Boeuf Bourguignon // Photo: Scott Suchman

Brassiere Liberté Brings French Staples To Georgetown

Georgetown’s dining scene has been a touch sleepy over the past few years. Up-and-coming neighborhoods in the District have overshadowed once-thriving, traditional food hubs like Georgetown as of late. As the city rapidly changes, restaurateurs looking to open new restaurants turn toward emerging neighborhoods like Shaw, H Street or The Wharf, to name a few. DC restaurateur Hakan Ilhan, however, has faith in Georgetown as a food destination and invested heavily in his latest endeavor on historic Prospect street: Brasserie Liberté.

Ilhan enlisted design firm Swatchroom to completely transform the former Morton’s The Steakhouse space from a dark, outdated cave-like enclosure, to a chic and inviting French-style brasserie. The multi-million dollar renovation includes a floor-to-ceiling wine cellar display, light blue tiling, and soft, warm shades of navy, pumpkin and crimson. A show-stopping domed booth in the private dining area features a delicate hand-painted floral pattern above red velvet upholstered seating. 

The interior is as cohesive as its dinner menu. Highlights include three different kinds of tarte flambees, French onion soup, crispy leg of duck confit, scallop almandine, and of course, the ultimate cold-weather comfort food: boeuf bourguignon. 

“I said to my chefs if we’re going to do this, there are four things you absolutely have to get right: steak tartare, french fries, escargot and boeuf bourguignon,” Ilhan says. “These are [French dishes] everyone knows.” 

In other words: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The french fries, for one, are ideally crispy from end-to-end. And the boeuf bourguignon is one Julia Child would have been proud of. The tender meat succumbs to a fork with ease, falling apart just as it should. If you’re a herbivore, however, vegetarians can take part in this classic French dish by opting for the vegan and gluten-free mushroom bourguignon. 

The man behind the food is 25-year-old Jaryd Hearn, who is currently the youngest executive chef in the city. Hearn previously spent two years cooking at Alinea, Chicago’s only restaurant with three Michelin stars. 

In addition to French staples, Hearn creates vegetarian-friendly salads, moules frites, roasted carrot grain bowl with chickpea puree and seared salmon. 

If you have the stomach real estate after your main meal, save that room for something off of their diverse dessert menu. Options include opera cake, profiteroles and an apple tartlet that comes with homemade brie ice cream so silky you wish you could buy it by the pint.

Based on its first few weeks, Ilhan’s Brassiere Liberte has the potential to level the playing field between DC’s neighborhood eats, making Georgetown a refreshed contender in the city’s comprehensive foodscape.

Brasserie Liberté is open from 11 a.m. – 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. on Friday, 8 a.m. – 2 a.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. – 1 a.m. on Sunday.

For more information about Brasserie Liberte, visit www.libertedc.com.

Brasserie Liberte: 3251 Prospect St. NW, DC; 202-878-8404; www.libertedc.com

"The Day" // Photo: Hayim Heron, courtesy of Jacobs Pillow

The Day Tackles Life, Death And All In Between At The Kennedy Center

The expiry of life is a shared experience. Yet, though our existence is riddled with these life-ending and life-altering moments, we tend to struggle with the acceptance or articulation of this obligatory unknowingly path-dependent terminus.

Fortunate for us, world-renowned cellist Maya Beiser has initiated a two-part collaborative effort, where audience members visiting the Kennedy Center December 6-7 will embark on a partially guided journey named The Day. Here, onlookers will grapple with their acceptance of life, death and everything in between, depending on your religious or ideological beliefs. 

The conception of World to Come, the sequel of The Day, began forming during September 11, 2001, while American composer David Lang and Beiser were commissioned by Carnegie Hall to produce an evening performance.

The two were living in New York during the attack on the World Trade Center, and inspiration sprung from the unfathomable event, wherein the title of their work even emulates the acronym, WTC.

“The piece just became informed by that event,” Beiser says. “In particular, by this incomprehensible idea that there were thousands of people who woke up that morning, took the train or car and went to work, and a few hours later they were all gone weeks afterward. People in Union Square were just walking around sort of dazed with signs of their loved ones they were still looking for. People were looking for those who just kind of disappeared…that became the subject of this piece.”

The Day, was imagined after its sister title World To Come.

“We wanted to create this piece that is really about life; it’s really about the sanctity of memory,” Beiser says. “For this particular case, there were two compositions that were relating to death and September 11, something personal but also universal. I think super personal things are also the things that resonate with all of us on some level. We all, of course, have this predicament. We are all born and we are all going to die someday.”

The Day will feature three significant artistic expressions: Music, composed by Lang and performed by Beiser; dance, choreographed by Lucinda Childs; and performed by Wendy Whelan. Finally, there will be poetic texts crowdsourced online to reinforce the importance of memory.

