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Artwork: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Artwork: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Arena Stage Presents World Premiere of Dave

The heartwarming movie Dave was released 25 years ago, and the Kevin Kline/Sigourney Weaver political comedy became one of the most popular movies of 1993. The film follows a high school teacher named Dave Kovic – who also happens to be a dead ringer for the President of the United States – as he’s thrust into stand-in mode to help the country avoid a national scandal when the real commander in chief gets ill.

A world-premiere musical based on the movie makes its debut at Arena Stage from July 13 to August 19. The show is written by a trio of heavyweights – three-time Tony Award-winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray, The Producers), Nell Benjamin (Mean Girls, Legally Blonde) and Pulitzer Prize and two-time Tony Award-winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then) – and directed by Tina Landau. Drew Gehling, who originated the role of Dr. Pomatter on Broadway in Waitress, plays the demanding dual role of Dave and President Bill Mitchell, while First Lady Ellen Mitchell is portrayed by Broadway vet Mamie Parris.

“I love the film and was really excited to audition for this project,” Parris says. “It’s always interesting to hear when someone is inspired by something or adapting something and looking at a piece [to see] whether it sings. When I first saw this material, I knew the story really sang because it’s a fairytale about what a man can become. That really lends itself to being musicalized.”

Parris recently starred in the Cats revival as Grizabella, belting out “Memory” eight times a week. Other Broadway credits include School of Rock, Ragtime and The Drowsy Chaperone. One of the things she likes about getting to play the First Lady is not only is it a fun love story, but she also gets to play a powerful female character.

“It’s always thrilling to be asked to portray a strong, thoughtful, confident, independent, assertive woman because a lot of those roles aren’t written,” she says. “This is really a very human, multidimensional  and complex woman.”

Fans of the movie won’t be disappointed as many of their favorite scenes are represented in one way or another, but one doesn’t need to be familiar with the source material to enjoy it.

“It’s a wonderful film and incredibly funny, but at the same time, if you get a little too precious with that material, it may not translate quite as well for a stage production – especially one done 25 years after it was original written,” Parris says. “All the charm and story from the original is there, but there’s a new facet that really breathes new life into it.”

The musical also includes Broadway favorites Douglas Sills (The Scarlet Pimpernel) and Jonathan Rayson (Little Shop of Horrors), as well as a collection of talented regional and New York-based actors. Vishal Vaidya, a Burtonsville, Maryland native and American University graduate, is part of the ensemble and thrilled to be part of a new work so close to home.

“It’s always nice to be here,” Vaidya says. “The theatre community in DC is so strong, and so much great theatre is happening here. Personally, it’s been nice to come back and reflect on how I’ve changed as a person and also get to see how the DC theatre [scene] has evolved and changed.”

Vaidya made his Broadway debut last April in Groundhog Day, and local credits include Ford’s Theatre’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee as Barfee and Adventure Theater’s Frog and Toad as Frog, earning a Helen Hayes nomination. He was drawn to Dave because of the subject matter and people working on the show.

“I wanted to work with Tina [Landau] for a really long time,” he says. “She is such a great visionary. She wants everyone to be involved and on the same page. Tom Kitt and I have done a bunch of work in development together and I think his work is incredible. They were the main draw for me.”

Plus, the story is one that he believes is perfect for today’s political atmosphere.

“The moral of Dave is that it’s about how we can all make changes or do our part for the greater good,” he says. “Even if we think we are just a normal citizen, which is what Dave is in the beginning, we think we can’t make a difference – but he has to. He may not have the experience or connections, but he has to take action and he learns to do that.”

Parris adds that one of the things the script does particularly well is reflect a modern storyline while also standing completely apart from the current political climate.

“I’m impressed by that because I think that’s hard to do,” she says. “Dave is remarkably apolitical and I think it can be appreciated by both sides of the aisle, which the writers deserve a lot of credit for.”

