Photo: John Waters
Photo: John Waters

King Of Kitsch: John Waters

John Waters hates fruit baskets.

“I can afford a pear for Christ’s sake,” the Baltimore-based cult icon tells me on a recent call. “Why would anybody send a pear? Send me cigarettes or porn.”

And don’t get him started on gift cards.

“That just means you think the person is stupid. You don’t have any interests and I can’t think of anything to give you, so here’s a gift card.”

These are just a few of Waters’ Christmas pet peeves, and potential material for his upcoming “A John Waters Christmas” show at the Birchmere on December 21. The filmmaker (best known for cult classic Hairspray, and a slew of other deliciously campy movies like Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker and the epically controversial Pink Flamingos) has been venturing out on his annual Christmas tour for more than a decade, entertaining audiences with his thoughts on the holiday.

And make no mistake: though Waters has an ongoing list of things that bug him about Christmas, the national tour was originally inspired by his essay “Why I Love Christmas.”

“I’m not against Christmas,” he says. “Are you kidding? I’m like Johnny Mathis. I’m like a drag queen on Halloween. I work if it’s Christmas.”

The famously nicknamed Pope of Trash, Prince of Puke, Duke of Dirt and Sultan of Sleaze (take your pick) describes himself as a vaudevillian, and says the Christmas shows help him stay in touch with his fans, “who always get their roots done before they come to see me.”

When I ask him how he keeps his Christmas content fresh year after year, he tells me he’s a naturally curious news junkie who reads 100-plus magazines regularly.

“I like human behavior, the quirks of it,” he says. “I’m interested. I eavesdrop on people. I’m always on an airplane, so I’m spying on people all the time.”

Waters says he’s used to public speaking, as he also performs in his spoken word show This Filthy World year-round, which highlights the successes of his self-made film career, his fascination with counterculture and the boundary-breaking, sometimes debaucherous, art he’s created over the years.

“It’s just the way I have to tell stories,” he says of his shows.

When he’s not performing, the prolific provocateur turns to his visual art (photography, sculpture, installations) and writing. Waters has authored a number of nonfiction stories, and earlier this year, a transcription of his 2015 commencement speech at the Rhode Island School of Design was published followed by the release of a 7-inch vinyl edition, released on Jack White’s label Third Man Records.

“I’m willing to work in all mediums,” Waters says about reading Make Trouble on vinyl. “If I could sing that speech, I’d be doing it.”

In his rousing graduation speech, he encouraged the budding artists not to take “No” for an answer.

“Aim for what you want. A hundred people can tell you, ‘No,’ but then one person will tell you, ‘Yes.’ And don’t think anybody is going to come knocking on your door to tell you, ‘Oh, you want to be a film director? We’ll help you.’ No, you’ve got to go find it.”

Waters gave a particularly unique perspective as an artist who was expelled from college and “thrown out of every school.” He says schools are more accepting now than when the 71-year-old artist was coming of age.

“They let you stay longer if you have weird ideas. They encourage them instead of punish them.”

We weave our conversation back to his 2017 Christmas tour, and how the Birchmere has become a mainstay venue for him. He says it’s a tradition to play there annually at this point, and teases that he might just come back one year and shock everyone by playing an entire set of Joan Baez songs.

“I feel really at home there,” he says about the venue. “I see my friends and my sister, and people I know that live in Washington come every year, so it’s just become part of the tour – a part that I really, really like.”

Waters’ affinity for the Birchmere extends to the DC area as a whole. He memorably had his first legal drink in the District at 18 years old, and also visited his first gay bar.

“I thought, ‘God, I might be gay, but I don’t think I’m this,’” he laughs as he reminisces about the experience. “It was a very old school gay bar.”

He now heads from Charm City to DC mostly to visit his sister and check out museums, but a little nostalgia bubbles to the surface as we speak about the nation’s capital.

“I have good memories of book shops, punk rock clubs and old school sex bars when they had them.”

Don’t miss Baltimore’s iconic bad boy at the Birchmere on December 21 for “A John Waters Christmas,” followed by a meet and greet and book signing.

“That’s how I meet all my fans, so it’s great,” Water says. “It’s like being a politician in a way. I’ve even held babies.”

Tickets are $55. Learn more about Waters at www.dreamlandnews.com and his upcoming show at www.birchmere.com.

