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Photos: Kimchi Photography

The Black Keys Adapt Sound for Let’s Rock Tour

When a band like The Black Keys plays The Anthem, it raises the question: Could we see the end of arena shows? And would that be better for rock music? It was a fitting query during their set on October 12, which fell on the second anniversary of the waterfront mega-venue’s opening. 

To catch everyone up to speed, The Black Keys are a rock band – formed by guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney – that rose from the rust belt and rubber factory landscape of Akron, Ohio in the early 2000s as part of that era’s garage rock revival (The White Stripes were the most prominent flag-bearers). The duo’s first records drew on vintage sources and familiar soundscapes to color their raw, early records: sneering electric blues, fuzzy psychedelia, rubber-burning, hot-rod worthy rock n’ roll, and a sense of earworm melody and warmth derived from Motown soul. The group best packaged that sound for a wider audience on the 2010 release Brothers and have since expanded that formula to a more arena/classic rock breadth on their most recent three releases.

The Black Keys’ new album, Let’s Rock, is something of a “back-to-basics” record for the band, cutting out the added expanse of keyboards from their last record and producing it themselves. The current live show (which appears again at The Anthem tonight) holds a kind of similar ethos, attempting to balance stadium swell and rock club sweaty rave. In an arena, like Capitol One, the Keys are somewhat lost by the sheer distance, size and design of the space. But in a venue like The Anthem, their lies a possibility for the band to have the best of both worlds. 

Attendees of most-large scale concerts will tell you that hearing the music – the nominal ritual that you are partaking in, en masse – is one of the biggest challenges of the night (in addition to seeing your favorite performers, depending on your seats). So, when The Black Keys hit the stage with their five-person live band, the first thing I thought was “this is actually not loud” and that’s in spite of the group’s attempts to ensure greater volume. The Keys have this neat magic trick for playing the in the enormous spaces they do now, an illusion based on sound. Even though there are five musicians on stage – one drummer, one bassist, three guitarists – you are led to believe only Auerbach and Carney are playing. The backing musicians lock in tight with the leading men: guitarists Steve Marion and Andy Gabbard shadow Auerbach, making the one guitar roar with the strength to shake rafters while bassist Zach Gabbard does an intricate dance with Carney’s drums, hitting his bass notes off the bass drum and toms to give the rhythm some subwoofer oomph. The trick works as well for older cuts like “10 A.M. Automatic” or new ones from Let’s Rock like “Walk Across The Water.”

The condensed space – The Anthem holds about 6,000 max, half of most arena crowds – the crystalline, specific details in The Keys’ vintage sound came through like an unearthed vinyl on a turntable. Auerbach’s onslaught on pristine, wizened guitars could attack the airwaves with their full potential, hitting the crowd with a sharp but warm sound that bites like your favorite whiskey. On “Strange Times,” from the group’s 2008 album Attack & Release, Carney and Auerbach’s fingers flew across their instruments in an accelerated blur, leaving behind the distinct smell of burnt rubber from Akron’s Firestone tires.

Watching the sea of (thousands of) faces on the floor of The Anthem was like observing a human body undergoing a reflex test; some songs hit and made the limbs dance, others landed with a thud. The audience churned like a storming sea during the main-set close, one-two punch of “Little Black Submarines” and “Lonely Boy” but chattered through new material like “Eagle Birds” and “Fire Walk With Me.” Even though the songs of Let’s Rock exist in more of a continuation with the Keys’ leaner, earlier sound, why the disconnect? Could that explain why rock music seems to slump on a major cultural level, rarely present in arenas or on the Billboard charts?

This is where a venue like The Anthem comes into play – what if The Black Keys played more like it, cut down on the big visuals, bigger sound, bigger band and played just Auerbach and Carney again? There was so much rich detail in older numbers – like the hot rod rev-up into “Thickfreakness” or the lip-curling snarl of “Howlin’ For You” – that could be heard in this space. Both songs were made when the band didn’t have to stretch their sound into arenas that are acoustic nightmares; what sonic potential do they have revisiting a pared-down yet big enough sound? What if other bands followed suit?

The Black Keys gave a glimpse of that with their opening number “I Got Mine,” another from Attack & Release, where there were no fancy visuals, no projections. Just the start of the duo weaving an illusion it was just the audience and them, as it always was. That was an exhilarating moment.

The Black Keys are set to play another set at The Anthem tonight. For more information visit here.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-888-0020; www.theanthemdc.com

Photo: Darian Volkova, courtesy of State Academic Mariinsky Theatre

Review: Mariinsky Ballet’s Paquita at the Kennedy Center

A young girl and her father are sitting across from me on the shuttle bus to the Kennedy Center. She’s wearing colorful dinosaur tights. I look down at my own tights – black with a small tear threatening to become a hole. The other people on the shuttle are dressed in crisp suits and elegant dresses. We’re all on our way to see the Mariinsky Ballet perform Paquita

I worry that once I step inside the building, I’ll feel even more out of place. The stereotype of the stuffy ballet attendee doesn’t coincide with my thrift store dress or the fast food I ate for dinner. Am I couth enough to see a ballet? Am I couth enough to use the word couth?

