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Photo: Gian Di Stefano

Kristin Chenoweth Brings Wicked Fun to Strathmore

They say good things come in small packages, and 4-foot-11 dynamo Kristin Chenoweth is a living example that the phrase applies to performers as well. Known for her incredible singing on Broadway, her quirky character roles in movies and on TV, and her oodles of charm in just about every performance she’s ever done, Chenoweth is beloved by people of all ages.

She won a Tony for her performance as Sally Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in 1999, though she’s best-known for her renowned run as Glinda in the Broadway smash Wicked. Other memorable runs on the Great White Way include roles in The Apple Tree, On the Twentieth Century and Promises, Promises. And there’s no role she hasn’t made a lasting impression with on-screen, from West Wing to Trial & Error to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

“I’m very proud of the work I’ve done and have been blessed with some amazing roles,” Chenoweth says. “The critics have always enjoyed these choices and that makes me understand I am on the same planet as everyone else. I know what I think is tasteful and funny and good, and that always seems to line up with them and that makes me happy.”

A veteran of the concert stage, the Tony- and Emmy-winning actress will perform at Strathmore on April 8 with a show any Broadway fan is sure to love.

“This concert is timed really well because my new album will be coming out around Mother’s Day, and I would like to start bringing some songs from that to my shows,” she says. “I don’t have a title yet, but I keep calling it For the Girls. It’s my way of giving myself permission to sing other women artists whose work has inspired me and changed my life musically.”

That means songs from performers like Dinah Washington, Judy Garland, Dolly Parton and Eva Cassidy.

“It’s really going to be a celebration of women. It’s important for me to recognize singer-songwriters like Chely Wright – who is a giant in the country music industry – and there’s an original song I wrote with her that I am excited to play for people.”

There’s a big part of Chenoweth, she says, that wants to be a mentor to younger audiences and teach them about some of these songs and singers who they may not be familiar with. It’s something she realized while doing an episode of Glee.

“Ryan Murphy had me sing ‘Maybe This Time’ from Cabaret, and I just assumed everyone knew that song. But so many people reached out to me on social media asking where the song came from. I just died because these kids don’t know. I want to let them know who came before me and even some who may be younger than I. Just because you like one certain type of music doesn’t mean you can’t research and learn to appreciate others.”

Her concert will also include plenty of Broadway tunes, jazz standards, gospel songs and even opera, plus tunes from her previous release of American Songbook classics The Art of Elegance.

“Of course I’m going to sing ‘Popular’ and some songs that I will never not sing because it’s part of my DNA, but I want to make it a new show every time,” she says.

Another song that’s sure to be on the set list is “Taylor, the Latte Boy” written by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, which tells the humorous tale of a woman who falls for her barista at Starbucks.

“I was a young Kristin Chenoweth doing Steel Pier at the time [in 1997] and there was a performance honoring Kander and Ebb [a famous songwriting team], and someone handed me this music. Marcy and Zina told me they had been writing the song with me in mind. I was so nervous because the show was the next day and it’s not a short song. I spent the rest of the night learning it, and as I did, I realized this is totally me. I sang it that night and wow, did it go over.”

Soon after, she sang the song on The Rosie O’Donnell Show and it’s been a staple of her performances ever since.

“As artists, we have to recognize and understand that when we don’t sing songs like this, it’s a let down to the audience. I know that because I once saw Barbra Streisand live and she didn’t sing ‘People.’ I learned a lot there.”

The singer is very familiar with Strathmore, having starred in the Music Center’s groundbreaking I am Anne Hutchinson/I am Harvey Milk production in 2016. Currently, she doesn’t have any concrete plans to go back on Broadway. But last October, Chenoweth and her original Wicked costar Idina Menzel reunited for the NBC special A Very Wicked Halloween, and the duo’s magic was reignited on an astounding version of the show’s “For Good.” She has a few things in the fire for 2019 and is looking forward to touring at concert venues around the country when not filming any TV projects.

