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Photo: Kahn & Selesnick

Amanda Palmer Gets Deeply Personal with No Intermission

It’s no surprise Amanda Palmer tweeted a video of Rocky’s training montage from Sylvester Stallone’s franchise. This particular one isn’t the most famous – I think him running up the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps takes the cake – but the “Hearts on Fire”-led video depicts a bearded Rocky running up a mountain, chopping down trees and shouting “Drago!” Palmer isn’t a boxer, and she’s not prepping to rescue the world from communism in a 12-round bout, but she’s a f–king fighter, and she needed a little motivation this morning.

“To be f–king honest with you, that was the first [song] YouTube gave me,” Palmer says with a snicker. “I woke up with my list of sh-t to do rolling through my head, and I had to lift wood because I’m literally living in the [wilderness] and loading up on firewood. I’m training to fight patriarchy. It’s galvanizing me.”

Palmer has been shaking up the music world since 2000 when she and Brian Viglione formed The Dresden Dolls. In the nearly two decades since, she’s produced a variety of music ranging from orchestral mashups to eclectic covers of Radiohead to tributes to David Bowie. With a background in theatre and other forms of performance art, it’s rare that her music stays on the tracks as it typically bleeds into other mediums. Now she’s gearing up for a tour in late March focused on a mixed-medium release titled There Will Be No Intermission, which includes a full-length album, an artbook, videos and live performances with a stop at National Theatre on April 5.

“There was no question I’d take the show on the road,” Palmer says. “I’ve never had a cohesive show; it’s usually been a grab bag. This album, where it came from and what it represents to me, brings with it a kind of accountability where I don’t want to f–k it up. I’ve really had to think hard about how to be a guidance counselor for the audience as far as navigating this material and digesting it.”

Her career is very much built on the personal relationship she has with her audience, and Palmer’s upcoming tour features her most intimate revealings yet with songs about abortion, miscarriages and other powerful vignettes from her life story.

“This record was written in real time and while these things were happening. In a song like ‘Voicemail for Jill,’ I look at it honestly; it took me years to write. I sat down dozens of times, and I found writing about abortion incredibly difficult. You could look at that song and say it took 23 years to write.”

The music on the record and in her performance vacillates from whimsical to serious, dark to witty, political to personal. Despite the wide range of topics and emotions tapped, the piece never feels disjointed and everything is connected.

“You can’t separate the political landscape from the personal experience I’ve had the past few years,” the artist says. “My child was born when Trump became president. I’ll never be able to figure out which was the chicken and the egg, but all those things [led to] a sense of urgency. Even though this is the most personal, honest, inevitable record I’ve made, it feels the most political because the most powerful thing a woman can do right now is tell the truth about an experience.”

The album title represents a clever way of declaring that life never stops. Sometimes there are no breaks in the waves, no pauses for breath and no time to gather yourself in a tough situation. Despite the subtext of the name, the songs are broken up by peaceful interludes of instrumentation.

“There are intermissions – the irony continues,” Palmer says laughing. “They’re the breathing space in between the assaults. I wanted to give the entire album space. I’m really happy; it was a happy accident.”

She did toy with the idea of doing the performance straight through. However, because of the heavy subject matter and emotional relentlessness, she decided to reconsider after a test run where people wandered in and out of where she was rehearsing.

“It’s difficult, and I need to let them leave,” she says candidly. “I’ve tried to address people and no one’s ever angry, but I’ve had to develop a way to warn them about what’s onstage. You don’t go see Halloween 8 and expect a guy without a knife, just like you’re not coming to an Amanda Palmer show and expecting Disney songs and jazz hands.”

Luckily for Palmer, most of her fans are kept up-to-date by the artist herself. She’s constantly finding new ways to interact with the people who have enabled her to be a self-sufficient artist. Through membership platform Patreon and other fundraising methods, she has remained independent as a musician, allowing her art to be beautifully, brutally honest.

“I’ve never separated my evolution as songwriter and performing artist with the conversation I’m having with the rest of the world. If anything, those two things have become intertwined. It’s way less scary. I didn’t want to be an artist separate from a community, behind a wall. I got into making music because I wanted to connect with people.”

