Billy Connolly
Photo: www.celeb-true.com/content/billy-connolly.html

Billy Connolly at The Warner: A Hilarious Journey

There were times throughout Billy Connolly’s performance of his “High Horses” standup tour at the Warner Theater on Saturday, May 14 where a map could have come in handy, but I was too busy laughing to care. Armed with a series of anecdotes, that he swears – and I wish – were true, Connolly hopped from joke to joke, often going in tangents that could last five minutes, only to return like a boomerang to the original thread. It might’ve been a distraction, if each story had not been as hilariously enjoyable as the one before it.

Many of you might know Connolly best from his supporting role in the cult classic filmThe Boondock Saints, but may not be as aware of his long and storied career as a standup comedian. But those who showed up at the Warner Theater last Saturday sure did. It was clear walking through the atrium, and from the cheers when Connolly referred to specific areas of his native Scotland, that his performance brought many of his countrymen out to the theater. But it didn’t matter whether they were natives of Glasgow or Capitol Hill – all were able to enjoy his unique stories.

Connolly joked about a breadth of topics, from the obligatory Trump joke with his outsider’s perspective – long story short, how has this “wanker” made it this far – to his annoyance with the person who handled the weapons on the set of The Boondock Saints.

What made his standup a real treat, though, is the honesty that he shared with the audience. The first instance was his acknowledgement of his health. Connolly is dealing with Parkinson’s disease, and as he revealed in his act, he also found out – on the same day, he said – that he had prostate cancer. He revealed it not to make a joke, but more as a way to be straight with the audience. He did find a way to use it in his favor, however, by telling some truly memorable stories. And it is his experiences that truly made the show. He hasn’t crafted jokes; these were stories from his life and career, and he retold them with a heightened sense of humor.

But it’s not just his stories that made it such an honest performance. Connolly couldn’t help himself from cracking up on multiple occasions throughout the night. Whether it was his recollection of the absurdity of his stories, or the sound effects and voices he used to help convey them, he’s having as good a time as any on the stage. It was infectious.

You can go to almost any comedian’s show and be pretty sure that you are going to have some good laughs, but what made Connolly’s performance such a treat was the wide-ranging journey that he took the audience on.

Photo: http://celeb-true.com/content/billy-connolly.html

CityDance DREAMscape
Photo: Courtesy of CityDance

CityDance’s DREAMscape Brings Together Top Dancers

Non-profit dance organization CityDance is holding its annual DREAMscape event with some of the dance world’s biggest stars on Saturday, May 7 at U Street’s Lincoln Theatre. Proceeds benefit CityDance’s flagship DREAM initiative, a dance training and mentorship program designed to keep students in school.

Founded in 1996, CityDance is “rooted in the belief that dance can transform lives and inspire change,” External Relations Manager Megan Piluk says. To that end, the organization offers professional training and general classes. DREAM is the program that truly speaks to the organization’s activist ethos.

DREAM started as a program for third through fifth grade students in partner DC public schools. The level of interest prompted the organization’s expansion to include sixth through twelfth grade classes, all provided free of charge. CityDance currently works with six schools in DC, and provides classes to hundreds of students each year. But it’s not just dance training that DREAM is offering.

“We use dance as a pathway to help students graduate and pursue their dreams,” Piluk says of the overarching goal behind DREAM.

With mentorship, tutoring and other support, the program has led to a marked increase in school engagement and dedication, according to Piluk. After being honored at last year’s National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, DREAM will expand in 2018 to include a dedicated space in the U Street corridor: the DREAM Center for Dance.

This year’s DREAMscape will bring together some of the dance world’s best talent, including Matthew Golding, who Piluk describes as “the Brad Pitt of dance,” with DC’s own Rasta Thomas directing.

Tickets for general admission start at $25, while VIP packages start at $250. But if you can’t make it on the 7th, CityDance is taking over the Lincoln Theatre on the 8th as well for a free performance by the stars of the show themselves: the students.

Other upcoming events include CityDance’s celebration of Georgia O’Keefe at the Phillips Collection on May 12 and the organization’s annual Conservatory Dancers in Concert event at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, Md. on June 11 and 12. For more information, visit
DREAMscape at Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050;www.thelincolndc.com
Photo: Courtesy of CityDance
The Taming of the Shrew
Photos: Courtesy of STC

STC’s Unique Take on The Taming of the Shrew

For Shakespeare Theatre Company’s staging of The Taming of the Shrew beginning on May 17, director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar is harking back to the days of the Bard himself, when the playwright’s productions were performed by a cast of all men. Popular TV actor Maulik Pancholy (Weeds, 30 Rock) takes on the role of Katherina, the headstrong, obdurate character referred to in the title of the play.

