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

Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage "Anything Goes." October 5, 2018
Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage "Anything Goes." October 5, 2018

Anything Goes: Arena Stage Breathes New Life into Golden Age Classic

For a con man on a mission to stop the woman he loves from engaging in a romantic relationship with some Joe Schmoe from another world, anything goes. At least that’s what Arena Stage’s retelling of the classic play entails, with stowaway Billy Crocker on a mission to get to his beloved Hope Harcourt aboard a luxurious cruise ship using every ounce of his street knowhow.

Anything Goes runs from November 2 to December 23 on Arena’s Fichandler Stage, with the theatre’s artistic director Molly Smith at the helm of the production. During the SS American’s journey from NYC to London, Crocker must use various disguises and the help of his friends to win back his love.

“There’s the romance and the love,” says High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu, who plays Crocker. “What’s fascinating about this piece is the differences in class. Billy’s had to fight his way to the position he’s at in the world. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth at all and this woman was, but [she’s] had it shoved in her mouth and [doesn’t] want her mother having a hand in everything.”

The musical is set in the 1930s, which local actress Maria Rizzo says is one of her favorite eras.

“It’s a vibrant time to sing music,” she says of the decade. “That’s what’s going to draw our audiences to the show, because there are so many songs people will recognize.”

Rizzo plays tough-talking Erma, balancing the character’s strength and independence with her playful demeanor.

“I feel comfortable playing characters who are big and exciting. I think it’s easy to slip into a stupid or flaky version of her, but I refuse to play a woman who’s dumb. There are so many women written well, like Erma. She’s street smart, even if she doesn’t talk like the classiest of broads.”

To get into character, Rizzo changed her accent by mimicking folks who say “New Joisey” instead of New Jersey. The actress says she shares a lot in common with Erma – namely her resilience and fascination with the here and now – although her character does love attention from the boys.

“So that and [her] voice were the two opposite qualities.”

For Bleu, navigating his role was more difficult because he is playing a character who is playing characters. Each of Crocker’s disguises requires its own mannerisms and voices.

“I know I am a hopeless romantic, and there is that aspect of Billy. He’s willing to go to the ends of the earth to win this woman’s heart, even after being continually denied. There’s several different accents and disguises, and while doing that you have to make sure it stays Billy.”

Bleu and Rizzo are both fawning over the choices Smith has made throughout pre-production, culminating in the new look and feel she’s bringing to this 1934 musical.

“What I love so much about Molly’s shows is that she typically casts cross-culturally, and it’s really reflective of what America looks like today,” Rizzo says. “Even though this show is from the 1930s, and the original cast would have been all white actors, that’s not the show you’ll see because that’s not the world we see right now. It gives the piece a more powerful voice.”

Smith also encourages performers to dig deeper, including the development of character backstories and experiences.

“We had to find ways to make [the script] justified, and we even brought backstories not in the text,” Bleu says. “We all had to come up with our own improvisations of our characters, [and what] the biggest turning point of your character’s life was. It was really, really interesting. I’ve never been part of a production where that process was so open to everyone.”

With fresh faces breathing life into beloved characters, this version of Anything Goes will undoubtedly emotionally engage audiences who span generations.

Anything Goes has a lot of potential for a lot more depth than most Golden Age musicals,” Bleu continues. “You have an incredibly talented ensemble and the choreography is going to be incredible, so there will be that excitement of having seen a great performance.”