Dave runs from July 13 to August 19 in Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater. Tickets start at $96. Learn more about the production and ticket discounts and deals at www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

capital fringe

Stage and Screen: July 2018

THROUGH SATURDAY, JULY 7

Other Life Forms 
Brandon McCoy’s Other Life Forms is the story of two roommates: Jeff, a researcher who seems to have it all together and Ben, a journalist trying his best to keep things from falling apart. Despite their differences, they both try their hands at online dating. One roommate meets someone who seems to be his match, and the other suffers from a somewhat rocky connection. Eventually, an illuminating truth surfaces, which injects humor and chaos into the narrative. Through this play, McCoy aims to prove love exists, even if we are ones standing in the way. Tickets $35-$45. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

Capital Fringe Festival
Capital Fringe Festival always brings a bevy of can’t miss art performances, and The Edge of the Universe Players 2 are linking up with the good people at Capital Fringe to bring you their rendition of Hamish Linklater’s The Vandal. Originally produced five years ago by the Flea Theater in New York City, this upcoming production stars Alison Bauer as WOMAN, Gianna Rapp as BOY and Tom Howley as MAN. These three nondescript characters address themes of life, death, rage and forgiveness while exploring what it means to be a human in the modern age. The play culminates in a way you’ll never see coming. Another can’t miss show is 50 Ways…, which makes its premiere at the festival. Inspired by Paul Simon’s hit single “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” this one-act performance focuses on 50 scenes depicting characters dealing with loss after breaking up with a significant other or being broken up with. Covering a wide range of scenarios, the play allows you to see, and feel, the entire spectrum of fallouts. Five performances are set from July 18 to July 28. Not sure about the first two? Then check out Farah Lawal Harris’ American Wives, directed by Jared Shamberger. Featuring three characters representing wives of America: one old, one young and one the very famous Bald Eagle, the story explores the place of timeless subjects such as identity, love and greed. When the world is changing, how do you stay true to yourself and others? Times and ticket prices vary. Capital Fringe Festival: Various locations around DC; www.capitalfringe.org

SATURDAY, JULY 7 – SUNDAY, JULY 8

Deviated Theatre Presents Beyond
This summer, Dance Place is proud to present the out-of-this-world premiere of Deviated Theatre’s Beyond. Husband-and-wife duo Enoch Chan and Kimmie Dobbs Chan direct the talented “all-heroine” cast on their interplanetary travels. The story follows Luna the astronaut as she traverses the expanse of celestial skies to the very edge of life. This performance clocks in at less than an hour, which makes every minute of the dynamic dance and acrobatic aerials that much more entrancing. Featuring Performances by Vivian Chen, Hannah Church, Katie Creed, Catherine David, Kelly Fisher, Christina Gleason, Elizabeth Looby, Katherine Maloney, Lilly Schultz and Stacey Smith. Tickets $15-$25. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

TUESDAY, JULY 10 – SUNDAY, JULY 29

Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre Performs Damned If You Do
An exercise in the hypothetical, UCB’s Damned If You Do explores the various “What ifs?” we encounter – and nine-times-out-of-10 refuse to act on – in our everyday lives. Should you tell your friend what you really think of their outfit? Or let your family member know how you really feel about their annoying habit? Before you go off and make any of these changes in your personal life, let the improv troupe that helped launch the careers of Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Poehler, Kate McKinnon and Aziz Ansari give you an idea of what you might be in for. Tickets $30-$84. Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

MONDAY, JULY 16

Bootleg Shakespeare: Henry VI, Part 3
In what is sure to be a whirlwind mixture of rehearsal and improvisation, the Taffety Punk players bring the saga of the Henry VI trilogy to a close. Bootleg Shakespeare’s unique method involves having all actors memorize lines, rehearse once and then put on the show, regardless of what happens next. In their commitment to make theatre affordable the show is free to attend, though tickets are not available presale and are first come first served day of. Folger Theatre: 201 E. Capitol St. SE, DC; www.taffetypunk.com

