APO DROMP

American Pops Orchestra Defies Norms with Unique Performances and Pop Singers

This isn’t your grandfather’s orchestra. With a focus on American popular music spanning from the Revolutionary War era to today, conductor Luke Frazier brings new life to a dying art with American Pops Orchestra.

On May 19, APO will perform its latest show, Let’s Misbehave: Cole Porter After Dark, featuring Australian pop-singer Betty Who, at Arena Stage. Frazier says this show will focus on the greatest hits from Cole Porter, a famous American composer from the 1920s-40s.

“What I’m trying to do with this show is say that Cole Porter’s music is as relevant today as it was seventy, eighty or ninety years ago,” Frazier says. “It is timeless music, and it’s not just something for old folks to listen to.”

Frazier notes that Porter was known for being naughty and edgy during his time, writing songs with titles like “I’m a Gigolo” and “You’re the Top.” With this show, Frazier wants to tie themes from Porter’s music in with messaging from dating apps to show younger audiences that this music isn’t just for their grandparents.

Frazier also plans to connect with a younger crowd by including some of Betty Who’s own music in the program alongside Porter. The singer, born Jessica Anne Newham, attended Berklee College of Music and has played cello since she was only four years old, unbeknownst to many of her fans. For her, the chance to perform with an orchestra is “a dream come true.”

“It’s my dream one day to perform at the Hollywood Ball with an orchestra performing some of my music,” she says. “I thought it was such a pipe dream so far down the line, and to be able to do it a little sooner is the coolest thing in the world.”

Frazier started American Pops Orchestra in 2015 after realizing how many orchestras were dying, and wondering what he could do to change that. He compared himself to David and Goliath with undertaking this task, but so far, it seems to really be working.

According to Orchestra Facts: 2006-2014, a report commissioned by the League of American Orchestras, orchestra audiences declined by 10.5% between 2010 and 2014, with 60% of the 65 League member orchestras reporting a drop in overall attendance in these same years.

On the other hand, Frazier reports that APO’s audience is actually growing—they’re even expanding their 2018-2019 season, which will be released on the eve of the Cole Porter show, at a time when most orchestras are shrinking their programs. Frazier attributes his success to the unique experience that each APO show offers its audience.

“I decided that I wanted to start my own group focused on American popular music because so many people connect with it on such an emotional and visceral level; it’s part of so many people’s lives,” he says. “I wanted to do it in a way that’s not the normal pops orchestra way.”

To Frazier, the normal pops orchestra way is to walk into a performance, sit 50 rows back from the stage full of musicians in tuxedos, and listen to a show that’s been done time and time again. With American Pops Orchestra, he hopes to give audiences a fresh take on a classic form of entertainment.

“I wanted to assemble a group that includes extremely high caliber musicians, and creates new shows all based on American pop music, but every single show is brand new and hasn’t been performed anywhere else,” he says. “This way, the audience can have a truly unique experience.”

Let’s Misbehave: Cole Porter After Dark: 8 p.m. Tickets from $20-$110; theamericanpops.org. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

 

 

 

Shakespeare_YPN_051118 (18)

Young Prose Night: Shakespeare Theatre’s Waiting for Godot

Shakespeare Theatre hosted Young Prose Night for its production of Waiting for Godotwhich included a post-show reception with a complimentary beer or wine. Photos: Trent Johnson

Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

WNO Honors Bernstein with Candide

Add the Washington National Opera to the list of those celebrating what would have been the year of the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein, as it presents the composer’s notable take on Voltaire’s biting satire, Candide through May 26 at the Kennedy Center.

Featuring classic tunes such as “Make Our Garden Grow” and “Glitter and Be Gay,” this version of Candide marries a triple threat of theater, dance and opera. Bernstein wrote a piece with so many different layers, many compare it to his personal love letter to Europe.

Eric Sean Fogel is the associate director for the show, and has also served as choreographer on the project since 2015. He says the best way to describe the performance is to talk about how not to describe it.

“We start right off the bat by not categorizing the production; we don’t say it’s an opera, operetta or a musical, or a dance piece for that matter,” he says. “It’s kind of everything, and that’s how Bernstein and his collaborators wrote the piece. It’s a world onto its own.”

However, Fogel shares, what audiences can expect to see are 12 massive production numbers and a journeying piece of a young man trying to figure out who he is by exploring the world and searching for both his love and his reason.