Catch Anything Goes on Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage from November 2 to December 23. Tickets are $92. For more information on the play, visit www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

Films Across Borders

Stage and Screen Events: November 2018

Through Wednesday, November 21

Films Across Borders: Stories of Women
As a frequent moviegoer, even I find it difficult to keep up with foreign films. Unless they are slated to be acknowledged during award season or carry a tremendous amount of hype, they are often lower on my priority list when it comes to choosing which film off the marquee to watch. However, the American University’s Films Across Borders series is an opportunity to head to several venues and appreciate a variety of stories. This year’s theme, Stories of Women, will showcase an assortment of films representing women from diverse backgrounds and represent the importance of “gender-balanced perspectives and parity” in our society. The festival includes screenings, panels and Q&As on a number of topics within the theme. Times, dates and ticket prices vary. Films Across Borders: Various locations around the DMV; www.american.edu.soc/films-across-borders

Through Sunday, December 2

King John
No folks, we’re not talking about the King in the North, John Snow. Rather, we’re talking about a different King John, and one who has less accolades than the bastard child of Winterfell. Folger’s King John takes audiences back to the days of the Magna Carta and represents a sly look at the politics of Old England. This winter, director Aaron Posner brings this chaotic combination of ambition and boneheaded decison-making to life.  Various dates. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 East Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

Saturday, November 3 – Sunday, December 2

As You Like It
After several people are forced from their homes, they escape into the forest of Arden, a place where you get lost in nature while simultaneously finding yourself. However, this is a Shakespeare retelling so the story encompasses themes like families at each other’s throats and lovers forced to feign the opposite. The New York Times declared this Shaina Taub and Laurie Woolery musical adaptation as one of the best shows in 2017, and the refugees who form this new community among the trees are all set to blow DC away in its District debut. Various dates, times and ticket prices. The Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

Friday, November 9 – Saturday, November 10

Malavika Sarukkai: Thari – The Loom
Making her return to the Kennedy Center after a five-year hiatus, Malavika Sarukkai brings her mastery of the classical Indian dance style bharatanatyam with her latest production, Thari – The Loom. This performance is said to investigate the scope and legacy of the sari, a hand-woven garment famously from India, and how the changing mythos of the symbol “becomes a metaphor for life itself.” Show is at 7:30 p.m. on both days. Tickets $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Tuesday, November 13

Story District Presents: Cat-Headed Baby
Looking for a unique twist on storytelling? Then search no further, as Storytelling District continues its monthly tradition of having locals stand on a stage while delivering unusual tales about superstitions, hoaxes and other oddities. Though it sounds silly, these provocative narratives are more than just random thought bubbles from your DMV neighbors, as each seven-minute performance contains an original true story that aligns with the theme of the month. As if I need to sell you on it any harder, The Washington Post deemed Story District the “gold standard in storytelling.” Doors at 6:30 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $20. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Wednesday, November 14

Limetown Panel
A fictional town covered by a fictional version of NPR, this live podcast offers a true-crime story with a layout similar to Serial with subject matter inspired by The X-Files. Somewhere in Tennessee, 300 people go missing, and American Public Radio’s Lia Haddock is on the scene detailing its happening. This panel discussion will feature creators Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie, with author of their new prequel novel Cote Smith, as the trio discusses the new story involving Haddock’s intriguing past. Panel begins at 7 p.m. Tickets $16-$30. Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

Wednesday, November 14 – Sunday, December 16

Cry It Out
Parenthood is hard, sure, but you know what else is hard? Making friends as an adult. Without the built-in friend finder of school, navigating life as an adult takes up a ton of time, which sort of puts making new acquaintances on the backburner, and when you add children on top of all that – whew, good luck. Essentially this is where the characters in Studio Theatre’s Cry It Out find themselves, as two young couples separated by a few yards between their homes luckily strike up a friendship, bonding over all the tougher aspects of raising children. This comedy is sure to be a relatable story that examines parenthood and class in the U.S. Various dates, times and ticket prices. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Sunday, November 18

Frankenstein
Humans have always had a fascination with science fiction. Before we could even fly country to country or state to state, there were books about alien visitation, trips to the moon and time travel. With artificial intelligence and super computers constantly in the news (shout out to Skyne…I mean Google) one of the original fictional creators of artificial intelligence was Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who sewed different body parts he found in the cemetery together to create a humanoid. However, the doctor was appalled by his creation and fled the scene only to be followed and accosted by his monster, and no, we’re not talking the bolts in the neck one from the Munsters. This play pays homage to Shelley’s novel, which tackled a plethora of ethical questions that our modern science is only now beginning to encounter in the real world. Talk about timely. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets $44. George Mason Center for the Arts: 4400 University Dr. Fairfax, VA; http://cfa.gmu.edu