I’m not sure how ballet took on this reputation, but Paquita was far from stuffy; it was whimsical, exciting and heartfelt. A storybook narrative that came to life with every twirl of a cape or swish of a skirt. The picturesque painted sets and hanging props served as a beautiful backdrop for the romantic tale of Paquita and Andres.

As a ballet beginner, the playbill proved a great companion. The clear synopsis quelled my fears of confusion. While normally spoilers are unwanted, they were helpful in knowing what’s happening while still being able to focus on the dancers. It also provided history about the production and the Mariinsky Ballet. You don’t have to know the difference between a pirouette and a plie to understand the storyline or appreciate the talent involved. 

Maria Khoreva was stunning as the spirited, strong-willed Paquita. Stolen from nobility at birth, Paquita now lives as a street dancer with a traveling group. She has many adoring suitors, but it is Andres who she asks to prove his love. Andres joins the travelers but finds troubles when the group is accused of theft. The third and final act ends in a grand pas wedding that features lead performers and soloists.   

I found myself being caught off guard by the moments of humor. I genuinely didn’t know that ballet could be so funny. One scene featured two men dancing, perfectly in sync, beneath a horse costume. A third man proceeded to try and ride said horse. The audience was audibly amused. Several times throughout the performance awes and exclamations could be heard throughout the arena. It felt like we were all watching a sporting event together and our team was doing really well. 

Outside of the opera house is a glass case featuring the costumes worn in the show. Every handsewn bead is a reminder of the work put into the show. Every tutu was perfectly fluffed. Every note of the orchestra, lead by Gavriel Heine, was at the exact right moment. The amount of syncretization that goes into the production is unfathomable to me – I can’t even get all of my friends to show up for lunch at the same time. Yuri Smekalov managed to create a nearly three-hour dance routine that never became dull or tedious.   

You can wear an expensive suit or dinosaur tights and it doesn’t matter because ballet is a form of escapism. Who doesn’t want to enter a world where all conflict is fought through dance and everything ends with a big wedding? There is a reason why the Mariinsky Ballet has been putting on performances since the 18th century, and it has nothing to do with the disposition of the audience. It’s the combination of beauty, passion and skill that makes going to the ballet a timeless event. 

The Mariinsky Ballet’s Paquita is being performed at the Kennedy Center through October 13. For information on tickets and showtimes, visit here.

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

Photo: courtesy of the Kennedy Center

A Footloose Conversation with Isabelle McCalla

The movie Footloose evokes memories of a young Kevin Bacon angrily dancing next to that iconic yellow Volkswagen Bug. Maybe you think of the popular Kenny Loggins’ song of the same name? The music, clothing and cinematography all scream 1980s. So why is this story continually rewatched and remade? After speaking with Broadway Center Stage: Footloose star Isabelle McCalla, it’s clear this narrative is still extremely relevant.

The Kennedy Center is bringing Footloose to DC with a star-studded cast. Among them is McCalla, who in addition to playing the role of Ariel in this production, has played Princess Jasmine in Aladdin on Broadway and originated the role of Alyssa on Broadway’s The Prom. Like her character Ariel, McCalla is no stranger to standing up for what she believes in. She and her The Prom co-star, Caitlin Kinnunen, shared the first same-sex kiss in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade history. Before seeing her on stage, read on to learn more about her history with the material, performing in DC and more. 

On Tap: The movie Footloose came out in 1984, the musical was introduced in 1998, and the movie was then remade in 2011, what do you think is so compelling about the story that makes it able to span decades?
Isabelle McCalla: I think it’s really a story of communication, or the lack thereof, and people with different ideologies who don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s a story of people who listen and understand someone who walks in a different pair of shoes. So I think that has transcended and we do it with musical comedy, and that’s what’s so incredible. 

OT: At the very heart of it, Footloose is about young people fighting for what they believe in. This is very relevant today, especially here in DC. Does performing at the nation’s capital have a different impact?
IM: Oh absolutely! We are in a very difficult time in our history where there is a lot of negative rhetoric going on and the people in charge aren’t necessarily representing their constituents. [Footloose] is about a time when the new generation has to do some toe stepping while standing up for what they believe in and it will resonate a lot with the people living in DC today.   

OT: What was your first experience with the film?
IM: I’ve actually never seen it!

OT: Really?
IM: Yeah, I somehow managed to go my entire life without seeing it. It helps keep it fresh for me in the role.

OT: What drew you to the character of Ariel?
IM: I like that she is very intelligent and able to play the various facets of her society. She knows exactly what roles she has to play with which type of people to get by. She has a hunger and thirst for knowledge, and she just wants to get out of her small town and make something of her life. That’s not something that many people in her community aspire to necessarily. That’s been fun to tap into. She’s very dynamic. It’s hard to find roles that are so versatile, in the sense that they can be vulnerable and demure yet so confident and sexy at the same time. Ariel is kinda the whole package there.

