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.

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

Capital Food Fight 2018 at The Anthem ft

The Anthem’s Capital Food Fight Features Food and Charity

For the fifteenth year in a row, local chefs will compete in a roaring culinary battle that offers bragging rights and charitable support to non-profit D.C. Central Kitchen. On November 8, The Capital Food Fight offers a taste of over 70 of the D.C. area’s top restaurants with tasty delights like poke tuna, mini brat sliders and even vegan ramen.

Facing off against each other on a live stage battle will be Kyle Bailey of The Salt Line, Autumn Cline of Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Alex McCoy of Lucky Buns and Kevin Tien of Himitsu. Judging the competition will be chefs and restaurateurs José Andrés, Spike Mendelsohn, Jennifer Carroll, Tom Colicchio, Food Network and Cooking Channel host Tregaye Fraser, TV personality and chef David Guas, TV personality Andrew Zimmern, Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and O.A.R. guitarist and songwriter Richard On. On the mic at the event will be the Master of Ceremonies Tommy McFly, former host of The Tommy Show on 94.7 Fresh FM, alongside field reporters Kelly Collis and Jen Richer.

Mendelsohn has been a part of Capital Food Fight since 2008 when he first participated as a chef competitor. “I’m looking forward to hosting again with José [Andrés],” he says. “For some of us in the industry, we’re pretty used to seeing Anthony Bourdain in the pen. It’s going to be a little sad … We’re just looking forward to a fun event.”

Along with a venue change—moving from the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to The Anthem at The Wharf—this year’s event will also offer a cocktail competition. The six battling mixologists will battle for the public’s vote on who is the master of the creative cocktail. This year’s featured mixologists include Adam Bernbach of Estadio, Trevor Frye of Wash Line LLC, Sarah Rosner of Bourbon Steak, Carlie Steiner of Himitsu, Owen Thompson of Archipelago and Jessica Weinstein of JL Restaurant Group.

For 10 years, mixologist and owner of Union Market’s Buffalo & Bergen Gina Chersevani has been involved in Capital Food Fight. She says that this will be the first time that the public will be able to vote on a winner at the event, adding, “[It’s] really giving mixology its rightful due and how creative it is to come up with these cocktails. It’s like creating a dish.”

On any last-minute tips worth knowing before attending, Chersevani says, “You should not eat before you come to the event.”

Capital Food Fight does more than highlight some of the best culinary and mixology talent in the region. All proceeds will go to D.C. Central Kitchen, a 1989-founded community kitchen with the mission to prepare unemployed adults for culinary careers as well as feed those in local schools, homeless shelters, rehabilitation clinics and after-school programs.

“People see exactly the efforts, where the money goes, and it’s very focused on food deserts,” said Mendelsohn. “There’s a real program, and while these students are growing through this, they are feeding the homeless … It’s effective. So, I think that alone is a great takeaway for people and why they keep donating and staying involved.”

To attend this year’s event, general admission tickets start at $275. The event is also partnering with Lyft, so use promo code FOODFIGHT18 for 20 percent off one ride on November 8 between 4 p.m. and 11:59 p.m. With each ride, Lyft will donate $1 to D.C. Central Kitchen.

Photo courtesy of Marta Staudinger
Photo courtesy of Marta Staudinger

‘Coalesce’ Exhibition Finds Synergy in Separation

Art galleries have a somewhat unfair reputation for being unapproachable and designed for a niche audience, but for Marta Staudinger and Christine Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition, the opposite could not have been truer.

As I stepped into The Bryne Gallery in quaint Middleburg, Virginia, I felt enveloped in a warm, golden embrace that seemed to reflect off the various art pieces around the room and what I saw were vibrant creations from Staudinger and Olmstead that felt youthful and energetic without feeling overwhelming.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the exhibition, though, was that both artists had incredibly distinctive styles of abstract painting, but they didn’t clash; Staudinger and Olmstead’s styles “coalesced” in a way that allowed each artist to stand out but still feel like one in the same, much like telling the same story from different points of view.

With such different styles, I wondered how the two decided to create art together. Staudinger admits that the thought never really crossed their minds until they kept finding themselves being connected through their art: they were commissioned to create a piece each that was meant to complement each other, then Olmstead had an exhibition in Staudinger’s gallery in DC.

It was there that “the man who hung our works from that [aforementioned] commission for this corporate client is one of the co-owners of the gallery and he saw a lot of synergy between our work,” Staudinger says.

It also helps that when the two started this project together over the summer, they agreed to use the same color palette: mostly earthy tones like greens, blues, reds with bolder colors like copper and gold.