Wednesday, November 21

Jackson Galaxy
The Cat Daddy himself is making his way to DC. Most famously known as the host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, Galaxy has also penned two New York Times bestsellers and has more than 25 years of experience working with our feline friends. For this presentation at the famed Lincoln Theatre, Galaxy will divulge how he found his mojo and how to get to know your cat, and the “raw cat” (aka his ancestor who was totally not a social kitty.) Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $45-$60. The Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

Shakespeare_YPN_101918_TJ (21)

Young Prose Night: Shakespeare Theatre’s Comedy of Errors

Shakespeare Theatre hosted Young Prose Night for its production of Comedy of Errors, which included a post-show reception with complimentary brews from The Bruery and wine. Photos: Trent Johnson

Shayla S. Simmons // Photo: DJ Corey Photography
Shayla S. Simmons // Photo: DJ Corey Photography

Aida Offers Love Triangle of Mystery

Finding love or defying odds – both are full of risks and layered with potentially upheaving plot twists. This is especially true for the Tony Award-winning musical Aida, an epic love story by Elton John and Tim Rice.

At Source through November 18, director Michael J. Bobbitt leads an ensemble of 14 to produce harmonious ballads, spirituals and pop sensations alike as part of Constellation Theatre Company’s 2018-2019 season, Epic Love.

In a war-torn country, an army captain (Radames) from Egypt, unbeknownst to him, captures the princess of Nubia (Aida) and forces her into slavery to serve his betrothed, the princess of Egypt (Amneris). A love triangle afoot, the mystery of betrayal is onerous – and the only matter worth pondering is the cause that shatters love in an ancient Egyptian tale.

The journey to uncovering the fate of these love-stricken nationalists is one of grand proportions. Each scene scratches deeper at the soul as passionately sung narratives draw tears from audience members. While echoing sentiments of longing for what was once eternal but now is at risk of being forgotten, songs like “The Gods Love Nubia” bring hope for the hopeless and peace for those eternally at war.

Fret not, though. The songs are not just of a melancholy nature. On the contrary – the song and dance numbers have listeners overcome with joy, as intended by the mastermind behind The Lion King score. Tony Thomas II’s choreography and Kenann Quander’s costume designs are paired perfectly with each song.

Chiffon, silk, exaggerated beading and over-the-top headwear grace the stage. With no surprise, Amneris, played by the emotive Chani Wereley, donned the best a princess could find, with at least six wardrobe changes. The breathtaking designs even elicited a witty remark from Aida, exquisitely played by Shayla S. Simmons.

“The Egyptians have a really nice thread count.”

Even the Pharaoh earned best dressed with his gold headwear and black cutout overalls.

If you’re looking for an epic love story that will have you on the edge of your seat, a good laugh and singalong-worthy tunes, or your next fashion obsession, see Aida. The production is the best addition to one’s autumn theatre itinerary. The sacrificial love displayed in this intimate space will warm your heart throughout the season.

Aida is playing at Source through November 18. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at www.constellationtheatre.org.

Constellation Theatre Company at Source: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; www.constellationtheatre.org

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: Zack DeZon
Photo: Zack DeZon

A Day in the Life: Maria Manuela Goyanes

There won’t be an ice age at Woolly Mammoth anytime soon. The theatre company’s new artistic director, Maria Manuela Goyanes, is DC’s latest creative transplant from New York. She’s bringing a decades-long theatre career and her first-generation, Latinx-American perspective to champion Woolly’s inclusive mission and edgy productions.