OT: Obviously, the narrative focuses on a small town that bans dancing. You originated the role of Alyssa in The Prom, a musical about a small town that shuts down a prom because Alyssa and her girlfriend want to attend. Are there any similarities between Ariel and Alyssa?
IM: There are similarities in that they both have broken relationships with their parents. They love their parents but for some reason or other, Ariel with her father and Alyssa with her mother, their parents have visions for their daughters that don’t line up with their daughters and who those characters actually are. It’s constantly a fight to just be seen for who they are by their parents. 

OT: If music and dancing had been banned from your town, what would you be doing today?
IM: Oh my god. I would have to move towns. I love singing and dancing, but I’d probably be an investigative journalist. That was always a dream of mine. 

While McCalla isn’t sure what’s next, her successful career thus far is an indication of great things to come. See her in Footloose this Wednesday through Monday, October 14. Showtimes vary, tickets $59-$175. For more information, click here.

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

Shelly Lynn Walsh, Peter Michael Jordan, Chris Clark, and Sarah Hinrichsen // Photo: Matthew Murphy

Parrot Heads Rejoice: Escape to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville at National Theatre

With a song catalog that features party staples such as “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Come Monday,” “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” and the anthem “Margaritaville,” Jimmy Buffett is considered a musical legend and the poster child of the island escapism lifestyle.

That same fun, laid back attitude has been captured in Escape to Margaritaville, a musical based on the songs of Buffett, which made its Broadway debut in 2017 where it wowed critics and audiences alike.

The National Tour of Escape to Margaritaville will play the National Theatre starting tonight through October 13, under the direction of Amy Anders Corcoran.

With a book by Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia and Emmy nominee Mike O’Malley, and 20 classic and new tunes by Buffett, the show’s story follows Tully (played by Chris Clark), a part-time bartender and singer who falls for a career-minded tourist named Rachel (Sarah Hinrichsen). In the land of Margaritaville, people come to get away from it all, but often stay after discovering something they never expected.

Hinrichsen saw the show during its Broadway run two years ago and really fell in love with it, coming out of it singing the songs like most of the audience did.

“It’s just a fun show and it was a good time,” she says. “When you’re a performer, you always look if there’s a track you could play, and I thought Rachel was really interesting and something I would enjoy. In the month’s following, I would get texts from my friends saying that it would be a great part for me, so when the tour was casting, I went in.”

She describes Rachel as “a workaholic, who may come off as aggressive, but is really just so focused.” The character is passionate about a project she’s working on where she’s trying to power a light bulb with a potato and creating energy from a volcano that’s on the island.

“When she meets Tully, he teaches her about balance and how she can have a strong work life and also one of fun and letting go,” Hinrichsen says. “It lets people see that they can blend two important parts of their life and you can have it all.”

Although not a die-hard Buffett fan, the actress knew many of his popular songs and had eaten more than once at the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant.

“So, I wasn’t a Parrot Head per se,” Hinrichsen says. “Our Tully though, Chris Clark, has this crazy story about how his dad went to a Jimmy Buffett concert two days after he was born because he couldn’t stay away. I’m not on that level, but I am definitely a big fan.”

During the musical, Hinrichsen gets to sing “It’s My Job,” and duet on “Three Chords,” an original tune created for the show where her character learns to play the guitar. She also takes part in numerous group numbers and other duets as well.

“The thing about his music is that it transports you to a place, and he’s such a storyteller that it really feels like a state of mind, like you’re on a beach or on an island,” she says. “You can’t sing these songs not smiling.”

The daughter of a director and actress, growing up in the Los Angeles theater scene, Hinrichsen jokes that she never had any other option but to become a performer and is thrilled to be doing her first national tour.

One of her favorite parts of Escape to Margaritaville comes early in Act 1 when the cast sings “Fins” and they encourage audience participation.

“As any Buffett fan knows, it’s a song where you put your hands in the air and show your ‘fins,’ and we always can tell the mood the audience is in based on the number of fins we see, and knowing they are with us,” she says. “It’s a night of fun and people shouldn’t be afraid to sing along and join in.”

The show also stars Shelly Lynn Walsh, Peter Michael Jordan, Rachel Lyn Fobbs, Patrick Cogan and Matthew James Sherrod.

Escape to Margaritaville plays the National Theatre until October 13. Tickets are $54-$114. For more information, visit thenationaldc.com.

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

Tig Notaro // Photo: Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times

Bentzen Ball Turns 10: Tig Notaro and Svetlana Legetic Reflect on Longevity, Quality and Openness

Comedy should be unpretentious and approachable, a way for us to connect and find humor in the many facets of the human experience. In theory, a comedy festival should follow suit, creating a safe space for artists to try out new material and collaborate with one another in a welcoming setting. But that isn’t always the case, so Tig Notaro decided to create a festival designed to make comedians feel at home.

She shared her idea with former Brightest Young Things (BYT) contributor Jeff Jetton, who brought it to BYT co-founder and CEO Svetlana Legetic, and the three joined forces to create the DC-based Bentzen Ball. Fast-forward 10 years, and the co-founders are gearing up for the festival’s 10th Anniversary of Comedy & Friendship on October 24-27.

The Bentzen team is proud of their longstanding collaboration, and the consistent, simple ethos driving the festival every year.