This current production is the fifth remount of the show. It all began when Fogel would meet with Francesca Zambello the director, Jennifer Moeller the costume designer and Jim Noone the set designer, once a month for a year to slowly go through and talk through the piece to figure out how to tell the story of 13 locations effectively on stage.

“It does have a cinematic, huge sweepy feel to it that takes a lot of time to plan out scenically and costume- and design-wise,” Fogel says.  “After a year, we settled on this base look of a French warehouse that can be transformed by moving trunks and platforms into any scenario we would like — from boats in Venice to a Bavarian battlefield.”

Throughout the show, there’s also a mish-mash of different period costume pieces for the ensemble, so they could quickly put on a jacket or necklace and represent a different character in a different county.

“We decided the most facile the design could be, the more brevity we could have in the storytelling,” Fogel says. “This is a story that’s already incredibly dense, so you want to keep it moving along and not weigh it down with additional design element. It’s almost like we’re doing the stage version of ‘It’s a Small World’ because it’s such a massive journeying piece and you just want to get different flavors of all the different cultures you go through.”

The show is comprised of a company of 34 singers, actors and dancers and unlike most opera productions, everyone sings, acts and dances like a true Broadway ensemble.

DC’s own Denyce Graves plays the character of “Old Lady.” Although she’s never done a Bernstein production before this, Graves does have a history with him as when she was 14, she made a PSA commercial with the legendary composer.

“I didn’t really know who he was at the time, but of course, over the years I learned he is one of our greatest musical giants,” she says. “This being the centennial, when I was offered the role, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity. I had known the music of course, but had never seen the work and was curious, interested and excited.”

Regardless of whether people are fans of opera or theater, Graves feels people are really going to enjoy this show.

“It has a lot of the melodies that people have heard throughout the years—everyone has heard ‘Glitter and Be Gay’— and this production is so spectacular,” she says. “It’s so detailed, so funny and I the audience will have a wonderful time.

The production also features Alek Shrader as Candide, Emily Pogorelc as Cunegonde and Wynn Harmon as Pangloss, Voltaire.

Fogel believes that when audiences leave, they will contemplate how to make the world a better place.

“It’s such a beautiful message of someone finding their purpose,” he said. “It’s poignant, has a lot of heart and offers great humanity throughout.”

For information and tickets to the show, click here.

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

Photo Courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Photo Courtesy of The Kennedy Center

Hamlet Comes to the Kennedy Center


hamlet picHamlet, the mysterious and brooding Prince of Denmark, is one of Shakespeare’smost iconic characters- but, 27-year old Paapa Essiedu takes this role to another level. 

Essiedu made history back in 2016 when he was cast as the first black actor to take on the role at Stratford-Upon-Avon. While his Hamlet still goes mad with grief after the death of his father, and the betrayal of his mother Gertrude, who then immediately marries Claudius, his uncle, Essiedu’s Hamlet is also loving , witty, funny, sarcastic, and charming … in fact, he drives the audience mad with his performance, as we decide whether we love him, hate him, feel for him, or if we just want to get on stage and slap him out of his lunacy. One thing is for sure- we can’t stop watching him.

Simon Godwin’s West-African inspired production of Hamlet is bright with color, humor, and heart. The play begins, quite literally, with a bang as a loud gunshot goes off at the moment Hamlet receives his degree from Wittenberg University.

We follow Hamlet as he transforms into a Basquiat-inspired graffiti artist who hatches a plan to reveal Claudius’ immorality, and later brutally rejects Ophelia (Hamlet really does prove that a good woman’s love cannot save a man from himself).

The focus of this production, which is brought to life by the Royal ShakespeareCompany, is much less on the politics of the play (although it is implied that Claudius is perhaps an evil dictator – he did after all kill his own brother), and much more about processing trauma. What people do to heal, what people do that hurts, the vulnerability, the longing for support and help, and the innate mistrust that happens when something as devastating as losing a parent occurs.

Watching Mimi Ndiweni as Ophelia sing sadly and rip out her hair in her madness after the death of her father is both terrifying and heartbreaking. My heart dropped as I watched Laertes come to the realization that his vibrant sister was gone forever.

Aside from the acting, the incredible set design by Paul Wills, and the music,dancing, and drumming keeps the audience enthralled in this West-African state of Denmark. This Hamlet feels at once contemporary and incredibly timeless. The play’s the thing … and you, much like our protagonist Hamlet, will be quite mad if you miss this production.

Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet runs through May 6th at the Eisenhower Theater of The Kennedy Center

 

https://www.roundhousetheatre.org/
https://www.roundhousetheatre.org/

Euan Morton Headlines Round House Theatre’s Broadway in Bethesda Gala

Broadway vet Euan Morton has played a handful of attention-grabbing roles in the theater, beginning with his Tony-nominated performance as the iconic Boy George in Taboo in 2003, and currently donning the cape and crown each night as King George in the mega-smash Hamilton. In between, he played the namesake character in Hedwing of Angry Inch in the touring production of John Cameron Mitchell’s landmark musical.

On Saturday, May 12, Morton will be the headline performer at Round House Theatre’s Broadway in Bethesda Gala 2018. The silver-piped singer promises to perform tunes from each of the three musicals above.

“I’ll be singing a lot of the stuff that people know and love and I’ll be doing some stuff that I’ve never done before, which always makes me nervous,” Morton says. “I’m doing more musical theater because it’s the world I’ve been involved in a lot more recently and I love it.”

One of the new numbers he’ll be doing is “Another Hundred People” from Company, a song he’s always enjoyed but has never performed live.

“It’s sometimes difficult when you can do anything because you don’t want to make the evening a bunch of disconnected music, but I’ve done a lot of different stuff, so I’m trying to tie it together and make it a cohesive evening,” he says. “I want to do songs I’m going to walk away feeling good about and that I think an audience will enjoy.”

Morton has been friends with Round House’s executive director Ed Zakreski for many years, and when asked to take part in the gala, he was more than happy to take a night off from Hamilton to help the theater raise some money.

“It’s important for me to support theater in the Northern Virginia and DC region because I have a home there and I’ve performed in a number of theaters in the area,” Morton says. “For me, it’s been as much a part of my theater life as New York has or London has, and I feel it’s important for me to give back to this community.”

The area’s proximity to New York combined with the patrons and audience of savvy theatergoers has made the DMV theater community one of the best in the country, and he considers it an artistic enclave.

When his nights aren’t tied up on the Broadway stage, Morton and his family—which includes his wife (producer Lee Armitage) and son (Iain Armitage, who plays the title character in CBS’s hit comedy Young Sheldon), enjoy visiting the myriad theaters in the region.

“It’s a spiritual place for my family and we are all involved in this great theater community,” Morton says.

He’s been playing King George in Hamilton since July 2017, and has really been blown away by the fandom of the show and how the musical continues to be such a dominating force on Broadway.

“I do feel that the actor playing the king is less relevant than the king himself, and the fans are coming to see the character, not me,” he says. “I love getting to stand on stage and say things like, ‘na, na, na, na, na.’ This show has shown the importance of politics in theater and has been like a supernova with fans all over the world. It’s been really nice to be a part of this.”

When considering new roles, Morton says he looks for things that are challenging and ones he’ll enjoy repeatedly without getting bored. He considers himself very lucky to have played the roles he has.

“It’s been continually exciting and challenging as everything I’ve done has been,” he says. “There’s not a moment where I thought, ‘Can I do this anymore?’ because every time I have that feeling, something new comes along and reminds me of why I’m doing it and how much it means to me and other people.”

The night will also include a silent auction and a performance from Catherine Backus, a finalist at the 2018 Bernard/Ebb Awards who was the 2017 General Category winner of the Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.

For information about the gala, visit the Round House Theatre website here.

Round House Theatre: 4545 East West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; 240-644-1100; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Photo: Lydia Daniller
Photo: Lydia Daniller

BOYS IN TROUBLE Tackles Toxic Masculinity Through Dance

BOYS IN TROUBLE is a dance performance, but it’s not only a dance performance. The show is radically different than what most modern dance is – abstract movements perpetually difficult to follow for the untrained eye. Instead, this piece is based on storytelling, and it’s deeply understandable and relatable.

“The first thing people need to know is it’s not boring modern dance,” choreographer Sean Dorsey says. “Most people feel like they don’t ‘get’ modern dance, and for good reason. It’s pretty inaccessible!”

The actual product isn’t the only aspect that sets BOYS IN TROUBLE apart from what you might normally see at Brookland’s Dance Place, the show’s DC host on May 19 and 20. Much like Dorsey’s other works, the project focuses on masculinity from a transgender and queer viewpoint.