The Birchmere: 3701 Mount Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; 703-549-7500; www.birchmere.com

Photo: Ford's Theatre
Photo: Ford's Theatre

Stage And Screen: December 2017

THROUGH DECEMBER 17

The Ugly One
Can you imagine never gawking at yourself in the mirror? Or the amount of effort friends and loved ones would have to go through to keep you away from one? Not to mention the plethora of reflections you’d have to avoid to amass any real amount of time without seeing and thinking, “Oh hey, that’s what I look like – neat.” Well apparently, the character Lette in this Marius von Mayenburg satire has just discovered that he is, in fact, ugly. Instead of coping with this truth after years and years of pondering how he’s never noticed before, he’s decided to simply hit up a plastic surgeon to create a new face. Not only does it work, but he’s now the most attractive man in the room, and though we don’t know what competition he’s up against, we want to see what’s next for this man who apparently enjoyed life free of all vanity before his transformation. Various times and dates. Tickets $30. CAOS on F: 923 F St. NW, DC; www.caosonf.com

THROUGH December 23

Hansel & Gretel
“Silence is a virtue.”  This saying was coined by Benjamin Franklin when he was deciphering what and what did not add up to a virtuous life. Oh, would the gentleman on the $100 be upset with today’s society, as most people would likely carry around megaphones if it wasn’t an arduous task. What does this have to do with Synetic Theater’s Hansel & Gretel? Well, this play is one of the numerous “wordless” productions the theater features each year. For a story with universal themes like exploration and imagination, Hansel & Gretel is an interesting tale to convey without the help of pithy dialogue between the siblings who find themselves in a wondrous new world.; I’m not sure how they’ll yell “Help” in this rendition. Various times and ticket prices. Synetic Theater: 1800 South Bell St. Arlington, VA; www.synetictheater.org

THROUGH DECEMBER 24

Nina Simone: Four Women
This play is the adaptation of a song by legendary singer Nina Simone. The song, titled “Four Women,” explores four separate characters representing different perspectives of African American women. The song was written in 1966 for the album Wild is the Wind, and tackles the plights of women representing African American enslavement, biracial inequality, sexual abuse and generational oppression. Though the song features what is essentially short poems in succession, the play deals with each as fully developed characters, including Simone, who represents the fourth and final woman. Christina Ham’s adaptation also ties the song to the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing, which took place in 1963, and resulted in the deaths of four young girls. With songs and storytelling, this play illustrates the messages still very much alive in Simone’s music, and largely in society itself. Various times and dates. Tickets $71-$111. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH DECEMBER 31

A Christmas Carol
Seriously? Do you really not know the plot of old man Ebenezer Scrooge drinking too much eggnog before falling into a crazy rem sleep that triggers hallucinations in the form of ghosts repping the past, present and future? No. You definitely do; you do because Charles Dickens’ novella has undergone countless adaptations. My personal favorite was Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, where Matt McConaughey plays a notorious a–hole who can’t figure out how to not be a terrible boyfriend, and that’s where the ghosts come in. All jokes about the age-old tale aside, there’s a reason the iconic story has stood the tests of time. If you’re into nostalgia, forgot the plot or simply – and I won’t believe you – have never seen it, there’s no better theater to catch this play than Ford’s. Various times and dates. Tickets $32-$105. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fords.org

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1 – THURSDAY, JULY 24

Draw the Circle
As part of its ongoing series “Transformational Journeys: Inspired Singular Explorations,” Mosaic Theater presents Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s true story Draw the Circle. The story focuses on his gender transition, and the reactions from his conservative Muslim family. Instead of this performance being from his point of view, Deen’s story is told from the perspectives of his respective family members, uncovering their concerns with the unknown and unconditional love throughout the process. Various times and dates. Tickets $20-$65. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7 – SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23

The SantaLand Diaries
Luckily for me, I have not had to swallow my pride and don a skin tight green suit to make some extra change for the holidays. However, the same cannot be said for writer David Sedaris, who picks up the moniker Crumpet the Elf while dressed like Will Farrell from Elf at a Macy’s department store gig. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, and offering empty smiles to passersby in search of the latest and greatest hunk of overpriced plastic, Crumpet offered up details behind the scenes at Santa’s workshop. Presumably E!’s True Hollywood Stories passed on this potential documentary because, spoiler alert, Santa is a fictional character, but we still get a chance to hear the goods at Drafthouse Comedy in the form of this adult holiday production based on Sedaris’ experience. Various dates and times. Tickets $20. Drafthouse Comedy: 1100 13th St. NW, DC; www.drafthousecomedy.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 9 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 10

Dissonance Dance Theatre
A performance inspired by the ancient Silk Road should represent a massive exchange of ideas. The ancient route, connecting Asia and Europe from 120 BCE to the 1450s, represents the ultimate example in history where cultural ideas and products were swapped for one another. In the case of Dissonance Dance Theatre, artistic director Shawn Short has fused sounds and movements from the East and West to concoct an amalgamation of art that features music from Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble to modern-day super producer Timbaland. Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 12 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 7

An American in Paris
Adapted from the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, this Tony Award-winning musical is making its way to DC. Yes, the setting is Paris, and the story does involve an American, who happens to be a soldier yearning for a new beginning after experiencing the atrocities of war. He stumbles upon a mysterious French girl, and the two begin a journey together, set to classic songs from George and Ira Gershwin. Don’t miss this romantic production from 2015 Tony Award-winning director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Various times and dates. Tickets $59-$129. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo - Matthew Murphy
Photo - Matthew Murphy

National Theatre Presents Les Misérables

Nick Cartell remembers sitting in the lobby of an Arizona high school auditorium preparing to do his first-ever show – a kid’s theater production of Pinocchio – when his castmates started talking about this new Broadway show, Les Misérables.