“We wanted it to be this perfect toolbox of four days, both for the comedians and the city,” Legetic says. “The only requirements to get booked are: Are you really talented and are you not a jerk? We run it like a comedy camp. Everything’s completely democratic.”

As the driving force behind BYT – a DC- and NYC-based events company, online magazine and most recently, creative agency – Legetic says organizing a comedy festival that is equal parts accessible to audiences and the talent they’re coming to see is critical. She describes Bentzen as “the great equalizer,” where the artists are all treated as peers regardless of who’s headlining or has the most IMDb credits.

“A festival should be the best time for the comedians because they all like each other,” she adds. “They’re friends. Fame doesn’t play a role – just quality and respect in the community.”

Notaro’s own brand of dry, often deadpan humor paired with personal comedy, touching upon vulnerable topics like her experience with breast cancer, seems like a natural fit for the open, community-driven message behind Bentzen. On a recent phone call with the comedian, she tells me that Bentzen has secured itself not as a fleeting or entertainment industry-driven festival, but instead as an event built on having a good time and doing good things with good comedians.

“I think we’ve maintained it and just grown it, but we’re not trying to grow it to be this monster,” Notaro says. “I just want it to always remain positive in every direction – from the size of it to the people who come to the charities we work with to the audience experience. As I’m going through all of this, it’s reminding me of how proud of it I am.”

The tone of her voice fluctuates ever so slightly when she says this, and I know in that moment how much Bentzen means to her. Notaro hails from L.A., where she lives with her wife Stephanie Allynne and twin 3-year-olds Max and Finn, but comes to the District every year for the festival. When I ask, “Why DC?” the response is quite flattering, another nod to our burgeoning performing arts scene.

“I had such a great time in DC [during the DC Comedy Festival years ago]. It seemed like such a fun city and like regardless of where you stand politically, it would be a nice draw for people to want to come out. And I was right.”

She says she can rely on good vibes from our city year in and year out – and on smart audiences to come out and support the comedians.

“[DC is] always so fun, and it’s always a place I know I can come and try something new. There are certain cities where I feel like, ‘Oh, it can be hit-or-miss, or I had a good time last time [but] who knows what’ll happen this time?’ But I feel like DC is a town where I can just go, ‘Yeah, I’ll go have a great time for sure on that stage.’”

Legetic reiterates how smart of a city we are, and how the District’s collective intelligence has in some ways led to Bentzen’s continued success.

“I always say everyone gets the jokes here,” she says. “If you can’t land a joke here, you can’t land it anywhere because people have read everything, heard everything. We’re so in tune with what’s happening around us.”

Another contributing factor to the festival’s popularity, according to Notaro, is the creative team’s clean-slate approach.

“It’s really wide open,” she says. “We go into each year with an openness of, ‘What do these performers want to do? What kind of show do they want to have? Who do they want in the show?’ Everything still falls in place but as it unfolds, that’s always one of the best parts: seeing what direction everything goes in.”

Bentzen offers artists the opportunity to expand their forms of expression, opening doors to unexplored creative outlets and giving access to talented peers playing in the same space.

Legetic says, “It’s very much about the performer and the audience. People trust that it’s going to be good on both sides, and a lot of magical things happen in the process.”

She’s confident in the event’s continued success, and with good reason. Audience numbers grew 40 percent between 2017 and 2018 “because I think people needed it,” Legetic adds. Festival passes often sell out before BYT even announces the lineup. And headlining acts like Maria Bamford, who has been on both Notaro and Legetic’s wish list for years, continue to join the Bentzen family.

“We don’t have a marketing budget or anything like that,” Legetic says. “If the audience didn’t want it, it wouldn’t be growing.”

Bamford opens the festival on October 24, and on October 26, audiences can catch Notaro’s “But Enough About You” at festival mainstay Lincoln Theatre or head over to the Entertainment and Sports Arena – a new addition to the lineup – for the DC Homecoming! show featuring DMV natives like Jay Pharoah, Aparna Nancherla and Judah Friedlander. The list of curated talent continues, and regardless of who you decide to check out, Legetic promises Bentzen won’t disappoint.

“We’re very earnest in our enthusiasm. Even if you’re not sure about something, give it a chance. We’ve never taken anyone astray in 10 years.”

Bentzen Ball’s 10th Anniversary of Comedy & Friendship runs from October 24-27 at Lincoln Theatre, the Entertainment and Sports Arena, and the Kennedy Center’s Millennial Stage. Most tickets range from $25-$40. Proceeds from this year’s Bentzen tickets support José Andrés World Central Kitchen. Learn more at www.brightestyoungthings.com/bentzen-ball-2019.

Follow Tig Notaro on Twitter at @tignotaro and check out www.tignation.com for more information on the comedian. Pro tip: watch “Under A Rock with Tig Notaro” on www.funnyordie.com.

WNO Costume Director Marsha LeBoeuf // Photos: Rich Kessler

Inside the Living, Breathing World of the Washington National Opera’s Costume Design

“They think of the costumes as living, breathing things. They develop intense relationships with the costumes themselves as they’re literally forming them with their hands.”