THURSDAY, JULY 19

Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me
NPR is setting up shop in Virginia and inviting us to witness a live recording of the latest episode of this comedic current events quiz show. Join host Peter Sagal and scorekeeper Bill Kurtis as they see what celebrity panelists and professional funny people Alonzo Bodden, Helen Hong and Mo Rocca really know about today’s news and pop culture. Podcast at 8 p.m. Tickets $40-$80. Filene Center at Wolf Trap: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 22

On the Town 
The musical On the Town is a frantic search for love set in 40s era New York City, where the main characters only have 24 hours on the shore before being returning to war. Gabey, a hopeless romantic, is determined to find that month’s Miss Turnstiles, a woman he’s only seen on a subway poster, and his shipmates Ozzie and Chip aim to help him. Along the way, they become enamored with a quirky cabbie and an already engaged anthropologist. Leonard Bernstein constructed the score for this production, including vibrant classics like “New York, New York” (which has even been parodied in The Simpsons), among many other Broadway hits. This number is chock full of dance sequences, running the gamut from ballet to jazz, and everything in between. Some of DC’s more well-known actors take on these iconic roles once played by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, including Evan Casey, Rhett Guter, Sam Ludwig, Donna Migliaccio, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Bobby Smith and Rachel Zampelli. This slightly scandalous musical provides a ton of twists and turns, but it’s sure to be a thrilling, wild ride. Tickets $64-$84. Olney Theatre Center: 2001 Olney Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

SATURDAY, JULY 28

National Dance Day 2018
Since 2010, the Dizzy Feet Organization (co-founded by So You Think You Can Dance’s Nigel Lythgoe and Adam Shankman, the man behind Hairspray and the beloved Step Up franchise) has encouraged Americans “to embrace dance as a fun and positive way to maintain good health,” and this year is no different. Gather at the Kennedy Center for this annual celebration of dance, packed with fun activities and a multitude of performances for dancers and non-dancers alike. Each year, they come up with an original routine for all patrons, including those with disabilities, to learn and perform. In years past, there have been performances by DC’s own Culture Shock Hip Hop dance crew, Top Naach Bhangra ensemble, Abada Capoeira DC and Fairfax Chinese Dance Troupe, to list a few. So, dust off those dancing shoes and get ready to show us your best moves. 2-10:30 p.m. Free to attend. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

Photo: Wilson Chin
Photo: Wilson Chin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woolly Mammoth Botticelli in the Fire

Stage and Screen: The Remains, The Tempest and More

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 9

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

THROUGH SATURDAY, JUNE 16

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

THROUGH SUNDAY, JUNE 24

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

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

THROUGH SUNDAY, JULY 1

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

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6 – SATURDAY, JUNE 23

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

TUESDAY, JUNE 19 – SUNDAY, JULY 22

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

SATURDAY, JUNE 23 – SUNDAY, JUNE 24

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

The Scottsboro Boys

Stage and Screen: May 2018

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 20

Snow Child
Arena Stage adapted Eowyn Ivey’s Pulitzer-finalist novel, The Snow Child, for the stage with the world-premiere musical Snow Child. Facing the loss of their unborn child, Jack and Mabel move to Alaska from Pennsylvania to restart their life together. During a long, hard winter, the fissure between them grows until it seems impassable. But everything changes once a wild, mysterious girl visits them from the dark woods that surround their small cabin. Matt Bogart, starring as Jack, wants audiences to deeply contemplate Snow Child’s themes before they leave the theater. “I hope that audience members will see some of their own life experiences reflected in this piece, and that we are successful in reiterating what is taught in these old folk tales,” Bogart says. “This folk tale has to do with the impermanence of nature – how nature can sweep in and change your life, how losing a child can change your life, and how gaining a child, whether it’s born into this world or if you create it in your mind, becomes [a form of] healing.” With Alaskan folk music, a puppeteer and a winter wonderland set, you’ll find yourself alongside Jack and Mabel as they struggle in the Alaskan wilderness. Tickets are $65-$80. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THROUGH SUNDAY, MAY 27

