly popular gay nightclub Town Danceboutique closed this past summer, there’s been a void in local LGBTQ dance parties.

“Everything is either [in] underground or small venues, and they’re all varied events that cater to parts of the community,” Lemmerman says. “Town was a place that really tried to bring everyone together no matter their gender expression, identity, sexuality – no matter what they were.”

Hoping to carry on Town’s tradition of bringing people together, Lemmerman and 9:30 Club Owner Seth Hurwitz established BENT: A New LGBTQ Dance Party in hopes of a quarterly event. The inaugural dance party will take place this Saturday, January 5 at the aforementioned venue.

“[BENT] is a place where you don’t have to be gay, you don’t have to identify as any gender,” Lemmerman says. “You can just be you no matter who you are, and know the staff there has your back. The people there just want to party with you and express themselves.”

Unlike some LGBTQ dance parties or clubs in the city, BENT will benefit from the 9:30 Club’s space by offering more room for people and performances, according to Lemmerman. In the spirit of uniting all types of people and communities, there will be a variety of performance styles – from DJs to drag queens, and everything in between.

Lemmerman adds that people should expect surprises, especially with how different the club will look to those familiar with its traditional interior. The entire venue will be utilized for performances, not just the main stage and standing area.

As for who’s providing music, Lemmerman will DJ along with Keenan Orr and The Barber Streisand. Other performers include Pussy Noir, Donna Slash, Bombalicious Eklaver and more.

“I want BENT to be the starting story for friendships and new romances and one-night stands,” Lemmerman says. “I want people to just come and meet new people and learn new music and see new acts […] Just be a home for people.”

Stop by 9:30 Club on Saturday, January 5 for the inaugural BENT: A New LGBTQ Dance Party. The doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, click here.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: www.unionstage.com
Photo: www.unionstage.com

Aztec Sun and More Bring High Energy to Union Stage for New Year’s Eve

No matter how you want to ring in the New Year, the DC area has an option for your specific partying needs. Maybe 2018 wasn’t your year, so drink it away in Clarendon’s many bars. If food is your endgame, spend the night at an acclaimed restaurant. If you’re the type to always seek out the best new beer, a local brewery’s soiree is your spot. If you’re like me, though, you’ll be craving a New Year’s celebration where music is the centerpiece of your celebration.

Enter Union Stage’s New Year’s offering. Dubbed “Funk (with Soul) vs. Bluegrass, the throwdown features one of the city’s most prolific live bands: Aztec Soul. With a reputation for their electrifying stage presence and jubilant blend of funk and soul (hence the name), the band will literally have you dancing your 2018 troubles away at The Wharf.

So what exactly can attendees expect from their New Years Eve night at Union Stage?

“A high-energy set from start to finish,” says Stephane Detchou, band leader and lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist. Detchou also let us in on the band’s plans to don bright and colorful outfits, and bring some guests onstage with them.

Aztec Sun will be joined by Bencoolen and The Dirty Grass Players. Given the stacked lineup and indication of a competitive (or perhaps collaborative) element with the “versus” in the title, I couldn’t help but wonder what the bands meant by that.

“There will definitely be a collaborative element to the performance,” Detchou assures, “but you’ll have to come to the show and find out!”

And when the New Year dawns, Union Stage will greet you with a complimentary champagne toast complete with “a special song/mashup planned for when the clock strikes 12,” the band leader continues.

In addition to the complimentary toast, Union Stage will offer its full drink and dinner menu. Craft beer and pizza lovers rejoice: the venue is home to a host of the best local and national brews, and their pizza is worth sharing with your fellow partygoers. Bonus: you won’t have to make an extra stop for food! Just grab a delicious Jersey-style bar pie at the venue.

If your New Year’s resolution looks like more celebrations with food, drinks and music all around, Union Stage has all you need. After all, Detchou says the band’s ultimate goal is “to give you the best show all around.”

“From the music to our outfits and our moves, we guarantee you’ll be thoroughly entertained.”

And as for Aztec Sun’s own New Year’s resolutions?

“To continue sharing our music with as diverse an audience as possible, and creating safe spaces for enjoying art at our show.”

Join Aztec Sun, Bencoolen and The Dirty Grass Players at Union Stage on Monday, December 31. Doors at 7:30 p.m., show at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $35.

Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; 877-987-6487; www.unionstage.com

Photo: www.kennedy-center.org
Photo: www.kennedy-center.org

Miss Saigon: A Tragic Love Story and Grandiose Production

A resounding score, awe-inspiring sets and heart-breaking characters set the tone for the tragic love story of Miss Saigon, a new production of the renowned musical running at the Kennedy Center through January 13.

Currently on the U.S. leg of its tour, the events of Miss Saigon take place at the end of the Vietnam War and follows a Vietnamese woman, Kim (played by Emily Bautista), as she escapes her war-torn village. Afterward, she’s then forced to work at a bar in Saigon (modern day Ho Chi Minh City) and falls in love with American soldier Chris (played by Anthony Festa).

While attempting to return to the U.S. together, Kim and Chris are separated. The rest of the musical follows Kim’s tireless efforts to reunite with the love of her life.

