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Kaena Kekoa as Jasmine // Photo: Deen van Meer

Into A Whole New World: A Q&A with Aladdin’s Kaena Kekoa

“Jasmine knows what she wants and she is determined to get what she wants, she stood out to me because she is a sign of empowerment for young girls.”

Kaena Kekoa said to me over the phone as we discussed her role in Aladdin. The Broadway national tour of the play is making its way through cities across the country to bring a whole new world to each audience, taking the Kennedy Center stage on July 18. While many remember the classic 90s Disney film, the stage version has chosen to rewrite Jasmine in order to give her more “umph” as Kekoa says. On Tap was able to speak with her about her start in theatre and what it means to play such a well-known character.

On Tap: When did your interest in the theatre first begin?
Kaena Kekoa: I got into the theatre when I was 11, mostly church musicals and community theatre. I have been singing for most of my life. 

OT: What brought you to Aladdin?
KK: I went to an open call at the end of January 2019 in Honolulu, when I auditioned for the show. I had moved back home after college, they had an open call for Frozen, Lion King and Aladdin. I had no intention of going because I was already home and I missed it and wasn’t planning on leaving. I thought it would be a fun thing to do, I got called back for Princess Jasmine in mid-February, which felt so fast!

OT: Why were you interested in playing the part of Princess Jasmine?
KK: Honestly, I had no intention of doing any of it, it kind of just happened for me. She is a role model for young girls, especially in this time where girls need a strong independent woman figure. Especially on the stage, they get to come to the show and see her. She knows what she wants and she is determined to get what she wants. She stood out to me because she is a sign of empowerment for young girls. 

OT: In terms of the power dynamic, Jasmine tends to get pushed away as a female, how did you approach this?
KK: In the show, we give her some umph, she was written with more umph than the animated film. She has her friends who push her, we have three attendants instead of a tiger, who push her to run away. “Love comes to those who go and find it, and if you dream then stand behind it,” she really takes that on in this show. She is determined to find what she wants. Even though her father is telling her what to do, she is still determined to go out and be a better person for her people and for herself. She’s not just another Disney princess, she has developed [much more].

OT: Do you think Jasmine’s story as a character is important? Why?
KK: Oh most definitely! Mostly because she kind of wears the pants, she is the only Disney princess who wears pants, actually. She takes charge of her own life. In this production, Jasmine is one of the only female principles in this show and she is surrounded by men telling her what to do. [It’s] relatable to this day and age, and it’s a story for all, not just for the little ones. 

OT: Did you feel pressure playing this character that is so well known and well loved by anyone who grew up with Disney?
KK: Honestly, no. I love taking on a character and figuring them out and adding my own flavor to it, but I didn’t feel as much pressure with Jasmine. As a woman of color, I love to represent that on stage because it is so important. 

OT: Do you ever get pre-show jitters/how do you get past them?
KK: I definitely had pre-show jitters for the first month straight. I’ve never been part of a Broadway national tour. I had a mentor in high school who told me to turn my nervousness into excitement and that will give you the energy to go on stage and take people to a “whole new world,” [laughs] if you will. 

OT: What are your favorite productions, what is your dream role?
KK: Hmm, good question! A Chorus Line, everyone in the theatre can relate to the first song, “I Hope I Get It,” and that song runs through your head and the story overall, getting to know all the different characters and their stories is just so touching and moving. Honestly, I probably don’t have a dream role, I feel like they are the ones we don’t know about yet, whether they are written or not, I haven’t played it yet so I guess I wouldn’t know what it is. I can [also] tell you that Princess Jasmine is my dream come true. 

OT: What advice would you give to anyone coming into this business? Something you wish you had known?
KK: Hmm, I guess I would say to be kind to everyone, and I kind of knew to be kind to everyone, but it’s something that not a lot of people know how to do. There are so many people working hard behind the scenes making sure you are safe and that your show works, be thankful and say thank you and express that to everyone backstage. Express your gratitude, because if they weren’t there then you wouldn’t have a show. 

“Aladdin” will be featured at the Kennedy Center from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, September 7. For more information and for tickets please visit here.

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

Photo: Scott Suchman

Michael Urie Pulls Double Duty in DC

To say Michael Urie has a busy summer planned is somewhat of an understatement. 

After hosting the Drama Desk Awards on June 2, the versatile actor jumped head-first into a series of projects, that involved acting, directing and producing. 

“I do say, ‘there are not enough hours in the day’ about once a day,” Urie says. “I’m so lucky though that so many things have worked out. I’m not one of those actors who sits around and waits for things to come my way. I like to make my own opportunities and when you spend enough time plotting those, sometimes they come to fruition at the same time.”

Urie’s about to return to DC’s Shakespeare Theatre Company to play Hamlet for the second-straight year, this time as part of STC’s Free for All series, running July 10–21 at Sidney Harman Hall.

“Playing Hamlet for most people is once in a lifetime, so to get a chance to do it a second time, I wasn’t going to let it go,” he says. “I wanted to come back because you learn every night, and I certainly wanted to keep playing and exploring what this guy’s all about. Already in rehearsal, I am figuring out things I didn’t quite realize the first time.”

Of course, he was busy during the year away from the part as well, appearing in Torch Song on Broadway from November through January and filming several episodes of the hit TV show, “Younger.”