“I knew nothing about it, and they pulled out the soundtrack and started playing it, and I immediately fell in love with it,” he says, never dreaming that decades later he would be playing Jean Valjean onstage.

Cartell is performing as the tragically heroic character in Cameron Mackintosh’s new touring production of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Tony Award-winning musical phenomenon, which comes to the National Theatre from December 20 to January 7.

For those unfamiliar with the sung-through musical, Les Misérables is based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name and is set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, presenting a story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption. The score features Broadway treasures such as “I Dreamed a Dream,” “On My Own,” “Stars,” “Bring Him Home” and “One Day More.”

“When you hear the initial downbeat and the first chord [of the first song], audiences start erupting in applause because it fills you with a sense of energy,” Cartell says. “There are characters that people connect with throughout their lives, and it changes as people get older and see the show at different points in their lives. That is why audiences continue to fall in love with this show.”

This is the actor’s second go-around with Les Miz, having played Marius in a regional production about nine years ago. He’s excited about graduating to Valjean, although some may look at him and think he is too young for the role.

“I do read younger than I am,” he says. “Valjean is on the older side when he does get out of prison, but what’s interesting is I still connect with so many different parts of who this character is throughout his entire life. As I do this tour, there’s new things I am finding out about the character every night I step on the stage.”

What Cartell loves about Valjean is the incredible emotional journey he takes starting with his very first scene.

“He has to deal with so much. He really is broken at the beginning of our show. He’s spent 19 years in prison for a crime that should have been a slap on the wrist, and throughout his journey to get to where he is, he’s dealt with so much. His attempt to try and make the world a better place is something I connect with, and I think audiences connect with, nightly.”

Die-hard fans of the original may notice some changes in the new touring version, such as there’s no turntable and some of the characters are a bit more fleshed out, but Cartell feels traditionalists will enjoy the show as much as Les Mis newbies.

“Our production has a much more cinematic feel,” he says. “The designers went back to the drawing board and figured out that Victor Hugo was an incredible artist. They found some of his artwork and are using it as projections throughout the show, which brings so much color into the show and helps to establish the time and place.”

Don’t miss this holiday production of Les Misérables, at National Theatre from December 20 to January 7. Tickets are $48-$98. Learn more at www.thenationaldc.org.

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

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Shorts & Sips at The Modern at Art Place

Shorts & Sips at The Modern at Art Place included complimentary cocktails from DC mixologists, light appetizers and short films from the DC Shorts Film Festival on big screens. Photos: Mark Van Bergh

marlon-wayans

Marlon Wayans Set to Take MGM Stage

If America had a first family of comedy, it would undoubtedly be the Wayans family.

The big brood includes Keenan, Damon and Marlon, as well as several more who write, act and do comedy. At the moment, none of the Wayans is hotter than Marlon, who currently has a hit TV sitcom, a well-received movie on Netflix (Naked) and a big Netflix stand-up special that will tape at the MGM National Harbor on Saturday.

On Tap recently talked to Wayans about his upcoming comedy special at the MGM, his influences (including his reaction to the Louis C.K. scandal), growing up around the set of legendary sketch comedy show, In Living Color, a stalled Richard Pryor biopic, his time as a student at Howard University and plans for becoming a global superstar.

On Tap: Thanks for taking time to talk with On Tap. We’ve been watching you and enjoying your work since you got started with your older siblings and guys like Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx on In Living Color. What did that experience do to shape your career?
Marlon Wayans: For me it was school, man. Learning and growing underneath some of the greatest talent – legends. I got to sit there and watch. I was too young to execute but, you know, I had my moments. But just the fact that I was around and I could soak it up and learn to write sketches, and learn what the work entailed in terms of being a great comedian. Now, I’m executing and I take all that with me on the journey.

OT: Congratulations on the success of your family sitcom, Marlon, on NBC. What’s the inspiration for this comedy about a divorced couple and their children?
MW: Ninety percent of the show is my life and my experiences. My life is love and it’s happy. It has its ups and downs, but I go through life with a smile. I’m just weird like that, no matter what situation I’m in. I just hope people who watch the show tune in and see that. I also hope they can see that divorce ain’t all that. You can break up with somebody and keep a very close friendship with them and still love each other because you guys made kids and you are forever family. You should work on nurturing those relationships because your kids don’t need you to be together, but they do need to see their parents love each other.