“Three-hundred different people are answering the question, ‘If I remember the day?’ and it’s all these different memories from things that we think are super profound or super mundane, but they are all being told in this matter of fact and without any judgment [space]”, Beiser explains.

The text illuminated onstage is without a narrative, yet, naturally conveys, “what’s important and not important to us, and what it is that makes our lives and our human experience a community.” 

Beiser will tell you firsthand that she is a visual musician, “You know, I’m a musician but I always see music, I don’t just hear it. Music has a very large sonic visual palette for me. When I play and when I perform, the visuals are always important to me.”

“As I was recording [The Day], I kept imagining a women dancer who danced with and who would communicate with me.”

In true Beiser fashion, she elicits the prowess of former New York City Ballet Company ballerina turned artistic director,  Wendy Whelan, whom she came to admire since their meeting in 2010. “I thought she would be the absolute perfect person for this idea.”

Whelan joined the illustrious team without hesitation,.

“We just clicked personality-wise”, Whelan reminiscing over her early encounters with Beiser.  

Whelan’s international dance career spans more than 30 years, so we wondered, how does her experience impact her movements concerning the illustration of life and death? 

“It’s been interesting,” she says. “Since I left the New York City Ballet [as a principle dancer] five years ago, I’ve lost maybe five very very close friends. They’ve died very young, and I have to say, these experiences in dealing with this kind of lost have very much affected how I look at this work and what I bring to the work.”

“There’s sort of simplicity to [The Day]. I don’t overthink, I just dive into the work and almost relax into it. Because of my experiences and my age, I let go in life. I’ve let go of the ballet. I’ve let go of friends. The power in letting go is everything. We all want to control and we want to push through and hang on. The realization is that this sort of letting go of different chapters in our life or different people, it gets you to the next place. It helps us evolve and land with new wisdom. I’ve sort of learned the beauty and power in that, and I try to let that experience come through in my being.”

The Day is showing at The Kennedy Center, Eisenhower Theater, December 6-7 at 8 p.m. on both days. Tickets are $25-$69 and can be purchased online here.

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

Frontman Eugene Hütz (far left) and Gogol Bordello // Photo: Daniel Efram

A Salve for the Soul: Gypsy Punk’s Gogol Bordello Brings Communal Music to 9:30 Club

Anyone who has witnessed the unbridled exuberance of a Gogol Bordello show knows that the gypsy punk dance party is an experience unlike any in modern live music. 

If you’re in DC over the holidays, this is your chance to see the rowdy extravaganza. Gogol Bordello, led by joyously charismatic Ukrainian frontman Eugene Hütz and featuring several special guests, will rock the 9:30 Club on December 30 and 31.

“We’re bringing a celebration,” Hütz promised during a phone interview with On Tap from his home in lower Manhattan. “That’s our vibe. It’s a collaboration with our friends. We’re bringing our gypsy punk vibes. [Rapper] Marty Baller is bringing authentic hip-hop vibes. We’re also coming with friends from [dub/rock group] Dub Trio, whom we’ve shared several tours with in the past. We’re making a collaboration that people will remember. We have a lot of creative spirits. That’s how we grow.”

Now in its 21st year as a band, Gogol Bordello has always tried to stretch and grow in new musical directions – and 2020 is no different. Hütz, especially inspired by hip-hop in recent years, is dropping a solo album next March exploring that inspiration while remaining rooted in his eclectic, international style of music-making.

“The times bring new influences,” Hütz explained. “Your core remains the same, but I’m always curious about what’s new on the streets, in the clubs and at the festivals. Besides exploring new sounds within the band, the solo record is something that kind of bubbled up on its own. It’s my own take on urban music.”

Not surprisingly, Hütz – a longtime darling of New York City’s cutting-edge artistic set – has recruited some top-tier talent to help out on the solo record.

“It’s really cool collaborating with friends I’ve made along the way like Tim Armstrong of Rancid, Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Marty Baller,” he explained enthusiastically. “I find hip-hop music right now particularly inspiring. I’ve always been a fan, but I’ve come back to it. Hip-hop is very special to me.”

While hip-hop may hold a unique appeal for Hütz, his legendary band’s musical DNA is rooted in punk rock. Hütz said early in his career, he was mesmerized by Iggy Pop’s theatrics and showmanship, and he incorporated that physical aesthetic into his own show.