“Currently, I’m in development season and there are three ideas I have that three different writers have put a treatment to. I’ve fallen in love with all of them, so I do believe I will be doing something new on television soon. I’d rather do something that is me and my taste. I’m always going to choose and do something a little offbeat. That’s who I am.”

A lesson she says she’s been learning over and over in the past year is not being so serious and just enjoying the moment. Last fall, she traveled to Italy and sang a duet with Andrea Bocelli to a pretty famous audience and screwed up a song. She stopped and started over and then just messed up again and decided to cut to the end.

“People were loving it. It reminds you that life isn’t always perfect and in some ways that was my favorite moment of the trip. I am a perfectionist and I can get myself wound up pretty high. I had to laugh, and I did. Sometimes that happens in concerts and I may forget a word and I’ll point it out. I like using those moments to show I am not a robot. I am not autotuned. I am an artist who is real and authentic.”

She promises that people who don’t know who she is when they come in the door at Strathmore will know who she is when they leave.

“I want people to come to this show and be in the moment and enjoy themselves. It’s a treat you give yourself when you do that. We think we’re doing the right thing when we’re worrying about something, but I want people to put all that aside and just go with me on this journey. It will be an extraordinary, fun night.”

Kristin Chenoweth will perform at Strathmore on Monday, April 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $78 and are available at www.strathmore.org.

Learn more about Chenoweth at www.officialkristinchenoweth.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kchenoweth.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5200; www.strathmore.org

Photo: Kahn & Selesnick

Amanda Palmer Gets Deeply Personal with No Intermission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage and Screen: March 2019

THROUGH SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Blood at the Root
Blood at the Root is the story of what happens when a black student chooses to occupy a primarily white space in her high school, driving hate, violence and chaos among her classmates. The play, inspired by the Jena Six court case in Louisiana, examines the link between bias, justice and identity and asks audiences to consider what is lost when implicit biases shape our view of – and adherence to – justice. Written by Dominique Morisseau, the play is described as moving, lyrical and bold. Various dates and times. Tickets $40. The Anacostia Playhouse: 2020 Shannon Pl. SE, DC; www.anacostiaplayhouse.com

FRIDAY, MARCH 1 – SUNDAY, APRIL 14

JQA
The latest offering from award-winning playwright Aaron Posner, JQA is an imaginative and thought-provoking story that illustrates conversations between John Quincy Adams, who was known for his integrity, statesmanship and arrogance, with other American leaders including Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson and his own father John Adams. Described as provocative, haunting and hilarious, JQA received an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Various dates and times. Tickets $92-$115. Arena Stage: 1101 6th St. NW, DC; www.arenastage.org

MONDAY, MARCH 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 24

Confection
The newest offering from New York-based Third Rail Projects is an immersive, multisensory dance and theatre performance staged throughout the Folger Reading Rooms. Inspired by the richness of the Folger Library and the lavishness of the 17th-century aristocracy, the performance examines the power of appetite and desire. Directed by Zach Morris and Jennine Willett, Confection is a story of opulence and consumption that not only invites audiences into the Folger’s magnificent Reading Rooms, but also invites them to enjoy bite-sized treats made by local pâtissiers. Various dates and times. Tickets $40-$60. Folger Shakespeare Library: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

FRIDAY, MARCH 8 – WEDNESDAY, MAY 22

Into the Woods
Ford Theatre’s Into the Woods is a darkly funny reimagining of several beloved fairy tales from the minds of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The play follows a baker and his wife on a quest to break a witch’s curse, which leads them into the woods where they cross paths with timeless characters like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and a pair of lovelorn princes. The play has won Tony Awards for score and script, and this Peter Flynn-directed rendition promises to inspire both laughs and introspection. Various dates and times. Tickets $28-$81. Ford’s Theatre: 511 10th St. NW, DC; www.fords.org

