Photo: Scott Suchman
Photo: Scott Suchman

Ken Clark’s King Arthur Leads with Heart

This classic tale of one of the world’s most famous – and heartbreaking – love triangles and the noble man caught in the center of it is at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through July 8. Directed by Shakespeare’s very own Alan Paul, Camelot follows Arthur from the moment he meets his beloved bride Guenevere until the last time he sees her face.

“Love and marriage – don’t conflate the two!”

The audience laughs, but Merlyn (played by actor Ted van Griethuysen) is quite serious when talking to a young Arthur (Ken Clark), who is trying to sneak a peek at his bride-to-be Guenevere (Alexandra Silber).

Even in the first scene, as Arthur props himself between branches and pesters Merlyn with questions about Guenevere – “Is she pretty or very pretty?” – the future king exposes his sincerest qualities from the beginning: hope for his marriage and affection toward Merlyn. These inherent qualities, hope and affection, guide his principles and spur the ideals to reinvent Camelot through his reign.

“It’s a play about our basic natures, and our attempt to overcome and even alter those natures,” Clark explains in a recent interview with On Tap. “Arthur never gives up on his own convictions in order to save his realm, and that’s what makes him different – because people do bad things in the name of the greater good, but Arthur doesn’t.”

The timeline of the play, spanning years, allows for greater character development not only for King Arthur but also for Guenevere and Lancelot – a Knight of the Round Table who becomes Arthur’s dear friend and ultimately falls madly in love with his Queen. Subtle mentions of time in dialogue help keep the audience aware of where we are in the story, but the characters also provide cues based on changes in tone and attitude. Clark says one of the great things about playing Arthur is portraying him during his lifelong journey.

“You follow him from boyhood to older manhood, and all of the things that change along the way. You get an opportunity to play those human circumstances and apply them to a dramatic scene. That is a rare, rare opportunity for an actor.”

The medieval period generally evokes imagery of bloodshed and knights in armor battling for land – or a woman. In other words, a play based in this period of history can be expected to have a very masculine display with limited range in a man’s emotions. But Camelot’s King Arthur represents a courageous leader who is well-respected because of his emotional vulnerability and not in spite of it – a symbol for modern men that feels very necessary to represent onstage in 2018. It’s important, Clark says, for a leader to show vulnerability.

“I think that we need to make it very clear that you can be masculine and vulnerable. The two are not mutually exclusive. And in this day and age, I think that needs to be clear, especially for young men. You can be emotionally available, you can listen, you can be sensitive – and you can still be masculine. They should go hand in hand.”

When the pompous (yet somehow still endearing) Lancelot (played by Nick Fitzer) arrives on the scene, he’s a French knight who has the type of energy you’d expect. He’s always ready to swing the sword and quick to insert self-praise into regular conversation. But he kneels before King Arthur immediately, demonstrating how powerful the King’s presence is even beyond Camelot.

“It helps that the other actors are so good,” Clark says of his castmates. “When you put something out and you get it knocked right back to you, it makes it a lot easier to get to those deep, emotional places.”

The 29-year-old says casting a young King Arthur makes the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production unique and modern in another way.

“First and foremost, it makes the love triangle more compelling – certainly from Guenevere’s standpoint. If you have a much older Arthur, then the audience is going to be like, ‘Well of course she’s going to go with Lancelot.’ But if you can present a more loving, tender, romantic, sexual relationship between Arthur and Guenevere, it makes it that much more compelling when Lancelot comes around, which I think is a smart way to do it. I’m certainly glad they did it that way!”

Arthur and Guenevere’s genuine love for each other makes it easy for them to be the right royal duo to implement changes in Camelot. Clark’s favorite scene is when the pair imagine the Round Table for the first time.

“[This scene] is a window into their marriage when it’s still a very good, strong partnership, and it’s a look at what two people who love each other can do when they trust [each other] and work well together,” he says.