Staudinger’s take on the palette included works that often felt like looking at a landscape with lots of use of texture, straight lines and panels of color with names for the pieces like “Turquoise Pearl Frost” and “On Cloud 9.”

A standout of Staudinger’s was a largely white canvas with four deep red vertical strokes named “Catalunya,” a statement piece that incorporates elements of the Catalan flag and history.

Olmstead’s interpretation of the agreed-upon color palette was much more flowy and softer than Staudinger’s, but still with glimpses of boldness and texture as well. And where Staudinger’s pieces looked like staring into the distance, Olmstead’s felt close and personal, almost like a zoomed-in look at a flower. Each of Olmstead’s pieces had names that started with “Don’t Stop” and ended in multiple variations like “Don’t Stop 16” and “Don’t Stop Making Mistakes” – little reminders for herself, Olmstead says, to never stop looking for the goodness in life and growing as a person.

One of Olmstead’s standout pieces (perhaps not surprisingly next to Staudinger’s “Catalunya”) was “Don’t Stop Seeing the Light,” a canvas of light blues and greys as the backgrounds with layers of reds, browns and coppers built on top, slightly less big than the layer before to create a focal point of sorts. The final touch was dashes of gold flake paint that acted like cracks of light breaking through the grey.

“I ended up gravitating more towards some colors and Marta gravitated a little more towards other,” Olmstead says. “I think you can see that they’re all in the same palette but her works maybe have a little more of one color and mine tend to have a little bit more of another.”

While the two artists had different takes on and inspirations for their individual works, Staudinger says they shared an overall design for the exhibition, although an unusual one; instead of a curator seeking them out to feature a series of their works, they “created these pieces together to be site specific,” Staudinger says.

But that was where their collaborating in-person roughly ended – each piece they created was made in their separate work spaces in different towns. The two wouldn’t see each other’s finished works until they would meet at the gallery to set up the exhibition.

And so we all found ourselves in a small gallery in the middle of rural Virginia with two artists who’s styles are wildly different, and yet complimentary. After listening to people’s conversations around the room, and seeing for myself, I’d say we all agree that whatever creative spark Staudinger and Olmstead share, we want more collaboration between them in the future.

“I love that we’ve been able to share experiences and vulnerabilities and techniques and formulas…without really bleeding into each other’s styles,” Olmstead says. “The pieces look so different and we both have very distinct styles [but] our pieces are of the same soul and of the same flavor because, as Marta said, we are people of the same flavor.”

Check out Staudinger and Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition at The Byrne Gallery in Middleburg, Virginia. The exhibition run’s until November 4.

The Byrne Gallery: 7 W Washington St. Middleburg, VA; 540-687-6986; www.byrnegallery.com

Photo: Doug Van Sant
Photo: Doug Van Sant

All Things Go Fall Classic Brings Music, Activism and More to Union Market

With a name like All Things Go Fall Classic, the festival’s attendees would likely expect a laid-back day of tunes enjoyed in the crisp autumn air. But those who joined the two-day celebration at Union Market in the infamous DC humidity experienced an energy and crowd that wouldn’t have been out of place at Coachella’s annual music festival.

Saturday’s sets featured an all-female lineup with acts ranging from Billie Eilish to festival curator Maggie Rogers. Sunday proved an equally as jam-packed schedule of various genres with everything from classic pop to R&B – check out our highlights below.

The Provo, Utah-based band The Aces brought their take on guitar-driven power pop early on Sunday. While the assumption could be made that many attended for bigger names, scores of Aces fans made their way to the front and sang along to every word of the songs the four-piece group played. Bandmates even brought a cake onstage for drummer Alisa Ramirez, who celebrated her 21st birthday, prompting fans to join a spirited “happy birthday” singalong.

Following the high-energy dance party that was The Aces, New York-born, DC-based R&B artist Cautious Clay mellowed out the crowd with his smooth lyrics and choir-layered choruses. “Cold War” was easily the crowd-pleaser with dreamy, electronic beats and truth-seeking lyrics asking “but if we spoke like we meant it/would you reference/this open part of me” had the crowd closing their eyes and swaying in time.

Up next was rising indie star Two Feet a.k.a. Bill Dess. The New York City native’s relatively quick rise in popularity started with a drunken online upload of seductive, electric guitar-heavy song “Go F*ck Yourself” that had the All Things Go crowd dancing. The bluesy, beachy “I Feel Like I’m Drowning” where Dess sings of a “suspicious” lover also proved a fan-favorite, including getting lots of radio love as of late. Talking to the crowd, Two Feet was both funny and perhaps a little unsure of himself, but one thing’s for certain – the guy can shred on guitar.