1984
In this captivating adaption of George Orwell’s 1984, the crushing realization of a dystopian future is inescapable. In a world with an authoritarian government monitoring every action, expression and thought of the masses, individualism is crushed and challenging the established regime leads to torture, prison and death. Be careful what you think. Big Brother is watching. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15-$45. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 2 – SUNDAY, MAY 6

Hamlet
For the first time since 2007, the legendary Royal Shakespeare Company returns to the Kennedy Center to tell the age-old tale of searing tragedy, murder and revenge. After a student is called home from university to find his father brutally murdered, he sets out on a mission to expose the truth on a journey of madness, murder and lost love. Rising star Paapa Essiedu makes his debut in the U.S. with his lead role in Hamlet. Tickets are $39-$129. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

SATURDAY, MAY 5 – SUNDAY MAY 27

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now
Father and small business owner Hank struggles to keep his legendary rock club open in 1992 Chicago. As Hank refuses to confront the reality of where rock music is heading, his daughter starts dating a rising DJ star, forcing her father to acknowledge the truth of a different era. Explore themes of family troubles, affection for a bygone decade and the pure awesomeness of 90s rock with the DC premiere of The Undeniable Sound of Right Now. Tickets are $35-$45. The Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

SATURDAY, MAY 12 – SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Saint Joan
Focused on Joan of Arc’s simple, illiterate, village-girl nature, George Bernard Shaw takes a different approach in telling this classic tale of martyrdom. Instead of portraying her as a witch, a saint or a heretic, Shaw emphasizes her individualism during her journey to liberate France from English control after over 100 years of war. Only four actors play over 25 roles in this engaging, bare-bones production, which The New York Times described as “irresistible” and “a force of nature.” Tickets are $35-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

THURSDAY, MAY 17 – SATURDAY, MAY 26

Spook
Just an hour before his scheduled execution, ex-police officer Darl “Spook” Spokane is to give a live televised interview from death row. Convicted for murdering five of his fellow officers during what they call the “Morning Roll Call massacre,” Spokane is to explain himself with the entire country watching. There’s a catch: this will be the first time he’s uttered even a single word in three years since the mass shooting. You’re going to want to hear what he has to say. 8 p.m. all dates. Tickets are $20. Logan Fringe Arts Space: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

TUESDAY, MAY 22 – FRIDAY, JULY 1

Camelot
Amongst magical forests and castles of grandeur, four-time, Tony Award-winning musical Camelot explores the struggle for civilization and goodness in a society that’s accustomed to violence and hate. It is one leader’s integrity, courage and empathy along with his Knights of the Round Table that will change the course of history. With a doomed romance and an incredible score on top, this musical has won the hearts of theatre enthusiasts for generations. Tickets are $59-$118. Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

The Scottsboro Boys
Along the lines of Kander and Ebb’s iconic musicals Chicago and Cabaret, the Tony Award-winning duo delivers yet another breathtaking musical. The Scottsboro Boys is a critique on racism and injustice in the South, revealing the true story of nine African-American teenagers who were falsely accused of a crime, quickly tried and sentenced to death in complete disregard for due process. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, this musical transforms a disgraceful moment in American history into a platform for change. Tickets start at $40. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

Photo: Joan Marcus
Photo: Joan Marcus

Waitress: Serving Up Music and Pie

In 2006, an up-and-coming independent film writer and director by the name of Adrienne Shelly was tragically murdered at the age of 40, just three months prior to the acclaimed release of her movie Waitress.

A decade later, a musical inspired by the cult fave came to Broadway and wowed the theatre community, garnering four Tony nominations in the process. The play’s all-women creative team boasts a book by Jessie Nelson, original music and lyrics by the six-time Grammy-nominated Sara Bareilles, choreography by Lorin Latarro, and direction by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus (Pippin).