SATURDAY, MARCH 9 – SATURDAY, APRIL 6

Hands on a Hardbody
Featuring a score by Amanda Green and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, Hands on a Hardbody tells the story of 10 Texans competing to win a new truck. The contest is hilarious and hard-fought, and characters learn that perseverance, determination and hope can lead them to their American Dream. The play has been described as a quintessential American musical, and features a diverse cast of characters highlighting the intersectionality of the American identity. Set to a score featuring blues, country and R&B, Hands on a Hardbody is a quirky play that promises to enliven the District in its regional premiere. Various dates and times. Tickets $62. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, MARCH 14 – SUNDAY, MARCH 24

The National Geographic Society Environmental Film Festival
The Environmental Film Festival returns to the District for its 27th year. Sponsored by National Geographic, featured films tackle important environmental issues like overfishing and climate change in addition to presenting visually stunning tales of adventure like the Academy Award-nominated Free Solo, which follows Alex Honnold’s free climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan. The festival includes 11 days of documentary film screenings at more than 25 venues. Details on the films, schedule and tickets are available online. Tickets $12. Times and locations vary. National Geographic Society Environmental Film Festival: Various locations in DC; www.DCeff.org

MONDAY, MARCH 25

Bon Iver & TU Dance’s Come Through
In the first event of the Kennedy Center’s DIRECT CURRENT season highlighting contemporary culture, Bon Iver and TU Dance’s collaboration Come Through fuses genres and mediums. Over a soundtrack featuring new music from two-time Grammy winner Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, nine-member dance troupe TU Dance will mix varied styles such as classical ballet and modern dance. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

TUESDAY, MARCH 26 – SUNDAY, MARCH 31

A Bronx Tale
Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks, A Bronx Tale has been described as Jersey Boys meets West Side Story. Set in 1960s New York, the musical tells the story of a young man who must choose between his father’s love and his ambition to be a “made man” in the mafia. The score is comprised of 60s-era doo-wop, and the play contains several ensemble dance numbers. A Bronx Tale features numerous actors and actresses from its time on Broadway, and offers audiences opportunities to laugh, cry and tap their feet. Various dates and times. Tickets $54-$99. National Theatre: 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.thenationaldc.org

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Finding Neverland at National Theatre Hooks DC with its Cuteness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Tap Dogs Photography

Tap Dogs kicks off US tour with Kennedy Center Performances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: DJ Corey Photography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Shakespeare Theatre Company

Modern Shakespeare: Richard the Third at STC

“Now is the winter of our discontent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stage and Screen: Winter 2019

THROUGH SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 9

The Baltimore Waltz
It’s hard to blame someone diagnosed with the fictional “Acquired Toilet Disease” from going all out in the pleasures of the skin. With the fatal illness starting the timer leading to her impending doom, unmarried school teacher Anna heads to Europe with her brother Carl so she can live a little – complete with lots of food and sex. Meanwhile, Carl becomes entrenched in a bizarre espionage scheme meant to discover a cure for his not-long-for-this-world sister. You might be wondering, “Why did you mention a trip to Europe when Baltimore is mentioned in the title?” Well, about that… Various dates and times. Tickets $50. Keegan Theatre: 1742 Church St. NW, DC; www.keegantheatre.com

TUESDAY, JANUARY 29 – FRIDAY, MARCH 10

Nell Gwynn
Coming from humble beginnings, an orange seller eventually finds her way to the stage where she immediately becomes a household name. Upon Nell Gwynn’s successes, she manages to make a fan out of King Charles II. Eventually, the royal leader of England brings Gwynn to court as a favorite mistress. From there, the story about this amazing woman takes off. Various dates and times. Tickets $42-$79. Folger Theatre: 201 E Capitol St. SE, DC; www.folger.edu

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Shame
An adaptation of a documentary may not seem all that enthralling at first. However, the subject matter of Mosaic Theater Company’s Shame is more than enough to draw you in as it tackles the challenges facing Israelis and Palestinians who choose to work with one another despite significant hurdles. The story focuses on several examples of this predicament and integrates several mediums, including Facebook messages, tweets and telephoned threats. Various dates and times. Tickets $15-$35. Atlas Performing Arts Center: 1333 H St. NE, DC; www.atlasarts.org