Timothy O’Leary is describing the love story between the Washington National Opera (WNO)’s costume team and the works of art they fit to singers not like a glove, but like a second layer of skin, an extension of their very being. And it’s an easy romance to get swept up in.

As WNO Costume Director Marsha LeBoeuf walks me through her vast costume shop in Takoma, my little performing arts geek heart begins to pitter patter. There’s a wig-making studio and a fabric-dying room and walls lined with every brightly colored shoe imaginable, not to mention never-ending rows of textures organized by production and drawers upon drawers of tiaras and pearls and other costumed jewels.

I’m sent over the edge when she pulls out a cape from the 1981 opera The Magic Flute, made particularly notable by Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak’s iconic design aesthetic. The ticking along the fabric looks remarkably like Sendak’s costume sketches and illustrations from his classic children’s book, and though not totally sure, she’s pretty convinced we’re touching fabric hand illustrated by Sendak himself.

“I’m just in awe of a costume shop like hers,” O’Leary says of LeBoeuf and her team’s 20,000-square-foot space. “The people who work there feel so strongly about doing everything exactly right.”

This devotion not only to precision but to the craft itself is evident in my hour spent with LeBoeuf, as she shares insight into the meticulous level of detail and care her staff must treat each individual costume with – and her own lifelong love affair with opera.

The 64-year-old costume director has been with the WNO, an artistic affiliate of the Kennedy Center, for 31 years, describing herself as “one of the lucky ones” for being able to spend her career doing what she went to school for. She started out as a freelance costume designer after receiving two theatre degrees, playing the role of designer, patternmaker, stitcher, painter, dyer and more before landing her a job with the District’s opera company in 1998.

Not only does she oversee costuming needs for all WNO productions, LeBoeuf and her team support other Kennedy Center programs as needed like its Theater for Young Audiences and Broadway Center Stage, including last fall’s Little Shop of Horrors. She describes the WNO costume studio, which has housed her staff’s robust operations since 2001, as a building shop.

When the WNO embarks on a new production or needs to create new costumes, her team works with designers to acquire the right fabrics for whatever they’re making. And though many of the operas brought to the Kennedy Center are touring productions with existing costumes, she notes that they still have to be customized to the WNO singers’ bodies.

“That’s our job, no matter if you’re the title character of if you are just in a crowd scene,” LeBoeuf says. “Every single costume on our stage is custom-fit to whoever gets to wear it.”

There’s much, much more that goes into each customization than the average audience member might realize, as opera singers have very specific needs onstage.

“Singers have a different kind of movement that they have to do,” she continues. “They have to be able to breathe. They have to be able to hear. We answer a lot of those types of questions in the fitting. It’s fun. I have so much respect for the way a singer prepares for a role, and it’s always been my secret delight to have something to do with that. We’re here to support.”

The scope and breadth of how the proverbial sausage is made is overwhelming: custom colorization of flesh-colored inserts to perfectly match singers’ flesh tones; crafting accurate, realistic hairlines for every single wig; and the stealthy insertion of cooling gel packs into wool uniforms for singers to avoid sweating profusely onstage, to name a few. But of paramount importance is giving singers as much flexibility and range of motion for their vocal cords as possible – often requested by male vocalists in particular is extra breathing room in fabric covering their throats.

“I like to think of costumes as a bit of armor that our performers put on to face what they call ‘the mouth of the wolf,’” LeBoeuf says. “That means you’re saying, ‘Good luck,’ because when the curtain opens and you face the audience, they are the wolf and you’re facing the mouth of the wolf. Those Italians, they’re so passionate and illustrative. I like to think of the costume as a bit of armor to help with that process.”

She describes each singer’s relationship with their costume as deeply personal, noting the often transformative and vulnerable moments that occur during the first fitting.

“Just about the most rewarding part of this job – aside from seeing those designs become three-dimensional costumes, that presents its own joy – is when you get to go in the fitting room and introduce a singer to a costume. You see them start to adapt those clothes as part of their character. That’s a huge moment for me. To get to see that brought to bear onstage is what keeps me here. It’s so much fun.”

LeBoeuf and her team act as translators of sorts, walking singers through the intricacies of their costumes while also honoring the conception of each individual production as envisioned by the stage director and designers.

“Within the context of the inevitable conversations we have when we are in a fitting situation, which is very personal as you would imagine, it is our job to answer any questions and give any information that we can to help that performer understand why they’re being asked to wear this particular costume this particular way.”

O’Leary has great respect for LeBoeuf and what he describes as her very high-pressure job to meet the costuming needs of performers who are doing something incredibly physically intense with their bodies onstage.

“People like Marsha and all the people who work within the costume shop are magician problem solvers because of the enormity of the task of putting an entire cast, chorus and dancers into all of the costumes that have to be fitted exactly to them. There’s an absolute deadline: opening night curtain. Everything’s got to be ready.”

The WNO’s general director reiterates how much the costumes matter to the singers, allowing them to truly inhabit their characters. He waxes poetic about how opera is a completely vibrant art form in the 21st century, and an enormously expressive medium.

“It’s not worth telling a story in opera if there’s no reason for the characters to express their feelings through this kind of singing,” he says. “Some stories make more sense as a play or a movie, but some stories make sense as an opera because they deal with the deepest emotions that we have.”