“Iggy is one of my mentors,” Hütz said, noting that he’s played on live bills with him several times. “If not for Iggy, the whole school of stage performance in rock ‘n’ roll would not be nearly as swashbuckling as it is. The whole idea of being very poetic but very athletic and physical at the same time – it takes a very singular kind of individual to be able to pull it off. Creating that synthesis and storytelling, and delivering it in an athletic and Dionysian way, is a special way of performing. Even as a kid, I took my initial start from Iggy. He’s amazing. He’s a hero.”

Closer to the nation’s capital, Hütz singled out DC punk pioneers Fugazi as another key influence.

“They had the cream-of-the-crop kind of radical art sound,” Hütz said. “When I heard them, I was like ‘Yeah! That’s my kind of music.’ I was bewitched by that. Also, I discovered Bad Brains [another legendary DC punk band] through Fugazi, and then go-go music.”

It’s no secret that Hütz’s home country has loomed large in the impeachment proceedings consuming Washington this fall. However, the loquacious artist – perhaps wisely – declined to weigh in, except to say that Gogol Bordello’s communal music is designed to be a salve for the soul. That might be just what politics-weary DC needs to usher in a new year.

“When we all get to dance around the fire together – metaphorically or not metaphorically speaking, because the show gets quite fiery – there is nothing else quite like it,” Hütz said with a laugh.

“My job is to bring joy, energy and fresh vibes into the air [and] help people recharge their energy to deal with the rest of the world. That’s what I get from art and music. Everybody around the world has their own shit to deal with, and day-to-day we need joy. Hopefully, we can create a situation where people can recharge for a couple of hours.”

Catch Hütz with the rest of Gogol Bordello and special guests on Monday, December 30 (doors at 7 p.m., tickets $35) or Tuesday, December 31 (doors at 9 p.m., tickets $75) at 9:30 Club. Learn more about the gypsy punk band at www.gogolbordello.com.

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

Duck A L’Orange // Photo: Courtesy of DBGB DC

DBGB’s Festive Holiday Menu Shines at CityCenter DC

For the last five years, DBGB at CityCenter DC has provided the District with the classic French cooking championed by its revered French chef and owner Daniel Boulud, who is also at the helm of two-Michelin starred DANIEL in New York. With such a pedigree backing his work, it’s not surprising that DBGB, currently run by Chef Nicholas Tang, who himself brings a global perspective along with a focus on local seasonal ingredients, continues to be one the most consistently solid restaurants in the city. 

I dined at DBGB recently to try their Festive menu for the season and enjoyed a wonderfully complete and delicious evening. This four course offering, available through the month of December for lunch and dinner is such a great deal for the quality and quantity of food you get: it is $65 for lunch and $78 for dinner. The special menu has been designed in a way to facilitate ease of choice, with lots of luxurious touches to really get that “treat yourself for the holidays” feeling. 

For the first course, you have a choice of a kale salad that comes with delicata squash and quinoa, or Maryland crab cakes with celery root and mustard. I am absolutely obsessed with winter delicata squash, and loved the roasted addition to the salad. The crab cakes were also good,  with 2 nicely sized, meat heavy cakes. If you’re really feeling festive, you can begin with an optional champagne toast and tarté flambée for the table prior to the first course for $10. 

The second course is a wild mushroom cavatelli with shaved black truffle and Parmesan, and was easily one of the highlights. The layering of the pasta with the hearty mushrooms and the generous shaving of truffle merged together beautifully – I would happily order this again and again.

Moving to the third course, diners have a choice of classic French offerings: salmon with lentils, steak au poivre, or duck a l’orange. We went family style at the table, so I was able to try all of these options. I highly recommend that you and your dining companions do the same with picking different options to share, because all the dishes are really good.

The duck is just fantastic; the crispy skin was superbly done, and the meat was tender and flavorful. It’s served on a bed of wild rice along with endive and a sauce “bigarde” made with oranges. The dish itself is beautiful to look at and generously portioned. It does cost a $5 supplement, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Also enjoyable was the NY Steak Au Poivre: peppered striploin served with buttery smooth pommes puree, brussels sprouts, and an Au Poivre sauce. A combination that is always satisfying if done well, and in this case was faultless. 

If you want to keep it just a bit lighter, the salmon is a good option. It’s nicely done with a crispy skin and served with puy lentils and savoy cabbage. The whole grain mustard jus is a tasty touch that complemented the peppery lentils well. A vegetarian main course can also be available upon request – just make a note of it on the reservation – but you could also request it on the day of and the kitchen will accommodate you. 

To finish off, dessert is a classic holiday Bûche de Noël– chocolate flourless cake with chocolate buttercream and served with a refreshing coffee ice cream. The cake was also well made and nicely creamy. You’ll also get freshly baked Madeleines, which if you are too full at this point make for a great takeaway to enjoy with coffee later. 