“We do this through full-throttle dance, highly-physical theatre and vulnerable storytelling,” Dorsey says. “One minute we’re flying through the air doing super technical and rigorous dancing, the next minute we’re delivering dialogue and irreverent humor, and the next minute we’re doing movement with storytelling.”

This kind of subject matter is a reflection of previous works by Dorsey, who is seemingly unanimously titled the first acclaimed transgender modern dance choreographer. His company Sean Dorsey Dance is located in San Francisco.

“As a trans person, I grew up without ever seeing a single other transgender modern dancer, let alone a choreographer. I’ve been so alone on this journey in many ways, all the while facing harsh barriers, judgement and questions from the world. This project pushed me to unleash some defiant energy and righteous, proud anger – and sass.”

With the titles and recognition, Dorsey feels a deep sense of responsibility, creating a huge amount of pressure each time he begins to craft a new work.

“I had to dance myself into being. I had to insert trans bodies and stories into dance. I care so deeply for my people – for my trans and gender-nonconforming communities – that I often take on too much, and work too hard.”

A piece with this kind of emotional weight doesn’t form overnight; Dorsey began initial research on the project three years ago. A year later, he began hosting free community forums on masculinity, led transgender-supportive dance classes and taught self-expression workshops for anyone willing to partake.

“The themes that arose in these communities guided me as I built the show, which is also built around the dancers’ own experiences and life histories,” he says. “After working for two years creating a show, you wait for a moment when you know that the piece is complete. There were several deep themes related to masculinity that I really, really wanted and needed to get into – sections that explore shame, body shame and questions of self-worth. These lie under everything that is toxic about masculinity.”

While the process of developing what would eventually become BOYS IN TROUBLE began years ago, Dorsey is not surprised that the topics he chooses to tackle are still wholly relevant to society. In his view, these issues have perpetually existed within society’s collective subconsciousness.

“When I started this project, I could not have imagined how timely and even more urgent it would become. Here’s the thing. Toxic masculinity, racism and white supremacy, transphobia, body shame and gender norms – none of these things are new. These things have plagued us ever since this country was founded on invasion, genocide, slavery, segregation, internment, and the criminalization of trans and queer bodies and love.”

All of Dorsey’s dance is uniquely educational about the transgender experience and has been performed all around the country on several tours, but he still feels a lack of acceptance from his own community on a wider scale. Though his work is routinely critically acclaimed and celebrated, he still sees barriers within the medium – walls he hopes to eradicate, one piece at a time.

“In ways, the dance field has not changed,” he says. “The field still actively excludes trans and gender-nonconforming people. I am now asking the field to call this a crisis. The barriers are massive and numerous. My national education program, TRANSform Dance, addresses these, and through trainings, workshops and performances, we are working with the field to change.”

One of those performances is BOYS IN TROUBLE, and Dorsey is excited for the District to see his work.

“If you love the theatre, I guarantee you will be moved deeply and laugh out loud. You will leave with your heart cracked open and transformed. It’s a very, very powerful show.”

BOYS IN TROUBLE will be performed at Dance Place on Saturday, May 19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 20 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Learn more at www.danceplace.org.

Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; 202-269-1600; www.danceplace.org

The Scottsboro Boys

Stage and Screen: May 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 20

Snow Child
Arena Stage adapted Eowyn Ivey’s Pulitzer-finalist novel, The Snow Child, for the stage with the world-premiere musical Snow Child. Facing the loss of their unborn child, Jack and Mabel move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to restart their life together. During a long, hard winter, the fissure between them grows until it seems impassable. But everything changes once a wild, mysterious girl visits them from the dark woods that surround their small cabin. Matt Bogart, starring as Jack, wants audiences to deeply contemplate Snow Child’s themes before they leave the theater. “I hope that audience members will see some of their own life experiences reflected in this piece, and that we are successful in reiterating what is taught in these old folk tales,” Bogart says. “This folk tale has to do with the impermanence of nature – how nature can sweep in and change your life, how losing a child can change your life, and how gaining a child, whether it’s born into this world or if you create it in your mind, becomes [a form of] healing.” With Alaskan folk music, a puppeteer and a winter wonderland set, you’ll find yourself alongside Jack and Mabel as they struggle in the Alaskan wilderness. Tickets are $65-$80. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 27