“Every once in a while, I would think about it, and see if I still knew the lines, and a few weeks ago I started really thinking about who Hamlet is to me now,” Urie says. “I’m a year older, the world is a year older and our country is a year crazier. Our Hamlet takes place in this authoritative state, where a new leader is making a lot of changes and I think we will really feed our audience. I get the sense that the DC audience is truly listening, truly engaged and want to know what’s happening.”

Hamlet was a bucket-list role for Urie and he still feels he is getting so much out of the part this second time through.

“The feeling of accomplishment is quite unlike anything else. Not only is it an enormous role with extremely taxing language, emotions and athleticism, you feel the shoes that have been worn by so many greats before you,” he says. “That is a pride that is tough to describe. To know you are speaking the words that have been spoken by so many legends, it’s extremely exciting and daunting.”

At the same time, Urie will also be directing Studio Theatre’s production of Drew Droege’s Bright Color and Bold Patterns, which is being staged July 9 through July 28. The one-man show, starring Jeff Hiller, was a critical darling when it ran Off-Broadway last year, and the play is about gay marriage told through the perspective of the worst wedding guest of all time.

“Drew is an old-friend and this was a show that he had created in Los Angeles and I told him this was far more than a comedy monologue, so I worked with him to create the production and flesh it out,” Urie said. “We put together the production in New York and it was a big hit, and when Drew stopped starring in it, Jeff Hiller replaced him, and he is fantastic in this role.”

The play takes place on a patio in Palm Springs the night before a gay wedding and there are four guys attending the wedding, but you only meet Gary, someone with complicated feelings about marriage and especially this particular marriage.

“He speaks with three other characters who you don’t see or hear, but are there in the room. He’s not crazy, you just don’t meet them,” Urie says. “You gleam who they are by what he says and does. It’s exciting to watch someone create a world on their own.”

And that’s not all. On an off-day, Urie joined a cast of Broadway greats to read the Mueller Report for 24 hours straight, and he just finished producing Pride Plays, a festival of play readings at New York’s Rattle Stick Theater.

“It was a five-day LGBTQ theater festival that engaged nearly 200 artists in 19 different play readings,” he says. “That took up a lot of my time but it was very exciting and I was so happy that audiences got the chance to hear all of these plays. It was a very inclusive and representative cross-section of LGBTQ theater artists and it was very cool to meet so many people and introduce them to one another.”

For more information about Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Hamlet, visit here. For information about Studio Theatre’s Bright Colors And Bold Patterns, visit here.

Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

Studio Theatre: 1501 14th St NW, DC; www.studiotheatre.org

Photo: Refik Anadol, courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Exploration Of DC’s Powerful, Impactful Art

In today’s social climate, art is the epitome of pushing the conversation forward. With many adversities dividing our communities, the use of mediums like design, sculpture and film allow the world to see a perspective through another person’s lens. Our nation’s capital is the epicenter of politics, diversity and community, so it’s no surprise that the District’s art reflects the same. New exhibits and installations are being created to highlight civil rights, social justice and political reform addressing the huge gap in peace and prosperity. We handpicked some of the summer exhibits and public works of art making a lasting impact in and around the city.

Photo: Tex Williams, courtesy of Hirshhorn

Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)

The Hirshhorn has always been known for its focus on contemporary art, inspiring people to step back and take the time to think over what is being presented. The same case follows here for “Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green).” Through July 24, the exhibit from Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija is encouraging visitors to consider many sensory feelings – especially because curry from Beau Thai in Mount Pleasant is served as you watch the mural appear in front of you. We spoke with Dr. Mark Beasley, the Hirshhorn’s curator of media and performance art, about bringing this interactive exhibit to the museum and working with Tiravanija.

On Tap: What attracted you to Tiravanija’s work and why was it important for it to be showcased?
Mark Beasley:
[He’s] somewhat of a figurehead for the Thai artists that appeared in the 90s. He creates a social engagement with the audience. He facilitates a social space within galleries. The work is about activism and protest culture. It connected very well with the history of the city but also had two key threads: the serving of food as an art piece.

OT: What was the process like to bring this show to life?
MB:
The process in general was two-fold: food and drawings. With the food, we looked to find a collaborator in the city: restaurant Beau Thai. They worked with Rirkrit to come up with a recipe that he was happy with and seemed authentic to him. The 18 mural artists working for and with Rirkrit are drawing these images taken from the mainstream press of protests over the last 40 years both in Bangkok and Washington. At any time, there are [up to] three artists in this space drawing directly onto the walls.

OT: How does serving curry play into the overall sensory experience?
MB:
It is another flavor and ingredient in the room. It sets up a space of sociability. It is an immediate hook. You go and get food and sit, and then you are in a room of drawings so the discussion stems from there. In terms of sensory [experience], [it’s] very much this other vocabulary that most of us are not used to thinking of. We are not used to thinking through those textures or what that means to the space or a room. It brings part of Thailand into this space, into this museum.

“Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who’s afraid of red, yellow, and green)” runs through July 24. Go to www.hirshhorn.si.edu for details.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Independence Avenue and 7th Street in NW, DC; www.hirshhorn.si.edu

Photo: Griselda San Martin

“The Warm of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement”

“The Warm of Other Suns: Stories of Global Displacement” at the Phillips Collection through September 22, presents a group of global artists whose work asks urgent questions about the experiences and conceptions of migration and the refugee crisis that many countries are living through. Through the lens of installations, videos and paintings, viewers are shown real and artistically created geographies creating tales of migration, while adding historical elements on top of them. Global artists Richard Wright, Isabel Wilkerson and Jacob Lawrence are featured in this exhibit, conveying the powerful message of migration that affects our world today. We chatted with curator Massimiliano Gioni, who gave us his interpretation of this impactful exhibit.