A touring version of Waitress will be staged at National Theatre for a three-week run starting May 15. In this production, actress Desi Oakley takes on the role of Jenna, the part that earned Jessie Mueller a Tony nod and brought Bareilles to Broadway for the first time.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Sara Bareilles has been someone who I have looked up to and respected for her music career since she began, so knowing that she wrote a musical was kind of like my two worlds combined, as I’m a singer/songwriter myself,” Oakley says. “When I heard about the show, I thought it was a genius idea and I didn’t think something could be so magical.”

Waitress follows the journey of Jenna, an expert pie maker, who longs for a life away from her job as a waitress, small town and loveless marriage. The solutions to all her problems might be in a baking contest in a nearby county or the town’s new doctor, and her fellow waitresses are more than happy to butt in and provide their own recipes for Jenna’s happiness.

“The story is really important to be telling in this time, and the songs have a lot of purpose,” Oakley says. “This is a story about a woman from a small town who has forgotten her dreams because of her life circumstances. Through this journey of her eyes being open, she learns her true self and is reminded that her dreams are worth fighting for. It’s a story of friendship, love and self-acceptance.”

Oakley has appeared on Broadway in a trio of shows – WickedLes Misérables and Annie – and has toured with national tours of Evita and Wicked. She saw Waitress early in its run on Broadway, but never dreamed Jenna would be a part she would one day play.

“A lot of times when I see a show, I think, ‘I’d love to do that show,’ but it wasn’t even a glimmer in my eye. I just let the story affect me as an audience member. I think it makes a lot of sense now, but when I was watching it, I just let the story work its magic.”

Once cast in the part, Oakley stayed away from listening to the cast recording. She says her voice is prone to mimic, and she wanted to offer he own take on Jenna.

“I went back to the feel of what I heard and what I knew from listening to Sara. I read the script again and took a dive into the story to prepare.”

Another thing she did was rewatch the 2007 movie version of Waitress.

“I had seen it and loved Keri Russell in it, but hadn’t remembered a lot of it,” Oakley says. “We’re dramatizing the story onstage, so there are a lot of differences and a lot of heightened moments. I really like how Diane Paulus has staged it.”

The production’s changes in costumes, lights, sets and sound make it seem in many ways like a film. Oakley feels that’s a great nod to the movie, and fans of that version of Waitress will not be disappointed in the musical.

Oakley is enjoying the tour, as she loves traveling to different parts of the country and seeing and experiencing new places. She’s contracted for the tour through at least the fall, and is thrilled to be making the character her own.

“My favorite thing is how real Jenna is,” she says. “I hardly ever leave the stage, but if I’m a little tired or stressed or anxious, that’s okay because those feelings work in Jenna. The more real I get, the more she will continue to be real. I’m embracing that and accepting myself, just as Jenna is in the story.”

When not onstage, Oakley is pursuing a career in singing and songwriting.

“It’s hard to make time for both, and right now, my focus is on this tour. I’m writing when I can, but my second album is on hold. Nothing fuels me like sitting down at the piano, so my heart will eventually lead me back to it.”

Oakley’s original music can be found on Spotify and iTunes. Waitress runs at National Theatre from May 15 to June 3. Tickets start at $28. For more information, visit www.thenationaldc.org.

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

Photo: Courtesy of Arena Stage
Photo: Courtesy of Arena Stage

Lights, Camera, Eco-Friendly Action: Arena Stage’s Solar Rooftop

For almost 70 years, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater has impacted countless lives with diverse and groundbreaking work from great artists around the country. They’ve held programs, classes and events to inspire creativity and expression, reaching over 10,000 students every year through community engagement. And in February, they decided to show their love for the community by installing 1,145 solar panels on their expansive rooftop.