While artistic direction usually entails reviewing performance options for the upcoming season and executing creative decisions, my interview with Goyanes was one of her many scheduled meetings during the first few weeks in her new role. On our call, intermittent laughter made its way between her words. She answered immediately and honestly – and without taking herself too seriously. But Goyanes is absolutely serious about her passion for Woolly and what it means to succeed the company’s co-founder, Howard Shalwitz.

On Tap: What do you think has really prepared you for this role?
Maria Manuela Goyanes: Does anyone ever feel really prepared? [Laughs] I think I stand on the shoulders of giants, there’s no question [about] that. I think one of the things that makes me uniquely connected to Woolly and [our] mission is that I have both the experimental, innovation side with the work that I did with 13P [Thirteen Playwrights, Inc.], which is a playwrights’ collective, coupled [with] having been at the Public Theater for 15 years.

OT: What aspects of a story are you immediately drawn to when selecting productions for the upcoming season?
MMG: I’m looking for two different things. The first is trying to push the art form, so plays that are really  interesting, exciting or new – pushing the aesthetics [or] experimenting with an idea in terms of structure or language. But then on the other side, I’m also really looking for something that is going to be challenging or provocative to an audience. The reason why I feel so aligned with Woolly Mammoth – I’m really pinching myself, I’m the luckiest person in the world to have this job – is because I am a huge fan of all of the writers that Woolly has [featured].

OT: What’s different about your perspective and influence at Woolly compared to your predecessor, Howard Shalwitz?
MMG: I love Howard, and this has been the smoothest transition probably in the history of American theatre. But I will say, I am  a short Latina from New York! [Laughs] What I experience and how I walk through the world is very different from Howard. I think that my perspective is going to stem from my own life and what I care about. Who gets to tell what story? Does it really reflect the world around us? Is it pushing the boundaries of theatre and what people expect? How can we make the biggest impact?

I’m really excited about the mission statement of Woolly. It’s about galvanizing artists and audiences. “Galvanizing” is so powerful and aspirational, and something for us to live up to and attempt to make happen for every single one of our shows and every single one of our experiences.

OT: I’m also a first-generation American, and it’s exciting to interview someone with this identity who is making an impact.
MMG: It’s important for me that people know I do identify as a first-generation American. It’s a big wave, a big change happening in the American theatre and culture right now, and my hope is that the people who are leading these arts organizations all across the country are going to start to reflect the diversity of the country. I know that I am part of that wave, and I feel that responsibility and the excitement about that too.


Maria Can’t Live Without

Her husband and partner Dave
He keeps everything real for me with his witty sense of humor.

FaceTime
This is how I stay in touch with everyone I love, especially my family in NYC, Spain and the Dominican Republic.  

Theatre
Some of the most transformative experiences of my life have been in theatre. I believe in the power of theatre to deeply impact our lives and shape our relationship to the world around us. 

Producing
I love connecting people and artists, creating events and works of art, and generally making sh-t happen. It’s in my bones. The possibilities are endless! 

Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist teacher, author, nun and mother
I began meditating because of her books. Her words ground and center me. I actually bought 100 of her books to give as gifts to my favorite people. You know I like you if you get a Pema Chödrön book.


OT: Why is it important to be a leader in the DC theatre scene?
MMG: I am just now getting to know the DC theater scene. I just had a great dinner with [Arena Stage Artistic Director] Molly Smith, who is the bomb. Everyone has been so welcoming and generous with their time and words, so it’s made me really excited to be here and get to know everybody. It feels like a really tight-knit community, which is exciting too. I’m going to be doing a lot of listening and getting to know the artistic community [and] the people in our audience, and understanding what it is about DC’s arts and culture [scene] that might be missing that we need to tap into. Woolly stands for being alternative to the mainstream, and the mainstream is starting to do more provocative plays. How can Woolly stay at the vanguard and leading edge of provocative, challenging and explosive work?