OT: We’ve read that you love to write comedy, and that the writing process is incredibly important to you. Why is writing something you enjoy so much? Some comics and others in entertainment find it arduous or even hire others to do the writing for them.
MW:  I don’t get how people let others write for them. Writing is about comedy and inspiration. Writing is when I’m closest to God. It’s like he’s whispering to me, “This is my gift to you.” I love writing. If you can give me the punch on the joke, great, but the joke itself has to come from inspiration and from myself, and it’s got to come from the truth.

OT: We’ve always been fascinated with comedy and the inspiration of those who can consistently come up with side-splitting humor. What is your process for writing jokes and creating humor?
MW: I just live and then jokes come. I don’t sit around and go “What’s funny?” unless I’m writing a movie. Then I’ll watch 200 or 300 movies, sometimes two times each, for inspiration and then go “Oh, you know what’s funny? If you do this.” It’s usually inspiration and creativity that just comes. Last night, I did a show and afterward I’m having a conversation with my friends and right then and there in that conversation, I came up with five new minutes of material.

OT: We assume we’ll get to hear some of that new material at your two shows Sunday night at the MGM. This is going to be your first Netflix comedy special, which is a very big deal in the world of stand-up. Are you excited, nervous, something else? How are you feeling about this big moment?
MW: It’s funny, man. I think you get nervous when you don’t know what you’re doing. You get excited when you’re prepared. My whole thing is just not letting my excitement get the best of me, and to make sure I go there and stay in the moment. I want to make these people laugh as hard as I can, keep my eyes up and make sure I’m performing to the cameras – not just to the audience in the room, but the audience at home. 

OT: You recently said that your big goal in the near term is to work on your stand-up comedy and really hone that part of your artistic arsenal. Why is stand-up so important to you when you’ve already got movies, television and other elements of show business locked down?
MW: For me, looking at stand-up, that’s the one thing I hadn’t done. Mastering that is going to help me be better at all of the things I’m working on.  It’s the missing ingredient I need to get to super-stardom. I’ve been a star a long time, super-stardom is the thing I’m looking for now. Super-stardom isn’t “Hey, I’m on private jets or I’ve got a house everywhere.” It’s when I can go to every country and make people want to come and see my show or my movies and make them smile. That’s all I want to do. God blessed me to be in the business of smiles and I want to put as many smiles on faces as I possibly can.

OT: Speaking of superstars – who inspired your comedy career most?
MW: There are so many greats of the past: Richard Pryor, Charlie Chaplin, Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, my peers, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. Really funny guys like Louis C.K. Sometimes they’re flawed in life, but onstage they’re brilliant.

OT: Speaking of Louis C.K., since you mentioned him, we’ve got to ask about his scandal. [Ed note: Multiple women have accused the comic of masturbating in front of them without their consent. On Tap talked to Wayans the morning Louis C.K. issued a statement admitting culpability.] Any comment on his situation?
MW: I applaud him for accepting what he did – admitting it. A lot of people run from it, these allegations. That’s the first part about manning up is realizing, “Yo, you can be better.” Comedians, the reality of us is we’re mostly humble people. We look at the world and we poke fun at what’s wrong with it, but then you get into these places in life where the world is poking fun at you and that’s allowing you to go introspective and look at yourself and say, “How can I be better?” I guarantee you he’s going to come [back] with a really funny half-hour or hour special about what he’s learned or where he’s grown, because the first step is admitting it, the second step is getting help and the third step is going from there. Sometimes in life you’re not perfect. Sometimes a comedian goes over the line or thinks that as a star you can do certain things. One of the gifts I have is having five sisters and a mom and being close to them and in my head going – “Don’t do that, don’t do that!” He made them feel uncomfortable to a different degree than Harvey Weinstein, which was rape, but at the end of the day, you have to be respectful of women and to people in general. It’s just being a good human being and not letting our egos get the best of us. And when you mess up, at least have the ability to say, “My bad,” and then go out there and fix it. And I applaud him for doing that. I’m sure he’ll take his time and reflect, and he’ll come back strong.

OT: For years, you’ve been mentioned as the lead role in a Richard Pryor biopic. Any update on what’s happening with that project?
MW: Right now, it’s not happening. It was [actor] Mike Epps last time I checked, and right now [director] Lee Daniels is no longer on the project; it’s sitting idle. But I don’t question God, whatever is supposed to happen with that will happen. If God wants me to play that role, I’ll play that role. The longer they take to do that movie, the better for me as an actor. If it never happens and I never play Richard Pryor, then I’m thankful I went on the journey of playing Pryor because I started out wanting to play a great, and now I’ll be a great.