1984
In this captivating adaption of George Orwell’s 1984, the crushing realization of a dystopian future is inescapable. In a world with an authoritarian government monitoring every action, expression and thought of the masses, individualism is crushed and challenging the established regime leads to torture, prison and death. Be careful what you think. Big Brother is watching. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 2 – SUNDAY, MAY 6

Hamlet
For the first time since 2007, the legendary Royal Shakespeare Company returns to the Kennedy Center to tell the age-old tale of searing tragedy, murder and revenge. After a student is called home from university to find his father brutally murdered, he sets out on a mission to expose the truth on a journey of madness, murder and lost love. Rising star Paapa Essiedu makes his debut in the U.S. with his lead role in Hamlet. Tickets are $39-$129. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, MAY 5 – SUNDAY MAY 27

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now
Father and small business owner Hank struggles to keep his legendary rock club open in 1992 Chicago. As Hank refuses to confront the reality of where rock music is heading, his daughter starts dating a rising DJ star, forcing her father to acknowledge the truth of a different era. Explore themes of family troubles, affection for a bygone decade and the pure awesomeness of 90s rock with the DC premiere of The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Tickets are $35-$45. The Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, MAY 12 – SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Saint Joan
Focused on Joan of Arc’s simple, illiterate, village-girl nature, George Bernard Shaw takes a different approach in telling this classic tale of martyrdom. Instead of portraying her as a witch, a saint or a heretic, Shaw emphasizes her individualism during her journey to liberate France from English control after over 100 years of war. Only four actors play over 25 roles in this engaging, bare-bones production, which The New York Times described as “irresistible” and “a force of nature.” Tickets are $35-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

THURSDAY, MAY 17 – SATURDAY, MAY 26

Spook
Just an hour before his scheduled execution, ex-police officer Darl “Spook” Spokane is to give a live televised interview from death row. Convicted for murdering five of his fellow officers during what they call the “Morning Roll Call massacre,” Spokane is to explain himself with the entire country watching. There’s a catch: this will be the first time he’s uttered even a single word in three years since the mass shooting. You’re going to want to hear what he has to say. 8 p.m. all dates. Tickets are $20. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, MAY 22 – FRIDAY, JULY 1

Camelot
Amongst magical forests and castles of grandeur, four-time, Tony Award-winning musical Camelot explores the struggle for civilization and goodness in a society that’s accustomed to violence and hate. It is one leader’s integrity, courage and empathy along with his Knights of the Round Table that will change the course of history. With a doomed romance and an incredible score on top, this musical has won the hearts of theatre enthusiasts for generations. Tickets are $59-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

The Scottsboro Boys
Along the lines of Kander and Ebb’s iconic musicals Chicago and Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning duo delivers yet another breathtaking musical. The Scottsboro Boys is a critique on racism and injustice in the South, revealing the true story of nine African-American teenagers who were falsely accused of a crime, quickly tried and sentenced to death in complete disregard for due process. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, this musical transforms a disgraceful moment in American history into a platform for change. Tickets start at $40. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus

Waitress: Serving Up Music and Pie

In 2006, an up-and-coming independent film writer and director by the name of Adrienne Shelly was tragically murdered at the age of 40, just three months prior to the acclaimed release of her movie Waitress.

A decade later, a musical inspired by the cult fave came to Broadway and wowed the theatre community, garnering four Tony nominations in the process. The play’s all-women creative team boasts a book by Jessie Nelson, original music and lyrics by the six-time Grammy-nominated Sara Bareilles, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin).

A touring version of Waitress will be staged at National Theatre for a three-week run starting May 15. In this production, actress Desi Oakley takes on the role of Jenna, the part that earned Jessie Mueller a Tony nod and brought Bareilles to Broadway for the first time.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Sara Bareilles has been someone who I have looked up to and respected for her music career since she began, so knowing that she wrote a musical was kind of like my two worlds combined, as I’m a singer/songwriter myself,” Oakley says. “When I heard about the show, I thought it was a genius idea and I didn’t think something could be so magical.”

Waitress follows the journey of Jenna, an expert pie maker, who longs for a life away from her job as a waitress, small town and loveless marriage. The solutions to all her problems might be in a baking contest in a nearby county or the town’s new doctor, and her fellow waitresses are more than happy to butt in and provide their own recipes for Jenna’s happiness.