Connect with Amanda Palmer at National Theatre on Friday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39-$54 and available at www.thenationaldc.org. Learn more about Palmer and her tour at www.nointermission.amandapalmer.net.

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

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Finding Neverland at National Theatre Hooks DC with its Cuteness

The talented company behind Finding Neverland is making a short but sweet stop at the historic National Theatre in DC. British playwright and screenwriter James Graham’s work comes to life with charming music, a dash of romance, heaps of comedy and adorable children. Though some theatre-goers may believe this musical focuses solely on the beloved Peter Pan, it’s less about pirates and fairies, and more about the inspiration behind the story’s famous playwright, J.M. Barrie, portrayed by a charismatic Jeff Sullivan.

Sullivan enchants the audience immediately with the opening monologue/introduction in Act I, and his gentleness and playfulness with the young actors is fun to watch. One of the easiest things to enjoy about this show is the connection between Mr. Barrie and widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons.

Sylvia’s son Peter, Barrie’s inspiration for the Peter Pan character, begins as the most mature of his brothers, portrayed as book-smart with a no-nonsense attitude. However, Peter eventually begins to indulge in the silliness that his siblings and Mr. Barrie provide. Collectively, these five characters hammer in the main theme of imagination with the performances of “Believe,” “Play” and the entirety of “The Dinner Party” scene, which gave the audience a good laugh, from the stuffy characters’ behavior to messing with a toupee.

It’d be foolish not to mention one of the musical’s main scene stealers, Charles Frohman, Barrie’s demanding producer, played hilariously and gruffly by Conor McGiffin. McGiffin doubles as Captain James Hook as well – the character who stems from the dark side of J.M. Barrie’s personality. Both characters McGiffin plays are loud, obnoxious and comedic, so all eyes and laughs are on him when he’s center stage.

The Disney magic, if you will, appears through the dreamy production and set design features, such as light projections, shiny fairy dust and twinkling starry nights. Some of J.M. Barrie’s imagination/dream scenes in the musical involved members of the company impressively choreographed in sync with both the music and the projections, which added to the musical’s creative strengths. A favorite subtlety of mine was seeing the cloud scenery change as time went on.

The entire cast is full of bright energy that keeps you smiling  throughout. There’s even a live dog that plays the Llewelyn Davies’ pet who gives the audience “oohs,” “aahs” and “aaws” at every appearance.

In addition to the show being a visual masterpiece, it’s clear the cast means business when it comes to the elegant singing moments, especially Sullivan’s graceful tenor voice married with Ruby Gibbs’ (the female lead character, Sylvia) stunning, lyrical vocals. Even the terribly precious young boys shine in perfect harmony during their performance of “We’re All Made of Stars.”

From the humor to the heart-warming and emotional moments, Finding Neverland is a musical that will resonate with any audience. See the musical at DC’s National Theatre now through Sunday, March 23. Tickets available at www.thenationaldc.org.

National Theatre DC: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Courtesy of Tap Dogs Photography

Tap Dogs kicks off US tour with Kennedy Center Performances

Originating in Newcastle, Australia, a steel town outside of Sydney, the Tap Dogs fuses an industrial grittiness and precise choreography. The show has been touring the world since the mid 1990s, and is in the U.S. for the next several months. Justin Myles, one of Tap Dogs’ leads, toured internationally with STOMP for seven years, and has choreographed and performed in numerous settings the world over. Both Tap Dogs and DC are close to Myles’ heart. During a rare bit of downtime, he spoke to On Tap about the show that inspired him to dance professionally – a show so exuberant, so expressive and energetic that performers must wear custom boots because traditional tap shoes cannot handle the intensity of the choreography.

On Tap: You’re from the area, aren’t you? And you’ve performed at the Kennedy Center before, what’s it like?
Justin Myles: I was born in College Park, and moved to southern Maryland as a child. Since then I’ve lived in DC, and in Baltimore for a while. I’ve been travelling since the early 2000s, [so] coming back to DC is great. [The city] has always thrived musically, and it has spread into the dance community. There’s so much history in the Kennedy Center, and it’s always a very awesome time. Audiences in DC are stellar; they’re warm, welcoming and ready to be entertained.