On Tap: How did you get started in this line of business? Why did you want to become a curator of art?
Massimiliano Gioni:
I was a teenager when I started getting interested in contemporary art and gradually, I wanted to spend my life being surrounded by it. Around 1990, when I entered the world of art professionally, I didn’t think curation was a profession. For a long time, I thought I would’ve had another life that eventually would’ve led me to art. I struggled for a while within the art community, but fortunately and beyond my wildest imagination, everything fell into place.

OT: What makes a piece of art something worth showcasing?
MG: 
It’s a combination of numerous things. On one hand, it’s the effect that it feels just right, that anything you do to it won’t compromise it, that nothing could be added to or subtracted from it, [that it’s] personal and individual to the point of being unconventional. On the other hand, it’s endlessly incomparable because every time you return to it, you learn something new and in return, you learn something new about yourself.

OT: Is there a specific impression you would like viewers to have of “The Warmth of Other Suns”?
MG:
There are three central questions in the show that they address. One is the representation of pain and misery. The second is the question of documentary and the repercussions – the way in which we can claim to tell the truth or represent a truth. And the third is the relationship between the individuals and the masses – between self and the multitudes of self.

OT: What inspired you to get involved with this exhibit? How has your background influenced your choice in curation?
MG:
This is my second show. I did a show in Italy two years ago called “The Restless Arms.” In the summer in Italy, we are used to seeing thousands of civilians die crossing the Mediterranean and in a sense, I felt that we had some kind of responsibility to engage in this issue through this exhibition. One of the reasons I went [with this exhibition] is to basically say, “No more.” Also, because of the diversity within this show, it presents a much more vibrant and open conversation [about] the multicultural idea of society in contemporary art.

OT: With the topic of migration at the center of this exhibit, what kind of realities have you faced curating these works of arts?
MG: 
I think the interesting aspect is that we are looking at certain realities as they are constructed through images – how contemporary art is addressing the concept of truthfulness and accuracy, and how images can contract reality. What I hope is that people will go through this exhibition and understand that the people we call migrants are not so different from ourselves and our own families.

Tickets are $12; exhibit runs through September 22. Learn more about “The Warmth of Other Suns” at www.phillipscollection.org.

The Phillips Collection: 1600 21st St. NW, DC; www.phillipscollection.org

Photo: courtesy of Torpedo Factory

Julia Kwon’s “More Than A Body”

“More Than A Body,” at the Torpedo Factory through August 4, represents Asian femininity within modern society. Enduring objectifications as a Korean woman, local artist Julia Kwon uses the art of textiles to address and open the conversation of cultural propriety within the United States. Her use of authentic Korean materials pays homage to her culture and allows her to focus on influences such as globalism and totalitarianism. Chosen from nearly 130 artists, Kwon’s exhibit highlights the fusion of authenticity and appropriations. Panelists Sandy Guttman, Michael Matason and Terrence Nicholson played a huge role in putting this powerful exhibit together. Before visiting, we caught up with Kwon to learn more about her experience creating this exhibit.

On Tap: How has your background influenced your work?
Julia Kwon:
I decided to study art seriously and make sense of the world through creating art. My work is directly influenced by the society that I live in. I discuss my experiences of being seen differently in the U.S. based on my gender and ethnicity. I also reference current sociopolitical events through the inclusion of contemporary logos to challenge the expectation of cultural purity.

OT: What inspires you as an artist?
JK:
Artmaking is the struggle to better understand myself, the world I live in, and what it means to live fully and justly. I am continuing to challenge myself to think of more effective ways to expose the problematic constructions of Asian femininity within the U.S. context.

OT: What objectification have you faced as a Korean woman?
JK:
I have experienced discrimination based on the way I look, which includes larger, systemic inequalities as well as microaggressions – whether that was being subjected to others gazes or racist and sexist comments. I’ve also felt the pressure to prove or perform cultural purity and authenticity, even from well-meaning allies.

OT: Why did you choose textiles to convey your message?
JK:
I became involved with textile art quite organically as it allowed me to effectively talk about my experiences of being seen differently based on my gender and ethnicity. I am drawing inspiration from Korean textiles because it is specifically Korean, yet the abstract designs allow the space for complexity, nuance and ambiguity. I use traditional Korean silk as well as fabrics that were created from around the world and found here in the U.S. to question the idea of authenticity and shift the focus to the influences of globalism, transnationalism and cultural hybridity.

OT: What would you say to other women about handling these kinds of adversities?
JK: I aim to present my specific point of view and experiences as a Korean-American woman, as well as to spark conversations and position us to experience a more sweeping glance at issues regarding gender, ethnicity and other categories. I want women and other people who have had similar experiences to know they are not alone in the struggle to be a distinct and multifaceted human being.

OT: If there is one thing that you would like your audience to take away from your work, what would it be and why?
JK:
Although they may be initially drawn to the work for its vivid colors and lush materiality, the content of the work seems to be what ultimately resonates with them. I have had viewers interpret the positions of the figures very differently and I welcome diverse readings of my work. The fabrics are not only covering, blocking and suffocating, but also protecting, hiding and mystifying the body. The figures are both burdened by the expectation of authenticity yet free to be comfortably themselves behind the constructed façade.

“More Than A Body” runs through August 4. Learn more at www.torpedofactory.org and about Kwon at www.juliakwon.com.