Rounding off the dining experience is a good wine pairing if you choose, which is $45 and includes 3 oz pours for each course. I was especially happy to see local selections from Early Mountain in the pairings. It’s always nice when a larger restaurant of this caliber supports local food and drink purveyors. 

Overall, all the dishes were enjoyable with a few that truly amazed. For this quality of food, the price is not just reasonable, it’s a steal. This would be a great option for work holiday parties, or a holiday gathering for larger groups this December. Or just to go treat yourself.

DBGB continues to be a winning restaurant. 

DBGB: 931 H St. NE, DC; 202-695-7660; www.dbgb.com

The Cast of Fiddler on the Roof // Photo: Joan Marcus

Fiddler On The Roof Brings Sisterhood To National Theatre

Sisterhoods are quite common, whether they be biological, happenstance or through a rush at a sorority house. There’s something particularly precious about these seamlessly formed bonds that withstand the test of time. 

Consider your favorite predominantly women led stories; Golden Girls, Little Women, Insecure and Girlfriends. These strong female characters and intentionally feminine stories are sacred and significant in depicting a subsection of human existence.   

This is especially true for the three sisters of the Tony Award-nominated Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, playing at DC’s National Theatre from December 10-15

“The magic of Fiddler is in the daughters,” Ruthy Froch says, explaining why she connects so well with her character and fellow cast members. “Doing the show so many times, our relationships only gets deeper in our onstage and off stage life.” 

Froch (Hodel) and Kelly Gabrielle Murphy (Tzeitel) have spent considerable time together, along with Noa Luz Barenblat (Chava) who joined the cast in August, and each express how being a part of this show is a dream come true. 

As the national tour nears two years, the trio’s friendship, cherished in a theatrical milieu, provides security in knowing they can rely on one another. 

“We’ve become our own community,” Froch says. “We’re our own shuttle outside the shuttle of the show. We live together, we travel together, we are experiencing life together.” 

Sisterhood is germane to Fiddler on the RoofSet in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia during the early 20th century, the script follows the unsuccessful matchmaking of three elder daughters of Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman. Fixated on keeping with Jewish customs and traditions, Tevye is delighted by the prospects of arranged marriages devised by Yente, the village matchmaker. 

However, the hearts of his children have been won by those of who he considers unsuited suitors. Because of this universal theme, relating to this family is an easy feat.

“It’s incredible to see that no matter who you are or what your religious background is, or what your cultural or ethnic background is, everyone seems to find a way into this story and that makes it such a special production,” Barenblat says. 

She continues to point out how the dynamics played out in this allegory have emotional resonance overlapping generations and cultures. 

“I don’t even remember where I was when I first saw the movie, but I have such early memories of seeing the movie when I was young,” Barenblat says. “I know the songs, I know the story and I feel like it has lived in my bones for my entire life.”

Written in 1964, and now a 2019 production, the narrative has experienced a feel of timelessness.  “Since the show opened on Broadway, has been produced somewhere in the world every single day,” Kelly Gabrielle Murphy says quoting Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles, a documentary on the Broadway musical. 

“That shows how wide of a range the show has and how many people it speaks to,” Murphy adds. 

With the premise of the narrative, a lot of the play is focused on the balance of doing what’s right and keeping with tradition. 

“I think traditions are important,” Murphy says. “Being on the road, I grip on to my traditions with my family even more because we’re not with our families.” 

Barenblat adds, “the biggest pride I feel in my identity are the traditions I have with my family, a lot of which are related to my religion, Judaism, and I do think they are really important. This show really highlights the tension between maintaining your traditions, versus moving forward and exploring new cultures and being accepting of other cultures.” 

Being on the road with cast members, away from family, Froch mentions one shared between herself and Murphy. Before each performance, once departing the makeup chair, one shouts to the other, “See you in the kitchen!” 

“I think the title, Fiddler on the Roof explains traditions perfectly. It’s about the fine line between doing what you’ve always known and what’s in your bones and the dangers and shakiness of exploring other things, other traditions, the unknown. I think traditions are meant to be followed and also meant to be broken.” 

The Tony Award nominated Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof is playing at National Theatre, December 10-15. Tickets are $54-$114 and may be purchased here.

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

(Left to right) Justin Mark, Sinclair Daniel and Isabella Star LaBlanc // Photo: Tony Powell

The Story Of Peter Pan: From Beloved Classic To Contemporary Spectacle

Director Alan Paul likes to go big. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) associate artistic director has made a name for himself directing musicals and operas notable for their grand scale and lush scope. That experience will come in handy this winter as Paul tackles his biggest project yet: a re-envisioning of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, at STC’s Sidney Harman Hall from December 3 through January 12.