OT: Can you tell me a bit about your role in the show?
JM: I play Rat. He wears a backwards cap, nags the other characters and generally provides some comic relief. We all have our own character roles, extensions of who we are in real life. The whole show has comedy wrapped around it, but at the end of the day, we all go to work. It’s rock meets construction meets tap meets comedy.

OT: What’s the cast like?
JM: The cast is great. It’s half Australian and half American, guys ranging from 21 to 38 years old. We have Tap Dogs’ creator Dean Perry’s son Reed Perry playing the role of The Kid. There’s a variety of experience levels, but an incredible level of energy across the board. [Tap Dogs] is powerful and impactful, people will be blown away.

OT: Tell me about your introduction to the show.
JM: I love the show. I fell in love with the show in my teens, at the point in my life when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. [Tap Dogs] showed me tap dance can be strong, professional and powerful. It kicked me in the right direction.

I saw [Tap Dogs] on VHS and live. I saw it live and fell in love with it, then I had it on VHS and watched it all the time. I went to New York to audition for the show in my teens, I think I was 16. They said I was too young, but I held on and finally got into it when I was old enough.

OT: What is the staging like for the show?
JM: The six original cast members in 1995 all grew up in a big steel community, and did tap dancing. So they built Tap Dogs out of the concept of steelworkers tap dancing and built the set around a workman’s set. There are different platforms we dance on made of metal and wood, ladders, scaffolding, two musicians playing in band towers and more.

OT: What appeals to you about performing in Tap Dogs?
JM: In my work I try to fuse everything I’ve learned over my career. The show has a percussive drive, but Tap Dogs is also very rock n’ roll driven. There are no top hats and canes – that’s not all tap is.

Tap Dogs will be performed at the Kennedy Center, February 21-24. Showtimes and ticket prices vary. Tickets available at www.kennedy-center.org.

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

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

“The Master and Margarita” Paints Unique Picture of Soviet Union

The Constellation Theatre Company took a dramatic shift in their current season with their newest addition, The Master and Margarita.

Based on a novel by Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov and adapted by Edward Kemp, the story was penned in the Soviet Union during Joseph Stalin’s regime. The plot follows the love affair of a playwright, known as The Master (played by Alexander Strain), and a married woman, known as Margarita (played by Amanda Forstrom).

Throughout the production, both characters and audiences grapple with a religious discourse that propels this daring and risqué play.

In an effort to avoid any spoilers, let’s focus on why you should see the performance.

It’s a romantic dramedy that will transport you to a time where censorship was a common method of oppression. The fact that it’s based in the Soviet Union, proves that these atrocious acts are still in affect today. However, in this tale the oppression is one of a comical nature, where you may find yourself rooting for a group you otherwise wouldn’t agree with.

Another is the included magic show that will dazzle even the biggest skeptic. Nicely coupled with a dance and song, the Devil and his crew shine in their spot-on red sparkling 1920s flappers’ attire. It’s moments like these that make you truly wonder what the secret behind a magician is.

Next, we have the poetic love language that causes all hearts to croon. One thing the Russian literary greats have certainly perfected is professing their adoration for loved ones. The streams of decrees fallen on willing ears captivate. This may leave you envious, wishing you too had the words to properly declare your love. Perhaps the only thing missing is a strong Russian accent.

Lastly, we have a talking cat and pig. Honestly, what more could you desire?

Frankly, while one of the many premises of this intricately layered play focuses on the plight of Pontius Pilate days before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the ensemble manages to keep things light and airy. Scenes often leave the audiences to ponder the appropriate reaction to the moments carefully played out in this intimate theater. It’s a complex story and if you’re not listening carefully, you could easily miss a key factor.

Fortunate for all, returning director Allison Arkell Stockman pleasantly produces a revolving door of antics to keep even the most effortlessly distracted person’s eyes glued to the stage. There’s a striptease, decapitated heads, non-revealing “sex” scenes, and, again, a talking cat and pig.

The Master and Margarita is showing through March 3 at Source Theatre. Tickets are $29-$45 and can be purchased at constellationtheatre.org.