OT: You attended Howard University in the 1990s. How does your Howard experience – and DC generally figure into your life and your career?
MW: DC was the first place I did stand-up – the Comedy Café. Now, I’m doing my first special and I thought it was appropriate to come back to DC where I was when I was 17 and first did stand-up. Now, I’m going to rock it as a 45-year-old man and I’m going to give it all I’ve got. DC is like a second home. I always sell out there. People love me there and I love the audiences because they are real; they laugh and they’re smart. I’ve got a politically fueled set and I love the fact that I’m in the president’s backyard. I’m hollering about things that’s real. This is a one-man march. I’m going to say things and be a voice for all the people who can’t be – try to be an amp for all these causes and issues, but in a funny way. I’m glad to come to the nation’s capital and speak some real, real woke stuff. 

Marlon Wayans will take the MGM National Harbor stage on November 18, with two shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. For more information visit MGM website here.

MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; 303-971-5000; www.mgmnationalharbor.com

Photo: Dakota Fine
Photo: Dakota Fine

FotoWeek DC 2017

From November 11-19, DC will play host to the 10th annual FotoWeek by Foto DC, an expansive festival focused on the medium of photography. Whether you’re a journalism nerd interested in award-winning news shots or an art geek who enjoys deciphering what images represent about society, this weeklong series of events provides numerous opportunities to enjoy and learn about breathtaking visuals. In preparation for the week, we spoke to festival executive producer and programming coordinator, Svetlana Legetic.

On Tap: Why do you think it’s important for an entire week of programming and events to be dedicated solely to the medium of photography?
Svetlana Legetic: Photography is the most accessible of art forms and the one that connects to everyday life the most. At the same time, in 2017, photography is an amazing storytelling tool allowing more people to connect to current topics and issues than ever before. DC has a thriving working and amateur photographer community, and transforming the city into a photography playground is a great way to celebrate that.

OT: What do you expect people to take out of these exhibitions, galleries and talks, whether they be photographers or just people who are fans of impactful visuals?
SL: The festival is supposed to provide something for everyone, whether people are more interested in photojournalism, fine art or say, social photography. We have programs targeted specifically at photographers themselves (workshops, portfolio reviews, etc.), but the main goal is for the community to engage with the artists and their work, and get more insight into the stories covered.

OT: Do people have to know a ton about photography to get the full experience?
SL: Not at all. You really just need to be interested in beauty, storytelling and the human/world condition, and you can enjoy it.

OT: What is an event you’re looking forward to most?
SL: Obviously, everyone should come to the opening party. I also love the nighttime projections every year at the Holocaust Museum – such powerful work – and our FotoTalks at FotoWeekCentral. And Arthur Jafa at Hirshhorn. There’s so much to choose from. Personally, the weekends are my favorite. [They’re] a great opportunity to hop around exhibitions and events and make a day out of it, plus most events are free and open to the public.

OT: How many local photographers will be showcased?
SL: Dozens of local photographers are showcased, from the FotoWeekDC competition winners to Women Photojournalists and White House Photographers’ annual shows to our FotoTalks and group shows by IGDC and more.

For locations, times and prices, visit www.fotodc.org.

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Found in Space: An Intergalactic Adventure

Not so long ago – 17 years to be exact – in a galaxy that’s actually right here, humans went into space and never left. Since November 2000, humans have lived and worked in space every moment of every day. To celebrate humans’ continuous presence in space, the National Air and Space Museum and Brightest Young Things hosted Found in Space last Saturday, November 4.

As an after-hours event, something about going to the Air and Space Museum in the dark seemed appropriate. Walking through the entrance, I was greeted by strobe lights, nearby pounding club beats and people dressed in their best space gear, including someone completely encased in an astronaut suit of balloons.

To start my intergalactic adventure, I veered towards the IMAX theater where the 16-minute Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), a famous 1902 French silent film created by Georges Méliès, was played. The film was revamped with color and a new, original soundtrack by AIR.

Shortly following the film was a presentation by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Bobak Ferdowsi, who discussed all the missions that involved sending robots to different planets in our galaxy and beyond. A scientist known for his funky hair (he was sporting a partially blue mohawk on this occasion), he cracked jokes about Matt Damon not actually having been on Mars while wowing viewers with sun backlit pictures of Saturn. Audience members were also reminded that to keep these missions going, people’s excitement and engagement about space was vital.