“The story is really important to be telling in this time, and the songs have a lot of purpose,” Oakley says. “This is a story about a woman from a small town who has forgotten her dreams because of her life circumstances. Through this journey of her eyes being open, she learns her true self and is reminded that her dreams are worth fighting for. It’s a story of friendship, love and self-acceptance.”

Oakley has appeared on Broadway in a trio of shows – WickedLes Misérables and Annie – and has toured with national tours of Evita and Wicked. She saw Waitress early in its run on Broadway, but never dreamed Jenna would be a part she would one day play.

“A lot of times when I see a show, I think, ‘I’d love to do that show,’ but it wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye. I just let the story affect me as an audience member. I think it makes a lot of sense now, but when I was watching it, I just let the story work its magic.”

Once cast in the part, Oakley stayed away from listening to the cast recording. She says her voice is prone to mimic, and she wanted to offer he own take on Jenna.

“I went back to the feel of what I heard and what I knew from listening to Sara. I read the script again and took a dive into the story to prepare.”

Another thing she did was rewatch the 2007 movie version of Waitress.

“I had seen it and loved Keri Russell in it, but hadn’t remembered a lot of it,” Oakley says. “We’re dramatizing the story onstage, so there are a lot of differences and a lot of heightened moments. I really like how Diane Paulus has staged it.”

The production’s changes in costumes, lights, sets and sound make it seem in many ways like a film. Oakley feels that’s a great nod to the movie, and fans of that version of Waitress will not be disappointed in the musical.

Oakley is enjoying the tour, as she loves traveling to different parts of the country and seeing and experiencing new places. She’s contracted for the tour through at least the fall, and is thrilled to be making the character her own.

“My favorite thing is how real Jenna is,” she says. “I hardly ever leave the stage, but if I’m a little tired or stressed or anxious, that’s okay because those feelings work in Jenna. The more real I get, the more she will continue to be real. I’m embracing that and accepting myself, just as Jenna is in the story.”

When not onstage, Oakley is pursuing a career in singing and songwriting.

“It’s hard to make time for both, and right now, my focus is on this tour. I’m writing when I can, but my second album is on hold. Nothing fuels me like sitting down at the piano, so my heart will eventually lead me back to it.”

Oakley’s original music can be found on Spotify and iTunes. Waitress runs at National Theatre from May 15 to June 3. Tickets start at $28. For more information, visit www.thenationaldc.org.

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

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

Lucky Steals Show in Waiting For Godot

Hope and despair, slapstick comedy and profound philosophical musings, each are abound in quick succession in Samuel Beckett’s iconic and mysterious play Waiting for Godot.

Irish acting company Druid is performing their rendition of the hard-to-interpret play at the Shakespeare Theatre Company through May 20. The metaphorical mystery in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot leaves an endless amount of room for interpretation, but Druid’s rendition is certain to keep audiences laughing as much as it will make them think.

The play tells the story of two tramps, seemingly stranded on a barren countryside road. Vladimir (nicknamed Didi, played by Marty Rea), a usually cheerful intellectual and Estragon (nicknamed Gogo, played by Aaron Monaghan), the wearier of the two. The pair bicker, play games and tell stories endlessly, while they wait for the arrival of someone named Godot. During the eager, sometimes hopeless, wait, the tone alternates between heartbreaking and hilarious.

“I think Beckett wants us to go through all the different emotions in this play. There are some very sad, emotional moments and kind of a despair at times but then he does the opposite, there’s great hope and great love and great laughs at times at ourselves and our existence,” actor Garrett Lombard says.

The two tramps, draped in shabby clothes and plagued with ill-fitting boots and itchy hats, encounter only three other characters: Pozzo (Rory Nolan), his slave named Lucky (Lombard) and an unnamed boy (Malcolm Fuller).

The tramps wonder about and at times judge Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky, who is constantly burdened with a stool, a basket, a suitcase full of sand and a rope around his neck.

“[Lucky is] a very subservient character, very low-status kind of guy, and he basically wants to please his master by doing his job of carrying his bags and giving him his coat and his stool and his whip and whatnot as best as he can,” Lombard says.

Perhaps the character most difficult to interpret in Waiting for Godot, Lucky stumbles around the stage, answering to Pozzo’s every beck and call, without saying a word – until his famous, breathtaking monologue that earned a raucous round of applause from the awestruck audience.