A story set in a time of war, there are moments that will have you reaching for a tissue. However, the play is more than sad; comedic relief comes in the form of the Engineer (played by Red Concepción), the owner of the bar Kim works in.

A somewhat dodgy character, you can’t help but admire his tenacity and resourcefulness. His solo singing of “American Dream,” also proves a show-stopper as he dances on a convertible in front of a giant mask of the Statue of Liberty.

Other stand-out moments of the musical include the incredible set designs, which incorporate building structures that make you feel like you’re walking the streets of Southeast Asia, a helicopter that drops down from the ceiling and real footage of children orphaned during the Vietnam war.

As with their production of Les Misérables, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Miss Saigon is a grandiose production that will have you laughing, crying and entranced from start to finish.

Experience Miss Saigon at the Kennedy Center, running through January 13. Tickets start at $49. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. Learn more about Miss Saigon here.

The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Mike Kim
Photo: Mike Kim

Thom Yorke Celebrates Solo Career at the Kennedy Center

The moment Thom Yorke walked onstage at the Kennedy Center on November 30, the crowd shot out of their seats with fervent cheers and applause. But as Yorke, co-collaborator Nigel Godrich and audiovisual composer Tarik Barri launched into their first song, the crowd sheepishly sat after a person a few seats over from me loudly declared their distaste for the bout of standing as “This is the Kennedy Center, after all!”

Mere minutes later, Yorke asked the crowd to rise again. And once we were all on our feet – some dancing, some swaying and some just transfixed by the storied musician – it felt like the show had actually begun.

While the Kennedy Center is a formal venue, were we really going to let that stop us from fully enjoying the show – movement and all? Yorke’s grand assortment of achievements certainly make him worthy of a show there, but the venue itself shouldn’t act as a gatekeeper for how we experience the art. Eventually, even the once agitated attendee was seen standing and swaying.

The show itself was a healthy mix of just about everything Yorke has done outside his illustrious Radiohead career. From his own work, supergroup Atoms for Peace and even the Suspiria soundtrack, the show was a reminder that even though he’s best known as Radiohead’s frontman, his other ventures are just as jaw-droppingly stunning.

Yorke appeared to be having the time of his life, too – dancing and shimmying across the stage, sometimes with a guitar and sometimes making his way to a table of synths. Even during the stripped down and serious “Suspirium,” he closed his eyes and smiled. Many in the audience did the same.

The Kennedy Center’s stage was the perfect backdrop for Barri’s audiovisual elements. Sure, Yorke and company could have performed at a larger or less formal space, but perhaps those venues wouldn’t have accommodated the dizzying images on the triptych as well. They felt so integral to the performance as a whole, so the trade-off felt more than fair – especially once concertgoers committed to immersing themselves in the music, the movement and the images.

For more on Thom Yorke, visit www.wasteheadquarters.com.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com
Photo: www.christineandthequeens.com

Christine and the Queens find Freedom in Fluidity

Attempting to write about anything Christine and the Queens does seems to rail against everything the artist stands for. As someone who is constantly transforming herself and her music, why even bother to describe it? To put it simply: she makes others feel seen by making herself visible.

The pop project of Héloïse Letissier was born from a period of rejection and failure turned to triumph and transformation. On her first album, Chaleur Humaine, Letissier became Christine and sang of heartbreak, self acceptance and rebirth through her musical character.

What followed on her sophomore album, Chris, ushered in a new era for the artist, but strengthened what she does best: embrace the fluidity, the uncertainty and the absurdity of life through music and movement.

As Chris (to which she is now referred onstage and off), the singer cut her hair and her name, and traded her tailored suits for a sensible, but sexy, pairing of joggers and a red top in her live shows. Her dancers are similarly dressed, in an ode to the 80s and 90s fashion and sounds that heavily influence her second record. During her show at the 9:30 Club, Chris bleeds a song beautifully into Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror at one point.

She knows she didn’t invent the confident and hungry sounds of pop she employs on Chris and in her live shows. But what she has done – using these sentiments, sounds, moves – as her own feels revolutionary. Her requests for love and attention are left on Chaleur Humaine as Chris has come to take those things, because she knows she deserves them now. Her live show is a display of confidence and unfettered desire. She does not and will not feel bad for wanting or being wanted, a radical declaration from a queer woman in 2018.

Chris’ ability to occupy so many spaces at the same time and constantly reinvent herself is a reminder that nothing is concrete. Fluidity in appearance, sexuality, sound and feeling is a fact of life. Watching Chris and her dancers brings to mind Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s declaration that “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” If that is true, Chris has found the antidote, on her records and especially during her live performances.

Instead of allowing herself to be enveloped by a world where anything could be, Chris takes all possibilities for herself. Her ability to embrace, to transcend and to just be radiates onstage and will encourage you to similarly embrace the fluid, the messy and the desiring parts of yourself. The world needs more freedom, and Chris is here to liberate herself (and you) along the way.