After my IMAX experience, I helped myself to a complimentary, grapefruit-infused SKYY vodka soda. Other options included SKYY specialty cocktails and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Wandering through the exhibits, I passed photo booths that transported people to space, makeup artists painting galaxies on faces and even had a space creature walking on stilts sneak up behind me as I took a picture. People danced in both wings of the museum as they helped themselves to Killa Cakes and Sasya samples, or grabbed cotton candy and snow cones.

My Air and Space Museum adventure ended with a walk through favorite exhibits open during normal hours like “Exploring the Planets” and “Golden Age of Flight,” where I was once again blown away by the vastness that is space and humanity’s incredible journey into the last true frontier.

Experience your own intergalactic adventure at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, free and open seven days a week from 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.

Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (DC): Independence Avenue at 6th Street in SW, DC; 202-633-2214; www.airandspace.si.edu

Photo: Arena Stage
Photo: Arena Stage

Stage & Screen: November 2017

THROUGH SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11

Safe As Houses
From Natalie Piegari comes the provocative play Safe As Houses. Mixing a natural disaster with a shady past, this play offers an
edge-of-your-seat drama. A violent storm is barreling toward the house of Nora, Isabel and Henry, but the weather might not be what tears this family apart. As the three prepare their home for the storm, something from Isabel’s past really puts this family’s strength to the test. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $35. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, DECEMBER 24

The Pajama Game
Based on the novel 7½ Cents by Richard Bissell, The Pajama Game is a musical that tells the story of the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory through song and dance. Chaos breaks out in the otherwise average factory when Sid Sorkin falls for Babe Williams, the trouble-making head of the union grievance committee. Soon, a workers’ strike breaks out between management and labor that threatens to tear the establishment apart. Will the factory survive the internal battle? Attend to find out. Various dates and show times. Tickets start at $65. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7

Malice Toward None
Drawing inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s infamous humor and self-deprecation, President Lincoln’s Cottage and DC Improv have partnered together to once again present the Two Faces Comedy Series. Laugh along with San Francisco International Comedy Competition winner Bengt Washburn for the third night of the series. Just as Lincoln managed to get by without being mean, Washburn tickles your funny bone and proves comedy doesn’t have to tear someone else down to make people laugh. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. Abraham Lincoln’s Cottage: 140 Rock Creek Church Rd. NW, DC; www.lincolncottage.org

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7 – SUNDAY, JANUARY 14

Crazy For You
Signature Theatre is bringing the Gershwins’ and Ken Ludwig’s Tony Award-winning musical comedy Crazy for You to Shirlington. Sent to foreclose on a small town theater, a musical-loving banker decides to revive it instead with the help of musical act The Follies. Slapstick humor and charm combine with 1930s glamour, mistaken identities and a classic love story to delight audiences all holiday season long. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $40-$79. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11

Pelle the Conqueror
From October 8 to December 12, AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center will be showcasing films that tell the harrowing migration stories of people from all over the world. As part of the Films Across Borders: Stories of Migration series, Pelle the Conqueror will be playing on November 11. The Oscar-winning drama tells the story of a Swedish father and son escaping their impoverished life in Sweden for a new start in Denmark. What ultimately gets them through a difficult year on a new farm is their strong bond. Show starts at 12 p.m. Tickets are free. AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center: 8633 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.afi.com/silver

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11 – SUNDAY, DECEMBER 31

The Second City Presents Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains)
The creators of last year’s hit Black Side of the Moon have returned to Woolly Mammoth with a new play. Headlining the show is Felonious Munk, whose own story is being told this time around. The standup comedian and TV personality is a good man and father, but he used to be a drug dealer and later, a convict. Nothing to Lose (But Our Chains) tells Munk’s story of rags to riches as he traverses prison, corporate America, then finally activism and comedy. Various dates and show times. Tickets are $20-$69. Woolly Mammoth Theatre: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14 – WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 20

Twelfth Night
DC favorite Ethan McSweeny is back with his expressive style for another Shakespeare classic, the comedic Twelfth Night. When the quick-witted Viola is stranded off the coast of Illyria, she creates the disguise of a page boy for Duke Orsino to protect herself. To further complicate matters, Viola’s gender-swapped disguise lands her in the middle of a rather awkward love triangle. Identity and motives are all questioned in this lively play, but the constant is the wit of true heroine Viola at the center of it all. Various dates and show times. Tickets start at $44. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18

Doug Varone and Dancers Present In the Shelter of the Fold
The award-winning contemporary dance company is returning to George Mason’s Center for the Arts for the first time in over a decade. The New York-based Doug Varone and Dancers’ latest performance will showcase stunts and choreography that are sure to amaze. Inspired by faith, belief and human reaction to life’s curveballs, Varone’s In the Shelter of the Fold will also feature members of Mason’s School of Dance. Starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29-$48. George Mason University’s Center for the Arts: 4373 Mason Pond Dr. Fairfax, VA; www.cfa.gmu.edu

Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus

The Book of Mormon Returns to the District

The Book of Mormon tickets returns to the Kennedy Center this fall for what will no doubt be another sold-out run.