Source Theatre: 1835 14th St. NW, DC; 202-204-7741; constellationtheatre.org

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

The opening line of Richard the Third would have you believe that all hardships are over and only good days are to come. But as theatergoers attending Shakespeare Theatre Company’s (STC) upcoming production of Richard the Third will soon realize, anything but peace lies ahead.

Directed by David Muse for STC and running from February 5 through March 10, Shakespeare’s Richard the Third follows the titular role of Richard on his ambitious quest for the crown. A spiteful megalomaniac, Richard (Matthew Rauch) will stop at nothing until he sits on the throne, and thus invites the audience into a world of murder, villainy and even dark fun.

“Yes, Richard does horrific things in this play,” Rauch says, “but my hope and David’s [Muse] hope, I think, is that at least for the first part of the play, the audience reaction will not be ‘Oh, what a terrible person,’ but ‘Oh, isn’t he just deliciously evil’ and it’s terrible, but it’s fun to watch.”

Rauch emphasizes that just because the title of the play is Richard the Third, it doesn’t mean the story is only about him.

“It’s very easy with a face on the poster and the title of the play, for people to think there’s only one person involved,” Rauch says. “The truth is there’s about a hundred people involved and all of them are crucial.”

Some of those crucial people are the women around Richard, including his mother the Duchess of York, Margaret of Anjou and Queen Elizabeth. Rauch points out that while Richard can brilliantly manipulate people and events, these particular women don’t bend easily to his will and disprove the outdated notion that Shakespearean women are damsels in distress.

But a fourth woman equally as important to the play’s development, Lady Anne of Neville (Cara Ricketts), is the person who perhaps best understands Richard.

“Richard sees himself in [Anne] and she sees herself in him, in a way that she probably feels like she may break through to him,” Ricketts says. “He pretends it’s a possibility and she falls for it.”

Bust because Anne is ultimately manipulated by Richard, this doesn’t make her simple.

“My Anne is not a pushover,” Ricketts says. “There’s nothing soft about these women. The foundation for these characters has never been soft women.”

Ricketts adds she is ready to play Anne the way an audience 70 years ago may not have let her.

“During the 50s, you had preconceived notions about what a woman was in terms of society so that’s what you got,” Ricketts says. “Now I’ve got a chance to let loose the girdle and make it rip, so that’s what I’m doing while respecting what that character is.”

These preconceived notions of Shakespearean women are not the only ideas cast and crew hope prove outdated. Perhaps one of the most famous scenes in the play is the “wooing scene” where Richard interrupts Anne’s mourning of her father-in-law.

Rauch stresses that while many feel the scene is “creepy” and Richard comes off as “sexually predatory,” this is not the way they plan to portray Richard.

“The only event that needs to happen in the scene is that Anne consents to come to Richard’s house. Nothing else is implied in that scene or on the page and my hope is that it will not come off as sexually creepy,” Rauch says. “David [Muse] and I were never interested in a Richard who was sexually predatory, not because it’s not politically correct, but because we didn’t believe there was anything in the text that supported that.”

Changes in the character’s tones will not be the only noticeable differences in STC’s Richard the Third production. About 40 percent of the original text – mostly obscure English history – has been cut for a streamlined production.

“The Shakespeare Theatre is, I would argue, literally the best classical theater in the United States,” Rauch says. “They know how to do this here and they have created such a web of support.”

Rauch adds that despite the play’s age, audience members will find a lot of similarities between the 500-year-old story and modern society.

“[This is] a story about a deeply complicated, manipulative, brilliant person who rises to power and the people who are complicit in his doing so,” Rauch says. “All you need to do is read the front page of the New York Times to find parallels to that story.”

See Richard the Third at Shakespeare Theatre Company from February 5 through March 10. Runtime is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $44. For more information, click here.

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

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie / Photo: © Wani Olatunde

Night of Ideas Comes to DC

Born in Paris in 2016, the Night of Ideas is where art, pop culture, science and politics collide. In 2018, it took place in more than 100 cities worldwide, and the first DC iteration recently took place on January 31.