To Arena Stage Executive Director Edgar Dobie, being eco-friendly is one of the best ways the theater can serve their network of artists and theatergoers.

“We feel that we need to respect our relationship with our community and our environment,” says Dobie, who has been with Arena Stage for nine years. “We tell stories on our stage, and as an institution, we have stories to tell as well. One of those stories is that we want to be as efficient and respectful as possible to the resources – whether they’re environmental or financial – that are given to us.”

As part of Arena’s renovations from 2007 to 2010, the Southwest Waterfront-based space hired the late Vancouver architect Bing Thom to design a massive glass enclosure that would surround both historical theaters. He even fit a new, third theater in the enormous 200,000-square-foot design. Thom’s idea for using glass came from his environmentally conscious roots. A huge glass wall means lots of sunlight entering the space, and a natural thermal system to save energy. Dobie is certain that Thom would be thrilled with the solar panel design if he were alive today.

With their new 452.3 kW solar system, Arena Stage’s move toward a renewable energy resource is the equivalent to saving 45,231 gallons of gas annually, or taking 85 cars off the road. And to achieve their goal of producing 20 percent of their power supply purely from solar energy, Arena Stage teamed up with EnterSolar, a leading provider of commercial marketplace solar energy options in New York. Dobie says their reputable portfolio isn’t the only reason he’s thrilled to work with them.

“EnterSolar is doing great things, and we are proud to partner with them on this project,” he says. “On top of it all, I love their name. It’s like a stage direction!”

Dobie says that because they’re eventually going to save money with this new energy source, Arena Stage will most likely hire more actors and teachers in the future. Thanks to their initiative and forward thinking, this theater will not only help to save the environment but also step up their mission to bring people together through the arts.

Learn more about Arena Stage at www.arenastage.org.

Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; 202-488-3300; www.arenastage.org

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Stage and Screen: April 2018

THURSDAY, MARCH 29 – SUNDAY, APRIL 22

Paper Dolls
This quirky and provocative karaoke musical follows the experiences of five gay male Filipino nurses in Tel Aviv who care for elderly Orthodox and Chasidic men six days a week. But instead of white Keds and scrubs, these fab male nurses don high heels and boa scarves on their day off to headline a drag show. Based on the true story behind a 2006 Israeli documentary, Paper Dolls confronts the challenges that migrant workers face while yearning for citizenship and a place to belong. This American premiere is part of the 2018 Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival and directed by veteran Broadway director Mark Brokaw. Tickets start at $20. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

FRIDAY, MARCH 30 – SUNDAY, APRIL 29

Two Trains Running
Two Trains Running examines everyday life for black Americans in 1969 as tremors of the Civil Rights Movement reach Pittsburgh’s Hill District, which was one of the most prosperous, culturally active black neighborhoods in the country in the 40s and 50s. But when the 60s rolled around, the Hill District faced a sharp economic decline. Playwright August Wilson directly comments on this regression when Memphis Lee’s diner, the center of the Hill District’s community, is slated to be demolished. Arena Stage’s website describes it best: “Confronted with the reality of a rapidly changing world, Memphis and his regular customers struggle to maintain their solidarity and sense of pride.” Tickets start at $81; check website for information on discounts. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. SW, DC; www.arenastage.org

THURSDAY, APRIL 5 – SUNDAY, APRIL 29

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Symphonic Metal Version)
This reenactment of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel will have you headbanging so hard, your neck will hurt for days. Landless Theatre Company and British-American composer, dramatist and author Rupert Holmes come together to transform Tony Award-winning musical, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, into a hard rock masterpiece. Tickets are $25. Capital Fringe: 1358 Florida Ave. NE, DC; www.capitalfringe.org