The Tony Award-winning musical follows two 19-year-old Mormon missionaries as they’re sent to a rural Ugandan village to convert lost souls.

Elder Kevin Price, a handsome, devout true believer, and Elder Arnold Cunningham, his polar opposite, turn to – let’s call it unorthodox – ways to find new disciples in a village ruled by an evil warlord known as General Butt F—ing Naked (an allusion to Liberian commander Joshua Milton Blahui, known for his role during the First Liberian Civil War).

Do they succeed in their mission? Or will they lose a lot more than their faith?

With numbers like “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream,” which tackles the legacies of infamous figures like Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer, The Book of Mormon is a story about “being yourself, and allowing that person to shine.” That’s according to actress Kim Exum, who plays Nabulungi – the sweet and innocent female lead, curious to learn more about the Mormon faith from the missionaries that have descended upon her Ugandan village.

The musical’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (the minds behind the enduring series South Park), as well as Robert Lopez (co-creator of the Tony Award-winning satirical musical Avenue Q), are no strangers to controversy and satire. In fact, they welcome it.

But since its Broadway premiere in 2011, the show has been plagued by critics questioning how the story portrays a religion followed by more than 15 million people worldwide, women and Africans, not to mention third-world poverty and disease. But maybe that’s the whole point of the satirical art form.

“This play is a testament to that American voice,” Exum says. “It’s genius because it poses a lot of questions that people are scared to ask, and I think that’s what really makes the work beautiful. I think that’s why so many people flock to it, and so many people of all different backgrounds want to see it.”

The Baltimore native has been playing the role of Nabulungi for the past year – first on Broadway, and now on a national tour performing eight shows a week. Needless to say, she’s gotten to know her alter ego pretty well.

“You begin to learn more things about the character,” she says. “[Nabalungi] is extremely optimistic, and she has this youthful energy that transcends everyone else in the play. She’s so bright and fun.”

The VCU alum is rejuvenated as she takes the role from Broadway to the Kennedy Center; DC is the fifth city she’s visited on the current tour. Exum still recalls the day that she was only an audience member, and not yet a company player.

“I just remember sitting in the back of the theater and laughing the entire time,” she says. “It was so funny. The more you see it, the more you notice. There’s a lot of subtle pieces of comedy you don’t really get the first time around. It’s funnier than I could have even imagined.”

She credits some of those subtleties to the ensemble performers. If you’ve seen the show before, she recommends watching the ensemble.

“They really bring the whole world to life.”

The Kennedy Center has celebrated the cultural legacy of the U.S. for nearly five decades regardless of the heritage, political affiliation, religion or identity of the artists behind iconic operas, ballets, scores, musicals and b-boy battles, so perhaps The Book of Mormon is the perfect musical for 2017. It’s something that everyone can agree on – that there’s always something to laugh about, and maybe even think about.

The Book of Mormon runs through Sunday, November 19 in the Kennedy Center’s Opera House. Tickets start at $59. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

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

Photo: Alanna Sheppard
Photo: Alanna Sheppard

Tina Fey and Creative Team on Broadway-Bound Mean Girls

Mean Girls is one of those coming-of-age films that rides the fine line between cult classic and mainstream appeal, with countless diehard fans quoting the movie in regular conversation and turning their favorite lines into hashtags 13 years later. And for us theatre nerds on the cult classic side of the fence, it seems only fitting that Tina Fey’s teen comedy would make its theatrical debut. The best part? DC gets to see it first.

Before Mean Girls heads to Broadway in April, the brand new musical is making its world premiere at National Theatre through December 3. To say that the show is highly anticipated is an understatement, as the buzz around the musical’s opening in our city has been growing exponentially in recent months. We had the opportunity to sit down with the musical’s creative team – Tina Fey, who wrote the book based on her screenplay for the film, her husband Jeff Richmond, who wrote the music, lyricist Nell Benjamin and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw – a week before the show’s first preview on Halloween.

Before we dive in, for anyone who is totally unfamiliar with the 2004 film exploring the sometimes painful, always dramatic hierarchy of high school cliques, Mean Girls follows a naïve Cady Heron (played by Erika Henningsen) as she navigates newfound popularity in The Plastics. The A-list girl group’s terrifying leader, Regina George (played by Taylor Louderman), shows her claws when her ex hits it off with Cady, and soon a full-on high school war is waged.