Peter Pan and Wendy will feature a fresh new script by playwright Lauren Gunderson, a cast of 20 and a creative team of 66 that will bring Peter Pan’s story to life through special effects, flying and ambitious sets. It is bigger than anything the company has produced before, and it’s all in Paul’s hands.

“I don’t feel like the director of this show,” Paul told me during an interview at STC’s rehearsal space last week. “I feel like the captain of the ship, like I’m orchestrating 50 people doing a million things, which I am.”

Paul envisions a show that is grand in both ideas and design. His team includes a roster of A-list artists including Gunderson, currently the most frequently produced playwright in America (American Theatre magazine), and Emmy Award-winning scenic designer Jason Sherwood (Fox’s Rent Live), who is tasked with creating the worlds of the Darling family nursery, Neverland and more.

Gunderson’s script calls for dazzling effects: flying bunk beds, midair fight sequences, Tinkerbell transforming from light to human and pirates tumbling from their ship while a giant crocodile lurks below, to name but a few. It also includes the familiar Peter Pan storyline – with some twists.

“Peter Pan already has his story,” Paul said. “The pull of it for me was Wendy and what happens to her. This is Wendy’s story, from start to finish.”

Paul felt that Gunderson, known for her plays that put women – often neglected historical figures – center stage, was the perfect person to develop a “robust, swashbuckling adventure” led by a smart, inquisitive heroine.

“There were a lot of people out there who could have written a post-modern riff on Peter Pan, but not in a big, crowd-pleasing, robust way. And that was the charge I had for her. It had to be robust.”

And it had to have the women take charge. Paul hopes Peter Pan and Wendy will do for theatre what Frozen did for movies: rewrite the rules and prove that female-driven adventure stories can attract large audiences.

Rewriting the rules “is the whole point, actually,” Paul said. “In the original Peter Pan, Peter wants to bring Wendy to Neverland to sew their socks and mend their buttons. That feels very different in 2019.”

In Gunderson’s version, Wendy is a budding scientist whose role model is Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist who won her first Nobel Prize in 1903.

Peter Pan was written in 1904, so we thought this was a great example of a very strong, very famous woman that Wendy could aspire to be.”

Wendy is joined by Tiger Lily, the Native American character that many productions of the still-popular 1954 Peter Pan musical cut due to its offensive characterization. In approaching the parts of the original story that may seem sexist or racist, Paul felt his and Gunderson’s job “was not to be apologetic, but to actively flip the script.” Rather than eliminating the Tiger Lily character, they wanted to make her voice powerful and real. She is now a driving force in Peter Pan and Wendy, a vocal sparring partner with Pan, and a leader in Neverland.

Paul enjoys mining the deep psychological undercurrents in the script.

“This is a play that is obsessed with time,” he observed, noting that Peter Pan and Captain Hook are both trying to stop the clock and avoid the inevitability of aging. “It’s not a subtle play. It’s about good and evil and a bunch of boys fighting off pirates and a girl who believes in science. The stakes are really high. These kids go to Neverland to discover who they are and to see the worst of the world. They come back having learned big things.”

The story plays out in five separate sets, each of them designed to dazzle by Jason Sherwood.

“When you do Peter Pan, you can either do Peter and the Starcatcher, which is a very slimmed down version, or you just go ‘Boom!” Paul said. “And I was like ‘Jason, it’s time for big scenery. It’s what people want. People want an adventure.’”

In his approach to scenic design, Paul draws from his experiences directing opera. He recalls advice he once received from Sir Nicholas Hytner, the former artistic director of London’s National Theatre.

“The secret to opera is that you have to create five images the audience will find spectacular,” Paul recalls Hytner saying.

That can be a set piece, like the pirate ship that makes an entrance in Peter Pan and Wendy’s fifth act.

“We played around with simple designs for the ship, but then I thought, ‘People are waiting for that pirate ship to show up. It needs to be great.’”

Or it can be a scene. Paul thinks the opening sequence in which Pan reunites with his shadow will be spectacular. He hopes that a scene featuring an aerialist mermaid in a sea cave will be a beautifully stark and memorable contrast to the rest of the show.

STC commissioned Peter Pan and Wendy as the first offering in artistic director Simon Godwin’s holiday family-friendly initiative. But Godwin and Paul believe Peter Pan and Wendy will speak to adults and children equally. Paul knows it is the visual splendor that will wow young audiences, but he also thinks back to the opening night of J.M. Barrie’s original 1904 play.

“The audience that night was full of adults. Adults keep coming back to this old play from 1904 because there is really something to it. We had to find a way to honor that and make it about really contemporary things.”