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 4 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

BLKS
Spurred by a scare, Octavia decides it’s time to forget about any troubles or trepidations and have a raucous night on the town with friends. Joined by companions June and Imani, the three depart into the city for an epic night. But the evening becomes more than a hardcore party session, as the trio encounter strange characters, outrageous events and endure a true test of their friendship. Poet and playwright Aziza Barnes wrote this play, which celebrates queerness and sisterhood as the friends wrestle with universal factors such as truth, love and the struggle of adulthood. Various dates and times. Tickets $20-$51. Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: 641 D St. NW, DC; www.woollymammoth.net

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 5 – SUNDAY, MARCH 10

Richard the Third
Power as an addiction is not only a trope in real life, but a common theme for villains in a number of stories – and perhaps the most famous is the power-hungry king from Shakespeare’s Richard III. Fueled by a bottomless well of ambition, the ruthless and cunning man continues to reach for more, more and more in his quest for power. By the play’s end, no one in the audience will be rooting for his lust. This is the study of what makes a villain, and few put on better performances than Shakespeare Theatre Company (STC). Various dates and times. Tickets $44-$102. STC’s Sidney Harman Hall: 610 F St. NW, DC; www.shakespearetheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 7 – SUNDAY, MARCH 3

El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar (The Old Man, The Youth, and The Sea)
A new play by Irma Correa, El Viejo, El Joven y El Mar tells the story of a renowned Spanish philosopher who runs into a fisherman, general and journalist. He speaks with each of them about their different beliefs regarding freedom, reason and faith; all the while, the old man is planning his escape from the Spanish island of Fuerteventura. Though the play is based on historical events, the subtext is heavily rooted in today’s society. The play is in Spanish with English subtitles. Various dates and times. Tickets $48. GALA Hispanic Theatre: 3333 14th St. NW, DC; http://en.galatheatre.org

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14

Story District’s Sucker for Love: A Valentine’s Day Special
No need to get mushy on Valentine’s Day when you can laugh at the misery of others, right? Okay, admittedly that sentence was a little Seinfeld-ish, but on the day dedicated to love, heart drawings and chocolates, Story District’s Sucker for Love provides an alternate mode of entertainment. Instead of a candlelit dinner with expensive wine, head to Lincoln Theatre to hear true stories involving sex, love, breakups, makeups, dating and anything else you can fit into the genre of Valentine’s Day. Show starts at 7 p.m., tickets $35-$45. Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; www.storydistrict.org

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16 – SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 17

Urban Bush Women’s Hair & Other Stories
Through personal narratives crafted in living rooms, communities and kitchens, Hair & Other Stories is dance theatre that blends conversations with movement to challenge existing – and sometime archaic – American values. The Urban Bush Women company is always on the cutting edge of delivering pieces that fit within the contemporary dance genre while also highlighting the cultural history and spiritual traditions of the African-American and African diaspora. Saturday night opening party starts at 8 p.m. Sunday afternoon performance starts at 4 p.m. Tickets $15-$100. Dance Place: 3225 8th St. NE, DC; www.danceplace.org

Photo: Matthew Placek

John Cameron Mitchell Brings Origin of Love Tour to DC

It’s been 20 years since John Cameron Mitchell introduced the world to the complex character of Hedwig, and she’s still as relevant as ever. The Tony Award-winning actor and director is bringing the East Berlin rock ‘n’ roller’s story to National Theatre for one night only on February 8, performing songs from the cult classic-turned-Broadway musical Hedwig & the Angry Inch and telling behind-the-scenes stories surrounding that period in his life. DC is the first stop on the U.S. leg of Mitchell’s Origin of Love tour, and our resident Hedwig fanatic had the chance to geek out on the phone with him about the staying power of Hedwig, his groundbreaking new musical podcast Anthem and how he plans to crowd surf at National.