Elise Girard, Deputy Press Counselor for the Embassy of France, says the Night of Ideas strives for “a mix of art and debate – not only political, but social issues.” At last week’s event, these issues were both explicit in the discussion – and implicit in the circumstances.

The Night of Ideas was originally slated to be at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. However, as French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud put it, “in DC there are some uncertainties, and one of them is called the [U.S. government ] shutdown.”

Organizers had a choice: cancel or move. Fortunately for DC Francophiles, the Night of Ideas simply moved to the Embassy of France. Lit up in yellow, pink, green and blue, the embassy shone like a beacon as visitors streamed in to begin the experience.

Attendees were immediately greeted by Providence, Rhode Island artist Kelli Rae Adams’ installation Mischief in the Boneyard. A winding trail of ceramic dominoes, the piece was inherently nerve-racking: if toppled, the dominoes could break. And when they did, the clatter echoed through the entrance hall. The three classic “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys were etched on one side of each domino – perhaps a metaphor for our time.

In fact, the evening carried the theme of “Facing our Time” – but the unspoken words might have been to “re-evaluate your relationship with Instagram, eh?”

The keynote speaker was celebrated writer and thought leader Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, who has one of the most-watched TED Talks of all time and wrote the acclaimed books We Should All be Feminists and Half of a Yellow Sun. At the Night of Ideas, she spoke beautifully about two concepts that are unlikely bedfellows: empathy and critical thinking. Emotion and rational thought are intertwined, she argued: “if we can think clearly, we can truly see other human beings.”

She also reflected on the modern world, the pull of social media, and its impact on how we think: “I have always wanted to live a life of the mind, of imagination, [but] I struggle to be absorbed.” Ultimately, she said, time to slow down, reflect, and savor our moments shouldn’t be a luxury, but a right.

Presenter Franklin Foer had a similar premise to his talk, “The Existential Threat of Big Tech.” He started with poet Mary Oliver’s famous quote: “attention is the beginning of devotion.” But according to Foer, the big tech companies and social media platforms – Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple – “invasively opened us up and mined us…hijacked the most precious thing we have.”

How to combat this hijacking of the human psyche? Books. As Foer put it, “reading is a place where we can connect to our humanity.” Ultimately, Foer said that the power to choose where to spend our time is ours – but we have to protect that time vigilantly.

But these ideas around modernity and the digitization of our lives were only one facet of a night filled with art, performance, music and debate. French performance artists Les Souffleurs Commandos Poétiques enlisted audience members in a living art installation, holding umbrellas over participants and whispering into their ears through long black tubes, creating almost a kind of architecture in the blue light that suffused the event space.

The options for talks to attend were almost overwhelming, with four to five options every hour, spanning a multitude of issues from art appreciation to gender equality to climate change to incarceration. But I’d say my favorite part of the Night of Ideas wasn’t a talk, but a performance: Marching Band Baltimore Project’s kickoff performance at the start of the night both set the tone and stole the show.

The drums reverberated throughout the embassy, the dancers in spangled costumes twirled and snapped at the waist, and everyone in the crowd was utterly rapt. There was no doubt in my mind that the time and attention I gave them was truly well-spent.

For more information on the Night of Ideas, click here

Liam Redford (Billy Elliot) and ensemble // Photo: Margo Schulman

Better When I’m Dancing: Billy Elliot The Musical

“What’s this show with miners in tutus about?”

That’s a question many people ask about Billy Elliot, both when the film came out in 2000 and when the hit musical debuted five years later. In this case, it’s a question asked by Matthew Gardiner, the director and choreographer behind Signature Theatre’s winter production of the musical.

If you haven’t heard of – or seen – the movie or the musical, Billy Elliot tells the story of its titular character, an 11-year-old English boy who discovers a love of ballet while surrounded by a family of coal miners who don’t support his nontraditional passion – at least not at first. Hence, the miners and tutus.

After the film became a hit, Elton John was enlisted to write songs for a musical version that debuted in London’s West End in 2005. Next came productions in Australia and in 2008, on Broadway where the musical won 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical. And now, DC area audiences can catch the musical at Shirlington’s award-winning theater through early January.