The fun wasn’t just in the music though; in between music acts, concert attendees could grab a pint of ice cream from Vice Cream while waiting in line for a photo booth or to sign their name on one of two giant globe-like balls. There was even a tent where hairstylists braided festival goers’ hair thanks to emBRAZEN – a wine brand that celebrates bold women from history with their selections, including a Celia Cruz chardonnay, Josephine Baker red blend and Nellie Bly cabernet sauvignon.

After hair braiding and stocking up on Vice Cream, a packed crowd started to form in front of the stage as everyone waited to experience the effervescent MisterWives. Singer Mandy Lee encouraged the audience to sing along to hits like “Drummer Boy” and “Our Own House.” Most songs were met with extended jam sessions via Lee and her bandmates, even incorporating Destiny’s Child’s hit “Survivor”at one point, as a dedication to survivors of sexual assault. The powerful stance was also, in Lee’s words, a reflection of the love and light she felt at the festival besides the tumultuous goings on in DC that weekend.

The aforementioned MisterWives joined the concert bill days before the festival began. They took the slot previously occupied by singer songwriter Garrett Borns, better known as BØRNS, after several people came forward stating the singer was responsible for sexual misconduct. The festival, which touted an all female lineup on Saturday had a choice to make – turn the other cheek or serve as an example to others in the music community by disallowing an alleged abuser a platform.

All Things Go issued a statement that Borns would no longer perform at the festival. By doing so they clearly and confidently sent the message that their festival was no place for misconduct and one that would amplify voices aiming to make the music world safer. Sunday was surely a celebration of that, and All Things Go provided a winning combination of hope, fun and progress. It’s like no other festival in DC, or perhaps the country, and we’re already counting down to the next one.

For  more information about All Things Go Fall Classic, click here.

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

Photo: Darren Cox
Photo: Darren Cox

Beetlejuice: The Musical! The Musical! The Musical!

It isn’t until the delightfully weird cult classic you can quote in your sleep makes its pre-Broadway debut in your city and the buzz rises to a deafening level that you realize there are thousands, maybe millions, of strange and unusual superfans out there. It’s no surprise that Tim Burton’s iconic, stop-motion aesthetic and penchant for rooting for the underdog resonates with so many of us, but bringing his first successful feature film to the stage as an original musical is indicative of the freelance bio-exorcist’s reach in today’s pop culture landscape.

Beetlejuice: The Musical arrives in the District on October 14 at National Theatre, the second world-premiere production to land at the historic spot in the past year following 2017’s Mean Girls debut. As my fellow Burton nerds and I prep for this epic production, we picked the brain of two-time Tony Award-nominated Alex Timbers (Rocky, Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) about taking the 1988 film to Broadway. Like so many of us, the 40-year-old director grew up watching Beetlejuice and was immediately drawn into Burton’s highly stylized world.

“[Beetlejuice] was the first time we were seeing Tim Burton unleashed, in a way,” Timbers tells me on a recent call. “And like a lot of people, I really connected with this story about a group of outsiders.”

A brief synopsis for those unfamiliar with the film (and if so, please go watch it immediately): a young, very vanilla couple, Barbara and Adam Maitland, are killed tragically in a car accident and get stuck haunting their idyllic Connecticut home and navigating the afterlife, complete with a handbook for the recently deceased that reads like stereo instructions. When my all-time favorite dysfunctional family, the Deetzes, move in (Charles is looking for a respite from NYC living, his wife Delia is repelled by the “giant ant farm” they’ve moved into and their teenage daughter Lydia is the brooding goth kid in all of us), the Maitlands panic and hire the ghost with the most, Betelgeuse (known to clients as Beetlejuice) to scare the disruptive trio all the way back to the big city.

While the Maitlands are the protagonists of the film, Timbers says the musical is centered more on the emotional life of Beetlejuice and Lydia.

“I love that Beetlejuice is cynicism through and through and Lydia is innocence masked in cynicism and sardonic wit. The two of them as foils for each other, I just always responded to that in a big way.”

Tony Award nominee Alex Brightman (Beetlejuice) and Lortel Award nominee Sophia Anne Caruso (Lydia) have been workshopping their starring roles with Timbers for over a year now.

“It’s been amazing to watch their relationship and rapport build throughout the rehearsal process,” the director says of Brightman (School of Rock) and Caruso (Lazarus). “They have a real friendship, but they also are great at teasing each other and getting under each other’s skin, [just like] Beetlejuice and Lydia.”

