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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: www.olneytheatre.org
Photo: www.olneytheatre.org

The Crucible Is a Trip Worth Taking

“These are strange times,” notes a disheveled Reverend Hale in the semi-fictional town of Salem, Massachusetts. This is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and it has had its share of the spotlight since its 1953 run on Broadway. The “strange times” of Salem have had a way of speaking to audiences, whether fifty years ago, twenty years ago or today.

Miller himself notes the following:

“The play seems to present the same primeval structure of human sacrifice to the furies of fanaticism and paranoia that goes on repeating itself forever as though imbedded in the brain of social man.”

This is to say that the “strange times” of Salem are the strange times of every age, including today. And it’s the reason why I could sit through a hundred more productions of Olney Theatre’s The Crucible. Don’t miss it. Under the clear direction of DC’s own Eleanor Holdridge, the three-hour play held court from start to finish and as I watched Rev. Parris enter, mystified by his unconscious daughter, I found myself a member of a befuddled jury.

That’s the hook of this play– it challenges the audience’s frame of reference. As every character questions reality, the audience is pulled in and also begins to question what can be known. That’s the devil’s greatest play– per Miller’s Salem– he conflates dream with reality.

It’s a play with a McCarthy-era tinge, but more broadly speaks to what Miller called the lack of a moral reference.  This sentiment emerged after the war and in light of the rise of the Soviet Union, and claimed that there was nothing on which to base belief. “Nobody but a fanatic, it seemed, could really say all that they believed,” Miller says.

The play is packed with well-meaning individuals. Holdridge and her cast do justice to the good intentions of their characters and do not fall into stereotypes. At the helm is the perfectly-cast Chris Genebach as John Proctor. Genebach walks a moral high ground and provides an anchor to the ensuing frenzy and uncertainty.

Beside him, and equally as anchored, is Elizabeth Proctor (Rachel Zampelli). Zampelli brings an authenticity that makes her magnetic to watch. Holdridge’s staging of the goodbye scene between the Proctors is particularly striking. With only eyes for each other, Zampelli and Genebach perform a beautiful dance in which their whole marriage seems to come to its fulfillment.

The cast is fleshed out with a powerful performance from Paul Morella as Danforth. Waiting backstage for all of Act I, Morella emerges post-intermission like a cannon ball and holds court (quite literally) till the end. Scott Parkinson as Reverend Hale is excellent. The character’s arc from being the expert on demonic possession to lying crumpled up in a prison cell is heartbreaking in Parkinson’s able hands. A fabulous Brigid Cleary (as Rebecca Nurse) and Craig MacDonald (as Giles Corey) bring a comic depth which balances out an other wise serious storyline.

The Crucible is a trip worth taking. You will find yourself questioning whether the sky is indeed blue and whether the grass truly is green. A note of caution: uncertainty is Satan’s most powerful tool. He’s in the game of dashing certainty and crippling reason. But take the trip. These times are strange. See what is before your eyes— it’s there that you will find the truth. The Crucible runs until May 20 at Olney Theatre. For tickets and pricing vist: www.olneytheatre.org

Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; 301-924-3400

Stage and Screen

Stage & Screen Events: August 2017

RUNS THROUGH SUNDAY, AUGUST 20

Thurgood
This one is for American history buffs and fans of justice. Starring Brian Anthony Wilson as Thurgood Marshall, this one-man show is part biography, part legal drama. Think documentary in the first person, except instead of just entertainment, you’re getting an intimate look at one of the most important legal cases in American history: Brown v. Board of Education. Various show times and dates. Tickets start at $55. Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

SATURDAY, AUGUST 5

Homeward by Ari Shapiro
You may be used to hearing him on NPR’s All Things Considered, but you’ve never heard him like this. As a journalist, Ari Shapiro is no stranger to reporting facts about foreign places in turbulent times. Hear songs that tell stories at Shapiro’s cabaret show. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for the first show and 9 p.m. for the second. Tickets cost $30-$50. AMP by Strathmore: 11810 Grand Park Ave. Bethesda, MD; www.ampbystrathmore.com

FRIDAY, AUGUST 11

The Juniper Tree and Bastianello
If you think dramatizing story time with voices and accents is essential, this event is for you. These renditions of the fairytale “The Juniper Tree” and Bastianello, a collection of old Italian stories, turn beloved stories into family-friendly opera. Show times and dates vary. Tickets cost $32-$88. The Barns at Wolf Trap: 1635 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

TUESDAY, AUGUST 15 – SUNDAY, OCTOBER 8

A Little Night Music
If love triangles are too simple to entertain you and you prefer romantic plots that more closely resemble a tangled pair of earphones, don’t miss the chance to see this classic musical. Set in Sweden in 1900, several characters – including a married virgin, a formerly glamorous actress and a sexually repressed student –attempt to navigate their complex relationships. Featuring famous scores like “Send in the Clowns,” this beloved show runs through October 8. Show times and dates vary. Tickets cost $40-$89. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

SATURDAY, AUGUST 19

David Sedaris
The author behind Santaland Diaries brings his brilliant storytelling and hilarious observations to the DC area this summer. Whether you’re a huge Sedaris fan, or just love a good story but have no time to read, you don’t want to miss hearing his intimate and often hysterical narratives in person. Elf costume optional. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $25-$55. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THURSDAY, AUGUST 24 – SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24