Gardiner, Signature’s associate artistic director, has a personal connection to the story as he too studied ballet growing up.

“It was hard being a boy who loved ballet and musical theatre,” Gardiner says. “I was picked on a lot. But I felt safe when I was in the ballet classroom or in a rehearsal room. Those were the places I felt most like myself and most at home.”

It’s also an experience that the young star of Signature’s production, Liam Redford, can relate to. A native of North Hanover, New Jersey, Liam is 11 and a student of all types of dance at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance Education. Like Billy, he’s had to deal with people who don’t understand his passion.

“I have experienced many people who are not supportive of me in being a young male dancer,” the young actor says. “In school, many of the other kids looked down on me or did not think that what I loved to do was normal.”

However, both Redford and Gardiner have been able to overcome those past experiences and follow their dreams – a theme at the heart of Billy Elliot. When speaking with Redford, it’s clear he’s still riding the high of transitioning from playing Billy at a small community theatre in New Jersey to his current role in the Signature production.

“It feels amazing to know that so many other kids just like me can take on this role and relate to Billy in all the same ways as I do as a male dancer,” he says. “I am so lucky to be able to play this role that so many amazing people have played before.”

The production has two totally different casts of school-aged cast members performing in the show, including another Billy. In a nod to the show’s composer (and maybe West Side Story), the two casts are nicknamed the “Bennies” and the “Jets.” There’s no rivalry between the two groups, though. Redford says they hang out all the time.

“We are very close and love spending time with each other, and we have so much fun when we are together. We all hang out on Mondays when we are all off. Our young performing cast is like a little family.”

The talent and dedication of all the kids involved in the production amazes Gardiner, and he says he doesn’t change his style when directing the younger actors.

“I could never do what these kids are doing at their age,” he says. “I was good, but these kids are amazing. Their dedication and artistry are unbelievable. I play my part by encouraging them and treating them like I’d treat any adult actor. They are that good.”

The director says he was originally hesitant to work on Billy Elliot as he was only familiar with the film.

But when he read the script for the musical, he realized that it had an important message for today’s audiences.

“When I read the piece, I was taken aback by this story of loss and a community fighting for their voice – and ultimately, for the dreams of one little boy. In these trying times, we need more stories about the ways in which we unite.”

Don’t miss Billy Elliot: The Musical at Signature Theatre, now through Sunday, January 6. The run time is roughly two hours and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $40. Learn more at www.sigtheatre.org.

Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; 703-820-9771; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Courtesy of Keegan Theatre

Keegan Theatre’s Holiday Tradition Continues with An Irish Carol

It’s holiday time, which for patrons of Dupont Circle’s Keegan Theatre means a visit to a decked-out Dublin pub for a Christmas classic the way only the Irish can tell it, in the eighth annual staging of An Irish Carol. Written by real life Dubliner Matthew Keenan and directed by Mark Rhea (who also helped pen the script along with his wife Susan Marie Rhea), the play is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

“It’s more of an adult version and has lots of fun as well as poignant moments,” Rhea says. “In the end, it is about love and friendship and how both can help heal someone. We can all use some of that in our lives right about now.”

The show was first produced by Keegan in 2011, fulfilling a dream Rhea had for years – an Irish take on the Dickens’ tale set in a pub. Discussing his vision with Keenan over a pile of hot wings one night, the Irishman asked for a crack at it – and the rest is history.

Although Rhea and Keenan had some grand theatrical ideas, the more rationally minded Susan brought them down to earth and suggested “a really human version” without all the creepy sounds and big production elements.

From that came a charmingly profane story of a man transformed by love. The plot follows Dave, an ornery curmudgeon of a pub owner and Scrooge character, who is transformed through the words of his family and friends. Past, present and future are there, but in a more real sense.

“Originally, we weren’t sure how it would do in the DC area, but it was a huge success so we decided to continue it the next year and then it just kept being successful,” Rhea says. “The audience has continued to grow, so we’ll keep producing this little gem as long as they want to see it.”

Some casting changes occur each year to keep the show fresh, though the audience enjoys seeing the returning actors year after year – including Kevin Adams, who is back as Dave. Timothy H. Lynch plays Frank, a recurring role for the actor since the first production when he read an early draft and was immediately charmed.