Torpedo Factory Art Center: 105 N. Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.torepedofactory.org


“Art in Action”
The Library of Congress hosts many historic and awe-inspiring exhibits of art, including “Art in Action.” This particular exhibit feels quite crucial to recognizing events throughout history in a more fun and engaging way; presented in an easily digestible format, it brings together those taking in the art and the world that they live in. Some notable artists featured include Shepard Fairey, Pablo Picasso and Helen Zughaib. Runs through August 17. Library of Congress: 101 Independence Ave. SE, DC; www.loc.gov

“Chicago Titan”
One might not think of finding a large Romanesque sculpture outside of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, but if you venture a bit from the city, you’ll find one nestled in the hustle and bustle of Rosslyn. “Chicago Titan” is a large sculpture created by Ray Kaskey, known for his large-scale civic art pieces that follow Greek and Renaissance themes. Look for it the next time you find yourself in Arlington. 1530 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.rosslynva.org

DC Mural Walking Tour
DC is often recognized as a place full of monuments and history, but it has become so much more. The DC Mural Walking Tour has become a staple, taking locals a step further into the variety of public murals in the surrounding wards and neighborhoods of the city. This tour makes the art both accessible and informative to the public and has much to offer expressively. Check the official website for more information on where to get tickets and what areas these tours start in. www.dcmurals.org

“I Am…Contemporary Women Artists of Africa”
The National Museum of African Art is putting a twist on their upcoming exhibit, featuring 28 female artists. While addressing topics like racism, identity and politics, it also shines a light on women empowerment and the African experience. This diverse approach to contemporary art opens versatile perspectives within the creative community. Runs through March 2020. National Museum of African Art: 950 Independence Ave. SW, DC; https://africa.si.edu

“Infinite Space”
We live with a sense that there will one day be an end, but we rarely stop to think of the infinite possibilities. “Infinite Space” reflects the concept wherein visitors can open their minds to endless ideas and opportunities, as well as the transformative ways of man and machine. The exhibit invites you to look through the lens of a machine and how it perceives the world as a human. If you’re looking for an experience that will both open and expand your mind, this is for you. Tickets are $16. Runs through September 2. ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com

“Lightweave”
One may not think of an underpass as having the ability to showcase a magnificent work of art, but “Lightweave” is a fun, interactive experience for everyone. This piece also brings the city to life because it takes all the varieties of sounds in NoMa and turns them into beautiful LED lights. “Lightweave” fully showcases the interactivity and accessibility of the city in order to bring a standard underpass to life. L Street Underpass: 2nd Street in NE, DC; www.futureforms.us/lightweave

“ReCOVERing the Classics”
Workhouse Art Center’s interactive exhibit showcasing redesigned book covers will have you reminiscing about the Scholastic Book Fairs of your childhood. This exhibit captures the importance of what is sometimes lost in modern literature. Runs through August 4. Workhouse Art Center: 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, VA;  www.workhousearts.org

“Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGTBQ Rights Movement”
Honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the Newseum pays tribute to the LGBTQ civil rights movement by highlighting the trials and tribulations that sparked the revelation of LGBTQ First Amendment freedoms. With the use of artifacts, images and historic publications, “Rise Up” offers a glimpse inside this fight for equality. Runs through December 31. Newseum: 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.newseum.org

“Solaris Shelter for The Next Cold War”
Critically acclaimed artist Mark Kelner uses his artistic creation to make a fun, interactive experience at Culture House DC (formerly Blind Whino). His pop-up exhibit addresses the tension of war propaganda in modern America, and his funny sneer at modern advertisements creates a unique approach to using art as a way to address sometimes uncomfortable issues. Runs through July 7. Culture House DC: 700 Delaware Ave. SW, DC; www.culturehousedc.org

Swan Lake by the American Ballet

Stage and Screen: Aziz Ansari, Swan Lake, Aladdin and More

THROUGH JULY 14

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
In 1930s Chicago, Arturo Ui would stop at nothing to become the next tyrant. Ui would’ve been just a stranger you met on the street, a neighbor in your local market; but influenced by greed, money and power, he conquered the cauliflower industry. Playwright Bertolt Brecht’s clear depiction of a modern-day Hitler is renewed in this production directed by John Doyle. Times vary. Tickets $25-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

TUESDAY, JULY 2

Aziz Ansari:  Road to Nowhere Comedic Tour
After a fall from grace following a sexual misconduct allegation in early 2018, comedian Aziz Ansari will return to the public eye in his first tour since the controversy. His argumentatively contentious allegation has created a new discovery in his comedic expression. Ansari uses his witty, sarcastic and socially progressive charm to push the conversation forward. The set will highlight his life after public scrutiny and what lies ahead for him as a public figure. There’s no doubt all seats will be filled, laughs will be heard and questions hopefully answered. This is the official return of Aziz Ansari as a comedic artist. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $30. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org/constitution-hall

TUESDAY, JULY 9

Pilobolus
Dance company Pilobolus continues to push the limitations of human physicality through performance art. Using the medium of poetic movement, this group continually challenges their bodies, whether stretched, bounded or morphed together, to better create a versatile view of humans in the physical form. Join in this interactive performance as they create a unique narrative using the only thing they came in with: their bodies. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets $29-$69. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