Don’t miss Peter Pan and Wendy at STC from December 3 to January 12. Times vary. Tickets are $35-$120. Learn more and purchase tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

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

Photo: courtesy of the NSO

National Symphony Orchestra Brings Holiday Sweaters & Classical Music to The Anthem

It could be argued that ugly sweaters are one of the best traditions of the holiday season. From Santa riding a unicorn under a peppermint moon to “Let’s get lit” menorahs, it’s impossible not to have a good time in an ugly holiday knit. Looking to bring some of that fun to the classical music world, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) will showcase its Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert on December 11.

Hosted at The Anthem once again, the second-ever themed concert will see the NSO dressed in their best unsightly sweaters as they play holiday tunes both popular and traditional. Audience members are also encouraged to don their favorite ugly holiday pullovers.

“This isn’t your uptight, stuffy concert hall kind of deal,” says Nick Hersh, the NSO’s conductor for the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert. “It’ll be a really exciting and powerful show, but it won’t be as loud, say, as you would get for a true rock show.”

Further separating themselves from some of the “stuffier” aspects of classical music, playing at The Anthem has allowed the NSO to perform in a more relaxed setting and reach an audience who might not have seen the symphony orchestra otherwise. It also makes this performance one-of-a-kind for the DC area, Hersh says, as the combination of a world-class orchestra playing holiday tunes in a more accessible venue like The Anthem can be hard to come by.

“It’s great fun to be there [at The Anthem],” Hersh says. “I always really enjoy when the audience can do things like take a beer to their seats, which is not something you generally get to do at a hall like the Kennedy Center.”

The attire and venue may be different from the symphony orchestra’s usual style, but Hersh is quick to point out that the audience can expect the quality of the orchestra to hold up to the NSO name.

The audience can also expect a wide variety of music, ranging from classical to more traditional holiday pop songs. The orchestra will play a medley that features seasonal favorites like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” to name a few.

“What we like to play is familiar holiday tunes, and use arrangements of them in a way that really features the orchestra,” Hersh says. “You’ll hear familiar carols but beautifully orchestrated, and we’ll also play some classical standards that have come to be associated with Christmas.”

For example, this year’s show will have a “main course” featuring several pieces from Duke Ellington’s album The Nutcracker Suite, the jazz musician’s take on the classic score from Tchaikovsky. Hersh says this is one of his favorite arrangements from the show as it takes the beauty and familiarity of the original pieces and spikes them with high-energy jazz.

There will also be a choral component performed throughout the show – a new aspect of this year’s concert – featuring DC a cappella group The Capital Hearings. Hersh mentions that the moments the a cappella ensemble come onstage to perform will be a great chance for concertgoers to sing along as well.

“I was learning all the words to the songs [for last year], all those songs I knew essentially the opening words for, but I had to really delve in and learn all the words to, like ‘Frosty the Snowman,’” Hersh exclaims. “Honestly, there’s a lot of stuff I forgot!”

In addition to working with The Capital Hearings, Hersh hopes that the NSO can continue to partner with other local musicians on the Ugly Sweater Holiday Concerts to come, and continue to reach out to audiences of all kinds.

“This is really a concert for anyone, nondenominational of course, and it’s just a really fun time. You’ll clap when you want to clap and you’ll have fun just like you would at any other concert. So if you haven’t seen a symphony, this is really the kind of concert you want to try out.”

Put on your favorite ugly holiday sweater and catch the NSO Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert at The Anthem on December 11. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets start at $15. For more information about the NSO, visit www.kennedy-center.org/nso. For more information about The Capital Hearings, visit their website at www.thecapitalhearings.com.

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

The Inner Loop Co-founders Courtney Sexton and Rachel Coonce // Photo: Courtney Sexton
The Inner Loop Co-founders Courtney Sexton and Rachel Coonce // Photo: Courtney Sexton

Writers Gather for The Inner Loop’s Fundraising Gala

I sat in the Full Service Radio studio quietly as “The Inner Loop Radio: A Creative Writing Podcast” recorded their latest episode. This week’s topic was on food writing and featured guest speakers Laura Hayes and Susan Lutz. Before getting into the conversation, hosts and The Inner Loop founders Courtney Sexton and Rachel Coonce plugged their upcoming gala.

“We’re hosting our first-ever big, fancy writer’s party on December 6 at the Newseum,” Coonce announced on air.

“The amazing Alice McDermott, local author Alis Sandosharaj and the DC youth poet [laureate] Gabriela Orozco willing be giving readings” Sexton chimed in.

“We will be enjoying sweeping views of the DC city skyline, Wolfgang Puck hors d’oeuvres and of course booze” Coonce responded.

“Because booze,” Sexton replied as they both nodded in agreement.