Timbers is particularly thrilled to have Caruso on the bill. The 17-year-old actress brings an authenticity to the role of Lydia given her age, plus an impressive resume that includes working with Michelle Williams in Blackbird.

The director describes Brightman as legitimately funny, citing his writing credits and improv background among his full range of talents, and feels the pair’s chemistry is exactly what’s needed for Beetlejuice to succeed onstage.

“Musical theatre has a long history of featuring characters that are great conmen or hucksters. Lydia and Beetlejuice are conning each other. The one-upmanship between the two of them is so smart and bold. They’re great musical theatre protagonists.”

The director also points out that because Beetlejuice is such a trickster, it’s a natural fit for him to break the fourth wall and interact with us.

“[Beetlejuice] can talk directly to the audience. We wanted to embrace that. How many films, in their DNA, have a character that is custom-built to lead you through a musical?”

Beyond the production’s expanded focus on Lydia and Beetlejuice, I have all sorts of geeky questions for Timbers about how true to the film the musical will stay – from brilliant one-liners to arguably the most memorable onscreen use of Harry Belafonte songs in film history. He tells me that he has high expectations for maintaining the wit and edge of Burton’s flick; he’s acutely aware that more outré films adapted for the stage can sometimes soften up, and he assures me that isn’t going to happen.

“The script obviously lines up with a lot of the story from the movie, but it also takes its own turns and surprises. We haven’t felt beholden to delivering the dialogue from the film. The writers have smartly paid homage to the things that hopefully you’ll want [to see], but they’ve definitely created their own piece of art.”

This sentiment expands beyond the script to the original score by Eddie Perfect (King Kong). Burton is famous for collaborating with composer Danny Elfman on almost all of his films, and Timbers says there are little nods to his signature sound throughout the musical.

“Eddie’s been really smart in paying tribute to the Elfman-esque sounds from the movie that you expect, love and associate with Beetlejuice, and also a little bit of the Caribbean nods that you hear in [Belafonte’s] ‘Banana Boat Song (Day O)’ and ‘Jump in the Line.’ It’s got the things you’ll expect, and then keeps carrying it forward to another level.”

Because he mentions “Day O,” I of course have to ask if the famous dinner scene will be included (for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, all you need to know is that it involves a hilariously choreographed calypso dance and surprise shrimp hands). He says it will, and we move on after (a few) exclamations of happiness from my end of the line. Perfect’s score allows the audience to go into the interior life of the characters, Timbers says, giving them new depth.

“We often say in theatre that a song functions in the same way as a closeup in a movie. [Eddie’s] done a great job of balancing the expectations one has for the sonic world of that [with] those elements people are going to love and expect, and then tearing off and creating a larger sonic world as well to voice these characters.”

Another driving force behind Burton’s work is the visual world he’s created. The musical’s creative team is working to draw from the director’s aesthetic rather than emulate it, giving the production an expanded palette and originality. Timbers says the team has been trying to push into “what the theatrical equivalent of the DIY, handmade Burton style that was so surprising and became so quickly iconic” is without saying, “We need to absolutely recreate this dress or that piece of wallpaper.”

“We’re definitely trying to think of what serves the theatre piece, but we’re embracing [Burton’s] oeuvre because we love it as much as the audience does.”

One optic element Timbers gives me a sneak peek of is the puppets created by designer Michael Curry (The Lion King).

“He’s created puppets that exist in the netherworld and in the real world that are really striking and surprising, and really have that Burtonian quality. Obviously, we can’t do stop-motion animation, so [we had to think through] the theatrical vocabulary equivalent. To be in the same room as those puppets in this highly visual, imaginative world is going to be one of the most exciting things about the theatre piece at the National.”

Not to mention that Timbers is psyched to house the musical in such a storied theater in the nation’s capital.

“You’re smack dab in the middle of the nation’s history, so to be a part of musical theatre history but also at the heartbeat of the country is really cool.”

Beetlejuice: The Musical runs at National Theatre from October 14 to November 18. Tickets start at $54 and can be purchased at www.thenationaldc.org. Learn more about the Broadway musical at www.beetlejuicebroadway.com and follow National Theatre on Twitter at @NatTheatreDC for updates.

National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: McNair Evans
Photo: McNair Evans

St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ Familial Feelings

Laced throughout St. Paul & The Broken Bones’ third album, Young Sick Camellia, are recordings of an older man speaking. They are seamlessly integrated into the band’s signature, soulful sound to the point that the thought of the recording’s absence would render the whole effort no less beautiful, but much less vulnerable. The man speaking throughout is the grandfather of frontman Paul Janeway — affectionately called papaw — who passed shortly after the conversation was recorded.