With pretty universal themes for teens, Mean Girls in 2017 doesn’t seem like much of a stretch from when the movie came out my senior year of high school, with one notable exception – technology. When I sat down with Fey, who as a total side note is as lovely and humble in person as you might imagine, I asked her how she approached modernizing the story to make sense in the halls of a present day high school.

“At its core, it’s a story about human behavior,” Fey said. “It’s not a story about social media. It’s about female instinct and female behavior at a certain period of time. So [social media] is an element of it, but it’s hopefully not taking over it.”

Nicholaw, whose award-winning Broadway credits include Aladdin and The Book of Mormon, agreed that the story needed to be slightly updated, because who takes
three-way calls on land lines anymore?

“We are updating it, but trying to also make it kind of timeless,” he said. “A lot of the things that we’re doing that are current now may not be as current in two years because things change so much now.”

The director is thinking ahead, with hopes that the musical will stay onstage for the foreseeable future. While that may seem like a no-brainer to some of us, it’s something that the creative team takes quite seriously, and that they’re relying on DC audiences to help gauge for them.

“I know this is a theatre town,” Fey, a UVA grad, said about the District. “And I know it’s a town full of smart people. Hopefully, the audience will do their job and help us finetune the show. We’re going to watch them every night to see what they respond to; to see what needs to be tightened up or expanded.”

Nicholaw said the musical is in great hands with Fey, and credits her with a seamless transition from film to stage. He was quick to point out that the show stands on its own merit, rather than being a carbon copy of the movie.

“She’s such a lover of musical theatre,” he said of Fey. “She knows that form and that medium, so she’s able to adapt things. Thank God she’s not just trying to put her film onstage.”

He said the musical definitely has the spirit of the film, but the creative team worked together to make it theatrical. Nicholaw and Fey collaborated with Richmond and Benjamin on this transition, as much of it came down to who sings, and when and why.

“I feel like the actors playing [these characters] are giving them so much heart that when they sing, you get to feel more deeply for the characters than you do in a movie,” Fey said. “In a movie, you can take a tight closeup and know what they’re feeling, and here you get to hear them bare their souls through song. It’s kind of thrilling in a different way.”

Fey said her husband – with whom she’s collaborated on SNL, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and comedy troupe The Second City, among other projects – is fully in his element as a composer with this musical.

“To have a professional lyricist to work with and a beautiful 14-piece orchestra is a dream come true for him,”  Fey said. “I’m really excited for people to hear Jeff’s music. I think it’s really good.”

Richmond said Mean Girls is uncharted territory for him and Fey as a couple, and finding their way through the process together with the help of Nicholaw and Benjamin has been a great experience.

“It’s the most joyful thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “These extremely talented young people in this cast singing these songs – it’s the most joyful thing I’ve ever been involved with.”

Richmond said he went into the creative process not wanting to pigeonhole a particular genre, or chase pop music. Instead, he created a world where the characters could each step into a different genre based on their personalities and plot lines. Rock ‘n’ roll, salsa, Rodgers and Hammerstein-style songs, and Cold Play-esque pop rock are just a few of the musical styles he’s weaved into the show.

“Jeff has this vast knowledge of all different kinds of music, and the score is not pastiche,” Benjamin said. “It’s really original and really amazing. I feel like the score is really going to be something that people want to play again and again and again.”

The feeling is mutual; Richmond describes Benjamin as a smart, humorous lyricist who has nailed the tone of the show. Benjamin, who co-wrote the score to the musical Legally Blonde with her husband, said she clearly has a thing about women figuring out power in musicals. She said there’s a way to share a universal message onstage in a fun, creative way without it seeming like a lecture, which “Tina and Jeff are better at than anybody else.” The lyricist said she also feels a responsibility to the fans.

“If I’m going to mention ‘fetch,’ I better do it in the best possible way because people are waiting to hear it,” she said. “But I think we’ve done it in a really clever, wonderful way so that you don’t feel like, ‘Oh, you’re just regurgitating the movie for us.’  We want to treat it with respect.”

Whether you feel a connection to Cady or Janice, or just enjoy the feel-good vibes and witty social commentary in this story, the creative team behind Mean Girls is clearly committed to ensuring that audiences enjoy the experience. Fey, Nicholaw, Benjamin and Richmond all expressed excitement about bringing the musical to our city first, but Richmond gave me all the feels about my hometown.

“I love this town,” he said. “I think this is a really good, smart, informed audience for us to test the show in front of. I just think it’s a really fine community. And I will say this: [DC has] the most cordial people in a city I’ve ever met. Everywhere I go, everybody just seems very nice and courteous and smiling, and I’m not joking. I really love it.”

Mean Girls will be at National Theatre through December 3, with previews running through mid-November and the official opening night on Sunday, November 19. Tickets start at $48. Check www.thenationaldc.org for details about the ticket lottery program.

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