This is one of several scenes with a deliberately intimate setting, allowing the dialogue and chemistry between the actors to shine through. The stage is stripped of visual noise and an array of candles tranquilize the atmosphere. Our eyes follow Guenevere as she moves around Arthur, and delights in their forward-thinking idea with her husband. However, the audience will find it hard to pick just one favorite scene. Clark laughs as he adds, “There’s so many good scenes.”

And even with Arthur at the center of the story, Silber’s Guenevere holds her own and at times, is truly the highlight of scenes. When singing about the “lusty month of May,” Guenevere is a more mature and established queen than at the beginning of the play, but she still reveals the spirited maiden she has always been. This boisterous, vibrant dance and song sequence with the simple folk is one of my favorites.

Each actor perfectly embodies their respective characters in tongue and physical form. The songs are a performance in their own right, granting applause from the audience every time. The use of space is impactful as well, with a character running through the audience aisle or appearing under a spotlight offstage, and Paul even uses floor-to-ceiling space to give the audience dual point of views.

Clark delivers a King Arthur who is relatable in 2018. He says Shakespeare Theatre Company wants to interpret plays thoughtfully, which isn’t easy for a production like Camelot that has a well-known story and is full of household songs.

“They don’t want to put Camelot up and see who comes. They want to take the ideals and ideas that make Camelot special and put them on full display. There’s so much more going on in the story, and STC – especially [director] Alan Paul – has been dedicated to making sure those ideas are at the forefront of this production. I’ve been wanting to work [at Shakespeare] for a long time, and it’s been everything I hoped.”

Camelot runs through July 8, and tickets start at $59. Learn about Shakespeare’s Young Prose Nights and discounted tickets at www.shakespearetheatre.og.

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

Photo: Teresa Wood
Photo: Teresa Wood

Kennedy Center’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” Shines with an Energetic Cast

Last week was a joyful one for DC in more ways than just a Stanley Cup win. The Kennedy Center continued its production series Broadway Center Stage last night with a delightful take on Tony Award-winning musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, which runs through this Sunday, June 10. Starring Broadway star Betsy Wolfe (Waitress and The Mystery of Edwin Drood) and actor Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Glee, Ground Floor) and directed by Marc Bruni, this clever musical comedy was the perfect ray of light to add to Kennedy Center’s new series. From Todd Ellison’s musical direction to Denis Jones’s choreography to Amy Clark’s costumes, I was in awe of the flawless execution of this production.

Unlike many of the audience members that came to swoon over the Broadway classic, I’m new to the story of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I was pleasantly surprised by the feel-good, upbeat tale about how Astin’s character J. Pierrepont Finch schemes and sweet talks his way to the top of the corporate ladder from a window washer to high-powered executive. The musical follows the classic recipe of any good show: a sweet love interest (Wolfe’s character Rosemary Pilkington), a love-to-hate rival (Bud Frump played brilliantly by the hilarious Michael Urie) and special moments of strong camaraderie.

Astin’s star power and charming vocals that most of us know and love from seeing him in Pitch Perfect took over in the very first scene as he moved sharply across the stage with the fast-paced music and impressively articulated words of Finch’s first song, “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” We then caught a glimpse of Wolfe’s incredibly clear and golden soprano voice as she belted Rosemary’s first solo, “Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm,” which was reprised in the second act as a slower, more heartfelt performance as Rosemary kept her love-struck eyes set on Finch.

The third song of the first act, “Coffee Break,” performed by Frump, Smitty and company, was the production’s first fully choreographed song. Jones had the cast entirely in sync as they animatedly sang and danced to (including a few moves on the ground) an entertaining number about needing coffee to function at work, which most of us can relate to.

“Paris Original” was another show-stopping performance involving all the women attending the company party humorously in the same dress, and featured the confident voices of other female cast members like the soulful pipes of Joaquina Kalukango (Smitty) and the seductive voice of Becki Newton (Hedy LaRue). “Brotherhood of Man” served as the perfect lively segue heading toward the finale – it was a jovial performance, both choreographically and vocally, while serving its purpose of uniting the men and encouraging them to overcome their differences.