“This play is often thought of as this ‘battle of the sexes,’ and so part of what’s interesting to me is to see what happens when we take that out of the equation by stripping away some of the assumptions we might have about gender roles,” he says. “What happens when we start to blur those lines? Hopefully, it allows us to look more deeply into these characters’ specific lives and not just think man versus woman.”

The story revolves around the courtship of Petruchio and Katherina, the shrew. Initially, Katherina is an unwilling participant in the relationship, but Petruchio tempers her with various psychological torments – the so-called “taming” – until she becomes a compliant and obedient bride…or so it seems.

Although learning to walk in high heels has been a challenge, Pancholy admits that his preparation for playing Katherina was no different than any other role he’s played throughout his career.

“It’s been about mining the text to get to the core of who she is, and doing the homework around the parts that aren’t familiar to me, which in this case means exploring how specific women move through the world and how the world treats them,” he says. “I’ve been playing with physicality, and investigating the incredibly complex emotional journey she goes on. And for me, it’s always ultimately about staying open to that magic space where you allow the character to speak to you.”

While The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays still performed, Iskandar has added some of his signature differences, such as the inclusion of numerous contemporary pop songs sung by the actors, and an intermezzo.

“It is kind of amazing how people keep coming back to this play, isn’t it?” Pancholy asks rhetorically. “I think it’s because – like all of Shakespeare’s plays – there are so many beautiful and very human things being expressed about love, and individuality, and how we exist within our social structure. We’ve been really interested in the idea of Katherina as an ‘other,’ someone who doesn’t conform to what the world wants her to be. And I think we can all relate to that on some level.”

The Taming of the Shrew is the first of Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) path-breaking Clarice Smith Series: New Directors for the Classics. Iskandar is well known for his immersive works, and the audience’s experience will go beyond what’s up on the stage.

For example, throughout the show’s run, Sidney Harman Hall will host a local artisan market – a series of workshops led by DC artists and performances surrounding the show itself. Pancholy says STC is creating an experience that starts on the streets outside of Sidney Harman Hall and continues into the lobbies and the theater, and then on to events during intermission.

“Hopefully, [the experience is] something that people will live with long after they’ve left the performance space. I think people will find it to be something they’ve never seen before.”

The Taming of the Shrew runs from May 17 to June 26. Tickets start at $20.
Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org
Photos: Courtesy of STC
Sarah Lasko
Photo: Courtesy of National Theatre

Local Actress Sarah Lasko Stars in The Wizard of Oz

At four years old, Sarah Lasko knew she was destined to act. The DC area native was in awe of the stunning dresses and parasols donned by actresses in Hello, Dolly! at Howard County Summer Theatre. In her young mind, “that was just the epitome of living.”

Fast forward several decades later, and Lasko is playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz at National Theatre from May 3-15. This stop on the production’s seven-month national tour marks Lasko’s debut at the District’s renowned venue.

The University of Maryland, College Park graduate has previously performed at the Kennedy Center and Keegan Theatre, and a myriad of Montgomery County theaters including Olney Theatre Center. On Tap caught up with Lasko while performing in Boston, and the actress says the tour has been an incredible experience thus far.

“What I love about this show is that it brings in an audience that might not typically go to the theater,” she explains. “I’ve gotten many messages from people who came to see the show, saying that it was their first ever experience with live theater, and they loved it.”

The musical features all of the classic songs from the 1939 film, and four new ones written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice for characters like the Wicked Witch and Glinda, giving audiences more insight into their characters. Lasko’s favorite is Glinda’s “Already Home,” which she says is a touching moment in the story featuring the gorgeous, soaring voice of soprano Rachel Womble.

The music isn’t the only element of the production that Lasko is smitten with. She’s drawn to the play’s ability to be breathtakingly spectacular while also having so much heart.

“As a lover of the film, I really want the show to feel all-encompassing, but also to retain the beauty of the characters in the movie, and that’s a balance I think this production strikes beautifully.”

Plus, she says the play brings out a bit of nostalgia for all of us who grew up with the film.

“You never forget how you felt as a kid watching the winged monkeys, and the house flying to Oz, and seeing the four friends skipping down the yellow brick road. It’s just as enjoyable now as it was then.”

Learn more about Lasko at www.sarahlasko.com. Tickets to The Wizard of Oz start at $38.
National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-628-6161;www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Courtesy of National Theatre

Elvis & Nixon
Photo: Courtesy of Obscured Pictures

Elvis & Nixon: Shannon Shines as the King, but Movie Fades

Right before the closing credits roll on Elvis & Nixon, the new film from director Liza Johnson, text appears above a photograph of one of music’s most famous figures and the most infamous president in America’s history that says it is the most requested photo at the National Archives. However, the film that tells the story of that picture proves to not live up to the hype.