THURSDAY, JULY 11 – SATURDAY, JULY 13

American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake
This timeless ballet classic involves a love story combining magic, romance and tragedy to tell the tale of Odette and Prince Siegfried. Based on reputation, American Ballet Theatre’s rendition has continually exceeded expectations, providing majestic movements in gracious unison that have left audiences in awe for generations. Under the choreography of Kevin McKenzie, Wolf Trap hosts this romanticized depiction of an essential classic. Starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $25-$80. Filene Center at Wolftrap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THURSDAY, JULY 11 – SUNDAY, JULY 14

UrbanArias: Juliet Letters
Elvis Costello’s Juliet Letters was drafted to create several musical interpretations of Shakespeare’s famed character Juliet. Filled with passion, despair and betrayal, UrbanArias will perform a series of narratives by Costello and Brodsky Quartet in a cabaret setting. The show features characters ranging in age and backgrounds to provide a dynamically dramatic performance to pay tribute to some of Shakespeare’s best written work. Thursday to Saturday shows at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets $47. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Virginia; www.sigtheatre.org

THURSDAY, JULY 18

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Season 11 Tour
The Emmy winning RuPaul’s Drag Race continues to strut its stuff for the 11th season, and the starring queens don’t plan on stopping any time soon. The queens, dragged in style and grace, are once again ready to head down the runway and put on a show. Make sure your wigs are secure and edges laid, because this show is going to be one for the books. They are coming to break necks! Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets begin at $37. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.thelincolndc.com

THURSDAY, JULY 18 – SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

Disney’s Aladdin
Come enjoy the hit Broadway musical Disney’s Aladdin, as it graces the JFK’s center stage. From the producers of The Lion King, comes the magic fairy tale of a young lad and his Genie. Tony Award-winning James Monroe Iglehart gives a performance of a lifetime bringing nothing but comedy, beauty, and magic to the stage as Aladdin’s very own Genie. So strap in your magic carpets, grab a lamp and be ready to discover a whole new world. Times vary. Tickets start at $39. Opera House at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SUNDAY, JULY 21

DC Improv: Murder Mystery Comedy Show
Die Laughing Productions is back in DC with another night of comedic fun. Taking it back to the 90s with “Hit Me ‘90s One More Time,” this show features comedians involved in a narrative pitting their characters against one another for the hottest concert ticket of the year, Ace of Base. This fun-filled night will have you laughing out of your seats and enjoying nostaligc flashbacks, all while trying to uncover a murder mystery. Come out and celebrate the 90s with the DC Improv group, and just maybe you’ll make it out alive! Starts at 7 p.m. Tickets $19. DC Improv Comedy Club: 1140 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.dcimprov.com

Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Hello, Dolly!’s Analisa Leaming Provides Podcast Aimed at Motivating Artists

Broadway legend Betty Buckley is currently starring as the titular role in the national tour of Hello, Dolly!, playing at the Kennedy Center through July 7. The classic musical, with a book by Michael Stewart and songs by Jerry Herman, tells the story of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a middle-aged marriage broker in 1880s New York City, who navigates a colorful collection of characters in search of love. 

One of those characters is Irene Molloy, played by Analisa Leaming, whose Broadway resume includes stints in School of Rock, The King and I and On The 20th Century. She was also the understudy for Irene on Broadway, going on about a dozen times. 

When she got the call to do the national tour, she, her husband and dog packed up the car and began traveling from place to place. 

“I love that this show is light and fun and joyful,” Leaming says. “With everything going on in the world today, we get to be that two-and-a-half hours of joy every night.”

Being on Broadway was always something Leaming knew she wanted to do. In fact, when she was in sixth grade, her teacher inscribed in her yearbook, “I know I’ll see your name up in lights some day in Hollywood,” and she asked him to scratch the last part out and put “Broadway” instead.

Although her first Broadway show –  Rebecca – was cancelled the night before rehearsals started, and it took three years for her to get another chance, she stayed busy doing regional and Off-Broadway shows. 

In addition to her theater work on stage, Leaming is also passionate about promoting mindfulness and sustainability for artists who work in what can often be a stressful field. 

In that vein, Leaming hosts a podcast, “A Balancing Act,” which features conversations with other working artists about how to navigate the industry and create balance and happiness as a performer. 

“What happened to me with Rebecca is kind of like someone who gets drafted by the NFL, and [then] hurts their Achilles and doesn’t get to play; it’s that level of disappointment,” Leaming says. “It had been this thing I had been dreaming about my whole life. When it was taken away, I had to do some deep searching and what I found is that as artists, it’s very easy to wait for things to happen.”

She explains that includes waiting for calls about roles and always comparing yourself to others.

“I went on my search inward and I just had to share it with others so I created this podcast,” Leaming says. “What I found talking with other artists is that we all share these same fears. These are things that we don’t often talk about. It’s been very helpful.”

Among her guests have been Rebecca Luker, Gavin Creel and John Tartaglia. Tony winner Jessie Mueller will be on soon.

“Because it’s not a weekly podcast, I have plenty of time to edit and so I invite people to be as vulnerable as possible and if they want something taken out, I can totally do that, and I think that has helped create some really honest and emotional conversations,” she says. 

Now in its third season, Leaming originally did all the interviews in person, but being on tour, most of the interviews are recorded over the phone.

“I talk to these incredible people and learn from them and it helps me stay on my own path of where I want to be,” she says. “This is my way of changing my corner of the world.” 

“A Balancing Act” not only hears the stories of these artists, but gets tips on how they reduce stress and cope with the challenges that come with pursuing and maintaining a Broadway career. 