On Tap: What motivated the Origin of Love tour beyond Hedwig & the Angry Inch’s 20th anniversary?
John Cameron Mitchell:
It was purely humanitarian because my mom has Alzheimer’s. She’s in the later stage, and she’s very happy but requires a lot of care. And you know, our country doesn’t always take care of its own, so I have to pull the wig on for Mom. I thought, “What’s a way I can do a show that isn’t the musical but still uses the songs?” Then it became a memoir of the making of Hedwig that has its own dramatic shape. We [started the tour] in Australia first and then Korea, so DC is really the first Origin of Love show we will have done in the U.S.

OT: What can you tell us about the format of the show, without giving too much away?
JCM:
I’m not playing Hedwig, but I’m dressed as a version of Hedwig. It’s neat telling the story and like the musical, it’s very much about me talking to the audience. [I’m] also telling a structured story about meeting [composer] Stephen Trask and both of our hopes and dreams, and meeting his bass player [Jack Steeb] who became my boyfriend of many years and inspired some important songs – and who passed away from his addiction after the film came out. Jack was really into the linchpin of the whole piece. [I] talk about our relationship and also how the myth of the origin of love – of trying to complete yourself with someone else – can be challenging, and the myth often needs to be reinterpreted.

OT: What other parts of your life did you incorporate into the show?
JCM:
Growing up very Catholic and [in a] military [family], my own need to break free from that [and] my fear of my own feminine energies. The root of [much evil] in the world is people not accepting what’s in them, for better or worse. Like an animal that dies behind your wall, it can stink up the place. You have to air things out. Hedwig finds that these feminine and masculine energies are all useful after going through this forced gender assignment. Hedwig isn’t even a trans person because there was a coercion involved. In fact, “Wig in a Box” marks the moment where she empowers herself with drag, in a sense, as opposed to any kind of trans decision. She uses what she’s learned from her rock ‘n’ roll idols to move on, to create, to love again. All of these things relate to my life and I’ll be talking about them as well as a ton of jokes and a ton of songs and some new songs from my new musical [podcast Anthem] as well.

OT: Does your song selection change with every performance? How do you pick and choose what to include?
JCM:
I’ll be traveling with members of the Broadway Hedwig band who know a lot of songs. It’ll probably be fairly standardized just because we don’t have a lot of rehearsal time, but we’ll probably do two or three from Anthem, we’ll do a couple songs that are in my last film How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and you know, like a Bowie song for fun. It’s going to be a very party environment. I’m hoping to crowd surf at the National.

OT: What makes Hedwig such a universal story, with such staying power over the last 20 years?
JCM:
The character is such a mask. It came out of a drag club that Stephen and I were participating in called Squeezebox that was a very punk rock, rock ‘n’ roll drag bar. Many drag and trans performers were performing with Stephen’s house band. When you’re singing punk rock, you can use your own voice and be awesome. You don’t have to sing like Whitney Houston. They were already punk and didn’t even know it, just by being gender nonconforming performers. So it was a very exciting place that Hedwig was born in. Subcultures always create the new trends. Sometimes it’s a game of influencing and honoring, and that’s what we were about. “Midnight Radio” is a pan to the great female rock ‘n’ rollers that Hedwig tries to stand alongside. For me, playing a fake rock star was an amazing experience because I didn’t have to tour [laughs]. Now I’m a real rock ‘n’ roller and I’m touring.

OT: Who are your major musical influences?
JCM:
I’m pretty eclectic. I tend to be drawn more to real fingers on your instruments as opposed to purely computerized experiences. I like the mistakes and imperfections that come from actual voices and actual instruments. Old 70s funk. A lot of glam – certainly Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop – those three are kind of my great triumvirate. I’ll play Stevie Wonder – he never fails to make me feel better. [I] kind of do a pre-1985 law. There were certainly some great moments of the 90s and of today too, [but] I think it’s a little hard now. There’s lots of people making good music, but the Internet has paralyzed some young music makers into being more self-conscious. Knowing too much is not always good for art because it can paralyze you a little. Let some things develop on their own in the dark and then bring them out. I believe in process. I believe a certain amount of ignorance is good for art and life.