OT: Tell me about Woolly’s October production of The Fever by theatre experimentalists 600 HIGHWAYMEN.
MMG: It is a [performance] that the audience actually has to participate in to create. I think there’s some people who think of that interactivity as really scary. There is nothing difficult, embarrassing or confessional about what [the audience does]. It is actually about the power of the collective and our humanity and responsibility toward each other. It’s beautiful. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced and I’m so excited to bring this to Washington, DC right now. It’s not just about changing minds but also changing hearts. What this piece is attempting to do is lead from the heart before leading from the head, and that is a really interesting thing to experiment with.

The Fever runs from October 23 to November 4. Tickets are $20-$35. Learn more about the daring production, and the rest of Woolly’s
2018-2019 season, at www.woollymammoth.net.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; 202-393-3939; www.woollymammoth.net

Photo: Derek Wood
Photo: Derek Wood

Comedy Wonder Woman Wanda Sykes

You’ve heard of Wanda Sykes because she’s probably one of your favorite comedian’s favorite comedian. Sykes isn’t limited to the stage though, gracing TV and the silver screen opposite stars like Don Cheadle, Larry David, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and countless others. Her voice can even be heard in the kids’ movie series Ice Age and in recent episodes of the Netflix hit BoJack Horseman.

Sykes is a veteran of the show business universe, getting her comedy start in the late 90s before joining the writing team of the celebrated, Emmy-winning Chris Rock Show. Since then, the prolific comic has acted in, produced and written everything from pilots and skits to feature films.

With a creative hand in diverse projects, Sykes has always had a soft spot for the art and freedom of standup. On her current Oh Well Tour, she’s tackling the nation’s political atmosphere and social issues, and the ins and outs of her own family life. We got to catch up with this tremendously funny wonder woman before she takes the Strathmore stage on November 3.

On Tap: Comedy specials and standup performances seem like a time for comedians to share their thoughts and feelings about the world with audiences. Is that how you look at it?
Wanda Sykes: I like to give you a snapshot of the lay of the land and what I think is going on with social issues and other things that are important to me. I spend a lot of time with my family, so I talk about that too. I’m trying to do it in a way that we can actually talk about things but have fun with them. I want to do it where we’re having fun and it’s not angry and saying everybody else is f–ked up. You want to point out hypocrisy on both sides.

OT: Your next comedy special will be on Netflix, but you’ve reportedly been critical of their offers in the past. What changed?
WS: I was speaking out more so in support of what Mo’Nique was saying. You have to get an offer you can live with, which is why I went with Epix for my last special. This time around, I was able to make a deal with [Netflix]. It’s great to be on that platform, because they reach so many people worldwide and that’s a great place to further your audience.

OT: You’re one of the most prolific comedians in entertainment, from writing and producing to doing standup. How do you choose what projects you want to do? What’s that process like?
WS: It’s about quality, [whether] it’s saying something or flat-out funny. It has to speak to me, and it has to be something I can make better. You have to tailor your approach to the project. If it’s writing, you have to discuss stories and what you want it to say. You go from there, [and] find out the best ways to service the project.

OT: Do you approach performing onstage differently than in a scripted setting?
WS:
Onstage when you’re doing a live show, it’s total freedom.
Every show I’ve done, there will be [at least] one thing that comes to me onstage. It’s exactly that [freedom], and that’s the beauty of standup.

OT: It feels like more often than not, comedians take flak from anyone and everyone. Has that become more prevalent in your industry? How has comedy changed over the course of your career?
WS:
It’s more eyeballs, but it’s also the access. The thing that drives me nuts the most is the cell phones at the shows – people recording the comics when they’re working stuff out. A lot of bits can get taken out of context when that happens. You’ll [see] someone and think they’re funny, and then you’ll see a clip that’s not and it’s because they’re still working on it. That hurts comedy and now when we’re onstage, we’re thinking about those repercussions.