“He comes out with this incredible, mad, long, stream of consciousness speech, about the human existence and what we have ascertained about trying to explain this and trying to explain the universe and ends up, during the speech, almost losing his mind completely,” Lombard says.

The monologue nearly drives Pozzo, Didi and Gogo out of their minds as well.

This landmark moment makes preparing for the role of Lucky a colossally strenuous process. In addition to his monologue, the character spends most his time either hunched over or flopping down in exhaustion. According to Lombard, prepping for the character required a lot of stretching and staying in the best possible shape.

Apart from the physical aspects, the getting in the mind of the character was an isolating process, Lombard says. Lucky is constantly serving Pozzo and does deliver an enormous speech, but he never actually banters with other characters.

“It’s a bit of a lonely process. You don’t get to have the kind of fun that Didi and Gogo have in the rehearsal room. But it’s a really interesting one to work on as an actor, even if it was a little bit lonely at times,” Lombard says.

Critics have debated the symbolism of Lucky’s name, as well as his role. Some say Lucky is aptly named because unlike any other characters, he knows what his purpose is – to serve Pozzo. The name could also be sarcastic, which is in line with the play’s dark humor.

Catch the show until May 20 at the Lansburgh Threatre. Tickets start at $44 and can be purchased here. More information can be found at www.shakespearetheatre.org.

STC’s Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Photo: www.olneytheatre.org
Photo: www.olneytheatre.org

The Crucible Is a Trip Worth Taking

“These are strange times,” notes a disheveled Reverend Hale in the semi-fictional town of Salem, Massachusetts. This is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and it has had its share of the spotlight since its 1953 run on Broadway. The “strange times” of Salem have had a way of speaking to audiences, whether fifty years ago, twenty years ago or today.

Miller himself notes the following:

“The play seems to present the same primeval structure of human sacrifice to the furies of fanaticism and paranoia that goes on repeating itself forever as though imbedded in the brain of social man.”

This is to say that the “strange times” of Salem are the strange times of every age, including today. And it’s the reason why I could sit through a hundred more productions of Olney Theatre’s The Crucible. Don’t miss it. Under the clear direction of DC’s own Eleanor Holdridge, the three-hour play held court from start to finish and as I watched Rev. Parris enter, mystified by his unconscious daughter, I found myself a member of a befuddled jury.

That’s the hook of this play– it challenges the audience’s frame of reference. As every character questions reality, the audience is pulled in and also begins to question what can be known. That’s the devil’s greatest play– per Miller’s Salem– he conflates dream with reality.

It’s a play with a McCarthy-era tinge, but more broadly speaks to what Miller called the lack of a moral reference.  This sentiment emerged after the war and in light of the rise of the Soviet Union, and claimed that there was nothing on which to base belief. “Nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could really say all that they believed,” Miller says.

The play is packed with well-meaning individuals. Holdridge and her cast do justice to the good intentions of their characters and do not fall into stereotypes. At the helm is the perfectly-cast Chris Genebach as John Proctor. Genebach walks a moral high ground and provides an anchor to the ensuing frenzy and uncertainty.

Beside him, and equally as anchored, is Elizabeth Proctor (Rachel Zampelli). Zampelli brings an authenticity that makes her magnetic to watch. Holdridge’s staging of the goodbye scene between the Proctors is particularly striking. With only eyes for each other, Zampelli and Genebach perform a beautiful dance in which their whole marriage seems to come to its fulfillment.

The cast is fleshed out with a powerful performance from Paul Morella as Danforth. Waiting backstage for all of Act I, Morella emerges post-intermission like a cannon ball and holds court (quite literally) till the end. Scott Parkinson as Reverend Hale is excellent. The character’s arc from being the expert on demonic possession to lying crumpled up in a prison cell is heartbreaking in Parkinson’s able hands. A fabulous Brigid Cleary (as Rebecca Nurse) and Craig MacDonald (as Giles Corey) bring a comic depth which balances out an other wise serious storyline.

The Crucible is a trip worth taking. You will find yourself questioning whether the sky is indeed blue and whether the grass truly is green. A note of caution: uncertainty is Satan’s most powerful tool. He’s in the game of dashing certainty and crippling reason. But take the trip. These times are strange. See what is before your eyes— it’s there that you will find the truth. The Crucible runs until May 20 at Olney Theatre. For tickets and pricing vist: www.olneytheatre.org

Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; 301-924-3400