OT: Tell me about Anthem. What does a musical podcast entail?
JCM:
It’s a new service called Luminary that will be launching with us as its flagship podcast, but there will be 40 other new podcasts. They’re going to have their own app and their own content. They want to be the Netflix of podcasts. They’ll be some pre-episodes out first and then a subscription situation. But it’s looking like May 2019. We have seven Tony winners. It’s an amazing cast [including] Glenn Close, Patti LuPone and Marion Cotillard. I feel as strongly about this as I do about Hedwig.

OT: How long has Anthem been in the making?
JCM:
It started out as a sequel to Hedwig, but it was much more autobiographical. But then I realized her story was so complex and mine was [too]. It’s like putting a hat on a hat on a wig. I removed Hedwig from the story and injected more of myself. I play a guy who is out of insurance, living in a trailer, who is kind of me if I never left my small town in Junction City, Kansas. He has a brain tumor, no insurance and he’s crowd funding his treatment on a telethon app. He’s staying online until he gets the money for the operation or until he dies.

OT: Who do you hope comes to see your performance? Diehard Hedwig fans? The local theatre community?
JCM:
Whoever Hedwig is useful to I hope will show up. I like the fact that our audience is so mixed in terms of gender, sexuality and age. It’s [been] useful to others at a certain time in their life when they were young and came out. It made them feel less alone.

Catch John Cameron Mitchell at National Theatre on Friday, February 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $54. Learn more at www.thenationaldc.org.

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

Photo: Courtesy of China Arts and Entertainment Group

Follow the Legendary Silk Road in Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage

A new form of performance is coming to the Kennedy Center this month: the national concert drama. DC theatergoers are invited to experience Chinese culture with Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage on January 25-27, featuring the 80-piece China National Traditional Orchestra and 24 performers onstage.

The 100-plus group will perform writer, director and composer Jiang Ying’s interpretation of Buddhist monk Xuanzang’s journey across China via the Silk Road on a pilgrimage to India. The production is part of China Arts and Entertainment Group’s cultural exchange program, Image China, and relies heavily on instrumentalists to carry the concert drama. The musicians play characters, breaking the boundaries between the stage and the music, with many roles designed to be interchangeable to help guide and promote the development of the story.

“[Our] comprehensive and dynamic interpretation has never been seen before by American audiences,” Jiang says.

The production’s intricate design and use of multimedia technology “makes the play more colorful than the traditional drama,” she continues, “which will definitely give the audience a more perfect artistic experience that goes straight to the ear.”

Jiang’s production captures the hardships and dangers Xuanzang experienced during his 17-year expedition from Chang’an to Tianzhu while on his quest to discover religious texts that had not yet come from India to China. Ultimately, he obtained the scriptures from the West.

“I aim to convey a positive energy through this drama – a spirit of perseverance and obstinacy for ideals and beliefs,” Jiang says.

Though the drama focuses on Xuanzang’s Buddhist experiences, it also explores the wisdom and compassion of Buddhism and promotes positive energy. The overarching theme in the story is the spirit of progress – Xuanzang is not afraid of the difficulties that come with developing firm ideals and beliefs.

“It is not only of historical significance but also of practical significance,” Jiang says, reinforcing the importance of progress in the production. “This is the common spiritual wealth and strength of all mankind.”

Jiang’s large-scale, multimedia experience offers a lens into China’s music culture with unique wind instrumentation – the zither, Chinese harp, dulcimer and eagle flute are featured, among others – to help highlight amicable cultural exchange in Chinese history along the legendary Silk Road.

“National instrumental music is the soul of this kind of drama,” she says. “My intention was to introduce Chinese instruments that were just imported from the Silk Road in a [historical] series. It’s because of the combined strength of each component that this concert drama is perfectly presented.”

Catch a performance of Xuanzang’s Pilgrimage at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Friday, January 25 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 26 at 1:30 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., or Sunday, January 27 at 1:30 p.m. Tickets start at $70. Learn more at www.kennedy-center.org.

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