“We just talked,” Janeway says of their conversation. “I was in Texas somewhere, opening up for Hall & Oates. Two months later he was diagnosed with lung cancer. It’s weird, because now the album has taken on a different complexion than I thought it was going to. He was older, in his 80s. I knew he wasn’t going to be here forever but I didn’t know it was going to be that quick. It was kind of like the universe was telling me something. I’m so glad it made it on the record.”

The idea to record his grandfather came to Janeway through the work of author Kathryn Tucker Windham, a fellow Alabama native who documented ghost stories through their shared home state and other southern locales. He felt inspired to do the same but instead of examining ghosts, he would use the conversations as a jumping-off point to explore the “complicated” relationships amongst the men in his family.

Originally intended to be the first in a series of three EPs around three generations of Janeway men, the burgeoning subject matter eventually took on the body of a full LP. This record represents Paul himself. He hopes to continue the project with two more albums, focusing in a more direct way on his father and grandfather.

“I always thought there were some things that were off limits. But those are usually the things you should really explore. These kinds of relationships, and growing up the way I did, why are things the way they are: exploring those ideas is terrifying,” he explains. “Why can’t I write little pop love songs or something of that nature? Why is my inclination to always push things forward and really explore and expose vulnerability? At some point, as an artist you just kind of go ‘alright, I don’t have anything else to give.’ This has been a well of creativity, though.”

Though the record has a literal end — the expansive “Cave Flora” — Janeway explains that the closing track is merely a bridge to what will be a further exploration of his family. Much like future generations carry on the family name, these albums will serve as a living document to the strength and the complexity of parental relationships.

The title of the album itself connects back to Janeway’s honest introspection displayed throughout, and pays homage to another one of his greatest influences — Italian painter Caravaggio.

“Bizarrely, I am a closet art fiend,” he says. “I love Caravaggio. The whole theme of the record, Young Sick Camellia, is based of a painting of his called ‘Young Sick Bacchus.’ It’s supposed to be a self-reflective painting of Bacchus, but it’s really after Caravaggio when he was sick. And with camellia being the Alabama state flower, [it all] represents this self reflective record.”

Although Young Sick Camellia is incredibly intimate, St. Paul & The Broken Bones still has all the dynamics of a band. While recording the songs he wrote, Janeway says the familial ties were the glue that held everyone together. The marked difference in this case was how the whole band was able to play up each other’s strengths even more so than on previous efforts.

“Here’s the situation: I am not the smartest guy in the world. I’m just not,” Janeway says with a laugh on handling a group dynamic and the personal subject matter he wrote. “But what I want to do is surround myself with people who are smarter than me, or better than me. I want to be able to develop the ability to edit them and to cherry pick what they do and try to let their strengths play out. It’s like a group project. You just have to figure out the process that best fits you and your group. I don’t desire the spotlight, but it just kind of happens when you are the voice and the face of the group. We finally got comfortable with who we are as a group.”

The result is what ultimately makes Young Sick Camellia so fascinating: it is deeply personal but allows you to bring your own familial ties and reflect on them through the experiences of someone else.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones play The Anthem on Sunday, September 30. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets begin at $41. For more on the band, visit here.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0020; www.theanthemdc.com 

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Foxing, Ratboys and Kississippi at Union Stage

Foxing, Ratboys and Kississippi rocked out at Union Stage on September 6, filling the arena with heavy riffs, emotional lyrics and unusual sounds. Touring on the new album, Nearer My God, Foxing brought their post-rock and electronic sound to DC. Photos/write-up: Mike Kim

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Mac Demarco and Juan Wauters at The Anthem

It was just another usual crazy chaotic night with Mac Demarco and the boys at The Anthem on September 5. Opener Juan Wauters, from Queens, NY,  began the evening with an acoustic cover of the song “James Brown,” by Nancy Dupree, to which he repeated the chorus for 15 minutes while goofing around stage and teasing the audience with nonstop repetition. Attendees weren’t hyped by the song, but rather Wauters’ bright and goofy personality.

In the headline slot, everybody’s favorite old dog, Mac Demarco, came out swinging with hits “On the Level” and “Salad Days.” Touring for his latest album This Old Dog, Demarco brought fun and chaos to DC. Upon completing his set with 40 minutes of stage time remaining, the band filled the dead air with covers of artists such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Radiohead and Misfits; they even played Sixpence None the Richer one-hit wonder “Kiss Me,” inciting a sing along. The indie stalwart closed the show with “Still Together,” including a Black Sabbath solo intermission. Photos/write-up: Mike Kim