“What I’ve learned is how imperative it is for artists to have other things that we love and are actively doing, and being a more balanced person,” Leaming says.   

See Leaming in Hello, Dolly! at the Kennedy Center through July 7. Showtimes vary and tickets are $49-$159. For information about the show, visit here. Podcast episodes of “A Balancing Act” are available here

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

Awa Sal Secka (Shanti), Kevin McCallister (Caesar), Chris Hoch (Blackbeard), Christopher Mueller (Jake), and Lawrence Redmond (Samuel) in Blackbeard at Signature Theatre // Photo: Christopher Mueller

Blackbeard Costume Designer Helps Pirate Live His Best Life

For Signature Theatre’s world premiere of Blackbeard, the cast and crew has to look magnificent. The famed pirate, upon learning he is wanted by the British Army embarks on a fantastical journey across the globe to raise an undead-pirate army from the depths of the sea. To fully depict this fantastical spirit, costume designer Erik Teague was able to create a variety of colorful and outer-worldly outfits for this show, and he spoke to On Tap about his experience working on the production before the show begins its run on June 18.

On Tap: What brought you into costume design?
Erik Teague: I was that weird kid who loved comic books and movies, still true today, but the oddball component is that I really enjoyed opera. I thought I wanted to be an opera singer. As I studied, my love of music never changed, and I realized the thing that was exciting about the performance was the transformation. I finally realized,  oh wait I’m just a designer, okay great!

Illustrations: courtesy of Signature Theatre

OT: Did you know the Signature team prior, if not what was the collaborative process for you in terms of creativity?
ET: This is my very first time working with the team at Signature, they are a company I have long admired because of the ambitious nature of what they do. It is always interesting to come into a different artistic family than your own, this group of people has a long history of working together. I’ve had to figure out where to fit in, but overall it has been very good, we have been able to communicate with each other well and share ideas fluidly.

OT: Why did you choose to join the team for Blackbeard?
ET: An adventure fantasy musical that centers around pirates, I thought that was super exciting, and super in my artistic wheelhouse. Meaning there would be lots of sword fights and swashbuckling and swinging on ropes, which I find very interesting. Building costumes for these types of performances has different methods than other performances where you just walk across the stage and deliver your lines. The construction methods are different, it is always exciting to find out what a performer needs to be supported to do their choreography.

OT: What is your favorite moment of the show?
ET: There are a couple of good ones, but I will say the I am pretty proud of the zombie pirate horde. We have done some highly theatrical gestures, by a couple, I mean we have created a horde of skeleton pirates who glow in the dark by using tandem puppets. Three of them can walk in a line together, I worked with Kylie Clark, a talented artist who made the puppets, and helped to get them functional.

OT: What is your favorite costume in the show, if any?
ET: Definitely Blackbeard’s two coats, they are a wonderful show in contrasts. His first coat is very distressed and lived in, and looks like it could have walked off the Pirates of the Caribbean movie set. Versus the second coat, his afterlife coat. Blackbeard is living his best life in his afterlife. He has been beheaded as per the real history. He finally becomes the myth and legend he has been trying to live up to the whole time. I gave him the opportunity to look the best, [a] red velvet coat with black beading all over it, and black Venetian lace trimming.

Blackbeard opens at Signature Theatre June 18, running through July 14. For more information and tickets visit www.sigtheatre.org.

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

Kathryn Tkel (Emmy) and Holly Twyford (Nora) in A Doll’s House, Part 2 // Photo: Lilly King

A Doll’s House Part 2 Offers Unique Characters Arcs In Round House Sequel

The radiantly captivating Kathryn Tkel lends a tearful and droll performance as Emmy in Round House Theatre’s DC premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2, showing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre.

Written by Lucas Hnath in 2017, A Doll’s House, Part 2 resumes 15 years after protagonist Nora, played by Holly Twyford, forswears varying degrees of commitment to achieve her version of love; freedom.

Emmy is the youngest child of Nora and in the original A Doll’s House, written in 1879 by Henrik Ibsen, she is little more than a prop in the background. However, as a young adult, she provides a thoughtful voice, often challenging her mother’s perspective on life.

“You’ll learn from Emmy that everyone has their opinion of marriage and people are willing to stand up for their world view, whether or not it aligns with others,” Tkel purports. “There’s something about a younger woman speaking up that makes this conversation deeply important to witness.”

The characters in A Doll’s House, Part 2 are few in number, but prove powerful in the story. Including three self-identifying women and one man, the cast produces an emotional tale full of self-reflection and self-actualization. Tkel stands tall among giants, as she supports other characters played by DC notables like the aforementioned Twyford and Craig Wallace, as Torvald.

Before the performance, the main question for me was how does Tkel bring so much to the table while surrounded by veterans of the craft.

“I see many parallel narratives as a theater practitioner working on the play and as a character,” she says. “These actors and actresses have a longer history of working together, and I am the youngest actress and this is my first time working with these artists. Their characters were in the A Doll’s House.”

“Whereas my character, Emmy, is very much so removed. I have to think about how Emmy’s voice is different in the story and how she herself is different in the room,” she continues. “It’s freeing coming from a different place than others. You have more freedom to have a different take because you don’t know it’s different.”

The predominantly female cast brilliantly addresses issues found in the mid-19th century still felt today. The barriers circumventing women’s equality and independence underscore the humor that makes this play a quality hit.

“[There’s] room for women to have different opinions on stage and in the story, discussing their ideas about marriage and what it means to be a woman,” Tkel gleams.