The titular climatic meeting between the two legendary figures turns out to be wholly anticlimactic. Instead, the real show is the nuanced and controlled performance from Michael Shannon as Elvis Presley. The rest of the film fails to emerge from his shadow.

Shannon is supremely interesting as the King. Refusing to give into easy trappings, like an overzealous twang of Presley’s trademark drawl, he plays him in a subtler way, but certainly no less complex. It is a desire to go above and beyond his expected duties as a musician that brings Presley to his mission to have a sit down with President Nixon (and request a badge to become a “Federal Agent At-Large”), but as Shannon helps illustrate in fantastic monologues in front of mirrors at two different moments in the film, it is more about trying to prove to himself that he is more than the caricature that he has become.

The idea that there is something, or someone, bigger than you and the drive to reach it yourself is the underlying theme of the entire film – whether it be in the subplot of Presley’s reluctant, called upon head of public relations (played by Alex Pettyfer), who wants to strike out on his own from Elvis, or even Nixon, who becomes enraptured in the different kind of fame Presley brings (if for nothing else than to gain approval from his daughter, a dotting Elvis fan).

Unfortunately, no one can quite live up to it the way Shannon does. The subplot of Pettyfer’s character is flat and wholly uninteresting. Kevin Spacey’s performance as Nixon, while commendable in its likeness, is nothing new, and his role is confined to being merely a reactor rather than an integral player.

The film itself even fits into this idea of trying to be something else bigger than it is – in this case, namely a comedy. While the interactions and antics between Shannon’s Presley and Spacey’s Nixon draw some chuckles, as do some of the procedures of Presley entering the White House, the laughs are fewer than you’d expect from the film’s premise. A few more jokes could have made a big difference as the film – as an indirect result of Shannon’s strong, but subdued performance – was lacking some energy.

History is full of interesting stories, and this meeting between Presley and Nixon is surely one of them. Its adaptation to the screen, though – outside of Shannon – fails to live up to the myth behind it.

Elvis & Nixon is now playing at theaters throughout the DC area.

Photo: Courtesy of Obscured Pictures

Ford’s Theatre
Photo: Carol Rosegg

110 in the Shade Brings Girl Power to Ford’s Theatre

When DC theater darling Tracy Lynn Olivera mentioned that 110 in the Shade’s lead, Lizzie Curry, was a dream role for her, Ford’s Theatre Director, Paul Tetreault, immediately took notice. The pair teamed up with director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge to bring the classic musical to life on Ford’s stage through May 14.

110 in the Shade follows the outspoken Lizzie in 1950s Texas, caught in a love triangle between divorced local sheriff File (played by Kevin McAllister) and charming conman Bill Starbuck (played by Ben Crawford). Lizzie’s not afraid to speak her mind, according to Olivera, and has the same hang-ups as all women when it comes to physical beauty and her place in the world.

“She sticks to her guns, even when her opinion isn’t the popular one,” Olivera says.

The local actress says each of her suitors represents something different. File encapsulates steadfastness, safety and stability, while Starbuck conjures up adventure, travel and romance.

“Both [character dynamics] are good – but only one [man] is for Lizzie, in the end.”

McAllister and Olivera have been friends for a long time, so there’s already an established comfort level between the two actors onstage. Plus, “singing with him is pure magic – that man’s voice is buttah.”

As for Crawford, Olivera says they hit it off immediately during his audition. The two share similar energies, making their scenes together hilarious and delightful.

“We both just jumped into the pool, so to speak. Plus, he cracks me up and won’t let me take myself too seriously.”

Olivera is truly thrilled about all of her collaborations in this production, especially with Dodge, who she says is her favorite kind of director. They worked together seven years ago on the Broadway revival of Ragtime, and the actress says she’s always wanted to get back to her again.

“I’m totally obsessed with her,” she says. “She likes to get everything on its feet early, and ‘get everything messy,’ as she likes to say. She makes [this play] feel fresh and true and honest and human, and something audiences can relate to even 50 years after it was written.”
Aside from kissing a sexy half-naked man, and kissing a sexy sheriff in a rainstorm, the actress says her favorite part of being in 110 in the Shade is singing the score.

“It’s got so many colors, musically and vocally, and it’s a true honor to sing. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun at work with my friends. I’m a lucky girl.”

Whether you’re into shirtless cowboys or a modern take on 1950s girl power, Olivera thinks local audiences will find the production relevant.