The kind of singing he’s referring to is what LeBoeuf describes as “different from anything else that’s amplified.”

“The amplification is natural,” she says. “The loudness you hear from those instruments comes from the instruments themselves. The voices you hear in your seat in the second tier are not coming to you through speakers. They’re coming to you from those singers’ vocal apparatuses.”

Both WNO leaders rave about the upcoming season, with Otello opening on October 26 and the aforementioned The Magic Flute opening on November 2. O’Leary describes Otello as a blood-and-guts Italian opera that lives up to the traditional definition of opera with every fiber, and playfully refers to The Magic Flute as a “gateway opera,” a great introduction to the genre for Sendak fans and opera newbies alike.

Magic Flute is adorable,” LeBoeuf says. “If heavy drama isn’t your bag, come to Magic Flute. It’s uplifting like crazy, and colorful. It was created originally by Maurice Sendak and it has been loved for many years. The original scenery was lost in Hurricane Katrina and has been lovingly recreated. Some of the original costumes did survive and they are from his creative source. They’re very Sendakian looking.”

She and O’Leary mention the highly anticipated opera Blue, coming to the Kennedy Center next March, about a family’s tragic experience losing their teenage son to a police shooting. LeBoeuf embraces the unique challenges of getting the costumes just right for a 21st-century production.

“This is a contemporary tragic tale ripped right off the headlines, so people are going to know what they’re looking at. If you’re putting a New York cop onstage, it’s got to look like a New York cop. If you’re putting his troubled teenager onstage, you’ve got to know who that is. You don’t come out of those performances screaming about the costumes. They don’t take an overt presence in your mind. But the characters get under your skin, so you’ve got to get that right.”

O’Leary views this new opera as a modern version of works that came before it, a window into the breadth of the art form.

“Opera is so weighted down with stereotype that the broader public often doesn’t realize that a piece like Blue is just part of a continuum,” he says.

When I ask LeBoeuf why she thinks opera remains relevant, she tells me that every time she’s subconsciously put the genre in a box, her eyes have been opened.

“People who are not in my generation – and not just 30-somethings, I’m talking about teenagers – I will encounter them and realize they have discovered this performing art form, and really think it’s great and want to be exposed to more of it. This amazing combination of orchestra music, theatre and some incredibly beautiful singing can just take you to a different place emotionally.

I really think that sitting quietly and letting opera happen to you is a very rewarding experience if you will take the time to let it happen.”

Otello runs from October 26 to November 16 with tickets starting at $45, and The Magic Flute runs from November 2-23 with tickets starting at $25. Learn more about the WNO’s upcoming season at www.kennedy-center.org/wno.

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

Photo: Josh Cheuse

Tales Of America: J.S. Ondara Intertwines Kenyan Roots and Americana Style on Debut Album

It seems counterintuitive that someone raised in Nairobi, Kenya could tell such compelling stories of the American experience through song. And yet J.S. Ondara does so with such skill on his first album Tales of America, released this February, that he’s seen high praise from the likes of NPR, Rolling Stone and Billboard. Raised on 90s alt-rock like Nirvana and Radiohead, the 27-year-old musician discovered great storytellers like Bob Dylan and Neil Young in high school, forever altering his musical style. In 2013, Ondara moved from Kenya to Minneapolis where he taught himself guitar and was eventually picked up by a label. We had the chance to ask Ondara about his roots, moving to the U.S. and why he never gave up on his goals before he plays Sixth & I on October 30.

On Tap: What was it like to move to the U.S. and pursue a career as a musician?
J.S. Ondara: It certainly wasn’t easy, but really, I was just too far from home. There was no looking back. If home was a bus fare away, perhaps I would have given up at some point. I never really had a choice.

OT: Who influences your sound?
JSO: I am mostly influenced by music from the 60s and 70s – songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley.

OT: What was it about Minneapolis’s music scene that drew you to that city, and how has it affected your music?
JSO: I was initially drawn to Minnesota after learning it was [Bob] Dylan’s home but the scene and the people of Minneapolis are why I chose to stay. The city has a lively music scene, but it also has a certain quietness about it that is essential for writing and growing without too much distraction.

OT: Why were you able to tell such a compelling American story with Tales of America despite having grown up in another country?
JSO: I suspect it is because I was making observations about America as an outsider with no bias other than to draw a portrait of the America that I saw.

OT: What lead you to the Americana genre and why did you decide to make the album entirely acoustic?
JSO: As an avid fan of stories, I was drawn to the storytelling nature of folk music and I believe that’s why I found myself drawn to that kind of music. That said, the journey has just begun, and I most certainly intend to experiment with more sounds and arrangements as I make more records.

OT: What do you hope people will get out of listening to Tales of America?
JSO: I think art at its best is a mirror through which a society can observe itself and hence change course whenever necessary. I hope that people will see a mirror in Tales of America and gain insight into themselves.

OT: What can people expect from your DC show?
JSO: I am looking forward to playing some new songs live for the first time.

OT: Where do you go from here? What are some of your goals for the future?
JSO: I am currently working on my next record so the next step for me is to finish that and share it with the world. My goals change all the time, but this year my goal is to try to make it through 27 without dying unceremoniously.