“I’ll play this role as long as Keegan Theatre is willing to cast me and prop me up onstage,” Lynch says. “It makes me happy every year to start rehearsal and open the run. Matthew Keenan wrote a lovely play, one where every character matters. They’ve each been touched by Dave, and each touch him in their own, honest ways – ways that don’t get old.”

The actor says as the character continues to mature, he loves discovering new nuances about Frank.

“Year after year, I find a deeper connection to Frank,” he continues. “His arc through the play gives me so much to play with. His attitude, perspective and goals change over the course of the night, giving him an opportunity to reveal himself to Dave and the audience in an unexpected way. I just love the guy and am truly grateful to get to play the role.”

One of Lynch’s favorite things about being part of the production is listening to the stories of each character – the special moments shared each night between the actors and the audience.

“Every night, we [add] a new cast member [from] each new audience. Some can be uproarious, others quietly intense – still others are full of holiday spirit, happy to be together and having a great time. They make it an ever-fresh joy. We see many returning folks, and they bring new friends and family with them. It’s exciting to be part of a growing holiday tradition.”

In a season when most of the holiday fare is aimed at families, Lynch reiterates that An Irish Carol is for adults, which is welcoming to many.

“We’re feckin’ drinkin’ onstage. We’re spoutin’ feckin’ profanity onstage. We’re makin’ feckin’ fools of ourselves onstage. We’re working through honest emotions of people trying to make the best of their lives and trying to help a good, wounded friend. It’s written in an Irish vernacular by a native Dubliner. It’s truly funny and touching and has unexpected turns.”

Rhea shares that even after all these years, none of the actors onstage take it lightly. They’re all aiming for people to have a great time.

“We are pouring our hearts out there every year,” he says. “We love doing it and connecting with the audience each and every performance. It’s a special thing to have created a sort of legacy with this little gem of a show. Hell, it might outlast me, and I would be just fine with that.”

Catch An Irish Carol at Keegan Theatre from Thursday, December 13 through Monday, December 31. The run time is 85 minutes with no intermission. Tickets start at $40. For more information, visit www.keegantheatre.com.

Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; 202-265-3767; www.keegantheatre.com

Photo: Exploded View

Exploded View’s Anika thinks Berlin Winters are Rubbish

Anika’s (Annika Henderson) voice sits somewhere between Nico and Sibylle Baier: it has a classic, melancholic singer-songwriter bent. Unlike those two singers, she’s not from Germany, but from Britain, which may not be so apparent in the way she sings. The accent certainly comes across when she speaks. 

“Mexico City is the best place to escape the Berlin winters,” she says. “Berlin winters are rubbish.”

I’ve listened to her music since high school, when her solo record Anika (2010), was in a stack of CDs my sister gave me. To hear her voice on the other end of the phone tripped me up for a moment.

Since 2016 Anika’s been making music as Exploded ViewThe Exploded View material is quite different from the earlier stuff I grew up listening to, as her old music came prominently from a singer-songwriter tradition even if the instrumentation was post-rock.

For Exploded View, the post-rock experimentation comes to the forefront in both the sound and song structure, and folk comes through as an accent.

While Anika is based in Berlin, Germany her bandmates Martin Thulin and Hugo Quezada are based in Mexico City, Mexico.

Talking to both Thulin and Anika on the phone, I try to ask how they manage the distance. The answer isn’t clear, although I get a quick response as to why they play together. Anika tells me she was never able to find a band she really clicked with in Berlin, “surprisingly” she adds.

“It never felt right,” she says. “I’m looking for people who are just searching, who are not looking to create the next best record. People who are just looking to make music and see what happens. Music for me is about life and growth and it’s not about producing a record that will sell.”

When she went to Mexico to tour her solo material she found Thulin and Quezada while looking for a backing band. One day in rehearsal they were held up by a late fourth band member and decided to have a jam session while they waited. When they listened back on their jam session recording, they liked what they heard and Exploded View was born.

Fast forward to today and Exploded View is touring their latest release Obey, including the band’s first North America tour, which Thulin and Anika are excited for.