Coonce and Sexton’s witty banter didn’t end when they went off the air, and continued as we took our conversation to the hotel lobby’s couch. They told me about the beginnings of The Inner Loop and how they met at Sarah Lawrence College. After both moving to DC, Sexton reached out to Coonce to see if she was still writing. They both realized that writing wasn’t as easy post-college, they missed having a close-knit group of writers.

“I actually had no idea how many writers there were in the DC area,” Coonce says. “When I came back to DC, I was thinking ‘where are all the writers?’ ‘Where are the great literary events?’ The authors were here, I just didn’t know how to find them.”

They created The Inner Loop to create a sense of community among the local writers of DC. In addition to being a network for writers, The Inner loop holds a monthly reading series in various locations around the city “to transform the written word into a shared experience through the act of reading aloud.” Each month, an established author reads works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction alongside nine local up and coming writers.

They added podcasting to their repertoire just two years ago. Every other Friday they broadcast live from The Line Hotel in Adams Morgan to further the conversation of creative writers in the area by featuring guest speakers and recorded readings. Each episode they hone in on specific topics such as nature or travel writing.

Now in its fifth year, The Inner Loop has grown bigger than anything Coonce and Sexton imagined. In May of 2019, they became a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Their winter fundraising gala is a celebration of everything the group has accomplished. The gala is being held at the Newseum, which is closing at the end of the month. In addition to saying goodbye to the museum, guests can participate in a silent auction with items from local sponsors such as Politics and Prose, Shakespeare Theatre Company and the 9:30 Club.

True to their philosophy of supporting both established and emerging authors, their guest readers range from an American Book Award winner to a youth poet. Headlining is writer and professor Alice McDermott who has published several novels and essays and was inducted into the New York Writers Hall of Fame. Accompanying McDermott is Alis Sandosharaj, well known for her essays including Discovering Ralph Waldo Emerson in the Golden Age of Sneakers and high school student Gabriela Orozco, who received the 2019 DC youth poet laureate at the Kennedy Center.

“It’s an exciting time to be apart of the broader arts community in DC,” Sexton says.

Funds raised from the gala will help The Inner Loop continue to support local authors and spread their passion for creative writing to all of DC. They have future plans to connect with local authors and book shops so that all neighborhoods in the district can be represented.

The Inner Loop’s Winter Fundraising Gala will be held on Friday, December 6 from 7:30-10:30 p.m. Tickets begin at $65 and can be purchased here. If you’re unable to attend, you can still donate to The Inner Loop by texting 44-321 and entering the code TIL2019. Learn more about The Inner Loop and this event by visiting www.theinnerlooplit.org.

The Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, DC: www.newseum.org

Photo: courtesy of The National Theatre

Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries

On the eve of his birthday, complete with a surprise birthday cake presented after his encore (with an enlightening reprise of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday”), Mandy Patinkin’s performance on November 29 was reflective and introspective, sparse and somber. 

At 67, Mandy Patinkin is not slowing down, evident by the 30-city Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries tour celebrating Patinkin’s four decades as a multiple Tony-winning Broadway performer, and presenting the diversity of songs covered on the quartet of Diary albums, recorded and released during the last year.  

Produced by Thomas Bartlett, probably better known to many as a songwriter, producer, and musician for artists such as Sufjan Stevens, Yoko Ono, and The National (amongst many others), the covers of American standards, Broadway classics, and contemporary troubadours of the Diary albums are touchingly melancholic, evocative and rich in their understated simplicity.

At DC’s rose-colored National Theatre on Friday night, however, the depth and richness of the recordings were replaced by a sense of haunting, nostalgia, and a preoccupation with loss. Patinkin entered in all black, with his curly hair longish in back and slicked back from his expressive face and greying beard. The stage set was simple: a piano, a stool, a chair (all in black), a single dangling Edison-style bulb on an extended cord. 

Patinkin’s impressive vocal range, too, remained stubbornly baritone, though still expressive in his distinctive phrasing, his breathy run-on pacing (the delightful “Trouble in River City”) or lowered and growly in many of the more somber covers, making his occasional higher register that much more thrilling but missed.

 Accompanying Patinkin was Adam Ben-David on piano, a little more prosaic than Bartlett but also more playful, emphasizing the lightheartedness of Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” or the impishness of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the most operatic of rock anthems, pared down to Patinkin’s single baritone voice rushing through the usual competing melodies. 

These lighter moments were occasional, as many of the covers, including Randy Newman’s doleful “Wandering Boy,” to the keening of Joshua Rayzner’s “Refugees/Songs of the Titanic,” and Rufus Wainwright’s apocalyptic “Going to a Town” (with a transposition of Wainwright’s “America” with “Jerusalem” in the refrain “I am so tired of …”) took the celebration of Patinkin’s storied career on a dark turn.