Catch J.S. Ondara at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Wednesday, October 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. For more information on Ondara, go to www.jsondara.com.

Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW; 202-408-3100; www.sixthandi.org

Photos: Antwon Maxwell

Creative Coworking At The Suites by Galaxy 5000

Entrepreneur Adilisha Patrom has found creative ways to solve her needs and those of the people around her throughout her career. As an interior design student, Patrom was led “on a journey to dive more into the hair extension industry” after her own experience with a scalp infection from her extensions. Fast-forward to today and you’ll find Patrom at the helm of Galaxy 5000, her own company created to fill a void in ethical, healthy hair extensions.

Though her business with Galaxy 5000 continues to bud, she found another need not being met: an affordable, accessible space for creatives and entrepreneurs representing all sorts of businesses to hone in on their vision and be their best. Ever the problem solver, Patrom is now the founder and CEO of The Suites by Galaxy 5000, a new coworking space on Florida Avenue that’s not your average row of offices.

“I started to realize that there were a lot of things that we were lacking,” she says. “In this day and age of social media, I just knew from working on shoots and with graphic designers, there are different elements that you need to put together a whole business. For a lot of startups, you don’t have the resources to be able to bring together that team to execute your vision.”

That’s where Patrom and her team at The Suites come in. While she wanted to use the space for her own business, she quickly came to the realization that if she was coming up on specific roadblocks, other creators must be too. At their Northeast location, you’ll find unique meeting rooms and coworking nooks in the same space as beauty suites, a recording studio, and rooms equipped for photo and video shoots.

Patrom says The Suites, which opened in September, can host events, pop-up shops and more. She used her interior design background to curate a space that’s professional and inspiring but still adaptable to the needs of all those who come to the space to get work done.

“If a brand wants to come in and do a beauty experience, they can use the full space. There can be different activations for their experience. It allows for people to be able to create an experience. We tried to design it in a way that it can fit different brands and aesthetics, but it can also be personalized. This space is so flexible. It really can be adjusted to be used for anything.”

At the heart of Patrom’s coworking space is her desire for DC creatives to also have a place to connect with one another. As the city’s multifaceted communities produce more and more content through every medium, she knows competition will naturally come with it. While that inevitable spirit always shines through, especially in a fast-paced city, she still believes collaboration and community will take professionals even further with a place like The Suites to connect them.

“I know that as creatives, sometimes we get stuck in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. It makes it hard for us to go outside the box, especially when developing relationships within communities. What I’m hoping is that it can create an environment for more collaboration rather than competition. It’s also DC, so everybody’s very driven and ready to get to the next level. I just want people to realize we can all get to the next level with the use of the resources around us because they can go so much further.”

The Suites at Galaxy 5000: 1002 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.thesuitesdc.com

CityLab 2018 in Detroit, Michigan // Photo: courtesy of The Atlantic

CityLab Offers City Leaders Chance to Collaborate

Cities are complex ecosystems with people coexisting while constructing a unique cultural footprint. In the United States, city officials are elected by the citizens whom they serve and are entrusted with maintaining the good while improving the bad.

We’ve seen Parks and Recreation, so we can say with a sort of fictional confidence that the jobs of folks operating a city government are tremendously difficult. But so are the jobs of artists, culinary professionals and business owners who are tasked with cultivating a city’s culture, making it more vibrant and relevant to the people who live there.

“[City] issues are paramount to the world,” says Margaret Low, president of AtlanticLIVE, the events arm of The Atlantic. “We all came together and decided we could build things better together than apart and became a partnership.”

CityLab was formed by members of The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies in 2013. The annual conference is hosted for people who run cities across the globe and features panels, discussions and activities all geared toward finding solutions for universal challenges. This year’s conference is being held in the District on October 27-29.

“This year’s theme is about power: who has it and how it’s used,” Low continues. “This made Washington especially interesting. DC is a city, like many others, with a deep local cultural history. Though the federal government often moves slow, the city government finds solutions and improvises. There’s a lot to learn about how the city has evolved and grown.”

As a collective, cities often face similar challenges to one another, which is why CityLab helps them connect.

“Housing [and] transportation [are] huge issues in any city,” Low says. “Gentrification, climate change, jobs, culture, music, etc. For any conference, you examine what issues and hot topics will captivate people attending.”

While DC provides the backdrop for this year’s conference, there will also be some District flair onstage as a number of notable locals are set to speak including Mayor Muriel Bowser, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Chuck Brown Band leader Frank Sirius and On Tap’s October cover star, chef Kwame Onwuachi.

Low adds, “When you think about DC, you think about the shining stars in the city who have particularly great stories. When you’re putting people on a stage, you want people who are captivating storytellers.”

However, invited leaders aren’t only coming to CityLab to sit and listen, as the conference is built on the ideology of communication. Some of the issues addressed require solutions so big, collaboration is essential.

“There’s so much noise and so much coming at you, and there’s something so powerful about bringing people together to listen, talk and grapple with big questions in a thought-provoking way,” Low elaborates. “I think people really value it. I see it every day. It’s a chance to learn about how people tackle unifying issues.”