The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith
If you’ve ever wished you lived through the roaring 20s, here’s your chance to travel back for an evening. Pay your dues to the Empress of the Blues at this musical celebration of the iconic Bessie Smith. If her music isn’t reason enough to attend, her dramatic and larger-than-life story certainly is. Devil’s Music reimagines the night Bessie and her band were turned away from performing at a whites-only venue. Show times and dates vary. Check www.atlasarts.org for ticket prices. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

FRIDAY, AUGUST 25 – SUNDAY, AUGUST 27

Global Impact Film Festival
Calling all film lovers, activists and advocates alike. This one-of-a-kind festival brings days of documentaries and narratives that promise to inspire social change. This year’s films deal with a range of issues like immigration, violence, beauty and the environment. The festival also includes open panel discussions, workshops and networking opportunities for filmmakers. Renaissance Marriott: 999 9th St. NW, DC; www.globalimpactfilmfest.org

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 30

Merriweather Movie Nights: School of Rock
Bring blankets and lawn chairs, and come ready to watch some classic Jack Black hilarity without breaking the bank. Food is available at the venue. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. Free admission. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

The King and I

Stage & Screen Events: July 2017

RUNS THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 2

DeRay Davis
Hailing from the South Side of Chicago, DeRay Davis is said to be one of the best live shows to catch at DC Improv. His credits include 21 Jump Street, Barbershop, Jumping the Broom and MTV’s Wild ‘N Out, just to name a few. Basically, this dude is talented and funny, and you should go check him out. Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7, 9 and 11 p.m., and Sunday at 6 p.m. Tickets are $35; VIP for $45. DC Improv: 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.dcimprov.com

FRIDAY, 7 – FRIDAY, JULY 8

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in Concert
This one is for all you Harry Potter fans out there. Join the National Symphony Orchestra at Wolf Trap as they perform every single note from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone while you watch the film in high-def – it’s sure to be a hit for wizards and muggles alike. Audience members are encouraged (and expected) to dress the part, be it your favorite character or sorting house (Hufflepuff all the way). Think of this as a drive-in movie, minus the cars. Don’t forget to bring your blankets and invisible cloaks, and settle in for an evening of entertainment. Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. with a pre-performance discussion on Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35-$58. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

SUNDAY, JULY 9

Neil Gaiman
The bestselling author of Coraline, American Gods, The Sandman and The Graveyard Book comes to Wolf Trap to “amaze, befuddle and generally delight” audiences by reading, telling stories and answering questions from the crowd. If you’re a fan, you will love this up-close-and-personal event that, by his own words, is described as a “fun and odd and not like any other evening with Neil Gaiman.” It makes me wonder what typical evenings are like with this man. Sunday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$65. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap,org

FRIDAY, JULY 14 – SUNDAY, JULY 30

Bon Voyage! A Happenstance Escapade
If you’re in the mood for a European adventure, but your bank account begs to differ, then don’t miss this performance. Bon Voyage! follows the hilarious misadventures of a group of travelers in the 19th century who meet en route to Paris. Follow the escapades of a group of unexpected friends as they contend with catacombs, Moulin Rouge and the 1889 Universal Exposition. Various show times and dates. Tickets are $16-$26, including two pay-what-you-can performances on July 17 and 24. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

TUESDAY, JULY 18

Tim and Eric
When I first saw this, I had an immediate flashback to my younger days when I spent hours watching this ridiculous duo do funny sh-t. Now there’s an opportunity to see them in real life, and it’s awesome. Tim and Eric’s 10th Anniversary Awesome Tour is going to be a silly night of “new spoofs and goofs, riffs and bits, [and] songs and dances.” I couldn’t even summarize this event into my own words, so I had to quote the website. Just go. 6 p.m. doors, 7 p.m. show. Tickets are $45. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

TUESDAY, JULY 18 – SUNDAY, AUGUST 20

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I
In 1860s Bangkok, the King of Siam brings about a British schoolteacher by the name of Anna Leonowens to teach his many children and wives. Over a series of events, the King begins to fall for Anna in what sparks the beginning of a tumultuous relationship. Directed by Tony Award winner Bartlett Sher and laden  in a timeless score, this show is not to be missed. Tuesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $49-$159. Kennedy Center Opera House: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, JULY 22 – SUNDAY, JULY 23

Prakriti: The Faces of Goddess Earth
If you’re into movement pieces and getting in touch with your spiritual side, Prakriti: The Faces of Goddess Earth is for you. A visualization of the spiritual cycle from creationism all the way to liberation, this performance piece will take the audience on a naturalistic and philosophic journey of the human experience. Based on the infamous Indian classical dance form Bharata Natyam, this dance utilizes traditional speech to translate ideas across all communities by intertwining visual design aspects with dance and lyrics. Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

SUNDAY, JULY 23

Imomsohard
Okay, I’m not even a mom (unless you count being a mom to a constant food baby), and I want to go see this show. Imomsohard is a comedic take on motherhood brought to you by two funny mamas: Kristin Hensley and Jen Smedley. Their combined show is all about motherhood – the good, the bad and the ugly (four days’ worth of dry shampoo ugly, although this totally sounds like the current state of my hair). Guaranteed to make you laugh, Imomsohard will be a ridiculously hilarious evening that shan’t be missed! Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $39-$49. Warner Theatre: 513 13th St. NW, DC; www.warnertheatredc.com


Reem Nadeem contributed to this article.