 For more on Christine and the Queens visit www.christineandthequeens.com and follow her on Instagram @christineandthequeens and Twitter @queenschristine

Photo: Evan Zimmerman
Photo: Evan Zimmerman

Anastasia Proves a 90s Heroine for the Ages

As a girl born in the 90s, I spent my childhood watching some of the best Disney characters on screen. They proved to be role models that I and many other girls could look up to: female protagonists that were not damsels in distress, but strong women who radiate confidence.

Some favorites include Mulan, Pocahontas and Meg from Hercules. But one occasionally overlooked 90s heroine who is just as fearless as the rest is Anastasia. Perhaps overshadowed in the past, Anastasia now has a leg up on the other Disney ladies with a musical of her very own.

Anastasia the Musical is the Broadway adaptation of the 1997 film and was written by Terrence McNally with a score from Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. While first making it to the big stage back in April 2017, the musical is now a month into its U.S. national tour with a DC stop at the Kennedy Center running through November 25. We sat down with Lila Coogan, staring in the titular role, to talk about taking a Broadway show on the road, 90s Disney heroines and what it’s like to play a fierce female role like Anya/Anastasia.

On Tap: You’re at the beginning of a tour that runs until fall of next year. What has the tour been like so far?
Lila Coogan: So far it’s been really fun and crazy. Traveling is always exciting and getting to perform in new venues is a wild experience, especially for me; I’ve never toured before. My body’s adjusting to the touring lifestyle, that’s for sure! But we’re meeting new people every day and learning all the different backstage pathways and it’s just so fun and I’m really enjoying it.

OT: How does it feel to bring a big production like this on the road as opposed to performing it in the same theater every night?
LC: When you’re performing in the same theater every night, one of the biggest differences is actually that you have a space in the theater that is yours. You get one when you’re touring, but it depends. In DC, we’ll be there for a month, so that will get real home-y real quick, but for example, we’re only here [Greenville, South Carolina] for a week, so you’re kind of selective about what you do and don’t unpack. You kind of have to figure out what you need versus what you want [laughs], things like that. And that’s an adjustment, but it’s fun and exciting, and at least you’re never in the same spot every time.

OT: How does changing venues so many times alter the production?
LC: Luckily we use the same actual stage – it’s called a deck and we travel with our deck wherever we go which is really cool. So no matter where we are, we’re on the same stage essentially, which is a comfort for the actors [laughs]. But because the backstage area is so much smaller sometimes, you have to adjust where you’re waiting around for your entrances or how soon you get to the deck before scene, just little things like that.

OT: Anya/Anastasia is such an iconic role, especially for those of us who grew up watching the Disney movie as kids – what has it been like to bring that animated character from a 90s movie to life?
LC: She’s so much fun. I absolutely adored the 1997 film, so she was like my favorite heroine. She was so spunky and sassy and that was me growing up – I was so thrilled to see a girl like that, a princess nonetheless. And when I found out that they were making this a musical I was so, so excited for it. I went to see it right when it opened [on Broadway] and I just loved it and I thought, this is the type of woman I want young girls to see on stage, just kicking butt [laughs].

OT: What are some differences between the film and the musical?
LC: The film is very rooted in fantasy and otherworldliness in a way, like with Rasputin and the talking bat. Our musical has that same quality, but it’s rooted in reality and real people. There’s no underworld-Rasputin villain or talking bats, but you get people who are actually struggling with real-life dilemmas and still having that mystery and adventure behind it – as to whether Anya is the princess Anastasia.

OT: What do you think or hope kids who will see Anastasia will think of this musical and Anya’s character?
LC: I want every person who comes to see this musical to leave feeling like they can do anything they want to do, and that no matter who they are there is a home for them.

OT: Kids these days have a lot more empowering female characters to look up to like Elsa and Anna from Frozen and Moana; this character is from the 90s but she still fits in with these characters that are much newer.
LC: I think the film kind of set the precedent that you don’t have to necessarily be one way to be a princess. I am in no way, shape or form knocking other princesses – I actually think every princess is good for every girl and there’s a princess out there for everyone – but for me, as a rambunctious, spunky, kind of tomboy growing up, seeing her as a princess in the 90s made me think ‘I could be a princess too!’ And I hope that she continues to do that today.

OT: Does the musical use the songs from the movie or are there new ones?
LC: I believe there are 21 songs total, and there’s only like five from the movie that are in the musical, but if you like the music from the movie, you’ll love the music in the musical because it’s the same writing team. And some of the other songs in the movie have been repurposed into the musical.

OT: After DC’s leg of the tour, you have a huge chunk of tour dates left – is there anything or any place you’re especially excited for?
LC: I’m excited to go everywhere honestly [laughs]. DC was actually one [I was excited about]; I always wanted to perform at the Kennedy Center, so to get to do that is an absolute dream come true, and with this show especially. I’m also super excited for San Fran because I have family there so that’ll be great!

Catch Anastasia the Musical at the Kennedy Center, running through November 25. Tickets start at $59. Run time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes. Learn more about Anastasia the Musical at www.anastasiathemusical.com. Digital lottery tickets are also available,  offering fans the chance to purchase up to two tickets for $30 each available per performance. For more information on the lottery, go to www.luckyseat.com/anastasia.

The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org