OT: When President Trump was elected, some people thought that comedians would have a field day since politicians can be easy targets for jokes. Do you think that’s true with him, and will you work him into your standup at Strathmore?
WS: Oh, I’m totally going to talk about him. The thing is, there’s no comedian out there funnier than Trump. It’s hard to do a parody of a parody. You can’t make up the things that he says. For all presidents, there’s always been a nice debate because everyone isn’t for the same things. But you have to be able to go back and forth and talk about it. With this, things go straight to rage on both sides.

Catch Sykes at Strathmore on November 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35-$115 and can be purchased at www.strathmore.org.

Learn more about the comedian at www.wandasykes.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @iamwandasykes.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; 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

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Phoebe Robinson Finds Truth in the “Trash”

“I write in my own voice, with my own abbreviations. I’m a pop culture junkie, and I fully embrace it. That’s what made her notice me.”

Phoebe Robinson is speaking on the importance of being herself, including her signature comical abbreviations like “soc-meds” for social media, and the operative “her” is none other than Oprah herself. The comedian and author is explaining the MO of her career that eventually led her to pen a New York Times bestseller titled You Can’t Touch My Hair, adding Oprah and thousands of others to her fanbase.

You may also know Robinson as one-half of the 2 Dope Queens podcast, where she and Jessica Williams host and showcase the talents of comedians and actors from diverse backgrounds. And as the host of her own podcast Sooo Many White Guys, Robinson chats with an equally talented array of people from other creative industries. She’s hosted huge names like St. Vincent, Roxane Gay and Gloria Steinem, just to name a few.

In the midst of the runaway success of her first book, hosting two popular podcasts and garnering multiple acting credits, Robinson penned another book: Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay, out on October 16. This collection of essays sees Robinson attempting to balance the cosmic scales of the current messes surrounding feminism, dating, politics and more.

“Trying to find the humor in things really helps because right now, things seem really tough,” she explains. “So many people are trying to make things better. On a grand scale, is global warming melting all of us? Yes, 1000 percent. But it is really cool to see people who just had a regular office job and then decide they want to get into politics because they care about education or women’s or trans rights. [That’s] a reminder that not everything is lost. We fully have the potential to take control and right the ship any way that we want to.”

She’ll bring her book to life on October 25 at the Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival, organized by Brightest Young Things and curated by comedian Tig Notaro. Lincoln Theatre’s stage will be graced by both Robinson and Notaro at the festival’s opening show as Notaro “laughs at whatever nonsense I’m saying and makes fun of it,” Robinson speculates. She and fellow Dope Queen Williams are no strangers to the Bentzen Ball’s stacked lineup – they made an appearance in 2013 and grew a relationship with Notaro from there.

“When Jess and I were tossing around directors for our 2 Dope Queens HBO specials, we decided that we definitely wanted a woman to direct. We felt like so many times this opportunity goes to a guy. We both immediately thought about Tig and how that could actually work because her style of comedy is very different than ours, so that can enrich the process. That’s how we really got to know Tig and hang out with her. It feels really good to know that someone I admire and respect and think is really talented is becoming a friend.”

A common theme at the Bentzen Ball, and in all of Robinson’s work, is the mutual support and respect amongst creatives that allows voices not always given the mainstream time of day to thrive – and inspire others to do the same. Robinson emphasizes that with any kind of creative work, it’s essential to allow yourself the time to find your voice and create your own path rather than trying to fit in.

“While it’s good to want to do a late-night show or standup, or be mentioned in a magazine or have your book published by a certain publisher, I think there’s also something to trying not just to get a seat at the table but to creating your [own] table – making your own lane and traveling on that. The coolest stuff happens when you create your own lane and stay true to yourself.”

See Robinson open Brightest Young Things’ Bentzen Ball on Thursday, October 25 at Lincoln Theatre. Doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $45 and include a copy of Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay.

Learn more about the comedian at www.phoeberobinson.com or follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @dopequeenpheebs. For more on the Bentzen Ball Comedy Festival, visit www.bentzenball.com.

Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050; www.thelincolndc.com