Some of my favorite moments were when characters broke the fourth wall by interacting with the majestic sounding orchestra. And when Astin and John Michael Higgins broke character by laughing for about a minute straight (over one of many amusingly raunchy jokes) before they moved on to their next lines, the audience was roaring. In a playful production like this, it’s refreshing to see evidence of a cast so tight-knit and comfortable with each other.

The victorious “Finale (The Company Way)” had the audience clapping and wooing, and gave us the magical theatrical ending we were all hoping for. One of my favorite characters, Nova Y. Payton as Miss Jones, broke out into delicate, soulful scats while the company kept up their energetic work to close out the night. While there are far too many brilliant actors, actresses, directors and designers to mention in one article, this lighthearted musical brought an easy burst of delight to Eisenhower Theatre, and was jam-packed with fabulous performances by all.

The Kennedy Center’s Broadway Center Stage series is presenting shows in a semi-staged concert format. Learn more 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 atlasarts.org
Photo: Courtesy of atlasarts.org

An Iliad Brings Epic Poetry to the Modern Age

The Poet begins by reaching for something that might help him recall the details of the story of Achilles and his historic battle against Hector of Troy. He extends his arms, grasping toward the audience, to no avail. After a crestfallen sigh, he begins his invocation to the Muses, not unlike those epic poets of old. He asks them for their blessing in retelling this story, and seeks their inspiration to help him recall the details of this woeful tale of man’s rage. The Poet’s petition to the Muses must have brought on blessings in real life, considering the expertise with which this tale was so beautifully and carefully told.

Iason Togias, our Poet and only source of information, does a fantastic job of giving the epic tale context our modern society can easily relate to. His incredible range of expression helps illustrate the many emotions the characters in this play experience, from impatience, pride, heartbreak, victory, despondency and everything in between.

Matt Chilton was our Muse, who without a word, perfectly punctuated the poetic dialogue with tidbits from his double bass, coupled with wayward glances at the audience and a knowing exchange with the Poet here and there.

An Iliad was carried on words and gesture alone; a case in point being that the only scene in this play was a study setting, with a desk, a chair, a globe and some books strewn about. By the time the play is over, you hardly even noticed the backdrop because Togias’ arresting performance has given you a guided tour around the city of Troy.

Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare took on the arduous task of adapting a frequently studied work of classic literature and made it even more relatable than the best college lecturer could (and you can take my word for that, since my only experience with this story comes from that very setting).

Since the work was originally published and first performed five years ago, director Conor Bagley had to make some additions to give us the most current iteration of events. This particular version of the story even incorporated a reference to Flint, Michigan in regards to the composition of the Greek army. The idea behind it was to illustrate the various backgrounds of the soldiers in the army. As one of few people of color in the intimate black box theater setting, it took on added significance of asserting that there were, in fact, people like myself living, existing and participating in these environments (a fact that is often , unfortunately, glossed over in modern interpretations of works like these).

Another particularly captivating moment was when Togias recited every single war known to have taken place in the world (which must have been a real feat to memorize), just to prove a point about how widespread and, unfortunately, uncommon it is to feel the effects of war and to experience the profound rage and grief that Achilles and Hector both felt in their battle.

The play was especially relatable, even with my boyfriend and I’s limited experience with Homer’s original work, because the dialogue (or monologue if you don’t believe in breaking the fourth wall) appealed to a range of human emotion which is timeless in its potency. It had the air of a much-needed crash course in Greek mythology but still referenced lots of current events (like the conflict in Israel, for example).

Though the play will soon conclude its run, I would definitely keep my eyes peeled for future productions by any member of the cast and crew of this stunning performance.

An Iliad will be showing at Atlas Performing Arts Center the show until June 9. Tickets are $15-$25 and can be purchased here.

Atlas Performance Arts Center: 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002; www.atlasarts.org

Photo: Wilson Chin
Photo: Wilson Chin

Studio Theatre’s The Remains: World-Premiere Comedy Explores Gay Divorce

Stories about failed relationships are nothing new in theatre, as many a play have tackled the subject – be it with humor or on a more serious, darker level. But Studio Theatre is presenting a new work that puts a different spin on the subject, with Ken Urban’s world-premiere play The Remains, which explores a gay couple going through the process of a divorce.