One of her favorite things about playing a show is seeing that spark of inspiration on a listener’s face, and she loves playing for those who are equally interested in learning. She says she doesn’t just perform for those who stand there cross-armed and “waiting for you to fail.”

“If you you look at a tree and think ‘oh I’ve already seen that before,’ that’s a sad attitude,” she says. “Of course you [have], but also you haven’t. They’re each their own.”

Exploded View plays with Brooklyn-based Forma and DC’s Luna Honey at DC9 Sunday, November 11 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

DC9: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; 202-483-5000; www.dc9.club

Photo © Tony Powell. Arena Stage "Anything Goes." October 5, 2018

Anything Goes: Arena Stage Breathes New Life into Golden Age Classic

For a con man on a mission to stop the woman he loves from engaging in a romantic relationship with some Joe Schmoe from another world, anything goes. At least that’s what Arena Stage’s retelling of the classic play entails, with stowaway Billy Crocker on a mission to get to his beloved Hope Harcourt aboard a luxurious cruise ship using every ounce of his street knowhow.

Anything Goes runs from November 2 to December 23 on Arena’s Fichandler Stage, with the theatre’s artistic director Molly Smith at the helm of the production. During the SS American’s journey from NYC to London, Crocker must use various disguises and the help of his friends to win back his love.

“There’s the romance and the love,” says High School Musical’s Corbin Bleu, who plays Crocker. “What’s fascinating about this piece is the differences in class. Billy’s had to fight his way to the position he’s at in the world. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth at all and this woman was, but [she’s] had it shoved in her mouth and [doesn’t] want her mother having a hand in everything.”

The musical is set in the 1930s, which local actress Maria Rizzo says is one of her favorite eras.

“It’s a vibrant time to sing music,” she says of the decade. “That’s what’s going to draw our audiences to the show, because there are so many songs people will recognize.”

Rizzo plays tough-talking Erma, balancing the character’s strength and independence with her playful demeanor.

“I feel comfortable playing characters who are big and exciting. I think it’s easy to slip into a stupid or flaky version of her, but I refuse to play a woman who’s dumb. There are so many women written well, like Erma. She’s street smart, even if she doesn’t talk like the classiest of broads.”

To get into character, Rizzo changed her accent by mimicking folks who say “New Joisey” instead of New Jersey. The actress says she shares a lot in common with Erma – namely her resilience and fascination with the here and now – although her character does love attention from the boys.

“So that and [her] voice were the two opposite qualities.”

For Bleu, navigating his role was more difficult because he is playing a character who is playing characters. Each of Crocker’s disguises requires its own mannerisms and voices.

“I know I am a hopeless romantic, and there is that aspect of Billy. He’s willing to go to the ends of the earth to win this woman’s heart, even after being continually denied. There’s several different accents and disguises, and while doing that you have to make sure it stays Billy.”

Bleu and Rizzo are both fawning over the choices Smith has made throughout pre-production, culminating in the new look and feel she’s bringing to this 1934 musical.

“What I love so much about Molly’s shows is that she typically casts cross-culturally, and it’s really reflective of what America looks like today,” Rizzo says. “Even though this show is from the 1930s, and the original cast would have been all white actors, that’s not the show you’ll see because that’s not the world we see right now. It gives the piece a more powerful voice.”

Smith also encourages performers to dig deeper, including the development of character backstories and experiences.

“We had to find ways to make [the script] justified, and we even brought backstories not in the text,” Bleu says. “We all had to come up with our own improvisations of our characters, [and what] the biggest turning point of your character’s life was. It was really, really interesting. I’ve never been part of a production where that process was so open to everyone.”

With fresh faces breathing life into beloved characters, this version of Anything Goes will undoubtedly emotionally engage audiences who span generations.

Anything Goes has a lot of potential for a lot more depth than most Golden Age musicals,” Bleu continues. “You have an incredibly talented ensemble and the choreography is going to be incredible, so there will be that excitement of having seen a great performance.”

Catch Anything Goes on Arena Stage’s Fichandler Stage from November 2 to December 23. Tickets are $92. For more information on the play, visit www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 Sixth St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org