“I want people to leave feeling inspired to be confident in themselves and follow whatever dream is true to them, regardless of people’s expectations of them. Not every woman is a size four with perfect hair. I think there is nothing more relatable than that, to any age.”

Theatergoers under 35 can enjoy discounted tickets and a free glass of beer or vino post-show on April 20 at 7:30 p.m. Regular tickets run from $28-$69.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Photo: Carol Rosegg

George Orwell’s 1984

Big Brother Is Watching: 1984 Comes to the Nation’s Capital

Enter the dystopian world of George Orwell’s 1984 this spring, on Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre stage from March 11 to April 10. This progressive stage adaptation of the author’s famous science fiction novel is making its debut in the U.S. with the District as its third stop, after several runs in the United Kingdom since 2013.

Created and directed by U.K. natives Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan, 1984 was produced by theater ensemble Headlong, with help from the Almeida Theatre and Nottingham Playhouse, before its international run. The 100-minute production – with no intermission – is an intense, multisensory experience set in post-war superstate Oceania, where three classes (the elite Inner Party, middle class Outer Party and working class proles) live under the ever-present, tyrannical Big Brother.

Outer Party member Winston Smith, who makes his living rewriting news articles to run parallel with the party’s current position, undergoes a radical transformation as he falls in love with the rebellious Julia. The themes of government surveillance, information manipulation and global warfare all ring true today, and the play’s leads are enthralled by the opportunity to bring 1984 to the nation’s capital.

“[The play] feels particularly resonant with the current political climate in America and the upcoming election,” says actress Hara Yannas, who is back in the U.S. for the first time since childhood. “I think it stirs something up in people.”

Yannas, who plays Julia and has been with the production off and on since 2013, describes 1984 as a feast for the ears and the eyes. Without giving too much away, she says the multimedia elements of the play – including live camerawork – are used to aid in the storytelling rather than just as something cool to do onstage.

She credits 29-year-old Icke with creating a vision for how to tell a story onstage that’s as enticing as watching a film with special effects, or playing a video game. Matthew Spencer, who plays Winston, says the multimedia aspects can evoke very real, truthful emotions for the actors.

“Hara and I have moments in scenes where we’re being filmed, and it’s really interesting being in a theater but having a camera right there in your face,” he says.

Spencer says he and Yannas have built a fantastic rapport, and the actor appreciates having a secret giggle or two with his leading lady mid-scene as a brief reprieve from the intensity of being onstage for the entire play.

“Obviously there’s a script, which is set, but within that there’s a lot of room for us to discover and play around,” he says. “It’s not set and rigid.”

Both actors feed off of the immediate, somewhat visceral feedback from audiences, allowing them to gauge how people are impacted by the play and its subject matter. Yannas loves the energy of younger audiences, who she says don’t censor themselves the way a more mature audience might by being “quite polite and quiet, and just listening and behaving themselves.”

Spencer notes that the play strikes a chord with younger audiences because “we’re a bit naughty with the rules,” but believes that anyone, regardless of age, will find the play relevant.

“In a lot of ways, [1984] takes the rules of what theatre should be, what a play should be, and kind of throws them out the window,” he says. “It gets audiences to think and ask questions about what they’re watching, why they’re watching it, and how they use media.”

Don’t miss 1984 at Lansburgh Theatre from March 11 to April 10, with tickets starting at $44. Theatergoers 35 and under can catch Young Prose Nights (YPN) on Friday, March 25 and Wednesday, April 6. YPN tickets are $25 and include a complimentary libation and an invite to a pre- or post-performance party.

LANSBURGH THEATRE: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.shakespearetheatre.org

film fests dc

March Film Festival Roundup

DC Independent Film Festival: March 4-13
The DC Independent Film Festival (DCIFF) showcases work from more than 70 indie filmmakers, including everything from full-length films to animated shorts, at venues throughout DC. There’s even a competition for local aspiring high school filmmakers.

“We build a community for them and include the audience so that watching films at DCIFF is not just about what is onscreen, but also about the people who make movies,” says Deirdre

Evans-Pritchard, executive director of DCIFF.  “The festival is fiercely independent in order to have the freedom to be cutting-edge and to present a wide range of ideas, issues and styles to Washington, DC”

This year, opening night includes a world premiere of the new web serial, Districtland, which was shot in and is about DC, and is based on the play written by Christina Bejan. Closing night includes a conversation with actor and Dogme 95 filmmaker Jean Marc Barr.

For more information and a complete schedule, go to www.dciff-indie.org.

Environmental Film Festival: March 15-26
The 24th annual Environmental Film Festival, the country’s largest and longest-running of it’s kind, will present 140 films at venues around the nation’s capital selected to provide fresh perspectives on a wide variety of environmental issues facing the earth.