The play follows Kevin and Theo, a Boston-based gay married couple, who 10 years after their historic coupling decide marriage isn’t for them and must reveal their truth to loved ones. Urban based the comedy loosely on events from his own life.

“I got divorced from my partner of 18 years in 2015,” the playwright says. “I filed the paperwork just about the same time that the federal same-sex marriage ban was removed, so it seemed like an interesting time to think about those two things together. It also got me thinking about what it means to be in a relationship, and what it means to be in love.”

Urban notes that those in the LGBTQ+ community are only a few years into the whole concept of being asked, “When are you two going to be married?” He’s acutely aware of that pressure and understands that with gay marriage sometimes comes gay divorce.

“Before marriage for gay men and women was an option, we had to define what we meant by being in a relationship,” he says. “When I first met my partner in 1996, I didn’t know any other gay couples and what it meant to be in a long-term gay relationship. With marriage, you can try and rearrange the definition, but more pressures suddenly come upon you.”

Actor Glenn Fitzgerald plays Theo, and stage and TV vet Maulik Pancholy (Weeds, 30 Rock) stars as Kevin. Urban wrote the part with him in mind and asked his friend to take on the role. The two had previously worked together on Urban’s The Happy Sad in 2009 and The Awake in 2013.

“He is an incredibly sensitive actor and someone who dives really deep into himself when he’s working on a part,” Urban says. “What I love about Maulik is you can give him all types of challenges offstage, and he always rises to them.”

For his part, Pancholy was excited about tacking dramatic terrain that hasn’t really been explored in theatre onstage before, especially being a gay man himself.

“What is fascinating about this is it’s one of the first gay-themed plays that I’ve read that isn’t about the fight for equality or the fight to be treated as an equal human being, and yet it is,” he says. “We are in a time period now where, thank God, we won a lot of those rights – though given the current temperament, things can feel a little tenuous at times – and there’s still a long way to go in the way LGBTQ+ people are perceived in our society.”

Furthermore, he was intrigued at how Kevin and Theo’s story impacted those around them – those who had seen them fight so hard to be treated as equals and were now watching it be torn apart. Though it has nothing to do with his real life – Pancholy is happily married – he thinks it’s an important story to be told.

“In my own wedding, there was a sense of it being more special than a heterosexual wedding because with it comes all the history and legacy for the fight of equality, and a lot of hopes pinned on that and a lot of meaning attached to that kind of love.”

Pancholy says the play posits the question, “What does it mean when you fought so hard for the right to love, but then find you may not want to be with that person you fought to be with – not just for the couple, but those around them?”

Studio Theatre’s Artistic Director David Muse is directing the play and was brought to the project by Pancholy. The pair went to graduate school together at the Yale School of Drama.

“We’re friends and we last worked together about 16 years ago,” Muse says about Pancholy. “The chance to have an artistic reunion with him was a big reason why I wanted to do this. He acted in more plays that I directed [in school] than anyone else – something like five times!”

The director shares that the play also sits in Studio’s sweet spot in that it’s a realistic, living-room drama with funny, emotional things going on, and he likes the fact that it’s something of a “next generation” gay play.

“There are a series of plays with contemporary themes dealing with what I call ‘second-stage assimilation’ concerns: questions like gay parenthood and squaring the idea of monogamous marriage with a more liberated approach to sexuality that we tend to associate with gay culture,” he says. “Watching the gay play evolve on some level with less to struggle against really interests me.”

The Remains is at Studio Theatre through June 17. Tickets start at $20. For more information, visit www.studiotheatre.org.

 Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; 202-332-3300; www.studiotheatre.org

Woolly Mammoth Botticelli in the Fire

Stage and Screen: The Remains, The Tempest and More

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 9

An Iliad
The Iliad is one of Homer’s great tales, culminating in a heartbreaking battle between Prince Hector of Troy and Brad Pi…I mean Achilles, one of the greatest warriors in fictional history (any time your name becomes nomenclature for a pesky body part, you know you’re a legend). Conor Bagley’s version at Atlas Arts is a modern retelling, settling on a more personal story between the two powerful mortals. While the description throws a ton of adjectives to focus on, the one highlighted heavily is that of rage and why the intoxicating feeling is so hard to control but easy to unleash. Tickets are $15-$25. Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab 1: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 16

Laugh Index Theatre’s Annual Comedy Festival
This festival is a smorgasbord of comedy, featuring a variety of acts from all over the country. Over the course of a few weeks, and at several venues, there will be improv teams, sketch teams, musical comedy, stand-up (duh) and podcasts all dedicated to making you laugh. So no matter what tickles your fancy, your funny bone will be scratched (no not the area on your arm, don’t be weird). Performances at various locations. Ticket prices vary. LIT Annual Comedy Festival: Various locations around Washington, DC; www.laughindextheatre.com

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 24

Botticelli in the Fire
What do artists do when faced with a populist takeover of the societies their work reflects? There’s no right or wrong answer, as those kinds of regimes often are accompanied by attempts to censor or deride anything seen as contentious. Does this sound relevant? Yeah, that’s what Woolly Mammoth’s Botticelli in the Fire wants you to take away, as it draws comparisons to the current political climate and that of the famed artist during the populist revolution in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Florence. Faced with numerous choices throughout, Botticelli must make decisions with no easy answers. Tickets are $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net 

The Remains
Yes, The Remains does sound like the title of a straight-to-video knockoff of HBO’s The Leftovers (fun fact: Nick Cage actually stars in this very thing, a little remake titled Left Behind), but Studio Theatre’s play is anything but. Instead of a story centered around people vanishing into thin air (*snap*), this story focuses on the 10-year marriage of Kevin and Theo, who host a dinner party to celebrate their newly renovated condo. As families tend to upon gathering together for an occasion, philosophy and truth come to the forefront, pulling the curtain on their thought-to-be perfect union. Learn more about the production in Keith Loria’s story on page 6. Tickets start at $20. Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St. NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 1

The Tempest
A classic comedy by the classic hitmaker William Shakespeare, The Tempest is a veteran of the theatre scene and one which commands a certain respect. I have little doubt the folks at Avant Bard will deliver the show with their own offbeat twist. The story is filled with love and magic and of course, riddled with conflict. It wouldn’t be a Shakespeare special if it didn’t also contain a smidge of tragedy as well. Tickets are $30-$35. The Gunston Arts Center: 2700 S. Lang St. Arlington, VA; www.wscavantbard.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 23

Switch
If you thought the most intriguing body-switching tales involved those of kids and their parents (as seen too many times in pop culture, so excuse me for not listing), you’re wrong. Switch takes the premise and flips it on its head, as the story involves a couple who wake up in one another’s bodies following sex. What follows is the two deciding to explore their boundaries with their gender-fluid friend Lark. Written by Brett Abelman and directed by Megan Behm, this play depicts a world “where sex, gender and sexuality intertwine.” Tickets are $25. Trinidad Theatre at Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 22

Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
The Temptations are arguably one of the greatest musical acts of all time, so it’s nice to see their story get the recognition it deserves as Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations comes to the Kennedy Center this month. The performance is biographical in nature, following the five young men who would eventually emerge from Detroit, Michigan as The Temptations. The play was penned by Dominique Morisseau and features hits like “My Girl,” “Just My Imagination” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Tickets start at $59. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 – SUNDAY, JUNE 24

RebollarDance
Erica Rebollar returns to DC to celebrate the tenth anniversary of her works with a new piece titled Variations. According to Dance Place, this piece is a meditation on the choreographic method, or theme and variation. All that being said, this seems like a very meta dance piece, as the focus is about the construction of an actual dance choreography. Though art about art can sometimes be confusing for neophytes, this performance is likely to avoid the possible pitfalls and be enjoyable for all. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

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