THURSDAY, APRIL 12 – SUNDAY, MAY 6

Witch
Strong, bold and powerful women have been feared, objectified and discouraged for many, many generations – especially when their power has challenged the status quo of that particular moment in history. Witch explores the thread that connects the Salem witch trials in the late 1600s to modern politics, examining the stories of women who have been labeled and chastised as witches throughout the centuries. This musical is sure to make you think long and hard about what it means to be a woman in the modern age, and what it must’ve felt like back then. Tickets start at $30. Creative Cauldron: 410 S Maple Ave. Falls Church, VA; www.creativecauldron.org

TUESDAY, APRIL 17 – SUNDAY, JUNE 10

Girlfriend
Set in a small Nebraska town in 1993, Girlfriend tells the tender, coming-of-age tale of college-bound jock Mike and self-assured but aimless Will, who are high on the rush of a first-time love filled with excitement, confusion and passion. All of these emotions and more are perfectly captured by Matthew Sweet’s alt-rock album, Girlfriend, which inspired the musical. Rolling Stone describes the play as a “rock ‘n’ roll Valentine that delivers subtle wisdom with an exhilarating kick.” Pride nights on May 11 and 18. Tickets start at $40. Signature Theatre: 4200 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.sigtheatre.org

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18 – SUNDAY, MAY 20

The Crucible
Arthur Miller’s classic 1953 play about the Salem witch trials comes to life on Olney Theater’s stage this spring. Enter the world of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, when an unseen evil swept through the small town of God-fearing people. This is a timeless reminder of the terrible outcomes that stem from bending the truth to conveniently fit one’s political agenda. Tickets start at $59. Olney Theater Center: 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. Olney, MD; www.olneytheatre.org

THURSDAY, APRIL 19 – SUNDAY, APRIL 29

International Film Festival
The 32nd annual International Film Festival has been expanding minds and opening eyes for the last three decades, and it’s not about to stop now. Choose from 80 films from over 45 countries over the course of 11 days at various locations throughout the city. Featured films include opening night’s Streake, about a different kind of sports star, and closing night’s Just to Be Sure, a comedy exploring the virtues and vagaries of DNA. Full schedule and ticket information available at www.filmfestdc.org.

SATURDAY, APRIL 21 – SUNDAY, APRIL 22

Another F*cking Warhol Production
The feath3r theory, a dance-theatre-media company based in New York City, is coming to the District with Another F*cking Warhol Production. This American docufiction, post-ballet theatre musical is a recreation of the unrecorded, deleted and lost footage from Saturday Night Live’s 2015 episode on love and war (“The Love Episode”). With dancers wearing brightly colored morph suits inspired by 60s fashion, this musical is just the right amount of quirky and compelling. Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15-$30. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Carol Rosegg
Photo: Carol Rosegg

Trust in The Wiz at Ford’s Theatre

There’s not a moment in Ford’s Theatre’s The Wiz when you’re not exhilarated. From the instance Toto rushes across the stage to the final second Dorothy clicks her heels, the kaleidoscope of characters, colors and music inspires the audience to yelp, cheer, tap their feet, laugh and snap – it’s impossible to sit still when you’re traveling through the Wonderful World of Oz.

The Wiz, the iconic winner of seven Tony Awards, is an adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, which unapologetically celebrates black culture through it’s score of blues, soul, gospel, R&B, jazz and pop, in addition to its universal narrative. The Wiz isn’t a story about a young black girl overcoming slavery, extreme poverty or hardships. Rather, the story is about a young girl who happens to be black making friends and finding strength as she attempts to journey home after being whisked away by a tornado into a magical land.

“The beauty of The Wiz is its message that anything we already are is enough,” director Kent Gash explains in Ford’s press release. “Dorothy feels restless and stuck at home, but when the tornado comes through, it absolutely turns her world upside down and changes her perspective. Dorothy discovers she is smarter, more powerful and more interesting than she ever realized. She comes to understand that how she moves through the world can change lives. That is a valuable lesson for us all to celebrate.”