The theme of this year’s festival is “Parks: Protecting Wild,” exploring the vital role of parks and protected areas on our planet. Screenings will include discussions with filmmakers, scientists and policymakers, and many events are free.

“The festival will open with Jennifer Peedom’s new film, Sherpa, showing how Mount Everest’s Sherpa community united in grief and anger to reclaim the mountain following a deadly avalanche in 2014,” says Helen Strong, public affairs director for the Environmental Film Festival.

A highlight of the festival will be director Ian Cheney’s screening of his newest film, Bluespace, which makes a strong case for taking better care of our water-rich planet so that future generations won’t have to resort to interplanetary colonization.

For a complete festival schedule, visit www.dceff.org.

CineMatsuri Film Festival: March 20-24
With five films being screened this year, the CineMatsuri Film Festival is slated to showcase some of the most compelling Japanese films made over the last year.

“CineMatsuri’s mission is comprised of two parts,” says Melissa Tolentino, assistant director for educational and public outreach for the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC. “The first is to provide an entertaining, weeklong event for people of the Washington, DC area to enjoy some of the latest and best Japanese films. The second is to use film as a way for the

Japan-America Society to accomplish our mission of helping Americans learn more about Japan.”

The opening film, Persona Non Grata, tells the story of a courageous Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who defied his government and issued visas to over 6,000 Jewish people in 1940, saving them from certain death in Nazi concentration camps. Encore presentations of Persona Non Grata will be held after the 24th.

The closing film, Emperor in August, was nominated for 11 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor.

“We don’t show avant-garde or cutting-edge films,”  Tolentino says. “Instead, we try to show recent Japanese movies that were well-received by both audiences and critics alike, and that we think will appeal to an American audience.”

For more information, check out  www.cinematsuri.org

Shakespeare YPN Night (15)

Young Prose Night At Shakespeare Theatre

Young professionals gathered and enjoyed good conversation, a full lineup of Sam Adams beverages, and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s new production “The Critic And The Real Inspector Hound” Photos by Brittany Thomas

Chinese New Year
Photos courtesy Kennedy Center

Kennedy Center Celebrates Chinese New Year

Celebrate Chinese New Year this month with four days of festivities at the Kennedy Center, from February 5-8. This year’s lineup includes free performances on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Family Day activities, and a final performance featuring the Shenzhen Symphony Orchestra.

The Kennedy Center has hosted and produced festivities celebrating Chinese culture for 11 years. In 2005, Vice President for Dance and International Programs, Alicia Adams, began traveling to China to establish artistic ties with performers.

“The Kennedy Center has been exploring China’s arts and culture for more than 10 years,” Adams says. “I have traveled to China more than two dozen times to attend festivals and to find artists who would be appropriate to include in our ongoing series at the Kennedy Center.”

Shenzhen, the city from which most of this year’s performers hail, is represented so often because it is one of the most artistically rich and cultivated cities in China, according to Adams. Two notable groups of performers, the Shenzhen Lily Girls’ Choir – one of the culture landmarks of Shenzhen’s cultural community – and the city’s Symphony Orchestra, represent China’s high achievements in both Western and Chinese classical music.

Adams is thrilled by the inclusion of the Symphony Orchestra, who will perform on Monday, February 8 at 8 p.m., especially because of how the musicians demonstrate the type of artistic exchange that the Kennedy Center strives to promote.

“China is a country that embraces Western classical music and by bringing this orchestra [to the Kennedy Center], audiences are able to see new and fresh interpretations of this music. Also, they always include Chinese classical music in their performances, which introduces [our audiences] to a variety of works over the course of the evening.

The Millennium Stage will host a performance by the Henan Arts Troupe of Beijing, including Chinese opera performers, traditional musicians, acrobats, and martial artists, who will achieve amazing physical displays in full costume with exact musical accompaniment. The Troupe will play an important outreach role during Family Day, on Saturday, February 6, providing stage makeup demos and the opportunity to dress up in costume, along with other arts & crafts activities.

Whether it’s acrobats from Beijing, pop singers from Inner Mongolia and the Yunan Province, or rappers from the Guizhou Province, this year’s performers represent the cultural and artistic diversity of China’s vast territory and traditions.

“Each group has their own unique sound, creating new contemporary music styles by combining elements of traditional Chinese music with modern music,” Adams says. “The common ground is the beat, the sound, and the style of music which is reflective of contemporary culture around the world.”

Check out www.kennedy-center.org to learn more about individual performances and Family Day activities.

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

Photos courtesy Kennedy Center