It’s an eclectic collection of empowering perspectives that will cause the audience to question where their loyalties lie within the conundrum of gender identity and gender roles.

“It’s a very exciting play. [A] play everyone will have at stake in because it is about marriage, divorce, agency and independence for women and men,” Tkel explains.  

Further noting the very complicated societal dynamics layered with the necessary levels of vulnerability, Part 2 annihilates the boundaries of female and male normative behaviors. But where do the men factor in? How will they respond to the performance?

“I think men will like the play. Through Nora’s husband, Torvald, the writer has a lot to say about what society and women may want from men.”

Torvald, played by critically acclaimed actor, Craig Wallace, offers a strong masculine take on love and commitment, showcasing an uncommon vulnerable side.

“The play absolutely stands on its own and you’ll get so much from it,” Tkel encourages. “We’ve all had relationships and family. Whatever your history is, you will pick up pretty quickly that Nora is returning to territory that she used to be in, in a very different fashion.”

“Because the subject matter is so engaging, your own personal feeling about loyalty love, commitment and family will make you question your own view structure.”

A Doll’s House, Part 2 is simply relatable and as Tkel puts it: “Ripe for the picking.”

Round House Theatre’a A Doll’s House, Part 2 runs at Lansburgh Theatre through June 30. Tickets are $50-$61 and can be purchased at here.

Lansburgh Theatre: 450 7th St. NW, DC; 202-547-1122; www.roundhousetheatre.org

Signature Theatre's Blackbeard

Stage and Screen: Jubilee, Blackbeard, Twisted Melodies and More

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 9

Jubilee
For centuries, the Fisk Jubilee Singers broke racial barriers internationally by entertaining kings and queens across the world. The acapella group first established themselves as entertainers at Fisk University in Nashville and used their collective musical talent to raise money for college. Tazewell Thompson’s Jubilee brings creativity and emotionally provoking music to the stage by highlighting themes of suffering, strength and endurance. Various dates and times. Tickets $92-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 4 – SUNDAY, JUNE 7

Hello, Dolly!
Broadway legend Betty Buckley stars in Hello, Dolly! at the Kennedy Center this month. Acclaimed as “the best show of the year” by NPR, the musical takes audiences back to 1955 and follows the story of the matchmaker as she travels to Yonkers, New York to find a match for the half-a-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, played by Lewis J. Stadlen. Various dates and times. Tickets $49-$159. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5 – SUNDAY, JUNE 30

A Doll’s House, Part 2
Nicole A. Watson’s A Doll’s House, Part 1 ends with protagonist Norma Helma leaving her husband Torvald by the slam of a door. The follow-up production to this feminist battle cry opens with Helma knocking on that same door in search of closure, but she’s ultimately surprised by the reactions from those she left behind. Various dates and times. Tickets $55-$70. Round House Theatre: 4545 East-West Hwy. Bethesda, MD; www.roundhousetheatre.org

THURSDAY, JUNE 13

Kennedy Center x Frank Brown and DC Millennials with
Port City Brewing Co.
June 3 marks the first Records on the Rooftop event, the Kennedy Center’s free summer happy hour series offered in partnership with local and national partners who curate each event. The rooftop will transform into a modern lounge space with an eclectic lineup of live music featured throughout the series. Three of DC’s top DJs will set the scene mixing summery, feel-good hits atop one of the District’s most unique rooftops with brews from Port City Brewing Co. 5-8 p.m. Free to attend. Kennedy Center Rooftop Terrace: 2700 F. St. NW, DC www.kennedy-center.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 18 – SUNDAY, JULY 14

Blackbeard
Blackbeard takes a look at English pirate Edward Thatch, who navigated by ship through the West Indies and North American colonies. The production staged entirely on a pirate ship begins with Blackbeard learning he’s a wanted man by the British army. But perhaps Signature Theatre’s website sums up the new production best: “Blackbeard and his crew of maritime marauders embark on a fantastical journey across the globe to raise an undead pirate army from the depths of the sea.” Various dates and times. $40-$84. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 21

Twisted Melodies
This immersive one-man show performed by Kelvin Roston, Jr. takes a look at the life of 70s soul singer and composer Donny Hathaway, best known for his duets with Roberta Flack like “The Closer I Get To You.” Twisted Melodies provides a glimpse into the musician’s last days, his inner struggle with mental illness and the muses that inspired him. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$68. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

SATURDAY, JUNE 22 – SUNDAY, JUNE 23

A Sense of Wonder
A Sense of Wonder by Dance Exchange brings a creative performance that innovatively brings science and dance together on the Dance Place stage. As always, Dance Exchange is meant to inspire change and connect people of all ages to the questions that often provoke the medium of dance and its many beautiful performances. Starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday and 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets $15-$25. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Kathleen Turner // Photo: Butcher Photography

Kathleen Turner Shines at Arena Stage Gala

When Kathleen Turner first came to New York as a wannabe actress, someone asked her if she could sing, but knowing there were little parts for a woman baritone, she replied “no.”

While the husky-voiced actress went on to an incredible, award-winning movie career, which included starring roles in such hits as Body HeatRomancing the Stone and Peggy Sue Got Married, (not to mention voicing Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), plus a theatre career that included Tony noms for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Turner secretly had a strong desire to sing.

So, while having lunch one day with Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, the question came out again about her singing – and this time Turner replied with affirmation. The response led to Smith casting her as the titular character in Mother Courage and Her Children in 2014, a show Turner describes “a play with singing,” rather than a musical.