Ines Nassara shines as Dorothy. The moment she sings the first line on “Soon As I Get Home,” we know exactly who this character is. We feel Dorothy’s fear, excitement and resolve to succeed in her mission. At the beginning of the show, she’s still unsure of her bravery. By the time she helps her new friend, the Cowardly Lion (played exquisitely by Christopher Michael Richardson), discover his own strength in “Be a Lion,” you’ll be hard-pressed to hold back tears upon seeing this young woman stand with such power.

Hasani Allen emulates the same charm and lankiness as Michael Jackson in the same role as the Scarecrow, but his “Aw, shucks” sweetness is all his own. For lacking a heart, Tinman, as brought to life by Kevin McAllister, sings with all his soul about the eternal fear we all have about being unable to love, and being unlovable.

While the four leads of the show prove wonderful, The Wiz is a musical that needs a strong ensemble cast. Ford’s production delivers, and when the show reaches its peak after Evillene melts away with “Everybody Rejoice” – an exuberant song celebrating freedom and new chapters – you can’t help but revel in the joy onstage.

This production of The Wiz is a delight for any pop culture fiend. There are call-outs to Jackson 5 dance routines, Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece RevelationsWakanda, Coming to America, Flavor of Love (Flava Flav’s VH1 dating show), Paris Is Burning, Grace Jones, Prince and Purple Rain, and of course, some moonwalking thrown in for good measure.

This is a story about having the courage to trust in yourself – trusting your smarts, trusting your heart, trusting your bravery and, finally, trusting in your spirit.

The Wiz runs at Ford’s Theatre through May 12. For more information about the show or details on times, dates and tickets, click here.

Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; 202-347-4833; www.fords.org

Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman
Photo courtesy of Cameron Whitman

Big Story, Intimate Setting: Chicago at Keegan Theatre

Pop, six, squish, uh uh, Cicero, Lipschitz! Those six words that are random on their own can be mistaken for non-other than the intro to the seductive “Cell Block Tango” of the infamous musical Chicago. The classic story of passion-induced crime and the lure of fame has made its way to DC at Keegan Theatre until April 14.

For those who may not have seen the musical on stage or the popular 2002 movie, Chicago was written by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Set in the roaring twenties, the musical follows the story of Roxie Hart who has murdered a cheating lover. Her loyal husband Amos takes the blame for Roxie’s crime, but when he finds out she’s been playing him, Roxie is sent to jail. It’s there that she gets the help of crooked lawyer Billy Flynn and battles fellow convict Velma Kelly for the spotlight.

While Chicago has been done many times before and the story stays mostly the same, Keegan’s production will have a more authentic nature to the production. Maria Rizzo, who is playing Roxie, says that while the revival feels very modern with its costuming and the portrayal of the characters, Keegan’s production will feel a lot more like the real twenties.

As Kurt Boehm, who play Billy, puts it, “The revival had a very specific look to it and the dancing is pretty iconic with Fosse’s interpretation, so [we’re] really trying to step back into the time period and go with the vaudeville theme.”

Another element of Keegan’s production that you will not see from many others is intimacy.

“It’s this small space where you can really see so many details of the performer’s emotions and the storyline,” Rizzo says. The set is very spare and it’s just about these characters and the way they’re whittling through the journey that they’re all facing.”

Regardless of whether it’s being performed on a big stage or a small one, a modern interpretation or an authentic one, Chicago has remained a popular musical since it first hit the stage. In addition to the catchy songs and unforgettable choreography, part of its popularity comes from the story’s relevant message to today.

“At the beginning of the show there’s a line that says you’re about to step into a story about greed, betrayal and murder and all of these abrupt and scary things. There’s just so much of that going on in the world,” and it looks at how women are resilient despite these terrible things Rizzo says. “What’s cool about it is it’s not about getting a guy and it’s not about a big, happy ending. It’s about two women and the struggle that is put in front of them and how they fight through it.”

Catch Chicago at Keegan Theatre, running through April 14, 2018. Learn more here.

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