Though CityLab is an invite-only conference not open to the public, it still serves the public and provides elected officials on a global scale a chance to make the world a better place, one city at a time.

For more information about CityLab 2019 and to watch a live stream of the event, visit http://citylab2019.theatlantic.com.

Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

Gudas and Vrana Look to Help Lead Caps Back to the Cup

Last year’s Washington Capitals squad had a tough act to follow. The season prior, the team secured its first Stanley Cup championship under the tutelage of coach Barry Trotz. A glorious summer-long party ensued as the city embraced the festive atmosphere that came with ending a long-enduring drought.

Trotz’s contract was up though, and when an extension couldn’t be reached, Todd Reirden was promoted to take his place. As the team started slowly last year, several pundits blamed the effects of a Cup hangover, a phenomenon that sometimes plagues a team that had played grueling matches deep into the summer. It wasn’t a terrible start, but when the expectations are sky-high, people notice.

Reirden eventually righted the ship and guided the Capitals to a first-place finish in the competitive Metro division, but the team fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games in the first round. What do Reirden and his staff have in store for an encore? With a full season under his belt as head coach and a competitive squad returning, it’s expected Reirden will guide the Caps to another first-place finish – but this time, go deep in the playoffs.

All the ingredients are there for the Capitals to have a big year. While there were some changes in the offseason, particularly on defense and among the bottom six forwards, the core team returns. One returning player who figures to play a prominent role this season is forward Jakub Vrana, who racked up an impressive 47 points (24 goals, 23 assists) and played in all 82 games in his second full season with the club. Vrana, who is expected to exceed those figures and play a bigger role this season, credits the coaching staff with accelerating his development.

“The coaches were very helpful, and we worked on a lot of things,” Vrana says. “I’ve been getting chances and more ice time. You need to earn that and give it back to your team and coaches.”

Vrana, a native of the Czech Republic and a former Caps first-round draft choice, says the team is motivated to get back to Cup finals after experiencing the championship in 2018. Since they were bounced in the first round this past season, the players had more time during the offseason to rest up and train.

“The longer summer will help us be better prepared to get back to the Stanley Cup this year,” he continues. “Obviously with winning the Cup, we know how special it is – especially with the city waiting so long. And last year was kind of disappointing, [but] it gets us motivated to get out there and win again.”

Among the new additions this year is defenseman Radko Gudas, who came to DC from Philadelphia over the summer, with Washington sending Matt Niskanen to the Flyers in return. The team will miss Niskanen, a top-pair defenseman who played five years in the District and chewed up a lot of ice time while putting up meaningful points. But the Capitals save $3.4 million in cap space with the trade, as Niskanen makes a higher salary than Gudas. It also gives the team some needed snarl, as the physical Gudas can be a menacing presence on the backline.

Among the league’s hit leaders, Gudas brings a wild card element to the Capitals. Though ejected and suspended multiple times by the league for what has been deemed questionable hits, a player of his notoriety can benefit the Capitals as it provides them a fiercer edge that will keep opposing teams on their toes. The defenseman, whose affability during interviews belies his intense nature on the ice, looks to continue his spirited play in DC.

“It’s definitely my game,” he says. “I’m a physical guy out there. I’m trying to be a physical defenseman who always protects his teammates and makes sure nobody is touching our goalie.”

The trade was a bit of an anomaly as it involved division rivals, but Gudas says he quickly moved past the initial surprise of the news and settled in.

“I want to focus on myself and be ready for the season. This group wants to go deep in the playoffs, and I want to have that as my number one goal going into the season. It’s a new chapter for me, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”

Gudas, who is also from the Czech Republic, says he is familiar with Vrana and fellow countryman Michal Kempny, a key defenseman who is expected to miss some time due to a torn hamstring. Gudas previously played on the Tampa Bay Lightning with Richard Panik, a forward whom the Capitals signed as a free agent. Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Brendan Leipsic were all brought in over the summer to add speed and grit to the third and fourth lines.

The Capitals lost another vital defenseman when Brooks Orpik announced his retirement after 15 years in the NHL, including five in Washington. Orpik played 81 games during the Caps’ Stanley Cup season and was a respected player in the locker room. It’s expected that players like Gudas, Nick Jensen, Christian Djoos and Jonas Siegenthaler will step up to play key minutes and support top defensemen John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov.

The top forward lines are once again buoyed by superstar captain Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and T.J. Oshie, with veterans Tom Wilson, Lars Eller and Carl Hagelin rounding out the group. Number one goalie Braden Holtby will once again be counted on as a workhorse between the pipes. With not a lot of change and new, proven faces filling key positions, the Capitals are once again expected to be among the NHL’s best.

“We had some big losses during the summer,” Vrana says. “We lost some guys we have some history and some memories with. It wasn’t really easy to say goodbye, but sometimes that’s part of the business. You just have to look forward. We have a great upcoming year in front of us with this group now and we’re very excited for the season.”

Don’t miss five home games this month, starting on October 5. For more information on the Washington Capitals’ current season, go to www.nhl.com/capitals.

Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.nhl.com/capitals