This was just one of the stories Turner offered at the 2019 Arena Stage Gala, where she performed excerpts from her cabaret, Finding My Voice.

Turner is no stranger to the Arena Stage. In addition to her “singing debut,” she’s also graced the SW, DC theatre in Red Hot Patriot, The Year of Magical Thinking and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Backed by her music director Mark James on piano, Sean Harkness on guitar and Ritt Henn on bass, Turner dazzled on tunes such as “I Can’t Get You Out of My Heart,” “Any Place I Hang My Hat is Home” and “Sweet Kentucky Ham.”

Before each song, she regaled the patrons with tales of her life, explaining how her dad was a foreign service officer who served as a diplomat for the State Department, and how her travels and life as a youngster led to her prolific career. She was funny and captivating throughout, proving every bit the movie star she still is.

At the Gala, Arena Stage honored Nina Totenberg, NPR’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent, with this year’s Beth Newburger Schwartz Award in recognition of her ground-breaking reporting in the broadcast world and her continual support of the arts.

In accepting her award, Totenberg noted she was a long-time Arena Stage patron and has seen many productions over the years with her husband and friends, and looks forward to many more outstanding performances to come.

Lindsey Brittain Collins was also honored on the night, winning the Emerging Leader Award for her excellence as a young artist and her outstanding work in the community. An oil acrylic painter, Collins uses collage to express social issues of race, religion, sexuality and gender.

The Gala, which supports Arena Stage’s award-winning artistic productions and community engagement programs, was an enjoyable evening allowing theater lovers to get together, support the arts and experience Turner in an enjoyable, special performance.

For more information about this year’s Arena Stage Gala, visit www.arenastage.org.

Photo: Margot Schulman

The Many Complexities of Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel isn’t like any other show.

This is what artistic director Eric Schaeffer tells me on a phone call the morning after I catch his new production at Signature Theatre, and I can say with full certainty that he’s quite right.

He relishes the fact he selected a Tony Award-winning play that’s complex, layered and challenging – adjectives he uses to describe the frenetic musical during our conversation, all of which just so happened to pop up multiple times in my post-show notes.

And it’s no coincidence: the 1929 novel turned 1932 MGM film turned 1989 Broadway hit wasn’t easy for me to connect with night of, but I was still thinking about it for days, even weeks, later. But art is meant to push us out of our comfort zones and expose us to new ways of thinking about and experiencing life, and Schaeffer’s known for taking those risks at Signature every season.

Whether it’s debuting daring new pieces or embracing notoriously difficult classics, the director doesn’t shy away from works that might make his audience fidget or his actors balk. And now through May 19, Schaeffer encourages theatregoers to sit in the lobby of a 1928 Berlin hotel as an extremely eclectic cast of characters weaves on the periphery of one another’s lives.

“The show just keeps layering on itself, which is interesting,” he tells me. “It’s not just like, here it is and here’s the story. It’s kind of like a painting that just keeps on taking off layers and layers and layers, which is the really neat thing about the show. I love that it challenges the audience, it challenges the actors. It just becomes this experience.”

His 16-person cast – full of Signature regulars and DC up-and-comers, plus a truly dazzling performance from the magnetic Nkrumah Gatling (Broadway’s Miss Saigon) – was whittled down from the original production’s 28. The method to his madness? He wanted to give the audience a fighting chance at following all of the show’s storylines through the lens of a sticky-fingered baron, aging ballerina, dying bookkeeper and desperate typist, to name a few.

“It was a hard puzzle to figure out, but it was fun once I did,” he says of casting the play. “There’s all these snapshots that are put together, and you keep getting slices of all these different lives and how they’re interconnected – or not – they all just happen to be passing in and out of the hotel lobby.”

Schaeffer selected his talent well, whipping the audience into a sometimes delightful (in numbers like the cheeky “Maybe My Baby Loves Me”), often uncomfortable (grappling with the heaviness of mortality or a successful man’s implied power over a naïve woman) frenzy. In just under two hours with no intermission, the impressive cast sings several dozen songs and swings the mood pendulum from light to dark at only a moment’s notice. It’s hard to keep up with – visually, sonically and emotionally.

The highly stylized, momentum-driven production isn’t just a lot for the audience to handle – the director says that everyone from the ensemble to the leads had an “Oh my god, this is so challenging” reaction.

“Which is great,” he says, “because they’re not doing the same old thing. It makes them grow as artists, which I think is really important.”

His level of commitment to the production extended beyond nudging his cast gingerly out of the nest and into uncharted – or at least less traveled – territory to a set design that married opulence of a building both old and grand with an ambiance that felt modern, contemporary and relatable.

“I really wanted the audience to feel like they’re sitting in the lobby of a hotel just eavesdropping on all of these conversations that are happening.”

And he did just that by collaborating with set designer Paul Tate dePoo III to create a dynamic set that transforms from a decadent hotel room to the black void of a haunting train station within seconds.

“It was a balance,” dePoo says. “It was a constant conversation. We didn’t get too far away from the contemporary world.”

And like Schaeffer, he takes his craft incredibly seriously, aiming to capture the spirit of the chaotic play and its varied cast through the design.

“Hopefully, it tells the story in a way that we don’t feel like we’re disconnected from these people and we appreciate the era they are currently telling the story within.”

Peel back the layers of this theatrical onion through Sunday, May 19 at Signature Theatre. Tickets start at $40 and are available at www.sigtheatre.org.

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