 The title of the tour “Diary” implies a vulnerability, as in Patti Smith’s recent speaking tour/concert about a year of loss and rebirth for her new book The Year of the Monkey, Alan Cumming’s bawdy, cheeky, and political cabaret Legal Immigrant, or the bare confessional of Conversations with Nick Cave, but Patinkin lets his choice of songs tell his story. 

There are glimmers of his affable storytelling during an extended anecdote about accidentally eating a THC-infused chocolate bar while on an extended road trip, or a first date with his wife, actress Kathryn Grody. But his most telling anecdote was the tragi-comic death of comedian Dick Shawn who died onstage while reclining on a sofa during a bit, prompting Patinkin to joke that he would like to go out the same way. 

Having just finished filming his final episodes of the Showtime Original Series Homeland, recording four albums with a new producer after the retirement of his longtime musical collaborator Paul Ford, and embarking on a tour in support of these new releases, Patinkin’s pace of artistic output as acclaimed actor, singer-songwriter, and concert performer is impressive and invigorating. The tour concludes in February 2020, as the final season of Homeland premieres, giving Patinkin time to kick up his feet for a bit, enjoy a chocolate bar, and dream up his next project.

For more on the work of Mandy Patinkin, visit www.mandypatinkin.org.

The National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave NW, DC; (202) 628-6161; www.thenationaldc.com

Photo: Courtesy of Carolyn Becker

Finding Your Good Podcast Launch Brings Faces of DC Fashion Together

When thinking of a fashion event with the who’s who in DC’s fashion scene in attendance, what comes to mind? Is it a Goodwill in Fairfax, VA at 8 a.m.? That is exactly where DC’s most stylish sustainable fashion bloggers and influencers converged to celebrate Goodwill of Greater Washington’s first podcast, Finding Your Good.

Finding Your Good aims to be the “go-to” podcast for everyone from fashionistas, DIY enthusiasts, and the sustainable fashion community. Each episode features a different guest sharing their expertise and experiences, and is hosted by media personality Sarah Fraser, with new episodes released weekly.

DJ Reggie Volume and Chef Roro // Photo: courtesy of Carolyn Becker

The podcast launch party, held at the 9960 Main Street location in Fairfax on November 16, featured a special curated shopping event, featuring hand-picked selections from local sustainable fashion influencers as well as shopping discounts to use in-store.

Guests were also treated to breakfast bites from podcast guest, Chef Roro of Roro’s Lebanese Food Truck, and most recently, Bubbies Plant Burgers & Fizz. To add to the shopping experience, DJ Reggie Volume provided the perfect tunes and vibes to shop to.

I had the chance to chat with Carolyn Becker, who does the digital marketing for both DC Goodwill and Finding Your Good, she’s a bright light who stands out in any room she’s in, despite her petite frame.

“My style embraces my petite stature with flair and sophistication, while staying true to my punk rock, no-rules roots,” she says when asked to describe her style. 

Her favorite thing to thrift is vintage, “…Because I love vintage, my style has leaned on the more vibrant pattern-heavy side.”

Similarly, podcast host Fraser describes her style as “bold and getting bolder. I want to be a mix of Celine Dion meets Liberace when it’s all said and done.” An amazing combination if you ask me!

Vivi and Carolyn Becker // Photo: courtesy of Carolyn Becker

Vivi, of Heart, Print and Style, was one of the local sustainable bloggers who had a hand-curated rack that guests in attendance could shop from, and is also a featured guest of the podcast. Vivi has been blogging for nearly 10 years, and specializes in plus size, sustainable style.

I asked her how sustainability and thrifting has affected her style over the years, she enthusiastically replied, “It has made me more aware of the amount of clothes I tend to have in my closet. For the past few years, I make sure to purge every month or so to truly enjoy the items in my closet. Also, the affordability aspect is nice, too. These days when I shop retail, I think twice about buying the item because the first thought that comes to mind is, ‘I’m pretty sure I can find something similar at a thrift store.’”

Allison Zupancic and Kelly-Lynne Russell // Photo: courtesy of Carolyn Becker

The launch party and shopping event drew a diverse crowd of both bargain shoppers and local influencers, including Allison Zupancic, curve model and plus size thrifter. In addition to secondhand shopping for her personal wardrobe, Zupancic also runs her own Poshmark shop, Salvaged Chic.

Of the increasing popularity of secondhand shopping in the DC area, she explains that, not too long ago it used to be taboo to say you got something at the thrift store.

“If it took a Macklemore song or a few generational bloggers to make popping tags trendy, then the more the merrier!”

For more on Goodwill of Greater Washington and Finding Your Good, visit www.dcgoodwill.org and www.findingyourgood.org.